For the past ten years, I have joined with a small group of rockhound friends from all over the country and performed a machine dig at the Eureka Fluorite Mine in western Kentucky…for a couple of reasons. Our main goal has always been to help the folks at the BE Clement Mineral Museum, by digging out the old mine pit, which provides safe digging opportunities for rockhounds of all ages for the remainder of the warm season. By doing so, we remove alot of heavy silt and mud from many of the digging areas, mud that would require hours of hand digging to remove to even get close to the crystals…believe me, we have been there and have done the hand digging ourselves in the first couple of years before we even found out we could use a machine to remove it…we literally wore ourselves out but the rewards were well worth the efforts, too. There are some that would criticize us for what we did, call us opportunists and other things, and yet, given the chance, they would have done the same thing albeit for different reasons than ours.
It is becoming increasingly difficult each year to find places to go and collect rocks and minerals, a passion of mine since I was about eight years old, a passion shared by thousands of people worldwide. The folks who operate the mineral museum at Marion, Kentucky, share that same passion and have opened their hearts to thousands of rockhounds for the past ten years, sharing the passion as well as their making several old mines available to dig into to find buried treasures. Many of the mines in this area of western Kentucky date back to the 1800`s and early 1900`s and were originally operated and mined for zinc and silver, then fluorite later on. The Eureka Mine has always been known for beautiful deep purple and yellow fluorite cubes, occasionally a rockhound will find small lead cubes and sphalerite attached to them as well as smithsonite in a beach sand color, and we have found pockets of greenockite as well. Several years ago, the board members of the Clement Mineral Museum decided to make some of the old mines in the area, available to rockhounds on certain dates each year…that expanded to one public dig per month from April to October and an annual gem show and dig the first weekend of June. Their efforts paid off and thousands of rockhounds in the past ten to fifteen years have greatly benefitted from it…it has become one of my favorite places to visit a few times a year. My group normally performs a machine dig early in the springtime, however this year we were not able to locate a trackhoe operator that was available to work with, so we had to wait until one became available, and that was last weekend.
After driving down and scouting the exploratory digs performed in April, I checked with my group to see if anyone was interested in a machine dig for May this year, after Bill told me that he could find us a trackhoe operator to work with. Several in my group had begun contacting me back in January and February, indicating that they were interested in traveling to the Eureka Mine again to look for fluorite and asked if I would be interested as well…I definitely was and so I set about finding out who was still on board with the idea. It turned out that several were going to be unavailable the first weekend in May, so I had to recruit a few new guys to join me…Alan Schaeffer is a good friend from the Memphis Club MAGS that I am also a part of, and had indicated to me on my way home from my spring trip in Arkansas, that he would love to join me on my next dig there, so I naturally let him know about it and he said yes. Jeff Deere, one of my good rockhunting friends from northern Georgia, also was on board but was tied up that weekend so he found a great replacement in Mark Bishop, and soon there were three of us…Alan found another guy to join us, MAGS member Marc Mueller, and we were set. I let Bill Frazer know that the four of us would be down there ready to go Saturday morning.
I again drove down there after my shift ended at work early Friday morning, and arrived around noon at the museum. I visited with Tina and Sherry for about an hour and then drove out to make sure I had the right key to the gate…and even though the gate was wide open, it turned out my key wouldn`t open the lock, so I returned to the museum and found board member Russ there…Russ also works full time in geology related work and accompanied me back to the gate to resolve the lock issues. We drove on down to the mine to make sure no one was down there trespassing and looked around a bit…passing the trackhoe parked on top of the hill….
….they had a torrential rain shower a few days before and there were cubes and hints of purple laying all over the tailing piles and the bench, as well as pieces of fluorite left by the group there in April…some nice stuff even, which greatly surprised me, but as Russ said, they must have found some really super nice stuff if they left this material behind. Needless to say, I was even more ready and rarin to go the next morning.
As I drove over to the hotel at Kuttawa, I passed through some beautiful flower fields at Fredonia….
…I had never seen these flowers down there before, having never been there before in May, so they were quite a sight to see and a local young man there told me they were ground up for canola oil, so most folks called them canola flowers he said.
I drove on over to the Days Inn and got checked in and then took a nice nap….woke up in time to have supper with Alan when he arrived and checked in. Marc arrived from Memphis soon after and we walked next door to the Oasis Southwest Grill and Steakhouse, one of the best steakhouses in the country in my humble opinion. I eat there all the time, food is absolutely great and the service isn`t bad either. Steve, the General Manager there, is one of those guys that truly cares about the quality of food and your dining experience, he moves around the huge dining areas and checks on everyone…and if something is wrong, he does his best to fix it. Alan found that out that night….I ordered my usual, one inch thick grilled pork chops with a bbq glaise on top…he ordered the eight ounce filet mignon medium rare…as soon as he cut into it, he knew it wasn`t right, overcooked…so they took it back and left him with his veggies. He soon had consumed the veggies and they were nice enough to bring more with the new steak, which now was undercooked…this time Steve came over to check with him, offered him another steak cooked right this time…they left him with the undercooked one, and said they would be back in eight minutes with yet another steak…I know how he felt, been there myself before and he was hungry, so he wound up eating both the undercooked one and then the properly cooked one, and got two steaks for the price of one. My chops, as usual, were cooked to perfection. Marc had appetizers, having ate before he left home. We all retired early in anticipation of the dig the next day, Marc camped out on the lake nearby.
I was up early Saturday morning, expecting Mark Bishop to arrive around 6:30, as he decided to leave Georgia about 3 am and drive up thru Nashville…and as it was, he arrived about 30 min early and we were able to have a short breakfast there at the hotel, Marc joining us soon after. After a short stop at the donut shop in Eddyville, we were headed to the mine to meet up with Bill Frazer, who arrived there just ahead of us and unlocked the gate. We visited with Bill for a few minutes and then heard the trackhoe fire up on top of the hill…while waiting for the trackhoe operator to walk it down the hill, I took some photos of the new pit area as the guys walked around surface collecting….
Pretty soon, we heard the trackhoe come walking down the hill…Bill had told me the operator would have to veer off the road into the field on the other side and cross the creek at a pasture crossing, so I walked over and opened the gate for him….
…and then walked it over to the mine where he stopped and introduced himself as Danny, said he was looking for Mr. Johnson, lol….
…we lined out digging plans out for him and he got started right away…first order of business was to try and retrieve the pump hoseline that was mired in the mud, for the museum, who had been unable to remove it by manpower….
..and as soon as he got that completed, we had him work on the new pit area, removing some mud and cleaning it out in general to make it easier on us as well as any other diggers to find more crystals…the next three photos were taken by Mark Bishop and shows Danny digging into the new pit area….
…while I point out the fault area fluorite at the base of the bench to Alan…
..pretty soon it was apparent to us that we needed Danny to turn over the bench so we could see if there were any better material underneath….first photo by Mark Bishop….
…we then checked the bench area for cubes while Danny did some work with the tailing piles behind us. I then had him dig into the tailings on the north end of the pit and stir them up a bit for future collectors too….
…he then walked it back over to the south side and cleaned out the bench pit wall on the road side for us….
…there was a mudhole down there that turned out to be extremely deeper in mud than what we thought, at least on the wall side, while on the bench side it was maybe ten inches deep at most….you can see it in the light colored muddy spot in the photo below….
..and here Danny is removing about four feet of mud from that one little spot alone….photo by Mark Bishop….
…as the guys were digging into the overturned bench area and pulling some nice cubes out…I walked up the road with Danny and the trackhoe and had him make an exploratory cut across the other area across the road….
..during this cut, he came across some massive orange colored fluorite, there were no cubes at all, just massive spar, but it sure was pretty. Danny lowered me down in the bucket once again…I have to say it was smoother than any elevator ride I have ever been on and I felt completely safe too…I pulled some pieces of it out of the wall and we found some in the tailings above too. Afterwards, I had him stir up some of the old exploratory piles laying around the forest floor near the logging road, and then we paid him and thanked him for his immense help to us.
We divided up our finds and Mark Bishop headed home to Georgia….while Alan and Marc and I continued to dig around and find some good material before wearing out about an hour later. After another great dinner at Oasis, Marc headed home to Memphis, and Alan and I stayed over and then Alan headed home in the morning and I drove over to Eminence to check out the quarry there…check out my next story on that part of the trip….I pulled out the biggest poker chip cluster I have ever found there. 🙂
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