A Tribute to Leadville Mining: Mucking and Steeling
This Saturday & Sunday, August 8 & 9, you can find some of the most exciting mining contests seen anywhere at the Leadville Boom Days celebration. These events have their roots in the pioneer days of underground mining and are based on old-fashioned mining techniques such as mucking and hand steeling. The events are free to the public, courtesy of our local mining companies and vendors.
Mining events at Boom Days celebrate the legacy of mining in Leadville. But the events do more, helping people appreciate the physical work needed to get minerals out of the ground. In addition to teaching non-miners about mining, the events bring competitors together to share the common bond of mining. In some cases, the bond is also about family. Some mining event teams pair father and son.
Events include singles and doubles jackleg drilling contest, singles and doubles hand steeling contest, spike driving, and hand mucking events. Miners from across Colorado, as well neighboring states come to compete in two solid days of contests. Most of the events are very exciting to watch, and people can come out and cheer for their favorite team. All events are held in the parking lot behind the Elks Lodge on West 4th Street.
Don’t know the difference between mucking and jackleg drilling? Here’s some help.
Single-Jack Hand Steel DrillingHand Steeling: A four-pound hammer, a three-quarter inch steel and steady nerves. Photo: Kurt Knudsen
Hand steeling harks back to the 1880’s. In the hand-steeling event, one man uses a four-pound hammer to drive a three-quarter inch diameter steel into rock. The event is timed and winners are judged by how far they can drill in a five-minute period. Most competitors push towards a depth of six inches.
The favored tool of the hand steeer is an Italian-style hammer – once called a “wop jack” – that had a curved head. The curvature of the head allows more force to be transferred to the steel drill. The hammers are no longer common, but many contestants refurbish these old hammers for competitions.
In this timed event, trusting your team member is essential. After all, watching a steel hammer coming flying down trying to make contact with a drill bit you’re holding in your hand can be a bit unsettling. Teams try to drill as many holes as they can in the allotted time. Each team member takes a turn at the drill. Before starting another hole, the previous hole must be drilled to a certain depth. The judge of the hand steel drilling event will determine when the hole has reached the required depth. Water is used to keep the holes flushed while drilling is in progress. The depth of each hole will be measured from the surface of the concrete block to the bottom of the holes by the judge. This prevents a “short” measurement due to cratering around the collar. The total depth drilled during the allotted time period will determine the winning team.
Mucking is another of the mining events. Competitors must load an ore cart with rubble as quickly as possible. There is both men’s, women’s and kids’ mucking competition.
Mucking involves loading rock into an ore cart by hand. This is also a timed event. The mucker is accompanied by a mucker shoveling ore into the car. The “screeders” are provided with a leveling board to assure complete filling of the car. A judge will determine when the car is full. The full car is then trammed down the length of the track and back again. Time will stop when the full car touches the stopper at the end of the track. Lowest net time determines the winning mucker.
Like hand steeling, the double-jack event is part of mining history. Two men team-up to drive a three-quarter inch steel rod as far into a rock as possible in ten minutes. Typical competitors drill about 14 inches into the granite, but in some cases he had seen holes as deep as 24 inches.
In mines, holes are drilled into the working face, or active end of a minetunnel. The holes are then filled with dynamite. The resulting blast leaves a pile of rubble to be mucked out before miners can advance farther into the earth. After mucking, the drilling begins the cycle again.
This event is like a rodeo for miners. In this case, the contest involves hefting a jackleg drill and punching the deepest hole possible during two minutes of rock drilling. Small mining companies still use these unwieldy, 110-pound drills to sink holes in rock for bolts or dynamite. The drills run on compressed air and shoot water that controls dust and keeps the bit cooled. Their noise is best described as deafening, and many contestants have found fighting a jackleg drill to be not unlike riding a bucking bronco. Usually the crowd favorite, they’ve taken a work-a-day skill and turned it into a contest.
Spike driving is another competition based directly on old mining techniques. Competitors must drive three six-inch spikes into an overhanging wooden beam. Then they must drive two eight-inch spikes into a low beam. Spike driving -was necessary to construct timbering to support mine walls.
And of course, let’s not forget the women. There’s still plenty of women around these parts can tell you about their time underground. In fact, one of the most cheered mining contests is the women’s hand mucking contest.
The kiddos also get into the mining action during Boom Days. The recently “revived” kid’s mining events take place to the east of the Elks Lodge.