Grand County: Lecture to be offered – "Historic Mines, Mining and Digs"
April 18, 2008
Next Friday, the Grand County Historical Association presents a fundraising lecture on “Historic Mines, Mining and Digs,” featuring tales, slides, photos and memorabilia by longtime Parshall resident George Mitchell.
Grand County’s historical treasure chest includes several gems about early mining in the area, including one mine with a material called Gilsonite or North American asphaltum (mostly found in northeastern Utah).
In the 1870s and ’80s miners extracted Gilsonite on Willow Creek, just northwest of Granby. Some was thought to have been on Sherman Creek as well, but those early prospectors, who were looking more for gold and silver, mistook the Gilsonite for coal.
Gilsonite has more shine to its surface, Mitchell explains, as well as more rounded edges.
“It fuses in a candle flame and is plastic, but not adhesive when moderately warm,” he said. Although similar in color to coal or obsidian, Mitchell points out that with a close look, one can tell the slight differences.
The substance was frequently used to harden softer petroleum products and Samuel H. Gilson first promoted the material as a waterproof coating for wooden pilings, an electrical insulator and as a unique varnish. It was used to make paint to line beer vats, and for buggies and railroad cars, and was also apparently used by the Ford Motor Company as the main component for its “Japan Black” lacquer used on the Model Ts.
Today, the mineral is used in more than 150 products, including in dark-colored printing inks and paints, oil well drilling muds and cements, asphalt modifiers, and foundry sand additives.
Records show work on deposits on Sherman Creek was in full force around 1898 when the first road was put in at Willow Creek. Three claims were recorded during that time (one in Grand County), for The Raven, Commodore, and Magpie. Located end-to-end, the claims covered almost 4,000 feet along the Gilsonite veins; veins which were from 4 to 6 feet and “pinched out” about 50 feet below the surface.
Mitchell’s presentation includes a little bit about William H. Spellassacy who served as a lead foreman of the project. Miners at the end of a tunnel who followed the vein picked at the Gilsonite and scooped it into a box that was pulled to the surface.
Crews then dumped the mined Gilsonite into a bin that portioned out the material into sacks that were then pulled downhill to a storage shed to be stacked or hauled out. Spellassacy and his workers handled about 200 tons that summer in this manner.
Veins usually show up on the surface as a thin outcropping and widen as they go deeper into the ground. Because of the narrow mining face, Gilsonite is said to be mined today much like it was in Spellassacy’s day (except that modern miners use pneumatic chipping hammers and mechanical hoists).
During his April 25 presentation, Mitchell will also share several other tales, including that of Gus Boham who swam in a beaver dam on Ute Creek.
“He’s just one of several old timers I’ll mention,” Mitchell said. “Most of those old ducks were characters.”
He’ll talk about some of the interesting facts about the Bowen and Baker mountains, the Wolverine and Ruby mines, “the Grand Lake Lode”, a Middle Park “lost mine” story, and the Henderson mine and mill, and plans to have on hand several of the old mining tools, as well as a map showing 13 mines located within Grand County.
Mitchell was born and raised in Parshall and worked for the Grand County
Department of Road and Bridge for almost 40 years. His grandfather John T. Mitchell served as the superintendent of the Hilltop Mine (between Alma and Leadville).
He and his wife, Barbara, have volunteered for the Grand County Historical Association for about 25 years. With a chuckle, he claims he “got railroaded into doing this” by Barbara (who also serves on the GCHA board of directors as its secretary and treasurer). But one can tell though, that his modest “amateur interest” goes a long way and that he enjoys talking to people about it.
A $5 minimum donation at the door is requested, with proceeds to benefit the Grand County Historical Association and its projects and programs, including museum operations in Kremmling, Hot Sulphur Springs, and in the Fraser Valley.
Reservations may be made by calling (970) 725-3939.