“GEOLOGY IS FUN!”
“A job in Ely sitting on a drill rig? Yeah, OK. Sounds good but could you tell me where Ely is and show me on the map where Nevada is please.” Those were my famous words in the corporate headquarters for Cyprus Mines, Los Angles, June 1965. $400 per month was big-time income then and I jumped on it.
That was after my infamous two week long trip to Los Angeles at 50mph in a ’57 VW bus from Southern Florida where I lived. I had made a decision to find my fortune out west and finish off University. I was in for a total shock.
That was after my three years of college in Tennessee and Florida State beginning in 1960, during which I had decided that I wanted to go into the field of geology. All of this is thanks to reading a number of small science career pamphlets sent to me by the National Science Foundation. One of them showed two hand drawn people in the mountains (Mackinaw shirt, hammer, etc.) whacking away at a rock and I thought “Boy, that sure looked like loads of fun.”
In my earlier life I had become interested in sciences by learning how to make gunpowder at age 12 (you could buy everything in the pharmacy then). I found that by using chemistry, you could blow the hell out of things. A couple of years later, I became interested in astronomy and I bought a 6” reflecting telescope for $150 from money I saved by cleaning up stores in S. Florida. In 1957, the telescope was traded in for a used Rolleiflex from the local photographer who took me under his wing and showed me how to develop and print the pictures I took. I enjoyed using the camera so much, the High School wanted me to become the high school photographer. I had been in the High School band before that but trying to play the clarinet while I marched in a parade proved impossible, same problem I have today trying to walk while chewing gum. When you bang your head enough times on the wall you learn, just takes longer sometimes.
Back to Ely. I was there for almost one and a half years representing Cyprus Mines on their famous Butte Valley drilling program testing a large geophysical anomaly. We core drilled with the deepest hole going down to around 4,200’. It doesn’t take much time to learn what bug dust is all about; how to drive a 4WD; how to put chains on; how to dig yourself out of the hole you made by putting the chains on; that it was damn cold in Ely; that it snowed there in July; that drillers always try to squirt drill mud on you when you were in their plywood hut; and on and on. You all know the procedures. Our core shack the company had rented was just behind Demont Hansen’s Texaco station. The geologists had rented this tin-roofed shack from the Big Four which included their neon sign on the roof (don’t tell me you don’t know what the Big Four is please). Demont introduced me to jerky. Carlin had just started up a couple of years before. What fun. Highway 50 was REALLY lonely then. My only regret is that I didn’t take more pictures.
The project finally fell apart and my bosses convinced me to go to Mackay which I did. Vernon Scheide was the Dean then. Burt Slemmons, E.R. (Dick) Larson, Art Baker, Joe Lintz, Mal Hibbard, Tony Payne just to name a few of the profs were all there. Of course you always used the title Dr. when talking TO them. MSM was a real hoot then. The library was in the dungeon, most of the classes were held in the original building. Life was good. 1968 was the year they handed out degrees and I got one.
I was planning on going to San Diego State to get my Masters in Marine Geology as there was a lot of talk about mining the sea beds then. That plan got waylaid as my summer job turned out longer than I thought (I really needed the money!) so the next spring, I went back to Mackay and began taking graduate courses. I got hired by Duval Corporation for summer work in 1969 out of the Reno office. By the end of the summer, they wanted me to continue on and, since I was a single father, the income was too tempting. I decided to stay with Duval and put grad school off ‘a little’. Those were the good days. You could actually do EXPLORATION. You had very little interference in where and when you could do your work. Roots began to grow here. I liked Nevada. The rocks were great, not too many people living in the state. Plumb Lane was the southern end of Reno. It was a good place to live. Besides, we were in an era when the older geologists really enjoyed mentoring the younger ones and you learned a lot.
In the ‘70’s, it was still possible to stay with one company your entire career. Remember company towns?? That all began to change in the later ‘70’s – one oil company president bought into a mining company, a second oil company president thought the first guy knew something he didn’t so his company started a mining company and so on until Big Oil owned most of the mining companies. That’s when the long term loyalty to the employee began to decline. So what did I do? I left Duval to work for Gulf Mineral Resources. I saw the writing on the wall for that company so off I go Homestake in mid-1979. That’s when they had just figured out the Hot Springs model and we were told to find a few of them. By luck, I happened upon the Crofoot-Lewis group of claims (now the Hycroft Gold Mine) in November of that year. I took the first ore-grade samples and convinced Homestake to make a project out of it which they did. The company ended up drilling the heck out of it but then lost interest so in mid-1981 I thought I would give consulting a try. Why not, there weren’t too many ‘consultants’ out there……yet.
One of my first contracts ended up working for a geologist many of you know - Pete Galli. Pete was responsible for a major change of my “attitude” in the business. One time while travelling in my pickup with Pete, he made the statement “You know, geology is FUN!”. In the back of my mind I always knew it was fun but only in a subliminal way. Ever since that Eureka Moment, I conscientiously think of our profession as being FUN. A lot of people work on a job and can’t wait to be at the elevator at 5:00 PM on the dot. They don’t view their job as being fun but just something they have to do. We are lucky in our profession as we have the ability to really enjoy our work. Searching for that next deposit is a real thrill – it’s just over the next hill, or maybe the next one after that, or…..
I’ve been very fortunate in the experiences I have had since then. I’ve been able to work in almost every country in the Western Hemisphere. 1987 was the year I ‘broke into’ Latin America. Shortly after that, I ended up in Bolivia and found out that 18,000’ elevation was ‘not that easy’ but it sure was fun! I have to admit the periodic episodes of ‘explosive food reaction’ weren’t much fun but at least it usually went away fast and you would forget and eat the same ‘stuff’ again. In 2002, I have Clancy to thank for getting me to go to Cajamarca, Peru where I met my future wife, Mimi. We talked for 15 minutes at the hotel resort where she was manager and, thanks to email and telephone, decided to pursue life together. In 1983, I was added to the list of geologists married to Peruanas and have enjoyed this fact ever since. Besides Mimi, I have a wonderful daughter who is a dentist + married to a dentist and, because of them, I have two fantastic granddaughters.
Besides our side of the planet, I’ve also had the luck to spend several years in China (at times I was not too sure about the luck) and then recently in Tajikistan. Wherever the next destination may be or wherever it is, I’ll have a good time. You can turn left, you can turn right but you can’t go back so you might as well enjoy it! I just hope all of you will always say to yourselves that GEOLOGY IS FUN!
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