When I was 27 I left my home in Texas and went to work at a gold mine in Alaska.
In 1987 a man by the name of Al Fielding, from Ft. Worth, came to my dad and said he had the mining rights to some land in Alaska. Al knew my father raised venture capital, he wanted assistance in raising funds to open a Gold Mine in the Chugach mountains, a bit north of Chitna. They made it happen. Right before Al was about to go up and start, he asked me if he wanted to come. I was fresh out of college, single, light on life’s responsibilities…and couldn’t sign up fast enough.
Al put together a 10 man crew of Texans to get the gold mine up and running. A month later I was on a plane and what I remember about that plane ride is that I could tell the people that where going home. And what I realized when I came home after 3 months I looked like I was an Alaskan native leaving. The Alaska culture is very distinct, haggard, raw, skin sunburnt from the wind and most from out in the bush wore mismatched clothes. It seemed that folks lived with the possibility of life becoming brutal or rather one better be able to survive.
The big thing about the mine is that it was not in operation…we had to set it up. We looked at and found both sleeping and kitchen trailers. Off the highway, just north of Chitna, there was a small unmarked dirt road that led to the diggings. To get up to the ore, weeks were spent widening, smoothing and putting in a corduroy road over parts of the permafrost. This was mostly to get it ready for all of the heavy equipment that was to follow.
This wasn’t an underground mine where a cave was drilled into a mountain. The was an open-surface mine. The wire gold was trapped in veins inside granite rocks which were exposed to the surface. With two different sized rock crushers and two separate jigs the gold was processed. Scott’s jobs varied from operating a rock crusher that took 4’ boulders down to 4”, and making sure the water flowing through the jigs was working properly. We were at the tops of the mountains so there was no operating water to speak of. The water used came from snow run off…pumped in rubber tubes from ¼ mile away…from down the hill. Water would be pumped up daily to stock tanks lined with tarps.
I was so green to this type of work, a total novice. I made friends with the welder, David Speed, from West, Texas. A side note: There is what’s called a welder’s cap. David had quite a few of them. I wanted one. He said, “Not until you learn how to weld.” Over the next few weeks, he taught me how to weld so that I could proudly wear one. Mark Wheat, another man from West Texas. We didn’t have showers and but we did have two washtubs. We would bathe in and I took a picture of him naked in one. To this day he treasures photo I took of him.
I spent 3 months at the mine. I had never experienced work like that before. I made life long friends that I cherishes to this day.