The Real Heroes of the Mining Industry
Introspection time. Recently I spent a week or so in the hospital, and came face to face with the frailty of the human organism. I have always prided myself on being a relatively healthy person, and though I may indulge in the occasional festive evening, generally since turning 55 a few years ago, have lived with a philosophy of moderation and health.
But with the recent attack that waylaid me with no notice, I realized how easily this whole experience can be taken away. While I was ‘incarcerated’ in the hospital (which is another essay, believe me!) I cogitated on what were the major accomplishments of my life…and as a corollary, who were the major influences on me during my + 3 decades in the mining industry. I began thinking of the executives, the managers and the foremen I had worked with over the years…and came to a realization. I had worked with loads of the top executives, the top engineers, the top professors in the industry. I could provide a Who’s Who list of published authors, cited engineers, mining school academia whose names would be well known to anyone in the industry. They were my friends, acquaintances and work associates. I had consulted or worked with them in all of the continents of the world. But who were the people that I relied upon when I needed a hand? Who got me out of the binds when I had a problem I had to resolve?
Consider this a belated tribute to the people who really have made the industry what it is today. This list is by no means exhaustive, and I encourage people to write in and add to the list with their experiences.
On my first mining job outside the US, in West Africa, I was lucky enough to meet Colin. Colin was an earthworks/equipment operator from England. Our first encounter was when I was trying to bed a leach pad so we could stack on it the next day, but the equipment operators were unable to follow my instructions. I stopped by the bar, in frustration (and for a beer) and sat next to Colin for the first time. After a few hellos, I mentioned the problem, and he said “Let’s go see.” We drove out to the site, and with only hand signals (that Colin had developed with the crews) he indicated how to do the cut and cover that was required. Went back to the bar and I bought him a beer, then he bought me one, then….well, you see where this is going.
Later, when we were building leach pads out of mud and goop, and the scraper fleet was falling apart, and equipment was going and coming from remote work sites on an hourly basis, Colin suggested we make a small test course out of an abandoned leach pad near the shop (slopes, rocky material, directional changes) that each unit goes through pre-shift that would take 5 minutes. Brakes, steering and other hydraulics had to meet the specifications, or went to the shop. Incredibly, this reduced our downtime by hours per shift, as units were not taken out to the remote worksite, then found to be faulty, and hauled back for repair, wasting precious
construction hours. Simple idea, easily put into practice, but you will not find it in any textbook or handbook. I lost track of Colin when I left Africa, and rumor is he passed away a few years ago. A real loss to all of us. A salute to Colin, as I know I have taken this simple idea with me where ever I have gone, and am sure that others have as well.
What can I say about Ramon? Unforgettable is the best way to describe him. Ramon fire assayed for various mining companies for years. He was born in Tucson, and his family has lived there forever. Ramon loved music, and has the largest vinyl collection of anyone I have ever known. It is probably the most unique collection in the country if not the world. You could not mention a rock, blues or jazz musician or band that he did not only have the album, but knew who played with them on it, and what their history was. I met Ramon in the early ‘80s while I was working as an assayer in the southwest US. A few years later, we ended up working together in a lab. Ramon was the best fire assayer, and lab ‘facilitator’ I would ever meet. He was a friend to everyone, and made the work environment the most envied on the site, no easy task for the nerds in the lab. He developed a multiple cupel loader for the fire assay furnace, and nickel plating compound for the furnace elements before anyone was using them. The tools that he developed have gone on to be copied by many companies, with nothing being credited to him, not that he would want it. He loved music. About a year ago, Ramon sent me over 30 CDs that he recorded for me of all of Bob Dylan’s music …ever…bootlegs, albums and concerts, knowing what a Dylan fan I am. I wrote him back and suggested we get together again with our band (we had a band in the 80s…who didn’t?) Let’s get all of us together at my place in Chile! I didn’t realize that he had been ill for a few months. Ramon passed away not long afterwards, and is sorely missed. You just don’t find them like him anymore.
If there is anyone I miss the most in this industry, it is Wayne. I hired Wayne in Africa to come assist us with the design, construction and operation of 3 different gold plants. I had to talk him into it, and I think he was reluctant to leave the US at first. He stood about 6 foot tall, maybe a little more, probably weighed around 220 or so, and I believe could have bench pressed a Sumo wrestler. You would think someone this size would intimidate people, yet I can’t recall ever meeting a more amiable soul.
Wayne was a tireless mechanical maintenance and operations guy. He learned it all from experience. If Wayne looked like he was stumped, all you needed to do was sit with him, look at the problem, suggest a solution, and he would come up with something 100 times better within minutes. It was how his mind worked, and the stimulus he needed. I don’t know the number of times that he pulled my bacon out of the fire. He developed tools for removing large fluid drives
that could be handled by one person, he modified and tooled wobbler feeder parts and equipment so they could be replaced or repaired in minutes rather than hours (if you ever used a wobbler feeder, you will understand the challenge.) He could rebuild a crusher, feeder or conveyor as quickly as you could tie your shoes. And what’s more, he was a gentle giant. In Africa, he came to the house to see our newborn baby, and my wife was worried he would come in booming and wake her up. Wayne tiptoed into the baby’s room, picked her up, and treated her like she was a delicate piece of crystal. When I left Africa, Wayne ended up in South America, but later I talked him into coming with us to Honduras where I needed help with a gold mine. The same little girl from Africa, my daughter, now about 3 years old, who Wayne had been so gentle with in Africa, would shout out “Grampa!” when Wayne would come to the house. He was working with us in Guatemala on loan from Honduras when I got the call one weekend morning. Wayne didn’t come to the morning construction meeting. They went to his room, and he had passed away in his sleep. The industry doesn’t really know what was lost when Wayne left us.
This is getting way too long and maudlin, but I just want everyone to consider who are the real heroes in your experiences…who are the people who have really made a difference in your careers and in your projects. Though they may not be the top executives, or get the big bonuses, let’s not forget these fellows and ladies that are the ones that have made things work and held operations together for all of these years.
A well deserved salute to you all.