“One of the most dangerous pieces of construction” Weed ever saw, the chute was so dilapidated, one hand could push over the most ramshackle sections. Bracing the foundation would cost at least $200. At present, Weed “would not dare go out on it.”
Weather added a worry. “Some days the wind blows a hurricane up the canion [sic]. The winder frames have shrunk so much the winders will not stay in without pieceing [sic].”
In the same letter, Weed asked for candles, extra grub — he’d run out — and “a man to help me get out some ore.”
Days later, Weed again wrote Morse for help. But of the hundreds of miners in the Julian/Banner area, Weed could only recommend a couple, and they would demand more than standard pay. The best, a Swede who superintended the Helvetia Mine, left for Northern California. Another, Thomas Taylor, had just hired on at the Redman. Wrote Weed: “I do not know any one else in Julian that I could get who are experienced hands.”
Sometimes on Sundays, Weed waved good-bye to his chickens and hiked over the mountain to Julian City — five hours each way, by his reckoning. He could, he says, find a worker in town, but “it would be some one who owed a bill to some one” and “they would try to palm it off on me.”
By the end of his first month in the job, still alone and strained from what he felt was a completed task, Weed wrote: “I think the claim is in as good condition to sell now as it can be.”
By mid-December, Weed still labored alone. “I had an understanding with you for forty dollars per month to take charge of the property,” he told Morse. ”But I did not agree to do anything more.” Pierce had doubled his duties. “Now for the amount of work I have been doing…I ought to have $2 per day. Should this not meet with the views of your people, you will please let me know immediately so I can commence work elsewhere.”
Morse raised Weed’s wages. He also hired a “good miner” named Toohey for $2 a day. Toohey thought the claim showed promise but found a problem: whoever had dug the north tunnel hadn’t a clue about mining. They’d veered it away from the richest vein. “A great deal of the rock that has been crushed never came from the proper ledge.” Weed and Toohey checked samples in the tottering wooden chute and found no resemblance to the rich ore. For the Oriflamme’s first five years, they’d been mining dirt.
Toohey’s find, and his help, energized Weed. They braced the two chutes near the bottoms, and plugged the cracks with thin sheets of tin. Some they caulked with rope.
By New Year’s Day, 1876, they had cleaned out the tunnel, stripped the ledge near an air shaft, and “worked faithfully and steadily.” The ledge turned out to be two: an east and a west, joined at separate points. The richest was the east, but its best rock was the most decomposed.
Since they’d only just begun exploring the real mine, Weed perked up: “I should not be in a hurry about pressing a sale for this claim if I was in your place until I found out something more about it. I think by holding on you may make it in the end.”
Working in weather so cold it froze the water bucket, by mid-February Weed and Toohey had dug a 47-foot tunnel back along the ledge. They had 45 tons of quartz on the “dump” next to the stamp mill, ready for crushing, and another 20 near the top of the chute. What they’d hand-mortared thus far averaged $10 per ton. “We are getting along fine,” wrote Weed. “We work in the tunnel when it storms, and in the shaft” in good weather.
“You seem…as though you had some doubts,” Weed wrote on February 6. “But when you come up again, that doubt will soon explode. We are at work for a profit to you now and not to prospect.”
“We are now ready for visitors!” Weed boasted a month later, after they’d sunk a second shaft to the ledge. The Oriflamme had quality rock on the dump and “all good ore” exposed in the mine.
On March 29, Weed and Toohey quit work under clear skies. After supper, the wind began to blow. Gusts rattled the windows. Around eight, as snow began to fall, the gale became “so terrific that we were frightened the house would go.”
In the morning, under a big blue sky, Weed looked up: the storm had blown the lower chute 150 feet down the hill. Most timbers still stood erect, but the planking was mangled except where Weed had braced it. “If I could have had any more lumber at that time I could have secured the whole chute.”
More grief. Weed and Toohey had been digging a new tunnel. Seventy-five feet in, they still couldn’t find the ledge. They took new markings and sunk a shaft straight down, about 12 feet ahead of the tunnel. No go. The ledge “frinched out.”
Weed and Toohey “salted” the tunnel. They filled it in back to where the ledge lay exposed “so it will appear to be the end of the tunnel with a big pile of nice rock within.” They also left “good quality” rock in the air shaft for “the parties who might come to look at the mine.”
Toohey talked of leaving. The Golden Chariot Mine, second richest in the area, was coming out of hibernation — the muddy road to Banner was drying up — and would pay him more than $2 a day.
Weed also talked of leaving. He wanted to celebrate the Fourth of July — the nation’s centennial — with family back in Amesbury, Massachusetts.
On April 22, Toohey left the Oriflamme. Morse paid him $164 for 82 days’ work. Together, Weed and Toohey had loaded 150 tons of “good ore” on the dump (worth, Weed estimated, $25,000). They’d sunk a 100-foot shaft and run countless feet of tunnels back to and around the ledge. They’d repaired the broken chute.