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Escape Pod On A Wire

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Watching the live feed video of the Chilean miners' rescue reminds me of another time and place . . . and another pod.

The time was about 35 years ago. Kathy and I were tent camping at a state park in northeastern Oklahoma with another couple and their two children. We spent a day touring the sights and ended up near Pitcher, Oklahoma. Some of you may be aware that Pitcher is now in the middle of a major superfund site, frequently called the nation's worst, caused by out-of-control lead and zinc mining during the first half of the last century.

The road we traveled wound through huge mountains of finely crushed rock and seriously abandoned mines. Just before noon we saw a group of signs, like the Burma Shave kind, except they advertised mine tours and souvenir chunks of lead and zinc ore. Just for fun, we decided to take the mine tour and followed the signs through the chat piles to a weathered ramshackle building.

The interior of the dimly-lit building resembled an old general store. There were two men inside. The two assured us the tour had no steep climbs and was an easy walk. One man walked behind the counter and took our money when we went for the mine tour. He gave us each a hard hat and a flashlight.

After we'd paid, the other man opened a back door revealing a rusty torpedo-shaped iron pod dangling from a cable above a gaping dark hole.

At the sight of the iron pod, Kathy exclaimed, "You gotta be kidding me." We didn't expect the start of easy-walk mine tour to be 50-100 feet straight down.

I think if we'd seen our conveyance before we'd paid the money, everyone of us would have backed out, including the kids.

The other end of the cable was attached to a drum similar to the one used in Chile, except a lot older. This one had a hand brake. One man took charge of the brake while the other jammed the pod against the near edge of the hole to steady it while we climbed aboard. The pod was just large enough for three adults to crowd into it, barely. Once loaded, we quickly dropped and only scraped the sides once or twice going down.

The tour was interesting and nice. They'd strung lights along the way. The ore seam must have been about twenty feet thick in places and at least that wide and more. There was plenty of head and shoulder room. It was like walking in the bed of a creek . . . probably was, come to think of it, an ancient creek. There were no timbers to support the roof, They just left columns of ore every so often.

We took our time on the tour. I don't think anyone was in a hurry to ride the pod back up.
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