Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Gold Bug Mine, Placerville, California

I am so lucky to live in the beautiful Sierra Mountains of California near Lake Tahoe. This area, so full of living history, is a gold mine for writing my stories. A couple of weeks ago my daughter and I finally took the time to visit the Gold Bug Mine which is located a few short miles from our home. Since the heroine in my current wip inherited a gold mine, we thought now was the perfect time to explore a real mine to experience life working underground.
We donned hardhats, carried information wands and grabbed the camera before entering into a whole new world.

What I didn’t expect was to see water dripping off the sides of slate in places and bits of fools gold as well.

I’m excited to share what we found deep inside the earth.

The major historical and geological attraction in Placerville’ s Gold Bug Park is the gold mine, established as the Hattie in 1888 by John Dench and William Craddock. A lighted wooden walkway has been installed in the 352-foot drift for safety. The classic hard rock gold mine is a cool and damp 52-57 degrees. The working face of the mine is about 360 feet back from the entrance and about 110 feet below the top of the mountain.

In the 1880’s they drilled dynamite holes by hand. With one man drilling the hole, it is called single-jacking. Most of the rock in the mine consists of slate with quartz veins. It is in the quartz vein where gold is found.

An airshaft was established to provide clean air the workers. After a day’s work it would take 24 hours for the air to exchange so the men could start to work again. It is believed that no more than 2-3 men worked the mine at a time.
It’s not known how much gold was removed. No records were kept. During World War II the mines throughout the Mother Lode were closed by order of the President as gold mining was considered a non-essential industry and men were needed to go to war. The mine was closed in 1942.

After we vacated the mine, a docent explained the process for retrieving the gold from the rock and gave me lots of pointers for my story. I don’t know if you’ve ever looked into a hole that leads deep into the earth, but I found it an uneasy experience. There is a hotel in the area that was built over the tunnel entrance. The entry had about a three foot diameter, and it felt like the devil himself was trying to pull me into the darkest black I’ve ever seen. I have a lot of respect for the miners. As we are watching the rescue of the miners in Chile tonight, I cannot even begin to imagine spending over two months inside the bowels of the earth without going insane. It certainly has given me a whole new respect for their experience.

When the quartz came out of the mine it was crushed in a stamp mill, which consists of rods that continuously pound the rock into powder. In this case, mercury was used to pull the gold away from the powder. The mercury is then vaporized off in 650 degree temperature. As for my heroine, the docent suggested that she use a gold pan and swish it back and forth until only the heavy gold nuggets remained on the bottom of the pan.

24 comments:

  1. PAISLEY--fascinating! Your photos are great, and while I enjoyed reading about the interior of the mine, I'll just take your word for it and view your snapshots. No going in that mine for me!
    I've seen the area where you make your home, and oh, my! How gorgeous it is. I envy you the beautiful mountains and lake.
    Good luck with your WIP--it seems you now have a storehouse of information to pull on, including the advice from the docent. Well done, Paisley!
    Celia

    ReplyDelete
  2. Paisley--loved the pictures and what an interesting blog. We've taken the kids through a few mines in the Dakotas while we vacationed and they have become favorite memories.

    www.marinthomas.com

    ReplyDelete
  3. What a great blog and that you have so much history and research material for your books around where you live.

    The mines gave me goose chills because of the man who was just rescued from that mind in Chile after being imprisoned for 69 days. Nope, for the time being I think I steer clear of mines. :)

    Great blog!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Like Celia and Anne-Marie, I'll take your word for the mine experience. I certainly enjoyed reading about it, but hate closed in places like that--even thugh my family have toured numerous caverns. Gives me chills to think about a cave in. Great post and photos, though. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Paisley, what a fantastic post. The pictures are scary. You were brave to enter these holes. Now I understand better what I read in books about the Gold Rush. It really existed. I can't wait to read your books--soon i know.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you, Celia. You're right - we live in such a beautiful area and our house is surrounded with cedars, firs, pines and such. I hope I never have to move from these mountains.

    I've been watching the miners coming out of the ground in Chile - well, actually crying along with them. I never did feel fear or claustraphobic which surprised me. I get that closed-in feeling sometimes in tight areas. Maybe the tunnel was long enough that the tight feeling didn't exist. I certainly wouldn't want to be stuck there for 69 days.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks, Marin. Sometimes miners didn't see the sun at all with going down into the mines early and coming out late. I can't imagine life that dreary.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks for stopping by our new blog, Anne-Marie. Everything I saw and learned that day is definitely going into my current WIP.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I'm glad you liked the photos, Carolyn. I was amazed they turned out so well considering how dark it was inside. They had lights at each point of interest, but inbetween it was a bit of a challenge to keep from banging our hardhats against the slate.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hi Mona. I plan to post more photos of this great gold rush area. There are a lot of the old buildings still standing.

    ReplyDelete
  11. This is so informative, Paisley and the pictures are fantastic. I have read about the tin mines in Cornwall. Men placed candles in their hats and went into them. Every mine or cave I've ever been in has dripped with moisture--even in dry New Mexico...with the exception of Sandia Cave and that's another story entirely! I have mild claustrophobia and can't conceive of willingly entering one of those deep mines.
    ~Donna

    ReplyDelete
  12. Wow, great story!! I have lived so close to that mine for over 20 years and never have visited. Your blog really inspires me to go and visit. Pictures are great, story is wonderful. I enjoyed it all!!

    ReplyDelete
  13. WAY TO GO PAISLEY
    I must say that whatever we do and wherever we go its always an adventure =) The day we went to Gold Bug was awesome. To know I was standing where men had once spent endless hours in tunnels that were cold damp and dark searching for what they knew would forever change their lives if they were lucky enough to strike it rich, was a feeling like no other. The pics we got turned out so well they really do show you a peek at our histroy.

    - kristen

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hi Paisley. I used to take my kids to Gold Bug when they were little. We are lucky to have so much history in our area to draw from. Your comparison with what the Chilean miners have just gone through really sent chills through me. Aren't we lucky to live some place that is so inspirational for writers? My head is swirling with more plot lines.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I was amazed myself, Donna, that I never thought about claustrophobia when we entered the mine. I think I was so focused on the mission of seeing what it was all about for my heroine that I forgot. I was never scared or apprehensive either. Now that you bring it up, I can't explain it. :)

    ReplyDelete
  16. Elaine, One of these days we must take that journey to the mine together. It does make you appreciate the workers' plight when they had to spend so much time underground.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Thanks, Paty. I thought it was awesome that it hit the same day as the miners being rescued in Chile.

    ReplyDelete
  18. It seems we have taken a lot of adventures together, Kristen. This one is one of my favorite memories because we had so much fun plotting my story while we did it. Thanks for being my partner for plotting these stories that keep popping into my head. :)

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hi Cindy. I am hoping to share a lot of the places we have around us. Luckily a lot of the old buildings and graveyards are still here to explore and gain insight to the past of the exciting gold rush era.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Great blog, Paisley!! how cool, and I had no idea about the WWII order to close gold mines.

    Loved the pix and the history. And I got that spooky "uneasy" feeling you mentioned just looking at the photos and reading your words.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Thanks Cheryl. It's an experience I will never forget and can only hope I can convey my thoughts and emotions in my story.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Paisley,
    When we went back to West Virginia a few years ago to visit my husband's family, we took our kids to a working coal mine in Beckley where they give tours. I was ready for the tour to be over with, but the kids (9 and 12 at the time) loved it. Also, I worked for a while for the Mine Safety Dept. at one of the universities here in Oklahoma several years ago, and one of the things we did every year was go down into a working coal or salt mine. The year I went, it was a coal mine. We had to step onto a mesh elevator, no walls, and be lowered into the mine. It seemed to go on forever, and at the bottom you could look up and see a tiny little pinpoint of light. CREEPY. Very interesting post! I didn't know about the Gold Bug Mine!
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  23. That mesh elevator ride does sound like an experience in patience. I don't know if I could handle that one. My grandparents lived several mountain ranges over, but their area was also deep into the gold mining. They have the Empire Gold Mine where visitors can go fairly deep into the mine and it showed a track that the miners would ride down on. That seemed sad to me that they spent so much time in the darkness.

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West!