Gold Rush Days draws Juneau out

Posted: Sunday, June 29, 2003

"Go baby, go baby, go!" yelled an onlooker during the men's team drilling competition at the 14th Annual Gold Rush Days celebration Saturday at Dimond Park.

Despite the chill in the air and morning drizzle, the crowd was gung-ho in its support of the competitors.

Gold Rush Day attendees could fill up on corn, fry bread, Polish sausages or a turkey leg or two. They also could peruse the large tent for booths with information on minerals or for free spinal screenings. Playing checkers in the mud with slabs of painted black and red logs or panning for gold engaged the kids.

Miners, smelling like freshly cut wood and diesel fuel, wore tight faded jeans, rubber boots, plaid flannel jackets, CAT caps and Carhartts. Comfortable in their clothing and comfortable at the Gold Rush, many of the drilling competitors took this time to shine.

"It's fun, really a kick in the pants," said miner Jim Smith.

He has been mining for more than 30 years, and his experience showed when he competed in the drilling competitions. Smith took first place in the singles drilling and the team drilling with Kirk Ziegenfuss.

Susanne Hebert was the only woman to attempt the singles drilling competition. From Ketchikan, Hebert used to build fish passes for the U.S. Forest Service.

"I have never drilled that way," Hebert said before the competition, referring to the way competitors must drill into a stone block horizontally, rather than straight downward. "I've drilled down, but I guess we'll have to see."

The last driller to try it, Hebert found herself unprepared for the drill's weight. The competition block was scarred with only a practice drill outside the competitors' squares when she was done.

"It was a lot heavier than I thought it was going to be," said Hebert, who decided not to drill in the competition. "I have to work on my strength."

Drilling requires a lot of strength, stamina and experience. For the competition, drillers must pick up the air-powered jack leg drill, create a 4-foot hole, pull the 5-foot long drill out and drill a second 4-foot hole. Both holes must be within a 6-inch square, meaning the competitor must drill straight and close together while avoiding drilling into another hole.

"I know that those guys take a hammering when they're on the drill," said Calvin Crumrine, the Gold Rush Days Commission board chairman.

An air-powered hammer within the drill throws a great deal of force back at the driller.

"Some of those guys are buff," said Hebert. "But it's great to get out there and show the guys that you can do it too."

"You're just hoping that bit doesn't slide all over the rock," said Ziegenfuss. He is miner of 27 years whom Gold Rush familiars refer to as "Ziggie."

The drill is called a jack leg because it is supported by a leg that comes down at an angle from the body and the drill bit. This is so the leg can push out and still support the 100 pounds or more of the drill itself.

Arlene Crumrine, Gold Rush Commission board secretary, said the organization can always use more board members and more help.

The board also urges those who have been to Gold Rush Days to give feedback and advice on how to improve it. Mail comments to P.O. Box 34338, Juneau AK 99803.

"It's always been a family affair for us," said Crumrine.

Spectators agreed. Juneau resident Joanne Chapman said this is her fifth or sixth year coming to Gold Rush Days. Chapman said her husband, brother and father worked in the logging industry. Smith, who works at Greens Creek Mine on Admiralty Island, also said mining ran in his family.

"I made a lot of friends with loggers," said Smith when asked why he makes it down to Gold Rush Days every year. "I like comin' down south (in Alaska), bein' with all the guys."

Today's events are dedicated to logging competitions, which start at 9 a.m. The awards ceremony is at 5 p.m. Exhibit booths are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. A children's carnival will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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