Time Moving Forward

10 Jul

A Short Story By Allyson Oliver

It was two o’clock that morning, when a young girl, who had just reached her twentieth year, left a note on the dining room table of her home where she knew her parents would find it. It told them pretty much everything they already knew. What they didn’t know was how afraid she truly was.

At a minute past two, she left the house she grew up in, was protected in, and was seemingly safe in. As she stepped off the last porch step, the house seemed to cringe; the cringe seemed to be its voice, and the voice was asking, “Why are you leaving?”

“I don’t know.” She choked on a sob that threatened to engulf her in misery. Why me? Why do I have to go? Why can’t it be someone else?

Three minutes past two, she was driving away.

Thirty minutes past two, she was in the airport.

Thirty minutes past three she was flying on United Airlines, nose pointed towards Europe, to a country she could never remember the name of. But yet, it was that place she feared, that she had always feared. She never dreamed she would someday be going there. But here she was now, perhaps flying towards her doom. She pulled out a book that held the truth to her life, and searched for something to comfort her worried soul.

Time was slowed, for the flight had lasted hours. But yet it was three in the morning when the plane landed, which only meant that back home it was three in the afternoon. The young woman stretched from her doze. The wheels squeaked and rumbled as they hit the gravel below. I don’t like flying, she admitted to herself.

At exactly thirty minutes after three, she gasped when she felt the dessert heat suffocate her lungs. She took in a breath, and forced a smile as she saw her friend. He returned the smile, and lifted one of her bags relieving the pain in her shoulder. “Good morning, Mia.”

“Is the day so young Thomas?” she asked him sarcastically.

“Jet lag,” he agreed with a nod. “You’ll recover soon.”

“How long will I be here?” That bubbly feeling of hope floated in her soul. It was the hope that she would be home in only a few days time.

But by the look on his face, she knew her hope was diminished. “As long as you’re needed, which could be a while.”

While they drove down the concrete road, her gaze lingered over the dark shapes of the mosques. They stood round and tall over any other buildings in sight. Every where she looked there was something rich, from fancy dressed homes with gardens of beauty and life to the late night stalkers who wore robes of scarlet. Mia jumped as Thomas honked at a few slow passing women who were covered from head to toe in colorful clothe, despite the heat.

As they drove out of the city, the dark veil was slowly lifted by  the golden rays of the sun, revealing its true color and splendor, which Mia knew she would never see. After a few hours of driving, they entered another and a very different homestead. The town seemed to consist mainly of small adobe places and square houses made of wood and clay.  The road had changed from concrete to dirt and rocks. The smell had changed from perfumes and clothes to refuge and sweat.

“This is the place,” he told her, stopping his car in front of a two story building that looked like it was made out of clay and mud instead of wood. It blew her mind away to think of how they could have made it look like a cube. “You’re going to need to dress and act like them for a while. Try to keep a low profile, but at the same time tell anyone what you know of. But be careful who you give it to. After a week or so, we’ll have you disappear and be relocated.”

“Makes sense; and what if I’m discovered?”

“There will be nothing we can do.” He said without any emotion in his voice. He placed her suitcases next to her. “This is a real dangerous place Mia. People that have been discovered have never been found again.”

She shuddered at what he meant. Just as he turned to leave she asked, “Why am I here? Why have I been chosen for this?”

He shut the door and started the car before answering through the open window. “That’s something you need to figure out.”

Six o’clock, Mia stretched from her long doze. After doing her daily reading of the Truth, she began her first day by applying a powder to her face and hands to make herself appear darker than she really was. After observing herself in a cracked mirror, she wrapped herself in a soft fabric that concealed her true identity. Sweat from the constant heat caused the dark clothe to feel wet and itchy to her skin.

Six-thirty, she ate wheat bread and drank goats milk for breakfast.

Six-forty, she left the house and explored the suburbs of where she was staying. She greeted anyone she met in their own language. Many of them returned the greeting, but not all of them were exactly friendly. Mostly they gave her looks of suspicion and fear. She was unsure if that meant they suspected her or if they were just afraid of strangers.

Eight-thirty, a line of trucks and horses with tall officers dressed in tan coats enter the town. Mia’s heart pounded at the sight of them. But they didn’t seem to know who she was. Perhaps they were waiting for her to set herself up. “Don’t be silly,” she told herself. “They probably aren’t even aware that you exist.”

Twelve o’clock, Mia reenters her temporary home to have lunch. As she was eating, she repeatedly peaked out the window to keep an eye out for any officers. Nobody was watching her; nobody was waiting. She felt herself beginning to relax for the first time since she has entered the country.

Six o’ clock, she was walking down the street and she saw an old lady sitting alone, her face hidden behind her hands. From the blubbering noises and her shaking shoulders, Mia knew she was crying. Her heart pounded. This is it, she told herself. She slowly walked over and waited until she was noticed. The old lady stared at her without saying a word, but her rubbed red eyes revealed her despair. Mia greeted her, and asked, “Can I help you?”

“You can tell me a way out.” the women responded bitterly, her voice cracking. “I have nothing, nothing of importance here. There is nothing I want except death. It would end it all.”

There was so many times in which I have felt that way too, Mia thought. She remembered the question she was asked, “What happens in death? Where does death take you?”

“I know not,” the woman shook her head. “I used to believe, but I know not. What of you? I’ll listen, for I know not.”

Mia closed her eyes. She couldn’t do it by herself. It was so impossible to do alone. The truth was always easily but unknowingly twisted. It had to be given in the right way and time. If not, the results were disastrous. She stared at the women, whose wrinkled skin betrayed her age. Her face revealed nothing but pain. She didn’t have time left in life. It was her last chance.

The words were taken from her mouth, and she told the old woman everything. Mia’s heart pounded as she waited for a reaction. Either the she would except the truth, ignore it, or turn her in. There was only one thing that betrayed her decision. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me.” Mia responded. She stood up and left. I wonder if somebody else would have given it to her if I hadn’t. That is most likely. But when would have it been? I suppose I really needed to be here for this reason. She looked back at the old lady, who had disappeared inside the dark and cold house. I sure do hope things go well for her. Perhaps, there is now warmth in her home.

Someone was watching her.

Five o’ clock a.m the next day, Mia was forcefully dragged out by a soldier. She fought with all hopeless efforts. But despite the fact that her heart was pounding and her hands were shaking, she refused to allow herself to panic. She was sure her time was done.

When they stepped out into the foreboding night, she was surprised to see the street deserted. There was no one else waiting.

The soldier threw her into the truck, and the smell of leather and cigarette smoke filled the air around her. He slammed the door, and drove faster than she has seen anyone drive before. He stopped at the airport and said, “I’ll let you go, if you promise never to return.”

“I’ll make no promise.” She said forcefully, despite the fact that she was trembling.

“Leave!” he growled, and she did as she was told. As she walked towards the small building, he yelled after her, “Never come back! If you do, you’ll never leave the country alive!”

I don’t care, she thought. I will come back if I’m needed. She looked back at the soldier who was driving away quickly. I wonder why he’s letting me go. He probably was supposed to turn me in. Maybe there’s hope for him. The thought made her smile.

Six o’ clock a.m, she was home.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son; that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.  John 3: 16

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Shake Break Stories from My Colorado Hard Rock Mining Days #3

4 Jul

The Boulder in the Finger

I experienced my third shake break incident while assigned to a muck crew.  We muckers were responsible to pull the muck or ore from “dashes” into awaiting muck trains.  As I mentioned earlier, the primary interconnecting caves in the mine were “drifts” along which the muck trains traveled.  The dashes were caves that were above and perpendicular to these haulage drifts.  They were about 100 feet long, but not so nearly as high or as wide as the haulage drifts.  It’s been 30 years or so since I mined so my size recollections are probably way off!  At this point, I need to give you an idea of how this hard rock mine worked.  You understand that the muck trains operated in the haulage drift.  These trains hauled the ore from the mine and dumped it into the Orange Crusher.  Above and perpendicular to the haulage drift were the “dashes.”  These dashes opened into the haulage drift through a 6 x 4 foot, steel bordered “draw hole’ through which the ore was dumped into awaiting ore trains from the dash.  I couldn’t begin to estimate how many cubic yards of muck it took to fill an ore car; probably 30 or 40.  The ore cars would often be so overloaded that muck dumped over the edges where it turned into piles of slippery goop that I regularly slipped on! 
The ore came into the dashes through 6 fingers.  These fingers were chute-like tunnels leading from the stopes at about a forty-five degree angle through which ore ran.  Well, ideally, the ore ran through these.  I never went into the stopes, either through a finger or however a miner normally accessed them.  My understanding was that the stopes was a large cavernous area where miners drilled the ceiling and walls, than shot them, freeing the ore.  These miners drilled a pattern of holes several feet deep using a jack-leg.  This was a pneumatic combination of a drill and jack hammer.  The steel drill bit rotated and pulsated into the wall simultaneously, along with a continuous stream of water to evacuate the debris.  Drilling was one extremely noisy and wet job.
These jack-legs were often dangerous pieces of equipment.  I remember one occasion when one pinned me and two co-workers against the drift rib.  The pneumatically powered expandable leg had unexpectedly expanded, leaving us trapped up against the rib or side of the haulage drift we were drilling into.  Another coworker happened by and turned off the air for us, finally freeing us from the grips of that jack-leg.  Now, no self-respecting miner would ever admit to being trapped by one of those things!  
The holes the miners drilled into the stope ceiling were patterned in a circle.  First one hole was drilled, then several inches out, a ring of holes were drilled.  Then again, outside of the first ring, another ring of holes was drilled.  This pattern continued until the desired sized opening would be created upon the blasting.  Each hole was loaded with a sausage-shaped primer corded gel type explosive.  The primer cord from each ring of holes was tied together separately, then connected to a device which would cause each ring of holes to explode consecutively.  These were called timed rounds.  Because the rings were detonated consecutively, separated by just milliseconds, the ore was expelled neatly from the wall or ceiling of the stope.  Again, I never saw the stopes, but was involved in one timed round shoot when I later joined a repair crew.  
If the ore coming from those shoots had been small enough, it would run down those fingers easily, to be pulled from the fingers in the dash down into the ore train.  Often, for reasons I was unaware of, the ore that came down those fingers was often so big that we muckers often had to blow up the rocks to get them down the fingers.  I’ll explain that in a few minutes.  First, let me tell you about the machine we’d use to move the ore from the fingers up to and through the draw hole.
At one end of the dash sat a large slusher. This mechanical, 220 volt powered device was designed to pull two thick steel cables through a pulley at the far end of the dash.  As it pulled one end of the cable, a large snow-plow looking thing moved toward to the far end of the dash, then as it pulled the other, the plow moved toward the draw hole with a load of ore.  This plow looking device was easily 3 feet high and 6 feet wide.  The slusher operator pulled one lever to pull the plow, then releasing or decreasing the pressure on that lever and pulling the other, to push to plow to the other end of the dash. Using the slusher, the operator would send the plow or rake to the far end of the dash, then reversing the direction, pull muck from the front of the fingers into the draw hole. The cable was worn oil field cable so that it was not so “alive.”  When this cable broke, which it would at least once a shift, it would snap but not whip around too much.  A live or new cable would have whipped back, injuring the slusher operator.  Stories were told about unlucky operators who had to dodge live cable.  One such story told of a decapitation, but I attributed that to miner-hyperbole! There were guards installed in front of the slushers but I saw many that had deep gashes through them where live cable had whipped through.
Back to the slusher, those two levers controlled what looked like brake drums with fiberglass pads on an automobile wheel.  The drums that those brake pads pressed up against, though, were easily four feet in diameter and perhaps a foot wide.  Every time the operator pulled a lever to stop one drum rolling, smoke and heat were generated.  I still remember the constant burned brake smell and squeal of the fiberglass pads up against the steel drums.  The smell was much like that which emanates from big rigs going down steep grades in the mountains.  I also remember the tremendous amount of dust that was generated when I pulled a load of ore from the finger down through the draw hole.  There were fine water sprayers aimed toward the hole but all the water often obscured my vision.  As I remember, we didn’t use the water nearly as much as we should have! 
If you were lucky enough to have six good flowing fingers, filling a few rock ore cars didn’t take but a few minutes, but if the fingers became clogged or blocked by boulders, which was more the rule than not, filling those cars took forever.  We were under pressure to load as many ore cars as possible, as quickly as we could.  Unfortunately, we were constantly hampered by clogged fingers and broken cables! 
When a slusher operator tried to move too large a rock, or boulder with his plow, the cable would break.  Retying the cable often required the help of one or more coworkers, so that really slowed down the operation.  As I remember, these cables were at least two inches in diameter and full of broken strands of wire, so retying and attaching it was a real difficult task.  I remember many times, the sharp wire spurs poking through my raw hide gloves into my hands and fingers..You really had to have a great deal of finesse to operate the slusher without breaking the cable.  The cable would also break if you pulled either one of the slusher levers too sharply, causing the cable to be too taut.  Too loose a cable would allow the plough to jerk and flip around, causing it to lose the load of ore!  I caused my plow to dance around quite a bit, trying to avoid boulders too large to haul.
To me, the dashes had one big design flaw.  These fingers, three on each on the dash ribs, across the dash from the draw hole, were directly apart from each other.  Directly opposite the side of the drift from one finger was another finger.  If you faced one finger, one was right behind you!  If your attention was on one finger, there was one right behind you, which could have “come in” anytime.  If ore came down a finger, it was said to “come in.”  The dashes were not so wide that if you stood in front of one finger, that you’d be clear of the opposite finger if it came in!
If a finger was blocked by too large rocks, you began to try to unblock it by yelling and often cursing at it!  Your vocal vibrations were often enough to free up the finger enough to get the ore flowing again!  If that didn’t work, then you’d take a “bomb stick” and poke at the finger.  The bomb sticks were 10 or 12 foot 1 x 2’s.  You’d climb up the finger as high as you dared to poke at it.  You had to be really careful because if the finger came in, you wanted to have enough time to run out of the direct flow of rock.  I was working with one man once, I don’t think he lasted long on the job, but he climbed up so high in the finger that I lost sight of him.  The finger came in with him still up there!  I feared for him, but he appeared down another finger a few minutes later.  Evidently, he’d escaped the flow by accessing the stopes. 
After each poke or curse at the rock, you’d look very carefully at the rock clog to look for dust.  If dust was coming out of the rock wall at all, you knew you had an unstable situation; the rock could start flowing any second!  Another indicator of an imminent flow was the sound of the rocks grinding together.  Hard rocks grinding together make an incredible resonant sound.  To me, there aren’t many sounds as dramatic as those rocks banging together as they flowed down a finger.  The resonant sound always vibrated though your body!
Often yelling or poking a finger did not produce the desired flow, so you’d either go to another finger, using the same yelling and poking.  You’d be exposing yourself to danger though if the finger behind you appeared unstable in the slightest.  Nor did I never know what kind of stope activity would cause those fingers to come in without warning.  If none of those fingers responded to yelling or poking, you had to bring out the big gun: one or more 5 or 10 pound bags of explosive.  I don’t remember exactly how much each weighed.  One brand of explosive we used was Tovex, which, if I remember, had about half the explosive power as dynamite.  I would tie one bag on the end of a bomb stick with primer cord, then place the bomb as close to the offending rock as possible.  Lifting a 10 pound bag of Tovex on the end of a 10 foot pole was no easy feat.  Often, a single shoot would consist of three to six bags of strategically placed powder. 
Mounting the powder bags on the end of the poles was no easy task either.  I really didn’t take much pride in how that bomb looked, all tied up at the end of the pole.  I just wanted to place it, shoot it, then resume loading the muck cars.  I had one co-worker who told me in no uncertain terms that he didn’t want me wrapping up his Christmas gifts!  He didn’t like the way I wrapped my bombs!  Occasionally, I would wrap a bomb too loosely.  The carefully placed bag of powder would come sliding down the pole!  OK, so maybe my Christmas present loving co-worker had a point!  Once the bombs were in place, I’d tie the primer cords together, attach that bundle to a cap, which was mounted to a fuse. I think the fuse burned for 4 or 5 minutes before detonation occurred.  We’d have already cleared the nearby work areas, then light the fuse with a spitter, then get as far away as possible. The explosions were always deafening.  If we’d not used ear muffs we’d all been deaf after a couple of shots.  After a shot, all of the smoke would catch the current of air from a parallel ventilation drift and snake away.  One of us was always stationed to block people from walking to the shoot in the direction the smoke traveled.  We’d always kid each other with, “Well, I know what you’re going to look like when you’re old!”  We’d emerge from the smoke with a thick layer of gray powder on our safety glasses and from head to toe!   If the shoot was successful, I’d get right to loading the ore cars!
Now, that I’ve established a context, what about this boulder in the finger?  On this certain occasion, I was dealing with 6 badly worn fingers.  Each one of them was easily twice the size they should have been.  Instead of 5 or so feet across, these fingers were between 10 and 15 feet across, cutting way into the dash ceiling.  Between the fingers, there wasn’t much wall left either.  This was dangerous because the boulders that came down those fingers could have been 15 or more feet in diameter.  If boulders of that size came in, I’d have to shoot them in the dash before I could rake them into the ore car.  Otherwise, I’d have broken cable for sure.  All six fingers had run dry, so I set about yelling and poking.  The first finger, I saw, had a very large boulder clogging it up.  The clog sat about 10 feet up the finger, so I could fairly safely poke at it.  I poked for a few minutes, noting a lot of flowing dust and creaking of the rock.  The finger finally came in with a real satisfying roar!  I know I had a big boulder just by the resonant crashing!  The finger though didn’t come in all the way.  The boulder had stopped at the mouth of this terribly worn finger.  The face of this boulder was larger and flatter than any I’d ever seen.  It was perfectly smooth, covering the entire finger mouth, from the ceiling 10 feet above me, to a width of probably 10 feet.  It was as though there was no finger, but just an undrilled rib.  I stood there for a minute, marveling at the size and flatness of it.  I couldn’t believe how it had just stopped and perfectly blended with the dash rib. I stood clear of it, poking it from the sides to see if it was loose at all.  It didn’t budge!  I looked for tell-tale signs of instability, dust or grinding sounds.  There were absolutely no evidences of movement. I went further down the finger, trying to bring in the other four fingers, though I had no luck at all. It looked like I was going to have to shoot. 
Judging the first finger to be safe, I started to poke at the finger just opposite it.  I vaguely remember hearing a crash but beyond that I had no sense of moving at all.  The next thing I knew, I was inches from the draw hole, several feet from the finger, bent at my waist with my hands wrapped around the steel cables that stretched from the plow to the slusher.  My fingers were pinned underneath the cables which prevented me from falling through the draw hole.  I looked up to my right and biggest boulder I’d ever seen had flopped right in the middle of the dash.  It sat right where I’d been, seconds ago, poking at the opposite finger.  I should have been squashed like a roach!  To this day, I have no human explanation as to how I moved.  I’d have to say that I was moved.  My fingers were pinned underneath those slusher cables so I would have had to have been next to the draw hole, holding on to dear life before that monstrous boulder hit the ground.  The boulder put so much pressure on those cables that I could not have wrapped my hands around those cables after the rock had fallen. 
Moments later, my shift boss yelled up to me, “Hey, Oliver, why aren’t you pulling muck?!”  I replied, “Shake break, sir!”  We later shot that rock with 100 pounds of explosive!

Shake Break Stories from My Colorado Hard Rock Mining Days #2

4 Jul

My Leg Across the Track

My first real shaker took place just after a few days on the job.  I was walking down the drift, behind most of the crew but right in front of my shift boss.  Drifts are the main interconnecting caves that the muck trains run in.  They’re, if I recall correctly, about 15 feet high and just as wide.  Every drift had railroad tracks running down the center.  On each side of these drifts were muddy, slippery sloped paths covered with muck which had overflowed in the form of red, clay like dirt that was always packed down and very wet.  They were often deep red from a mixture of clay and spilled hydraulic fluid.  That oil often made those narrow slopes extra slippery.  We also wore knee-high, steel-shanked, steel-toed rubber boots.  Even though those boots were usually well treaded, they still slipped.  There was also often water running down the on the side of these drifts, as well as water running through the drifts in ditches.  The technical nomenclature for this water flow was “piss-ditch.”  It’s not that we miners were so crude as to use the side of the drifts to relieve ourselves, the run-off just looked like we did, constantly.  These paths were sloped because muck trains were constantly being overloaded.  They would always spill a part of their load onto the sides of the drift, making that path often very steeply sloped from the drift rib or cave side, toward the track.
Anyway, we were walking down this particular drift alongside a fully loaded 30 car muck train that was waiting to carry its load to the Orange Crusher.  This was pretty walking treacherous because the path way was so narrow and slippery.  Of course, had the train been moving, we’d find a cut out to stand in until the train cleared us.  However, for the moment, this train was standing still.  Train protocol required that either the engineer or helper blow a long, single whistle sound before moving to give us time to clear the sides of the train.  When in motion, the muck cars rocked from side to side due to their heavy and unbalanced loads.  Those walking always found a cutout along the track for safety.
This time, however, no whistle sounded a warning before the train jerked forward.  The muck car got underway, connectors all consecutively banged together as the train jumped forward.  At that instant, I lost my balance, slipping uncontrollably.  With both my legs parallel, they shot toward the track, on which the steel muck car wheels inexorably rolled.  It looked like my legs went right over the track judging by the length of my legs and the closeness of the track. I couldn’t move my legs as the train stared accelerating.  It looked like the train had just run over my legs, cutting them off, though I couldn’t be sure because the muck car obscured the track.  Though I couldn’t feel anything, I knew I’d lost my legs.  I heard my ashen faced boss say, “It looks like we’ve got another one.”  The mine sometimes lost as many as 5 miners a year to either bad injury or death. So many workers received some kind of injury that there was a full service hospital on the premises. My boss immediately pulled me out of harm’s way as the train moved past us.  Miraculously, I pulled my legs out from under the moving train totally unharmed!    I was really grateful that my legs were unharmed but I was still pretty shaken up!  Unfortunately, I had to wait until my first break that morning to reflect on what had happened and to take a real shake break!  Once again, I should have had the common sense to leave the mine and find another source of income!

Shake Break Stories from My Colorado Hard Rock Mining Days #1

21 May

First, what is a shake break?  A shake break is a quick time-out from your work because you had just narrowly missed being either badly injured or killed. The reality of it leaves your knees shaking so badly that you can’t stand up.  When I was a miner in central Colorado, as a member of both a repair crew and a muck crew, shake breaks were common.  Working in the mines was that dangerous.


The Chipped Lens

I was introduced to the concept of the shake break on the last day of my week long orientation.  I remember my instructor’s favorite admonition and warning: Whenever a body part came into contact with a rock, friction results.  He was constantly reminding us that friction always resulted in injuries.  If we were ever subject to friction, we would be the losers, not the rock!  I learned that lesson my first day underground, the last day of orientation.  One of the stops on our orientation tour was the Orange Crusher. The miners called it that celebrating the Denver Broncos’, the Orange Crush, successful season by painting the crusher orange.   The two-story pestle and mortar device crushed the ore before it was sent to the processing plant. 
No sooner had I been issued my first pair of safety glasses than one good-sized rock chip flew up from the crusher and pinged off of my left eye.  Had I not been wearing those safety glasses, my left eye certainly would have been blinded.  That ping left a gouge in the lens.  As I walked to the other side of the walkway, around the crusher, marveling at how those glasses had just saved my eye, another rock bounced off the other lens.  At that moment, I swore I’d never take those glasses off of my face as long as I was underground.  I remember later, taking them off to clean them after a shoot, that I shouldn’t be taking them off, even then.  Really, I should have been considering finding a new job.  I had barely been underground and had just narrowly missed being blinded.  I should have packed it in right there!  I didn’t shake until later, remembering what a narrow escape I’d had.
My first real shaker took place just after a few days on the job.  I was walking down the drift, behind most of the crew but right in front of my shift boss.  Drifts are the main interconnecting caves that the muck trains run in.  They’re, if I recall correctly, about 15 feet high and just as wide.  Every drift had railroad tracks running down the center.  On each side of these drifts were muddy, slippery sloped paths covered with muck which had overflowed in the form of red, claylike dirt that was always packed down and very wet.  They were often deep red from a mixture of clay and spilled hydraulic fluid.  That oil often made those narrow slopes extra slippery.  We also wore knee-high, steel-shanked, steel-toed rubber boots.  Even though those boots were usually well treaded, they still slipped.  There was also often water running down the on the side of these drifts, as well as water running through the drifts in ditches.  The technical nomenclature for this water flow was “piss-ditch.”  It’s not that we miners were so crude as to use the side of the drifts to relieve ourselves, the run-off just looked like we did, constantly.  These paths were sloped because muck trains were constantly being overloaded.  They would always spill a part of their load onto the sides of the drift, making that path often very steeply sloped from the drift rib or cave side, toward the track.
Anyway, we were walking down this particular drift alongside a fully loaded 30 car muck train that was waiting to carry its load to the Orange Crusher.  This was pretty treacherous walking  because the path way was so narrow and slippery.  Of course, had the train been moving, we’d find a cut out to stand in until the train cleared us.  However, for the moment, this train was standing still.  Train protocol required that either the engineer or helper blow a long, single whistle sound before moving to give us time to clear the sides of the train.  When in motion, the muck cars rocked from side to side due to their heavy and unbalanced loads.  Those walking always found a cutout along the track for safety.
This time, however, no whistle sounded a warning before the train jerked forward.  The muck car got underway, the couplings all consecutively banged together as the train jumped forward.  At that instant, I lost my balance, slipping uncontrollably.  With both my legs parallel, they shot toward the track, on which the steel muck car wheels inexorably rolled.  It looked like my legs went right over the track judging by the length of my legs and the closeness of the track. I couldn’t move my legs as the train stared accelerating.  It looked like the train had just run over my legs, cutting them off, though I couldn’t be sure because the muck car obscured the track.  Though I couldn’t feel anything, I knew I’d lost my legs.  I heard my ashen faced boss say, “It looks like we’ve got another one.”  The mine sometimes lost as many as 5 miners a year to either bad injury or death. So many workers received some kind of injury during the course of their work, that there was a full service hospital on the premises. My boss immediately pulled me out of harm’s way as the train moved past us.  Miraculously, I pulled my legs out from under the moving train totally unharmed!    I was really grateful that my legs were unharmed but I was still pretty shaken up!  Unfortunately, I had to wait until my first break that morning to reflect on what had happened and to take a real shake break!  Once again, I should have had the common sense to leave the mine and find another source of income!

The Afternoon at the Beach

18 Mar
The Afternoon at the Beach
By Allyson Oliver
            It was beautiful that January day. The sun was shining bright, as if it was a warm summer day. Its golden rays bathed the sand in light. The rhythmic waves repeated their tune with a study beat of their drums, as they clawed the sandy dunes.
            The chilling cold bit my cheeks as my family and I stepped out of the car, causing a shudder to travel down my spine. I kept my frozen hands inside the blue pockets of my coat, as we stepped down to the golden sand below. My muffled steps left many fresh footprints. Footprints left by other people were ones I couldn’t help but eagerly follow. I stepped in each little stream, and watched with fascination as my footprints quickly disappeared under the sinking sand.
            The blinding sun forced my gaze away from the sparkling sea, to the line of houses all waiting silently, perched on the cliffs like canaries on a branch. Every one of them stood proud and tall, their windows reflecting the golden sun and the silver sea. But when a shadow erased the reflection, I saw the white walls, perhaps a picture or two, and once I saw an old man turning away from the magnificent view of the sea below.
            Each step brought us closer to our destination, which was a cliff that looked like a dark wall sticking out of sedimentary rock. In a way, it was dark and foreboding. The golden cliffs of hardened sand threatened to collapse any moment. It teased us, letting a few soft stones role down its face, as if to say, “I will collapse, and you won’t escape.”
But we arrived at the cliff, and the sand held its place. Behind barnacle covered rocks, crystal clear tide pools greeted our search. A ledge, on which I hesitantly climbed, led me to a stream hiding from the roaring waves. I came closer to the pool, and quite suddenly, an enthusiastic voice cried, “A crab! I see crab!” I looked hopefully for it, and my eyes rested on the little hermit crab. With its heavy shell, it stayed where it sat, and when it moved its spider-like legs reached over, and dragged its shell behind.
As the sun slowly sank over the horizon, we reluctantly agreed it was time to go. But we couldn’t leave yet. I wanted to see the other hermit crab my family was intently watching, and laughing at its quick moves. I would have liked to stay for a few moments longer. But no, it was time to leave. My hands were cold, the dark was coming, and we longed for the warmth of our car. So we finally hiked back, walking as quickly as our hearts would allow.
I would love to go back, perhaps again with my mom and dad, or maybe with my child in the future, walking across the golden sand and the shimmering streams to the hidden tide pools, where little hermit crabs hide in their shells.

The Case of the Kitchen Faucet

13 Mar

The Case of the Kitchen Faucet

Or

Why I Should Have Called the Plumber for a Five Minute Job

by Jim Oliver

                It all started with a leaky kitchen faucet.  I should tell you, right off the bat that we live in a house built back in ’48.  We haven’t updated the kitchen yet so everything is pretty old and worn out.  Eight people livingin a fairly small house tend to wear things out pretty quickly.  My wife’s grandparents had lived there previously; the two of them hadn’t put much wear and tear on the place.
                At first glance, I assumed that the Moen faucet wasn’t user fixable, so I decided to replace the faucet with one that wasn’t quite as stiff as that leaky one.  Because it was so stiff, we’d had problems with keeping the faucet nut tightened to the steel sink.  The plastic gasket that’s supposed to seat the metal plate really never completely sealed the faucet to the sink either, so there was some leakage on to the nut and washers, corroding them badly.  The sink looked pretty corroded too, so I was happy to contemplate replacing both the faucet and sink.
                I removed the sink, under-plumbing, everything, then “tossed” it into the back of the van.  We by-passed Home Depot and Lowe’s, heading instead to George Morlan’s.  Plumbers always recommend George’s because they only carry really good hardware.  They say that the two former stores often stock lower quality merchandise which doesn’t last as well.  They probably stock high quality stuff but I always opt for the cheaper and get what I pay for.  It never lasts.  You have to buy the highest quality plumbing supplies at George’s because that’s all they carry!
                We went into George’s, looking for a good faucet and sink combination.  We decided upon a classy looking German faucet that was on sale.  It was President’s Day so something had to be on sale!  This faucet was designed so that the sprayer pulled out of the main spigot.  We then started to look for a replacement sink.  I gravitated immediately to the lesser expensive stainless sink, just like the one we have.  We decided to upgrade though when we saw a granite sink, on sale, too.  I told the clerk to “wrap it up” for me, until we thought to confirm the sales person’s confident assertion that the sink would fit into the old cabinet hole.  We compared measurements with the sink in the van and discovered that the new one was an inch too wide to fit.  We opted to buy only the faucet.
                We got home and I attacked disassembling the old faucet from the sink and cleaning the underside of the sink of its corrosion and old caulk.  I assumed that I’d have the sink installed with its new faucet by mid-morning the next day.  We’d dropped by Costco and picked up some fast food for the time the sink was going to be out of commission; just for one dinner and a breakfast, after all this was just a quick install and replace the sink job!
                After an hour or so of cleaning, I installed the new faucet on the sink to see if everything fit.  It turned out that the water supply hoses from the new faucet were not only 6 inches too short but also too small to fit onto the water supply.  This time I went to Home Depot to solve that dilemma.  I’d planned to pick up two brass reducing bushings and two extension hoses to solve the problem.  After much searching, I discovered that the only brass reducing bushings were the only ones sold out.  So I started looking for another solution.  So far, my 5 minute job had taken half an afternoon and into the late evening.  I wasn’t sure I was going to get everything functional by my self-imposed noon-the-next-day deadline.  This was an expected hitch, my first!
                After much searching, I found a sales advisor who promptly sold me hoses with the reducers supposedly built-in.  Happily, I got home, by now, late evening, and attempted to install the hoses.  It was then I discovered that he’d either sold me the wrong ones or that they never did reduce the sizes of the fittings.  By now, a slow sweat was starting to form on my upper lip.  I knew I wasn’t going to make my deadline.  By this time, the family had wisely picked up and left to my wife’s parents so they wouldn’t have to adjust to living without a kitchen sink and water source!  I stormed back to Home Depot, took a refund on the hoses, and then sought out the salesman.  I politely reiterated my dilemma and he found a solution for me by disassembling two other reducing bushings.  This solution worked!  Remember, every household problem takes at least two trips to your local hardware store to find a workable or work-around solution!
                The next morning, I returned to my under-the-sink workplace. I confirmed that the hoses now fit.  I then replaced the sink onto the cabinet with a good thick bead of adhesive caulk.  The caulk was advertised to be “water clean-up” so I didn’t care that the thick bead turned into a big mess of squished caulk when I mounted the sink.  Giving it time to set up before I hooked up the water hoses and sewer connections, I set about trying to clean up the generous caulk bead.  I later found out that the caulk only responds to water clean-up before it sets up.  Needless to say, to this day, I’m still peeling caulk off of my cabinet and sink!
                Now, at this point, I was pretty proud of my job!  I hooked up the water source and sewer without out too much problem.  Ok, so the cold water source faucet handle disintegrated as I turned it on!  My channel locks made a good substitute!  I had now arrived at my deadline and my installation was complete.  I just had to let it set before allowing my kids at the sink to resume their dish-washing chores! 
                With the pride and anticipation only a do-it-yourselfer who’s just completed a faucet installation in 10 times longer than the time a plumber would’ve taken, I gingerly pulled on the lever to turn on the water!  Never had I felt such a smooth and effortless faucet handle!  This was a true engineering feat only a German could design!  But to my chagrin and horror, as I gently pulled out the spray hose from inside the faucet, the entire back half of the sink rocked up, detaching my thick bead of caulk.   I could visualize with horror the potential hose clamping going on under the sink, not to mention the free flow of water from draining dishes to the nether regions of my sink installation.  You see, even in this age of technical advancement, we Americans have lost the art of designing a dish rack that allows the flow of water back into the sink.  All water now overflows onto the counter, to flow under the sink with broken caulk.  I think I’ve located a tilted dish rack but that’s another story!
                This rocking motion was ten times worse than the previous faucet installaton had been!  Now what was I going to do?  I analyzed the problem: the sink wasn’t designed to suffer the stress of a water control putting any back and forth pressure on it.  I opted for another trip to Home Depot to replace that faucet with an old fashioned type with two crank faucets, to reduce the stress on the steel.  I decided to hold on to the new faucet until we replaced the kitchen cabinets, a not-too-distant project, I hoped!   I found an inexpensive crank faucet and attempted to install it.
                The next morning, (I think…I’d sort of lost track of time) I made the discovery that new three hole faucets do not fit into old three hole sinks!  The faucet had to go back to Home Depot.  I’m grateful that Home Depot doesn’t charge a restocking fee! George’s is 25% so I was determined to hang on to our new faucet for later installation! 
     My next option consisted of attempting to reinforce the back part of the steel sink, so it would not bend and flex with the pressure of handling the new faucet.  I found that a 2×4 would almost fit between the sink bowls and the back sink lip.  After trimming and drilling the holes in the 2 x 4 I’d chosen, I glued and clamped it onto the underside of the back of the sink.  By now, I’d had to remove the sink again, making even a bigger mess of my generously thick bead of adhesive caulk!
                I recaulked the sink and reinstalled our new faucet.  This time, I reasoned, both the faucet and sink should both be rigid.  Once again, I saw that the project was doomed to failure!  My reinforced sink didn’t just bend by the new faucet, but now it rocked along the entire length of the sink!  Not only this but the single nut that holds the faucet onto the sink had come loose!  I’d used my wrench to ensure that it was tight before I installed the sink, but the downward pressure of the faucet onto the rubber gasket and constant rocking motion had loosened it!  I was lucky at this point, because I was able to fit my channel locks under the sink to tighten the nut.  For this I was grateful, otherwise, I would have had to buy a special wrench to do the job.  Even with the nut securely tightened, though, I was still left with a rocking sink!
                It was then that I remembered a skill I’d learned as a miner back into 70’s in the Colorado Mountains!  Because most underground lumber work has to be joined to very uneven rock, miners often have to resort to driving wedges between the rock and timbers to hold them securely.  Folklore records that many houses in Leadville Colorado are held together with wedges!  I remembered that I had a thin trimming from the 2 x 4 I used to reinforce the underside of the sink.  I cut it into several pieces.  These I drove between the 2 x 4 and the wall.  The faucet still moved a bit, but now I knew I was on the right track!  I drove some more wedges between the 2 x 4 and the sink bowls.  Now, finally, I had a secure sink and secure faucet!
                Now, one of the most important aspects of any job or any project undertaken is to debrief.  Ask yourself, what could I have done better?  How could I have approached this job in a better way?  I am now a humbler man!  While I was deciding to replace the new faucet with another crank one from Home Depot, I considered trying to fix the first faucet and simply replacing it.  I’d Googled Moen faucets and discovered that someone had uploaded videos of how to replace the core of Moen faucets!  It was, it seems, user servicable!  I tried following the instructions but found that none of my 50 or so screwdriver heads would remove the screw that held the faucet together.  A quick email to Moen revealed that another quick trip to Home Depot would’ve solved that.  In other words, I could have spent 5 minutes at Home Depot, bought a $20 replacement core and solved the leaky faucet problem in 5 minutes!
A plumber would have known this the instant he’d looked at my faucet!  He’d had the right driver head and probably the right faucet core in his van.  It might have cost me $100, but the job would have been completed in 5 minutes instead of three days!  Of course, in my own defense, I have to say that the rocking motion from the old stiff faucet which allowed the flow of water to the nether regions of the sink has been solved by my wedge installation.  We also enjoy the look and feel of the new German faucet.  Of course, it really makes the rest of the kitchen look old!  I think now, I’ll look into making new kitchen cabinets with my new table saw and Kreg joiner.  It shouldn’t take but a couple of days!