August 21, 2001
Greetings from Weardale;
Yesterday was one of those sunny, breezy, warm but not hot days here in Weardale that are a real treat. It had rained a good bit the day before, but by afternoon the wind had dried things out nicely. You could tell by the "nip" in the air that summer is already on its way out here in these northern latitudes, though.
Joan spent the morning with Jonina foraging at a Morrison's supermarket in Darlington so we now have food and drink here at the Mine House. I got suited up in my finest mine attire, (ie: old, grubby, torn jeans that have outlived their place in polite society) and spent the day underground. First task was to go around the mine looking for piles of specimens left behind by Byron. Once located, all but the most aesthetically challenged were then wrapped in newspaper and loaded into tubs for the trip back to Little Allercleugh for cleaning. Byron has been busy lately, so there were lots of piles to choose from. He fired up the chainsaw and began trimming some of the larger ones down to a more manageable size.
After filling a good number of tubs, I decided to take a turn at collecting in the West Cross Cut, which is a short drift Byron, Dave, and Lofty have driven westward, opposite the original opening to the Black Sheep pocket. The idea was to see if the mineralized flats occur to the west side of the vein, as well as the east where we've spent the last two years collecting. Well, to make it short, they do, and some good material has been coming out of a zone, which is about 10 feet off the main western tunnel. Like most other pockets in the mine, this area is a jumble of rock, many fluorite-covered, encased in our famously tenacious mud. After several hours of effort, I had produced my own pile of specimens, which I fear I will have to go back and wrap today.
Cal, Kerith and Stan showed up at the mine in the early afternoon. Stan is a human gopher and was soon busy digging away in the Black Sheep pocket, which has now been opened up considerably - you can actually walk into it instead of crawling. Kerith settled in with a hose and screen to sort pocket mud for small gemmy fluorites, and Cal became embroiled in helping Byron trouble-shoot the hydraulic power unit, which had died. It's not a proper day in mining if some piece of equipment doesn't die on you, the hydraulic unit, which has been running perfectly all season chose this for its day. Byron was of the opinion that it's a fuel supply problem, so Cal went off in search of a new fuel filter in hopes that it was something that simple. One immediate problem was that the fuel filter on the unit was some sort of non-standard item, and all the writing on it was in Japanese. Not even a part number was to be had. Cal returned with a selection of things that might work, and soon Byron had something rigged, but to no avail. Cal was obviously frustrated at having spent a good chunk of his day on this without even the gratification of having his efforts pay off, but consoled himself by rounding up most of the really nice specimens lying about the mine. These will disappear for a while, and re-emerge all cleaned up and ready for the party.
As mentioned in past e-mails from various folks here, we currently have four producing zones in the mine - the Solstice pocket, the Birthday pocket, the West Cross Cut, and last but not least, the Black Sheep pocket, which refuses to be worked out, even after two years effort on our part. As with all specimen collecting, the vast majority of material found is of mediocre quality at best. What keeps us digging are the few really nice specimens that are found as well. Right now there is a REALLY NICE specimen exposed in the Birthday pocket. The only problem with it is the size. This one is a block of limestone, around four feet long, with one side largely covered with a crust of large gemmy green fluorite crystals. Byron spent the past weekend muscling this one onto the muck pile in front of the pocket, and it is featured in today's picture postcard.
The dilemma we face is what to do with it. To get it out intact would be a mammoth undertaking, and even if we did, who would buy it? You would have to hire a crane and a flatbed truck to transport it. Sadly, it will have to be butchered in place (providing the hydraulic power unit for the chainsaw comes back to life), and discussions are under way on how to proceed. If anyone would like to spare us this ordeal and purchase it as-is, please let me know. We will even wash the mud off it for you.
After closing up for the day, everyone except Kerith rendezvoused at the Golden Lion for a pint and to discuss strategy for the rest of the season. Stan started snoozing before he even finished his, but claimed he was over his jet lag. I'm dubious. After adjourning, Joan and I made a quick stop at the cottage so I could wash the mud off my face and change out of my mining outfit, and then headed to the Cross Keys in Eastgate for dinner. Being a Monday night, things were quiet, but the dinner was quite good. It's nice to have a place in the upper Dale that serves good food.
Today will be another mine day. I will have to pick up after myself in the West Cross Cut, unless I can talk someone else into it, which is highly unlikely. I would also like to spend some time in the Solstice pocket, as there is a really nice, fairly large specimen exposed. This specimen was calling to me yesterday, I know it, but don't tell the others - they will probably laugh and say I was imagining things. Fortunately, I know nothing about fixing diesel engines, so can maybe avoid getting involved with that problem, at least until it requires throwing money at it.
Stay tuned for more….
Jesse and the Crew
The big one.