In The Heart Of The Bonanza
Early Mining Operations
excerpted from
The Big Bonanza

by Dan DeQuille
of the Territorial Enterprise

Dan DeQuille

In the mines rapid advances were soon made, both in the development of the various claims and in the machinery and appliances used. Whereas the first shafts sunk were mere round holes, precisely similar in every respect to an ordinary well, now begain to be seen well-timbered square shafts of two or more compartments; the old hand-windlasses gave way to horse-whims and to steam-hoisting machinery, and large and substantially constructed tunnels took the place of "coyote holes" that were at first run into the hills.

The first steam hoisting and pumping machinery seen on the Comstock lead was put in at the Ophir mine in 1860. The machinery was driven by a fifteen horse-power donkey-engine. The mine was at that time being worked through an incline ( an inclined shaft), which folled the dip ofthe vein. A track was laid down in this incline and a car was lowered and hoisted through it by steam-power. The pump then used had a pipe but four inches in diameter, and it was hard work to keep the mine drained, even at the slight depth then attained.

In December 1860 the Ophir folks had attained a depth of but 180 feet in their mine. They were working down in the heart of the bonanza, or rich ore body, and at that depth the breadth of the ore was fourty five feet. No such great width of ore had ever before been seen, and the miners were a wits' end to know how to work it and keep up the superincumbent ground; how to support such a great width of ground with timbers was the question. The ordinary plan of using posts and caps would not do, as posts of sufficient length could not be obtained, and, even though they could be had, would be inadequate to the support of the great weight and pressure that would be brought to bear upon them. In this emergency the company sent to California for Mr. Philip Deidesheimer, a gentleman who had had much practical experience in both the mines in Germany and those of the Pacific coast.

After Mr. Deidesheimer arrived and was placed in charge of the mine as superintendent, he worked upon the problem before him for three weeks before he arrived at a satisfactory solution. He then hit upon the plan of timbering in "square sets," which is still in use in all tthe mines on the Comstock and without which they could not be worked. The plan was to frame timbers and put them together in the shape of cribs, four by five or six feet in size, piling these cribs one upon the another - but all neatly framed togther - to any desired height. Thus was the ground supported and braced up in all directions. Where the vein was of great width, a certain number of these cribs could be filled in with waste rock, forming pillars of stone reaching up to the wall of rock to be supported-up to the roof of the mine.

In 1861 Mr. Deidesheimer prevailed upon the Ophir Company to put up a fourty-five horse-power engine, and eight-inch pump, and improved hoisting machinery for the incline of the mine. the company thought this a fearfully extravagent move and were almost frightened out of their wits when this "tremendous" machinery was first mentioned. Now there is hardly anything in the shape of a mine anywhere along the Comstock range on which there is not in operation more powerful and costly machinery.

At the depth of 180 feet, at what was called the third gallery, the width of ore was, as I have said, 45 feet; at the fourth gallery it became 66 feet in width, and the miners were delighted to find that the new timbers supported the ground in the most perfect manner. At this time the ore extracted from this first bonanza was assorted as it was extracted. That which would average a thousand dollars per ton was sacked up and shipped to England for reduction, while the remainder was piked uo as seconand third-class ore, to await the erection of proper mills for working it at home. At the Mexican and other mines of the neighborhood, about the same disposition was at this time being made of the ores taken out, while at Gold Hill they had not attained a sufficient depth to reach the silver and were working their ores for gold alone, though much silver was obtained with the gold.

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Bridget E. Smith, editor & publisher

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Historical Gazette
Published in Portland, Oregon
© 1991-