A True Story

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Harry Odgers holds grease stick for old gold mine mill. Mrs. Margery [Odgers] DeLaMare P.O. Box 409 Mariposa, California 95338
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Harry Odgers and gold mine mill [see story].
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The gold mine mill at Harry Odgers [see story]. This was originally run by steam but is now operated with an electrical motor.

Box 409, Mariposa, Cal. 95338.

My father has been a miner most of his life, first in Nevada
City, Nevada Co., Ca., where he was born in 1889, and then in
Mariposa Co., Ca. where he moved in 1933, when the mines in Nevada
County were closing down during the depression of those years.
Mariposa has been his home ever since. He is still living here, and
still does a little mining, now that the mines around here have
taken a new lease on life, because of the increase in the price of
gold, and also because of the new law about the sale of gold. He
was President of the Western Mining Council in Mariposa for over 25
years. His goal in life has been to keep mining alive as much as he
could. This was the main reason why he built the mill, which is
situated at the Historical Center in Mariposa. It is a big
attraction to tourists and also to school children from all over
the country, who come on field trips to see it. He runs the mill,
and explains about it whenever he can.

My father’s father emigrated from Cornwall, England, where a
lot of the miners in the Nevada City, Grass Valley area came from,
as they were miners over in England. He had nine brothers and 1
sister, most of whom also came to this country in order to better
their way of living, as in England, wages were small and working
conditions were not the best. So you see, my father was a born

I have worked for The Mariposa Gazette for 10 years, the oldest
newspaper in continuous publication in California, since 1859. We
also have the oldest Courthouse in California in continuous
operation. You have my father’s permission to use all

When I am asked to tell of past experiences in the mines, this
story has been told at many social gatherings. It is a story about
the working mules in the mines. What makes it so interesting is
that if the mines were to operate again, there would be no mules in
the mines. It would be all mechanized. In fact, the mules have just
about disappeared from the farms.

To tell the story, I should first tell you about the vast
workings of the mine in which I worked and saw these strong
intelligent animals at work.

The mine in which I worked for many years was the North Star
-Central in the town of Grass Valley. The mine was first started in
the very early days as the North Star. It was sunk on the vein at
an incline of about 35 degrees. When they obtained a depth of 4000
feet it became too expensive to work through the incline shaft and
they needed a new and larger mill so they went North about
three-quarters of a mile and sunk a vertical shaft 1640 feet
tapping the North Star shaft at the 4000 foot level or the 40
Station. This was called the Central Shaft. They continued to sink
the North Star incline shaft to the 6300 level All the ore was then
hoisted through the Central Shaft to a 350 ton-a-day mill. At the
6300 level they encountered a large vein dipping in the reverse
direction cutting the North Star vein off completely. A hoist was
installed here and they again sunk on the new vein 2300 feet,
making a total incline depth of 8600 feet. This was then directly
under the Central Shaft. They then sunk the Central Shaft on down
to the 8600 level or what was always called the 86 Station. It was
3600 feet vertical to this Station and it became the largest
Station in the mine. Here was installed huge pumps that raised the
water clear to the surface.

From here they drifted North over one mile and worked another
vein right under the town of Grass Valley. Here another hoist was
installed and a shaft, called the No. 2 shaft, was sunk on this
vein 1400 feet making the mine a total depth of 10,000 feet on the

To furnish the mill with 350 tons per day, a certain amount of
waste had to be removed about two to one, so it made about 1,000
tons a day to be handled. To do this mules were used to pull the
cars. The mule trains were six cars of two ton capacity. On the 86
Station, there were six mules; three were day shift and three night
shift and two electric trains. The electric trains were fifteen
cars of two tons. The mule trains had the shorter runs, the
electric the long ones.

At one time there were 23 mules in the Central Mine and 34 in
the adjoining property, the Empire which is a larger property. The
Central Mine had 73 miles of track.

The trip down the Central Shaft was something to be mentioned.
There were two cages, one going up and one down. The cages were
similar to our elevators, only they had two decks; nine men to the
deck or eighteen to the cage. Skip tenders loaded and unloaded the
men. The cage doors could not be opened from the inside. You were
locked in. As the miners at that time used carbide lights, no
lights were allowed on the trip for fear of burning someone in the
neck. Only one fat man could be squeezed in on one deck, but there
were very few fat men among miners. The trip down was a sensation,
till you got used to it. You were lowered and raised on the hoist
governor at a speed of 1750 feet a minute; the same speed that they
hoisted ore. This is almost at falling speed. You seemed weightless
on your feet going down. After you pushed your stomach down out of
your throat a couple of times, you were already at the bottom.
After the cage stopped bouncing with the stretch of the cable, the
cage tender let you out. From the time you were rung off the
surface to the time you stepped out was just three minutes 3600
feet down.

Now to tell you about the mules. As I worked with the track crew
building and repairing track, I had a chance to see these animals
at work.

For his size, a mule is stronger than a horse and much more
intelligent. The reason a mule was used in the mines instead of a
horse is that a horse is too high strung and high headed. He will
bump his head and keep on bumping it until he has all the skin
knocked off his ears. A mule only bumps his head once. From then on
he works with his head no higher than his body.

When gold mining was at its best, there were 73 miles of track
in the Central Mine. Some drifts were a mile in length. There were
23 mules in the mine at that time. I was told the adjoining
property of the Empire, a little larger property, had 34.

Let’s start with the purchasing of a mule. A man there that
always trained a new mule was always taken along to buy a new mule.
They said he picked them for intelligence. I asked him one day how
he picked an intelligent mule. He said they should be wide between
the eyes and have a high forehead. Did you know that there is a
distinct difference in the faces of mules? Look next time you get a
chance. There is.

After a mule is purchased, he is taken to the collar of the
shaft. A veterinarian is on hand there. He opens the mules mouth
with the instrument that they use to examine their teeth and shoves
a pill about the size and shape of a large acorn down his throat.
In about fifteen minutes the mule drops off to sleep. Some lay down
but as you know many animals of this type sleep on their feet;
others just stand and then fall over.

He is then rolled into a strong canvas bag that is reinforced
with leather and buckled in with his head left out. Then he is
hoisted into the cage that resembles an elevator by a small hoist
that is used to load timbers. He is hung head up to the ceiling and
actually sits on his tail. He is then lowered to the station to
which he is to work. The men go down in the other deck. The cages
are two decks high. When then reach the station, he is again
hoisted out by a little hoist and two ropes are attached to his
neck. Then the bag is removed. The men must work fast as the pill
only lasts about one-half hour. If it is a large mule, two men will
be on the end of each rope in opposite directions. As the stations
are a terribly noisy place with pumps running, electric and mule
trains and large ore skips going up and down, when the mule wakes
up he is a pretty scared animal. His first thought when he jumps to
his feet is to run he knows not where. When the men finally get him
calmed down, he is led to the stable which is always off in one
corner of the station. He is fed and taken care of there for a
couple of days until he gets used to the noises. Then he is brought
daily for several days and tied in the middle of the station to see
what makes all that noise. Then the trainer takes over. He puts a
harness on him (they are all broke to harness before buying). Then
he leads him through the drifts in which he is to work. After
several trips of this, he drives him with a pair of reins and
teaches him to ‘Gee’ and ‘Haw’, back up, etc. A
mule is always given a name and his name is called before every
command; as ‘Jack, Gee’ or ‘Jack, Haw.’ They learn
fast and in a couple of weeks time, he is driven by command only;
no reins but only a halter on which the rope fastens back to his
harness. A light is always fastened to the bottom of his collar as
they cannot see without it. Then he is put to pulling a timber
truck or maybe one or two cars. Soon he is pulling a whole train of
six 2-ton cars.

He is then turned over to a regular driver called a mule
skinner. These men are picked from ranchers or such as that who
have handled mules or horses. Most skinners get to love their mules
and take excellent care of them. They are never allowed to whip a
mule if he does not mind. They slap their ears which a mule hates.
Most skinners get their mules to chewing plugs cut tobacco. They
get to love it and will do most anything for a chew. The skinners
reward them in this way for good work. To show how valuable a mule
becomes when trained, I quote this. ‘The mine super on a trip
through the mine with the forman saw a skinner hit his mule several
times with the end of the halter rope. He said to the foreman,
‘You fire that man immediately. We can get skinners anytime but
mules cost money.’

The skinners very seldom use the command ‘Getup’ as we
do but say ‘Jack, let’s go’ or ‘Jack, get
going.’ On Mexican boy on an upper level trained his mule his
way and would holler, ‘Pete, Commence!’

At the starting of the shift when 3 mule trains were hooked up
ready to go on the 86 Station, the skinner would call his mules by
name and say, ‘Let’s go.’ His mule would move out and
the others paid no attention.

I was particularly interested in a mule named Jack on the 86
Station. At the end of his run near the loading place, was three
tracks; one straight ahead, one to the left and one to the right.
The swamper or helper on the train ran ahead and threw the switch
which way they wanted to go. Jack never made a mistake without any
‘Gee’ or ‘Haw’ but went the way the switch was
thrown. At the loading chute, they load two cars at a time unless
one chute becomes empty. When the train did not spot exactly, the
skinner would say, ‘Jack, up just a little.’ Jack would
move up just 8 or 10 inches and stop. When two cars were loaded he
would say, ‘Jack, up two cars.’ Jack moved the train up
just that far and stopped. If one chute became empty he would say,
‘Jack, up one car.’ Jack would just move one car

On starting a loaded train, they bunched the cars, that is
shoved them together. The mule could not start that heavy train
otherwise. Then when he starts, the jerk of one car starts the next
and so on, just as you hear the railroad cars bump. With the six
certain, there is five bumps. One day at quitting time I saw this
happen. Two boy tool nippers attached their truck of steel to the
rear end of the train so they would not have to push it out. When
Jack started to train, he got six bumps instead of five so he
stopped dead in his tracks. No vile language or coaxing could get
him to move. The skinner had to release him from the train, walk
him up and down the track several times, then bunch his cars and
say ‘Jack, let’s try it again,’ after cussing the
nippers out. Jack started with his head cocked to one side counting
the bumps. The nippers were careful to hold the truck back so it
would not make a bump.

One of the most amusing things I saw was one day coming off
shift we were all stopped from coming onto the Station where it was
all lit up. We were told that a small bay mule by the name of Jiggs
had gone crazy. We all crowded up to see and there was Jiggs with
his harness still on and his mouth open chasing every man he could
see. There were men up on ladders, on top of the ore bin, in the
pump house, and behind posts and lumber. We saw him chase the
skinner across the ore bin on a 2 x 12 plank. He went around the
unloading chutes and pump house and came back to stand in the
middle of the station. When the trainer joined us in the drift, (he
always worked with the timber men between times) he was told Jiggs
had gone crazy. He said, ‘Oh no! Jiggs is just playing.’ He
stepped out and walked right up to Jiggs who just stood there
eyeing him said, ‘Jiggs, what the Hell’s the matter with
you? Get in the stable.’ and Jiggs walked right off to the
stable. It was really comical when he was locked in to see 30 or 40
men coming out of corners and dark places.

The foreman told me one day if I ever got to the 56 Station to
stop and see the skinner there hook up his mule Pedro. All mules
were trained to walk from the stable and back up to their trains.
Pedro did not do this. He stayed a distance away. The skinner would
say, ‘Pedro, back up.’ Pedro would shake his head no. So
then he would say with a wave of his hand, ‘Pedro you had
better back up,’ which Pedro would do. This happened at the
start of every shift. He also told me of another mule that shook
hands with the skinner at the start of every shift for which he was
rewarded with a chew of tobacco. But the funny part was that he
wanted to shake hands several times during the day.

On one of the upper levels, there was a mule named Reno. Reno
would throw a tantrum ever so often. He would buck and kick and lay
down and roll and it seemed his main object was to get his harness
off as he often did break it up. On one of his first fits, he
pulled it at the station so they turned the fire hose on him and
into his ears which brought him out of it in a hurry. But being
smart he never pulled ‘ that at a Station any more but waited
until they were at the loading chutes away from fire hoses and he
had been given the order to start.

In 1915 I worked on the 30 level of the North Star shaft. There
was a large while mule there named Babe. Babe was everybody’s
pet and had the run of the Station. She used to chew on the timbers
going partly rotten. She had a bad habit. All us men had a locker
to put our lunches in. If one was left out, Bab would take it by
the handle and toss it around until it opened and then eat the
contents. I have shared my lunch with many a new man who was not
told to lock up his lunch.

I used to rub Babe’s ears and she would rub her head on my
shoulder. As the mine was getting worked out, we were moved to the
34 level and then to the 37. Babe was moved on down with us. After
being away from the mine for 13 years, I returned to work there in
1928. One day I was assigned to the timber gang. We took a load of
timber down to the 63 Station. After loading them on a timber
truck, the head timber man said, ‘We will go on in. You get a
mule out of the stable and bring in the timber.’ I went to the
stable and there was Babe. I rubbed her ears and she rubbed her
head on my shoulder. I like to think she remembered me. I placed
her harness, fixed her light and said, ‘Well, Babe. Let’s
go.’ She walked out and backed up to the truck. I dropped the
pin and took off. I had to step pretty lively so she would not step
on my heels. Babe was then 31 years old. She had been in the mine
from the age of six. At the end of our haul, I turned her around
and told her that was all. She would go back to the Station and
stand until someone came and put her in the stable. She was
pensioned off; that was all she had to do just pull a light timber
truck in twice a day, just exercise. They told me she lived over a
year after that and went to sleep one day in the middle of the
Station next to the truck which she had probably pulled a short
time ago. Note; The mine management did not take that mule out and
destroy her but kept her in good care to her last day.

In 1916 the Humane Society got a law passed through the
Legislature that the mules must be brought to the surface for two
months every two years. They said it was not humane to make a mule
spend all its life underground.

Now no horse or mule on the surface ever got the care these
mules did and besides they were not subject to the weather changes
but lived where the temperature was 65 degrees to 70 degrees –
winter or summer – day and night. To comply with the law, the
Company brought three to the surface in the day time. One tried to
jump back down the shaft when he came to and was injured so bad he
had to be destroyed. The other two went stone blind. No doctoring
or nothing helped and they also had to be destroyed.

The Humane Society did not give up. They said bring them up at
night and place them in a barn and let light in a little at a time.
The Company built such a stable and brought up four mules. They let
a little more light in every day until they could stand the
sunlight. Then they were turned out in a large meadow where clover
was up to their knees. They immediately began to lose weight.
Before two months were up, they were skin and bones. They had to be
taken back underground and fed the oat, hay and grain they had been
used to. It was two months more before they could pull a train. The
Humane Society realized their mistake and did not press it

In the early 1930’s, a fire started in the Pump House on 86
Stations. It spread to the timber pile and then the hay barn. It
burned for several days before being con trolled. Some of the mules
along the Stations that they were able to turn loose made their way
into the long drifts but some that they could not get to right away
perished. Among them was Reno, the bad one. Several valuable mules
were lost.

If the mines were ever to start up again, you would never see
mules in the mines as I have said as everything is going to
mechanized units like electric and diesel engines, mucking
machines, etc.

Mules are a thing of the past so are now History and just a good

STORY by Harry H. Odgers

Learning to be a miner, I started in the hard way as I made a
mistake the first day I ever worked underground.

At the age of 20, I got a job as ‘Tool Nipper’ on the
1000 foot level of the Champion Mine at Nevada City. That was the
main level of the mine at that time.

A Nipper was an errand boy. He carried the sharp tools to the
miners and gathered the dull ones and sent them up to the
Blacksmith shop. He ran any errands that the Miners wanted.

The Miner’s lunch pails at that time were cylinder shaped
with three compartments. The lower one was for tea (pronounced ta
or tae). The middle one for sandwiches, etc., and the top tray for
pie. On top was a place for a tin cup.

These pails were hung on nails driven into a beam on one side of
the station. Under the pails was a shelf on which the miners
themselves placed a short piece of candle about one and a half
inches long in a holder. I was instructed by the Boss that about
one hour before lunch time to light these candles to warm the
miners ‘tae’.

When it was time to do this, I found that there was three or
four that had no candles under them. Thinking that they just forgot
to fix them, I cut candles (called snoffs) from my own candle
supply and lit them all.

Think how I felt when the miners opened their pails to see that
these few miners had stopped at the Brewery on coming through Town
and had a nickels worth of beer placed in their pail instead of
tae. This was done often by some.

Standing there trying to think of words to apologize, I must
have looked pretty silly. Finally one of these miners came to my
rescue and said ‘ is a new nipper on today, and didn’t
know, us will have to excuse im’. And one of the others spoke
up and said’ ‘es s thoughtful little chap, aint

As the Cousin Jack Miners always appreciated a joke, it was
passed off as a good joke. But it was broadcast through the whole
mine by quiting time.

In the change room at quiting time, we began to hear such
remarks as ‘Ow does these like your beer, ‘ot or cold? I
was subject to much teasing for several days.

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