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EURASIA (chapter6)

2006-09-08 21:01

    CHAPTER VI.

    DEPARTMENT OF MINES.

    I called at the appointed time and was introduced to the Chief Engineer, who invited me to accompany him on an inspection tour, to which I gladly assented, and, after a week's pleasant travel by rail, we arrived at the station on the southwestern slope of Mount Everest at an elevation of twelve thousand feet above the sea. We had arrived in the evening and enjoyed a good night's rest, and, eating a hearty breakfast, we walked out to take observations of the locality, before taking our trip to the summit, and the Chief told me of the way by which they finally erected an observatory on the highest mountain of the earth.

    "Five years ago the President sent for me," explained the Chief Engineer, "and asked if I could plan an observatory on Mount Everest. I replied that I would try to do so if the Government saw fit to place me in charge of the undertaking. I received my commission the next day and, calling to my aid two of the ablest engineers in the service of the Government, we selected a site for the entrance of the tunnel and next we searched for suitable power to do the work. We found a waterfall twenty miles distant, where we built a power house, installed turbines and dynamos and built an electric line to this place. We then erected a machine shop, in which we placed our electric engines and air compressors, and built a railroad connecting with the main line, and after we had done that we started the tunnel. As you will observe, the tunnel is a round bore twelve feet in diameter, and no explosives were used in making it. We used a tunneling machine driven and operated by compressed air, boring on the average fifty feet every twenty-four hours, and we washed the debris away by a powerful stream of water directed against the face of the tunnel so as not to obstruct the work. We gave the tunnel for the first five miles a grade of one foot in ten and from that point to the summit a grade of sixty degrees, and laid heavy steel segment rails six feet apart bolted to the solid rock, by this means dispensing with ties and permitting a free flow of water and slum. We found it necessary to build a chamber within the mouth of the tunnel sixty feet long, with automatic doors opening and shutting, to secure an abundance of air in the tunnel, and also in the observatory. The tunnel required no timbering, as we bored all the way through synetic granite and encountered very little water, and when we were about to break through at the summit we provided the workmen with fur clothing, and with air respirators, so that they would not be overcome by the cold and rarety of the atmosphere. We had a car driven by electricity to carry the men and material into the tunnel, having four cogwheel drivers on each side, and the tunnel throughout was lighted by electricity. We built the observatory of composition metal and glass, which was carried up on the car-but come along and you shall see for yourself."

    We entered an observatory car that was run by its own dynamo but in case of the dynamo giving out a trolley wire overhead- could furnish power any moment. After a pleasant ride of an hour's duration we came out of the tunnel into the observatory and I saw two magnificently mounted telescopes, one for visitors to look through and the other one for taking photographic views. I looked through the visitors' telescope and to my astonishment the sun was blue and when I asked one of the astronomers present the reason for it he replied that the sun was a great dynamo and that the dazzling brightness seen at low altitudes was caused by our atmosphere offering like the filament in an incandescent lamp great resistance to the electric energy of the sun producing a brilliant glow and if you were able to go outside the atmosphere of our earth you would only see the sun as a dark body in space and you would find yourself in absolute darkness and eternal silence. Night fell and when I looked again through the telescope and gazed on the countless hosts of heaven's millions of suns there came into my mind and I repeated aloud that noble passage in the Bible, "The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork. I remarked to the Chief Engineer as we went down to the station, that a great many people visited the observatory, for I had looked in the visitors' book, where every person was required to sign his name. He replied, "Yes, if a private company owned it, it would make the stockholders wealthy, for it has become to the globe-trotters what Mecca is to the Mohammedans for no tourist would dare to return home without registering at the observatory and we encourage them by publishing their names in the National Gazette.

    "If you would like to accompany me I think I can show you another work we are engaged in that is adding to the accumulated knowledge of the ages." I gladly assented and after ten days of railway travel we arrived at the great platinum mine of . It was on the continental divide between Europe and Asia and had been worked on a small scale at the surface for a great many years, but had not produced much platinum and owing to an increasing demand for it in the arts the value of it greatly exceeded that of gold, while at the present time it is on a par with silver, owing to the government selling it in the market of the world for what it will bring and smashing any gambling ring that would attempt to corner the market. We entered a cage and were lowered to the one thousand-foot level; then we got out of the cage and, walking about twenty yards, we entered a chamber where there was another shaft and hoisting works and were lowered to the two-thousand foot level, which opened out in every direction, connecting with a drainage tunnel eight miles long, which carried off all the water for sixteen square miles of surface. After explaining to me the old methods of mining he said with a smile: "Come with me now and I will show you our new method," and entering a large chamber that looked like an immense warehouse, we stepped into a cage and went down, changing from one cage to another every thousand feet, until we stopped at the sixty-four-thousand-foot level. We visited several crosscuts and drifts on this level and found several hundred men at work taking out platinum ore of a high grade, and my companion told me that they were doing the same work on several other thousand-foot levels, the ore improving in quality as they went down. "You no doubt observed as we came down that the shaft was circular, but you may not have seen a second shaft of the same diameter as the hoisting shaft forty feet away. The second shaft is used for air pipes, water pipes and insulated electric wires.

    All the electric current to run the hoists and the compressed air to drive the drilling machines and to maintain free circulation of air throughout the workings, comes down that shaft and all the surplus water is pumped up it to the two-thousand-foot level, where it is carried off by the drainage tunnel and a complete system of escape ladders-besides at every level is a hoisting engine and cage to take the workmen up if danger threatens them. To insure an even temperature in the mine we keep a supply of liquid aid on every level, which is renewed daily, connecting the liquid air chest with the pipe that supplies fresh air to the workings. No expense is spared in taking care of the health and safety of the workmen and if a man gets sick or injured he gets the same pay as if he is working, and if a workman gets killed his wife receives the same pay that he received as long as she lives, and his children are as well provided for by the government. None but married men are employed and there is lively competition to secure employment with us."

    He informed me that they sank the shaft with rotary drilling machines, cutting a channel one inch wide and five feet in depth, leaving a core nine feet ten inches in diameter in which four holes were drilled four feet six inches in depth and loaded with a new explosive as powerful as dynamite but without its injurious fumes and perfectly safe to handle at any temperature. They averaged in sinking twelve feet daily and as they went down the rock became more compact and finer grained. As there were no hot springs in the vicinity and no signs of volcanic action even in prehistoric times, the temperature of the rock even at the sixty-fourthousand-foot level was only one hundred and twenty degrees Fahrenheit, and any increase of temperature in the workings was owing to the electric light generating heat in the dense atmosphere of the lower levels. My companion invited me to weigh myself on the ore scales and to my astonishment I only weighed one hundred and twenty pounds, and I exclaimed that something was wrong with the scales, but my companion offered to take the scales up with us to the surface and test them. We did so and on weighing myself again the beam tipped at one hundred and sixty pounds my regular weight.

    Then he informed me that there was a progressive fall in weights on every level as they went down and that if no unforeseen obstacle interfered they would reach the limit of attraction from the surface downward and in his opinion it would be at fifty miles. I asked him what they would find there and he replied that in his opinion it would be the same subtle and elastic essence that fills stellar space, but he added: "God alone knows the secret of the universe in his keeping." We visited the great smelting, refining and assaying works in the vicinity and he introduced me to the general superintendent of all the mines on the continental divide, who invited me to accompany him on a mine inspection tour and he would show me the improved method they used in prospecting for ore and extracting and milling it to the best advantage. "When our mining experts discover a mineral belt containing precious metals or copper, iron, lead, nickel, platinum, cobalt, quicksilver, manganese or any other ore used in manufactures and the arts, the first thing we do is to sink a shaft on the most likely ore chimney and at every one hundred feet in depth we run levels to develop it and if we continue to find ore as we go down and the ground requires drainage, we survey for a drainage tunnel that will drain the mine at the greatest depth, even if we have to run a tunnel ten miles. We sink the shaft to within twenty feet of the tunnel level and then quit sinking until the tunnel is completed. We use a tunneling machine, boring a tunnel six feet in diameter at the rate of one hundred feet per day. We run the tunnel directly under the shaft and then withdraw all the men and machinery from the tunnel, put a six-inch drill into the shaft that makes a hole into the tunnel, and quickly drains the mine. Then we begin to stope out at the lowest level, filling in the waste upward, and taking out only ore to be conveyed to the mill or smelter. While the shaft is being sunk the ore taken out is sent to the reduction works and carefully tested to find out the best way of reducing it so that when the mine is in good condition to work we know how to handle ore to the best advantage.

    "We have only a few reduction works for refractory ore, but they are on a grand scale, some of them handling one hundred thousand tons daily, and as the government owns and operates all the railways the cost of transporting ore is under two mills a ton per mile. We employ a corps of metallurgists experimenting to discover better methods in reducing and they have made great progress so that ores that were left in the mine or on the dump are now worked with handsome profit to the government Our workmen all carry life and health insurance, one-half paid by the men monthly and the other half by the government, and where a mine is shut down by the government the miners are furnished employment in another place, so that they are never idle.

    "We also bore thousands of artesian wells throughout the country, some of them to the depth of five thousand feet, for artesian water, gas, and petroleum, and occasionally we locate fine bodies of coal by those means and those that we don't need to supply the market we cap and stop the flow and use them in the future, always using the best flowing wells for the present time. When we have to use drainage tunnels for our mines we carry the water off from the mouth of the tunnel in a flume, placing quicksilver in the riffles, and if it is a copper mine we place scrap iron in the water and we also use the water for power to assist us in mining, so that at the present time we extract and reduce ore at a lower rate than in other parts of the world, for there is no wastefill management and no overproduction, for in all our mining operations we work those that cost the least, and we operate our coal mines in the same way."

    I thanked him for the courtesy shown me and took the train for the capital, and my next visit was to the Department of Education.

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