GSN

Faces of GSN

Don MacKerrow, Geologist (Published in December 2015 GSN Newsletter)

This is the story of an independent geologic contractor, known to most in our industry as a “consultant”. You have seen me at the GSN meetings and maybe in the Pyrenees Motel parking lot in Winnemucca, but do you know me? My name is Donald MacKerrow and I have been in the Nevada geologic community since 1980. How I became a geologist and arrived in Reno is a long but not all that winding road.

I was born and raised in Vallejo, California, a city on the east side of the San Pablo and north end of the San Francisco bays.

I grew up in a home with a view overlooking both the Bay and the Mare Island Naval Shipyard. My father was head of the metallurgy department at Mare Island, so my introduction to science came early in life. Every month “Things of Science” blue boxes arrived in the mail, little projects that Dad bought to share with my sister and me. One of these boxes was filled with rocks and mineral specimens, and so began my first experience in the world of geology

My father encouraged sports and Mom taught me how to cook. When I was ten, Dad became fascinated with sailing, and this was the beginning of my continuing love of the sport.

Every weekend during my high school years I raced on San Fran-cisco Bay. Dad soon expanded his interests beyond the Bay to ocean racing. We sailed the California coast from Drakes Bay to Monterey Bay and took long non-stop trips south to San Diego. Even today, the sailing tradition continues on the dry lakes of Nevada.

“The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” premiered on television in 1966. I was thirteen and decided then and there that I would be-come an oceanographer. In high school I was told by my guidance counselor I should take classes in wood and metal shop so I would have a better chance to get a job???

I immediately got a new and considerably more progressive counselor, one who supported my oceanographic aspirations. After graduation, I looked for a college that offered a curriculum in oceanography and, after spending my formative years looking at a Navy shipyard, decided to apply to the Naval Academy. I won the congressional appointment and in the fall of 1971 packed my things and moved to Annapolis, Maryland.

What a cultural shock! The Ameri-can Southeast is a very different place from the West Coast. After two years in a very strange land, I parted with the Navy. But Annapolis gave me a lasting gift. It was there that I took my first geology class and loved every minute. After returning to California, I took my second geology class at Solano Com-munity College while I worked and looked for another school. I transferred to Humboldt State University in Northern California in 1976 to continue my oceanographic odyssey. When deciding what type of oceanography to study I discovered that geology was one of the options. Perfect! My advisor and I devised a plan to take all the geology classes that were offered. In the end, I only needed to add field techniques and field camp to graduate with a dual Bachelor’s degree in both geology and oceanography.

During my senior year at HSU I began to apply for jobs that would allow me to use my two degrees. The one I remember most was my interview with Lockheed Martin about a pro-posed program for the undersea mining of manganese nodules. The concept was interest-ing and the interviewers were very encouraging. Twenty years later I found out that they were fronting for the C.I.A. to pull a Russian submarine from the ocean bottom. The whole thing was a cover. There really was no program.

One very late night in the geology department, while typing up my oceanography research paper, I took a break and found an annual report for the Homestake Mining Company lying on a table. There was gold being poured into bars and bold, bearded men in plaid shirts and Filson vests pointing purposefully off into the distance. Gold fever struck me hard and I began a relentless campaign on Homestake to give me a job. I initially got a job in the quality control department of an exotic metals foundry. I told them they were only temporary until I got my “real” geology job. When I finally got an interview with Homestake, I packed up my car and drove to Reno, as gung ho as anyone could possibly be. I walked into the Homestake office wearing a three-piece suit and they thought I was a salesman. Dick Kern gave me the job and sent me out to look for an apartment. At one location, I opened the wrong door. An angry man inside pressed a .45 caliber gun to my forehead. I almost left Reno for good that day.

My first field job for Homestake was staking claims on the Emigrant Spring property. These were the days of 300-foot tapes and 4x4 wooden posts. During these early Homestake days I met the love of my life, Peg O’Malley, for the first time.

Was it the time we spent together working in an adit on the Pershing Quick-silver property with only bats (and Frank Howell) for company? Or was it the lure of my cooking at the Wagon Wheel Motel (thanks, Mom!) after we all got sick in Lovelock’s eateries?

The “Job for Life” I had planned with Homestake lasted until 1982 when widespread layoffs devastated the industry. I took a part time job with Lacana while looking for full time em-ployment. I worked in their office on Relief Canyon projects before finding a field job with Freeport McMoRan, splitting my time between Arizona and Nevada. My Freeport job lasted until the layoff wave engulfed them too. It was at this point that it finally hit me; there are no lifetime jobs in the mining industry! I took a little break and volunteered at my cousin’s food bank in Pasadena and this got me into the 1984 Olympics as a volunteer selling beer at the Rose Bowl.

Upon returning to Reno, and to my surprise, Homestake had a need for “contractors”. This was the beginning of my career as a “consultant”. I logged my first core hole on the Wild Cat property for Homestake. As I was doing exploration in the Shoshone Mountains south of Bat-tle Mountain, I got an offer to go to the Republic of Palau for Micronesian Mineral. My choice: (a) Battle Mountain in the winter snows; or (b) Palau and the warm rains of eternal summer in a South Sea Paradise. Duh!

In Palau I worked for Ross Grunwald. We were targeting vein systems previously mined during World War II by the Japanese. Jerry Rahn was logging core while I wandered the drainages, sampling heavy metal with my crew. I fulfilled one of every guy’s fantasies, my own personal “Tarzan Moment”, swinging over one of those streams on a vine and doing my best Tarzan yodel. Within a month my nickname was ”the-American- who- looks-like-a-Palauan”. I used rubber boats to go up drainages as far as possible before hiking to the headwaters. We would come across old trucks from the war and small dug out shelters with prayer cards in the jungle. Unexploded bombs and other old ordnance were reported to the small Seabee base on the island and the Seabees would come and blow them up. I experienced my second typhoon while on the islands. This was a dire situation because it cut off the supply of beer. Beer was the second highest import, just behind oil to run the power plant. Days off were time to go snorkeling and fishing. I listened while Radio Moscow declared the end of Capitalism after the stock market crash of 1987 and called home at ten dollars per minute to find out if that was true. The experience was an im-portant investment lesson. When the job ended, I could have easily gone native in Palau but back to the States I came.

While working out of Battle Mountain, I ran into Ron Parratt at the Big Chief Motel, leading to an assessment job around the Trinity silver mine. Later, Ron called me about another project he had going called Rabbit Creek. He was looking for people who could commit to long-term mine development. I logged miles and miles of core. On projects like this you learn what it really takes to put a mine into pro-duction.

I worked at Rabbit Creek until late 1989. That December, I volunteered to sit a drill rig for Bruce Braginton while his wife was having a baby. The property was on the side of Lone Tree Hill and by the next year it became the Lone Tree Mine project.

The team at Lone Tree consisted of many of the same people that had been at Rabbit Creek. In those days, you could bring pet dogs to the field with you. Not having a dog, I brought an opinionated Gray Cheeks Parakeet named Paco with me. I would string a rope and the bird would run back and forth trying to get to my shoulder. Some people would try to pick him up, usually a bad idea. Warren Thompson has a story to tell about Paco and maybe a few scars.

In 1993, Santa Fe Gold exchanged properties with Hanson Gold Fields in a coal-for-gold swap. Santa Fe needed experience at the now-named Twin Creek mine so I returned there to work on the former Chimney Creek portion of the property. Resource shape modeling, pit expansions and new discoveries were made during this time. I decided to leave Twin Creeks after Newmont bought Santa Fe Gold in 1997.

In 1998 I went to work for Hecla at the Rose-bud Mine. I contracted to log core and to help Kurt Allen extend the mine’s life. I brought my new pet bird, Zena, out to the mine a few times. It was at Rosebud that she learned that expensive pecans were her favorite nut. Rosebud eventually closed but I reunited with Kurt in Mexico at the San Sebastian mine. I loved working in Mexico but I had to return to Reno when family in Vallejo needed me to be closer.

I consulted for Bill Stanley of ATNA Re-sources on a review of Barrick data on the Pinson property. When ATNA Resources picked up Pinson I went out to the property with Zena to work on the upcoming surface and subsurface drilling programs. This was where Zena set an underground depth record for a Gray Cheeks in a mine. She even had her own brass.

We were successful enough that Barrick decided to buy ATNA out of the project.

Barrick was in need of a geologist to work on a new exploration program at the Turquoise Ridge mine. I had not yet worked with the Comus Formation in that location in the valley, so I said yes and went to work for Karl Marlowe. We spent the first year just trying to get equipment. With the success of some underground development drilling we were able to get more resources and, in time, people. In 2013, I was transferred to Cortez to work on the new Barrick Gold Rush project. I spent some of my time at both TR and Cortez mentoring young geologists, both employees and contractors, to help them realize there are both ups and downs in mining employment. Almost like clockwork, and after an excep-tionally long boom period, it all came skidding to an end. The Gold Rush project had to pause and the contractors were let go within two months.

It took returning this last time to realize how much I had been away. It’s time to be home, for more Peg time, and for more ad-ventures together.