A TALE OF MENTORS
I was born in Akron, Ohio, many years ago. My dad was a mechanical engineer, I had a natural inclination to-ward gadgets and gizmos, and it was almost a given that I would follow that profession. We moved “out west” during WW II, lived in Phoenix until the end of the war, then moved to Los Gatos, California, in the Bay Area, where I gradu-ated from high school in 1952.
A career in geology, or anything that had much to do with the great outdoors, had never entered my mind. I started college at UCLA, where they were reported to have a very good speech therapy program (I had stuttered se-verely from childhood.) UCLA had no residence dorms, but I got into a student-run Co-op dorm – total immersion in a very liberal atmosphere which was really a new experience! I was assigned to a double room with a geology PhD candi-date, Dave Givens – my first mentor. I had to declare a major, engineering required scary amounts of math right away, so what the hell – Geology! I took the first course, taught by a Brit, aced it, and was hooked. The speech course, not so much.
I was (surprisingly) accepted at Stanford as a sophomore transfer. Stanford’s School of Mineral Sciences then was a very good hard-rock school (alas, no longer), and I benefitted from many really great professors who became mentors – Charles Park, Konrad Krauskopf, Siemon Muller, Ben Page, John Harbaugh, Colin Hutton. We had a rigorous summer field mapping course, three weeks in the Coast Range in Cretaceous sediments and volcanics, and three weeks on Tioga Pass in the Saddlebag roof pendant and several granitic domains.
I had concentrated on ore deposits, but my graduation in 1956 matched a cyclical “down” and my first geology job was with the California Department of Water Resources, supervising core drilling programs on dam sites in the Si-erra Nevada, a pretty fun job that almost lured me away from mining. They even paid overtime, and there was plenty of that, to supplement my magnificent salary of $481 per month. The DWR budget was cut the next year, and I re-turned to Stanford to seek a Master’s. My thesis was on alteration gradients at San Manuel; I think now I saw vectors toward the Kalamazoo deposit, but was too dumb to recognize it.
A real mentor came into my life as a grad student; Wolfgang “Woody” Mahrholz, who taught an ore deposits lab and seminar. Woody was also consulting for Bear Creek Mining Company and, though jobs were still scarce, of-fered me a summer job in 1959, doing the first Bear Creek mapping and sampling at Copper Creek, Arizona. Salary cut to $450. In a couple of months, Woody got a budget approved for recon work around the Ely, Nevada deposit; I moved to Ely (another cultural eye-opener!) and the rest is history – I stayed with Bear Creek in Nevada for nearly thirteen years.
Bear Creek/Kennecott was a great place to work in the porphyry copper boom days. Exploration budgets were generous to a fault (“Don’t you want more air mag than that?”) and we were taught that we were smarter, more cutting-edge in research, first in line for a discovery, than anyone else in the business. In reality, our competitors, Anaconda, Phelps Dodge, Amax, and others were doing the same thing, but we were-n’t allowed to talk to those guys. It was all very cloak-and-dagger. The “real” target was another Bingham Canyon, and nothing else would do.
We had a small office/apartment on Mary Street in Reno, where I crashed from time to time; one of the other geologists, George Stathis, alerted me to the little group called Geological Society of Nevada, and I started going to monthly meetings at The Stein on Center Street – long since replaced by Harrah’s – and joined about 1961. A big meeting might be 25 – 30 folks, provided there was a copper talk. I’ve been a GSN member since then, and the association and camaraderie has been invaluable.
Bear Creek opened a Reno district office in 1964, under Bob Holt, and later Anton “Ton” Netelbeek, and after living out of a suitcase for several years, I moved to Reno, and was ultimately responsible for all reconnaissance work, and numerous drilling projects, in the Great Basin. It was a privilege working with John Welsh to unravel the stratigraphy and structure of the Butte Valley deposit. Ton Netelbeek (the best manager I ever worked for), Doug Cook, John Welsh, Charlie God-dard and the guys in the Geologic Research and Geophys-ics Division in Salt Lake City were valued mentors.
One downer, though, was the single-minded concentra-tion on copper and moly; you needed a blessing from above to run a gold assay. I drilled through the edge (I think) of the Lone Tree Hill deposit in search of lower plate rocks and never saw the gold. I guess it wasn’t ore grade then anyway. Unfortunately, nothing Bear Creek developed in those years met the criteria to replace Bing-ham, and the party ended in December, 1971. Bear Creek laid off 2/3 of the salaried staff and the Reno office shut its doors. Merry Christmas, everyone!
A flurry of resumes later, and still within my Kennecott severance pay, Jim Morgan, who led the Reno office for Union Carbide, offered me a job in their tungsten program, to “upgrade” his geology group. I quickly realized that he had some real good “prospector oriented” geologists on staff, and managed to save their jobs. I learned to love tung-sten skarns, and was soon promoted to District Geologist. Among others, Jim Morgan and Charlie Goddard (again) stand out as mentors. During my time at Carbide, we brought the Indian Springs and Pilot Mountains tungsten depos-its into the fold. At first, it was a very congenial and professional group, if rather management top-heavy, but friction with Attila the Hun (you know of whom I speak, Dave!) resulted in unemployment in 1978.
Utah International had picked up the Indian Springs tungsten deposit north of Montello in far northeastern Elko County, and the project geologist, Marshall Himes, needed someone familiar with the property to take over. I di-rected a coring project for metallurgical sampling for two seasons; the first phase in the winter of ’78-’79 was a snowy disaster, but the next phase in 1979, with Boyles Bros. drilling went well. Living in Montello was a hoot – I think most of the permanent residents are escaping from something! It was challenging working for three bosses – the exploration department in Reno, headed by Sanford Taylor (an old Stanford buddy, with whom I recently connected after 35 years at a meeting in Tucson); the metallurgical research lab in Sunnyvale, California; and General Electric, UI’s parent company in Schenectady, NY. The three sometimes had conflicting goals and periodic visitations from managers were interesting.
The handwriting was on the wall in 1980 for GE’s interest in the mining business. I did a little tungsten work for Callahan (Bob Thomas, Art Leger), and answered a blind ad in the Reno paper for a Chief Geologist. My old friend (from GSN) Jim Bright called me, and hired me as Chief Geologist in a new gold company he was forming, Nevada Resources Inc. We took NRI public on the American Stock Exchange (in 1980 you could sell anything with Resources in the name!) Working with a junior was a new adventure, one day collecting soil samples, the next day creating a document for the SEC. NRI worked mainly in JVs with Denison Mines and U.S. Borax, but we brought Western States Miner-als in as partner on one gold prospect in western Utah, which resulted in dis-covery of a nice little gold deposit. Sadly, NRI could not fund our portion of development funds; we sold our share, and Western States ultimately pro-duced about 200K ounces from the Drum Mine. NRI explored many other prospects in the Great Basin and Mother Lode, but no significant discoveries, and control of the company was acquired in 1985 by a non-mining fel-low who wanted a clean shell to promote a cancer cure! My five years with Jim were professionally rewarding and I even made some money on NRI stock options.
The consulting business for the next ten years or so was pretty exciting; my major clients included Coeur Explorations (thanks, Win Rowe and Mike Tippett), A.F. Budge (thanks, One-Eyed Prospector and Carole O’Brien) and Cyprus-Amax (thanks, Bob Blair, Jim Matlock, Bill Stanley) and numerous juniors and investors. I would like to think that I made some valuable contributions as well as saved some people lots of money. As all who read this can attest, most of what you look at is either a real dog, or just not quite good enough or too well tested to get excited about. Highlights include the best camp job ever, at Cerro Gordo, California for Coeur, delineation of (still untested) deep zinc skarn targets at Darwin, California for Cyprus) and examination of copper and gold properties in Chile and Argentina (thanks, Mary Little.)
I was about to fade into “99% semi-retirement” in St. George, Utah when my old mentor Marshall Himes found me in 2006 (through inquiry to the GSN office – thanks, Laura!) Marshall had joined the board of a new junior, Galway Resources; Galway had picked up the Indian Springs tungsten deposit and needed someone to ride herd on further development. So I left my one-and-only Federal job, tempo-rary with the Natural Resource Conservation Service on a flood control project – they needed someone who could tell the difference between gypsum and basalt rip-rap – and went to work for Galway as a consultant and later as Exploration Manager. We still couldn’t solve the metallurgical problems at Indian Springs and after great expenditure dropped the prop-erty.
Galway picked up Cu-Mo-W properties in Arizona and New Mexico, but the company was sold to a Brazilian billionaire, based on a potentially economic gold deposit in Colombia. My final gasp with a Galway spin-off was leasing a couple of very attractive Carlin-type gold properties in Lander County (thanks for the great mapping job, Fred!). Gal-way’s principals became very discouraged about the resource markets (like everyone else) in 2012 and went into hiber-nation.
Now, save for occasional inquiries regarding the Darwin Pb-Zn-Ag resource, I’m hibernating too, but still vitally interested in this strange business I’ve been a part of for so long. Through Tempiute Resources LLC, two partners and I hold much of the old Union Carbide tungsten producer in Lincoln County, Nevada. I eagerly read the excellent GSN Newsletter Laura puts together. The bottom line is that there have been good and not-so-good times, nasty jobs and successes, good people and those I could do without, but unlike many folks who change careers several times in their lives, I can’t imagine myself having done anything else. GSN has been a vital part of my professional life; I’ve attended all the Symposiums and wish I could attend more of the meetings.
None of us could have made much progress or achieved success without the mentors in our lives. Alas, some of the mentors to whom I owe so much have left us, but I have treasured going off in the corner of the (very noisy dur-ing cocktail hour!) Elks’ Lodge with a glass of Icky and the rest of the Old Guys and talk (commiserate?) about the Old Times. My wife Sandi and I and our three Westies live in West Jordan, Utah now, and although I’ve joined the Utah Geological Association, there’s nothing like GSN in Salt Lake City!
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