Rock drilling champ takes second in a row – barely |

Rock drilling champ takes second in a row – barely

Karen Woodmansee
Appeal Staff Writer
BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Tom Donovan breaks the hammer head while competing Saturday in the World Championship Rock Drilling contest in the Carson Nugget parking lot.

If baseball is considered a game of inches, rock drilling is a game of minutia.

Driller Tom Donovan, last year’s Nevada Day rock drilling champ, came out on top again by only 2Ú32 of an inch, pounding a depth of 1313Ú32 inches.

The next deepest hole was drilled by Scott Havins, of Montana, who drilled 1311Ú32 inches into the rock at the Carson Nugget parking lot on Saturday.

What was the secret to Donovan’s success? “Clean living, fancy footwork and cheap whiskey,” he said with a laugh.

Donovan, of Reno, seemed to get stronger as the clock ticked on his 10 minutes of constant hammering with a four-pound hammer.

“It’s a case of the show being almost over,” he said. “It’s kind of like the last part of a marathon,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how you ran the race, they only measure the last 10 feet.”

Hundreds of spectators watched the lanky Donovan take the title and $2,000 top prize. He has been coming to the Nevada Day rock drilling competition since 1984. He said it was a natural pastime for a man whose family ran a sand, gravel and landscaping business in Spanish Springs.

“It’s sort of in the trade,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun, with nice people.”

Donovan is one of those who rides the rock-drilling circuit, going to competitions in Colorado, Arizona and elsewhere in the West.

“It’s one of those things you start in college and it stays with you,” he said.

Organizer Fred Andreason, who was a seven-time Nevada Day Rock Drilling champion, said a driller has to use his whole body, while not expending energy by jumping at the drill.

“When you take the winter off, and start up in the spring, your whole body hurts,” he said. “That’s how you know you are using your whole body.”

Andreason said some people notice different styles, but said each driller finds his own way of doing it.

“They talk about Colorado-style and Nevada-style drilling,” he said. “The reason is, I used to hit faster and they called it Nevada style, and when you hit slower, that’s Colorado style.”

Andreason, a Carson City retiree who spent 35 years living in Virginia City, has been organizing this competition since the early 1990s.

This year’s drillers had a few mishaps. Steve MacDonald of Golconda was five minutes into his hammering when he actually broke the rock, or at least a piece of it. He got to go again later, but had to use a dull drill, the same one he used in his first try.

Announcer Johnny Gunn had a little fun with that.

“This was two firsts for Steve,” he said. “The first time he broke a rock, and the first time he was serenaded by the pipe band.”

The Sierra Highlanders had just come by to play a tune for the drillers.

Another incident occurred when Reno resident Skip Leedy’s hammer broke, and the head came flying to where Gunn was standing. The handle had broken off inside the head, Leedy was hitting so hard. His effort paid off for a third-place finish with a depth of 136Ú32 inches.

Tobin Rupert, of Carson City, came in ninth with a depth of 98Ú32 inches. He said his best showing in the five years he has competed was sixth.

The new kids on the block were students at the Mackay School of Mines at the University of Nevada Reno, with Drew Wheeler, a freshman from Elko who is studying mining engineering, led off the competition and ended up with a 323Ú32 inch hole.

“We work out together,” he said. “We’re part of a team and we do this at school.”

That group went to the Intercollegiate Rock Drilling Championships at Bisbee, Ariz., this year, Gunn said, and came home with the trophy. Gunn said the university asked him to call the school the Mackay School of Earth Sciences, but said “the university can go to hell, it’s the Mackay School of Mines.”

• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at or 881-7351.


1. Tom Donovan, Reno: 1313Ú32 inches, $2,000

2. Scott Havins, Montana: 1311Ú32 inches, $1,500

3. Skip Leedy, Reno:

136Ú32 inches $1,000

4. Emmitt Hoyl, Nederland Colo.: 128Ú32 inches, $750

5. Steve MacDonald,

Golconda: 1111Ú32 inches, $500

6. Grady Colby, Ridgeway, Colo.: 1029Ú32 inches, $250

7. Craig Leedy, Reno:

929Ú32 inches

8. Noah Millett, Las Vegas: 921Ú32 inches

8. Eric Clifford, Nederaland, Colo.: 921Ú32 inches

9. Tobin Rupert, Carson City: 98Ú32 inches

9. Matt Decker, Safford, Ariz.: 98Ú32 inches

10. Craig Lemons, Reno:

828Ú32 inches

11. Brock Boscovich, Tonopah: 826Ú32 inches

12. J.J. Miles, Creede, Colo.: 817Ú32 inches

13. Bob Ragar, Reno:

815Ú32 inches

14. Jamie Eason, Tonopah:

69Ú32 inches

15. Rusty Turner, UNR:

525Ú32 inches

16. Jeff Schoffner, UNR:

523Ú32 inches

17. Garret Schult, UNR:

515Ú32 inches

18. Sam Saunders, UNR:

426Ú32 inches

19. Michael Bednorz, Bisbee, Ariz.: 323Ú32 inches

20. Drew Wheeler, UNR:

323Ú32 inches