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Getchell Mine, Humboldt County Nevada

Last Updated: 12th Jun 2016

By Rolf Luetcke

Getchell Mine, Humboldt County, Nevada
By Rolf Luetcke

Back in the 1970's I had started a mineral business making sample mineral collections with numbers of labeled specimens glued into a box with clear lid. I was looking for places I could collect quantities of minerals and had been to all the local mines in Southeastern Arizona. I had done some reading and found Nevada a State not too far away with many mine possibilities. I read in my books that the area in Humboldt County had several possible places to collect.
One nice thing in taking collecting trips was that I always took sample mineral sets along to show to mineral shops and get orders. I had a VW bus which I drove to many off road places and could camp in for weeks at a time. I took a long trip to Nevada and one of the main places I wanted to go was the Getchell Mine. The hub town of the area is Winnemucca, a good place to get supplies and find a motel to clean up after a week of camping and collecting.
When I got to the area I drove into the mine and on the road to the mine were numerous buildings and a man came out of one and walked over to my car. I got out and we started talking. He was the watchman for the mine which was not operating but had someone there to keep an eye on things the old company had at the mine. I took one of my larger mineral collections in when the man invited me in for coffee. We sat and talked as I told him about the collections I put together. I gave him the collection of 35 minerals I had brought in to show him. He was very pleased since he had a bit of interest in minerals and had grandkids that would love the collection I gave him.
After about an hour he told me that I was welcome to drive right into the pit at the mine and there was a lot of material lying around I was welcome to any rocks I liked. I drove into the pit and the roads that meandered around the various areas of the old mine. I found place that had good color of reds and yellows. I collected many specimens I recognized as realgar and orpiment. I tried to gather as much diversity of rock as I could but was limited by the vehicle I had. The VW could hold a lot of material but space was not great. I spent a couple of hours in the Getchell pit and then drove out. I stopped at the watchman's house and he came out and we talked for a while longer and he told me that I was welcome to come and collect at the mine any time.
After getting back to my home in Bisbee at that time I checked out the material I had collected at the Getchell mine and found a good number of minerals. I was able to identify the best material for the next time I drove up to Nevada. I had a larger truck and on the Nevada trip had identified several places to collect larger amounts of minerals and the next year I hooked my VW to the back of my ten ton capacity truck and headed off for a serious collecting trip.
As I drove with my big truck into the Getchell mine the watchman came running out and waving his arms. As soon as he saw me he got a big smile on his face and came over to greet me. We talked again for some time and he told me I was welcome here and he said to have fun collecting. I spent much of the day in the Getchell pit and collected several tons of material to use in my collections. I was mostly looking for realgar and orpiment and not so much for other minerals. At that time my specific needs drove my collecting and in retrospect I wish now I had been more interested in specimens than massive material I could break up.
After collecting all the Getchell ore, it was heavy material, I headed for the mine on the West side of Winnemucca and drove a 60 mile dirt road to the Sulfur mines in Sulphur Nevada. I had also explored them with the VW the year before and found the right places to collect.
The truck had an 18 foot box in back and I had a lot of 55 gallon drums for storing the rock I collected and when those were full I had grape lugs that I filled up and stacked. When I collected at Sulphur also I had a lot of material already in the truck and I had a couple more mines to collect. At this point I decided that I had better head back home and save the Nevada mines for another trip. I stopped in California on the way back and collected talc in the Death Valley area. The mines for talc were all locked up with no trespassing signs. On the pervious trip I had discovered that along the highway was a weigh station that the State of California ran but only on occasion to catch the mine trucks running several tons over limit. When they opened the station and found trucks overloaded they made them dump the excess along the side of the road by the station. There were half a dozen piles of the talc ore from the mines here and I was able to collect all I wanted since on the day I was there the station was closed and nobody was about. On the trip home I got a flat on my inside dual tire on the rear. I had a ten ton jack and when I realized it barely lifted the back end of the truck up I knew I had more weight in the truck than I thought. After getting a new tire in the nearest town, luckily I had my tow vehicle, I thought I better head home and not collect more.
I was quite nervous of any weigh stations on the way home because I knew I was over my capacity and it was fortunate that the ones I came to were closed. I had also hoped that since my truck was private I would not have to go through the scales but that never came up. I had one last challenge to overcome. In Bisbee I lived up the steepest hill with a road in Bisbee. I had to unhook my tow vehicle and then back up the street to my house since going up forward may have meant tipping the truck over backwards. I was not willing to risk that.
After a number of years of going through a lot of the Getchell material I brought home I was able to find 21 different mineral species and a few more unknowns.
It was only a short time after I had collected at Getchell that the mine reopened and all the material I had been collecting in the pit was processed and no more was left in the pit. The window of opportunity for me was ideal and I was able to collect a large quantity of ore and still have material to this day I have not broken up and studied.
The mineral list for Getchell is about 70 species and to have collected nearly a third was quite lucky. The following is the list of species I was able to find. Baryte, calcite, cinnabar, fluorite, galkhaite, getchellite, guerinite, gypsum, laffittite, metastibnite, orpiment, pararealgar, pharmacolite, picropharmacolite, quartz, realgar, scorodite, stibiconite, stibnite, wakabayashilite and weilite. I have a number of unknown specimens from Getchell still so there may be more species I discover at a later time.
I still remember seeing absolutely tons and tons of ore lying about in the pit when I was there. I never had to dig out material or break it from walls, it was all lying about in the pit to be picked up. I wish at the time I had my present knowledge of the minerals from Getchell and I may have been able to collect more of the rare species. It takes a bit of study of the ore to understand where the rare species are to be found. Knowing the chemistry of an ore body helps a great deal in finding the minerals one is looking for. Today I would look with a completely different perspective but I was not a "real" mineral collector at the time.
A friend stopped by one time and when we got to talking about getchellite, the one type locality mineral for the mine I got out the material I had just in my mineral room. I had the best of the getchellite specimens stored in 9 by 12 inch boxes. He said upon looking at the amount I had that he had never seen so much getchellite in one place at one time from the Getchell Mine.
A friend was just up in Nevada and tried to visit the Getchell mine but it is posted and has gates on the road now which are posted keep out. When I went there it was wide open and no signs to keep out. There was a person there but he was very pleasant and allowed me to go in. He was there to guard the housing that was there and the equipment the company had and said that the ore lying about was ok to collect. The watchman told me this personally on my first visit.
Since I broke up a lot of the realgar and orpiment to put into the collections I was producing at the time, I realized I often got my hands and clothing covered in the dust from the minerals. My hands always smelled like garlic and I wondered just how toxic the arsenic ores from the mine were. I contacted some people at the University of Arizona in Tucson and they invited me to stop by. I asked about the ores at Getchell and they told me a great story. The early days of the mine they didn't have electricity and used mules to haul the ore cars in and out of the mine. The mules were housed inside the mine since they worked mostly underground and they drank freely from the water that ran along the sides of the tunnels. They were fed underground and drank the mine water. When the mine got electricity the mine owners thought about the wonderful service the mules had provided and wanted them to live in free open spaces now. They took them to the nearest valley with plenty of grass and fresh water and released them. They went back after a week to see how they were doing and saw the mules were sick and dying. They couldn't understand why and brought them back to the mine to call a veterinarian to have a look. As soon as the mules were back at the mine and drinking the mine water they were fine again. The veterinarian who came to have a look said that the mules had been drinking the water with high arsenic levels for so long they were addicted to the arsenic in the water and it was the withdrawal that had been making them sick and killing them. Even though the mine owners wanted the mules to have a free and open air life they kept the mules in pens at the mine and took care of them there so they could keep drinking the arsenic laden water and not get sick. They let them live out their lives at the mine.
The people at the University told me that the arsenic when bonded with the sulfur in the formula made the material not dangerous. Heating the ore to 1300 degrees burned off the sulfur and then the arsenic became pure and was deadly. I was relieved to note that the dust I had been getting on me was not dangerous and it has been many years since the time I broke up a lot of the material and as far as I know I never experienced any effects and never had a problem with being addicted to the dust. I still wash my hands several times after working with the arsenic ores because of the garlic smell but my fear of it being dangerous is gone.
Reading about the Getchell Mine and its future potential I have found that there is still a lot of useful ore in that mine and it seems they plan to keep mining there for some time.

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Discuss this Article

12th Jun 2016 20:30 BSTAlex Earl Expert

Rolf, I always enjoy reading your articles, it's always interesting to read other collectors experiences. Thanks for writing them, and sharing them here on mindat!

13th Jun 2016 13:04 BSTChristian Auer Expert

Nice reading Rolf!
On our honeymoon we visited also Arizona. I met several dealers like Dave Shannon and George Godas.
Visiting Phoenix wasn`t the best idea in August as it was terrible hot. I still remember going through the minerals of Dave in an extremely hot garage while Dave was swimming outside in his pool :-)
My wife felt terrible not only because of the temperature but she was pregnant too ...

Well those were the days of the Red Cloud and I have seen many wulfenites, and good ones!

I visited also a third dealer who had flats full with good Getchell stuff. One box was full of incredible galkhaite. I purchased several of them. Unfortunately I sold them again several years ago but I still regret doing so.
I never saw such good stuff anymore.

16th Jun 2016 16:45 BSTBecky Coulson Expert

Dear Rolf, although I don't leave messages each time, I read every one of your collecting stories and enjoy them greatly - please keep writing! Best wishes, Becky
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