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Pahrump, Nevada
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June 8, 2000     Pahrump Mirror
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June 8, 2000
 

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I0 Thursday, June 8, 2000 Pahrump Valley Gazette Early Tonopah--a life we couldn't handle today Continued from last week. In 1902 there was a pneumonia epidemic that swept through Tonopah. Some historians referred to it as the "black plague," although it was probably a combination of influenza and silicosis, a deadly miners' disease that resulted from the breathing of silica dust within the mines. Miners worked without any protection during Tonopah's early years and regularly breathed in the deadly dust. Silica was especially bad at the Mizpah Mine, according to local miner Ed Slavin who I had the honor to interview several years ago. The dust is very much like microscopic pieces of glass that would embed themselves into the lung tissue and eventually rip the tissue to shreds. Mine would actually begin to cough up portions of their lungs. The miners referred to the disease as the "con," short for consumption. As the disease progressed and the pain became unbearable it was not unheard of for the miner to take a drink from the mine's supply of cyanide. Needless to say, a combi- nation of the con,with pneumonia would be a death sentence. The typical life span of working the Tonopah mines was as short as two years. Most miners died in their 20s. A walk through the old Tonopah cemetery will be a real eye-opener when you note the young agelthat SO many people were when they died. In 1911 the Tonopah-Belmont Mine Disaster took the lives of 17 miners. William F: "Big Bill" Murphy was a hero who saved many lives and sacrificed his own in the disaster. A coroner's inquest failed to determine the cause of the disastrous fire that resulted in the tragedy but did determine that the mine managers exercised irresponsible decisions that helped lead to the death of so many. The early morning fire spewed smoke from the mine shaft like a volcano. Murphy, while others refused to enter the No00TI00E00 ExPosvRd by Dave Downing mine, hopped the cage and descended to the 1,100-foot level where he groped around in the smoke and pulled his fellow workers to the cage. The miners were overcome with smoke and unconscious. Arriving at the surface he unloaded the cage and continued back into the mine. After the second trip he was warned not to go back in. Sick and nearly overcome with smoke inhalation he responded, "I will try one more time." He went to the cage and descended to the bottom. Strug- gling, he pulled more miners to safety and gave the signal to raise the cage. As the cage was ascending it suddenly jerked to a stop. The engineer had to back the cage down and then give it full power. The cage gave another jerk and then came free. The engineer would later testify that he was afraid he had "cut a man in two." Big Bill Murphy was not on the cage when it arrived at the surface. Overcome with smoke he had passed out and fallen off the cage. His body was mashed between the cage and the shaft and then dropped to the bottom of the shaft. To this day, the only thing in Tonopah to mark its greatest hero is his headstone which reads, "Big Bill, he died saving others." Clarence David was another hero of the disaster. David had been down in the mine with supervisors and they had found the location of the fire. The supervisors decided to seal / ,one of the drifts with canvas hoping it would smother the fire when its air supply was cut off. David returned to the surface to retrieve several rolls of canvas. He was warned not to go back into the mine but he returned with the rolls. His body was found after the fire and he was still holding the canvas rolls so urgently needed by the supervisors. The early mining days of Tonopah was not the dramatic and fun-filled Old West that Hollywood would have you believe. It was full of heartbreak, early deaths and extremely hard work for wages that would barely keep you alive. Monsters, motorcycles and a US Marine A weekend of total hysterical desert madness. Sun, heat, sand, eye-burning fatigue. Aching, screaming joints and muscles. Bones that throb with the memory of days of rattling-slamming driving over the sun-blasted dimes. And it is done. Shirley greets me as I park in front of our elderly doublewide. The temperature in Baker is still over 110, but that feels cool after the inferno of the dunes, Our bit of lawn sparkles with a fresh taste of water. Shirley kisses, my sun- burned cheek and takes my briefcase. I am home. There is chicken, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob waiting for me to finish my shower. God bless my loving wife. Life could not be better. I help folks film in the desert. That's what I do to pay the rent and buy the groceries. I run a coupleofbig custom dune buggies for getting men and equipment into the more interesting sand duneioeations. I can't think of a better way to make a living and I love the work. It is also rewarding financially. But every once in a while, I have to really earn my pay. The last weekend was a prime example. Good people, good pay, beautiful country, but my, didn't I work. Sometimes it seems owning my own business is the ability to earn a dollar an hour and Work all the hours I want. Friday, before dawn. A great group rye worked with before. They make a TV show for kids, sort ofa sci-fi adventure thing, and the company is mostly Japanese. This outfit wastes no time. We hit the deck running and go all day. Giant space monsters stalk across the sand in the 120degree heat. Nobody complains. Abeautiful female space monster steals my heart. These folks are tough. These monster suits are thick latex foam and some kind of warm. Eight hours, 10 hours, the summer days are long. I blow a dune buggy tire. Not quite a total disaster. I carry a conventional wide tire as a spare. I change over in 15 minutes and am back up and running. Tired. Fifteen hours and it's nearing sunset. Nobody complains. I keep pushing and grin- ning. If these damn tough kids (anyone under 50) can do it, I can do it. It ends. It's a wrap. But my day is not yet over. I have another job the next morning. Do I swap the tires off of my other buggy onto the six seater or do I reload the four seater on the trailer and use it the next a.m. It's easier to switch buggies. I get home at 10 p.m. Shirley greets me and fusses about my being tired. So what, gotta keep on keeping on. God bless a good wife. Shirley gets dressed and helps switch ice chest and tool i In The Thermometer's Shadow by Mike Dougherty boxes as I rig the trailer for the four seater. It's all loaded and ready to go by midnight. I stand in the shower and fall into bed still wet. Four a.m., up and at 'em. Be at the dunes ready to go at sunrise. No problem, this is what I do. I'm there a l sunrise and we're off and running. Saturday and Sunday blul into one long day. It's a movie coming out in November about extreme sports. We're to film the motorcycle bits. Oh, my. Young real-honest stuntmen don't brag. They're quiet, retiring and intense. They can also fly. Motorcycle jumps of over 100 feet from the tops of dunes. Bikes twisting and turning in flight. Impossible heart- stopping stunts, and always in the most difficult locations. One serious injury requiring helicopter evacuation, but the job goes Off. Sunday evening. Finally, a last shot from high up a dune. Motorcycles speeding up the dune doing rear wheel stands all the way. Crash and burn! The driver rolls off of his bike and tumbles down the hill like a rag doll. He lays still. He rises. He shakes himself, waves to our camera crew and remounts and tackles the hill again. These guys are tough. And never a bit of brag. Young they may he, but they're men. It's a wrap. I collect a comforting check and reload the buggy. I rest when no one is looking. It's been three days of maximum grunt and I don't have to be a hero anymore. The temperature hit 127 today, and I'm pretty much cooked out from my weekend festivities. Most of the equipment rolls out and I slowly finish completing my tie-down chores. I mount up, point it home, and call Shirley when I hit a cellphone site at the water crossing of the Amargosa. Back on the pavement of Highway 127. Turn south and crank on the air conditioner. Drink pint bottles of water like they were beer. Just can't chug down enough water on these long desert jobs. Mile post 28, a pickup pulled over. Maybe just a tourist. Oh, oh. Hood's up. I stop. A short-haired young mare Clean cut, no tattoos. Possibly a space alien. He asks, do I have water... A fairly smart fellow. He blew a thermostat, but was smart enough to punch it out to restore flow. Just needs water. Keeps calling me "Sir." We pour in a dozen bottles from the ice chest. The youngster tells me he's a US Marine. (I sort of figured that from the haircut and all the "Sirs.") I get him watered and running. I let him use my cellphone and he trys to pay me. Nice thought, but no. I explain to the young man that I've been walking and hitchhiking and driving this road since before he was born. I've been helped so many times that not only can't I accept payment, I appreciate the opportunity to pass on the many kindnesses that were offered to me. The young marine puts away his money, mounts up into his old Chevy pickup and he's on his way. 30 minutes later... "Shirley greets me as I park in front of our elderly doublewide..." How was your weekend? Land Rush and Art action in Goldfield By the time the big weekend here in Goldfield gets underway, the Land Rush action, Hotel Tours, etc., on the 9th to the 1 lth of June, I should be just about done getting my Art Installation set up, where folks can view some of the nonsense I keep referring to in my cotumns when I can't think of anything else to write about. I've been busy moving some of the stuff that I've made over the years, that some may have seen in the papers and on TV or rolling down the road mounted in the back of my truck to a new location right in the heart of Goldfield. It's already making abig appearancewise difference around my home place. And maybe this will put a stop to the bride's constant demands that I do something with it or haul it off to the dump. The new location which should make it easy to find is right next to the Goldfield Hotel. That's the big red stone and brick building that will be one of the properties being offer in the back-tax auction, rye acquired rights where I have the use of all the properties next to the hotel to do whatever I wish with. Someday these rights might even become valuable when guests in the hotel could come by and maybe even buy some of my art. In the middle of all this is another bonus, a four-story tall structure just beg- IIII II I I Slim Sez by S!im Sirnes I I I ging to have some murals painted on it. I'm sure some of my Burning Man acquaintances could come up with some interesting ideas to adorn it with. Maybe even bring some of their art they display up there in the Black Rock desert to help fill up all the vacant land I have use of. The stiucture would be a bit small to use as dwelling quarters. But I guess what a feller could do would he to install a bunch of nest boxes and go into the pigeon raising and fertilizer business. There's already some nesting in there and the ones that will be evicted from their quarters in the hotel will be looking for a new spot to settle in. But that's in the future. Ditto and I will have some of our stuff setup in Jon Aurichs Deep Mines building like we did at the last Goldfield Days where people can get a closer look at our stuff. I'm going to leave the fence up around my Art Installation so people can see it from the street We will be in the parade and going to all the other events planned for the weekend. No sooner when this weekend is over I will be taking offon the road again as I had promised some people up in Seattle that I would attend some doings up there, Oois, I've got to cut this short as the guys driving the dump truck we've been using just got back and they, not thinking, took the last load of my art out to the dump. So I better dash out there and retrieve it. Might even find some additions. In the meantime, have a good one. I am ....