Spanish Springs, Nevada
So, how [or why] does a kid from the apple orchards of Hillsborough County, New Hampshire end up working as a uranium geologist in the Grants Mineral Belt of New Mexico and the South Texas uranium district?
My name is Ted Wilton. I am the Chief Geologist for Uranium Resources, Inc. and I am from the apple orchards of southern New Hampshire. Over the 66 years between being born to Dean and Ruth Wilton and today I have travelled the world searching [and sometimes finding] metal deposits, and enjoying just about every minute of it.
It all started with a trip to the school library and a chance encounter with “Earthquake Country”, a book that I just happened upon. This was my first conscious encounter with our science, and I have never lost my fascination with it. Being a bit of a contrarian, I was happy to say that ‘I want to be a geologist when I grow up’ even though this is not a very common goal for a kid from New England. I graduated from Bartlett High School and ventured off to Socorro, New Mexico to “study” [more about that later]. The folks in the town my parents lived in [Webster Massachusetts] were somewhat amazed by such a trek – the two questions that I most commonly faced when I came home at Christmas were “are your classes in English or Spanish?” and “do you need a passport to go to school there?” Both are the kinds of questions that one reads in the “One of Our Fifty is Missing” column on the back page of New Mexico Magazine.
I am a graduate of the New Mexico School of Mines, where I majored in geology and minored in mining engineering and civil war history. My academic career was nothing to brag about – I failed the first geology class I took. During my senior year I was in the ore microscopy lab [only student in the class]; the door to the lab opened and a group of high school students were escorted in, along with the Director of Admissions and the Chairman of the Geology Department, Dr. Clay Smith. The visitors were told a bit about what the lab was all about, and then Dr. Smith introduced me as “one of my students” to which the Director of Admissions retorted “excuse me Dr. Smith, but Mr. Wilton is a pupil, not a student.” I may have overcome this pattern of ‘attending’ rather than ‘learning’ - I was deeply honored to be chosen as the 2011 recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award from New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology.
I worked as an underground uranium geologist for almost four years, before one of my mentors, Kelsey Boltz paid me to go back to school and finish my degree. Over those four or so years I worked for the exploration departments of Petro-Nuclear, Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company and Nuclear Dynamics. During that time I fell in love with the geology of the Colorado Plateau, and Wyoming – a love affair that exists to this very day. While working for Nuclear Dynamics I fell in love with Debbie Price, and that love affair continues to this very day. We have been married for 43 years, have a son and four daughters, and twelve grandchildren. Because of the amount of travel I do Debbie was recently heard to say “we have really have been married only twenty years.” I think there is a bit of a message here?
Graduation led me back to the uranium business, and I worked for Rocky Mountain Energy for a year, meeting another of my mentors, Jim Davis, who gave me my first job after university. After a year with RMEC I joined the Freeport Exploration Company, a group that I was to be associated with for the next twenty years. My time with Freeport was a profound event not just in my career, but in my life as well. I had the distinct privilege and honor to work with one of the finest groups of geologists and group of people that I could ever imagine. Amongst those people was the next of my mentors, the late Doug Cook. Doug stressed to me that in addition to the need to excel in the pursuit of science there is a real place and need for honor and integrity in our business, and he was both a great teacher and manager. He taught me much about geology, exploration, managing people, and integrity – I will never forget his lessons! When the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor incident happened Freeport was in the process of shutting down its uranium exploration program [which I was managing]. Unlike many other companies, Freeport assimilated those of us in the uranium group into other segments of the Company’s exploration program. I spent about two years as the Chief Geologist for another Freeport subsidiary, National Potash. Doug then determined that it was time to “continue the re-education of Ted Wilton”, and we moved to Reno and I started to learn about gold exploration. In early 1984 I was transferred to Perth, Western Australia as exploration manager, focusing on gold, with a bit of placer diamonds, native sulphur and trona thrown in. At the same time my geographic horizons were also expanded to include work in Fiji, Guadalcanal [Solomon Islands], Palau and New Zealand. I still have a clear memory of standing in the airport terminal in Kalgoorlie [just after arriving in Australia] – in the center of the Yilgarn Shield - and thinking that all of my experience in Permian evaporates and Cenozoic and Mesozoic continental clastics in the Colorado Plateau and Wyoming basins made me eminently qualified to work in the Archaean-aged greenstone belts of Western Australia. In spite of my lack of experience in the Archaean, it was a very successful assignment, and I had the opportunity to participate in the discovery of the Karonie gold deposits – one of the first grassroots gold discoveries in Western Australia in quite a number of years. Karonie and Bow River, a placer diamond discovery that Freeport made in Western Australia about the same time were later sold to the Normandy Poseidon for about US$165 million.
We returned to Reno in 1987 and I later took over as VP - US Exploration for Freeport McMoRan Gold and remained in that position until the sale of the Company to Minorco in 1990. Off we went to Spring Creek, where I managed the geologic activities at the Jerritt Canyon Joint Venture, the Big Springs mine, and regional exploration. This was another of those profound “turning points” in my career. I had the distinct privilege and honor to work with the best group of explorationists and ore-finders that I have ever been associated with! During the 1990-1994 period our group discovered the Murray, West Generator underground, MCE, Steer Canyon, SSX, DASH and Smith deposits, each of which were developed as mines; in fact, Smith, SSX and Steer are still in operation to this day. It was a great place to be a geologist – seeking new gold deposits below the Upper Plate of the Antler thrust complex, developing a strong understanding of the role of N70°W faults as feeders for much of the ore at Jerritt Canyon, and working with the aforementioned wonderful group of geologists. This “heyday” of Jerritt could perhaps be characterized by the 1992 drilling program, when we had 37 core and RC drills running, spending a $27 million budget and drilling about 1.6 million feet of hole. Jerritt was also the place that I was really introduced to the operational aspects of our business, a learning experience that I really needed.
Jerritt Canyon left me in 1995 and I worked for Granges [now Vista Gold] for about eighteen months before Bob Schafer enticed me to join Kinross Gold. Over the nearly seven years with Kinross I served as their Exploration Manager – South America and South Pacific [other than being able to ask for a beer I don’t speak a lick of Spanish], Managing Director of Kinross Gold Australia [a return to Perth for another four years], Technical Services Manager at the Fort Knox mine, and Group Chief Geologist for the parent Company.
After four years in Australia and the subsequent two more in the Interior of Alaska it was time for Debbie and I to get back to similar time zones with the rest of our family, and I accepted a position as District Exploration Manager for Queenstake, returning to Jerritt Canyon. In addition to renewing my relationships with several of the staff I had worked with previously, Buster Hunsacker and I had the privilege of participating in the discovery of the Starvation Canyon deposit, which was brought in to production earlier this year.
At the time of the 2005 PDAC my boss, Dusty Nicol, asked me to take his place in the Queenstake booth [those of us who know Dusty know he has an aversion to booths]. I had a chance encounter with my first mentor, Kelsey Boltz, who was in the process of forming a new uranium company, Neutron Energy. For the next six years Kelsey and I, along with a really good group of folks [Gary Huber, Dan Dowers, Mark Ludwig, Rick Karlson, Jim Davis, Al Stoick and Cindy Newton, among others] put together an impressive portfolio of high quality uranium projects in New Mexico, but the markets were not kind to us.
Victoria Gold came calling in late 2010 and I joined them, with the opportunity to work on the Eagle deposit [Fort Knox junior] in the Yukon and the Cove-Helen deposit. Again, I had the distinct privilege to work with an outstanding group of geologists – Brad Cantor, Ryan Bresnahan, Juan Parraga, Rich Eliason and John Norby. After a short stop at Klondex I returned to my “roots” and joined Uranium Resources, where you can find me now.
Some of you might know me as a bit of an activist for the public’s access to their lands in the West, and a [sometimes self-appointed] advocate for the rights of the US mining industry. That chapter in my career started in 1990, when Susie Mason asked me to serve as the President of the Minerals Exploration Coalition. Little did I know that saying “yes” would lead me to Washington, DC a few months later to testify on the 1990 edition of Congressman Nick Joe Rahal’s “mining reform act”. That was my first real exposure to the likes of Phil Hocker, Ralph Nader, Congressman George Miller, and a whole host of others who were trying to take our jobs from us and make us American exports. Since that September, 1990 day I have testified before Congress on subsequent versions of the same “reform” legislation in 1992, 1994, and twice in 2007 – and I have come to have a real appreciation for the statement that ‘one should not watch sausage or law being made’. Amen to that! That trip also led me down the trail of fighting for continued access to Public Lands in Nevada as a long time Chair of the Public Lands Committees of the Nevada Mining Association and the Northwest Mining Association. Multiple trips to Washington to again testify before the House and Senate on proposed wilderness withdrawals, the Spring Mountain National Recreation Area, the Emigrant Trail NCA and a bunch of other proposed mineral withdrawals did nothing to change my views about sausage and laws. Those of us who are exploration geologists tend to shy away from such expressions of public involvement, but if we don’t speak up for our industry nobody else will, so I took that to heart and went forth into the swamp of public policy. I am not as involved in that theater as I used to be, but I am pleased to have most recently served as the first President of the Nevada Minerals Exploration Coalition – born of the Nevada mining claim tax. Trying to suggest common sense [not as common as the phrase implies] in the political rhetoric in Carson City from a motel room in Grants, New Mexico would have been an incredibly difficult task if it had not been for then Assemblyman John Carpenter [R-Elko] and then Elko County Commissioner Sheri Eklund-Brown, two very good friends of mine, and two great friends of our industry! In 2006 the Northwest Mining Association afforded me as an Honorary Life Member - I am very appreciative of their honor.
Over the forty plus years I have been in the mining industry I have had a continuum of experiences that a kid from the apple orchards of Hillsborough County could never have imagined. I have searched for metal deposits in Australia, New Zealand, Yukon, Russian Far East, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Argentina, Columbia, Guatemala, Mexico, Alaska, and the western United States, and have been involved in the finding of some. As I told a student once, “it has been a forty plus year paid vacation.” And maybe it was because a fifth grader found “Earthquake Country” in the library of a school in Mont Vernon, New Hampshire.
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