The Business of Mining Part 1

The Business of Mining.

by Arthur J. Hoskin.


There is probably no line of human activity that is not beset with malicious and ignorant intruders. The fact that any occupation or business is really legitimate seems often to stimulate the operations of these disreputable persons.

Mining does not escape the application of this postulate. For ages, the industry has afforded most fertile opportunities for the machinations of the unscrupulous and the erring. Somehow, there weaves throughout the history of mining a sort of magnetism rendering us unduly susceptible to the allurements which are presented with every mining proposition.

It is not, however, always intentional deceit that is perpetrated upon the unwary. Often, mining failures result from actual ignorance of the business upon the part of those entrusted with its conduct, or if not from actual lack of knowledge, then from erroneous conceptions with the consequent misapplication of honest endeavor. A victim of such misplaced faith is perhaps more leniently inclined than is the person who has been duped by a "shark," but the effect upon the great industry is hurtful in either case.

The purpose of this short monograph will be served if the author can feel assured that his readers will finish its perusal with the belief that mining may be followed as a business with just as much assurance of success as attaches to any one of the many lines of industrial activity.

Many persons who have sustained losses in mining ventures deserve no sympathy whatever, since they have not exercised even the simplest precautions. So long as men--or women--will take as fact the word of any untrained or inexperienced individual concerning investments, just so long will there be resultant financial losses, no matter what the line of business. Because there have been elements of chance observed in the records of mining, this business appeals to the speculative side of our human natures, with the result that untold numbers of individuals have had ample reason to regret their ventures. But, as will be found in the text matter, mining can be relied upon with precisely as much assurance as can any other business.

Nothing of a technical or engineering sort has been attempted herein, the sole aim of the writer being to establish the reliability and the credit of the mining industry as a whole by pointing out the lines of conduct which should be followed by those who enter its precincts as business people. When investors of small or large means will put their money into mining projects with the same precautions that they would exercise in placing their cash in other enterprises, they will be rewarded with corresponding remuneration. In this firm conviction, then, this little work is dedicated to the intelligence of American laymen in mining matters.



Before entering into a discussion of the economic features of the mining industry, it will be well to be sure that we understand, definitely, what is meant by mining. As one investigates the question, he is bound to run across varying shades of meaning for the words _Mine_ and _Mining_, and so we must pause long enough to define these words according to the best usages.

A search through works on mining written at various periods reveals differing ideas that have prevailed among authors. Less than a hundred years ago, it was said that a mine "consists of subterranean workings from which valuable minerals are extracted." One early writer said that a mine is one only when the operations are conducted in the absence of daylight. As time has created new fields for the industry, we find that ideas concerning the meaning of the word mine have necessarily altered, until now (according to The Coal and Metal Miners' Pocketbook), we may think of a mine as "any excavation made for the extraction of minerals."

Under this definition, we properly think of the rather unusual operations of marketing coal right from the surface of the earth, in eastern Kansas, as mining. There is, in this case, no covering of earth above the workmen; neither are the operations necessarily carried on at night to avoid the illumination of the sun.

So, also, placers are now correctly spoken of as mines, although but a few years ago there was drawn a strict line, eliminating such worked deposits from the category of mines. One may still run across a few men who are sticklers upon the point that a placer is not a mine. Throughout the world, at the present time, there are many places where immense deposits of valuable minerals are being excavated from open pits by out-of-doors methods, and our common term for these places is mines.

Thus, in Minnesota, in that wonderful Lake Superior country, that is famous as the world's greatest known producer of iron ore, tremendous tonnages are handled every year by the modern steam shovel, which works in natural light by day and by electric lamps at night. In Utah and Nevada we find similar operations conducted in the excavation of copper ores. In Australia, the famous Mount Morgan mine is using open air methods in the mining of precious metal ore.

But what about quarries from which are taken building stone, salt, kaolin or clay? Are not such substances of the mineral kingdom? Here we run across a hitch in the definition quoted above; for while we hear of "salt mines" (not "salted mines"), our parlance has not, as yet, warranted this term except for such excavations of salt as are carried on in subterranean deposits; and it is quite out of place to speak of stone or clay mines.

Evidently we must pass through another transition in our conceptions about mines, or we must permit quarries and pits to be included within our realm of mines. At the present time, the prevailing practice of the men best qualified in such matters is to designate as mines those workings from which only coal, metallic ores, or gems are extracted.

Hence, we should not speak of a slate, sulphur, mica, clay or phosphate mine.

And yet, with all the above restriction in our nomenclature, we have not reached one very important consideration, one which we have been approaching for a number of years and which, of late, has been met and forcibly applied by the best men in the profession of mining engineering.

An excavation that will produce coal, metals or gems is not necessarily a mine. The simple fact that a man can get some gold-bearing dirt from a hole in the ground does not mean that he has a mine. The occasional finding of a diamond on the sidewalks of a great city does not give anybody the impression that city sidewalks are diamond mines. There are many places in which small amounts of combustible coal can be scratched from its natural depository, but no company appears to think highly enough of these seams to install machinery and to carry on operations.

In the eastern part of Kentucky there are well-defined deposits of lead-bearing baryta, though, up to date, their development has not proved successful. In Brazil there are known to be very rich areas of placer ground, and still the deposits are not worked. A friend of the writer discovered some very good gold-bearing gravels in Alaska, but he was unable to mine.

There is something besides the presence of valuable minerals and the ability to win them from their natural matrices that is essential to a mine. It is here, in our considerations of the mining industry, that we come into real economic notions for the first time. Yes, according to the latest ideas, we are wrong in stating that any worked or workable mineral deposit is a mine, _if it does not contain possibilities of profitable working_. This is now the prime thought of every up-to-date mining manager or engineer. It is this notion that will distinguish a mine from a prospect. The prospect may become a mine by proving itself profitably workable: if it simply carries values which cannot be realized to advantage, then it must continue as a mere prospect. There are cases of properties which possess rich deposits and which are loosely called mines. These properties may be observed to be erratic in their productiveness, owing to the very pockety nature of the deposits; and the owners, although they do, indeed, strike occasional handsome bonanzas, expend all the profits of such finds--or even greater amounts--in searching for other pockets. Is such work profitable? Is it mining?

The trouble with the cited placers of South America is that climatic, hygienic and political conditions have been antagonistic to successful working: the ground is rich, but it cannot be handled to make money. In the case of the Alaska gravels, there was no available, though essential, water supply. The Kentucky galena cannot be economically separated from the containing heavy spar. Coal, which is sold at comparatively low figures per ton, must be handled at the mines in large quantities to pay, so that a thin seam or a scattered deposit is not suitable for mining.

Under these restrictions of our new definitions, we run across many interesting points. For instance, one may ask the question about the old abandoned hole in the ground which is occasionally found by prospectors, "Is it a mine?" The answer can be simply another query as to whether the hole was abandoned because it contained no value, or because, containing value, it could not be profitably worked. As we think of mines nowadays, we can conceive several reasons why, before the advent of transportation lines and the invention of modern metallurgical processes and many forms of labor-saving machinery now so common in and about mines, many very rich deposits may have been necessarily forsaken by their discoverers.

But such a property would, if now worked, probably prove highly profitable. We thus note that there exists some elasticity in the meaning of the word mine. An unprofitable project at one time may develop into a mine at a later period. Many gold mines have become worthless propositions merely through changes in the ore that have rendered further work unremunerative.



Having considered the accepted definition of a mine, let us now extend our reasoning a little and inquire just what is meant by mining. At first thought, one would say that mining is, in a broad sense, the art or practice of excavating, at a profit, the ores of metals, the beds of coal, the gravels of placers and the deposits containing precious stones. Are we justified in letting this definition stand as it is? If we do not make any change, we must exclude all quarries, sand banks, clay pits, and the numerous sorts of works that are producing the non-metallic minerals of commerce. Very well, since we find good usage will warrant us, we will do so.


Still, there are other pertinent questions arising. Does the practice of mining cover the treatment of the excavated products? Here we run across a mooted point. The British and the American uses of the word mining seem to be a bit different in this regard. Upon the Rand, South Africa, a territory dominated by Englishmen, every mine is equipped with its own mill, and all notions of mining cover the inseparable idea of local ore treatment. Here, in our country, there are many, many mines which have absolutely no means of treating their own products and the managers give no thought whatever to metallurgical or milling lines. There are, on the other hand, many companies that have erected private plants at their mines for the extraction of metallic contents from the ores. Here it may, or it may not, happen that the operations of mining are considered as distinct from those of treatment. In some instances, as at the Tonopah Mining Company's plants, there is separate superintendence of the milling and the mining; but in the Joplin, Missouri, zinc region one superintendent looks after the running of a mine and its omnipresent mill.

There may be drawn a sharp distinction between what is really mining and what is the subsequent treatment of the ores for the extraction of values. The latter field is denoted _Metallurgy_ when the operations are of such a nature as to actually recover or extract metallic products or metals. If the treatment process has for its object merely the rejection of some of the worthless materials in the original ore, thus causing a concentration of the valuable minerals, but without actually obtaining any metal, then the term _Ore Dressing_ is warranted. At some mines, there is maintained a practice of culling out, often by hand, a certain percentage of the obviously worthless ingredients of the ore before shipping the products to treatment plants. This is neither milling, metallurgy, nor ore dressing, but is more properly called _Sorting_. It is one of the operations connected with mining. Milling may be either ore dressing or metallurgy.

In the operations of placering, there is a simultaneous _excavation_ of a deposit and an _extraction_ of the valuable contents. In this case, shall we call the process mining or metallurgy? If it is a gold placer, one may see the recovery of the metallic values. Here, the usage of the majority of practical mining men will uphold us in always speaking of the work as mining.

In its original significance and use, metallurgy involved the use of fire for the concentration and recovery of metals. With recent advances in chemistry, there have been numerous discoveries of wet or fireless methods for arriving at equivalent results, so that it is now perfectly proper to allow the word metallurgy to cover such processes as cyanidation, chlorination, electrolysis, and the host of new inventions that are continually appearing.

The writer has consulted a number of authorities on mining lines to ascertain just what sort of a position to give to the practice of ore dressing. Prof. Robert H. Richards, the head of the mining department in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the inventor of machines which have made him famous among mining men, says, "Ore dressing is an essential part of mining. The whole object of ore dressing is to remove gangue before shipment and so save in freight and treatment charges."

Mr. A. G. Charleton, the eminent English mining engineer and author of numerous books, in discussing this question, writes, "Personally, I am of the opinion that ore dressing should be included in mining." One has but to look through the catalogues of most of the American and foreign mining schools to find that little or no line is drawn between the courses in mining and metallurgy, and almost universally the dressing of a mine's product is taken up as an inseparable part of mining. In a very few exceptions, the courses of study are so planned as to draw an imaginary line between mining and metallurgy, and in these instances, ore dressing is placed with metallurgy only for convenience in the use and arrangement of college laboratories. But, since it is a common practice for mining companies to install plants right at the mines for the purpose of diminishing the bulk of ore shipped and to thus save in freight and custom treatment charges, mine superintendents and even the common miners have become accustomed to thinking of such plants as but units of the "mining" plants. At bituminous and anthracite mines whose products contain objectionable amounts of impurities, it is a common practice to subject the output to a _Washing_ to remove the deleterious substances before shipment to the market.


In view, then, of these reasons, it is proper to decide that mining is a term broad enough to cover the operations of extracting coal and metallic ores from the ground and of preparing them for shipment or metallurgical treatment.

Coal is always coal, no matter in what thickness of deposit it is found.

It may not be minable coal because in thin seams or because so intercalated with layers of slate or "bone," that the mine's mixture, or so-called "run of mine," is not salable. But with metallic ores, we run across an idea that is occupying the attention of many prominent geologists and mining men.

What is ore? This is a question to which there have been many attempted answers. There has been an evolution of ideas, with a corresponding gradation of definition. To set a uniform standard of thought upon this point, officers of the United States Geological Survey, a few years ago, proposed the following definition. It must be conceded that this definition, while embodying many splendid features, is not altogether exempt from criticism; but in the absence of anything better, we shall not be very far in error if we use it:

_Ore_ is a _natural_ aggregation of one or more _minerals_ from which useful _metal_ may be _profitably_ extracted.

There is, then, no such thing as "pay ore" or "non-pay ore," expressions still quite common among miners and prospectors of the uneducated types.

Prof. James F. Kemp, probably America's best-posted writer upon the subject, in an attempt to formulate one acceptable and unchangeable meaning for the word ore, says, "In its technical sense, an ore is a metalliferous mineral or an aggregate of such minerals, more or less mixed with gangue, and capable of being won and treated at a profit.

The test of _yielding the metal or metals at a profit_ seems to me, in the last analysis, the only feasible one to employ." This definition eliminates one of the weak points in the first definition, namely, that an ore must be an association of minerals: there are some common ores (as for example, magnetite) which are not associations, but single minerals.

We now reach certain fundamental concepts which must be accepted by the mining man who desires to be recognized as abreast of modern ideas.

Following the publication of Kemp's definition of ore, there was much comment--as was anticipated--with the result that there has been noted a vacancy in scientific matters and it has been thought proper to permit another definition for purely scientific uses. This other definition of ore will cover the materials or aggregates of minerals from which gem stones and other valuable, but not metallic, substances are recovered.

Let us recapitulate. An _ore_ must be an aggregate or association of natural minerals, or a single mineral, from which metal may be profitably recovered. _Mines_ are excavations in the earth from which ore, coal or gems are taken. _Mining_ is the art or practice of operating mines.

Throughout the subject, we see the inseparable idea of _profit_. The work of carrying on operations in a railroad tunnel is not mining; the driving of adits through barren rocks to reach ore bodies is not mining; the sinking of shafts through worthless "wash" or rocks with a view of opening avenues for the removal of ore is not mining. Mining is carried on only when ore is being produced. The wildcat practice of erecting small, temporary plants and digging prospect holes can be condemned as not being real mining.


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