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Tempting Fate (Colorado High Country #4) —
Chaska Belcourt’s story is out! Head back to Scarlet Springs for more Rocky Mountain Search & Rescue Team adventures and more humor and sexy romance. The book is available in ebook and paperback at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Smashwords.


Barely Breathing (A Colorado High Country Novel) — The first book in my new Colorado High Country series is now only 99 cents at all ebook retailers! This new contemporary series is set in the small mountain community of Scarlet Springs and focuses on the lives and loves of members of an alpine search and rescue team.


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I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.

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Seductive Musings

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tommy sticks and whisky — the history of Scarlet Springs



When is old junk not junk? It’s not junk when it tells a story.

I’m putting the pieces together for the next book in the Colorado High Country series and spent Friday up at the Nederland Mining Museum, gleaning what I could about the area’s hard-rock mining history. The museum has so many artifacts from that era — some of them huge pieces of equipment — that they flow out the door and around to the sides of the building.

Joe and Rain’s story — A Scarlet Springs Christmas — will give us flashbacks into the town’s past. You’ll read all the same last names in those flashbacks — Taylor, Jewell, Hawke, Ahearn, etc. — but the characters will be the great-great-grandparents of the people you know and love.

Joe Moffat, the man who owns Knockers and the mothballed silver mine above town, has a unique relationship to the history of the area that brings with it a sense of responsibility. You’ll see what I mean in his story.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share what I saw at the mining museum.


When most people think of the gold and silver rushes, they think of rustic men panning for gold. That happened in Colorado during the gold rush (1859), but that was never the backbone of mining in my state. Here on this old wagon are a variety of different tools used in placer mining (panning for gold), including a small sluice, several gold pans, hammers and shovels for digging and smashing ore and a basket for sifting through crushed ore.


After seeing this display on the evolution of lighting, I knew immediately that I would never have been able to be a gold miner. Back before Edison and electricity, miners went down into the dark wearing tommy sticks (candles) on their helmets or stuck them into cracks in the rocks or timbers using iron candle holders. Some — those who had a bit more money — made little oil lamps using bacon fat or lard. They burned much brighter than the candles — and advantage when you're in the dark — but were also smoky.

Miners had to work quickly because they had only three candles per shift. When that last candle went out... You can see why I wouldn’t be down there.

Later, they wore carbide lamps on their helmets. A small chamber holding water dripped down onto calcium carbide, creating acetelyne gas. The light from the burning gas was directed using a little mirror on the front of the helmet. But this is later than the period of my story.


Here are more light and helmet artifacts. You can see a candle standing in a wooden candle holder the iron-tipped end of which would have been hammered into the rock or a nearby timber.


Here are some rail cars for moving ore. One of them is hand-pumped. When I saw it, my mind flashed on an episode of Scooby-Doo with Shaggy and Scooby frantically pumping their way down the tracks inside some mine. I have such dignified thoughts.


When I got to the museum, I met a volunteer named Susan, who told me she didn’t know much. She then proceeded to answer all my questions and tell me things I hadn’t thought to ask, using her own very extensive notes. Susan knows a lot, whether she thinks so or not.

This photo above shows the tools a single miner might use in the course of a day — hand drills and hammers. Miners used the drills, which were really iron spikes, to drill holes for blasting. There was single-jacking, where one miner held both the hammer and a short drill. He would strike the drill, turning it 1/4 turn after each blow. But a single man couldn't dig a very deep hole. Double-jacking involved one man holding a larger drill and turning it, while the other hit it with a heavier hammer, or dago, as the hammers were called. You can just see one of those iron candle sticks next to a candle there on the display.

Susan told me that two men could drill a single 1.5-foot-deep hole in an hour. That’s an hour of very hard manual labor. Before dynamite could be placed, they had to drill dozens of holes in a specific pattern in the rock. Those holes would be filled with dynamite, which was connected via long fuses for detonation.

This does not sound like easy work to me.


They have a diorama of the Caribou Mine, the fictional version of which Joe’s family owned. Here you can see the shafts dropping from below the shaft house into the mine below.


How did miners get down there? I’m so very glad you asked. The either climbed down a very long ladder or rode in a kibble — a big iron bucket — together with their tools. The kibble was lowered and raised by a hoist engineer, one of the highest paid men at the mine. He had to be a non-drinker and very reputable because lives were in his hands. In emergencies, he had to move that hoist quickly to get men out of the mine.

Susan told me that the Cornish miners who came here from Devon after the copper mines ran out were a very superstitious lot. They refused to ride down in the kibble but had no problem taking it back up again at the end of their shifts. So they would go down the ladder and then ride up in the kibble. She said men who rode in the kibble would put their tools in the center and then straddle it — one leg in and one leg out. If they were short, this would have put their nuts at risk, but that’s just my observation.



Speaking of dynamite...

See that steel box in the center of the table below, the one with the holes in it? That's a dynamite thawer. Life at altitude is chilly, and dynamite becomes volatile at 40 F — well above freezing. This meant that they had to keep the dynamite warm. One way to do that was to place sticks of dynamite into the slots a dynamite thawer, pour water into the box around them, and then set the box on a warm stove or above a few burning candles. Miners from smaller operations didn’t have newfangled, luxury devices like dynamite thawers and so slept with sticks of dynamte in their armpits. Shut the front door, you say? No, seriously, they did.



Below, you can see some tools that were used by the blacksmith. It was his job to make all the tools used for mining and to maintain them as well. The average drill lasted about six hours in a mine before it had to be resharpened. He spent a lot of time on drills. He was one of the better paid employees. Without a good blacksmith, all work at a mine came to a stop.



If you’re ever in Nederland (Scarlet Springs) stop at the museum. There are fun things for kids to do, like gold panning and putting on period costumes. They have artifacts from mining camps and towns also, including this very fine cook stove and waffle iron. Lots of booze bottles, too. 



So that’s the end of our tour. I learned a lot and came away with new questions. I’m doing research for the historical scenes in the novel now and am really looking forward to hanging with everyone’s ancestors for a while. Eric Hawke’s great-great-granddaddy was a rabble rouser. That’s for sure.

If you haven’t tried my Colorado High Country series yet, now is a great time to dive in. The fourth book, Tempting Fate, was just released a couple of weeks ago, and the first book, Barely Breathing, is only 99 cents. The series is straight contemporary romance, not romantic suspense, something that seems to confuse some readers. In other words, there’s no suspense/thriller threat — except that I do sneak some elements of suspense into the stories. It’s not part of the main narrative, however, like it is with the I-Team series, which is romantic suspense.

You can read excerpts from all the books in the new series on my website.

If you had no idea I was writing this series, you might want to sign up for my newsletter so that you can get word of new releases without missing anything. I don’t send out newsletters unless I actually have news, so don’t worry about being spammed. Be sure to check your spam folder for a confirmation email.

Hope you’re having a great week!


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"I am an artist. I am here to live out loud."
—Emile Zola

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—Jane Austen

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—the character of Chaucer in
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