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Bloody day of competition for rock drillers

Karl Horeis

When defending champion Skip Leedy finished his first-place hole in the 29th annual Nevada Day Single-Jack Rock Drilling competition a fan wanted to shake his hand.

“I want to feel the grip of a world-champion hammer swinger,” he said while Leedy stretched a meaty hand down. “Can you squeeze a little tighter?”

“Not right now,” said Leedy with a laugh. After swinging a 4-pound Craftsman sledge 80 times a minute for 10 minutes he was spent.

He drilled 14 and 19Ú32 inches into a 3-foot cube of Sierra granite to take home the $2,000 first-place prize.

Single-jack rock drilling was used by miners to drill holes in rock where explosive charges would be inserted. The once-popular sport has faded since miners started using diamond-tipped rotary percussion hammers to drill the holes.

Leedy said he lifts weights to train, but doesn’t use his hammer and chisels much because they’re so expensive.

“It’s all about muscle memory now,” he said. “I’ve been doing this since 1982.”

His brother Craig Leedy pounded a hole 10 and 31Ú32 inches deep to place sixth.

Taking second place Saturday with a hole 14 and 4Ú32 inches deep was Scott Havens of Golconda, Nev. He drilled shirtless with a tape recording of himself saying things like: “You’re the best,” and “You da man.”

When he was done a friend asked him if he was burnt.

“I couldn’t hold my hammer for the last minute,” he said, exasperated.

Havens, who won $1,500, used a “Dago” hammer designed by Italian hard rock miners.

In third place was Tom Donovan from Reno. He said single-jack drilling is like a marathon – after the first few minutes you know if it’s going to go well or not.

“(Rock drilling) is one of those weird hobbies you pick up in college,” said the University of Nevada, Mackay School of Mines graduate. “This is like the mining version of rodeo.”

The event got off to an exciting start when Justin Zane of Tonopah hit his hand with the sledge, spilling blood onto the granite. He got four stitches at Carson-Tahoe Hospital.

“Don’t let them send you back without Percoset,” hollered driller Brock Boscovich as Zane left cradling a bleeding left hand. Zane competed in the college competitions using a softer concrete block, he said.

“This granite is much harder.”

“Oh yeah, it’s Sierra white granite,” agreed fourth-place finisher Steve McDonald. “It doesn’t get any harder than that.”

Announcer Johnny Gunn, with a microphone in one hand and a can of beer in the other, guided spectators through the five-hour event.

He said the huge block of stone, which costs several thousand dollars, was donated by Carl and Jill Savely of Reno.

As the competition wrapped up Saturday afternoon, the crowd and the drillers merged with thousands already clustered on Curry Street in front of the Old Globe Saloon – one the of the competition’s biggest sponsors.

Competition chairman and seven-time world champion rock driller Fred Andreasen, said single-jack drilling is not in danger of dying out. “It’s been a sport for 100 years – it’s not going to die now.”

He said Carson City first-timer Tobin Rupert is a driller to watch.

“He drilled about 6 and 1Ú2 inches – pretty good for a newcomer,” said Andreasen, who was the Nevada state champion for 15 consecutive years.