We took a trip up to the Sierra Nevada and our group gained special permission from the California State Park service to explore a small underground portion of the massive Empire Mine inside the appropriately named
Empire Mine State Historic Park in beautiful Grass Valley, California. Doug McConnell and local TV program “Bay Area Backroads” crew came along to film the event for one of their episodes. What an incredible opportunity!
The mine is truly massive but most of its 367 miles of tunnels and drifts are flooded. We went down to the water table in the mine and explored the Magenta Drift on the 600 level. We encountered a lot of mud, water, and tight spaces. Doug and crew were very good sports considering the punishment they and their equipment had to put up with. We found a few artifacts left over from the miners that had not been seen in many years. Among the items recovered for the Historic State Park collection were shovel heads, a
carbide lamp, and candles used by the miners. We are very thankful to Park Ranger Jeff Herman and Empire Mine Historic State Park staff for allowing us entry and coming with us inside! We had a great time!
On this day, we are with Bay Area Backroads crew for filming.
Ron and Rob stop for a photo while they are still clean.
Doug McConnell and the Bay Area Backroads team show up and they get an idea of what we are about and what they are in for.
Everyone goes over what we are getting into.
Ron gives us a class in minerology inside the museum.
Ore car at the mine. (I am killing some time while waiting for the TV crew)
Discussing the operation in Ranger Jeff Herman's office.
Inside of the smithy.
Blacksmith shop is pretty neat.
Heading in to the inclined shaft.
Waiting around for the TV crew.
Jeff gives us a demostration on how it felt riding a skip down into the mine. The mining park staff have rigged up a neat "ride"; where all the lights go out, the car vibrates and lights down in the shaft come towards you, just as if you are going down the shaft. Pretty cool!
Doug interviews us.
Rob, Jeff, and Ron getting ready to go in.
Pat fires up a carbine lamp.
Rob and Ron check out an ore car on the inclined tracks.
Pat Brennan, a State Park docent shows us a carbine lamp.
Looking up in the main incline shaft.
Rob and Ron in a drift. Note all of the hand-stacked waste rock. The mine is filled with it.
Doug McConnell interviews State Park Ranger Jeff Herman.
Ron finds the remains of a wooden box or ore car in a sub-level drift.
Rob checks the gas meter. It goes off later in the day; low oxygen. Flooding of the mine hasn't done much for the air quality, but the Park does constantly pump air down into the mine.
Doug and Jack the cameraman suit up. Look how shiny their equipment is. (Jack is going to have a memorable day.)
Rob and Jeff look down the shaft at the water level. Pretty muddy.
The very muddy entry to the Magenta drift.
Inside the main shaft waiting for the film crew to come down. My camera is blurry as I try not to use my flash for the TV camera.
Water is pouring down this footwall.
Old shovel. We found a few artifacts in the mine.
Blurry shot of them filming.
Typical passageway. Most of the cribbing is metal in the mine.
Everyone takes a break in the Main Shaft after some filming. (I still have my flash off for the TV.)
Along the Magenta drift.
Looking up the long incline.
Interesting light effects.
Looking down the main incline after climbing up and the rest of the gang coming up.
Down at the water level. The mud is quite deep here.
I tried to use natural light to take this shot down the shaft. The sodium (?) lights add a yellow glow to everything.
Just trying to move around is a challenge.
Ron holds a candle I found. The wick inside has long rotted away. Ranger Jeff Herman tells me that the miners began to use carbine here in the 1910s.
Rob coming up.
Ron and candle.
We spot another footlong candle.
Myself in the incline.
Back up on top and in fresh air. The brave Bay Area Backroads crew. Looking a bit more muddy than when they entered the mine.
Ron and Rob rest after a long climb up.
"Hey, Jeff doesn't seem to be as muddy as we are..."
Myself, Ron and Rob.
Myself holding a few of the candles we found.
Inside the workshop. Jeff lets us in the miner's workshop and he fires up the motor that runs all of the belts overhead!
Everyone hoses off. What a great day underground.
Saws and machinery.
Machinery and stove.
We check out the New Rich Hill air shaft.
Checking out down below.
Jeff explores lower.
With everyone back up, Ron unties our rope.
We did an episode with the Bay Area Backroads TV program. I’m in a few shots in the background.
Last Updated on August 3, 2020 by
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