UNDERGROUND

On joy and sorrow in mining

The life of a miner is rarely easy, but sometimes the highs make it very rewarding

Sean Daly
 Miners Day celebrations at El Volcan village inside Cajon del Maipo valley at the Andes

Miners Day celebrations at El Volcan village inside Cajon del Maipo valley at the Andes

Some of these poems were written in the 1960s and 1980s in the interior of BC at mining and mineral exploration projects, while others were penned during the writing of my book From the Erzgebirge to Potosi. Then more recently there are reflections on my family and life in general while living in Vancouver, BC and travels to and work in Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador. Two poems are in memory of my son.

Much of the inspiration comes from down-to-earth people encountered in my work like diamond drillers, geologists and miners from the Highland Valley Copper Mine (HVC) in south central British Columbia and people from the El Mochito Mine in Honduras. It could be said that the poetry represents the wisdom of those involved in the heroic struggle for production and scientific experimentation.

The heroic struggle for production and scientific experiment was conducted at HVC and in Mexico and Honduras, by me and the miners and other engineers and geologists, so this poetry is partly to promote that struggle which is in integral part of a mine or factory and which unites us from Canada to the US and Latin America.

Whether struggling with the bentonite during the installation of a piezometer and innovating how to get past the plugged drill rods in the middle of a cold winter night. Or dealing with dynamite fumes and pouring groundwater from the fractures underground geological mapping in Honduras. Or indeed drilling and blasting at the tunnel face by the Honduras and Manitoba miners, we were all involved in some ways with the same struggle.

As well, the solidarity of the miners unites them throughout the Americas in their fight for better working conditions through their unions. Another way in which the Americas are tied together is through their mines and their consistently rich mineral resources throughout the Western Cordillera be in Canada through the US, through Mexico and Central America, through Peru and Bolivia and down to Chile.

Two of the poems about the challenges of mining-related activities - for example installing piezometers in diamond drill holes and to divert surface water all around one side of one of the Highland Valley Copper open pits to keep water out of the toppling zone on the west wall of the Lornex Pit.

Decipher the Earth         

"It takes 20 years to get 20 years experience"

Was the Lornex/HVC refrain,

Oft repeated, again and again,

Another way of saying

No short cuts to knowledge

In an active mine

Testing the design

Sleepless nights

Spent at the drill

On the frozen hill

A test of one's will

Installing piezometers

Deep down the hole

Until you're searching your soul

And exhausting work

Taking it's toll.

 

Or mapping the face,

Reading the rocks,

For those who know,

The granite, it talks

As do the faults,

The fractures and the dikes

A story they would tell

For those who listen well,

The clues are there

To decipher fair and square

Nature has a pattern

Observations are made

To be correlated

With results

That can make one elated.

 

Farewell to Highland Valley People

This poem is about when I left Highland Valley Copper mine (retired) and all the rich experiences I had there. I say I went to the ‘University of Highland Valley Copper Mine' ie the school of hard knocks in which most experiences became indelibly burned into my consciousness.

Nineteen years ago it was

That I first laid eyes on this office

And met a chubby fellow and

His bearded sidekick (still bearded I might say)

Got a job? I asked

I'm here on spec

My family and I came here

On a vacation trek

I'm a Bee See boy

But-what a stroke of luck!

I was coming from the same province as Mr. Holowachuk.

 

That night I made my application

In the Davey Crockett Inn

And lock, stock and barrel

Soon we were here-my family and I

That is-my wife Carmen from El Mochito Silver Mine

Down Honduras way; and two kids

Born in Toronto and Thompson

And without them I couldn't do half of what I've done.

 

And the years whipped by, they passed like a whirl

For at those millions of projects, myself I did hurl

Contractors a-drilling

Sample for the dump

Funk Bros Merritt

They knew no fear

Any 4x4 bush road

It'll do -no worry

The Bear claims-we'll get there

But not in a hurry

In the pioneering spirit

That is a Canadian trademark

The voice of experience spoke clearly

Step out-drill deeply said the ghostly Wally Marsh

(The veteran geologist of Rio Algom he was)

Wind up the Connors drill

2000' down-no problem!

Deep Lornex orebody here we come

Log that core-and sample it too!

 

Keep on with one drill, then two,

Until we were through

The site cleanup man

In those days of yore

Was Andre Couture (no brother of Ron)

He later went to Services, and I asked him

 "Do you miss me?"

"Yeah" he said with a laconic grin

"For about 20 minutes I did"

My crazy drill-site clean-ups

He finally got rid.

 

Do that job-and do this too

Map that face, map that wall

Map that pit

Note that water, note that hard toe

So the years they passed

And the seasons too

Winter snow and spring melt floods

Hot Highland Valley summers, and falls'

Brilliant colors

Other drillers came and

Other drillers went

Maitland Smith, J.T.Thomas, Tonto and BAT

John Rutherford and Wally Neufeld oft said,

"Where's my hat?"

 

But through it all

We face the elements-

-350C, strong winds and snapping pvc

Huge run-offs filling the pits

And we faced the man-made problems

Big humungeous holes in the ground

Pressure of machinery on the run

Decision makers-under the gun.

Tony said-at ol' Ruttan Mine (from Manitoba)

"The scoop trams are waiting-just give me a line-

Any line".

 

But life goes on

With its constant changes

And its new demands

For I've heard it said-You have to change

To remain the same

And I thank you all

For your help and advice

And I've never met so many solid people

In all my life.

 

Last word of advice:

Always believe in yourself

And if you are right

Stick to it until you are proven wrong.

And don't allow yourself to be

Snowballed by someone else

Just because they act too strong!

 

So from the coyotes howl

To the ravens' cry

I wish you a wholehearted

"Goodbye".

 

The race was on

Bentonite is a very old clay mainly originating as volcanic ash. It is named after Fort Benton, Wyoming which has a good supply of it. It is used in the case of this poem to seal in piezometers. Piezometers are instruments installed in drill holes to measure water pressure for groundwater and are used both in civil engineering and also in open pit mines. This poem is about an ordeal at the Lornex Mine in BC, Canada of an all-night shift to install some piezometers in a diamond drill hole.

Well we hammered and we pounded

And we washed and we sounded

Over and over again,

Four very determined men

Let me introduce you to them:

Al and Ray, the brothers McKay

Diamond drillers of the finest grade

They ran the drill machine

With a speed you've never seen

From Thompson to the banks of the mighty Stikine.

 

And with them on their shift

Were two tough geologists

One short and stout called Nelson

And one tall and thin called Sean

The former from Manitob-i-ay

And the latter from Bee Cee

 

Nelson poured the gravel and the bentonite

And Sean punched the counter and the calculator

According to the figures on his hunk of paper

But they disagreed with the truth of nature

For the nature of those West Wall rocks,

Cut by some great big muddy old faults

Said, "you can't drill me at 65 degrees

And leave me open for over three weeks

And pack me off and blow me out

And pump me up and swab me down,

And still expect my walls to stand

Contrary to the laws of the land".

 

So that hole began to misbehave

And her walls they a-started to cave

The all-night race was on!

So we chucked bentonite* down her throat

And she coughed it up into the rods

Where it swelled and stuck against all odds

So we hammered it and we pounded it

Over and over again,

From dusk to dawn

With mind and brawn

With bloodshot eyes and bitter sighs.

 

We made a pinprick hole in it

And pumped it out to a finger's width

Until we broke it through,

That brownish-grey volcanic glue

No more bentonite we said!

Not on my body dead!

Cement that's the thing

It's heavy and it will sink.

 

So that's what we used

And wisely did we choose,

For then we did install,

Our gravel, piezometers* and all

Until we got above the fault

When we knew twas safe to halt.

 

And fall into our beds

To rest our weary heads

With the battle finally over

We fought fair and square

And fair and square we won.

 

The 5112

This poem is about how we dealt with a water diversion project above the ‘5112' ditchline at Highland Valley Copper large open pit copper-molybdenum mine in southern BC. Sean was the geotechnical geologist in charge of this project and Loyed was his surveyor helper and Carl and Ross were the excavator operators to rehabilitate an existing drainage ditch, Ron and Art were in charge of the road crew, Terry was the logging contractor, Garnet was in charge of the mine electrical electrical department and Pierre Lotay was our civil engineer mine consultant.

It was the summer of ‘95

The Lornex west wall was a-moving

Spring-summer-fall-winter-no improving

Strong action was required and our crews became inspired

Carl and Ross they manned the backhoe

And Sean and Loyed they drove them wacko, on the 1632

They dug that ditch till they were blue

But never quit till they were through

Even hard spots couldn't stop them

For Leaverite and the blasters did shock them.

 

Many crews were involved to make that big project evolve,

John York and the pipefitters, and Ron and Art's crews

Worked hand in glove to complete the new pipeline up above

Where Terry's loggers had cut and grubbed.

 

Discussion led to action-Garnet and Ron talked of a fine contraption

The SS James Teit began to take shape-

The shop welders and carpenters and Orville

Made a transformation-an old pump scow became a spiffy ship

Complete with Lotay "motors" wired to perfection by the finest electricians

And now the spring has come and the water does a-run

But not just as it wishes, but along the new ditches

And while Teit Creek sump does fill, the new pumps suck it up the hill

The war with nature is not over, but one battle has been won

Thanks to each and everyone!

 

 

Sean Daly's website is www.seandalyauthor.com for info about his first book called From the Erzgebirge to Potosi and his blog. Also, there is info about his next book, of poetry, called Joy and Sorrow, Sorrow and Joy presently being published and scheduled to come out about late July 2023.

 

 

 

 

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