Gold Rush beckons

Competition resumes today with logging events at Dimond Park

Posted: Sunday, June 26, 2005

Having fun sometimes takes work.

At Dimond Park on Saturday, people who looked like they were on display working were having fun at Gold Rush Days.

"I'm just here to have fun," said Jim "Smitty" Smith of Ione, Wash., between mining-skills events. After "mucking" - filling an ore cart from a gravel muck pile and dumping it - he was preparing to drive spikes up and down into beams with an ax.

"It's a big thing in any mining town," Smith, who lived in Juneau for 14 years, said of such competitions.

Gold Rush Days celebrates the area's timber industry as well as its heritage as a gold-mining town. Today's competition will highlight logging skills, with events such as log rolling, ax throwing and speed climbing.

"We got off to a late start, but we're going to go like a scalded dog now," announcer Lonny Schroeder of Deming, Wash., said Saturday as jackleg drilling finished and two new events started.

Among the spectators in the bleachers, Robyn Brobst, a Capital City Fire and Rescue firefighter, had watched her firefighter husband, Todd Brobst, drill two holes into a concrete block. She has been coming to Gold Rush Days for eight years and began competing three years ago, she said.

"I signed up for the women's hand mucking," she said.

She also will team up with her husband for today's Jack and Jill hand bucking - cutting a log with a two-person saw.

Today, Brobst said, she'll also handle a chain saw. Her husband talked her into it. But she said she cuts firewood and worked with a chain saw in her firefighting class.

"It's all fun," she said, before correcting herself. "It's a blast."

"This is great," said Alea Oien, sitting nearby and commenting on the warm, sunny weather as well as the events. "One of the reasons they have this competition is to keep alive the tradition to mining and logging here."

Oien, who said he worked for 612 years in mining - "312 years underground" - has done some of that herself. At the end of last year's competition, she was named best female miner and the logging equivalent, "babe of the woods."

On the field, Todd Brobst was the first to compete in spike driving, pounding in five large nails, including two up into a beam at eye level. After running across the finish line with the ax, he got a hug from his son, Derek.

Brobst said he did well. "For me, I did."

He was smiling when he said he didn't expect to finish first.

Next up, Dennis Clark, of Silver Valley, Idaho, was the best male miner for the last two years. He said he worked for Greens Creek Mining five years ago and now takes off work to come up for Gold Rush Days.

"I know everyone at the competition," Clark said.

After Clark raced through the spike driving in 42 seconds, Smith turned in a 50-second round.

"I overshot too much," he said.

Smith said he couldn't remember how long he has been mining, but he started at 18 and now he's 57.

"Miners," he said, "they're the best people in the world."

Then he sat down on a log to talk to Clark, who had just beat him at spike driving.

Schroeder said he does a couple of logging shows in Washington, and Gold Rush Days is the only mining competition he calls.

Between blasts of noise from the drill Todd Brobst was using in an earlier competition, he told the crowd that three of the people in competition with him were helping with pointers. It's different at the huge competitions where a lot of money is at stake, he said later.

"This is a good group of people," Schroeder said.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at

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