Leadville Boom Days: Life on The Rocks!
What are all those rocks with the holes in them on the south end of town? It’s a common question for newbies and visitors. But if you stay around long enough, or you roll through town at just the right time, you’ll find these rocks front and center at Leadville’s biggest festival: Boom Days!
Then you might understand why these giant boulders are kept on display as an homage to Lake County’s mining heritage, as well as some bragging rights among some of the best drillers you’re likely to see in mountain competition.
The rocks’ story actually begins on the end of the county, up at the top of Fremont Pass: The Climax Molybdenum Mine, owned by Freeport McMorRan. Every August for as long as anyone can remember, members of the Leadville Boom Days Committee and crews from Lake County Public Works are invited to harvest the official Boom Days rock from the mine.
Once the rock arrives in town, it is loaded into position at the Leadville Elks Lodge parking lot (off West 4th Street), where the Mining Events take place on Saturday and Sunday. The rock is then painted – usually with the official Boom Days colors chosen by the committee. Finally, the sponsors’ names and the drill squares and marks are hand-painted on. It is truly a sight to behold. And one worth seeing, as these beauties are a far cry from the holey, blasted trophies on display at the south end of town!
From time to time, the rock has a story before the games even begin. Like in 2013 when there were TWO Boom Days Rocks instead of one. Apparently in the “slinging-and-loading” process up at Climax, the rock split in two! The team for jack-leg-drilling ended up using the smaller rock, and the singles event was done on the bigger rock – allowing enough room for all the competitors. It was a “Double On The Rocks!” for Boom Day 2013.
This year, the official 2017 Boom Days Rock arrived with a back-story as well.
“I know a lot of rock hounds who would be upset as hell if they knew we were gonna be drilling this rock (this weekend),” explained Mining Events organizer James Booth. “It’s chock full of quartzite.”
Now for the household do-it-yourselfer, that might mean beautiful counter-tops, but for rock hounds that means iridescent quartz crystals, calling out to be made into jewelry or hung from the rear view mirror for good travel karma.
Regardless, come this weekend, some of the toughest hard rock miners west of the Mississippi are going to be drilling and tearing into that boulder for the top spots on the leader board! And for those who know the difference, drilling into to a rock that is “chock full of quartz” should make for some slower drill times, and exciting competition!
On the bright side, for all you rock-hounds, maybe they’ll be enough quartz left over for a necklace or two!
© Leadville Today
Opening Ceremony at 5 p.m. in Leadville Today
Tonight’s Opening Ceremony of the 67th Annual Boom Days celebration will take place at 5 p.m. on historic Harrison Avenue in downtown Leadville. It’s one of those quirky Colorado ceremonies, evidenced by the whole town showing up to watch the Leadville Lions Club make their annual trek down the avenue carrying the frame for what was re-named in 2016 as the Bill & Helen Skala Beer Tent.
For those who may not be familiar with the Skalas, Bill and Helen were Leadville community leaders for decades, through the booms, and through the busts, always remaining genuinely dedicated to Leadville and its residents.
While their business ventures included everything from running the lunch room at Ski Cooper, to the memorable Molly Brown Dairy Queen, it’s the family’s lasting legacy of delivering cold beer to folks in the high country via the George F. Rutkey Beer Distributing company, that deemed last year’s dedication of the Boom Days beer tent in their honor all the more appropriate.
So raise a glass, as you see it pass! See you on the Avenue – it’s Leadville Boom Days!
A Tribute to Leadville’s Mining Heritage
This Saturday & Sunday, August 5 & 6, 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 Drilling
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 judges can see holes as deep as 24 inches. There is also a singles event.
In mines, holes are drilled into the working face, or active end of a mine tunnel. 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. Their events take place to the east of the Elks Lodge.
So be sure to check out the official Boom Days rock before all the drilling and mucking and steeling goes on. And then take a front row seat to watch some of the best hard rock miners show you how it’s done!
© Leadville Today