flintgreasewood

How It All Got Started

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Kurt...

 The "trick" is to write your long posts in something like Wordpad or Notepad first. Then copy and paste here.

I feel your pain .... my hunt & peck typing keeps me from being wordy :)

 

 Great story ... I hope it has a happy ending eventually !

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Before I left the old mine to return to Colorado I needed to secure some important information.  I had mentioned previously in these posts that all the old “Fairbanks self dumping bucket” parts were rusting away over at the mine on the right fork.   My long range goal is to return that system to working condition and actually use it in the big shaft, but in the interim I had come up with the idea of fabricating a half size version to use over at Cobb.  To do that I had to make detailed drawings and tracings of complex parts of the old carrier and take down exact measurements of the positions of pivot bolts as well as taking several photographs.  That done I dropped my truck off at a friends equipment yard about a mile from the airport and walked to the terminal in a cold September rain.
    I like making gadgets and for several years I’ve been in to using plastics for many of my projects.  My Eureka Gold Thief is made almost entirely of UHMW [ultra high molecular weight]  and HD [high density] Polyethylene.  True to form I fabricated my ½ size carrier mostly out of UHMW due to it’s high wear resistance…five times greater than steel.  The tracings  had to be reduced by 50% at the local Kinkos  and frame and bolt hole pattern measurements reduced by half.  Since the plastic is very light compared to steel I was able to make the side plates of solid 3/8” sheet instead of bolted strap.  Even with exact measurements I had to do a lot playing around with positioning of the moving parts that allow the carrier to stop above the shaft, release from the high line and lower into the shaft.  Satisfied with a dry run of the carrier, I turned to making the latching pulley, a big bucket made of recycled aluminum road signage and the heavy steel bail that attached to the bucket.  Of course I had to test the system out and fortunately right out my back door were two Engleman Spruce trees that would serve well as an anchor and a gin pole.  All fall and winter I had been gathering rigging materials through E-bay so I was well stocked with several diameters of aircraft cable, four large turnbuckles , plenty of cable clamps,  chains, a chainsaw winch [to serve in place of a hoist], pulleys and snatch blocks.  All set up the system looked quite impressive, but would it work?  The chainsaw winch was running rough and if I had been moving a very heavy load it probably wouldn’t have been able to hoist the bucket.  I did place three bags of sand and dozen large rocks in the bucket to give me some idea of how the system would work.  With great anticipation I watched the bucket rise from the ground up to the carrier where it seamlessly unlatched from its mooring point and traveled up the highline toward the gin pole.  It was performing as it was supposed to so I reversed direction and brought the bucket back down to the trip bar, but it didn’t trip.  After a bit of tweeking with the bar, the bucket released from the carrier and lowered to the ground.  Success!
     All spring we kept an eye on the weather in Fairbanks.  Frequently Doug and I would be in phone contact and we’d get the latest on snow depths around camp and at the mine.  The temperatures were moderating but snow remained the big issue.  But it was time to leave Colorado and while I readied the trailer 14” of snow fell on our mountain and more was in the forecast.  We left just in time as another  two storms dumped an additional three and a half feet of heavy, May snow!  It was the first time we had made the trip north in an automobile and not the big Dodge.  Our 2004 Hyundai Santa Fe handled the trailer with no problem and the journey went without incident.
     We arrived in Fairbanks the second week in May and significant melting was taking place.  It had been a big snow year below the Arctic Circle and spring was a month late in arriving.  Consequently, there was still 18 inches of snow on the flat up at camp, more on north facing slopes.  The trailer had not been bothered by vandals of either the two or four legged variety.   Doug had been watchful for that.  Without a hitch we had all the systems a go and housekeeping set up.  It was good to be home.
    Over the winter Doug and his son had done major work on the 4 wheeler, reassembled it and had it ready for us to use.  A quick trip over to our new access road revealed it would be a while before I’d be able to get down to Cobb except by snow machine or on snowshoes.  Since Doug was using the Bravo, snowshoes it was.  My first trip I hauled in gasoline and other items I’d need to open things up on a small sled.  Even with snowshoes, the going was very difficult on the road which collected more snow than the surrounding forest floor, so I opted to leave the road.  That presented me with  a different set of problems…downed trees to stumble over and navigate around, but that was still easier than the deeper snow.  When I exited the birch and cottonwoods and got on the “moose trail” at the edge of the valley,  I found the snow even deeper and more difficult to pull the sled in.  In places it was three feet deep and alternately powdery, crusty and as the sun did it’s magic…soft and heavy on the surface.  I’d take a couple of steps, give the sled a yank and so I slowly made my way the quarter mile down valley to Cobb.
 

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  At the creek crossing there was already water flowing beneath the snow and what ice was left was rotten and moving out fast.  I should mention that our creek in normal flow is at best eighteen inches wide and six inches deep, a real torrent!   In spring thaw it spreads to about 6 or 8 feet at the crossing.   A few tussocks stood above the water which allowed me to cross without getting wet and there was enough snow for the sled to follow with no problem.  Arriving at Cobb it was apparent nothing had been disturbed during the long winter.  I couldn't resist checking out the shaft first thing. 

   Alethea and I had mused at the possibility of finding a frozen moose in the shaft; it has been known to happen.  No such luck.  What I did see was an additional three feet of ice I was going to have to remove.
 I set up the equipment tent,  uncovered the trommel, checked out its engine as well as the engine on the generator and started them both.  With the generator running, I could operate my jack hammer and resume shaft ice excavating and as I was convinced I was going to be hitting bed rock at 25 feet, I couldn’t wait to get going.  However, I knew it was going to be a long slog back up to the top of the valley, so I chipped and hoisted only a few buckets.  Amazingly, it felt good to be back in the hole.
    Alethea  didn’t come down to the prospect till the snow was nearly gone from the flats, about a week.  By then I had the use of Doug’s other snow machine, a Scandic, and was dropping down into the valley from the upper trail, the only route that was strictly trail with no stretches of road.  The snow was disappearing fast and turning parts of the trail into serious mud bogs.  We made it down past the old mine camp and up valley toward Cobb for a quarter mile.  Beyond that point the trail was drifted in very heavily and being located on a north facing slope there was still too much snow on too steep a side hill to risk it, so we walked the final quarter mile.   
     It was apparent that our little camp area was going to be crowded out by mining activity, so Alethea took to moving things to a clearing fifty yards away.  I partially disassembled the equipment tent and dragged it to the new camp site.  We also strung up a large tarp between 4 trees, placed a pole in the center and had an additional open air shelter where Alethea  placed a log bench , a couple camp chairs and set stones for a fire ring.  
    Three weeks after we arrived in Fairbanks, the snow was completely gone from the places we needed to travel and work in, and we were able to begin using the shorter route to Cobb.  But melt water was filling every rivulet and depression along the way contributing to a significantly swollen creek.  Without question a bridge had to be built to cross it with the 4 wheeler.   Nearby was a stand of good sized spruce that would do nicely, so I cut and dragged two of the biggest into place.  Shorter ones for a ramp and decking were in abundance and were spiked into place and within a couple of hours we had ourselves a bridge.  It looked plenty strong but my first trip across with the 4 wheeler brought a bit of apprehension along with it.  The span proved worthy.
       As summer officially began and the land turned green once again, my main task of ice removal from the prospect shaft went into high gear.  It wasn’t long before I was past the 25 foot level and yet there was no sign of bed rock.  A good friend and long time miner who had studied our area predicted I would reach bottom at 37 feet.  That level came and went too.  I was now deep enough that I needed additional light so I bought a high intensity LED lamp knowing that it would give off very little heat, a plus in a permafrost shaft.  About that time Doug began transporting the steam generating equipment he had been using at the big shaft over to Cobb.  He was impressed with the work I had done the previous fall improving the last ¼ mile of trail and it made hauling tools and equipment from the old mine measurably easier.  At first the steamer was set up next to a pond that had formed from the excavation of pay gravel we had run through the trommel. However, Doug wanted to have some protection from rain and sun so he built a pole shelter directly behind the shaft and moved the steamer, hoses and tools into it.  He also placed a 55 gal. water drum on the roof that would feed the steamer.
     The first use of the steamer was to determine the depth to bed rock which was to be accomplished with an 11 foot length of ½” pipe connected to the rubber steam hose.  It was exciting to watch the pipe spurt and gurgle its way down through the ice at a very rapid pace, down 35’ then 40, then 45.  Still no bed rock.
Then at 47’ the pipe stopped dropping.  We let it steam away for several minutes and there was still no movement.  Finally we were on the bottom.  I returned to jack hammering and hoisting with new vigor and anticipation.
 

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     All summer long seepage at the top of the shaft created problems for me.  Not only did approximately 10 gallons of water make its way to the bottom of the shaft and had to be bailed out before any other work could take place,  but thawed muck was continually raining down on me.  Though normally very small pieces, once in a while a good sized chunk would whack my hard hat or land on my shoulder.  In addition, much of the seep water froze to the walls of the shaft beginning about 10’ down.  That might seem to be a blessing were it not for the fact that the shaft was a mere 40” x  72”!  By the end of summer the sides of the bucket were scraping the build up and making the lowering operation a real hassle.  To remove the encroaching ice I suspended myself on the climbing rope using a self arresting device but keeping my feet on the ladder then proceeded chopping away with my rock hammer.  Once I overcame my anxiety of hanging 50’ above the floor of the shaft, it actually was a rather enjoyable exercise.
    In an effort to stem the seepage I dug a trench for three quarters of the perimeter of the area surrounding the shaft.  I deepened it below where I could see water coming out of the wall, added a layer of gravel for drainage and filled the trench back up.  That didn’t work.  Somewhere water was getting through to the shaft and it is a problem we’ll have to correct as we begin the 2014 season.
    I was surprisingly comfortable working in the cramped confines of the shaft 35 feet below the surface.  Climbing up and down the ladder regularly was not much of an issue even though I had recently torn the meniscus in my left knee and had difficulty bending that leg.  I was able to receive a cortisone shot at the VA clinic in Anchorage which eventually completely eliminated that problem.  An iPod loaded with my favorite music helped alleviate the tedium.  Coming up with an efficient progression of tasks was important in keeping any frustration from building up.  That doesn’t come easy for me as I am not typically an organized person.  But with all the ropes, electrical cords, tools and such cluttering my small space, I had to have a system to be able to get anything done at all.  And here’s how it went.
    We’d arrive at the prospect usually mid morning after taking care of the chores at camp and making the 3 mile trip in by car and 4 wheeler.  The generator needed to be topped off and started.  I would exchange my leather boots for heavily insulated rubber ones, don my waterproof coveralls and jacket, grab my hard hat with attached sound proofing ear muffs, heavy insulated rubber gloves and walk over to the shaft.  The aluminum ladder was suspended from a steam point pipe[not needed yet for steaming] laid across the cribbing.  Sitting on the edge of the cribbing with my feet dangling down into the shaft I would get a good grip on the pipe, step on the ladder and proceed down into the depths.  Quite often on very warm days I’d be almost sweating in my heavy garb before I began the descent, but within seconds I’d hit the 29 degree cold and relief.  I always had to scrape gobs of mud off the rungs of the ladder as I proceeded downward, being very careful to maintain a sure grip with at least one hand. I am usually not of a very careful sort, but in instances like that where severe injury or even death is repeatedly staring me in the face, I pay close attention to my movements.  Not once all summer did I ever make a false move on the ladder.
     Usually the bucket would remain up top during the night so I’d have room to get organized down below.  As I mentioned previously there would be water covering the ice which I had to bail out.  Two five gallon buckets were stashed on a little movable shelf supported by 4 spikes driven into the frozen walls.  One bucket scooped up the water and filled the other which was placed in the hoisted bucket.  A drum switch fastened to the wall was flipped to hoist position and up she went.  The little 12 volt winch did not break any hoisting speed records.  Moving slowly I always had time to adjust ropes to keep them from tangling and to tweek the position of the bucket as it rode up the rails of the ladder [one real benefit of an aluminum ladder].  As the bucket traveled to the top the guide rope got shorter while the dump rope which passed through a pulley on the head frame got longer.  I coiled up the dump rope as it was fed down and watched to make sure the smaller guide rope stayed unknotted.  I could tell when the bucket was nearing the top by watching a knot I had placed in the up traveling guide rope.  I could observe what was taking place overhead with everything silhouetted in black against the bright sky.  At the precise moment when the bucket half disappeared over the dump ramp I hit the switch to stop the hoist.  The bucket was now suspended entirely over the ramp.  I would lower it just a few inches so it barely rested on the surface of the ramp.  I then grabbed the heavy dump rope up as high as I could reach and coiled it around my hand for a good grip.  With the other hand I held the guide rope that was attached to the underside and was used to swing the bucket.  In one coordinated effort the ropes were pulled and the contents emptied.  To lower the bucket back down the shaft I would switch the hoist to the down position and at the same time pull the bucket out and away from the ramp with the guide rope.  Often the bucket would get slightly hung up, come free and drop several feet before righting itself for a smooth descent the remaining distance.  As it approached the bottom I’d position myself on one side of the shaft or the other depending on what was the next operation so I didn’t have to climb over the bucket.  I was ready to tackle more ice.

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     About the time Doug was building his steam shelter I was into setting up the self dumping bucket system.  A couple of weeks previous I had undertaken the most difficult aspect of the project, the erection of the gin pole.  I selected one of the larger spruce, 30 feet long after trimming, near the mine and dragged it over the creek to where I it would stand.  The surface muck had thawed enough so digging a 3’ deep hole with a post hole digger was relatively easy.  So, now how to raise it?  First I attached aircraft cable guy wires to eye bolts I placed at the top and laid out turnbuckles and clamps at the anchor locations [two trees and one driven steel rod].  Then I positioned the butt end of the gin pole over the hole.   I cut 6 12 foot spruce poles and spiked the tops along the length of the gin pole, three on each side.  I tried raising the pole with the 4 wheeler’s winch but that didn’t work, so I lifted it by hand enough to allow the attached poles to support it.  A port-a-power hydraulic jacking system seemed like a good tool to use in that situation.  Fortunately, I had one with several extensions of varying lengths that could all be connected together to make a 4’ long jack.  Bit by bit I jacked the pole up, continually moving the support poles to keep everything stable.  Periodically I needed to also move the jack and adjust its angle.  It took me about an hour but eventually the pole slid into the pit.  The guy wires were fastened and tightened, and the void area filled with concrete and left to set.  I needed to be able to get to the top of the gin pole to bolt in the high line and a pulley for the hoist line, so I alternately drove in 12” spikes that I could hang on to and climb on.  My first trip to the top revealed a view of the valley I had not had previous.  I just perched myself there and enjoyed the scenery for a while.
    It was several weeks before I strung up the high line.  I double anchored it to a couple of stout spruce with a two foot long turnbuckle between the cable and the chain I used to anchor to the trees.  The 3/8” cable passed over the top of the boiler shelter, directly over the center of the shaft and on up to the gin pole 50 feet away where it was clamped to an eye bolt.  With the turnbuckle fully extended I used a cable pulling device attached to a come along to remove as much slack as possible.  A couple of cable clamps were fixed in place and the turnbuckle tightened and I had a high line.  So as not to have to disassemble the carrier, I had passed the cable through it before attaching the cable to the gin pole.  The hoist line installation was next.  The ¼” cable was run from the hydraulic hoist up to the gin pole and back down to the carrier where it wound over a pulley, down and around the pulley on the bucket bail and back up to where it was fastened to the carrier.   The system was ready to try out.                                                                                                                                                                                                             I had been overly occupied with trying to get my old Pullmaster PL-2 hoist to operate properly.  When at first it didn’t respond when connected to the hydraulic system I had built, I pulled apart the motor and discovered it was full of corrosion.  A thorough cleaning did no good so I took it to a hydraulic shop in Fairbanks where they lapped some metal plates and reassembled it.  Still didn’t work properly.  It would operate slowly in the hoist direction but the internal brake wouldn’t release to allow it to operate in the lowering direction.  Still I tried using the hoist and was able to at least determine that the carrier worked.  But as far as having a good working hoist, forget  it.  I left it alone for then and got on to other things.

     It seemed like I should have been nearing the 47’ level and bed rock, but there was no change in the way the jack hammer chisel was feeling.  Then I felt a dull thump.  When I cleared the ice away there was a large chunk of frozen muck that had spalled off the wall many years ago as the shaft was originally filling up with ice.  By a stroke of dumb luck the steam point had hit that chunk of muck and it was large enough to absorb the steam we put to it without breaking apart.  So, I wasn’t on bed rock.  Oh, yes, I was disappointed but undaunted in my quest, so I continued chipping and hoisting.    By that time I had burned out two battery chargers due to the depth I was hoisting from.  The generator power was fed down to the bottom of the shaft where I had a charger hanging from the underside of the little shelf where it was protected from falling ice and muck.  The charger in turn fed 12 volt power into the drum switch which was connected to the winch up top on the head frame.  To resolve the charger problem I sprung for a commercial converter that was rated for continuous current draw that exceeded what I pulling.
    About 50 down I hit the top of a peeled pole that angled downward toward the end wall most likely where the drift should be.  It took another three feet of chipping only to find the pole ended at the muck wall.  Though I wasn’t yet on bed rock, it was some encouragement to see evidence of the old timers workings.
   Another probe with the steam point stopped dropping at 67 feet, but this time I made certain I was on bed rock by letting it sit for about 15 minutes and plunging it several times to hear the distinct “ping, ping” of metal hitting rock.  It was an exciting moment to finally determine the shaft depth but the excitement was tempered by the realization that I was going to have a much deeper mine to work than I had planned on.  I would console myself with the knowledge that some nearby drift mines were well over 100 feet deep and some even 300 feet to bed rock.
    Doug turned over the steam thawing of the remaining ice to me.  I would get steam flowing and place the tip of the pipe into the ice, climb down the ladder, lift the pipe up quickly and reposition it where I wanted to begin thawing before the shaft completely filled with steam.  Thawing would go on till I had a pool of water surrounding the point and then I would pull it up and reset it.  When there was sufficient water it was time to pump it out. I couldn’t get the submersible well pump I brought from Colorado to work and Doug’s 2” sump pump could lift to only 39 feet.  I solved the problem by pumping off the bottom with the sump up into a half 55 gallon barrel suspended half way down the shaft.  In the barrel I placed another sump that was capable of lifting the remaining distance.  The two pumps were nearly equal in their pumping capability but the barrel eventually would get drained and I would have to shut off the upper pump and let the bottom sump catch up.  I would know that when I heard water cascading on the aluminum ladder, which also effectively washed the mud off the rungs.  With most of the water pumped out there still remained considerable ice left in pinnacles, bridges and holes that had to be knocked down and filled so there would be a semi solid bed of ice to resume thawing.  It was a rather precarious situation I had within which to operate with my jack hammer, never knowing if what I was standing on had sufficient strength to support me.  I always kept one foot on the ladder and the other as close to a wall as possible, but it was always a relief to collapse enough ice to allow firm footing to finish the task.  
   At 55’ at long last I detected gravel on one of the side walls, and though it had muck mixed in, it was still gravel.  Typical for the area is a gravel layer around six feet thick atop the bed rock, but since bed rock was at 67 feet it was apparent this shaft had 12’.  I continued thawing, pumping, thawing and pumping till I reached the one foot of mud, gravel and water slurry that lay on the rock surface.   Stepping into that mud and touching bed rock was more exciting than stepping on the moon.   On the north end of the shaft I could see into the drift just slightly where the steam point had breached the shaft wall.  The roof of the drift was a mere 4’ high; the old timers were interested only in the more concentrated gold on bed rock and just above it so they removed as little overburden as possible.  As much as I wanted to continue cleaning out the shaft and removing ice out of the drifts [it appeared there was another trending off the south side of the shaft] money had run out and we had to return to Colorado.  No worries, it would all be waiting for me in the spring.
     



 

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Like many of the "reality tv" gold shows that are about to begin a new season, so we at Cobb Prospect are soon to resume our adventures above and beneath the ground north of Fairbanks.  Currently Alethea and I are in Whitecourt, Alberta with 3 plus days of travel till we reach our camp.  This time the trip is a bit more serious as we have made the decision to move to Alaska semi permanently.  Consequently, we've brought a lot more of our possessions with us this time.  I'm driving my Ford F250 converted FedEx box truck jam packed and towing my little 84 Nissan 4x4 also loaded with equipment. Atop the Ford are 4 aluminum pontoons, a 32' extension ladder and a 6' step ladder.  At the last minute I had to weld up a heavy duty bar for the Nissan to which I could attach the stock tow bar.  I also had to weld a ball mount to the step bumper of the box truck.  So far it's all working well.  Alethea is bringing up the rear in our 2004 Hyundai Santa Fe towing a 4'x8' utility trailer filled to capacity, a 55 gal. plastic barrel [filled with stuff] riding on the tongue and 4 spare tires and my big aluminum sluice box strapped on top.  I'm so heavy in my rig that I sometimes get down to 25mph before I kick into first gear to get up some of the steeper hills.  And I don't even look at the gas receipts any longer...it's much too painful.  We'll be lucky to get from Colorado to Fairbanks under $2000 which includes food and lodging. Fortunately there's a lot of gold waiting for me to haul up and over to Oxford and then to the bank to cover all the bills...right?  RIGHT!!!

   Stay tuned...there's lots more excitement ahead.

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I'm onboard waiting for the big show of color wishing I could be riding with you and I work cheap. Good luck to you and yours

 

dick

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