National Geographic : 1969 Apr
"With a pick and shovel I can dig out enough gold-$5 a day, say-to pay for my grub. Got a helper comin' up soon, and I aim to get three or four sluices goin'. We might make us some real money yet." Once a month a pilot from Nome brought Chubby news and supplies. The nearest post office, Candle, was a three-day hike. But the isolation didn't seem to bother him. "Not on your life. It's a sight better 'n puttin' up with all those city slickers," he said. "Most of 'em these days couldn't even build a fire in a stove. That's why I finally moved out of Fairbanks when it got too crowded-and Nome. I figger when you can't hear a wolf howlin' at night any more, things is gettin' too crowded." Problems Come With Pay Dirt Today, one-man mines like Chubby's are rare. Alaska is rich in minerals, but exploiting them for the competitive world market de mands men, machines, money-and a willing ness to gamble. Take Kennecott Copper's venture at Born ite, a settlement of shiny aluminum-covered prefabs just north of the Arctic Circle. Kenne cott had already spent nine years and several million dollars when I visited the site, and development was still in the exploratory stage. The copper deposits were promising, but as often is the case in Alaska, with the prospect of pay dirt came problems. Bornite was already too crowded for some one like Chubby. Nearly a hundred men were at work. Shaft captain Austin A. Dundas and I pulled on oilskins, rubber boots, and hard hats and climbed into the cage that rattled us slowly downward through layers of shale and dolomite to the main crosscut, 975 feet under the mountain. "Back in Utah, ore with 1 percent copper content is considered pretty good. But look at this." From the wall he broke off a choice chunk of the heavy ore. Under our miners' lamps it sparkled an iridescent gold and purple. "The brass-colored mineral is chal copyrite [fool's gold]-35 percent copper. The purplish mineral is bornite, carrying 60 per cent copper. "It's got to be a rich lode-and a big one to make an operation worthwhile up here," he said. "Some of what we have found so far is rich enough, but we haven't found enough of it yet to make a mine." He had to shout over the din around us. Eskimo workmen were drilling blast holes and filling ore cars. Giant pumps whined, Too tough to bite off, muktuk yields to a pock et knife. The boy races to finish the chunk of whaleskin and fat in an Independence Day con test in Kotzebue. A slip of the blade has cost more than one Eskimo the tip of his nose.