Drilling contestants utilize old-fashioned elbow grease | NevadaAppeal.com

Drilling contestants utilize old-fashioned elbow grease

Becky Bosshart
BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Tobin Rupert of Carson City competes in the single-jack competition across from the Nugget while his brother Ted, center, cheers during Nevada Day festivities Saturday.

Tobin Rupert arched a 4 1/2-pound hammer over his head and pounded on the steel drill bit. After each hit, he rotated the bit inside the hole.

Rupert, 38, was drilling a hole in a granite block the hard way – the old-fashioned mining method.

Muddy water sloshed onto him with each hit, which made a clinking sound, unless he hit his thumb. And when he did that – perhaps only twice in his 10-minute effort – Rupert grimaced, and audience members “oohed.” Water is used to clear out the granite pieces from the hole.

Rupert was a competitor in the Nevada Day 30th annual World Championship Single-Jack Hard Rock Drilling Contest.

The only local guy in this year’s drilling, Rupert wasn’t favored to win. This is only his second year drilling, but he was a favorite with the energetic audience.

Most spectators clutched a can of beer or a bloody Mary. They gathered to watch the competition, across from the Nugget Casino on North Carson Street. The bleachers were full so many people stood around the roped-off platform as the contestants hammered away.

“There is no tomorrow!” a man screamed as Rupert drilled.

Last year, he drilled a hole that was a little more than 6 inches deep. The experts get them as deep as 12 or 13 inches with 80 to 90 strokes a minute. Rupert does about 70 strokes a minute.

“Yell for him, make him feel good!” the announcer said. The crowd responded with a roar.

One minute left. A group of rowdy guys in the corner started chanting “Tobi!” each time Rupert hit the bit. He slowed down. In the last 15 seconds, Rupert powered it in. A gun went off.

With sweat dripping down his face and flecks of mud covering his maroon T-shirt, he walked away from the large block of granite and smiled at the crowd.

“I almost didn’t make it, man!” Rupert yelled to supporters.

More water was splashed over the hole, and the measuring began. One jovial supporter yelled at the man with the ruler to “measure it right!”

Dennis Judge of Carson City has watched the drilling contest for 12 years.

“I’m here every year,” he said. “This is where I come. This is my Nevada Day.”

The judge guessed Rupert’s hole was about 8 1/2 inches deep. A woman sitting in front of him, Michelle Volk, also of Carson City, asked if that was enough to get Rupert a trophy. The judge shook his head sadly.

The verdict was in: Rupert’s hole was just short of 9 inches. That put him in first, but seven more guys still had to drill. And those seven are the best rock drillers there are.

At the end of the day, Carson City’s own aspiring rock driller came in seventh place, just as Rupert expected he would.

The $2,000 first-place winner was Reno city worker Skip Leedy, sponsored by Geocon, with a drill of 13 7/8 inches.

After his drilling, Rupert received praise from the fans while he drank a red sports drink. After two hours of practice a day for a year, he basked in the afterglow. Rupert, owner of Rupert’s Auto Body, broke his hand three times while drilling. His coach is the famed driller and seven-time world champion Fred Andreasen.

“The sport picked me,” Rupert said in between high-fives from kids. “I didn’t pick the sport. It kept coming to me in my dreams. So I picked up a hammer and a chisel, and I started.”

His hands may be rough, but his spirits are high.

Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at bbosshart@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.