Company Towns

Musings of a Holden Mine Newsboy

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Googling Holden Village, one finds only a curious l52747271.IMG_4346copy 29424609 tailings pond stelprdb5315614_tn 52105517.PeaknearHolden 5521497ittle looping line in the Wenatchee National Forest in North central Washington. But the satellite view allows one to zoom down Copper peak to an abandoned mine, mill, and tailing pond. Holden village lies just across Railroad Creek and National Forest development road 8301. Much of the Village is visible. There is a one room school, and the former Company Store, and  two-story bunk houses where most miners lived- single men- attracted by unusually high 1940’s pay, of $1.25 daily.  Nearby are 8 or 10 administration family homes. Across the creek- above the tailings pond- are the remains of an abandoned mill; and farther up the side of Copper mountain is the mine entrance. A half mile up   Railroad Creek is the footprint of a family village where miners built their own homes. My father built our home there in off hours with mail ordered material from  Montgomery (‘monkey’) Wards and Sears Roebuck catalogs; the site is now marked only by the stub of an old street light and his faithful rhubarb plants.

In 1940 there was only one newspaper available in Holden, which I delivered after school to about 100 subscribers.  The early nightfall of winter often froze my wet corduroy pants into stiff icy clacking tubes. How sonorously important that made me!  On Sunday, when I had to deliver the heavier papers, I hired a schoolmate to carry the second double front and back newspaper bag. His pay was a 5 cent candy bar, purchased at the company store. Of course a nickel bought very large Hershey then. The profits were less than $10 monthly, in big Howe Sound company tin coins. Even so, the flimsy money worked as well as the stuff we use today, which also now is all base metal, as if our nation has become a company town, whose owners live in Washington, DC. My mother kept the coinage in a sock in her bedroom, and I never saw it again, there being little for a kid to buy there.

 Age 8-10 is often prime time for a boy. For me, Holden was freedom, to be,  to roam, to dream. At night I looked out my 12 x 12 inch Sears attic window at big soft drifting flakes of Pacific moisture,  made larger and brighter in the glow of the street light. On clear dark nights the Aurora Borealis and the moonglow spoke of Flash Gordon. I knew I would one day walk the face of the moon.

 The investment in time, money, sweat, and blood required to find, develop, and operate a mine is huge. It takes years,  scouring remote areas to discover where a mineral resource is likely, drilling hundreds of rock core samples, analyzing the cores. When mineral is found, that is only the beginning. The cost balloons: establishing access to the mine site through roads, conveyor belts, lift lines;  providing for housing, schooling for children, health care, entertainment-a  bowling alley, dance hall,  baseball diamond. Then one must invade the mountain, extract and  mill ore, deal with waste rock and tailings, ventilate the mine, control dust, toxic smoke, and deal with litigation,  or myriad known and unknown governmental  regulations; finally the product must be sold. Only then does the first penny of income appear.  Profit, if any, comes years later, but it can be so significant that the whole enterprise is worth the effort.

The life of a miner may be thought  hard, sad, or poor. Yet I suggest that the miner’s life is like most, and better than many. Miners are often poor by some measures; our Holden house- like  most all mining town housing-  would have been condemned by multiple layers of California government. My parents would have been considered neglectful or abusive to allow me and my sisters to roam old mines, caves, woods, and mountains unsupervised. Yet that freedom shapes responsible, resourceful independent adults; it is a priceless gift.

 Miner and mountain are as natural enemies as wolf and caribou. Both make sacrifices to the needs, or wants, of society for things like jewelry, and copper wire.  The miner attacks the mountain to remove its minerals. The mountain  resists passively, but always readying a cataclysm. Yet in time the mine and miner die, while the vast  bulk  of the mountain survives. When a  mountain is abandoned, snow melt percolates down through the wounded rock leaching out minerals, and the water leaks from the mine entrances.  The mountain bleeds.  But as a living organism it slowly heals.  As to the mine, a valuable mining  infrastructure remains, and is sometimes recuperated, as in  upscale resorts of Colorado and Arizona, or World Heritage Sites like El Teniente, and Chuquicamata, Chile. Holden, Baguio and Balatoc (Filipinas), Eureka and Manhattan, Nevada are all rehabilitated dead mining towns I lived in as a child. Holden is a year round operation of the Lutheran Church.

 Some may think that miners and their families are victims of mining, or mining companies, just as, in a sense, the mountain is. Yet most miners will deny that. My father became an expert in problems with underground water, and at age 88 still consulted with remote and soon to be bankrupt mine operators who agreed to fly him to places like Borneo to talk about their problem. They would pay him off with a big party and roasted suckling pig.  Like many miners, he  was always working, driving around in his decades old car, never wasting, never wanting, wearing his old clothes and acting like Thoreau. It is axiomatic that neither different generations nor the world’s different cultures understand one another any better than individuals understand ourselves.  As to Holden, while my dad sweated in the deeps of Copper Peak, I found it  paradise. But what else could anyone expect of an ignorant kid who is a child of every mountain, every miner, and every mine?

http://www.mindat.org/loc-15531.html

http://www.holdenvillage.org/

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Holden, Washington: A Company Town

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The 32 Chilean and one Bolivian miner so dramatically rescued in Mina San José were revealed to be admirable, intelligent, hard working people. What was not very obvious is that San José,  its miners and their families, and the mine itself, are all mines and all miners everywhere. Consider the Once-Upon -a-Time Holden  Mine and Company Town, in Holden, Washington:

Googling Holden Village, one finds only a curious little looping line in the Wenatchee National Forest in North central Washington. But the satellite view allows one to zoom down Copper peak to an abandoned mine, mill, and tailing pond. Holden village lies just to the North across Railroad Creek and National Forest development road 8301. Much of the Village itself still survives. There is a one room school, and the former Company Store. There are two story bunk houses where most miners lived, single men attracted by unusually high 1940 pay, upward of $1.25 daily.  Uphill are  8 family homes built for administrators and their families. After the mining company closed it sold the village to the Lutheran Church for $1.

The main Holden family housing area for miners was a half mile down the road to the West; it is gone now because the Forest Service permitted the homes to be built only on condition they be removed when the mine closed. My father built ours with material purchased through Montgomery (‘monkey’) Wards and Sears Roebuck catalogs.

There was only one newspaper available in the company town, which I delivered after school to about 100 subscribers.  The early nightfall of winter often froze my wet corduroy pants into sonorous icy clacking tubes. On Sunday, when I had to deliver the heaver papers, I hired a schoolmate to carry the second double front and back newspaper bag half a mile to the family miner homes. His pay was a five cent candy bar, purchased at the company store. Of course 5 cents bought a very large Hershey then. I netted about $8 or $10 monthly, mostly in big tin Howe Sound company coins. Even so the flimsy light money worked as well as the stuff we use today, also now all base metal. It seems likely our nation has become a company town, though the owners are  called Washington DC. My mother kept the tin coins in a sock in her bedroom. I never saw them again, there being little for a kid to buy there.

When WWII hit the US my father wanted to join the Sea-Bees and take a more active part. But he was declined because he was in a vital industry: copper. He sold the house for $800. We went to Mexico, to another copper mine.

For nine and ten year old boy in Holden it was mostly fun, freedom, food, and fancy. One more mining town. To move every year from one mine, one country, one culture, one language, to another, was normal. It wasn’t easy. But I loved the wildness of small mining towns, the changes, the excitement, the challenge.

In Holden I looked out my little Sears attic window at big soft falling flakes of crystallized Pacific moisture and thought about Flash Gordon. The average winter’s snowfall was 350 inches with 35 inches of rain in the summer. On clear moonlit nights I knew I would one day walk the face of the moon.

The investment in time, money, sweat, and blood required to find, develop, and operate a mine is huge. It takes years. It includes scouring remote areas to discover where a mineral resource is likely; drilling hundreds of rock core samples; analyzing the cores. If there is mineral, that is only the beginning. The real cost balloons: establishing access to the mine site through roads, conveyor belts, lift lines; providing for housing, schooling for children, health care, entertainment. (Holden, like many big mines in those days, had  a school,  bowling alley, dance hall, a  baseball diamond.); providing water,  sewage, electricity. Then one must add the costs of infrastructure and of mining, extracting, milling the ore,  dealing with waste rock and tailings, dust, toxic smoke,  possible ligation,  and of complying with myriad known and unknown governmental  regulations; and selling the product…  Only then might one see the first penny of income.  Profit, if any, comes years later.

Holden was one of the biggest copper mines in the nation at the time.  But in the 1950′s the ore body was exhausted, the war was over, and it closed. That is the fate of all mines. Yet often the infrastructure remains in a very remote and lovely place. Holden, like many other mining towns, survived the demise of the mine; consider the upscale resorts in Colorado, and Arizona. Old mining towns at  El Teniente and Chuquicamata  in Chile are World Heritage sites.  ( see http://lufboro.wordpress.com/2010/01/19/chuquicamata-and-el-teniente/) We ourselves lived in a number of mining towns that still live on after death of the mine: Balatoc and  Baguio, Filipinas,  tiny Manhattan, Nevada, and Holden,Washington.

We little understood one another, my father and I. Perhaps that’s not unusual; the generations live in different worlds, even  if the place is the same. He seemed irritated because life came easy to me. And I was grateful that it was so; I could always arrogantly choose the course that was most exciting, selfish, exotic, and at the same time seemed to me most ethical, consistent with my religious heritage: I knew life was good and God was fair. Only later was I taught of His mining sins; we had been poor,  our Holden house, most all our houses, should have been condemned by multiple layers of government as unfit; my parents were neglectful and abusive to allow me so much unsupervised freedom  to roam the earth, and its old mines, caves, jungles, deserts and high mountains where mines are found; that mining companies  abuse poor ignorant miners and pillage the earth.

My father never did ‘get it’, what I learned from my time. At 88 he still consulted with remote and soon to be bankrupt mine operators who agreed to fly him to a place like Borneo to talk about their underground water problem. They would pay him off with a big party and roasted suckling pig. He was always just a conservative, always working, driving around in his old wreck of a car, never wasting, never wanting, wearing his old clothes and acting like Thoreau. But of course the generations never understand one another any better than we understand ourselves. Too bad.  As to Holden, while he sweated in the deeps of Copper Peak, I found it to be paradise. But what else could anyone expect of an ignorant kid who is a child of a gentrified  U S God, every miner and every mine?