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Roger Weller, geology instructor

Jessi Nesbitt

Physical Geology
Spring 2005

A look at Mining



            My grandfather, James Pursley, also known as “Jim,” was a miner for about twenty-six years. He worked in a few different mines in the Chiricahua Mountains, and also in several mines in Bisbee, AZ.  In 1949 he started working in a small mining claim in the Chiricahua Mountains with his father and brother, Joe, extracting lead and silver. Then at age seventeen, he started working in the Scribner mine here in Cochise County. But the smaller mines where he worked in the beginning of his career were just barely getting by. Finally it became difficult for the smaller mining operations to continue. In 1951 he went to work for a much bigger mining company, Phelps Dodge. He began working in Bisbee for Phelps Dodge, and throughout his career, he would work in several different mines in Bisbee.



            My grandfather spent some time working in the Campbell, the Cole, the Dallas, and others. When he started working in the Bisbee mine, he said that Phelps Dodge was still mining the Junction, Campbell, Cole, and Dallas shafts.  These were straight down holes. He said that all of the shafts were connected with drives. The Campbell went down 3300 feet, the Junction went down 2500 feet, the Cole went down 1500 feet, and the Dallas down 1500 feet as well. Connecting the tunnels helped with ventilation. Grandpa said sometimes it would take a miner up to a half an hour to get down to the place where he was to work.

            Grandpa explained that it was darker down there than one could imagine, its not like being outside during the night, no; it’s much darker because you don’t have any moonlight or starlight. The miners had battery-operated lamps that they wore on their hard hats, and the battery was worn on their belt. Grandpa says you got into a bad habit of moving your head to shine your lamp on whatever it was you wanted to see. If for some reason your lamp went out while you were working, you could feel your way back to the main tunnel where there where stationary lights along the walls. They also had to wear steel-toed shoes for protection.

            My grandfather worked his first five years in stopes. Stope mining is where a straight vertical shaft is drilled along side a large deposit, also, which has horizontal tunnels running at periodic levels into the deposit. The cavernous opening where the minerals are excavated are called stopes (Britannica Encyclopedia Volume 8, pg 165). Here he mined copper. The following 18 years his duties were to perform cross cuts. Cross cutting is basically a cut into a mountain on a horizontal plane (Britannica Encyclopedia Volume 8, pg 159) But my grandfather said most of the cross cuts had to be timbered. Although sometime the rock was strong enough that it could be left raw (nothing to support it).  He said that sometimes they would only roof bolt it. Roof bolting was drilling holes into the ceiling of a tunnel, then putting up timber and bolting it on to the ceiling with an expanding bolt. It is said that there was enough silver and gold mined along with the copper to pay for mines’ expenses.  The procedure for mining according to my grandfathers experiences are as follows: 

            First the miner drills into the rock, where they later place the dynamite to blast the rock. One of the tools used to drill was called a Jackleg. The Jackleg allowed a miner to drill at any angle. The Jackleg was basically an air driven drill that was mounted on an extension leg.  There was also a stoper drill, but the stoper only allowed you to drill straight up.  The plugger on the other hand, was a jackhammer, and it let a miner drill downward. The jackleg, stoper, and plugger all ran on  air pressure. There are other tools like the hand crank drill that were used in earlier mining days. The hand crank drill was powered only by the strength of the miner behind it.

            Secondly the miners would place dynamite down into the drilled holes in the rock. The miners would set up a timer, and after they left, the timer would set off the blast.

            After the rock was blasted, it was time to muck it out. The mucking machine was used to load the ore into an ore car. The mucking machine sat on rails that were placed about 18 inches apart, throughout the tunnels. The mucking machines basically scooped up the ore and loaded it into an ore car, which could hold about one ton of ore. The ore car also sat on the rails. Grandpa said he could load about one ton of ore per minute using a mucker. The mucker sat on the tracks in the middle of the tunnel, and off to the sides the miners would have tracks for other ore cars, they called this the “super switch”. The super switch allowed several ore cars to sit out of the way. So when the miner driving the mucking machine needed another ore car, he would push the full one off to the side and get an empty car from the other.


            Trolleys pulled the ore cars. On the roof of each tunnel, the miners strung a heavy copper wire on insulators, about 3/8 inch to ½ inch in thickness. They would hook up electrical current to the copper for the trolleys to run along. Each trolley had a long extension that reached the copper wire, which powered the trolley from the current. 

            The trolleys then took the ore in the ore cars to a chute where they were dumped. The ore made its way down the chute, to a main shoot, where it was then lifted out in a huge bucket. Then the ore was shipped to the mill where it was crushed into sand. After being shipped to the mill, it was then shipped to the smelter in Douglas.

            Grandpa said he had never come across any real large specimens such as caves of crystals or precious stones. But he did come across some fist-sized pockets of crystals now and then. He has also found some specimens of
Azurite, Malachite, Cuprite, Pyrite, Epidote, some clusters of various crystals, and more.

     Mineral deposits have been found all over Arizona.  Arizona has been an important mineral producing area. When asked whether my grandfather thought the Bisbee copper mine may ever be in operation again, he replied, maybe when the economy is in need of copper, and the price of copper is higher, but the operation of extracting the copper would probably be considerably different. Mining will not cease to exist in my opinion, because so many things used by the world come from mines, and also because many of us think that we will be the next to strike it rich.