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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/768

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

the terse remark that "the Washoe bar at that time was hardly a nursery for tender consciences."

The first problem that troubled the miners in the midst of their lawsuits was how to handle the immense bodies of ore. To develop the various claims by means of the usual shafts, tunnels, drifts, cross-cuts, and other underground workings was unusually difficult. The vein matter of the great fissure varies from 100 feet to 1,500 feet in width. The whole body was once a seething mass of fire and steam. It still remains in many places so hot that the appliances of modern science hardly enable the miners to accomplish any work. The ledge first sloped west, became vertical at about 200 feet down, and then bent toward the east, thus necessitating a second and finally a third line of shafts. Machinery for pumping, for hoisting, for ventilating and lighting the depths of the mines, had to be constructed upon a larger scale than ever before attempted. As the ore bodies were opened they were found to be so wide that the timbering system failed entirely. A new method, known as the "Deidesheimer square sets," was invented, which is still in use in all large mines. It consists of short timbers mortised together in frames that can be built up to any height or width, like the adding of cells to a honeycomb. A few years later the mines siphoned water from the Sierras under a pressure of 1,720 feet. Incidentally the miners invented the V flume to carry lumber down the Sierra slopes. The annual supply of timber for the mines amounted by 1806 to 25,000,000 feet of lumber and 170,000 cords of fuel. The consumption of both increased steadily until in bonanza days 80,000,000 feet of lumber annually disappeared into the drifts and chambers and 250,000 cords of wood went up in smoke and flame.

Metallurgists, too, found endless study in the methods of reducing Comstock ore. Beginning with slow Mexican arastras and patio yards, adopting in 1860 California stamp mills, and modifying the amalgamating apparatus to save the silver, the modern "Washoe process" was finally adopted, though only after years of costly experiments. For a time every one went rainbow-chasing for something to perform impossible chemical feats. One pioneer mill man used to put strong decoctions of cedar and juniper bark into his amalgamation pans; others actually used sagebrush tea, it being argued that Nature had created the otherwise worthless shrub for the express purpose of getting the metal out of Nevada's mountains! Persons with secret processes overran the mining districts, each one with the whole trick contained in a little bottle in his vest pocket, ready for a consideration to pour a few drops into the amalgamating pan. San Francisco was ransacked for drugs to put into the batteries with the pulverized ore. Alum, saltpeter, borax, potash, all the acids obtainable, tobacco