We got married, and he said I should consider getting a job at Homestake because of good benefits and pay. I thought, I don't know if I have a chance, but I went up there, and I got on as a roving clerk typist. Back in those days, if you were sick or went on vacation, you got a replacement to do your work while you were gone. I roved to all the different departments, and I learned all the different areas. I did that until I got in full time at the personnel office, and that's where I've been since then.
But the roving clerk typist was nice, because you got to go around and meet all the people. I went down to the sawmill and the guys were—you know, I was just this young girl and they were like dads to me. They looked out for me and loved me coming down. I'd bring them baked goodies, and they loved me like their little daughter.
I got into one job, though, that I didn't like. Actually, I liked the job, just not one piece of it. It was when I filled in at the Timekeeper’s office, where they kept the red phone.
In those days, Homestake had their own hospital and doctors. They had their own ambulance. It was parked down below the dry, that was the garage. And the Timekeeper’s office ran the ambulance. When the red phone rang, it meant there had been an incident in the mine, and you had to take the ambulance and go pick them up and take them to the hospital. They always told me, “You know, they'll bring them up, and if they're injured really bad, they could be bleeding or missing limbs and if they're dead they'll be in a body bag and —”
I'm this young girl, just naive. So when I filled in at the Timekeeper’s—it was night shift and day shift—every time that red phone would ring, I would start to just panic like oh my god, what am I going to get into…
Luckily, every call I got was just someone sick or something little. I never got a major crush injury or death or anything. I did like being a rover. The timekeeper job itself was fine. But I was scared every time that phone rang.
On my first trip, I was 16. I knew a guy—he was the cager who happened to be on top, and he just said, “Let's go!” We went to the 4850. The first trip was—well, the cage used to go three times as fast as it does now—it was an experience.
I worked mostly from the 4850 to the surface. Most of my time was in that upper country because, I’ll tell ya, I can't take the heat. My trip in the North Drift was a horrible experience. You know the drift? It was a new drift that went way out farther than the rest of them.
My boss, he said, “When you get on the motor, put a wet rag over your face, put your face down—like this—under the wet rag, and put your watch right down by your face where you can see it. Open the motor wide open. When your watch says twenty minutes, stand up and turn the power off of the motor, and you’ll be right where you need to be.” So, like that, we timed the drive—without ever looking up!
That’s how hot it was, the air coming over the face of that motor. “You get back there, get off,” he said to me, “work fifteen minutes and then get out!” The level was deep and because of the hot water coming out into the drift—it was so hot. You'd go back there and put your hand on the rock—ouch! It was that hot. Well, we worked about forty-five minutes and come out and, boy, was I sick. Terrible!
Paul "Woody" Hover
I painted pretty much everywhere I went. It was all rattle-can subway style, primitive cave art. I did abstract stuff. On the 7400 Loader Barn, they had these big air doors. I did a mountain landscape on one and—what the hell did I do on the other one? —It might’ve been a tunnel with a dragon. I did some pretty nice Harley Davidson wings at the 7400 15 Ledge Shop. That took a while.
But I’d always get people asking, “What’s he doing painting?” and I’d just say, “It adds a little color to the place.” I wasn’t the only one doing it, I just maybe did more than anyone else.
I was interviewed about it for the Miner newsletter about it once. And I had to say, “Yeah, I only do it on my lunch time—and I bring my own paint.” Ha! Sure I did…
For a long time, I was on the 7400 as a motorman. Then I took a job as… well, the title was maintenance man, but I tell you, in five years I never did a lick of maintenance. It was all repair work or building stuff. I was in this big shop—a bay big enough to have an overhead crane. They’d shotcreted the walls and painted them white to help brighten up the place. Shotcrete is a nice medium to work on. You can really lay the paint in there, and it will suck it up. It won’t run, so you’ve got some time to play around with it.
I did an American flag in that bay. The proper amount of stripes, and I even cut a little star stencil out and did the stars. With the uneven wall surface, it looked like it was waving. I think it was during the first Gulf War. My supervisor at the time, Bobby, he was a pretty patriotic guy—his birthday was even on the Fourth of July—and he loved it. When some of the foremen and superintendents saw it, they said, “What the hell, Woody?” But Bobby just jumped on their shit, so the flag stayed. Years later, when they repainted that shop, the paint shop folks did a very careful job of masking the flag so they wouldn’t mess it up.
And now, years down the road, there’s a post card they used to sell at the Visitor Center. It shows a mechanic on a loader in front of that American flag. And I’m thinking, Shit. I should’ve copy-righted that.
Box of Rocks
On one of my first days at the lab, I needed a chain. I went up to the office and asked, “Where can I get a chain?”
They said, “Go up to the warehouse and ask for Box of Rocks.”
I said, “Why would I do that? I need a chain.”
“That's the guy you gotta get ahold of to get a chain.”
I didn't know it, but everybody at Homestake had a nickname. That went clear back to the 1800s. Some people said it was because they didn't want to get to know each other, because the work was too dangerous. Other people said it's because they couldn't remember so many names. One of the motormen was “Mile-Away,” and when his boy came to work there, he was “Half-Mile-Away.” We had a friend come up from Colorado, and he was just “Colorado.” Nobody knew his real name. So this guy in the warehouse, they called him “Box of Rocks.”
So I'm going to go up there and ask to talk to Box of Rocks? I didn’t think so. Instead, I went up and asked, “Who do I have to see to get a chain?”
The guy up front said, “Oh, you need to see Box of Rocks.”
Homestake was always known as one of the safest mines. Their safety culture was well recognized around the country. For the amount of people that worked here, for the amount of man hours that went into producing gold here, the amount of fatalities and injuries was far lower than it could've been. But it was really scary when someone comes to knock on your door. It's like the military that way.
There was a family across the street from my husband Jim and I. Ivan was a farmer who came here to work. He married a local girl. They had four little kids. Ivan ran one of the underground loaders. The drifts were pretty narrow, just big enough to drive the jumbos through. Somehow Ivan got pinned between the wall and the jumbo. All the mine rescue people went down and tried to revive him. But he died in the mine.
That night, Jim came home late from day shift. Of course, you always worry when they are underground, and they don't come home on time. Jim was upset when he got home that night. He was a part of the mine rescue team. He said he had to help take a body out of the mine. He knew they were going to be coming by soon to tell her. We watched out the window. The ambulance came. They stayed with her until her mom and sister came. There was a whole bunch of commotion across the street late into the night and over the next few days. Word travels fast. By the time I went to work in the morning, everyone had already heard that we'd lost a life in the mine that night.
For us, it was an overnight deal. We got called at four o'clock in the morning to come in. A few people probably knew, but I didn’t know. I knew something was going to happen, but I had no idea that's what it was going to be.
When Homestake quit—in ’98 when they had the big layoff—it was traumatic for everybody in this area. Worst for Lead and Deadwood, but Spearfish got hurt, too. I was one of the few that was still working after ’98. Like I said, I was Electrical Foreman. It was not a good time. I still had a job, but everybody I knew... I lost...
There was no good way to do it. The whole crutch of it was that we were supposed to keep the top of everybody. We needed to have enough miners at the face—at the face, mining, breaking rock. For one miner at the face, there might have been a dozen people working. You had hoist operators, engineers, maintenance, machinists, electricians… all those jobs were needed. But they had costs.
It was a tough morning. It was a tough walk through those shops. Nobody was there. I had to walk through and see each machine there—for each machine, I knew the person who had stood behind it, and their families, too. I had had 63 people working for me. And I then was down to 13.