Saturday, June 28, 2014

Good Morning from Weardale.

The weather over the past couple days has cooled off considerably, and though we have had a heavy cloud cover, it hasnít quite gotten around to actually raining on us, yet. The midges, however, continue to be out in force, particularly in low-lying places like the quarry where the feeble breezes canít get to them.

The week has been an almost constant cycle of drill-blast-muck-timber, and as a result everyone is feeling pretty knackered by this point. This kind of work was traditionally done by lads who would have been a good number of years junior to this crew, but somehow weíve managed to convince ourselves that this is actually fun, so we soldier on.

Returning Thursday morning we found that the shot fired at the end of the previous day has gone well and there was once again a large pile of rock and mud waiting for our strong backs to carry it away. Daveís expert charging of the face had once again put all the rock into the middle of the drift without disturbing any of the nearby timbers, but on close inspection we discovered that the shot had not yet pulled us completely through the main vein and our zone of muddy shite. The result was a muck pile heavy with both large rocks and wet mud, which tends to stick everything together and make mucking a real joy. Topping the muck pile were two particularly large rocks, one of which was fully one-third the size of the entire muck tub. Somehow, Dave managed to roll the thing around with the Eimco and after several tries (one of which almost upended the thing), had it balanced in the Eimcoís bucket, and slowly walked the thing back to the waiting tub and dropped it in.

A good bit of the day was spent getting the face cleaned out and timbered once again, Dave at the Eimco while I drove the loco in and out, and with Calís help, tipped the muck over the side of the landing. Slowing everything down was the fact that for some reason none of the equipment seemed to want to stay on the track. Dave is an expert at dealing with derailments and can usually get heavy things like the Eimco back on in a matter of seconds. Cal and I, having a good bit less experience at this, naturally took a bit longer to deal with such things.

At one point, the tub, loaded with a lot of wet mud and rock, decided to jump the track at the end of the landing as we were trying to tip it over the side. This sort of thing has happened before and sometimes results in the tub going down the tip along with the load of muck. Fortunately, not this time. We were left, however, with a heavy tub, all four wheels off the rail at the end of the track, with no way to get behind it and lever the back wheels on. After a lot of grunting, fowl language, and long pieces of timber, we finally succeeded, just as Dave emerged from the mine looking to find out what was keeping us from returning for the next load. Back on track I began to drive the loco and tub back into the mine only to have the loco derail at the portal. It was that sort of a day.

Back at it yesterday, first order of business was to help Dave finish the latest set of timbers. Late morning the constable from Durham who issues our explosives permit showed up with an assistant for his annual visit. After checking that our record-keeping was in order they donned cap lamps and wellies and came in to watch Cal and I wash down the newly exposed face. In the process, we found that we had hit one of our occasional vein pockets containing large purple fluorite crystals. These pockets are usually surrounded by very hard, unfractured ironstone, and are very difficult to collect without bringing the diamond chain saw underground and cutting the rock. Weíve found that the resulting specimens, though large, are not really all that attractive after they dry out, and the few times we have gone to the trouble to properly collect one of these pockets, the specimens proved difficult to sell. After about an hour of probing for fractures in the surrounding rock that didnít exist, we gave up and decided to drill and shoot the face once again. We packed the pocket with padding and drilled the holes well away from it so as hopefully not to blow it to bits. Todayís photo is of the pocket in place.

At the start of drilling, Dave decided to put in a few exploratory holes in the direction of where we thought the end of last summerís pocket zone was, using a 6-foot drill steel. Weíve done this during the past couple rounds to no success, but this time I watched in the pocket as the drill steel clattered and pocked through the floor at the end of our hand-excavated tunnel. The intersecting hole was at around 30 degrees back from the face and was pretty much the entire length of the steel. I figured this means that the pocket zone (if it continues) will be about four feet in front of us. With this in mind, Dave drilled a set of short 2-foot holes in the face, and we fired again at the end of the day.

Cal and Kerith are off being tourists today, while Iím here at the cottage, composing this report, having another coffee, and wondering how much ibuprofen it will take to make me forget all the various sore muscles Iíve worked up this week. Tomorrow we plan to be back at the mine to see what the last shot has uncovered, so I hope one day of recovery will be sufficient.

Until next time,

Jesse, Cal & Kerith

Another one of our impossible to collect purple pockets.

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