Thursday, May 27, 2010

Greetings from Weardale.

Yesterday the weather got back to more typical for the North Pennines, cloudy, cold and occasionally rainy. In other words, a nice day to be underground. That all seems to have changed this morning, as it is bright and sunny with only a few clouds to be seen. Dawn comes early here during the summer, and I made the mistake of not pulling the bedroom curtains fully closed last night. As a result, no alarm clock was needed this morning as I had the sun in my face around 0530. I’m sure the weather will get back to normal, soon.

Tuesday morning the compressor was delivered to the mine, so we are “officially” up and running. Dave promptly hooked up the Eimco and had the mess left from our last blast of the previous summer mucked out from the face in short order. Byron, of course, got straight to collecting. Byron’s current collecting area is to the west side of the tunnel, near the face. It is near the shear zone we have been following with the tunnel for the past several years, and as a result, much of the fluorite comes out in a “pre-damaged” condition. The material, however, is quite gemmy and lustrous, so when we get a good piece, it can be really good. Nothing of that quality has shown up yet, but there are a number of nice-looking plates now exposed, which when collected may trim out some nice pieces. Working this close to the face, Byron’s efforts were punctuated by the need to get out of the way of the Eimco, but now that the face is cleared, he should have a few days of uninterrupted digging.

For the past two days, I’ve spent most of my time having at the Rat Tail pocket, which Cal and I worked at the end of the season last year. This pocket is really a complex network of branches and cavities, which seem endless. Every time I think I’ve come to the back of the pocket, another mud-filled branch shows up. I know this can’t go on much longer as the cavities are fairly near the quarry wall, as evidenced by the fact that they are filled with plant roots when I open them up, but the area has been quite productive, so far.

First off on Tuesday, Brian cleared out the muck left by our digging last August, while I started poking in the pocket. The mud from this pocket zone contains literally thousands of bright green crystals and fragments of fluorite, which when cleaned and bagged up seem to sell nicely. After he got much of the broken rock dumped over the side onto our tip, I showed him the joy of screening the mud for crystals, and left him to that treasure hunt for the afternoon. At the end of the day, we had five plastic tubs full of the stuff!

The interior of the pocket zone is quite convoluted, and requires breaking a lot of wall rock to get access to the individual cavities. Even so, collecting is done while laying in some very odd and uncomfortable positions, with mud falling in one’s face and water trickling down one’s sleeve. The experience is rewarded, however, by a selection of some nice specimens at the end of the day. The results of Tuesday’s efforts are the subject of today’s photo.

Yesterday Dave was away picking up a milling machine that he won on e-bay, so the three of us had back at it, uninterrupted by the by the rumble of the Eimco. Brian got the full introduction to his position as “Head Mucker” and set to clearing out the first of our two cross cut tunnels near the face. These were both shot at the end of last season, and as they are side tunnels, have no track for the Eimco. As a result, all the muck must be shifted by hand, out of the tunnels and into the main drift so the Eimco can complete the job. By the end of the day he had a good size pile of it shifted out of the cross cut.

I was back in the Rat Tail for much of the day, assisted by a small pneumatic scaler that Dave reefers to as the “windy pick.” It’s great for breaking up rock but the vibration can rattle your entire body, so I traded of between that and the more traditional hand chisels. By the end of the day I had completely replaced the pile of rubble that Brian hauled out the day before, but had another nice lot of specimens to show for it. This morning I have some pretty sore shoulders and back to show for it, too.

After a quick clean-up back at the cottage, Byron and I dashed off to the Newcastle airport to pick up his brother Greg. Greg was with us for a month last summer, and doesn’t seem to have had enough of this mining thing, so has returned for another go at it. His trip from Minneapolis was complicated by the confiscation of his toiletries from an over-weight bag by airport security, and the cancellation of his connecting flight from London due to a strike at British Airways, but he finally made it in relatively good shape.

Today all hands will be back at the mine, so we’ll see what damage we can do.

Until next time,

Jesse & Byron



A few new bits from the Rat Tail pocket.

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