Spoke with husband-wife who last worked King Midas Mine

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Death Valley Dazed
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Spoke with husband-wife who last worked King Midas Mine

Post by Death Valley Dazed » Fri Jan 24, 2020 5:53 pm

This evening I was thrilled to make phone contact with James Edgar Harris and his wife Anna who were the last ones to work The King Midas Mine, established by Jim's father, Michael Joseph Harris and his wife Patricia. Jim and Anna are both 89 years of age and are anxious to share their memories of Death Valley. They live on the east coast now.

Jim has some hearing loss on phone calls but Anna hears well, however they prefer me to contact them via email, which I am now setting up. They were excited to hear that I had just visited the mine in December 2019 and wanted the link to my YouTube video of the adventure.


I am developing a list of questions for Jim and Anna and hope to eventually compile as much information about the history of Jim's father and mother and their own history with The King Midas, life in Beatty, Nevada and Death Valley National Park.

Please submit any questions that you may have so that I can pass them along to Jim and Anna for their response.

Anna told me that her last time up to the mine she "took the Billy Goat trail and I don't know if I could make it back up there now. I wasn't sure where to put my foot for the next step." Jim added that he usually took the "Old Mule Trail."

I got a huge kick out of actually speaking to real-life miners who actually worked the mine in the early 1950's when they were in their early 20's. I told them that contacting them "really brought the life back into Death Valley adventures."

In case you missed it, here's a link to Jim's memorial to his father that currently sits just inside of the mine entrance.
http://salamandersociety.com/deathvalle ... -legal.pdf

I hope to post updates as I acquire new information.
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Re: Spoke with husband-wife who last worked King Midas Mine

Post by MojaveGeek » Fri Jan 24, 2020 6:56 pm

That's very cool!

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Re: Spoke with husband-wife who last worked King Midas Mine

Post by Kauri » Fri Jan 24, 2020 8:06 pm

Amazing!! Maybe you and Jim and Anna could write a book from their stories of working the mine and living in the Beatty/DV area? :grin: I'm sure there are many folks who would enjoy reading it! Especially if it includes old photos of what life was like in DV during that time.

In regards to questions for Jim and Anna... (apologies in advance if these are answered elsewhere)
How often did they need to haul supplies/additional equipment up the canyon (I'm guessing using the truck and possibly the car which are now partially buried in the canyon wash?), then up the old mule trail to the mine works? Did they do much exploring of Death Valley, beyond the area near King Midas Canyon? And did they enjoy living in such a scenic, but remote, location, or were they happy to leave?

Off-topic from this thread, but here's another canyon-with-a-mine you might be interested in visiting and researching, in the southern Black Mountains, which reminds me a lot of King Midas Canyon. The correct name (according to the NPS) is the Jubilee Lead Mine, but it's also been known as the Scallywag Mine:
http://www.panamintcity.com/black/tramwaycanyon.html
https://starbuck.org/exploring/californ ... ag-mine-2/
Death Valley named locations map, and my trip reports: http://kaurijacobphotography.yolasite.com

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Re: Spoke with husband-wife who last worked King Midas Mine

Post by Death Valley Dazed » Sat Jan 25, 2020 10:33 am

Kauri wrote:
Fri Jan 24, 2020 8:06 pm
In regards to questions for Jim and Anna
Thank you Kauri for the suggestions, questions, and links to the Scallywag Mine. That one video is over 50 minutes long and documents so much detail of the mine works. It's amazing.

This morning I've already been in touch with Jim and Anna and have submitted eight questions, including yours to them. I have many more questions but I don't want to flash flood them now. I'm trying to ascertain what access we may have to any photos in their possession.

I'm hoping more of you readers of this thread will submit questions because I certainly won't think of all of the good questions.
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Re: rusted truck below King Midas Mine

Post by Death Valley Dazed » Tue Jan 28, 2020 12:10 pm

Jim and Anna are starting to compile their stories about King Midas. This is how Anna describes the rusted truck frame.

"The frame of the old vehicle there is from a truck Jim and his father drove from the Skido gold mine in California. They used the engine up at the mine."

Image
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Re: rusted truck below King Midas Mine

Post by Kauri » Tue Jan 28, 2020 2:02 pm

Death Valley Dazed wrote:
Tue Jan 28, 2020 12:10 pm
Jim and Anna are starting to compile their stories about King Midas. This is how Anna describes the rusted truck frame.

"The frame of the old vehicle there is from a truck Jim and his father drove from the Skido gold mine in California. They used the engine up at the mine."

Image
Amazing!! That must have been a neat drive back then, from Skidoo to King Midas. I recall seeing the remnants of the road they put in around the grotto near the beginning of the canyon.

Thank you to Jim and Anna for the stories, and thank you to DV Dazed for initiating and organizing this sharing of info!
Death Valley named locations map, and my trip reports: http://kaurijacobphotography.yolasite.com

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Re: rusted truck below King Midas Mine

Post by Death Valley Dazed » Tue Jan 28, 2020 4:45 pm

Kauri wrote:
Tue Jan 28, 2020 2:02 pm
That must have been a neat drive back then, from Skidoo to King Midas. I recall seeing the remnants of the road they put in around the grotto near the beginning of the canyon.
You're welcome Kauri. I hope to return to DEVA sometime around the bloom (maybe a super bloom) and during this visit will return to The Kind Midas and pay much more attention to details, like the one you just brought up about "remnants of the road." I barely noticed the road you mention and I also noticed some possible road remains at the mouth of the canyon. I believe there are road remains near the current access road to Keane Wonder that may be leftovers from the original access road. It should be fun to scout around the whole area and see if any evidence of the old miners still exists.

One thing I wish to do is take a copy of this vintage photo with me and see if I can stand in the exact same location and take a selfie of me holding the photo up. I've asked Jim and Anna to please ID the people in the photo. Notice how in the left caption it's written "camp" with an arrow pointing but I'm not sure if the arrow means around that far bend or right where the photo was taken? Take note of the spool of wire cable in the left background which may or may not help me locate the sweet spot.

Image

Take note of the spool of wire cable in the left background which may or may not help me locate the sweet spot. This might be that same wire spool which hikers to the King Midas almost have to trip over heading up this canyon?

Image
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Re: rusted truck below King Midas Mine

Post by Kauri » Tue Jan 28, 2020 7:09 pm

Death Valley Dazed wrote:
Tue Jan 28, 2020 4:45 pm
One thing I wish to do is take a copy of this vintage photo with me and see if I can stand in the exact same location and take a selfie of me holding the photo up. I've asked Jim and Anna to please ID the people in the photo. Notice how in the left caption it's written "camp" with an arrow pointing but I'm not sure if the arrow means around that far bend or right where the photo was taken? Take note of the spool of wire cable in the left background which may or may not help me locate the sweet spot.

Take note of the spool of wire cable in the left background which may or may not help me locate the sweet spot. This might be that same wire spool which hikers to the King Midas almost have to trip over heading up this canyon?
I think the old photo was taken further up-canyon than the spool you pictured is located, since the background doesn't match (assuming we're looking at the same spool; there's a photo of the one I'm recalling on page 5 of http://kaurijacobphotography.yolasite.c ... nPart1.pdf)

Given the location of the arrow for "camp", I think it's pointing to the camp being around the bend. And I would guess the photo was taken at the bottom of the old mule trail, near where the remains of the truck are. E.g., see the third photo on page 9 of http://kaurijacobphotography.yolasite.c ... nPart2.pdf. I think I can see how the gullies, cliff bands, ridges, etc. match between the old photo and the one in my report.

But that's just a guess, I certainly could be wrong.
Death Valley named locations map, and my trip reports: http://kaurijacobphotography.yolasite.com

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Re: rusted truck below King Midas Mine

Post by Death Valley Dazed » Sat Feb 01, 2020 10:20 am

Kauri wrote:
Tue Jan 28, 2020 7:09 pm
But that's just a guess, I certainly could be wrong.
Well Kauri, usually your guesses are better than my speculations. It's looking like I might be able to spend some time in DEVA next week which will allow me to retrace my King Midas steps, do more poking around and use your images, notes and trip report to zero in on details.

BTW, Jim and Anna say that they are writing up more extensive stories and history which I hope to receive in the near future. I'm excited to see what they have to add to the already colorful history of King Midas.
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First Installment Family Mining History

Post by Death Valley Dazed » Thu Feb 20, 2020 11:59 am

King Midas Mine History by James E. Harris (Son of Michael J. Harris and Patricia Brown Harris) - posting date 2-20-2020

The old truck in the canyon was a Model A Ford that was abandoned at Skidoo (California) in 1949 when we had gold mined there. We got it running and drove it east to our mine in the Funeral mountains. We took out the engine, dismantled it and had a mule pack it up in pieces via the "Goat Trail". We reassembled the four-speed transmission, and the engine was used as the hoist engine.

Dad bought 4,000 feet of World War II (WWII), ¼ inch diameter surplus airplane control cable. This cable was pulled by hand up to the mine. The 4-inch diameter pipe welded towers were packed up by mule, except for the first one which we packed up ourselves. We hand-drilled holes for dynamite to blast out holes for concrete. Water and cement were either hand-carried or mule- packed, then mixed and allowed to set. At the first tower, Jim put small stones in the concrete saying "1949".

After the towers were set, then the ¼ inch cable was used to pull up a 9/16 inch galvanized cable. Dad bought 8,000 feet of this surplus cable from an oil driller in Bakersfield, California. Pulling up the 9/16 inch cable was done using the Model A engine as a hoist.

Until the tramway was operational in March 1950, everything was packed up by hand as we had hired the mule-packer only for a week to help pack the engine and help put towers in place. Then the tramway was used to haul up the Ingersoll-Rand air compressor and its' four-cylinder International engine. The air compressor and engine had been dismantled previously to save weight. We decided it was prudent to string a second 9/16 inch cable parallel to the first one. The cables have been slapping together for 70 years, making their desert song. We found, by the sag of the cables, more towers were needed. These towers were made of wood and packed up on the tramway.

All water was hauled 28 miles from Beatty, Nevada in a fifty-gallon barrel, then put in five-gallon cans to send by tramway to the mine. We would stay there 2-3 days, then go to Beatty to get cleaned up and get more grub. It was very hard work under very primitive conditions. We existed on the verge of starvation. Mom got a job washing dishes in a Beatty restaurant at $5.00 per day to keep us supplied with food.

I strung a 4,000-foot bare aluminum wire (0.156-inch diameter) and hooked it up to a 1937 Plymouth horn and relay at the mine. When the aluminum wire contacted the main cables, it would honk the horn, giving signals to the hoist operator (almost always Dad). Sometimes the loaded bucket would jump the cable track and create an awful mess.

We never experienced rain except for a few times when Dad said it was about three drops per acre. Almost monthly, there would be a big wind storm. During one of these storms, the aluminum wire parted, and it was restrung across the "big gulch" with me in the bucket! I would never do that now; I was age 20 and did not know any better.

This rock was very hard and taxed the tungsten-carbide insert rock drills. The ore averaged about 2.1 ounces/ton in gold ($35.00 /ounce!) and 1.1 ounces/ton in silver ($1.29/ounce) and 16% lead at $0.16/pound. All told, perhaps 900 tons of ore were mined and sent down the cable tramway. We bought a 1942 Dodge 1 1/2 ton dump truck that was being sold as surplus from the Nevada Highway Administration. We would overload the truck with six tons, first hauling the ore 150 miles to a mill located 12 miles south of Mojave, California where we were paid for the gold silver and lead. After a while, this was not satisfactory. We even hauled 6 tons to the American Smelting and Refinery at their smelter in Pinale, California (in the San Francisco Bay). This was about 500 miles. It was low-grade ore, and Dad got about $18.00 for the truckload of ore after paying their charges! After that, we ended up hauling ore to the copper ore smelter at McGill, Nevada, near Ely, Nevada. There, they did not pay for the lead as it went up in fumes as they smelted their copper concentrates in the mill that milled 6,000 tons of ore per day that were taken from the open pit by Ruth, Nevada (W. of Ely) by a train that hauled the low-grade copper ore. I believe this was the Kennecott Copper Company. They did pay a premium for the silicon that served as a flux in their copper smelting. This was a 306-mile haul. From Tonapah to Ely is the most barren road in America; 157 miles between towns. There is a Lockes Ranch and Warm Springs. These are not towns, but mere specks. There is one straight stretch of road, 28 miles in length on the road. I watched them pour 300-pound ingots of copper that were sent by rail to Baltimore, Maryland where later, I saw these ingots refined, extracting the gold and silver by electroplating the copper from the ingots.

A year after the Korean War started, June 25, 1950, I decided to join the navy in San Francisco, July 14, 1951, as I wanted no part of being drafted into the army. This was one of the best decisions I ever made because it got me out of the awful toil in Death Valley, and I would have the G.I. Bill to support finishing my Mechanical Engineering degree at Sacramento Jr. College and later at Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo. I was a signalman and later, a navigator in the navy. It was a great experience; I met some life-long friends in the navy. Later, I joined the US Coast Guard Reserve, stayed in for twenty years and retired as a commander.

I had three mishaps driving the 1 ½ ton Dodge dump truck with 6 tons of ore. The first mishap was when I was starting down the Red Rock Canyon grade, (highway 395 in California) where I had to gear the truck down to use engine compression vs. brakes to slow down the truck. As I started braking to make one lower gear shift, the brake pedal was mushy, but I made the shift. When I needed to shift again to a lower gear, - no brakes! What to do to avoid being a runaway truck? I used the parking brake to make another shift -done OK. I needed to shift another time and did the same. I could see that the brake band was red hot! I descended OK after three shifts to get to the bottom of the grade. I was 20 miles north of Mohave with 6 tons of ore and no brakes. What to do? I drove the 20 miles to Mohave very gingerly. There, I was able to buy a new hydraulic hose for the left front brakes as it had ruptured. Then I installed it, bled the brakes and took the load to the ore mill 12 mill south.

Then a second mishap occurred. I was going up the Slate Ridge grade out from Trona, California late at night. The fan belt broke. This meant no generator, radiator fan or water pump action. I drove upgrade until the engine became Hot, stopped and let it cool off, put it in reverse to restart the engine and continued. There was nearly a full moon and almost no traffic so I could drive without lights and save the battery for the necessary ignition. I continued this stop/start process until I reached the summit. Then, by driving very gingerly, I was able to make it into Trona and parked in front of a service station. I waited until the station opened the next morning and bought a new fan belt. I installed the fan belt and started the engine. The engine barely started as the battery was low. Then I drove to the mill and dumped the ore. I picked up a load of baled hay for a neighbor in Beatty for his horse.

The third mishap occurred on Jan. 2, 1951. I needed to spend the night washing dishes at a Beatty restaurant since the rest of the town was sleeping or boozing it up in the new year, 1951. After washing dishes, I drove out to our mine and picked up 6 tons of ore to haul 306 miles to the smelter at McGill, I got there late at night, and no one was available to switch the "Dinky Car" under the transfer shoot so I had to shovel all six tons by hand. It was about midnight and was cole, but the labor rejuvenated me so I felt pretty good. Dad said I should get a $5.00 room in Ely, but I felt OK and decided to drive the 157 miles to Tonapah which I did. It was about 80 more miles to get to Beatty. I got within 28 miles of home going along a 16 mile straight away by Scotty's Castle junction when I dozed off going about 50 miles per hour. I drifted to the left of the roadway and awoke with a start as I was headed for a concrete abutment that was part of a road drain. I swerved suddenly to the right to miss it and hit a small embankment on the right side of the road. The jolt knocked the front axel loose. I saw a car about eight miles down the road. It was about 5:00 a. m. I tried to thumb a ride, and he went by about 80 miles per hour. Then I used the shovel to cut some sagebrush and poured a tad of gasoline from the near-empty 50-gallon gas barrel we carried to make a round trip. I started a fire to keep warm as it was cold. The sagebrush burned so fast, I was kept busy chopping it with a shovel. After a while, a second car picked me up and took me to Beatty. There I got Ralph Lyle to go get the truck with his tow truck. He charged $28.00. It took Dad and me and $103.00 to repair the truck - all because I did not spend the money for a $5.00 hotel room in Ely. I was 20 years old, and it was a series of stupid moves on my part. All told, driving the truck was the easiest part of all the gold mining experience.

After I joined the navy and spent 12 weeks in Boot Camp at San Diego Naval Training Center, they gave me a thirty-day leave. I went back to Death Valley, and at the bottom of the tramway, I helped build a pitiful one-room shack of scraps, with a dirt floor, that Mom and Dad lived in from 1951 to 1954. He worked the mine by himself with Mom as his helper. I got a sound-powered telephone from an army surplus store. It was the kind used by the navy. Mom and Dad could communicate shack to mine with this telephone. She sent his lunches up on the tramway bucket.

The last 6 tons of ore shipped was the best as it ran a tad over 3 ounces per ton ($105.00 then, $4500.00 now).

I should clarify the name of that small mine. It first was known as the Keane Wonder Extension as it was about one mile east of the Keane Wonder Mine. Later it was called the Diamond Jim Mine and finally the King Midas Mine.

I had many vivid experiences at that mine. It reminds me of a navy poster showing touching a hot stove with the caption, "Vivid experience enhances learning"! Did I Learn? Yes. I learned that if you needed help, then rely on yourself only. Often, it was twenty miles to the nearest human.

One day when working on the tramway construction, I made five trips up and down the goat trail in addition to working. Now at age 89 and maybe the last surviving gold miner from Death Vally, I would be hard-pressed to make one trip there.

This mine was worked in the 1930s. It was hard drilling and hard handwork. The ore was packed down the mule trail with each mule carrying about 200 pounds of ore. They also had mules carry water and all supplies to the mine. They made the mule trail for that purpose. After much hard work, these hard rock miners gave up the mine as it was very hard work, and the pay earned was not sufficient. The mine was abandoned. Today, mining is not permitted in the Death Valley National Monument.

I was at the mine last in December 2007 and was accompanied by Death Valley Park Ranger. Greg Cox and two others, including one woman. The address is Death Valley National Monument, P.O. Box 579, Death Valley (Furnace Creek Ranch), CA 92328. Telephone 760-786-3258.

-------------------------------------------------

I hope to secure more written and photographic history from Jim and Anna once they return home where they have more records available. I've been reaching out to NPS staff in Death Valley for assistance in the curation of this project but so far have not heard back.
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Re: Spoke with husband-wife who last worked King Midas Mine

Post by Kauri » Thu Feb 20, 2020 8:14 pm

Wow. Absolutely amazing! A big thank you to Jim and Anna for sharing their stories, and thank you to DV Dazed for organizing this!

It seems like there must be someone at the NPS who would be interested in helping to curate this info, so hopefully you'll hear something back soon.
Death Valley named locations map, and my trip reports: http://kaurijacobphotography.yolasite.com

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Re: Spoke with husband-wife who last worked King Midas Mine

Post by DavidW » Fri Feb 21, 2020 10:31 am

Very interesting stuff, especially since its first hand knowledge.

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Re: Spoke with husband-wife who last worked King Midas Mine

Post by Death Valley Dazed » Fri Feb 21, 2020 5:15 pm

Kauri wrote:
Thu Feb 20, 2020 8:14 pm
It seems like there must be someone at the NPS who would be interested in helping to curate this info, so hopefully you'll hear something back soon.
I just received an email from NPS staff who will be setting me up with curation to start the "government process" of seeing if the material is what they wish to permanently curate. I hope so, but if not, it will at least be posted online for digital archiving. I'll keep all of you posted on the process.
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Re: Spoke with husband-wife who last worked King Midas Mine

Post by Kauri » Fri Feb 21, 2020 7:53 pm

Death Valley Dazed wrote:
Fri Feb 21, 2020 5:15 pm
I just received an email from NPS staff who will be setting me up with curation to start the "government process" of seeing if the material is what they wish to permanently curate. I hope so, but if not, it will at least be posted online for digital archiving. I'll keep all of you posted on the process.
That's great!
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Re: Spoke with husband-wife who last worked King Midas Mine

Post by MojaveGeek » Sat Feb 22, 2020 6:15 am

Much appreciated read!

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