LETTER: History Lesson on Gravel Quarries

Note: This letter was sent to the Chaffee County Planning Commission regarding the Holman/ACA Gravel Pit.

My Grandfather Prentice Cain started at Climax Molybdenum Company in the fall of 1942 not because it was a great place to work, but because there was a war on and there was more need for the production of moly than there was salt. He came to move up from the salt mines in Kansas and felt more inclined to risk life and limb doing what he knew how to do than traipsing off to war. He moved out of the Climax barracks when my grandmother and his two daughters arrived in late fall and moved into an old miner’s cabin about a mile and a half below the town of Climax. They did have running water there… running in the stream 50 yards away.

There were a lot of qualified miners back then, so he went to work in the crusher on Phillipson Level. The only time that a workman could see from one side of the crusher to the other was when the wind outside blew hard enough to clear it out the inside. Conditions didn’t improve much when he was made foreman of the Stork Level crusher. He did get a mask the last few years of his employment to protect his lungs, but by then he was pretty “rocked up” and his career was curtailed about 25 years after it began. Smoking didn’t help, nor did the experience of living in Kansas during the Dust Bowl. The dust was so bad that my mom was misdiagnosed with rheumatic fever and spent a year in bed to recover, that is when she wasn’t sleeping under the kitchen table with a coverlet soaked in water to absorb the dust. That story was verified for me by Norma Friend who also migrated this way after the dustbowl and still resides on little Cochetopa Creek near where the new gravel quarry is proposed.

If Norma read the recent letter in the Salida Daily Post about the health hazards of dust and diesel by Thomas E. Syzek MD FACEP she probably did not snort as loudly as I did, but only because she is far more mannerly. Not more delicate, you can be assured.

Thomas spends a lot of column space describing the perils of dust and the health hazards that might result from a monitored gravel pit surrounded by farm ground. He discusses with the vigor of someone describing the aftermath of a collision of our planet with an asteroid the size of our moon. That asteroid by the way is swimming in a sea of diesel! And that aint the half of it, we find out a couple of days later when Christopher F. Leydon details, ad nauseam, all of the plights he and his neighbors will face when confronted with said gravel pit. His “open letter” to land owner Frank Holman spends less time describing the perils of silicon dust than Thomas does, but he makes up for it by describing the careers of his neighbors who will be affected. He doesn’t show the same concern for the maids and pool boys who work for those neighbors and himself, and there is no mention of the less career oriented people who also might live nearby. Apparently, he feels those of us who come from rougher stock or less significant means don’t get sick from low doses of dust and therefore need not be mentioned.

In conclusion, I hope that the planning commission will take care to work with Frank Holman to secure a safe way to extract a resource that his neighbors cherish for their own homes. Even the roughest of us want clean water closer to home than my mom found on her arrival in this valley and we want cleaner air than she left in Kansas. The gravel quarry will have both friends and foes looking out for their own self interests. None are likely to be more shallow than those presented by Christopher and Thomas. With a clear vision you can find the right balance between interests to provide a good outcome for all.

Kirby Perschbacher

Kirby Perschbacher

Kirby Perschbacher is a timberman, from a long line of timbermen.