Nevada Day: Rock drillers keep mining tradition alive |

Nevada Day: Rock drillers keep mining tradition alive

Teri Vance
Jim Grant/Nevada DayRich Thomas uses a hammer and bit to drill a hole more than eight inches deep into a slab of granite at the annual single-jack rock drilling Contest on Saturday. For more photos to go to

Tom Donovan, of Reno, is no stranger to winning the annual World Championship Single-Jack Rock Drilling competition during the Nevada Day celebration.

However, he didn’t like Saturday’s win.

“When I win, I like to win against somebody who’s done their best,” he said.

His closest competitor and last year’s winner, Emmitt Hoyle, was forced to quit half-way into his drill when piece of metal flew off the head of his hammer into his glove, nicking an artery.

Fellow driller and medical doctor, Brock Boscovich, stepped in and convinced Hoyle to stop.

“He was doing extremely well,” Donovan said. “If he would have kept going at the pace he was going, he would have won.”

The competition harkens back to before the Industrial Revolution when miners had to hand drill a hole into rock to insert dynamite.

The competition is simple. The person who drills the deepest hole in 10 minutes wins.

Stephanie Shelley, a mining student at the University of Nevada, Reno, is accustomed to the school competitions that last two minutes.

Drilling five times as long and in front of a crowd was an adjustment for the woman competing in the male-dominated sport.

“You get a little nervous at first,” she said. “But as soon as you start hitting, you just focus and you ignore everyone.”

Hometown driller Tobin Rupert came in 10th place, but said he was pleased with his performance.

“I thought I hit perfect every time,” he said. “I don’t care what I win, I just get up there and drill. That’s my gig.”

Matt Decker makes the trip up every year from Safford, Ariz., to compete.

“I come up for the trip. I come up for the competition,” he said. “But most of all, all of these guys are great friends. I come up to see them, making any money is a plus.”