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Oct
7

A Mining Life

If I’m remembering my family history correctly my great-great-great Grandfather was a prospector. For awhile anyway. He went out to California back in 1851 to try his luck as a panhandler. Pan in hand he joined the ranks of the “forty-niners” and spent a whole year sifting through riverbeds for gold but it seems that he was a complete bust at it. This ended up being not such a bad thing because he then opened a brothel that ended up delivering more gold than he could have ever found panning in a stream. He died a wealthy man but apparently the prospector bug ran in the family because his son took his fortune and sunk it all into a silver mine down the road a bit in Panamint in 1875. Apparently success in the precious metals industry was not in the cards for him either as the following year the entire town was destroyed in a flash flood. Luckily he was out visiting relatives in Colorado at the time and was fully insured so the whole thing ended up being a push. Now his son, sick of California, pulled up roots and headed to Texas in 1909 to try his hand in the oil business. Speculators were pouring into the state to get in on the petroleum boom but after drilling half a dozen dry holes with no success he ended up giving up his dream of being an oil baron and opened a bar near Spindletop and did quite well for himself.

Here’s an interesting fact completely unrelated to my family tree. The bulls that they use in bullfighting aren’t just any run of the mill bulls but they are actually bred on special farms (ganaderias). I did not know that.

Anyway, my Grandfather couldn’t wait to get out of Texas and so as soon as he was of legal age he struck out on his own and headed out to Tennessee to open a pearl farm. He picked what he thought would be a nice  spot on the Tennessee River and rustled up as many Washboard mussels as he could afford. While other nearby farms prospered his mussels were never up to the task and he was forced to sell the land a few years later… at a tremendous profit.

Apparently they select the bulls that they use for bullfighting based on their ferocity, fighting skills and intelligence. Young bulls are tested to see if they will provide ‘sport’ for the spectators. Only those that show the right stuff are used for the corrida de toros. Sort of like how we select Marines. Only the best and brightest.

My Dad, who hated the smell of mussels and mud, once again fell prey to the lure of mining and headed back west to Jeffrey City, Wyoming to search for uranium. His battles with the indigenous peoples who were always at odds with uranium mining got pretty heated but just as he was about to get permission to start mining operations the price of uranium tanked and in 1984 he was forced to abandon the idea and instead bought a winning lottery ticket. Even though I was still a kid at the time I still remember the sound he made upon reading the numbers in the newspaper.

It’s funny, the bulls are competing to be selected to go into an arena and be slaughtered. After the ‘fight’ they are hauled out of the arena and sold by the pound in the plaza de toros.

While my ancestry isn’t exactly a cautionary tale, you might suspect that I would avoid any type of speculation in my career path but what can I say… it’s in the genes. So after graduating with a Bachelor of Engineering degree and a  Master in Mineral Exploration I sunk my inheritance into a dilapidated coal mine in West Virginia. My research had shown little in the way of evidence that I could return it to prosperity but my gut was telling me otherwise. And sure enough there was no coal there.

None whatsoever.

But what there was was jerky and plenty of it. I had hit the biggest vein of jerky in United States history. Now it is a common misconception that jerky comes from meat but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Jerky comes from deep underground, the product of the same forces that give us so many of our precious metals. “Jerkification”, the combination of compaction, heat and time, transforms decaying plant parts and animal corpses into the delicious taste treat we consume today. Once word spread about my ‘strike’ the phones haven’t stopped ringing. The boys from Slim Jim, Oberto and Jack Links all want a piece of me now.

Meanwhile back on the farm, the bulls that didn’t show much promise spend their days grazing and breeding while the strongest head off to ‘the show’. Obviously both groups are unaware of this irony but I’m sure it has crossed the mind of a few Marines as they hurl themselves into whatever fray their superiors have picked out for them. I know it has crossed mine a few times.

As I sit on the floor and read to my son I have to wonder if he’ll end up taking any of the stories I am telling him about rocket ships and heroes and rare gems and bad guys and asteroid mining to heart.

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