A front end Loader

I was afforded the opportunity to mine the Apache Agate through Benny Fenn who owned the claim and worked the deposit in the early 1970s. I had visited the site several times and found several engineering problems with the deposit. One was the lack of a water drainage system and the other was the lack of space for overburden. Both of these problems made the use of a dozer to work the area impractical. So I was thinking of moving my front end loader from Oregon to Mexico to do the work. Much to my surprise, a front end loader located in Lordsburg, New Mexico was offered to me for sale, so I bought it and moved it to Mexico (a story in itself, not to be told here).

This was my first attempt at mining in Mexico, and let me say that in the beginning, it was a complete failure. The front-end loader had problems right from the start. The truck hauling the machine was able to get within about 4 miles of the deposit. This was after 30 miles of dirt road. From here it was necessary to "walk" the machine cross-country through an arroyo to the agate site--not a long distance for many claims. The rancher allowed me to go through his fence and even cut a path through some Mesquite to get me started. While driving the loader through the ravine, it got hung up on a sand hill and the motor stalled. It would not restart. So there I was, broken down in an arroyo, 1 mile from the nearest dirt road, 30 miles from the nearest paved road, in a foreign country where I only knew a few words of Spanish. Not a pleasant situation. In a day or two, through the help of Benny, we were able to get a mechanic out to the machine. In the U.S. to get a mechanic to come to you is not easy, and to have a mechanic drive 30 miles on a dirt road and then cross-country on no road, is next to impossible, but not in Mexico. Mechanics in Mexico have the reputation of being able to fix anything and soon bolts were flying off the machine like rain. Still, what was wrong could not be determined and the young mechanic said he was going back to town to get his father. The next day the old man got out of the pick up truck, sat in the sand and asked several questions as the son lay under the machine with his hands up the the guts of the engine. He figured it out in 5 minutes and never touched a wrench. A sleeve bearing on the side of the crankshaft had slipped and jammed not allowing the engine to turn. Another day and it was fixed--2 mechanics, 3 days, driving 40 miles (about 2.5 hours) each way and the bill was??? He wanted $150 for the whole job! I gave him $400 and we were both happy.

180º view of mining area
from a viewpoint close to claim markers
Looking almost north, the earliest dozer excavations can be seen. The cut through the overburden was done by The Gem Shop to provide access to the site. Note the semi-circular shape of the overburden, not allowing any water to drain from the area.The good agate I found in 1995 was on the other side of the old overburden that is in line with the tree. Another passage was cut through it to gain access to the other side. The lower flat area, now filled with mud, was worked in the 1970s back to the tree, where a hard rock ridge was encountered (just to the right of the tree).The deposit was then worked on the other side of the ridge with a dozer, which pushed up a semi-circular mound of overburden. The trail across the overburden was made by cattle. The flat area is filled in with mud about 10 feet deep.The far right of the photo is looking almost south and shows the end of the arroyo, which drains the mountains to the west. The workings in the foreground (lower right corner) are a result of The Gem Shop mining operation.


When the Apache was mined in the 1970s, a small dozer was used. Overburden was pushed out and away from the pit in a circle. This created a large dam and subsequently water coming down the small arroyo filled the hole with water. The deposit is full of clay which simply holds the water and it will not drain away. Eventually the main digging area was covered with about 10 feet of mud. I had consulted with two geologists and several people who had worked the deposit before about where to work. They all suggested working in the back into the hill. This is exactly what I did for 3 weeks and found only small signs of agate. During this time I also managed to break a fan belt, have one of the tracks come off, and get stuck in the mud. I decided to do a little experimental digging in different areas with the little time I had left. I moved to the front the deposit about 50-75 yards in the other end of the main pit. In one and a half days, I hit a group of agates all lying very close together. One bright red band on the outside and filled with calcite--not one keeper in the 700 lb. batch. I moved over a little further and soon hit another pod. This one had good quality rock, but not like the agate from the original pit. At least I was able to come back with something.