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First Mercury Mine picture and Newspaper Articles

This is where the sagebrush adventures really started...

We lived at this mercury mine, the Almaden Mine (about 19 miles east of Weiser, Idaho), when I was 4 to 6 with my brother, Jim (Jimmie Dale back in those days); sister, Ann (Lillie Ann back then) and our folks, Jay and Evelyn.

Dad, with lots of experience as a driller in various mines such as The Stibnite Mines, was the foreman.

I roamed the sagebrush hills of Nutmeg Mountain with my half coyote dog, Rex.

One day the ground shook and a loud "Whump!' sound echoed across the sagebrush hills.... A CAVE-IN!
I will fill you in on all the scary details later.

Dad in tunnel running pedestal drill
Dad running a pedestal drill.
My half coyote dog Rex
My bosom buddy, Rex.

Here are a few more pictures from the early days.

NutmegMtn from below mine
Mercury Mine and Buildings
Hard liquor and a bad temper!

My Dad had a bit of a temper and when he had taken a few swigs from a whiskey bottle he could be quite mean... throw dishes agsainst the wall for example.

We had an outdoor, two-holer outhouse (Dad always made his outhouses 'two-holers' which impressed me that he was, at heart, a considerate person. If you aren't familiar with one-holer vs two-holer outhouses I will spare you the details. Anyway, Dad would 'hide' his whiskey bottles in the outhouse. On day Mom confronted him and told him that if he was going to have a drink now and then that he might as well keep his bottle in the house (was he the man of the house or not). Apparently this shamed Dad enough that he just quit drinking.

I don't recall hard liquor being around at all when I was growing up.It wasn't until some 30 years later when Dad was having severe health issues with heart disease and the silicosis he developed as a miner that I saw a bottle of whiskey in the house. I and my family were living in Seattle at this time, so I flew to Boise and then drove to Payette to see what I could do to help. Dad was very short of breath, a bit panicky, and using the whiskey to help him relax. We got him to a specialist in Boise who got him staightened out and he lived on for another several years.

One of my most poignant memories of the relationship between me and Dad (in my mind I was always Jay Duncan's boy) happened that evening. When I walked in with Dad in tough shape he said to Mom, "I knew Don would come." There were anly a handful of times when my Dad, through words, expressed how much he respected and loved me.


When we moved from Payette to the Mercury Mine we took our little terrier, Cricket, with us and this may have saved one of us kids from being bitten by a rattlesnake. In all the miles we kids covered in that sagebrush country I don't recall ever seeing a rattlesnake. The miners in the row of bunkhouses would report killing a rattlesnake from time to time but although we may have jumped over a few of them in our ramblings without being aware of it we just didn't have any confrontations. Mom and Dad didn't seem to have any serious worries about our encountering a rattlesnake as we marked out roads through the cheat grass by using a shovel to scoop the top inch or so of soil from the route though the sagebrush (I recall Dad being upset when he needed the shovel and we had left it lying at our most recent road construction site), explored caves and named some of the huge rocks in the area after the states they resembled - Oregon and Kentucky. But to get back to Cricket... apparently he had a confrontation with a rattlesnake right in our backyard and was bitten. I recall that his neck swelled up and he spent several days curled up under Mom and Dad's bed until he recovered. However that snake bite (and old age) took it's toll and he died a short while later.

My half-coyote dog, Rex

Later that first summer something remarkable happened! Every week the 'Oiler Truck' ground it's way up the steep grades to the mine with gasoline, diesel and barrels of varous sizes and grades of grease for servicing the equipment. One day as the truck slowly ground it way into camp I was startled to see a dirty, greasy dog jump down off the truck right in front of me. He looked to be maybe a year old and had an uncanny resemblance to a coyote. The oldtimers later decided that he was a mix of coyote and perhaps german shepherd. Any way, I immediately took this strange, dirty dog home with me and cleaned him up. I named him Rex and he became my bosom buddy for all the days of my youth up till the time I left for college.

Rex was kind of a paradox. Around little kids he allowed them to climb all over him and pull on his ears or tail with not the slightest hint that he was getting fed up with their antics. He never growled or snapped at a child but, if it got to be too much he simply got up and left. On the other hand Rex understood, "Siccum!" When some other kid or a dog was trying to give me a bad time Rex would look up at me expectantly as if to say, "Want me to run them off, boss?" If I gave him the 'siccum' command he exploded with ferocity at the offender. He never actually bit any kids but he got plenty of hide from dogs and never lost a fight. They usually ran for home yipping bloody murder.

Oh yeah, the mine cave-in!

Dad was a very experienced miner with a lot of knowledge and common sense when it came to how to go about laying out shafts and tunnels and could gauge which tunnels needed to be shored up with timbers and which were ok without additional timbers. For these reasons and because he was a very productive worker he was named as the mine foreman. The superindtendent was a blustery little Englishman named Reginald Lee - a man who was very impressed with his own importance and with a real 'know-it-all' attitude. At one point they were trying to get additional ore from the original, main tunnel. Dad warned that doing this was dangerously weakening the rock supporting these tunnels and that they were asking for a cave-in. Lee scoffed at my Dad's warnings, "These tunnels will never come down!" About a week later Dad's sixth-sense told him that the tunnels might let go so he told everyone to take an early lunch. The men were all out of the mine having the noon meal at the cookhouse when the ground shook and there was a loud "WHUMPPP" sound as the weakened tunnels collapsed. The men all burst out of the cookhouse to see what had happened and as the dust cleared they could see that the tunnels Dad had warned Lee about - the place they had just been working - had, indeed, collapsed. Dad's credibility with the other miners went way up and Lee's shrank. But Lee was still as obnoxious as ever. This was at the beginning of WWII and it was only a short time later that the mine shut down and we moved back to Payette.

Fifty years later...

Some fifty years later while at a class reunion in Payette Justine and I drove up to the old mine. In the intervening years other outfits had come in and done some open pit mining and left things in such a mess that it was difficult to tell just where the old schoolhouse and cookhouse had been. But at the edge of the original camp where our house had stood we could still see the remains of the root cellar (for keeping produce, eggs etc. cool in the summer and preventing canned goods in jars from freezing and breaking in the winter), blasted into a rock bank with some of the original rock walls still in place so we knew the house had been just up the hill from there. Some landscaping business had scraped together a lot of the rocks that had been a key play area with the 'Oregon' and 'Kentucky' rocks and shipped a lot of them out on pallets. The 'Oregon' and 'Kentucky' rocks were way too big to haul off for landscaping and I was very disappointed that they were lost to future generations in the big pile of bull-dozed rubble.

The one-room schoolhouse

On the second year at the mine I was 6, going on 7, and it was time for me to start first grade. The teacher was a nice lady, Mrs. Robinson, the wife of one of the miners. After all the freedom I had enjoyed the year before roaming the sagebrush hills with my dog, Rex, I wasn't exactly looking forward to being confined in a one-room schoolhouse for 6 hours a day. On the appointed morning, I trudged slowly across the dusty, empty ground that lay between our house and the school. About half way there I had an idea so I turned around and started back to the house. My Mom met me at the front door as I, trying to be nonchalant, blithely blurted out, "I think I will wait till next year to start school!" Of course Mom was having none of that as she turned me around and propelled me toward my first encounter with the ABC's. Turned out I was pretty good at this "See Spot run" stuff and I ended up liking school.

Getting buzzed...

It was December 1941 and World War II was getting underway with some of the young miners volunteering for the military. One of these was a brash young man who went by the monicker - 'Peewee' - because he was really short but with a stocky build. Peewee volunteered for the Army Air Corps and was learning to fly at Mountain Home Airbase not too far from where he had previously labored in the tunnels. After soloing he apparently thought it would be a good idea to buzz the mine to show off to his old buddies. So one afternoon we were jolted out of our seats by the roar of an airplane as it flew less than 100 feet high over the schoolhouse and cookshack. We all ran outside as Peewee made another rooftop run which he ended by pulling back on the stick of his P-40 and climbing high into the sky before heading back toward Mountain Home. The next week the word went around that Peewee had been rewarded for his low flying prowess by spending some time in the brig.

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