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INTRO: The town of Goldfield 180 miles north of Las Vegas is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first passenger train rolling into town. It was once the largest city in Nevada setting the stage for a seemingly bright future of mining. Five railroads, three newspapers, five banks and even a mining stock exchange grew over the years to serve 30-thousand residents. In 1906 it was the center of the national spotlight when it held the longest lightweight Boxing Championship of the World lasting 42 rounds. But today Goldfield is barely a shadow of its glory days. KNPR's Ky Plaskon paid a visit.
PLASKON: Goldfield's main street is US95.
SOUND: GOLD FIELD
PLASKON: By some accounts, this was a center of urban sophistication in 1907. Urban sophistication was different back then. Health-care though primitive was abundant in Goldfield with 25 hospitals. There was a bar in town so long that it took 80 tenders to run it as miners brought in their 6 dollar-a-day salaries. At its peak the mining industry generated 11-million dollars annually here. That's more than 216 million dollars in today's money. All that's left of those profits in Goldfield today are the brick and mortar shells of an opulent hotel, high school and bank. Every inch of land bordering the town is like Swiss cheese, scared with abandoned mines and their colorful tailings. A complex system of un-charted tunnels wind beneath the ground. Most of these dark holes have been abandoned for nearly a century with signs posted by the state, Stay Out, Stay Alive. Higher gold prices recently however are drawing new prospectors.
T106 :10 "This is my mine belt, my light in case I get stuck in the dark, I always have my mine light with me. I'll take you out and you can see the mine and the head-frame."
PLASKON: 30-year old Jarrett Anderson has been a hard rock miner all his life. He was brought here by the company Lone Star Gold to prospect. He smells like dust and is entirely covered with mud. He's just crawled out of one of the 100-year old mines after drilling for 12 hours. He's anxious to go back and show it off.
SOUND: Opening gate
PLASKON: He opens the gate and peers down into the hole.
ANDERSON: See how it goes down here 300 feet. It is pretty small, five by five. It is probably still one of the few head-frames.
PLASKON: So you jump down there every day?
PLASKON: Technically, Jarrett is lowered down by an old crane, the kind that's so old he says it isn't used anywhere anymore. He can't wait to go back down into the mine.
ANDERSON: You can't imagine how dark it is. Go in the bathroom or closet and close the door and turn off the light. It is probably 10 times darker than that. What is nice about mining is that it is a controlled atmosphere, we pump in air so it is actually a pretty safe place to work. I feel safer down there than up here, because up here the sun burns you, people run you over all the time, people shoot each other. Down there I am safe. I feel at home.
PLASKON: Even when Jarrett is on vacation, he goes to his own mining claim. Anyway . . . in Goldfield there are a lot of challenges working in a pit that dates back to the beginning of the last century.
ANDERSON: Right, when I got here a couple of months back we had a water line break and we had a little bit of a cave-in and I had to go back in and restore it. I mean the timbers are 100 years old and take some old timber out and re-block it. It was kinda fun.
PLASKON: The job obviously doesn't scare him.
ANDERSON: If I had some worries I wouldn't be mining I guess. The only health problem I worry about is running out of beer and Copenhagen. Ha!
PLASKON: What he does all day is stand in a tunnel and drill at different angles into the rock. That makes a core sample. Back at the surface the core samples are analyzed for signs of gold. If gold is found in the 300-foot-long core sample it will tell them where to dig a bigger hole.
ANDERSON: It's a gambling thing, it's a roll of the dice.
PLASKON: Jarrett says it's paying off.
ANDERSON: We found enough gold here to pay for the place. Everything from here on out is pure profit. There is still gold here, I seen it.
PLASKON: Tom Timkin is the geologist and project manager of this mine owned by Lone Star Gold.
TIMKIN: We are using newer tools to find veins that were missed before and we are hopeful that we will find veins that were missed by the old-timers.
PLASKON: He knows prospectors have been trying to work the ground in Goldfield for years unsuccessfully.
TIMKIN: Well it happened here, they went public, they got a lot of stock revenues and then spend that money and re-organized to a new company and spent that money and all the while making some money on their gold operation but not enough to pay back the share-holders and the operators took the money in from the stock. That wasn't necessarily a scam.
PLASKON: Tom opened up the mine because higher gold prices make it more profitable to scour. But townsfolk aren't banking on gold in the hills for another boom in Goldfield.
SOUND: General Store
CLERK: You see it is quiet, peaceful. We don't have any drive-by shootings because everybody in town packs. We haven't had a bank robbery in 60 years, of course we haven't had a bank in 60 years.
PLASKON: The Clerk of the General store says city dwellers are fleeing the urban sophistication for Goldfield.
CLERK: Its starting to grow again. 15 years ago we had around 525 people. We were down to about 225 about 5 years ago. I would say we have 325, 350 now. We have a lot of people coming in here, selling their homes for big bucks and coming in here and snapping up property and we are growing pretty good.
PLASKON: Last month it was a little less quiet in Goldfield. Residents paraded down highway 95 through town, offering historic bus tours, live music, crafts, beer, held a miners liar's contest and a popular land auction.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR