Thursday, June 25, 2015

Greetings from Weardale.

The weather continues to be overcast and cool, though not quite as cold as it has been. In general, the daily highs have been up to around 12-14C rather than the single digits of the recent past. The strong winds have also calmed down a bit, allowing the lurking hoards of midges to gather more frequently. Yesterday afternoon we had a nice outbreak of sunshine at the quarry early afternoon, and the temperature actually got up to around 18C. This only lasted an hour or two before the next bank of clouds moved in. It did break up just enough in the evening to give us some sunset color in the west, which is the subject of today’s photo. This morning begins cloudy and breezy, but I do see some patches of blue, so I guess things could go either way today – or perhaps both.

The week at the mine so far has been a series false starts. Monday morning Cal and I were away early to meet with our landlord to discuss some issues hanging over our heads with respect to continuing the mine. The meeting went well, and back at the mine we opened up and Cal and I continued washing and wrapping the accumulated specimens from the previous week. Collecting at the face had become difficult and a bit dangerous because of a large mass of fractured rock we had undercut while digging the pocket. When Dave and Joe showed up we gave them the go-ahead to drill and blast the face again. Dave gave me the order for the explosives, but I was unable to get into our magazine until after he needed to be away, so firing the shot spilled over into Tuesday.

Back at the mine the next morning, I helped Dave with charging the drill holes while Cal continued to wrap specimens for shipment home. By this point, we had used the last of our blue shipping bins left over from last summer, so Cal covered the tables inside our second container with little bundles of bubble-wrapped bits in anticipation of our shipment of recycled bins arriving from California. After firing the shot, we hauled up a load of timber to the landing in anticipation of getting the face mucked out. Despite the fact that we have an air blower plumbed to near the face, Dave said that it would take a number of hours for the air to sufficiently clear, so starting the cleanup at the face spilled over to Wednesday. Dave and Joe got away a bit early and Cal and I had a wander about the quarry photographing the year’s crop of marsh orchids that are coming up in the boggy areas.

Yesterday morning, shortly after 0700 and well before finishing the first coffee I got a call from the lorrie driver saying our next order of explosives would be arriving in about 15 minutes, so I rushed out the door to meet him at our magazine. All accomplished smoothly and I was soon back at the cottage to finish my coffee, though I did get to experience an episode of sideways rain on the fellside while taking the delivery.

Back at the mine, Cal and I decided that it was time to assemble the first pallet of full bins, so as soon as Dave and Joe arrived we commandeered the van, loaded it with the bins and pallet, and drove over to the timber yard to assemble it in the corner of one of their warehouses. Dave and Joe had set off to begin the job of mucking the face, and I was expecting to join them when we got back. When we arrived I found them both coming down from the mine with word that the loco had died in a large puff of black smoke. Not exactly what I wanted to hear at that moment! Dave said he had made a few calls to people he knew who could work on the things, but unfortunately, the fellow he thought best was away to Germany for a couple weeks. At this point I was having a deja-vu experience, remembering our Eimco episode from last summer, but undeterred, we decided, despite no one being an experienced electrician, to have a look into the control box and see if we could figure anything out.

Dave soon noticed a fairly large electrical cable coming from the battery box that had shorted and broke where it was attached to the control mechanism. Fixing it would simply require a new crimping grommet on the end of the cable. Sounded like a potentially easy fix, but finding something as simple as a heavy duty cable fastener in a rural place like Weardale is often a time-consuming adventure. Fortunately, the fellow who had been up to the battery testing for us last week was able to come up with one, and by mid-afternoon we had the cable repaired and the loco moving once again. One tub of muck over the side, however, and then time for Dave to be away again. So mucking and timbering the face has spilled over to today. At least being away early again gave us some quality time at the pub afterward.

An added plus was that upon arriving back at the cottage we found our shipment of recycled packing bins had arrived. These things are quite handy as they are sturdy and can be stacked neatly on pallets for shipment home. Unfortunately, they are also fairly expensive at around £35 each and we usually require over 60 of them each year. Once back in California and unpacked, they just take up space in out storage shed, so last year we decided to try shipping a load of them back for reuse. Despite the fact that they are used and of only slight commercial value, we get charged a substantial VAT to bring them back into the country. Still, by doing this it saves us about £10 a bin, though Cal has to pallet them and drive the assembled mass up to Los Angeles for shipment. Life in the food chain, once again.

Today I hope we will be able to get the face cleaned up, timbered, and get back to some collecting. All will be revealed soon, I suppose. At least with more bins we can continue packing the wrapped specimens.


Cheers, Jesse, Ian, Cal & Kerith

North Pennines summer sunset - a rare thing so far this year!

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