Mohave Geology: Miners’ jargon
Updated as of Saturday, January 28, 2023 6:31 PM
KINGMAN – Every group has its jargon, its way of speaking that identifies their group. Miners are no different. Their jargon is tied to the mining profession. To properly communicate within the group, one must be familiar with words that other groups might not know. Sometimes words of a particular jargon enter the vernacular and, many times, those words are used incorrectly. I can spot real miners just by talking to them for a short time. A “newbie” to 4-wheeling that likes to explore old mines uses words incorrectly and gives away their unfamiliarity to the proper jargon.
The two most widely misused words in the miner’s jargon are tailings and tunnel. Each has a very specific meaning and should only be used for that purpose.
Tailings are the waste products of a mill. Ore, another miner’s word, is taken out of the mine and put through a crushing and grinding process.
Once the ore is a fine powder and in the form of a slurry, chemicals are added to make the minerals of value “float” so they can be skimmed off and recovered. The ground-up rock that has little value is discarded behind a tailings dam.
The large, long tan-white strip of dirt behind the Kingman landfill is the tailings dam for the Mineral Park mine. When this mine was in production, approximately 20,000 tons per day of tailings were piped as a slurry behind the dam. Today, there is somewhere in the neighborhood of 170 million tons of tails behind the dam.
Four-wheelers exploring old mines will often call the dumps they see on the sides of mountains “tailings” but this is incorrect. Those are mine dumps that weren’t sent through the mill. Chemicals weren’t added to them and therefore they’re not toxic like tailings are. They are just plain rock.
Every hole in the ground isn’t a mine shaft or a tunnel. Each word has its meaning. A tunnel goes horizontal all the way through a mountain – it has an entrance and an exit. If it only has an entrance and doesn’t go all the way through, it’s called an adit. Both a tunnel and an adit are horizontal while a mine shaft is vertical or near vertical.
While volunteering with Search and Rescue, we were called to back-up a group from Homeland Security that was investigating a box of dynamite found in an old mine working. Because of my experience in mining, I was called to direct the effort.
Over the phone, I asked the SAR officer if the working was an adit or a shaft. There was silence. The officer then said, “just get out here, I don’t have time to discuss words with you.”
The reason I asked if it was a shaft or an adit is because if it was a shaft, we would’ve needed ropes. If it was an adit, we could’ve just walked in. Big difference in the equipment needed. Without knowing what it was, I had to grab everything I could think of for both scenarios. It turned out to be an adit but I had every piece of equipment under the sun.
I’ve gotten calls from excited people telling me that they’d found gold ore. And each time I tried to calm them down and asked to see the gold sample, and they were offended.
“It’s gold ore” they would repeat.
“No, it’s a sample that has gold.” Needless to say, I don’t make many friends this way but as a geologist, I tell the truth. I don’t exaggerate like my fishing buddies when they tell me how big the fish was.
A stope is a part of a working where the miners found a vein and mined it out, making a large cavity. The bottom of stopes usually have a draw point made of wood that looks like a short slide with a door.
The miners would blast in the stope causing the ore to fall to the bottom as broken rock. They would then open the ore chute and fill the ore cars to extract the ore. If the stope was mined all the way to the surface, it was called a “glory hole.”
There are many other words that will identify the user as a real miner or a wannabe. Words such as inclined shaft (a mine entrance that slopes down), a winze is a working driven down from one level to another. A raise is a working driven up from one level to another. A crosscut goes horizontal between drifts (a drift is a horizontal working where miners were looking for the vein).
The next person that calls me and tells me about the tailings they saw on the sides of the mountain that had been taken out of the tunnel and that they walked into the mine shaft to look around, I know they aren’t miners.
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