Mining Operations at Mount Mica & Orchard Pit Mines, Oxford County, Maine.

Coromoto Minerals Mining Operations at Mount Mica,
June, July, August 2008

November 2010

The time has come to buck up and get down to the business of chronicling the Mt. Mica story…again. Though mining continues apace, or even at an accelerated one, the story in the written word has languished. For this I apologize…as we know, apologies and confessions are easier than discipline, performance and the narrow path. I’ll try to reform, though I offer no warranties expressed or implied.

The narrative stalled as we were mining parallel to the upper NE workings started by Merrill (1890-1913) and continued by Perham (early 1960's) and Plumbago Mining (1970's -1990's). ...As a side bar, there was period of the mine’s history where a Mr. Howard Irish was the owner/operator (1930-50's). He also owned a number of other named mines in the area.  The most notable event, in print at least, was the 1950 discovery a large beryl pocket in the Irish pit just to the NE of the Mt. Mica workings.  Though his widow sold a ‘shoe box’ of Mt. Mica tourmaline, little if anything has been recorded of his efforts here. What Irish may have done in the Mt. Mica pit is not known by this writer. It is still somewhat of an open question as to whether the Irish pegmatite and Mt. Mica are the same body.... As stated, the story stalled but the mining did not. Yes, the mining was coping with issues of an HR nature but these were most manageable. In order to assure that the mining would continue during ‘sick days’ we decided, for the benefit of progress, to add a 2nd miner. When dealing with an operation which on its best day breaks even, adding a 2nd miner is only abrading the wound. That said, this we did gladly as not all is measured in dollar terms though the list of such things is diminishing.  {Today I learned today the Goldman’s Lloyd Blankfein earned 67 million USD in 2008 and I, in the same year,  just got dirt under my finger nails… and had to wash my own clothes..well not really}  The ‘search’ for another enthusiast had been on going for some time. Enthusiasm is required for most days are tough…physical labor, mechanical breakdowns and grumpy management. These are all challenges for the aspirant miner at Mt. Mica. Several recommendations had come to me, but using my laser like insight, I declined these. However, one fellow came forth that seem to fit the bill at first sight. (A) he was big. Richard is a study 5’ 5” and I am a senior 5’8”..9” in shoes. Brian, the aspirant, was 5’11 but came with a low center of mass. This is not small issue. The most physically demanding thing we do is wrestle with the jack leg and hammer. This critical drilling tool is easily 44kg  (90lbs)and seems to have an independent and not easily harnessed spirit. That is before 120PSI of compressed air gives it the fighting advantage. Armed with this wisdom, I asked Brian to pick up the hammer. He did so easily and without effort aimed it around to the various spots I indicated as easily as I’d maneuver a laser pointer. After that, all was mere formalities. As it later turned out, Brian offered more than his low center of mass (R). I should note that after starting work at the mine,  Brian's R did start climbing higher on his frame.

Now that we have covered the physics of Brian, we can  turn the discussion to the mining. In the few weeks of mining between the end of the last posting and when Brian arrived for his task training per our MSHA training plan, Richard and I continued to explore the extension of pocket 7-08. In fact, there proved to be several extensions. There was one heading westerly into to the face of the advance and another heading north towards the old upper workings. A feature that stood out prominently in this latest pocket system was a large mass of pink montmorrilinite. This mass was approximately a meter on each side. Very large for Mt. Mica.  However, montmorillonite is simply a clay which probably is a byproduct of the alteration of feldspar. The pink color is due to high valence manganese. It is also manganese that imparts the purple color to lepidolite. Lithium does not have any chromogenic properties in the visible range. In Maine, lepidolite means lithium and with lithium colored gem minerals such as elbaite are often associated. It is the manganese however that makes lepidolite readily identifiable. Manganese too plays a role in morganite, a cesian beryl, imparting its pink color. Though just a clay, montmorillonite is also a reliable pocket indicator. The alteration of feldspar to clay requires reactive mineralized fluids and these occur as the final segregation towards pocket formation takes place.  This  particular clay proved so tenacious it was almost impossible to dig or wash it out.

Pocket 7 was quite long to west. Once fully dug out there was a quartz cap visible at back. Often these quartz caps are merely partitions between chambers. With a little determined chiseling, we were able to work a small hole through it. Once it was hand sized, we were able to reach in and explore a little using our tactile senses alone. Those who dig pockets with gloves on will never experience the exhilaration of groping blindly through  abrasive muck only to have one’s fingers detect a polished feeling object. Without ever having the experience before, one is able to ‘grasp’ immediately what is about to happen. A gem tourmaline is about to leave the pegmatite’s womb. This was somewhat the case here. On a shelf near the back of the space a large tourmaline had been laying for perhaps 300 million of years.   Though a 'nice one' it was neither gemmy nor classical in form. It seems its growth had been inhibited by the narrow confines of the space. With it were several shards of a large tourmaline that had fractured sometime during its growth. Conditions were right for further development as some of the fragments were 'healed' together with green tourmaline. Apparently at that moment in the pocket's chemical evolution the iron content was such that green was the color being manufactured. In 'that's the real thing ' department, let me digress to our diamond mining (screening alluvial river gravel) in Venezuela in the early 1960's. Before we found our first diamond my dad and I had set aside a whole panoply of pretenders. These were mostly quartz crystals. Some were quite bright like herrkimers. The diamond diggers called them 'casi-casi' meaning almost-almost. So our stash of these 'almosts' grew steadily until the day we found our first diamond. Though rough, there was absolutely no doubt that there was the real thing and the others a mere shadow. We never had to wonder again.

20 cm tourmaline from the top of pocket 12 of 2008

Tourmaline fragments from pocket 12 showing fracture 'healing'

The tourmalines pictured above were found high in the pocket and just underneath several very large parallel growth quartz crystals. The quartzes composed most the ceiling in the pocket. Some of them were quite well developed and very glassy. To the left are the crystals in situ.  Richard is  holding one after it was removed.  This whole area proved to be quite well mineralized and literally fizzed with pockets. None were major revenue producers but each had something worthy of taking home.

As we mined this area we were well aware that the wall to the north between where we were mining and the upper water filled pit was becoming thin. It was so thin that this pit was mostly no longer water filled as it had drained to the inside of the workings. On each advance we turned the heading to the west so as to assure adequate support. As we did so we probed to the outside by drilling to get a measure of the wall thickness. We did the same to the roof to assure that too was thick enough. At the very thinnest the roof was 8 feet thick. We were steadily blasting on the inside. Just on the other side back in the '90s considerable blasting had occurred. This meant the area was riddled with fractures both natural and explosive created. Early on in this skirting manuever one of our burn rounds made the outside wall heave visibly as the shot went off. A debris shower was generated outside in the upper pit and plates scaled off the wall. This was a warning shot across our bow as it were.  The wall could have easily ruptured under the force of 20#s of high explosives a 30#s of ANFO detonating sending fly rock in our direction. From now on we'd best blast and mine with a light hand.  After this near miss all of our burn shots were done well to the inside and away from the upper pit. With all of these precautions and checks it was most disconcerting that the frequent summer showers rained down on us through the cracks as if there was no roof at all. The rain would start outside and inside nearly simultaneously. This was enough to give pause to a thinking person as in 'What's wrong with this picture'. So, with more than a little trepidation we mined on. However, our slow turning of the advance to the west had moving us in a down dip direction. This made mining more difficult but the area continued to produce a profusion of spaces. Each contained tourmaline and some of it gemstock. There were however no fine specimens produced. In the image at the left Richard stands amongst several spaces. The mineralization continued hot but it was becoming clear that it would be more efficient to mine up to this area from the main adit as opposed to struggling to mine down dip. As we left off there were 30-40' or 3 to 4 advances left before we would emerge into the main pit along this 'high road'.

As a break from the western side we decided to once again explore the area just below the Merrill pocket. It was on this side in 2007 we found the luscious pocket that produced the cascade of loose mica books and pounds of small green gem tourmalines. As we worked this eastern side it became clear we were just a short distance from the underground workings started by Plumbago in the 70's. They in turn were not far from our 2007 find mentioned above. This area is well mineralized so I am not sure why they chose to abandon their effort. As they were mining down dip, perhaps this put them off. We, on the other hand,  were mining up to this area  so we could work it relatively easily.  For the time being this section of the pegmatite and what it may offer will remain in the 'vault' until some future date.

It was now time to go to the next phase of our long term plan and investigate the area down dip of the big pocket of 2005. That effort would turn out to keep us well occupied for the next three years.