After many months of planning another machine dig at the Eureka Mine in Marion, Kentucky, and coordinating all the details with Tina at the Ben E Clement Mineral Museum and Bill Frazer, the mine owner, Mike Streeter and I set the dates up for the last two weekends in March this spring. As usual, we set the machine dig the weekend before the group dig and Mike took care of getting the machinery set up for it, contacting Wayne Crider to once again dig out the pit for us. Wayne always does a great job and is quite easy to work with, and he operates his trackhoe with great skill and precision, plus he is a super nice guy to be around.
As the time neared, we ran into a unexpected roadblock…I received a call from Bill Frazer, seems some jerk called the Kentucky DNR office and complained to them about the way the digs were being handled at the Eureka Mine and made up a few other things as well. The DNR decided to shut down the digs and entire operation of the Museum, until the complaint could be investigated. Bill advised me that it should be just a temporary halt, but said he would keep me updated. I called Mike and he advised the other guys what was going on, and we let our group members know that the scheduled dig might be postponed as well.
True to his word, Bill called a couple of days later and let me know that we were back on for both digs and with just a few minor stipulations set out by the DNR, that we could easily live with. After a few back and forth emails and phone calls, we decided not to let some jerk spoil things for us, nor the hundreds of rockhounds across the nation who enjoy traveling to the Eureka Mine to dig for pretty fluorite specimens to add to their collections. It was decided that three of us would be making the trip this year for the machine dig and then I would return for the group dig as well.
I contacted Tina to let her know about what time I would arrive on Friday, March 22nd because I would be hauling several hundred pounds of crystals to them, for their grab bag booth at their annual show in June. The weather forecast was calling for all sorts of weather again this year…thought we might be up to our eyeballs in mud the first day and snow on the second day… one never knows what to expect down there in March, or here in Missouri for that matter, so I packed rain gear, cold weather clothing, and warm weather clothing, three pair of boots and six pair of gloves….ready for the best and prepared for the worst. Since the forecast wasn`t for much dry weather, I left Missy with my parents for the weekend. She loves to go on walks with my Mom, who takes about three walks a day, so I knew she would be better off with them this weekend.
I took off on Friday morning, getting a little later start than I had anticipated, and when I filled up the gas tank, it was 3.59 a gallon here, when I crossed the river into Illinois, it was 3.83 a gallon, and then when I arrived in Paducah, it was 3.43 a gallon…I had decided to drive all interstate this time, since a good friend of mine told me that the road construction delays in Illinois were a thing of the past, much of it completed finally, and she turned out to be correct about that. I took my time cruising down the roads at 65 mph and got 23 mpg for it, even with the heavier load in the bed. I crossed over the Ohio River and arrived in Paducah about 2 pm….
….and called Tina from the gas pumps at the Pilot Truck Stop on the north side of town, to let her know I should be there in an hour….little did I know that there was a major traffic jam waiting on me in a road construction zone about twenty minutes east of Paducah. She wasn`t aware of it either or she would have warned me to take Hwy 60 instead, but as it was, Kentucky DOT didn`t want to let anyone know about it either, apparently, because their warning signs were pretty much nowhere to be found…I was up and over the Tennessee River bridge on I-24 before I realized that the long line of traffic stopped in the left lane was for the construction lane restriction ahead, rather than for an accident ahead. Luckily, I was able to slow down fast and get over in front of a truck driver and instantly get bogged down in the crawl ahead for ten miles…here I thought only our state allowed stupid road construction zones…I say stupid because driving along for the next ten miles at a crawl, we did not see one, NOT ONE area of construction activity on that eastbound side at all !!!! NOTHING !!!! and at the very end, maybe half a mile from the end, on the westbound side, was one very small area of roadwork activity, and even then, the road crew was off the roadway, over on the right of way, prob fifty feet from the shoulder, placing rock into a ditch to prevent erosion, or so it appeared to me…but they had to have traffic both directions crawling along for that….thought to myself, this is exactly the type of stupid stuff we see in Missouri on a daily basis.
So I arrived at the Museum about 20 minutes later than I should have, and found Tina hard at work with one of the Museum volunteers, moving cabinets around in one of the display rooms to make room for some maps…they also showed me the new cabinets designed and built for the Museum by the Amish folks just north of town and let me tell you, they were very nicely built. They were getting ready to put them to some very good use in all the display rooms there. Tina helped me unload my haul of crystals with her trusty dolly and then I presented her with some more druse quartz for her personal collection and a nice chunk of chalcopyrite as well, from one of the Doe Run Mines up here in Missouri…I had picked it out special for her from a buddy of mine that works at the mines.
After visiting with them a bit and catching up on everything, I headed out to the Eureka Mine to see how it looked. It always fills in over the winter months with alot of heavy mud from the walls and the natural sump will fill in as well. Here is what it looked like after I arrived ten minutes later…
….I`m standing on the south side looking to the north, toward the bridge over Hurricane Creek…and as you can see, alot of mud had drained down into the pit on all sides of it. I walked around to the north side to shoot back to the south…..
…and as you can see, the south side had been filled in somewhat by the dozer sitting near my truck….Bill had Wayne`s crew come out the day before and fill in a bit on a couple of sides. This is also the side, where much of the mud slides down into the pit and covers up the natural sump below….
….and you can see here, it looks like the entire bank just slid down and into the water below.
I called Mike to let him know what it looked like and he was glad Bill had some fill work done, as we had intended to have it done as well. The only problem with it, was that we also intended to have Wayne dig that end out a little to see how far back the saddle with purple fluorite pockets extended back that direction. Oh well, something to work out the next day. After talking to Mike and then to Jeff Deere afterward, I headed to the hotel at Kuttawa because I was starting to get hungry for one of those great tasting steaks at the Oasis Grill next door to the hotel. Earlier in the week, I had talked extensively to both Jeff Deere, of Georgia and Pete Stoeckel of eastern Pennsylvania, about the drive to the Eureka Mine. Jeff planned to get up very early Saturday morning and make the five hour thirty minute drive up…Pete left at midnight Friday morning, with a thousand mile drive ahead of him…told me he was going through West Virginia and would stop at Eubank, Kentucky, and visit with Sharon and Richard Michael, and get some more of their crop of geodes that they harvest each year at their horse farm. Pete said it would make a great pit stop after being on the road all night and day…he got there about noon and then after a few hours of digging out geodes, he drove on down to Pennyrile State Park to set up his campground spot and then headed over to my hotel, the Days Inn, to go to supper with me. He texted me as I was driving to the hotel to check in and let me know he was on the way from the campground. I also got a call after that from a buddy in Paducah, Kayden, who was also driving down to visit and have dinner with me, as he was going to be busy the rest of the weekend making a move to St Louis.
I got checked in and soon after, Pete showed up, no doubt as hungry as I was, after digging for geodes and cracking some open at the horse farm…I explained to him about Kayden, who I figured was stuck in the traffic jam just west of us. and as it turned out, he was… so after he arrived, we all walked over to the Oasis and ordered some delicious food…the atmosphere in there, as always, was great, lots of friendly people chowing down on good food. Normally it gets a little loud in there on a Friday and Saturday night, but we were there much earlier than normal. After a good supper, Pete took off and headed back to the campground to take advantage of the well heated bathhouse to get a shower and get ready for the next day, and Kayden and I returned to my room to catch up on old times. The next morning came early, despite hitting the hay right after the news…I headed over to Miss Neda`s Donut Shop in Eddyville and then grabbed a sausage and egg biscuit before driving on out to the mine…finding Bill had been there just ahead of me and got the pump started…I also saw that Wayne had a newer and smaller trackhoe this year, the larger older one apparently had worn out and he was unable to get parts for it any longer…the only problem with this smaller one was that it didn`t have the reach the older one had and the bucket was a bit smaller.
…..Wayne`s crew of Danny and Mike showed up soon after I did, and then Pete showed up soon after. Jeff arrived right about 8 am, as he had planned on and pulled the maps out that Mike had sent him with the tunnels and shaft information.
Danny was new to us, we had never met or worked with him before,…Mike explained to us that Wayne was letting Danny take on more of the trackhoe work because the rattling around in the seat was beginning to hurt Wayne`s back…after seventy years of digging, I could definitely understand that and I would think Wayne should be able to take days off as often as he wanted to…so we talked to Danny and Mike a bit about what we wanted to do this year with the pit. At some point they were going to need to dig out a containment pond to satisfy the requirements of the DNR, to pump the water into once it became muddy after stirring it up. As they went off to fire up the dozer and trackhoe, Jeff and Pete and I decided on what we were going to do as well.
Danny started by digging out the south side where the saddle was located, so we could check on the extension of it……
….and then he moved down the logging road side of the pit to clean up the bank. Shortly after, the investigators with the DNR showed up and Danny moved over and began digging out the containment pond so that the now muddy waters could be pumped into it….
…and while Danny was digging the pond out, we had Mike move some of the backfill from the tailing pile over into the creek side of the pit to reinforce the creek bank itself and attempt to shut down the water coming into the pit from the creek. This has been a major problem in years past, since the pit now sits below the creek, the creekwater wants to naturally filter through the clay and dirt banks and into the pit, sometimes coming thru the bank in a waterfall or two.
Mike was able to shove a lot of dirt and clay over there while Danny was busy working on the containment pond….and once he finished, we had yet another tailing pile above the pond for rockhounds to explore…
…the other tailing piles we had placed once again, between the logging road by the mine and the pit itself…once Danny finished digging out the pond we had him return to the road side and finish cleaning out the high bank, then move around to the north side and begin expanding the pit in that direction. He began concentrating on the northwest corner first…
….and pretty soon it became evident that he had found an old horizontal tunnel of sorts…first slicing down through and bringing up some old timbers and we began to see changes in color in the mud and clay as well…
..and pretty soon the darker dirt and mud began to collapse downward, leading us to believe it was a horizontal tunnel or shaft at some time…
…and up closer here…the lighter colored stuff looked more like sand but seemed have some stickiness to it like clay too…
…and after about another thirty minutes of digging, we hit the four hour mark and had them stop digging. As Danny was going across the north side of the pit, he was finding no fluorite whatsoever, not to mention that the saddle or bench on that side, just dropped off into nothing at all and basically just disappeared. We certainly weren`t expecting that at all. The last few years we had been inching across the pit and finding luscious purple cubes, occasionally some yellow cubes, galena and sphalerite, and now we were basically finding absolutely nothing coming up in the bucketfuls of dirt and mud. More so than disappointment, we were actually more scared than anything, because this mine and the public digs here are what keeps the Museum and their staff going each year.
After paying Wayne for digging it out for us, we pumped the remaining muddy water into the containment pond and began exploring the saddle and bench to see what we could find. Here is the pit after the digging was done…..
….you can see the bench on the far lower left, full of galena and fluorite pockets last year, and you can see how it just abruptly stops on the far side, just drops off and there is nothing beyond it….Jeff and Pete began working on that bench and tried to cobb it down some, succeeded somewhat, but found very little on, around, or even underneath it…we also checked out the saddle on the south end and found just a few small pockets….
…and after a long day of waiting and digging, even longer for Jeff who got up early and drove up, we packed it in for the day and headed out, except for Pete, who decided to stay til nightfall so he could go up to the Columbia Mine and check out his new blacklight with the hope of finding some fluorescent minerals for some friends of his who enjoy the ” glow in the dark light ” minerals.
Jeff and I headed to the hotel, him to check in and clean up, me to clean up, and then we met over at the Oasis Grill for supper. We had been snacking all day long, but after a few hours of digging in the pit and the tailing piles, that little bit of food was long gone. I was out in front of him when I left and as I neared the top of the hill, I spotted a few whitetail deer in the field on the north side of the road….
…they apparently didn`t like the barrel of my lens sticking out the window of my truck and may have mistaken it for a rifle barrel…they wasted no time in taking off for higher ground…..
…..but soon regrouped at the edge of the field by the wooded area for yet another group portrait…
While waiting for our food to arrive, we discussed what we found today, as well as what we expected to find and yet didn`t find…and we were both very concerned about it…I was sure Pete was as well, he was staying busy to likely keep his mind off it. Jeff told me that he wished he had thought to ask Danny to back off from the north wall and make a trench cut across to see if we could relocate the vein again…see if it was still there closeby….maybe it had just pinched off where we stopped Danny earlier. I suggested that we see if Wayne could come back Sunday morning and dig a trench across there and see if we could relocate it…he was in total agreement so I called Bill and pitched the idea to him…he called Wayne and set it up for us…Wayne agreed to come do the digging even… and we soon felt much better with an improved plan of action and disposition. Supper sure tasted great after that phone call.
We arrived at the mine the next morning bright and early once again, and Wayne showed up about 7:30 and fired up the trackhoe…which by the way, I forgot to mention, is a smaller version than the one he has operated the past several years…in fact, he told us that it got to where he couldn`t find parts for it any longer and had to part it out. This one takes a cubic yard less dirt than the older larger one. He brought a new guy with him this time, another one we weren`t familiar with, and after talking to him for a bit, found out that his father had done quite a bit of digging in the fluorite mines in the area as well. Wayne came over and asked us what we wanted to do, something we really like and respect about him…we pointed out where we wanted him to make the trench cut and so he started on it right away. Once he got back to a certain area, he started hitting solid bedrock about ten feet down and pretty soon, the water started pouring in as well. He began backing up and Pete had to jump in and move his Hummer…good thing he did, cause a few minutes later, Wayne pulled up a huge boulder, it was about ten feet long and three feet thick, and as he was setting it over in the spot Pete had been parked, he took out a dead tree which fell right where Pete`s Hummer had been sitting. Whewww…..that was close. Pete and Jeff took a closer look at the big…excuse me….HUGE boulder, and began trying to cobb it down some to see if there were any cubes on it. I stayed with Wayne and within a few minutes, he had dug down and sliced through the horizontal tunnel that we thought we had spotted over at the edge of the pit, again coming up with timbers perfectly preserved in the clay mud and then slicing down thru that black dirt once again…..
…..only this time, there were chunks of galena and some massive fluorite as well mixed in….plus the collapse was alot more evident this time, too. Water again poured in to the trench cut and we had Wayne widen the cut here just a little more and then we had him stop digging…..here I am zoomed in on the tunnel to see the galena shining at us….
….and that yellowish looking stuff next to it, is actually yellow massive fluorite that was combined with deep purple fluorite down there in the tunnel….here seen closer up….
….well we were elated that we had actually found some more fluorite, even if it was more massive than cubed…we like the cubes more than anything but didn`t find any down in that trench cut anywhere…leading us to believe more exploration needs to be done to find the vein once again. Bill came by to check on us and we showed him what we found, the massive that we found was the purple and yellow combined, but no cubes….he was now as concerned as we were for the future of the Museum and its purpose. He headed back to the Museum and we decided to see what else we could find….I didn`t stick around very long, as I had received a phone call from my Mom, letting me know that heavy snow was falling at home and making its way east across Illinois, so I decided to hit the road and see if I could make it home. Jeff took off shortly after I did and made it home safe and sound, while Pete decided to stick it out a few hours before heading home. He would have to cross the mountains in West Virginia and he figured the longer wait time would give road crews a good chance to clean the roads off before he arrived. He actually made it home safe and sound as well, early the next day, after driving all night long. I hit the snow just west of Mount Vernon, Illinois on I-64, but luckily for me, the roads just stayed wet and the heavy fluffy looking snow just made everything look pretty….
Only had to shift into four wheel drive once I reached the road to my parents house to pick up Missy…their road rarely gets plowed early on….
The following week I had taken off the entire weekend, which gave me the entire week off from Wednesday to Wednesday, so I had more time to pack the truck with more crystals for the Museum`s grab bag adventure at their annual weekend show in June. I was able to take off a bit earlier this time and had Missy with me as well and after unloading the crystals at the Museum again and visiting with Tina once again, I headed to the hotel to get checked in. While at the Museum, Tina told me that a couple from the Atlanta area had been by earlier in the day and toured the museum and were probably staying at the same hotel as I was. Mike called me later in the evening to see if I would like to have supper with him and his wife at the Oasis, and I thanked him, but had already ate and was just about to conk out from the long day. The next morning, I grabbed some donuts at Miss Nedas in Eddyville again and then headed to the Museum to get checked in there and help everyone who was coming for the dig. Mike Streeter and I had sent out emails to everyone that had made reservations for the trip, and we had warned them about the results of the machine dig the weekend before…everyone said they still wanted to come and see what they could find despite this. I had prepared myself for the worse, but as it turned out, the day was a pretty good one for them.
I no sooner pulled into the parking lot and parked next to a dark colored van, rolled my window down and discovered it was Tammy and Todd Bromley from central Michigan…boy did they have a long drive down there. While waiting for the others to show up, Doug Harris and his son came in…Doug is a math teacher at a high school in north central Illinois. He and his son were also interested possibly in the night dig but decided to wait another time for it. Several of them took a brief tour of the Museum while there, led by Fred, one of the Directors, as Bill Frazer was out at the mine getting the pump started for us. I met Fred a few years ago at one of the celebration digs, he is a very nice guy and a great asset to the museum as well, a man of many talents, as he was there to help another member work on the cabinets. Tammy and Todd and I talked to his partner who had family up in central Michigan near them, but he had moved down to the Marion area himself a few years prior from the northeast coastline where the winters are as brutal as Michigan.
After the tour, I took the group outside and gave a short safety talk on the mine and then we headed out to the mine in our vehicles. I called Bill on the way out and he waited for us to arrive, told me it was a muddy mess because Wayne`s crew had come in the day before and filled in our trench cut and stirred up the piles as well. Since I had four wheel drive and no one else did, I was able to drive up the mine road and park in the edge of the woods so Missy would have some shade, but the others had to park in the field across the creek and on the right side……
As soon as they got their boots on and assembled their tools, we met at the edge of the pit and I pointed out the pitfalls to watch out for and the tailing piles to search and then they took off for the piles…..
While many of them worked the tailing piles on the south side, I wandered over to the north side older pile and started finding cubes and small plates all over the place…Todd and Tammy Bromley saw me picking up cubes and plates and came over to check it out and I told them to start looking all over cause there was stuff scattered all over the floor in the mud and in the piles. Pretty soon more of them came over to the north side and began finding some as well. The pump was starting to lower the level of the water considerably by now as well, so it wasn`t long before we were able to check that out too. Mike and his wife found a nice plate, she found it actually, upside down in the mud, we possibly even stepped on it a few times and when she turned it over and discovered cubes, she called Mike over and he promptly took it to the waterfall under the bridge to wash it off. I never did see it but understand it was quite a honey piece and they left soon after.
Pretty soon, many had left before the water level dropped enough to enter the pit, leaving it to Tammy, Todd, David, and myself to find some stuff in the pit. My curiousity got the better of me soon and I climbed down in the pit on the south side saddle to see if I could locate any other pockets in the mud…I began pulling mud from the south backfill wall and soon enough, had pulled some nice cubes out from the mud down under. I gave some of them to Tammy and after about an hour or two, turned the pockets over to her to keep searching in. I had decided to leave by 2 pm and head home, as I had some other things I had to do on Sunday. I gave them some nicer specimens of fluorite before I left and let Bill know that they would be returning on Sunday morning and he told them he would meet them at the Museum at 9 am Sunday.
All in all it was a good weekend as everyone went home happy as far as I knew. While I am concerned for the future of the Museum and the public and private digs there, as many of us are, several of us have pledged our continuing support to Bill Frazer and the Museum for their future and assistance to rockhounds. I told Bill many of us stand ready to help in any way we can, and are ready to respond and assist if needed. I will keep you all updated as future events unfold there and information becomes available.
if you have any questions or wanna say hi, give me a shout at email@example.com