Thursday, July 26, 2007

Greetings from Weardale.

The weather here has been much the same for most of the week, uniformly overcast with occasional rain. As seems typical for the dale, the rain can be highly localized. On Tuesday I am told that it really poured down dale in Wolsingham, but we had very little at the mine or here in St. John’s Chapel. Yesterday it actually cleared for the afternoon and we had a bit of sun to dry off some of our produce. This morning the weather is being rather indecisive. When I got up about an hour ago it was raining again. As I look out the window now I see some sunshine coming and going as clouds blow past. To know what may be happening at the mine, however, we’ll likely have to set up a remote webcam. I don’t think that’s in this year’s budget, though.

Much of the week has been spent processing material from the Rat Hole, which continues to produce, though at a reduced level compared to our first few weeks. Even so, it is a constant battle to stay up on cleaning and wrapping. The weather hasn’t helped as it has been difficult to get specimens completely dry after washing. If we don’t wash them before wrapping, the mud coating will have hardened to concrete-like substance by the time they reach California. If we wash them and wrap them wet they arrive home with black fuzzy spots. The wind is up this morning, and if this continues without a downpour at the quarry we may get some things dry (enough) today.

The front face, which is currently featuring the interesting fluorite-covered rock described in the last report, has been a problem for Dave. After last Friday’s shot at the face the roof was in very poor condition, with some really large rocks dangling down like malformed teeth. After an initial mucking, Dave wanted to lay rail to the face and then shoot another light round to square up the roof for timbering. To lay new rail he needed to cut some holes through the ends of our sections of rail for the bolt-on connectors, which are known in the trade as “fish plates”. Don’t ask me why. Unfortunately, the head on the cutting torch took that opportunity to malfunction. Dave was able to take it home and “tear it to bits” as he put it, and had it working again Tuesday morning. Rail was laid and a light shot was fired, but with only partial success in squaring the face. Taking the “when in doubt, use a bigger hammer” approach, Dave reloaded the uncooperative upper left corner with a larger charge, successfully shot it, and had the face properly timbered by yesterday afternoon. Everyone gathered around to look at the large, fluorite covered rock on the right hand side, and all agreed that it is the most promising thing we’ve seen yet on the main face. I know where Byron will be this morning.

Yesterday we had some visitors to the mine, Ian Jones, a collector friend from Cardiff and Lloyd Llewellyn, a friend from Norfolk who seems to take great delight in wallowing and wading through all manner of dark underground places here in the North Pennines, and a friend of his, Robert. Sadly, Robert’s last name escapes me at this early hour. After a good afternoon of poking about the mine we all adjourned up dale to the Blue Bell for an “official” meeting of the Old Farts. The name results from a discussion thread involving Ian, Lloyd and me (among others) on the chat board a while back. I’ve forgotten most of the details of this discussion by now (though I’m sure it is still out there in cyberspace somewhere, should anyone care to go hunting for it), but I do remember that “Old Farts” stands for “Official Locality Data, Fluorite, Ale, and Related Trivia Subcommittee”. I think Ian is responsible for the name. At any rate, a meeting was had, with the additional attendance of local collectors Barry and Helen, Byron, Cal and Kerith. There was no call to order, no minutes were recorded, and no budgets were approved. A goodly number of pints of Theakston’s Best were consumed, scurrilous gossip was traded, and a good time was had.

Today I will be back on the specimen-processing treadmill, but no doubt taking occasional breaks to observe Byron’s progress at the face. And just so you all don’t get to thinking that the quarry is nothing but a muddy mess, today’s photo is of one of the many thistles that are beginning to bloom around the mine.

Until next time,

Jesse & Byron, Cal & Kerith

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