GSN

Faces of GSN

Bob Thomas, Reno, NV

My introduction to geology can best be described as serendipitous, or even better, dumb luck. In the summer of 1969 it seemed like geology was the last place I was headed. I had just graduated from college, never taken an earth science course, and was in a holding pattern working in the cemetery in my hometown in northeastern Massachusetts. I was killing time waiting to hear about my acceptance into Officer Candidate School with either the Navy or Coast Guard, which seemed like the safest branches considering the times. There was only one hitch - I received a notice from my local draft board classifying me as 1Y status, meaning that I was only eligible for military service in the event of a “national emergency or declared war”. Vietnam was neither. So, my brilliantly calculated strategy paid off – step 1-be a distance runner, step 2-enlarge my heart, step 3-try to join up, and step 4-get rejected. And to think people with less brilliant approaches were doing all sorts of things just to avoid getting drafted! Now there was only one problem – I had to figure out what to do since the military was not going to provide me the benefit of delaying that decision.

I was born in Nashville Tennessee, second of two kids, to a stay-at-home mom and an airline pilot dad. We eventually settled in Hamilton, MA, a small north shore Boston bedroom community. I had a pretty normal childhood, loved sports of all kinds, loved being outdoors, Boy Scouts, and all of that idyllic stuff depicted by Norman Rockwell. I was an average student, and was lucky enough to get into Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. I almost flunked out my freshman year, but eventually managed to survive. Now here I was, in 1970, just married to Allison, living in New York City, working in the insurance industry, hating every minute of it, and looking for some way out. Here’s where the serendipity/dumb luck starts. Allison and I decided to attend a college classmate’s wedding, and ran into another recently married Bates couple, Bruce and Alice Bouley. Many of you knew Bruce, a long-time exploration geologist, and Alice, a long-time (and current) publications editor at SEG. We all decided that a camping trip was in order, as Bruce was finishing up his field work in the New Hampshire White Mountains for his master’s degree at Wesleyan University. I tagged along as we went from outcrop to outcrop, asking stupid questions, not really knowing what I was looking at, but having a great informal teacher in Bruce as he explained the basics. I was asking myself - why had I not discovered this earlier? Hiking around in the woods, getting great exercise, utilizing my brain, trying to imagine the geological processes that led to the current distribution of the rocks, and as an added bonus, sitting around the campfire at night drinking beer! That probably sounds familiar to lots of GSN members…. So I was hooked, and will be forever grateful to Bruce for not only introducing me to geology but encouraging me all along the way. I had absolutely no idea at the time how I could parlay this new interest into an actual paying job. Details, right? Next, I enrolled in a couple of night courses at Hunter College in NYC, in part to confirm that this was not just a passing fancy. I then quit my day job (representing the first appearance of the “supporting spouse” concept) and started a full-time slate of geology courses. Field trips at Hunter were a little different than, say, a GSN field trip. Oftentimes we’d go down to lower Manhattan and look at building stones, maybe into the “wilderness” of Central Park, or, in major excursions, take a trek out to the Palisades Sill or the Delaware Water Gap. After Hunter, I was able to get into a “remedial” graduate program at Wesleyan, taking an extra year to complete, which I did in 1974. My first job was in the geotechnical group for an engineering firm headquartered in Boston that was evaluating and constructing nuclear power plants. I was very interested in getting into mineral exploration, however – the idea of a geologically-driven treasure hunt had a certain appeal. In 1976 I was able to hook on with Phelps Dodge Exploration East in North Carolina, where I was assigned a VMS project in the Slate Belt, living in Lexington. The main property was the Silver Hill Mine, a historic producer and site of a small but high grade Zn-Pb-Ag-Au resource, whose claim to fame was supplying the Confederacy with lead for bullets during the Civil War. I was a one-man show in this little outpost, and it was a great opportunity for exposure to a variety of activities, including core drilling, soil sampling, rock chip sampling, geological mapping, rudimentary resource and economic evaluation, land work, land negotiations, etc. Land was private, so the challenge was to complete land deals with the local landowners, which required convincing them that you weren’t trying to rip them off. That produced mixed results, with lots of skeptical reactions. On the economic side, it didn’t take a very sophisticated analysis to determine that the potential resource was way too small for Phelps Dodge.

The Slate Belt work paved the way for me to jump at the opportunity to transfer to PD’s Reno office in 1979. It was quite a culture shock for the family, with two preschoolers, coming from the east coast woods out to the desert. The landscape rapidly grew on us, however. An added benefit, in those pre-GPS days, was that you could actually locate yourself on a topo map out here. The PD Reno experience illustrated how far exploration thinking has evolved in the last 38 years. I remember my boss at PD telling me that “your job is to go find a Carlin-type deposit, and here is where to look”, at which point he showed me the black and white preliminary Nevada geology map compiled by Stewart and Carlson and pointed to the places on the map he had colored that contained mapped Roberts Mountain Formation. Apparently no other unit needed to apply for gold host rock membership. He was an excellent geologist, though, and he was quickly adjusting to the fact that Carlin-type deposits occurred in host rocks covering a wide range of ages. It was all new to me though – a year earlier this young east coast geo had to ask what a Carlin-type deposit was. My Reno PD boss also imparted another observation that proved to be true: “Bob, if you stay here a year or two you’ll be hooked on Nevada”. How right he was, although it took less time than he predicted.

A year after I started work in Reno I began a sequence common to many folks in the mineral exploration business of my era, moving to companies that for one reason or other (mergers, acquisitions, going out of business, etc.) essentially ceased to exist, resulting in layoffs, and repeating that exercise multiple times. My particular sequence went as follows: Callahan Mining (1980-88), Meridian Gold (1988-90), and Lac Minerals (1990-94). My focus was Great Basin and California Mother Lode/foothills. Each one of these stops was fulfilling, and I was fortunate to be involved with some modest discoveries and resource definition programs. During this time I was able to work with some great people, several of whom continue to be friends. I finally grew weary of the rinse and repeat routine, and after Lac Minerals, I decided to give the consulting business a try. It was a breath of fresh air for me, and at the start allowed me to do more geology and field work than I had been doing in my preceding middle management roles. I was happy with that – being outdoors was one of the reasons that I got hooked on geology in the first place. Independent work has been somewhat of a feast or famine experience, but among other benefits it’s gotten me out of the country a bit to broaden my horizons, put (some) food on the table, and it’s a move I have not regretted for one minute.

The last 10 years or so I’ve been involved with Carlin Gold Corp., a Canadian-based junior explorer with properties in Nevada and Yukon. Lots of ups and downs working with junior explorers, but it’s sure not boring. I’m still enjoying the work and am able to get around pretty well, just a little slower and less nimble. I did have the pleasure of celebrating my 70th birthday with a rigorous 21 mile hike up into the Sierras with my son-in-law, who’s unwritten job was to scrape me off the ground if need be. Fortunately that wasn’t necessary. So in one respect, nothing has changed since I was a kid – I still love being outdoors, hiking around.

I was “dumb lucky” to have discovered geology when I was young enough to do something about it. My other great fortune is to have had a spouse – Allison - that supported me in all ways along the way. As many exploration geologists can attest, it is not only handy to have emotional/psychological support, but having another breadwinner around is pretty big too. Lastly I would like to make a pitch for GSN volunteerism. It’s never too late - I was asked to be an officer back in 2000, fully 20 years into my membership. This organization would not exist without the volunteer efforts of its members.

Bob Thomas Bob Thomas