Reno’s Tom Donovan said he was bringing the rock drilling trophy back to Nevada.
During Saturday’s 39th annual World Championship Single-Jack Rock Drilling competition, he made good on that promise.
“I didn’t exactly predict it,” he said. “But I was hoping so. Every once in a while, you get lucky. I’m pleasantly surprised.”
If it was luck, then Donovan, 49, has it in hoards. Saturday’s win marked his ninth world championship, edging out last year’s winner Emmit Hoyl, 28, of Colorado.
Hoyl, who was nursing tendonitis in his right bicep, had other distractions as well.
“I got married this year,” he said. “When you’re single, you go drill whenever you feel like it. But now, she wants to hang out together.”
His longtime friend and training partner Jesse Pattridge had some problems with his steel and fell to seventh from second last year.
“It was not a good day for the Colorado boys,” Hoyl said. “There is always next year.”
Reminiscent of the Comstock-era mining days when miners drilled holes into rock by hand to insert explosives, the contest tests strength and endurance as competitors use a four-pound hammer to pound steel bits into a slab of granite. After 10 minutes, the person with the deepest hole wins a $2,000 purse.
“The idea is to punch some holes in that rock,” explained announcer Johnny Gunn. “You might ask yourself, why would I want to do that? Because there’s gold in there. That’s how they did it before the Industrial Revolution.”
Hometown favorite Tobin Rupert, 47, of Carson City, who won a contest in Arizona in July, came in with a new strategy this year — to pace himself.
“That was my first drill that went consistent all the way through,” he said. “I’ve always had to take a break. This time, I didn’t panic. I just stuck with it.”
His brother Ted, his partner in their Rupert’s Auto Body business and in drilling, helped keep him calm.
“I told him to just relax,” Ted said. “I told him, ‘It’s just me and you out here, just like we’re out drilling behind the shop, like we do in practice.’”
Tobin improved his depth from 7 3/32 last year to 7 26/32.
“I couldn’t be more happy,” he said. “I drilled consistent, the depth is going to come. I’m ready to start winning this now.”
And when it comes to rock drilling, Donovan said, some things matter almost as much swinging the hammer.
“You couldn’t ask for a nicer day,” he said of temperatures in the low 70s. “There’s been plenty of times we’ve watched winter come in over those mountains. On a beautiful day like this, you can expect some deep holes.”