Faces of GSN

Neil Prenn

I was born in Manhattan, New York about 75 years ago. My parents moved from New York to California when I was 7, and I don’t remember much of New York. My parents were both teachers, with my mother teaching English at high school (I’m sure she is not proud of my English) and my father was a physical education teacher at middle school. In California we settled in the small town of Cornell, California, population 10, northwest of the San Fernando Valley. My dad started a summer camp for boys soon after we moved there. One of my friends was the son of a movie producer that lived in the area and had one of the finer mineral collections in the world. I became interested in minerals and would ask my dad to drive me to mineral localities before I had a car.

By the time I was in high school I knew that I wanted to go to the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) to become a mining engineer, because of the fine minerals I had seen. When I graduated from Canoga Park High School, the cost of going to junior college in California was about $6 per semester so I went to Pierce Junior College in Canoga Park and took mostly geology classes prior to going to Colorado. While at CSM, I worked two summers at US Borax in Boron, California. During the second summer I designed the next final pit for the mine, all done by hand with volumes and using planimeters and without computers except for clunky calculators. I graduated from CSM in the normal somewhat extended time period in January, 1967 with an Engineer of Mines degree with a minor in Geology.

I started working for Cyprus Mines Corporation in their headquarters office in downtown Los Angeles, where I would remain for the next 16 years. The first project I worked on was in Tuscarora, Nevada, where they had a drill program starting up to look for gold and silver. It was December, 1967, and one day an elderly resident had her pipes freeze, so we spent most of the morning thawing her pipes. I was in fairly good physical shape, but I was no match for the 65-year- old Tuscarora native, who owned the underlying claims, when we climbed over the hills of the property.

I went to Cyprus Island for about 3 weeks in 1969. Some of the mines on the Island that were being mined at the time had workings you could walk into that were several thousand years old. One of the people I met at Cyprus Island was a pilot who invited a plane full of people to go to Beirut, Lebanon. This was soon after Israel had bombed the airport and when we landed, the customs people told us to leave our passports with them. None of us were comfortable, but we proceeded to visit the city for the weekend and left without any incidents.

I wrote a computer program to complete an inverse distance grade model for a resource estimate. The hard part was that we had to calculate most of the model blocks by hand to check the program. We rented time on a large “super” computer to run the program. A simple model estimate took about 24 hours to run and it crashed the computer most of the time when it completed the model.

I worked out of the home office of Cyprus Mines until Cyprus decided I needed some practical experience and sent me to the Pima Mine near Tucson, Arizona in 1975. I alternated between operations and engineering at Pima, with my last position being Chief Engineer when the mine closed in 1977. Pima expanded twice while I was there. It may have been the first mine to have a dispatch shack and eventually had 50 large haul trucks operating each shift. Pima was fairly advanced with computers for the time, and had a seven-person department writing programs as requested from the mine staff. Before leaving Pima, I managed an internal feasibility study for the Thompson Creek Molybdenum project in Idaho, where I spent two summers in Challis in the early seventies. The Thompson Creek mine started in 1983 and is not expected to be reclaimed until 2030. Arizona has fabulous mineral collecting opportunities and I took advantage of them often.

From Pima, I was sent to Cyprus Uranium, whose office was in Boulder, Colorado, to work on the Tallahassee Creek uranium project near Canon City, Colorado. At the time, Wyoming Minerals had numerous contracts to sell uranium at $8 per pound, but didn’t have the material to deliver. They were buying uranium at spot prices that were five or six times their contract price! Wyoming Minerals purchased 50% of the Tallahassee Creek project which would have given them the uranium they needed to supply their contracts but the bottom then fell out of the uranium market and Cyprus and Wyoming Minerals never developed the mine. I met my future wife, Cami, at a uranium symposium in Grand Junction. I was moved back to the home office, which was now in Denver, and after a year or so, moved to the Northumberland project in central Nevada.

I invited Cami to visit me in Smoky Valley and we ended up getting engaged in Belmont. We were the last couple to get married in the Molly Brown House in Denver in January of 1982. I was the general manager for a few years at Northumberland and moved to Gardnerville, Nevada to work at the California Silver project near Markleeville, California. After three years, we were able to permit the project, but the gold price had dropped to a level where the project could not get financed. Cami and I started Mine Development Associates (MDA) in January, 1987, in the back offices of Kappes, Cassiday and Associates (KCA).

Later that year we moved out of the KCA offices and started to add staff. For me, MDA has been a wonderful experience with an exceptional staff that I’ve been proud to work with. We’ve had some phenomenal projects all over the world and have had the pleasure of working with outstanding people in the industry. 2018 will be MDA’s 31 st year and there’s no end in sight.

Steve Wiess

Steve Wiess