While the modern mining industry sets its high-tech sights heavenward, toward new frontiers like extraterrestrial excavation, the spurning eyes of the bristling, bearded 19th century pick-and-shovel pioneer spirit will be firmly fixed on Rancho San Rafael Regional Park in Reno today and Saturday for the 27th annual International Intercollegiate Mining Competition.
That's where Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering junior Joe Goss, of Carson City, hopes to lead the Mackay Muckers to victory in the competition's seven main events.
The Muckers' captain says the team has been training hard for the past two months.
"We've been getting up at about 6:30 every morning to muck," says the Carson High School graduate and mining engineer major.
"Mucking" means shoveling, and more precisely, shoveling dirt, rock and ore as quickly as possible. In the hand-mucking competition, teams compete to fill an ore car using old-fashioned spade shovels.
Other events include laying a 15-foot length of railroad track (track standing), hammering a drill bit into solid rock (hand steeling), cutting ties from a piece of timber (Swede sawing), drilling into solid rock with an ungainly 110-pound drill called a "jackleg," gold-panning and surveying.
"Basically it's a lot of old-time mining events," says Goss, whose career in mining will more likely involve the use of modern automation equipment and computers than a pick ax and bucket. "It's a fun tribute to what the guys did 100 years ago, and mining still means a lot to Nevada."
The Silver State is the third largest gold-producing region in the world, according to the Muckers' faculty advisor, Dr. Dan Taylor.
"We still produce around $2 billion to $3 billion dollars worth of gold a year," he says.
With teams coming from Alaska, Colorado, Montana, Texas, Utah and even Australia and Peru, Taylor expects the competition to be fierce.
"It's pretty intense," he says, comparing the contest to lumberjack competitions held in the Pacific Northwest. "It's the kind of thing where everyone knows everybody. There's camaraderie but there's also a lot of competition."
And after all, the Muckers have home-mine advantage. They have to be a bit of a favorite.
"I've got a feeling we're probably going to win a couple events," says Dr. Taylor. "Maybe the surveying event."
"We should do O.K.," says a confident Goss. "I think we'll take mucking and I'd like to believe we'll take hand-steeling, too."
The free event is open to the public and begins at 8:30 a.m. and goes to around 4 p.m. today and Saturday.
n Contact reporter Peter Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1215.