Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. No one dresses up for the annual Miners’ Days competition. If it’s not raining and muddy, it’s dry and dusty and soon sweat and contest irrigations turn the dust to mud. Either way, the contestants end up covered in muck and the spectators go home with grit in their teeth and splatter on their sunglasses.
And it is all splendidly fun and dramatic, tense and exhilarating: to see holes drilled for dynamite, to watch muscles and veins bulge with the effort, to see shovels plunged into muck and packed into ore carts. All accomplished with human effort and skill.
The miners come from all around the state and from surrounding states to put their everything into a few minutes of back breaking work. The Nederland Mining Days contests boast the World Champion Hand Driller Emmit Hoyl who, in partnership with his wife Shavaun, organized this year’s event.
Miners Days 2015 was combined with OctoberFest 2015 and it was a good match, music and brats and beer added to the robust bouts of strength and skill.
It is not only a daunting competition, it is dangerous. One double jack drilling contestant ended up going to the hospital with the top of his finger smashed off and deemed unattachable.
But it is worth the risk, say the other contestants. Ward resident and long-time challenger in the mining events, Jesse Pattridge went home with a grin on his face and about $1,800 in his pocket after being named the All-Around Miner of the event.
Pattridge says the best part of the day, however, was when he beat Emmit Hoyl in the single jack drilling contest, something he’s wanted to do for the past decade, maybe even longer. Both men grew up watching local mining contests and in recent years have traveled to mining events, always meeting up in the hand drill competition. They will be both be headed to Carson City, Nevada for the World Championship.
Another person to beat was Steve McDonald from Nevada who was the All-Around Miner two years ago. Last year Pattridge was the All-Around Miner.
Saturday’s activities began with a huge American flag flying from the top of Nederland Fire Protection District engine ladder, waving in the stiff breeze that plagued paper products all weekend long and the Star-Spangled Banner. The grills for the beer soaked Boulder Sausage brats turned on Little Foot picked up the mike and began his witty, informative monologs that explained the history of the events.
Throughout the weekend the sound of the famous Bucyrus Erie steam whistle hooted from the other side of town; an historic attraction that gathers a crowd whenever it is operating.
The first event was the jackleg drilling, which involves a compressed-air cylinder used to change the elevation of the drill and apply pressure against the rock. The holes are drilled according to numbers drawn by the contestants. The miners then have to drill a hole the length of the chuck tender. When it reaches the end, the judge taps the driller on the should and he has to carry the jackleg across the finish, set it down and pull the steel out of the chuck. A contestant will be disqualified if he drills outside of the designated hole.
Equipment malfunction is often the reason for slow times as the drillers struggle to get the drill to calm down and get fixed into the hole.
A total of 17 drillers entered the contest which had a total jackpot of $640. Chris Lamb took first place with a time of 2:06.45 for $320. Steve McDonald was second with a time of 2:14.19 for $115 and Jesse Pattridge was third place with a time of 2:23.01 for $135.
Jenna Hinds of Leadville, a mother and a teacher, was the only female competing in the event and came in 15th with a time of 5:10.46. Hinds was named the All-Around Women’s Miner to claim the $500 that goes with the title.
The second event of the day was the hand mucking contest, historically, the process of removing the blown up rock from the mine tunnel. This crushed rock is shoveled into mine cars that are pushed along the track and dumped into the ore carts at the end.
It looks easy, just shoveling, but the cars can hold up to one ton of muck and each shovelful gets heavier and heavier. Steve McDonald set his stance and threw the rubble into the car like a piston to take first place with a time of 1:22.06 for a payout of $232. There were 11 contestants. The second place mucker was Jesse Pattridge who had a time of 1:36.95, for $141.25. Third place went to Emmit Hoyl with a time of 1:46.38 for $91.25.
Six women signed up for the arduous mucking competition. They have all mucked before and know how important it is to fill the shovel and aim well. LiErin Wilson filled her car in 35.46 seconds to take first place, followed by Jenna Hinds, who had a time of 37:62. In third place was local Hillary Kysar with a time of 45:65.
Probably one of the favorite events of the weekend is the single jack drilling competition, in which the driller holds his steel while driving into granite with a four pound hammer. The technique is to strike the steel and rotate it 90 degrees before hitting it again to keep the steel from getting stuck in the rock. The danger is missing slightly and hitting one’s own hand.
In the women’s single jack hand drill, LiErin Wilson took first place, drilling 2 and 28/32 inches. Second place went to Jenna Hinds who drilled 2 and 22/32 inches and third place went to Katrina Pattridge who drilled 2 and 6/32 inches.
The mens’ single jack event usually takes place later in the afternoon, when the competitors are muscle sore, sun burnt and the heat, which was unusual at that time of day, drawing the sweat that dribbled into eyes needed to see where the hammer was going.
Emmit Hoyl and Jesse Pattridge shook hands, two friends vying for the win. Jessie came out on top, but not by much. The rock was hard and both men have done better in the past, but everyone drilled into the same hard rock.
Pattridge won, digging 7 and 23/32 inches for $297.50. Hoyl drilled 7 and 12/32 inches for$173.75. Steve McDonald took third place, with 7 and 1/32 inches for $123.75.
There were 13 competitors and a $595 payout to the top three.
Throughout the day, there were kids events and log piles to play on, a log see-saw that was never empty and attracted adults as well as children. A polka band in the morning and the up and coming Gasoline Lollipops in the afternoon filled Guercio’s Ball Field with lively music inspiring the audience to get up and dance. It was a great to be alive afternoon.
Sunday morning dawned just as clear and dry as Saturdy, promising to be another “scorcher.”
Team Jack drilling was the first event, in which two contestants “collar” and “clean up” and their times are combined. Rick thomas and Chris Lamb were the first two of 16 participants. They had a time of 2:22.08 for a $245 cash prize for each. They also won the second place slot for $147.50 per person. Jesse Pattridge and Steve McDonald won third place price of $97 each for a time of 2:29.36
The spike driving contest originates from miners installing ground supports, timbers, inside the mine. The workers had to hammer spikes to attach the rails to the timbers. The hard part of the process is to keep the initial strike into the wood straight or much time is lost trying to unbend the spike.
Jenna Hinds took first place with a time of 28:86; LiErin Wilson had second place with a time of 53:54; and Hillary Kysar had a time of 1:26.81.
Twelve men signed up for the spike drilling contest. Once again Jesse Pattridge took first place with a time of 17:96 and $215. Steve MacDonald was second with a time of 20:86 and $115, and Luke Ranegar, whose grandfather Mike Smith is a Nederland mining legend, took third place with a time with a time of 21:54 for $75.
The bow saw competition is another fast event, usually won in less that a minute. An old-fashioned bow saw is used to slice into a four-inch or six-inch beam. The trick to this contest is not pressing too hard to keep the saw from catching, and to create a smooth back and forth thrust carried by the saw rather than pressure.
Luke Ranegar took first place, with a 16:33 second time and $215 cash. Rick Thomas came in second with a 17:98 and $115 and Tim Faye was third with a 17:98 time and $75.
Everyone who lives in the mountains know how to split wood at some level. The ones who have done it for years are the ones who put their experience on the line for a chance at a cord of wood. The key element to a clean split is to pick the logs that aren’t cross sectioned by branches, or the logs that aren’t completely dry.
This year’s mens’ event was won by Tucker Pattridge who split four logs into four pieces in 52:62 seconds. Second place winner was Jesse Pattridge who split the wood in 54:26 and third place went to Tim Faye whose time of 56:31.
The women had to split three logs in four pieces and Hillary Kysar took first place with a time of 48:36. Katrina Pattridge stacked her firewood in 57:68 seconds and Jenna Hines split hers in 1:05.58 seconds.
On Sunday afternoon, the kids enjoyed a sweet, messy watermelon eating contest, a three-legged race and a scramble in sawdust to find $250 worth of coins.
The Womens’ Wheelbarrow contest involved pushing a steel wheelbarrow with about six large heavy granite balls which had to be transferred into a smaller wheelbarrow, low to the ground, which brought about a great deal of lower back pain to the participants. Jenna Hinds, LiErin Wilson and Crystal Huber were the winners of the contest.
The last event of the weekend was the double jack drilling competition, the event that demands a tremendous amount of trust in one’s partner. As one man holds and twists the steel, the other hammers on the head of the spike that nestles in the hands of the other. They take turns, switching positions as the water and rock mud flies from the hammer.
In first place, Jesse Pattridge and Emmit Hoyle had a depth of 20 and 4/32 inches for $475. Steve MacDonald and Kyle Carpenter drilled 18 and 9/32 inches for $287; and Jordan Oxborrow and Andy Watson drilled 12 and13/32 inches for $187.
The combination mining contests/October Fest event was a winning way to spend the weekend, not just for the winners but for the spectators families and children as well. Fine weather was a gift for all and the golden aspen leaves were a plus to the gold and silver mining traditions of the contests.