A day in the life of a driller

April 17, 2022

by Mike Junkins, Core Drill Operator

Mike in South Carolina
Haile Gold Mine near Kershaw, South Carolina

Stepping outside the motel’s squeaky door I breathed in the twenty-degree Fahrenheit air (- 6.7ºC) and became fully awake. My Matterhorn boots made a crunching sound in the three inches (7.6 cm) of fresh snow. I made my way across the parking lot to the Dodge crew cab. The windshield was crusted with frost from the cold night. I wondered how did the night shift fare with that funky heater? 

I got in and held the preheater for a moment before starting the rumbling diesel. I headed to the motel office to grab a coffee before rousting my helper and water truck driver. Anna was behind the front desk half asleep after nearly ten hours on the job. ‘Coffee is hot and fresh,’ she said automatically as I entered the lobby. 

‘You know me all too well, Anna,’ I replied. Living in motels for months at a time we all became familiar with the staff. They did their best to make us comfortable during these lengthy stints away from home. I filled my cup and told Anna to get some sleep on my way out the door. 

‘Be careful you guys,’ she said as I closed the door. 

A couple of pulls on the scalding, bitter liquid and I began to feel human. We would stop at ‘Scary Larry’s Café’ for some breakfast to go. The food was quick, hot and remarkably greasy. Just the way we enjoyed it. 

I knocked on 207 and 208. Both men were up and grumbling that they would be out in a minute. We had worked together for most of this winter. The water truck driver, Artie, was the new hand. He had gotten out of prison for a bar brawl about two months previously. He had done a six-month stint after breaking the bouncer’s jaw during the encounter. This was one of the few places where these folks could find decent-paying work even with a record. He was a nice guy and a good hand. When the water tanks were full, he would come in and help Frank, my helper, with the core boxes and dumping tubes. He also gave us a hand when it came time to trip pipe. 

The old Dodge was defrosting nicely. These diesels take a few minutes to start throwing any good heat. My phone rang. That’s never good. My cross shift, Charlie, asked me to stop by the parts van on the way in. We apparently needed a new swivel hose as the one we had on was leaking. We had some hoses pre-made in the trailer for situations like this. Swivel hoses took a beating. The hole was 1800 feet (549 m) deep when I left last night. If Charlie squeezed out a hundred more that old drill was 

 probably working hard. We were still running H-size tools. The geologist was expecting a fault zone and he wanted us to cross that formation before reducing to N-size. I hoped we hit the fault zone soon. 

Artie and Frank came out of their rooms at the same time. They climbed into the truck without speaking. They would get their coffee at ‘Scary Larry’s’, and would become more animated afterwards. I climbed into the driver’s seat, and we set off. The roads were not ideal after last night’s snow. 

I pulled into ‘Scary Larry’s Café’ and parked near the front entrance. I told Frank to get me a breakfast sandwich and another coffee. I stayed in the vehicle to call Roque at the office in Montrose to let him know we would need a replacement swivel hose when he came to the site later in the day. 

The drive to the rig site was about eighteen miles (29 km) or forty minutes since the last two miles (3.2 km) were on a winding dirt road. I caught myself humming along to Mellencamp’s ‘Jack and Diane’ as it played on the radio. Artie and Frank were catching a few extra winks on the drive. We pulled up to the rig and I breathed, ‘Black leg guys’. They both knew this meant the rods were standing in the tower and they were either coming out or going back in. We would find out soon. I met Charlie in the doghouse filling out his report for last night’s shift. 

He explained that the bit was pressuring, and penetration rate was deathly slow. He was about halfway out of the hole at this point. We had a new Hobic 7AA bit on the shelf. Charlie also motioned to the last box of core on the rack. It was broken and gravelly, indicating that we were likely in that fault that Matt, the geologist, was looking for. That was a welcome sight.

The night shift told Frank and Artie what they needed to know about fuel, mud supplies, etc. I filled out the header on my daily shift report and we got ready to rip and trip. Get these bitches back on bottom, so we could make some hole. 

Connors 40 HH Drill Rig on site
Connors 40 HH Drill Rig on site

Once we had changed the bit and tripped back in to about twenty feet (6 m) off bottom, I set the rods slowly rotating in the hole. I was pumping to wash before reaming slowly back to bottom so as not to plug the bit with anything that might have settled in the hole during the trip. Charlie had drilled about seven feet (2.1 m) into the fault zone. I saw lights coming and I knew it was likely Matt coming to check on our progress. 

Matt looked at the core and told me that it looked like the fault zone he had been expecting. From the other holes drilled here previously, we knew the fault to be between forty and sixty feet (12.2 and 18.3 m) across. I knew that meant some blocky runs that would slow us down, but once we were on the other side, it should be ‘scream stone’, otherwise known as bonus rock or gravy. Matt indicated that once we had fifty feet (15.2 m) of good sulfide rock, we could reduce the hole to N-size. It took about twenty minutes to clean out the hole to bottom. The water tanks were full, so I sent Artie to the mud laydown to get bentonite, polymer, tube lube and some clay inhibitor. 

As he was leaving, I chided Matt about spending the day in the core trailer with Victoria. Vicky was known as a teck. She was doing her master’s degree in geology. Working with Matt on this project was a sort of work-study program for her. She also got college credits for her experience, as well as a taste of real-life geology. She was pretty as well as knowledgeable. Kidding Matt, who was single, was just a part of our daily banter. 

We lost circulation at about twenty-two feet (6.7 m) into the fault. This was not unusual or unexpected, but it would hinder our progress somewhat. We mixed up two nice mud bombs with cottonseed hulls and cedar fiber and pumped them down. I had the bit about six inches (15.2 cm) off bottom and we waited for the water pressure to spike indicating that the void/fracture was being sealed off. It took nearly two hours to get the fluid returning so that we could proceed. Fingers crossed that we did not have more circulation issues before getting into the Sulfide formation on the backside of the fault zone. 

We managed to get about twenty feet (6.1 m) of good stick rock on the other side of the zone by the end of our shift. The fault ended up being forty-three feet (13.1 m) wide. Charlie was in for a tough shift tonight. I told him that another thirty feet (9.1 m) of sulfide and he could bring the N-size trailer in and reduce the hole. Get as much done as possible and we could finish up in the morning. Another long but rewarding day was in the books. 

40 HH drilled 4208 ft hole with H tools in Crescent Valley, Nevada
40 HH drilled 4208 ft (1283 m) hole with H tools in Crescent Valley, Nevada

Charlie’s truck lights were a welcome sight. Twelve hours was a grueling shift. We worked seven days a week every week; rain or shine. Forty days on-site and then ten days at home.

Back at the motel, I saw Anna just heading in the door to the office to begin her own long night shift. She was going to college for business management, so she was able to study while she covered the desk duties. I told Artie and Frank not to play too hard, as tomorrow would likely be a busy day.

I called Maria, my wife. She put the kids on, Matty was four and Abby was six. They were used to dad being away, but they knew I was working for them. I wanted them to have more opportunities than I had been afforded. They told me about their day, and I kissed them goodnight through the phone. Nine more days and I could fly home for a welcome break. Now, a hot shower, a cold beer and a microwaved can of Chunky Soup. After that, I would fall asleep with the TV on and dream of home. 

For more information get in touch with Mike on LinkedIn

Read Issue 19 here: 

Issue 19/ 2022