From 1976 to 1980 I was in the Navy at Pt. Mugu, California. My air squadron was VA-305 and we maintained and flew 14 Vaught A7 Corsair aircraft.Every year we would go on a two week detatchment to Fallon, Nevada, where we would participate in CAG-30 bombing exercises and competitions.We worked pretty hard while on duty, so when we got off duty for a couple hours or so, we would play pretty hard too!
One of the things a small group of us liked to do was to go out into the desert and explore the old abandoned gold mines.A particularly interesting site was Rawhide, Nevada, a town that was a fairly successful gold mining operation until it burned down in 1922. Aparently the town was abandoned one or two years later, leaving all the old mine shafts, or what was left of them, open for exploration.
We were quite a brazen bunch of young fools then, so we soon discovered all the remaining artifacts that people had unsuccessfully tried to recover over the 60 some odd previous years.
With the 10 to 14 person 'crew' that participated in these explorations, we were able to salvage two of the largest remaining artifacts that remained in the area.
One of these was a 250 pound iron ore-bucket, and the other, a hand-made, all steel wheel-barrow. Both these artifacts are now on display in a museum in southern California.
Picture this: Down 100 feet, back 100 feet, down 100 more feet, back another 150 feet, down 100 feet yet again, and back in 300 more feet. That's where we found the ore-bucket! Above was a 250 foot vertical shaft, only it was completely caved in about 50 feet from the bottom of the shaft. Scrape marks on the walls and drag tracks along all the nearby floorways were evidence of past efforts to remove the ore bucket from its hiding place.
Fourteen of us used 400 feet of rope to pull and raise the ore-bucket to within about 60 feet of the surface of the mine. At this point the ore-bucket got stuck and we could no longer lift it with the single rope we had attached. We tied the rope off and I climbed down to the bucket and tied a second rope to the pig-tail on the bottom of the bucket. Then I climbed back up the rope and we continued to raise it by pulling on alternate ropes when it would get stuck.
About 20 feet short of having the bucket completely out of the mine it became hopelessly stuck. No amount of pulling on either rope would get it past the ledge below. The rest of the gang was ready to give up and cut the ropes, letting the bucket crash a hundred feet to the bottom of the first section of the mine. I convinced them to tie off the rope while I backed my truck up the side of the mountain. We tied the rope to my trailer hitch and left about 30 feet of slack in the line. Then I got in the truck and punched it! That ore-bucket came flying up out of the mine and started rolling down the side of the mountain! Well, the rest, as they say, is history!
The wheel-barrow presented a different challenge altogether! First, there was the quarter-mile walk, straight back into a horizontal mine shaft in which the narrow-gauge track was still intact. Then, we climbed up a 60 foot vertical shaft to reach another horizontal spur buried deep within the mountain. Just a few feet offset from the first vertical shaft, another vertical shaft reached 180 feet to the dim light showing its entrance on the top of the hill we were underneath.
It was in this second horizontal spur that we found the wheel-barrow. We should have known better, but, we first thought it would be a simple matter to lower the wheel-barrow down the 60 foot vertical shaft and walk it out with no problem. We soon discovered where all the scrape marks in the narrow part of the shaft came from. All who came before us discovered as we that the shaft was too narrow halfway down to allow passage of the wheel-barrow.
Then we thought that we might be able to haul the wheel-barrow up the 180 foot vertical shaft. We sent one of the guys back out and up to the top of the hill with a long section of rope to lower down to us. It turned out that his rope was about 40 feet short. "No problem," I thought. "I'll just climb up this old ladder with my 80 foot section of rope and tie it to the other and we'll be set." About 20 feet up the shaft it all came apart; forty feet of the ladder came loose and came crashing down with me on it. Luckily, I wasn't hurt too badly.
We were all pretty much ready to give it up as the day was late and it seemed obvious that we would not be able to get the wheel-barrow out of the spur it had been left in for 60 years. As we were preparing to make our way back out of the mine, I discovered that, near the area of the 60 foot vertical shaft, we were actually standing on a wooden floor that was covered with about six inches of dirt. Furthermore, I realized that part of this floor area lay over a hidden part of the 60 foot vertical shaft that existed behind a wall that extended the full height of the shaft. I cleared away some dirt and managed to lift a few floor boards, only to discover that most of the area behind the wall was bigger than the main shaft itself!
The solution: We pulled up enough floor boards to get the wheel-barrow through, tied a rope to it and lowered it down behind the wall until it was past the restricted area in the main shaft. Then, I shimmied down the rope until I was sitting on the wheel-barrow and pushed out a few of the wall boards with my feet. I fed the wheel-barrow back into the main shaft where it could be lowered the remaining 20 feet to the main horizontal spur.
Before leaving, we hammered all the floor boards and wall boards back into place and re-covered the floor boards with dirt. All was left as we found it with one exception: we had the wheel-barrow where all who came before us had failed!