I wonder how many times over the past fifty-five years or so I sat with another geologist on the tailgate of a truck eating lunch, marveling at the scenery, and commenting “Can you believe we are getting paid for this”? What a great profession when you wake up every morning eager to get to the office or into the field. For this I sincerely thank the geologists and staff I worked with for all these years. To this day I sincerely appreciate their friendship and look forward to their good company at every GSN meeting.
A serious interest in “geology” started while I was in Jr. College. I was on a work party at Camp Seabow, a Campfire Girls camp, in the Coast Range, west of Laytonville, CA. My three sisters were Campfire girls and my dad was in charge of work parties that opened and closed the camp. I was absolutely blown away by the variety of rocks and pebbles in the stream bed. I remember thinking “there has got to be a story behind all this”. That fall I enrolled in Geology 101.
I graduated from High School in Richmond in 1953 and attended Contra Costa Jr. College where I received my AA degree in 1957. I moved on to University of California-Berkeley in 1959 were I got a Bachelor’s degree in 1963. In High School and College I was an avid rock climber and a member of the Rock Climbing Section of the Sierra Club. In my second semester at CCJC my leg was crushed in a rock fall while attempting a first ascent of the north face of the Higher Cathedral Spire in Yosemite Valley. Following an extended recovery period I worked as a lab assistant at California Research Corporation from 1954 to 1963.
While attending college I managed to go on two Antarctic Expeditions; The 1960-61 “Horlick Mountains Expedition” and the 1962-63 “Mt. Weaver Expedition”, both in Queen Maud Land, Eastern Antarctica. These were four-man field parties and I was a field assistant. We mapped, sampled and measured the stratigraphy of Permian age, fossiliferous, coal-bearing sediments. It was exciting being the first to walk across the outcrops and find ledge after ledge with “Glossopteris” leaves, logs, branches and upright stumps with roots, a Permian forest in place? The Mt. Weaver camp was located on the edge of the polar plateau, 87° S, 180 miles from the South Pole. We were in the field 93 days, worked one day out of four, had an average temperature of -20°F, and daily winds of 20-50mph. We discovered and climbed the southernmost volcano in the world and stood on Mt. Howe, the earth’s southernmost peak. We proceeded further south to stand on the earth’s southern-most outcrop (a diabase sill). What profession is more fun than that?
Graduate school was at the University of Wyoming where I received a Master’s Degree in 1965. My thesis was mapping PreCambrian granites and metavolcanics in the Sierra Madre Mountains, southeastern Wyoming. Upon completion of my Masters I took a summer job with AMAX logging core at Bald Butte, a molybdenum project near Helena, MT. That summer’s work for Ora Rostad left little doubt that I wanted to be an economic geologist. However, I had committed to participate in a third Antarctic expedition, The 1965-66 “Ellsworth Nunatak Expedition” to Ellsworth Land at the base of the Antarctic Peninsula. This time I was one of six geologists working for the Univ. of Wisconsin’s Geophysical and Polar Research Center. We traveled by snowmobile some 800 miles, from mountain top to mountain top, mapping, sampling and surveying.
In the spring of 1966, after writing up my Antarctic work, I went to work for Bear Creek Mining Company in Spokane, WA. Doug Cook was the District Manager. Mentoring was common in those days and I worked under Clyde Weatherall in the Belt rocks of Montana, Dave Snyder in the ID-MT porphyry belt and Riz Bigelow in the Brooks Range, Alaska. It was a great time to be with a company like BCMC as they sent their geologists to numerous in-house workshops and training programs. For me, this included a six week program working underground at the Ozark Lead Mine in Missouri. BCMC had a major layoff in late 1971 and I moved to Denver to work for Mine Finders Inc.
Mine Finders was started by ex-AMAX hands, Frank Coolbaugh and Stewart Wallace, two real gentlemen. The Company was in a JV with Bethlehem Steel Corp., primarily looking for molybdenum. MFI had Majuba Hill in Nevada and picked up the New World District near Cooke City, MT. For the next two summers, I spent a lot of time with Bill Oriel who was mapping and running the drilling program. Ron Long and Mark Coolbaugh also worked with us that summer. A plunge in iron prices led Bethlehem Steel to terminate the JV in 1976.
Up to that time I had little experience in the Great Basin, so when Geoff Snow, Noranda Exploration Inc., offered me the Western District Manager position in Reno, I grabbed it. Greg Cox and Bob LaMarre were in the Reno office working on projects in the Mother Lode, CA. We acquired the Grey Eagle Copper Mine in northern California and Noranda Mining put the property into production in 1981. At that time 1,000,000 tons @ 0.2 opt gold was a deposit rather than a nice anomaly. Bill Oriel, Greg Cox and Pat Fahey ran the reconnaissance and drilling programs. We hired a lot of smart, young geologists. Education went both ways. One trip I will always remember was driving from Reno to Ely with Eric Seedorff. Eric talked for hours about skarns and skarn deposits.
I went to work for Inspiration Gold Inc. in 1984, where I was a full-time consultant responsible for exploration and acquisition opportunities in Nevada, California, Utah and western Oregon. We acquired and drilled Goldstrike, a property near St. George, Utah. Tenneco Minerals bought the property and put it into production several years later.
In 1987, Minorco and Inspiration formed Western Gold Exploration and Mining Company. Initially, I was the Western Regional Manager located in Reno and was then made U.S. Exploration Manager and moved to Golden, Colorado. As U.S. Manager, part of my job was to direct geological due diligence teams for Minorco's acquisition effort in the U.S. Minorco acquired Freeport MacMoRan Gold Company in 1991. Freeport Gold was renamed Independence Mining Company and WestGold was named “out of business”.
Through my affiliation with WestGold, Dave Stevens, Independence Mining Co., offered me the position of Regional Vice President, Central America and Caribbean. This was my first exposure to International Exploration. I organized the start-up programs. We established a Mexican subsidiary with an office in Mexico City, formed and operated a joint venture with Phelps Dodge Mining Company in Costa Rica and evaluated mines and prospects in Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, and Puerto Rico. Francisco Crespo, Dave Ernst, Ray Threlkeld and Tom Doe were key to the programs.
After being laid off by Independence in late 1994, I tried my hand at consulting. My best consulting job was working for Don Ranta at Echo Bay Mining. Don sent me to the Philippines with John Hill to take a preliminary look at the King King copper-gold deposit on the island of Mindanao. That led to other evaluations of gold prospects throughout the Philippine Islands and in Indonesia. On one trip Paul Sargent, a Canadian geologist, and I flew to Balikpapan in Kalimantan (Borneo), and took a 200 mile boat ride up the Mahakam River to visit the Busang prospect with the infamous Michael de Guzman. That was before BreX announced their “first” million ounces of gold. Another time Paul and I flew from Mindanao to northern Luzon, a 900 mile helicopter trip. We visited gold mines and prospects along the way. A side benefit was a close fly-by of the active volcano Mayon and a trip into the steaming Pinatubo crater; Pinatubo had a massive eruption in June, 1991.
In August 1995, I took the job of Chief Geologist with MK Gold Company and moved to Salt Lake City, UT. I managed exploration and drilling programs in Nevada and evaluated properties in Panama, Nicaragua, Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Spain, and Russia. It was an interesting ten years working with G. Frank Joklik - only “tons & grade” got his full attention. Leucadia National Corporation, the owners, shut down MK Gold in 2005 after MK Gold acquired the Las Cruces copper deposit in Spain. I was 70 years old by then and thought it might be fun to pursue my interests in photography, quarter horses and easy living. My wife wanted to travel??? Along came 2008 and the 401K debacle - not good. Fortunately, my long-time friend Hart Baitis, talked me into doing a little geology on the side. We acquired a couple of projects and in 2011 formed BHLK LLC, with Bob Hawkins, and Joe Kircher. BHLK identifies, evaluates and acquires advanced-stage mining projects for well-funded private-equity groups and has a portfolio of properties.
My wife Joyce and I live in Gardnerville, NV, with our three quarter horses and two dogs. We try to make at least two trips a year, one to fish with Hart and Inga Baitis at their place on the Dearborn River, MT and another to some less exotic place. This year it is to Tanzania, Africa to photograph wildlife.
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