Friday, September 28, 2007

Reseach and Nuggets

I don’t really expect anyone else to find much of this entry interesting – but to me, these numbers and facts are astounding. They all relate to gold mining practices in the 1800’s. I’m doing research for a story I’m working on in this time frame. The story deals with pristine nature, an individual developing an “improved method” only to find out it creates more environmental destruction while improving the lives of those involved in the industry. The central conflict for the character (love of nature vs. progress with mechanization) is echoed by the first piece of environmental law passed in the US, the Sawyer Decision (1884).

Anyway – here’s what I’ve gathered/learned tonight:

  • Hydraulic Mining enabled four or five men to do the work of fifty men using the traditional methods. It was mass production applied to mining. Large scale, heavily capitalized operations became common.

  • Until about 1875, the principal tools of the lode miners were hand drills and black powder. Under such technology, mining advanced about nine to ten feet a day. During the 1850s, the deepest shafts in the California lode mines went down only about three hundred feet. Often a deposit was worked by a tunnel into a hillside or even an open cut. The introduction of machine drills and dynamite, however, made it possible for mining operations to proceed much faster.

  • Early “hydraulicking” removed upwards of fifty to one-hundred cubic yards of material daily. The total amount of material excavated by hydraulic mining just in the Sierra Nevada of California was eight times that removed in the construction of the Panama Canal.

  • Graphs of low-water records of the Yuba River at Marysville and the Sacramento River at Sacramento for 1849-1913 reveal the general trend of the deposition of mining debris. Figures show that during these years the bed of the Yuba rose about 0.33 foot per year and the Sacramento 0.25 foot per year.

  • The streets of Marysville, once twenty to twenty-five feet above the bed of the Yuba, by 1879 were below it and the town experienced some devastating floods when levees intended to confine the mining debris gave way.

  • Large-scale hydraulicking left huge amphitheater-like pits in the side of hills. Some reached such proportions that they resembled small canyons. The Malakoff Diggings of California so impressed a German visitor in the 1880s that he described it as a "barren amphitheater, so vast that it could contain a whole settlement and so deep that a high church steeple could hardly reach to the ledge."

  • At the Malakoff Diggings (where my main character is the Mining Engineer), hydraulic mining removed an estimated 41,000,000 cubic yards of material and left a canyon over a mile long and up to 350 feet deep.

  • The mine utilized three nozzles and 30,500,000 gallons of water, twice as much as the entire city of San Francisco.

  • It had over 150 miles of ditches, dams, and associated reservoirs to supply its gigantic operations.

  • Some two score of the water systems constructed in California during the mining era—rebuilt, improved, and adopted —became part of the Pacific Gas and Electric System. Still others were used for irrigation and domestic water supply. Unlike natural water courses, the mining ditches and canals parallel the contour lines on a topographic map, and make their identification easy.

1 comment:

alacrityfitzhugh said...

I've been to the Malakoff Diggings. Quite a trip. I liked the old Chinese apothacary they had preserved in the village.