Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Good Morning from Weardale.

The weather over the past couple days has remained fairly cool, though the sun has managed to break through the cloud cover on several occasions. A typical cycle through the day will be sun through broken clouds in the morning, heavier overcast through much of the day and clearing in the evening. The evening breakup of the clouds has given us some nice sunsets, though the lack of strong breeze means that trying to enjoy the spectacle entails putting up with swarms of small biting insects. Being fairly far north, mid-summer sunsets are slow, constantly changing affairs, and to really take them in requires around 20-30 minutes of attention with camera at the ready. This can be a misery if one is constantly being swarmed by small flying predators, but for some reason, their numbers weren’t totally overwhelming yesterday evening, and I managed to get a few good photos. Below is a photo of yesterday’s lightshow, taken around 2130. For your enhanced enjoyment, I’ve edited the midges out of the image.

After finally penetrating last summer’s pocket zone with a drill steel last Friday, everyone was hopeful that we might be back into producing fluorite shortly. Being close, we need to adopt a “nibble away” approach to blasting at the face, in order to (hopefully) avoid blowing up what we are after, while still moving the intervening rock out of the way. At the end of the day, Dave fired a short round at the face, hoping to “inch” us forward to the pocket zone.

Back on Sunday, Cal and I discovered that, thanks to the muddy fracture zone that has been following the main vein for a ways now, the “short” blast had actually pulled a good bit of mud and rock into the drift, including several really large rocks. Exposed across much of the face was a series of purple fluorite-containing pockets, interconnected to the one we discovered on Friday. Though these pockets can look attractive when first washed out, we have found that it is virtually impossible to get decent specimens out of them as everything breaks up into bits when extracted. After about four hours of effort, we found ourselves thoroughly cold, wet, covered with mud, and in possession of a tub of single purple fluorite crystals and a few intact clusters, none of which anyone will likely to be in a hurry to buy from us come Tucson time. By mid-afternoon we decided it was time to get cleaned off and warmed up, and talk to Dave about our next nibble at the face.

Back yesterday morning, Dave made another nibble first thing, as Cal and I pulled up another load of timber from the quarry floor onto the mine landing with our cable winch. During the process, Cal managed to stab himself with a sizeable splinter from one of the boards. Fortunately, I had my “mini-Leatherman” pocket tool with me. This one is equipped with an emergency field surgery set of tools, and with only a small amount of pain and anguish, Cal was soon on the road to recovery.

That done, I headed to the face to help Dave with the next round of mucking. As always, Dave made short work of the impossibly large looking rocks decorating the muck pile, but the amount of wet mud really made the process a slow one. Tipping wet muddy muck over the side onto the dump is difficult, not only because it tends to stick to the tub rather than spill out, but when it does, if tends to form a heap next to the tub rather than flow down the dump away from us.

The first problem is dealt with by lining the tub with a section of plastic tarp, which is tied to one corner of the tub in hopes of keeping it from going over the side when we dump. This seemed to work reasonably well. Getting the dumped muddy muck to move down the tip, however, requires a much more laborious approach, meaning that someone needs to scrape it away from the track and down the tip after each load. As I was driving the loco and tub in and out of the mine, this job fell to Cal. Unfortunately, our wet mud makes an excellent adhesive and during the process of trying to get a particularly large rock loose and down the tip, he pulled a muscle in his shoulder, which required yours truly to take over shoveling duties for the last part of the day.

While engaged in the dumping, it also came to our attention that some large rocks, which were making it to the bottom of the tip were coming dangerously close to our rented compressor. Motivated by the realization of what a damaged rented compressor would cost us, we took a short break from mucking and moved the compressor to a safer distance from the tip. Fortunately, our lack of recent rain meant that the compressor was not sinking into a mud puddle, and we were able to hitch it to the van and pull it to safety without the need of a 4x4.

Dave decided it was time for another length of rail at the face, so the last chore for the day was to haul a couple sections up from the quarry with the winch. Dave usually needs to cut holes at the ends of the rail so we can bolt on the joining plates (called, for unknown reasons, “fish plates”). This is usually a fairly quick procedure using the oxy-acetylene torch. In keeping with the sort of luck we seem to be having this summer, Dave discovered that he had left the oxygen bottle turned on after the last use, and it was now empty again. With that, we hauled the empty bottle down to the van, and closed up for the evening, everyone dead tired and some a bit worse for wear.

Today, after Dave returns from a trip to Bishop Auckland to get the oxygen bottle refilled, we will continue with the new rail, and, hopefully, get another nibble done at the face. The alteration is very strong and hopes are that the pocket zone is close at hand. Guess we’ll know soon…

Until next time,

Jesse, Cal & Kerith

Another nice North Pennines sunset, sans midge!.

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