I was born and grew up in Pasadena, California, the home of the Tournament of Roses and Caltech, and I benefited from both. I regularly watched the parade and worked parking cars at the football game. I graduated from Pasadena High School in 1935 and entered Caltech as a freshman, living at home.
Caltech was an eye-opener for me. I had sailed through school without really working, but with teachers that required homework. The professors at Caltech took it for granted that you would do the homework. If you didn't, and you didn't learn the subject, they would simply fail you. It was your time, your money, and if you didn't study, it was your failure. I didn't take advantage of the instruction, and didn't do homework, and as a result, never felt at home with calculus. I didn't flunk the course, but I was convinced that the life in nuclear physics that I had hoped for at Caltech was not for me. Since I couldn't hack physics as a major, I decided I should be a civil engineer. I soon found out that I didn't enjoy spending my time over a drawing board, and looked around for a dif-ferent major. Caltech requires that every student take a short course in geology, and I loved it. So I changed my major again, and took geology as my major. I've never been sorry.
I graduated from Caltech in 1939 and got an assistantship at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. I had a teaching assistantship for 2 years at Northwestern. I did well at Northwestern and took a competitive exam for employment with the USGS, and got a summer job with the Survey, assisting Eddie Goddard in mapping the Judith Mountains of central Montana. At the end of the summer I was offered a full-time job for the winter, working in the Stillwater Complex i n southern Montana. I had been scrimping and saving and living on almost nothing for 2 years, and the prospect of a paycheck was attractive. I took the job and planned to return to academe later - which I never did.
I worked in the Stillwater Complex for the next year and a half, and then went to Camaguey, Cuba, to study the chromite deposits of central Cuba. Jesus de Albear and I worked in Camaguey and Phil Guild worked in Oriente. When the Navy took care of the German Uboats, chromite was no longer a strate-gic mineral; it could be imported. And I was drafted.
After boot camp at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and officer's training at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, I went to Japan as part of the Army of Occupation. We were in San Francisco awaiting shipment to the Orient on V-J day – it was a memorable evening.
When I arrived in Japan, I was assigned to a field artillery battalion that was utilized as a unit of military police in Nagoya. I was able, however, to transfer to the Corps of Engineers in Tokyo, and was sent to Okinawa as part of a team mapping the geology of that island. After completing Okinawa we made a recon of the other islands south of Japan and north of Taiwan. I came back to the US in 1948, and worked to put our mapping into forms which would be useful to the Army.
Frances McCormick graduated from Mount Holyoke and was working in the geology department of Wesleyan University. She got a summer job with Mili-tary Geology in the USGS. I met her, wooed her, and married her on July 8, 1950. 5 children later, we're still married. After marriage she worked in the Survey until our first child was born. Since then, she has a full time job as mother of 5 children.
When all of our Okinawan work was completed, I returned to the Foreign Geology branch and was sent back to Cuba to head a Point Four project. The Point 4 was under the aegis of the State Department, who furnished the funds, and we had State Department status. When things began to get sticky in Cuba with Castro in the hills and general uncertainty, we left Cuba. I was offered a Point 4 job in India, and was expecting to go there, when we got a position report on India. It said that a family should expect at least one serious infection, and I couldn't see subjecting my family to that. So I quit the survey and took a job with Freeport Sulphur Company. We moved to New Orleans in 1957.
After spending a week working in various jobs with sulphur production, I left Fran in New Orleans and went to Minatitlan on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico. There were sulphur mines in the area, and Freeport hoped to find another deposit, but we had no success.
Freeport Sulphur Company depended on sulphur to keep the company profitable, and tried to keep up with sulphur production worldwide. Forbes Wilson, a vice president of Freeport, asked me to accompany him to Sicily and Spain. Native sulphur is not the only source of sulphur for sulphuric acid; sulphide ores can also be utilized in acid production. We visited the abandoned mines on some of the small volcanic deposits of Sicily, and went on to Spain to visit the Rio Tinto sulphide mines and the mercury mines at Almaden, both of which had been worked since Roman and Phoenician times.
Freeport was invited by the Polish government to evaluate the Polish work delineating their newly dis-covered native sulphur deposits. Dr. Pawlowski and his wife had prepared a study of their deposits that was thorough, complete, and luxurious. (It was the only time that I have ever seen drill logs presented separately in leather binders.) The Pawlowskis had proved large reserves in several deposits which cropped out near the town of Tamowbrzeg.
In 1960, we worked with OBM (Oost Borneo Maatschappij) to evaluate an outcropping of iron and copper ores located i n the interior of New Guinea that had been reported by a mountaineering Dutch group. Jacques Dozy, an oil geologist who was part of the group, collected two small grab samples. I t was interesting to him, but too remote to be important. He mentioned the deposit in a publication that came out just before Holland was overrun by the Germans.
We didn't have access to helicopters when we went in the first time. Our trip was made possible by Guru Moses, a native of Kelangin, (a tiny mountain village). He had been educated in a church school and was working with the highland natives. We crossed the coastal swamps with canoes and walked into the mountains. We had air drops of supplies. It was a trip into the Stone Age. The natives didn't have metals, or pottery. They could not boil water, and they would carry a load three days for a metal axe head. They had primitive kits to start fires by friction, and could start fires in the wet jungle faster than we could with matches and kerosene. We got to the Ertsberg, the outcrop that Dozy had mentioned, and it was all one could hope for. It was a huge mass of magnetite and chalcopyrite skarn. We cut samples from the surface of the ore body and took samples of the float around the edges of the deposit. When I returned to the United States after our expedition, I had a resistant form of malaria, which I was able to cure, but it took a year.
Our agreement was with the Dutch government, who still controlled the easternmost islands of their colonial holdings. When the rest of the Dutch holdings were granted to the government of Indonesia, we we r e a b l e t o t a l k t o t h em. The representatives of the Sukarno government wouldn't answer. We could do nothing more, so we shelved the project.
My first experience in the Canadian Precambrian was a project at Romanet Lake in Quebec. Camp was established on the shore of the lake, and it was early enough in the spring that biting flies weren't out yet. There were nonbiting flies that got into your nose and your eyes but they didn't bite. We had been in the camp a couple of days when we got company. An airplane with a canoe strapped under the wing landed on the lake, carrying a field party from Homestake Mining Company. The party was headed by John Livermore.
We entered a joint venture with Bethlehem Steel Company, looking for massive sulphide deposits in the Canadian Shield. We found a deposit at Reed Lake, which wasn't large enough for us to develop, so it was sold to the Canadian company operating mines in the area. Freeport Sulphur Company heard a report of a possible sulphur deposit in the far northern portions of Canada, well above the Arctic Circle. They dispatched Bob Weaver and me to check on things. We went in with helicopter support, and were able to reject the area for sulphur.
Freeport had a joint venture in Australia with Selection Trust, the South African holding company. So when we got a prospect in South Africa, it was easy to share the prospects with them. [We had several, and they were all dogs.] I visited a mine that was just reopening after a fatal accident underground. The native miners would not go into the underground workings until a witch doctor had appeased the malevolent spirit or spirits that they believed caused the accident. The native miners worked with bare feet, which were exposed to urine on the ground under the urinals. Since we were using the same ladders, I was also exposed to any pathogens they might carry on their feet. I came came home with filariasis (elephantiasis). I had flukes in my blood and worried about transmitting them to my family, especially because the doctors didn't treat the flukes. They trusted that, unless I got re-infected, my body would throw off the flukes, and my family would be safe if I was careful where I peed. I did and I was.
The situation in Indonesia changed radically on the evening of Sept. 30, 1965, when the Communist PKI attempted to seize power in a coup which started with the murder of six generals who were anti-Communist. The PKI made a big mistake; they didn't kill all the generals.
General Suharto took charge of the Indonesian army and crushed the insurrection. Sukarno refused to condemn the PKI, and was accused of conniv-ing with them. He lost his popularity and control of the government, which was taken over by Suharto. The Suharto government was interested in restoring the Indonesian economy, and to do that, they wanted to bring in outside capital that would be on terms favorable to everybody. After negotia-tions, Freeport and the Indonesian government signed a contract of work agreement that allowed Freeport to explore and develop any mines in the area of 100 square kilometers centered on the Ertsberg. This time, we brought in helicopters to aid us in the exploration and development. We got the choppers and 3 pilots and 2 mechanics from Petroleum Helicopters, a service company in Louisiana.
I was sent to Darwin in October of 1967, preparatory to going on to New Guinea by sea.. In Darwin I met Ernie Dargas, an East German who had migrated to Australia and was our agent. He put Forbes Wilson and me on the Edewina Mae, a 40-foot long shrimp boat which was carrying a deck load of 175 drums of diesel and aircraft fuel as well as the two of us to Tirnika, our base. Bal Darnell had located the site for our drill camp at the Ertsberg and an intermediate site on a gravel bar in the Aikwa River, where supplies could be stored temporarily while awaiting transport to the Ertsberg. The intermediate storage point allowed the choppers to stockpile diesel at the halfway point when the weather didn't allow them to go all the way to the upper camp. Bal was surprised when he started to move the prefab camp buildings into the Ertsberg. The natives put "saleps" (hex sticks) around the supplies. They were claiming all the supplies that were being brought in. Bal was able to get Guru Moses to talk to the natives and straighten out the situation. When the camp was in and a 25-horsepower electric generator installed, it was time to bring in the drills and start the drill program. Three large diesel-powered Longyear diamond drills were broken down into parcels small enough to be lifted by the helicopters. The drills arrived Dec 1st and were immediately positioned for drilling. They were operated around the clock 7 days a week. Cores were put in core boxes, divided lengthwise into channels just wide enough to hold a core. Markers giving the depth at the beginning and end of each run allowed the core to be located within the body of ore being drilled. I kept track of the drilling and described the mineralogy and logged each core. The core boxes were carried by helicopter to Timika where they were sampled and the boxes containing remaining cores were stacked in high racks. The samples were ground and cut and preserved for analysis. Each morning just after dawn, I'd get on the radio and give the weather report, and clue Bal in on developments and needs of the camp. I also taught Indonesian geologists to log the cores. Often there would be a native at the radio who would watch what I was doing and interpret it in line with cargo cult theory. They thought that I was ordering things from a mysterious place that was the source of all supplies, which they could tap if I would give them the proper magic words.
One day the watching native indicated he would like to order some things after I was finished. I gave him the microphone and listened to his desires. He wanted, among many items that I couldn't understand, a D6 tractor and a helicopter.
When we finished the drill program, we closed up the camp, leaving bedding on some of the beds, canned food in the kitchen, and fuel in the gen-erator. We put padlocks on the doors and made arrangements with the Kerala to watch the camp, and we left.
Our drill program indicated that there was a minimum of 33 million tons of ore above a depth of 100 meters in the Ertsberg, and the possibility of much more. The grade was poorer than the grade of our surface samples, but was still much better than that of most copper mines of the world. Forbes felt that we needed more information about the potential for more ore in this area, if we were to get financing for the project. Ernie Dargas and I returned to the Ertsberg camp where we expected to find survival rations and bedding. We got out of the helicopter, released it, and walked over to the camp buildings. The camp had been broken into and everything was spilled all over the place. There was one unholy mess and no food and no bedding, and it gets cold in the mountains, We radioed the base camp to bring up food and bedding, but the weather wouldn't allow the choppers to fly. We found the generator batteries had enough power left to start the generator, and it had fuel, so we had electricity. We had nothing to eat, but we had heat and we could sleep on the sponge mattresses that had been stripped of cloth covers. When the natives of Wa saw the chopper was flying again, they came up to see what was going on. We had asked them to watch over our camp and given them some supplies to pay them for their trouble, so they felt that they had some explaining to do. They put on a show illustrating how they had fought with other natives who had come over the mountains, and had lost. The story was good, and it might have been convincing if some of the actors hadn't been wearing items from the ravaged camp.
Ernie and I cleaned up the place and replaced the missing items, and I started my reconnaissance. I was assisted by Tangles, a young Australian from a whaling town on the southwest comer of the continent. Tangles had a very limited vocabulary, using only a few nouns and verbs to cover almost every occasion. The nouns and verbs he used were all closely related to reproduction, which resulted in some pretty colorful descriptions and many oxymo-rons. We finished the reconnaissance, and I headed back to Darwin on the Sundowner. The Sundowner was a boat designed for harbor work in WWII. It was powered by 2 big Rolls-Royce engines, and it depended on speed to give it stability in the protected waters of the harbors. When we left port we immediately encountered rough weather. The ship was rolling badly, so badly that even the captain was seasick. I wedged myself into my bunk and fought off seasickness sufficiently to get to sleep. I was awakened by the strong odor of diesel fuel that overpowered my attempt to keep my dinner down. After a trip to the rail, I found out the engine had blown a connection and the ship was wallowing in the high seas. The engineer got the engine going and we made our way into the area north of the Aru Islands, where we anchored in the lee of Aru, the largest island in the group. We stayed there for about 24 hours while the ship's engineer worked on the engine, and we listened to the broadcast of Super Bowl I. The next day we were able to limp into Darwin with no more trouble.
The next steps didn't involve me. A bulk sample of 300 tons was obtained by driving a tunnel into the Ertsberg and flying the ore out by 17 helicopter. The sample was tested and proved to be amenable to concentration by standard flotation methods that would recover about 93% of the copper in the ore, and yield a concentrate with about 32% copper. Most of the gold and silver in the ore would report with the concen-trate. Bob Wernet, a long-time engineer with Freeport, was Freeport's engineer in charge, and Bechtel did the work. There were no maps or surveys of the area. The road was planned to follow Darnell Ridge which was very narrow and very sharp in parts. The actual layout was done by a young Canadian geologist and a Cajun engineer, who were lowered by cable from a helicopter, to a point well ahead of the road's end. They then worked their way back to the end of the road, blazing the way, marking the route to be followed. The construction started by lowering a man with a chain-saw who cleared a drop zone. The D-4 tractor would then be skidded in. At the elevation the chopper could not hover with the heavy load. It had to keep moving as it landed the tractor. The same method was used to bring in parts of the larger tractors. The little tractor was used to enlarge the drop zone to allow a D6 to be brought in. It was flown in, in 6 pieces, and put together in the drop zone. The D6 was used to cut a pioneer road back to connect with the already constructed road, and allow the bigger D8s and really big D9s access to do the heavy work.
I was working in and out of Australia while this was going on, and asked Bob if I could come over and see how they were doing the job. He answered, "You're welcome to come over at any time, but please don’t.” I stayed in Australia. Since I couldn't help, at least I could keep out of the way. I didn't see the Ertsberg again until the road was in, and construction of the facilities was under way. Frank Nelson, a geologist we hired from Anaconda's Yerington mine, was living in the new town of Tembagapura and running exploration outside the mine area. Frank was very good at getting the needed equipment from the supply depot. The depot was disorganized at the time, and Frank knew more about where things were kept than the clerks. He
was able to find things they didn't even know they had. The road was open to the town site on Christmas Day 1971 and soon was through to the mill site. It was 63 miles long and it passed through 2 tunnels, and climbed to an elevation of more than 9,200 feet before dropping to the town site at about 5,500 feet, and then rising to terminate at the base of the glacial cirque on the Aghawagong, where the mill was to be built. The two tunnels (one, 3,627 feet long) and the other ( 2,788 feet long) were driven with only helicopter support.
I came back to the project in time to see the construction of the aerial tram which would carry ore from the mine to the mill. This was the largest jig-back tram built up to that time. It was 5,000 feet long and dropped 2,400 feet in a single span. The tram had track cables 3 inches in diameter on which the ore cars would run to the ends of a 10,000 foot drive cable which was looped around a large drive wheel. Two cars, each capable of carrying ten tons of ore, were attached. A loaded car would run down to the mill and the other car, having dumped its load, would be pulled up to the loading station. With the trams working, the mill was able to start up and begin processing ore, and pumping concentrate as a slurry down to the port. At the port it was dewatered and dried before shipping. I t sounds very simple but the project was full of problems. If you pump the slurry too fast or with a too thin consistency, it will cut through the pipe walls. If you pump it too slowly or with too thick a consistency it will clog the line. Freeport had all the problems; after ruptures and clogging and lab tests and complex calculations, t h e y arrived at the parameters that allowed the line to operate.
We continued exploration in the area until the mine geologists were able to take on the project. David Potter, the geologist for the mine, drilled the first holes into the Grasberg., one of the largest copper deposits in the world.
Reg Barden, an experienced mining engineer headed Freeport's Australian office in Melbourne. We had a partnership with Metals Exploration Company, a small Australian company. The two companies developed a lateritic nickel mine and mill near Townsville, Queensland. They also operated a small molybdenum mine at Wolfram Camp, Queensland. These projects were discovered by Metals Ex and operated by the partnership. Metals Ex continued to explore from Queensland across northern Australia to the Kimberleys, unfortunately with no success.
The partnership found and mined a small nickel sulfide deposit at Nepean in southwestern West Australia. We had more success at Mount Keith, a sheep ranch in the Meekathara area, where we blocked out a large tonnage of lateritic nickel ore, Unfortunately Freeport lost interest in Australia and sold the deposit to Western Mining.
Freeport heard of an occurrence of basic rock on Luzon (P h i l l i p i n e s ) which was being explored for chromite and asked me to visit the property on my way home from Australia. There was very little lateritic soil over the bedrock and the chromite was insufficient to be of interest to Freeport.
A delegation from the Chinese government asked Freeport to come to China and advise them on sulfur that they had discovered, Four of us, headed by Vice President Bob Hills, made the trip. I was the geologist and we had a research-process-chemist/engineer and a politically experienced negotiator t o round out the party. When we arrived in Beijing, the Chinese took our party an hour's drive out of the city to stay at a petroleum refinery. ( c o nt . p g. 18 )
We were told that it would be illegal to stray off the highway that we had been driven over between Beijing and the refinery. Since we had only the trans-portation furnished by government, we weren't going anywhere anyway. A young engineer from the Lurgi company who was overseeing the installation of some pieces of new refinery equipment was staying with us. He told us that he found the Chinese engineers in the plant were afraid to show any initia-tive. They had to have authorization to do anything even down to turning off a piece of equipment that was malfunctioning.
We were taken around to the tourist attractions in the vicinity of Beijing while we were staying at the refinery. We left Beijing by train and traveled overnight to a city that was located on the flank of Mount Tien Shan in Shantung province. Mount Tien Shan was Confucius' holy mountain. We traveled in 2-man European style compartments with seats that converted into upper and lower bunks. The next car on the train was a sleeping car made up of square horizontal tubes piled up like slots in a post office into which the passengers could slide and sleep. Most of the train was made up of second-class cars in which most of the passengers slept sitting down.
We (the 4 Freeporters, the local professionals, and the representatives of the ministry of chemical materials) discussed the large scale problems and then we broke up in groups and each of us studied more of the subject t that was our specialty. I studied the drill logs. It soon became obvious that the Chinese had only assayed those portions of the drill core that contained sulphur, and they had added all of them together to obtain the amount of sulphur in the ore. It was an easy thing to do, as sulphur was what they wanted, and they thought that Frasch mining would melt the sulphur and would allow only sulphur to be pumped up to the surface; after all that's what we and the Poles do. However in this case, the sulphur rich layers were thin and were mixed with lots of barren layers, and the overall grade was only about 3%. In Frasch mining, the whole rock mass must be heated above the melting point of sulphur, to allow the sulphur to drain, be collected, and pumped to the surface. In draining, the liquid sulphur wets the rocks through which it passes, and a lot of it is left coat-ing the barren material. A characteristic of the rock in the Chinese core was high density and low permeability, which is not good for Frasch mining. Large amounts of hot water must move through the rock mass to melt the sulphur. We had hoped we might get access to a large new source of sulphur, but this deposit did not live up to expectations.
Much of the gas in Egyptian oilfields contains hydrogen sulphide, which can be treated to produce pure sulphur. Amounts of sulphur are noted in the drill logs of some of the holes drilled for oil. Freeport was searching for new sources of sulphur, so they made arrangements with the Egyptian-government-owned oil company for me to visit Cairo and the oilfields to check the drill and geophysical data to see if there was any evidence that might suggest the presence of a sulphur deposit. I was working with the chief geologist of the oil company, and he didn't seem to want to arrange for me to go into the eastern desert, which required a special passport, lacking which I had to cool my heels in Cairo. That wasn't all bad, it gave me time to see more of Egypt- but that wasn't why I was in Cairo. Eventually, I went to the chief geologist and told him I would have to go home if I couldn't finish my job. The next day I got the necessary passport, and arrangements were made for the trip on the succeeding day.
The next morning we took off for the Eastern Desert. We were four men in a Russian jeep: a black Numidian driver, two Arabian-Egyptian geologists, and me. The road to Suez ran parallel to the Suez Canal and the Bitter Lakes for miles. It was strange to look across the sparsely vegetated desert and see an ocean liner apparently sailing through the desert sand. It was a ship in the Suez Canal transiting from south to north. There were signs along the way warning of minefields east of the highway, left over from the Six Days' War. We also saw an army outpost composed of a hut and, where we would have a vehicle park, two camels were tethered. It was a hot day, and the Russian jeep had no air conditioning, and the rear windows wouldn't open. It was an uncomfortable ride. The two Egyptian geologists got into a heated religious argument. I think they were arguing about how far up the arm one should wash when performing ablutions before attending services in the mosque. They soon got into a shouting match, as both participants ditched logic in favor of loudness. They finally agreed that they couldn't settle the matter, and we got into a discussion of the recent war with the Israelis.
We crossed the canal and spent the night in an oil company camp on the west side of the Sinai Peninsula. The next day we looked at outcrops along that coast. We found several places where small amounts of secondary sulphur were evidence of oxidation of hydrogen sulphide, but added nothing to the knowledge of the area. I was able to identify an area where the geophysics suggested a possibility for sulphur. There later was a drill program to test that area, which evidently didn't find enough sulphur to justify further work. I had retired by the time the drilling was done and never saw the results of the drilling.
Written by Del Flint, GSN Lifetime Honorary Member
John Winton Erwin*
Erin L. Hart
Greg T. Hill
Joseph Kizis, Jr
Brooke J Miller
Justin and Ajeet Milliard
Mia (Cowgill) O'Neal
Shea Clark Smith
Roger C Steininger