Friday, August 16, 2013

Greetings from Weardale.

The weather here continues its “unsettled” behavior. Yesterday morning we got up to heavy overcast and some strong winds. By mid morning the sun had come out and for a bit it got fairly warm. The clouds came back by late afternoon and rain began by early evening. This morning the rain had stopped, though the clouds remain. The rainfall over night must have been significant as I can hear the rush of water in the nearby burn as I sit here having my first coffee and trying to compose our story for the past couple days.

Despite the fact that the pocket zone continues to recede from our reach, Wednesday was one of the best collecting days we have had at the mine for several years. I cannot think of a day when we have recovered such a number of really nice specimens since we got into the Jewel Box pocket. Cal went in early to get things open, and when Ian and I arrived he was busy washing and poking at mud and rock in the pocket. The cavity had developed, once again, into a long narrow crawlspace, and getting oneself into it and actually doing any work was getting very difficult because of the confined space. Cal had attacked the floor of the cavity, successfully lowering it a bit and making some room close to the face. In the process he discovered a fluorite and galena layer lower down than the main one we have been pursuing over the past week. This layer had produced a number of plates of small, gemmy fluorite crystals, many with small galena crystals scattered about. Nothing really great, but all good wholesale material.

It is physically difficult to work in the tight and often awkward confines of the current pocket, so by the time we arrived Cal was in need of a break to stand up and stretch a bit, giving Ian and I a chance to take turns at it. With the excavation Cal had accomplished, the mud layer below the main fluorite seam was now within reach, though just barely so. Regardless, taking turns we managed to pull out a succession of really nice specimens. While digging and washing at the ever-tenacious pocket mud I managed to recover two miniature and one small cabinet-sized specimens, all very good. The small cabinet specimen had a fracture through a portion of it and conveniently split during washing, leaving any and all damage on one half and a perfect small bit on the other. Needless to say, all three were quickly claimed by those assembled.

After lunch Cal and Ian got back to collecting in the pocket, while I helped Dave with the ongoing chore of installing the rail points and timbering at the face of the main tunnel. Ian and Cal needed to leave a bit early, so around 1530 I got back into the pocket. The day’s digging had quickly put the fluorite seam yet again out of reach, but there was also another large plate of fluorite showing in the ceiling of the cavity. After about an hour and a half of washing mud and prying out rocks with a four-foot bar I was able to get some movement on the plate. After shoving some padding underneath the thing, it then obligingly rolled out and flipped over, leaving the fluorite-covered surface facing upward, instead of down into the mud and rock. The latest find ended up being far to large and heavy to lift within the confines of the pocket zone, but slid fairly nicely down the slope of rock and debris created during the day’s digging, and I was then able to get it into a wheelbarrow and out of the mine. As we are now in close-down mode, this will likely be our last specimen for the season, but a nice way to finish. Today’s photo shows the specimen freshly washed and seeing the sun for the first time in many years.

Yesterday at the mine we began the job of closing up for the season. Cal got out the chainsaw and cut up the remaining collection of large bits from the past few days of collecting. The large one from the previous afternoon got trimmed down a bit to reduce the weight, but we plan to leave it largely intact in hopes that someone will like it as-is. Afterwards, he finished packing specimens for shipment home, and then got to cleaning and oiling up the chainsaw and a few other bits of equipment for storage over winter.

After helping Cal with the sawing, I spent much of the day helping Dave install a set of timber at the main face, and during the process became fairly proficient with the bow saw and using bits of leftover det wire to measure the timber for cutting.

Today we will assemble our final pallet of specimens for shipment home. We have a total of five pallets this year, up from four we sent back last year. I’m sure Tim will be glad to know that there will likely be lots of time spent at the air abrasive unit in the coming months. With the points and timbering in place, we now start the process of cleaning and oiling equipment and tools, trying to round up the remaining bills from various vendors, and geting the mine secured for the winter.

Joan arrives at Newcastle airport tomorrow morning, after which, with the exception of pick-up of our shipment, return of our hired compressor, and pulling in the water line at the mine on Monday we will officially be on vacation for a week or so. Then back to our other lives in California and the task of cleaning and selling all this stuff we have gathered so we can pay for doing this all again next year.

Until next time…

Cheers, Jesse, Ian, Cal and Kerith


Last specimen for the season, seeing the first light of day.

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