GSN

Faces of GSN

Tony Taylor

A boyhood fascination with the adventures of Scott and Shackleton in the Antarctic in the early 1900’s likely planted the word exploration in my head. In Captain Robert Scott’s party were three geologists, the first I had heard about rock scientists.

Good fortune with teachers and mentors pointed the way to a career in metals exploration. Professor Sir Kingsley Dunham, one of England’s most noted economic geologists mesmerized his audience in Saturday morning lectures at Durham University. I was fascinated by stories of exploration in Borneo from Bill Hancock, a doctoral student. My first exposure to industry was a two month spell in Anatolia and Gallipoli with the Turkish State Oil Company. Bashing limestones to release petroleum smells was rather hum drum. Oil Exploration was not for me. Towards the end of my final year, the legendary Dr. Owen Owens came to our petrology lab on a cold winter afternoon. In his new job as head of International Exploration for Cominco, the leading Canadian base metal producer, he was recruiting for new ventures in Europe, targeting massive Pb_Zn sulfide deposits. His thesis: go where the Romans went. They had come to England for lead and tin, not the climate.

On August 1,1964, I became one of two first overseas employees with Cominco and set out to explore for new targets in the Northern Pennine ore field, an area of 525 sq miles. In two years we tramped upland moors collecting stream sediment samples, testing the -80# fraction with portable McPhar "colormetric" kits, giving us semi-quantitative lead-zinc values in the field. Many anomalies resulted, and one new district was eventually drilled. By then, I was in Ireland drumming up more anomalies. By the time they were drilled, I was in Mexico.

In August 1967, carrying $US10,000 in cash from HQ in Montreal, I received a very warm welcome from my Mexican contact, prospector Ramon Oviedo, in Guadalajara. Cominco had learned of some exciting copper showings in the hot, mosquito ridden, Sierra Madre. Adjacent to a massive skarn we found outcropping porphyry copper mineralization, i.e. chalcopyrite/pyrite quartz stockworks exposed in stream beds. Mapping by pace and compass it was traced out and sampled. Work was delayed for 10 days to repair our big Dodge truck. Driving into the setting sun, I strayed off a gravel road with steep shoulders and overturned it with three of our loyal crew and all the camping gear in the back. Miraculously, no major injuries, but a close call. A few weeks after completing work in Jalisco I made another, near fatal, choice. Eating goat’s meat from a street stall on Fiesta Day in a nearby village.

That job done, we set out on the long haul north to Zacatecas. Near Concepcion del Oro, and there camped on low hills in semi-desert and set about sampling a swarm of cinnabar veins in calcareous sediments. After a few days I began to feel weak, unable to keep food down and lost my taste of local medicine-tequila. By the time I staggered into Montreal office, I was barely able to carry bags with precious samples. After one glance at bright yellow eyes, my boss, Geoff Harden, bundled me in his car off to the airport to a hastily arranged seat on Air Canada overnight to London. Back at Marians’ parents home in Northumberland it was straight to hospital by command of mother-in- law. Fortunately, I was able to make a complete recovery from that strain of hepatitis. But I was laid out for 4 months and worse, no beer for 15 months, a particularly daunting prospect on learning that we were to be transported to Australia.

According to Canadian HQ, we were destined for Townsville, Queensland-target laterite Ni. Living by the seaside in the subtropics sounded to good to be true. Indeed it was. Reporting for duty to Cominco’s office in Adelaide, I was ordered to the desert outback in Western Australia. Target, greenstone ultramafic sulfide nickel deposits, a la Kambalda, the hot new discovery by Western Mining near Kalgoorlie.

My boss, Les Nixon, a veteran Gurkha Captain who survived Burma campaign, believed in primitive field living. With an ancient, very battered Landrover, a tiny aluminum bullet trailer, a crippled, alcoholic offsider, and temporary reserve 60 miles long and 35 miles wide to map and sample I struck out with great excitement for my first drilling job. Collar locations were sent over the flying doctor radio, but did not fit designated targets per map. But wait, I was not in the army, and the drill was collared to test what I could see on the ground. First disobedience of orders from HQ. The surface Ni rich ironstone targets, thought then to be gossans, were laterite caps after dunite with 2000 ppm Ni derived from magnesian olivine, not sulfides. Neither superiors or the Pommie newcomer had a clue. After 10 week stints away from Adelaide where Marian, pregnant with Joanne, lived by herself, with a boss enriching himself with stock of small listed companies doing business with Cominco and uncertainty of our next move, it was time to jump ship.

On my way back to work in WA after the Chrissie break, to who knows where, I called in to see Bill Hancock my old student mentor, now living in Kalgoorlie and working for a London based company, Selection Trust. A pioneer evaluation of the Yilgarn block by a remarkable Precambrian geologist from Selco, Canada, mapping out felsic centers for VMS deposits, had guided leasing of large tracts of greenstone. They also contain ultramafic complexes and in the wake of the Kambalda discovery, Selection Trust, guided by the famous Canadian geologist, Bruce Wilson, decided to add nickel to their copper-zinc portfolio. Selection Trust, founded by a famous American mining engineer, Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, were staffing up for a huge program for which they formed their own drilling division.

Thus began an altogether rewarding career with first posting on Block 48, adjacent to Kambalda. Then to Spargoville where six core rigs were drilling out several nickel sulfide ore shoots. One destined to become a high grade underground mine. Another sulfide “shoot”, Spargoville 1A, was a geological gordian knot. High grade but, even after I managed to unravel some it, still proved too small to develop. The host ultramafic unit had pristine mafic and metallic minerals, one of the few in the Yilgarn that survived complete serpentinization. After three years, came the inevitable slowdown that follows a boom. It was time to move on-again. I asked ST if they would support a doctoral study on the olivine, chromite, ilmenite and primary magmatic sulfides. That, to add to understanding the origins of primary sulfide nickel sulfide deposits. They were willing to do so.

Back in the UK I was able to nail down primary mineral chemistry with the aid of a brand new microprobe at Manchester University, under the guidance of a world renowned ultramafic geologist. Two years was all I had and, somehow (lots of hours), completed a thesis by the time ST came calling. Forget about returning to Australia, they said, we want nickel experience for another fledgling program in the Archean greenstones of eastern South Africa. With, by then, two daughters, we embarked for the Eastern Transvaal and the gold mining town of Barberton and its remarkable preserved formations.

After almost a year exploring a sulfide poor ultramafic complex, promotion to a management came out of the blue along with many headaches inherent in that type of job. Inheriting a mixed team of South African and English geologists with a large contingent of tribal assistants, we had privileged access to several homelands in the Eastern Transvaal otherwise off limits to white South Africans. I quickly learned that white, let alone black, tribes were not necessarily very friendly to each other.

On weekends, I commuted to the town of Brits to tackle a Pt-Pd target in the Brits graben along southern margin of the Bushveld igneous complex. Mapping chromite traces in Afrikaans farmers fields, a rough strike of the UG 2 reef was established. The first of 10 core holes struck pay dirt and proceeded to outlined a new section of the 1-2 m chromite seam and PGM’s assaying about 7 g/t. Disappointingly, the concessions was dropped by ST-there being no viable metallurgical treatment in sight. Later, the discovery became the Krokodile River Mine, owned in time by Gencor and one of the prolific UG 2, PGM sources superseding the more famous Merensky Reef. Back in the Eastern Transvaal, my team scored another first hole jackpot. Drilling an isolated, multi channel, ground conductor, massive malachite bearing gossan gave way with depth to very rich copper-zinc (27% Zn) massive sulfides. Disappointingly, it turned out to be only about 1mt size and deemed to small for BP who inherited it. Eventually it became a small producer in one of the post-apartheid independent homelands.

With dismay at the political climate in South Africa, ST decided to wind down exploration there and it was time to move- again. With the good fortune of a job offer from Amselco, we arrived in Reno on April 1,1978. By early summer, Ely, and the new discovery at Alligator Ridge, became my stamping ground to start work with great bunch of young geos, many of whom are GSN stalwarts. ST’s exploration successes around the world, including Alligator, came home to roost two years later. A pioneer exploration company swallowed whole by BP in a record transaction on the LSE at double its share price.

Under the umbrella of the mighty, bureaucratic, cash stuffed BP, Amselco greatly expanded to become the largest exploration group within BP Minerals. With a marvelous staff of approximately 150, scattered around the USA in 11 offices, we did our best to spend the bounty wisely. From Michigan UP (diamonds) in the north, to Phoenix (gold) in the south. From Carolina (gold) in the east, to California, Nevada and Montana in the west (gold, base metals). Two discoveries went to production; Ridgeway in South Carolina and Colosseum in California, both gold deposits. Amselco then acquired Greens Creek in SE Alaska, one of the highest grade volcanogenic massive Ag-Au- Pb-Zn sulfide deposits in the world. Thereafter, we instituted a new regional program based in Juneau. That became the first casualty of our “merger” with Kennecott. As predicted, the different cultures did not mix well and a slow and painful blood letting ensued.

By 1990, after the sale of BP Minerals to RTZ, I was persona non grata. A week after a classic Monday morning chop, courtesy of my old mentor Bill Hancock, I was in London meeting with Gencor. They wanted to build a gold exploration program in the western USA. Under the guise of Great Basin Exploration and Mining we built a portfolio along the nascent Battle Mtn-Eureka Trend. Regrettably, Gencor withdrew after 4 years to avoid entanglement in the asbestos imbroglio. One of their subsidiaries had been major suppliers to the USA.

Our small team bought the GBEM assets for $1 and I rushed off to Toronto to raise money. The timing was bad and I had few connections with the junior financial community then. Fischer Watt Gold came calling and we sold off for a decent chunk of equity. Raising $5m, ostensibly to explore the Nevada assets, FWG proceeded to blow most of it at its gold operation, El Limon, in Antioquia Province, Colombia. The mine lay in guerrilla territory and visiting that neck of the woods proved decidedly hazardous, and, despite a very rich metal endowment, an uncomfortable place to explore.

Once more on to new pastures and a fledgling Canadian junior, First Point in 1996. Their main property lay in Honduras, next to the Nicaraguan border. There, I narrowly escaped falling off a 40 foot cliff in thick bush while treading, lightly, only on outcrops. The daily round of land mine demolition nearby was constant reminder that perhaps the disposal teams hadn’t located them all. Encountering the odd unexploded shell and shallow graves was not reassuring. Time to return to Nevada and a another start up, Millennium Mining Company, in 1998. After optioning some very juicy epithermal properties from Jerry Baughman, another stroke of luck came my way after meeting up with an old friend, Ed Thompson, a well known Canadian. His contacts led to a clean TSX shell, Gold Summit, and a decent chunk of money raised. After some success drilling two epithermal systems, GSM turned full attention to the old Gilbert district, renamed Monte Cristo. Drilling the first angle core holes under the old open pit, bonanza grades for both Au and Ag were intersected. The prospect was subsequently bought by Hecla Mining Company.

My greatest good fortune was election to the board of Hecla, America’s oldest mining company, in 2005. Reaching mandatory retirement age this May, my 15 years as a director of an operating company was certainly a crowning experience for an exploration geo. Travails in Venezuela, acquisition of the remaining 70% interest in Greens Creek, survival in an economic downturn, acquisition of Casa Beradi, completion of the Lucky Friday 4 shaft at the 8620 level, now the deepest operating in the USA, and renewal of mining at San Sebastian in Durango are notable experiences. Topping it off came participation in the closing bell ceremony at the NYSE, October 2016, to celebrate Hecla’s 125 birthday. I will miss participation with such a talented group. They are hard at work introducing automation to many aspects of underground operations. There is a family feel there-so much reminiscent of Selection Trust. Two great companies.

Selex is the latest adventure, a privately held Ontario corporation, based in Reno Our strategy: staking of high quality prospects a long time known to the founders. As we all know, in the last few years and now, exploration dollars are hard to raise. No doubt that will turn around and we will continue to explore and more discoveries made. I am proud to be part of the generally unpopular business that produces vital raw materials and jobs-a contribution to society’s well being.