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A long Day at the Four Aces Claim, White Canyon, south east Utah

March 21, 2016

(I am republishing some former blog posts in a more logical order.)

In June 1955 I arrived by plane in Grand Junction, Colorado to work for Exploration Incorporated.  My good friend Richard V. Gaines was their chief geologist and had gotten me the job.  He drove me down to White Canyon and back so I would know the way.  We went west from Grand Junction on busy US 50 towards Green River staying south of the Book Cliffs.  In the middle of nowhere we turned south on US 191 through Moab, Monticello and Blanding.  Then again in the middle of nowhere we turned west on Utah 95 over dramatic Comb Ridge and angled north past Fry Canyon (the last settlement with a permanent population of perhaps 10) into White Canyon.  This highway was shown on highway maps with nothing to alert people to the fact that it was just two wheel tracks through sand and rock for most of its length completely impassable to any ordinary two wheel drive vehicle.  In White Canyon, Dick pointed out the Happy Jack Mine and told me that the people there would provide help if I needed it.

To get up to Four Aces Claim one left US 95 in the absolute middle of nowhere and drove along an almost invisible track towards the sheer purple Moenkopi sandstone cliff.  Finally you saw a narrow back-up switch back road up the Moenkopi and headed up with substantial doubt that it was possible to get to the top.  After a sharp turn at the top (which I later widened on my own with dynamite) one wandered around on an adequate recently constructed cat-built the gradually sloping, heavily eroded gaily-colored Chinle shale until arriving at the end of two tunnels driven into the Shinarump outcrop on top of the Moenkopi.

August, 1955.  Me in front of re-timbered 1893 Four Aces Tunnel.

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View of Four Aces tunnel from about half a mile north. Note the mine tailings from 1893 below the tunnel. The light colored rock is Shinarump conglomerate, dark rock below is Moenkopi sandstone, eroded sloping stuff piled on top is Chinle shale.

1955 View of Four Aces tunnel.jpeg

Copper Point (Wingate aeolian sandstone), White Canyon, Utah.  Four Aces tunnel was straight in front towards the viewer on top of the lower dark cliffs of  Moenkopi sandstone.

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 Dick drove me back to Grand Junction and the next day I started down alone to be the only one at the claim when a drilling crew arrived.  It was a long drive and dusk when I passed Happy Jack Mine.  I was afraid I might miss the minimal road in to the Four Aces Claim, so I bedded down beside the highway where it had been widened to allow a small plane to land.

I got up about 4:00 am and drove on finding the road to the mine without trouble and negotiating the difficult back-up switchback.  I unpacked and made some breakfast.  About 9:00 am I saw trucks pull into the road to the switchback 400 feet below and drove down.

It was quite a sight that met my eyes when I arrived.  Jerry [[I have forgotten his name but this will do]] was a very small 45 year old man in worn clothes leaning on a rifle against the front of his pickup truck with two pistols stuck into his belt one on each side.  Three guys (younger than me) were armed and trying to look as tough as possible and I think there was another guy perhaps in his late 30s not posing.  I introduced myself and ascertained they were the drillers I was waiting for.  I warned them about the difficulty of the switch back road and started to lead them up in my company jeep.  Their brand new compressor truck followed me driven by one of the kids.  Before we had gotten very far up it started to slide off the side of the road.  It seemed to me that it could be driven right back on but all of them said they did not think so and that it was worth $40,000 (that much was a LOT of money in the early 1950s) and that I needed to get something to pull it back on the road.

I immediately thought of the Happy Jack Mine about 7 miles up White Canyon.  I had noted a new bulldozer by the mine as I drove by.  My jeep was trapped up the narrow road from the compressor truck.  They wanted me to drive one of their trucks to get help, but I was not sure I would know its gear pattern and declined.  Eventually one of them drove me up to the Happy Jack Mine.  No one was above ground, but the lights and compressor were running so I knew someone must be underground.  I took a hard hat and battery operated headlamp off the rack and started into the mine, not knowing who might be there or what they might be doing.  Fortunately, before I had gone far, I saw someone rolling out an ore cart by hand towards me.  I made sure that he had seen me and turned towards the entrance.   When the 55 year old guy (I learned that he was one of the Tedesco brothers who owned the mine) came out, I introduced myself and said I was working at the Four Aces Claim and explained the difficulty I was in.  This guy, who had never seen me before but knew my company was working the Four Aces claim, said I could borrow his brand new D-8 cat, but that I had to get a low boy to move it down to the bottom of our cliff.  I asked how I could do that.  He said I should go across Utah 95 to the AEC buying station that had been established right next to the Happy Jack Mine to buy their rich output.  The people at the buying station had a radio and could call someone at Fry canyon who had a low boy.

I did as told.  At the buying station folks who had never seen or heard of me called up the guy at Fry canyon who was in the same condition.  I asked him if I could borrow his truck saying my company would pay for it.  Without question he said he would come right up.  In about an hour he appeared and I think the mine owner loaded his cat on the truck and we (the truck owner and I) headed down the road towards Four Aces followed by the drilling crew ruffians.

We arrived and the drillers announced that I was to pull their truck back on the road.  I had never operated a caterpillar tractor at that time, but was reluctant to say so.

An amazing deus ex machina arrived exactly at this point.  My older brother, Macdougall, was still working for Dick Gaines in Washington State, but when he learned I was coming out to Utah he got permission to drive down to see me.  He showed up.  After a more than usually friendly greeting I explained the situation and he skillfully pulled the air compressor truck onto the road.  We got all the drillers up to where they were to set up and loaded the cat back onto the low boy.  I think the truck owner must have taken the cat back to the Happy Jack Mine.  Macdougall left and I cooked some supper and went to bed at 3:00 am. I recall charging the company for a 23 hour day and they paid me.

 

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One Comment
  1. Alan Hughes permalink

    Theodore,

    Pretty high adventure for a kid from Webb City. Talk about learning on the fly. We enjoyed reading about the early years.

    Alan Hughes

    Webb City

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