It’s hard for me to believe that I have now worked as a geologist in mineral exploration for almost 40 years. The time has flown by with fantastic experiences, so many great colleagues and a wonderful career that has benefited my family and myself so very much. I could never have dreamed that all this would happen when I decided to major in geology rather than engineering in my junior year at Purdue. What a ride it has been and continues to be!
I was born in East Chicago, Indiana near the shores of Lake Michigan in the heart of an area filled with steel mills and oil refineries. The entire region was topographically quite featureless due to Pleistocene glaciation but was great for growing corn and soy beans. I lived in northern Indiana until I was nine at which time my family moved to the south suburbs of Chicago where I lived until leaving for college. This area was a bit more rural and I grew up there hiking the fields, fishing and picking up an occasional fossil or arrowhead. It was in high school that I had my first exposure to geology with a class in earth science but having a strong interest in the sciences and math, I thought that I was headed for a career in engineering.
After graduating from high school in the spring of 1966, I attended Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana enrolling in the fall of 1966 and majoring in chemical engineering. I was doing just fine and anticipating a career in chemical engineering but things changed in the first semester of my junior year, when I needed some technical electives and opted to choose a couple classes in geology. I found the classes fascinating and after a fateful discussion with the chairman of the geosciences department, I decided to switch my major from engineering to geology. I ended up using all my chemistry and engineering classes from chemical engineering as electives and finished my bachelor’s degree in geochemistry in August of 1970 after completing field camp in Park City, Utah.
Jobs were not plentiful at that time so I applied and was accepted to enroll in graduate school at Purdue and started working toward a Master’s degree in geochemistry in the fall of 1970. After two semesters, I received a job offer to work for the Stauffer Chemical Company in Richmond, California doing field work related to industrial minerals. These included phosphate rock in Utah, trona in Wyoming, borates in California and fluorspar in New Mexico. These were all feedstock materials for industrial or fertilizer chemicals manufactured by Stauffer. So in June 1971, I moved to California near the height of the crazy times of the late 60’s/early 70’s in the Bay Area. It was quite a change for a young kid from the Midwest but I survived. I worked in industrial minerals for the next 3 years mostly in Wyoming trona but then, in early 1974, I realized that I needed to finish the Master’s degree that I had started in 1970. So I returned to Purdue in August 1974 and graduated in June 1975 with a Master’s degree but with a major in economic geology which by that time seemed to be where my interests were heading. I returned to Stauffer and continued working for them mostly in Wyoming trona until early 1978 at which time I decided to leave the company and join the Southern Pacific Land Company as a Senior Geologist working out of the corporate office in downtown San Francisco. I had a great boss at Stauffer who felt that the best way to learn was to be “thrown into the fire and figure it out”. Fortunately that worked for me and gave me my start in the exploration business. It is also important to mention that it was in Wyoming in 1973 that I met Connie, my wife now of 35 years and mother of our two children Ron and Christina.
Work for Southern Pacific centered initially on leasing of their vast mineral ownership in California, Nevada and Utah for hard minerals, oil and gas and geothermal resources. It was interesting work but I quickly began pushing the company to consider a more aggressive effort to extract greater value from their land holdings. The price of gold was moving upward in the late 1970’s and my thoughts were fortunately in line with that of senior management. I soon found myself promoted to Manager, Minerals in May 1980 and was transferred to Reno to open an exploration office. It was at this time that I first got involved with GSN attending meetings at the Stein Hofbrau in downtown Reno. Meetings then were quite small with maybe 10 to 15 people and very informal but with heavy consumption of beer.
It was just a few years later, in late 1983, that Southern Pacific merged with Santa Fe Industries. By that time, my office consisted of about 5 geologists, a landman and an accountant. We were quite active drilling holes on projects such as Mary’s Mountain, Iron Point, Willard and Relief Canyon. Fortunately for all of us, Santa Fe kept our office intact, provided more funding and encouraged us to get more aggressive and we did. I was then the Exploration Manager Northwest Region for Santa Fe Pacific Minerals Corp. In 1985, we were moving a small gold deposit at Willard toward production when we heard of the Chimney Creek discovery by Goldfields. Santa Fe had land in the area although it was all pediment covered. Nonetheless, in 1986 we proceeded to begin drill testing the closest parcel we owned based on apparent north-south lineaments striking southward onto our ground. The initial holes contained little to no gold but did contain very high arsenic chemistry. These results kept us going and the 22nd hole finally hit a long run of leach grade oxide and the 25th hole hit high grade sulfide values with lots of orpiment. That was the beginning of the Rabbit Creek deposit that ultimately became the Twin Creeks mine which is now owned by Newmont. Charlie Tapper and I delivered the first talk on Rabbit Creek to a standing room only crowd at GSN.
Shortly after Rabbit Creek in 1989, Santa Fe began drilling on another piece of company property on the west flank of Lone Tree Hill. This parcel was near mineralization found by the Marigold joint venture which was owned and funded by Santa Fe and Rayrock. The new deposit called Lone Tree quickly grew to 2 million ounces and was put into production in 1990 on Santa Fe’s private property. This was probably the quickest “discovery to production” of a major deposit ever in Nevada. It was completed so quickly through the use of 19 drill rigs completing delineation drilling, infill drilling and condemnation drilling all at the same time and because at that time - if you can believe it- there were no permitting requirements for mine construction and operation on private property!
Santa Fe later discovered the Section 11 gold deposit south of Lone Tree and the Trenton Canyon gold deposit and acquired Chimney Creek, Mesquite and Mule Canyon when it acquired Gold Fields in 1992. Santa Fe was producing almost 1 million ounces per year by the time that Newmont acquired Santa Fe in early 1997. I rose steadily in position through those years from Exploration Manager-NW Region, to Director of Exploration and at the time of the Newmont purchase I was Vice President Exploration. By that time Santa Fe had exploration offices in Reno, Winnemucca and Elko in addition to Canada, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Central Asia and West Africa.
In 1997, I joined Homestake Mining Co. as Director of Exploration, Americas working out of their Sparks, Nevada office. I worked for Homestake for almost 5 years until early 2002 during the difficult years of low gold price when Barrick bought the company. I had the dubious task of selling off all the Homestake furniture, vehicles and surplus exploration gear at the Sparks office and arranging for the shipment of the extensive Homestake data files to Barrick’s Elko office.
It was at this point in my life when I decided to do something different and decided to start a junior exploration company with Richard Bedell whom I had met at Homestake. We created AuEx in January 2003 and initially raised money from “friends and family” and embarked on our grand adventure. We acquired an option on the Pequop properties in early 2004, took AuEx public via IPO on the TSX.V in mid-2005 with the help of John Tognetti and Haywood Securities. Our listing price was 38 cents/share and Richard and I were thrilled when the stock began trading and we rose to 50 cents! We worked hard during those early years aided by Eric Struhsacker and had some good early success-and luck!-with the Pequop properties especially at Long Canyon. But the property was considered by many to be located in the wrong place geologically and we had difficulty getting the market to accept that a large Carlin-type deposit could exist in eastern Elko County. Finally, after enough drilling had been completed and the resource was over 2 million ounces, our JV partner Fronteer Gold offered to buy AuEx to get our 49% interest in the Long Canyon deposit and our other properties in the new Pequop district. That deal was completed in November 2010 and then surprisingly Fronteer was purchased just a few months later by Newmont who is now developing the property. All in all, our AuEx stock returned over $11/share to our shareholders making them all very happy. Our earliest “friends and family” inves-tors got back close to 100 times their investment!
Renaissance Gold was created as a spin out company from AuEx that continues today with all of the remaining AuEx properties and the same staff and board. We’re off doing what we’ve done these past almost 9 years and hope that we can be successful again. Exploration is a tough business and all one can do is explore in good places, work smart and hard and hope to have some good luck.
Throughout all my 31 years in Nevada, I’ve been involved with GSN and have benefited significantly from it. The spring and fall field trips are invaluable and have allowed me over the years to see practically every operating gold and silver mine in the state. The monthly dinner meetings provide interesting talks and information (usually?) but it’s the networking during pre-dinner drinks where you really hear about what’s going on in exploration. I’ve led field trips, been a director for the foundation and was fundraising chairman for the 2005 meeting. It’s all been great and I hope to continue my involvement for years to come.
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