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Just another day in the mine

Jun 20, 2012 - Judd McDonald, Lander

Editor:

I am writing this letter to let everyone know what kind of man I had for a working partner in the year of 1967.

I showed up to work and changed into my miners clothes, called diggers. The mine was a continental exploration, 17 miles south of Tucson, Ariz. Waiting for the day shift to come up out of the mine. We talked, joked, laughed, a way we kept our spirits on a high. Knowing down deep that one goof up might be your last.

The day shift just came up out of the mine and told us they had tried to drop the slusher bucket down a raise, and it got hung up about 20 feet down the raise, and we needed to take some powder with us and blast it so it would go on down the raise.

They said that they had hung a rope so we could let ourselves down to the bucket. Bart Sienze, my partner, and I got on the cage with the other miners and rang the hoist bells for the 900-foot level. We discussed blasting the bucket and decided to do the job right, so when we got on the 900-foot level we went to the powder magazine and got 20 sticks of apache powder and two primers, and headed to our work area.

We had the powder in a bag, which one of us carried, and the other carried the primers. We had to climb up the man-way raise 200-foot. At that time in both of our lives it was nothing. I was 26 and Bart, I think, maybe 36. 1 don't know his age for sure. I do know he was in good shape.

After climbing up the raise we went over to the other raise, where our opposites had dropped the slusher bucket. For those who have never seen a slusher bucket, it isn't shaped like a bucket at all. Its shape is, more like a loader bucket built backwards with a metal arm so it can be dragged.

We then made up two bombs with 10 sticks each. Putting the primer in and tying the powder up, making two bundles, I then put the bombs in the bag, threw it over my shoulder and climbed down to the bucket.

Anyone with good sense would not have got on the bucket and trusting that the extra weight would not make it go the 180 feet to the bottom. But all I could think about was where to plant the bombs.

I wedged one on each side of the bucket, and made sure they were secure. I took my lighter out and lit both fuses. I knew I had six minutes to get out of the raise.

Everything was going good except for one thing -- the rope that had been hanging had collected enough moisture from the ground water and had become slippery. I started climbing up the rope and right away a great fear came on, me knowing I might not make it up to the top.

The closer I got to the top, the more slippery it got.

I stopped struggling for a bit to get my breath. I was about five feet from the top. I started to climb again. Just as I was about three feet from the top, Bart had his hand out for me to grab. I reached for his hand but wasn't close enough, so started slipping back down.

There was a rock bolt hanging in the wall of the raise, my only chance, so I grabbed hold of it with both hands. It just wasn't my day. The bolt came out, and away I went, landing on the bucket with a great impact, knocking my lights out and knocking me half goofy.

Bart was shining his light so I could see. I saw that one of the bombs had gone down the raise; I grabbed the other one and threw it down too. Then it dawned on me that I did not take the fuse out of it.

Bart saw what happened and said I'll be back. He knew that he could be killed trying to get the bombs and taking the fuse out before they went off. I don't know how much time we had left, but I would have bet against him getting to the man way, going down the ladders, and getting to the bombs before they went off.

On the other hand the concussion could have loosened the bucket enough to go the other 180 feet, and I would have been right with it.

With out my light it was total darkness. The only thing I could do was stand there waiting for the best or the worst. My heart had to have been beating a 1,000 times a minute. I can truly say I was shook up.

It seemed like forever but then I heard two pops about the loudness of a .22 shell going off. I knew Bart had made it and defused the bombs. I felt a whole lot better now, but I was still waiting in the dark and still not knowing whether the bucket was going to support both us.

I saw a glimpse of light. It was Bart carrying two ladders. After tying them together, he let them down to me. I climbed out of the raise.

I can't tell you which one of us climbed back down and put the bombs around the bucket, but thinking about it, I probably did while Bart held the light on the bucket and me.

The fuses were again lit and the ladders pulled out and we went to a safe place and waited. The bombs went off, and the bucket finished its journey.

I called up and had the hoist man send me another light. After shift I settled my nerves with a couple of beers.

Bart, I just want to thank you for your coolness and bravery in a bad situation. You risked your life, which could have ended that night, to save my life, which could have ended if you hadn't done what you did. I feel I have gotten to live another forty-four years, and still counting.

Thanks, Bart.

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