I began my career in geology at a young age in the farm fields of northern Ohio, collecting colorful sparkly Canadian Shield rocks in the plowed glacial till after a rain. This must have been encouraged by my math-teacher father, who was also moderator of his high school’s geology club. I was able to tag along on fossil-collecting field trips in the Bedford Shale, and quarries in the Berea sandstone.
After earth science classes in middle and high school, I was hooked. When it was time to pick a college, my main requirement was that they had to have a geology program. I enrolled at the University of Dayton in 1973, just far enough from home to be out of reach yet close enough to return on holi-days. The best thing about UD was that I met my wife, Karen, a social work major. She kept me balanced, so I wouldn’t get my head so deeply buried in rocks I’d forget about people. I also met lots of other guitar players, who kept me so occupied that school work started to impact on music playing. Maybe it was the other way around.
I was an undecided major freshman year, until taking Historical Geology from George Springer. I knew I liked geology before, but now I knew I had found a home. He was a true Ivy League-trained Renaissance man, teaching structural, igneous petrology, glacial, optical, geomorphology, and field camp with a wry sense of humor. On exam days he would walk into the classroom dressed ankle-to-Adam’s-apple in black, puffing on his pipe with a smug expression. Handing out blank sheets of paper, he would scribble a few questions on the board and leave us to write our essays. He repeated his policy on exams, that if absent you were given an FBI test at a later date. Fair But Impossible. During senior year he asked if I ever thought about grad school, pointing out that some schools even pay tuition and a stipend, and I was encouraged to take the GRE and apply.
I must have been well prepared for the test as I was offered an assistantship at Lehigh by another Ivy Leaguer Charles Sclar. He needed a lab rat to study moon rocks on a NASA grant. I had the privilege of curating a pea-sized chip of Apollo basalt, while figuring out why there were flecks of metallic iron all through it. Turns out it exsolves from ulvospinel and anorthite when hit by meteorites when there’s no oxidizing atmosphere. The next year the grant ran out and I had to teach undergrad labs like everyone else. We took an economic geology field trip to upstate New York, visiting operating wollastonite, ilmenite, zinc, garnet and titanium-sand mines all in a few days. When it came time to pick a thesis topic, I found I could spend the summer mapping Precambrian rocks and iron deposits in northern New Jersey for the USGS and write a thesis about it. When Don Kohls and Bill Lindqvist of Gold Fields came by the school in 1979 to interview graduating students, I was off to northern Minnesota looking for gold.
After defending my thesis on Friday and landing in Duluth Monday, I began my career with a great group of geologists exploring for gold. I couldn’t believe the good fortune, getting to hike through the woods all day, and then staying at a fishing resort paddling a canoe on the lake after coming out of the field. Not to mention getting paid for it! After lots of field work in Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico and Colorado, I was assigned to the Shafter silver project in West Texas. There’s where I learned to log core, map surface and underground, and various skills exploration geologists don’t learn in school and absorb on the job.
Karen and I got married and had our first son while in Shafter, and we moved a couple more times ending up in Yuma to work on the Mesquite project. The discovery had just been made, and I was to help explore the region for more such deposits. After turning up some promising prospects in the area, we ended up drilling out and modeling the satellite deposits around the original Mesquite discovery. After 5 years in Yuma, we didn’t consider it really hot until it was over 110 degrees. When we moved to Nevada in July of 1988, I decided I would never complain about heat again.
Spending 10 years in Winnemucca working on Chimney Creek for Gold Fields, then Twin Creeks for Santa Fe, was a great experience, seeing the project evolve from the beginning of mining to development of the Mega Pit. We found lots of gold during that time, and learned a lot about that massive Carlin-style deposit.
Taking most of 1996, I went on assignment to Ghana to work on Santa Fe’s projects there. Being the first time working in another country, there was always something new and colorful to experience. We could walk through the jungle and come upon outcrops of .1 gold that had never been sampled. Not only was the geology interesting, but the people and culture were so enjoyable to learn about. They wanted to learn about American culture as much as I wanted to learn about Ghanaian ways of life.
When the downturn came in the late 90’s we moved to Reno where Karen and I both went back to school. I became a Montessori teacher, spending the next 5 years teaching elementary children. It was both a very rewarding time, and the hardest job I’ve ever done. I have the greatest respect and appreciation for teachers.
Then it was time to get back into exploration, when the latest up-cycle began picking up steam. During a 2-year tour with Placer Dome I worked on the Limousine Butte project up until the Barrick merger. I ended up back there with US Gold (now McEwen Mining) when they took over Nevada Pacific. Since then I’ve been working on their extensive properties in Nevada, including Tonkin, Gold Bar and Limo.
I became treasurer of the GSN in 2009, and am proud to be part of this great organization. The more I am involved with it and the more I get to know everyone, the more I appreciate what we all bring to this amazing group.
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