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Science: Black Mountain Tunnel

2 minute read

William Schmidt has cooked 25,000 meals for himself on the same wood stove. Typical repast: “fish chowder” (boiled onions, rice, a can of sardines). William Schmidt, 68, is knotty with muscle and so bent from years and decades of working in a tunnel that he can hardly straighten up. But last week mining men were saying that he had accomplished the greatest one-man mining achievement in the history of engineering.

In 1906 William Schmidt staked 24 gold, silver and copper claims in a remote part of California’s Black Mountain. The ore veins looked rich, but miles of costly road would have been needed to get the ore around the mountain to a shipping point. Lacking capital, William Schmidt decided to tunnel through the mountain — alone. For 32 years he worked on his bore, using only blasting powder, hand drills and picks. Like the builders of the great Colorado River Aqueduct, he had to learn as he went along. At the start, he did not even know how to temper his tools. But he learned how. Last week the tunnel was finished — 2,000 ft. through solid rock. William Schmidt expected at last to make some money from his claims.

For 32 years William Schmidt has lived in a shack which is now plastered inside with magazine and rotogravure pictures.

Outside, patches of tin show where he has removed boards for use in his tunnel. In the summers he worked on a ranch to get money for more tunneling. For clothing he used garments discarded by other prospectors, patched them with flour sacking. He does not smoke or chew, but takes a nip of wine occasionally. He has never, he says, been lonely. Once he came stumbling into the shack of a neighbor, shaking and bloody. “Bad cave in,” he said. “Nearly got me that time.”

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