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Talc Find in California

Last Updated: 6th Oct 2017

By Rolf Luetcke

Talc Find in California
By Rolf Luetcke

The story started back in the 1970's, when I was making sample mineral collections with glued in specimens of various minerals. I was on the hunt for quantities of minerals of more or less lower grade material I could collect myself and use in the collections. Of course, if there were nice specimens, those went into our collection. I had many Arizona localities for minerals but did a bit of traveling to adjoining states to see what I could find. Since the cost of my collections was very reasonable and wholesale was only three dollars a set of 35 specimens at the time, I couldn't afford to buy material and looked for places to collect in bulk.
I would do a lot of research on mines before I left on my trips and tried to plan the trip to visit a number of mines. On this one trip I had been up in Nevada and decided to drive back through Death Valley and see the sights and possibly collect some minerals South of the park. I had read that talc was mined in many places South of Death Valley and historically, even in Death Valley. I had put dots on my map to indicate some of the talc mines I had been able to look up in my book on California minerals.
Each of the mines I tried to visit had the roads to the mine gated, locked and heavily posted. Every mine I had put on my map was closed to collecting and I finally realized that I was not going to be able to get any talc to use in the collections on this trip. I had thought I might try and contact the mines that were still operating and see if any would allow me to collect some material but thought that I would do that on another trip.
Besides the talc being an interesting specimen to put into the collections, it was also the number one on the Mohs scale of hardness. The one collection I made had a small testing kit in it with minerals of the first 7 hardness. Talc was one I needed for these kits.
I was driving down highway 127 toward Baker and thinking of the missed opportunities to collect when I saw a building ahead. The sign by the road said it was a State weigh station but the sign said it was closed on that day. As I neared the buildings there was a wide space by the East side of the road by a fence that separated the highway area from the desert. Next to the fence by this spot were large piles of white material. I was driving highway speed but easily saw that these were minerals. I quickly slowed down and turned around.
I stopped at the weigh station building to see if there was anyone there to ask about these piles. Nobody was there and doors were locked. I drove the few hundred yards to where the piles were and got out. I was driving my VW bus, which had space to collect quite a few minerals. As I looked at the first pile I immediately saw it was talc. I looked down the numerous piles and all seemed to be the same material. Massive white talc was just piled by the road. There were chunks from smaller than a golf ball to chunks of maybe twenty pounds or more.
It didn't take much thinking to realize why these piles were here, knowing enough about mining operations to know how they worked. The trucks hauling the talc had limits the State put on them for the highway road surface to last. The trucks all had more capacity than the State allowed so most of the time the trucks were overloaded. The occasions the State decided to open the weigh station to check on the trucks that were hauling that day found they were overloaded. When the State saw the overloaded trucks on the scales they made them back up and unload the excess until they were within limits. I was practically certain that this is why these piles were here. There were about a dozen piles along this open area.
I assume the mines waited until they had a front end loader available and empty trucks and then went to get the piles and take them off.
The highway at this time was quiet and only an occasional vehicle came by. I decided the opportunity was too good to resist and collected several hundred pounds of the talc. After I filled the space I had in the VW I looked at the pile I had taken the talc from and one couldn't even tell anything had been removed.
At the time I was only looking for talc and never even thought of looking the piles over too much to see if there were other minerals in the mix as well. Since this was early on before the internet was available, it was not as easy to figure out which minerals could be found at which mines. I collected only the talc which was easily recognizable.
For many years I used the talc in the collections and for the hardness kits. I had a table in my shop where I placed a number of different things to use in teaching the local school kids, scouts and clubs that came by for talks. One of the things on the table was a big piece of talc and when I was giving the talks I would talk about mineral hardness and get out the piece of talc and my pocket knife and have each person in the group hold their open hand out and I would scrape a bit of the talc into their hands and then tell them to rub their hands together to see if they could tell me what I had put in their hands. There were some funny answers but most said baby powder. The funny thing was that when adults had it in their hands and I told them it was talc, the mineral they used to make talcum powder from, most of them gave it a smell. I always had to laugh and told them that in nature, talc didn't come perfumed, they did that at the factory after they ground it to a powder. The scouts that stopped by to do their geology badges I would give each one an egg carton with the Mohs hardness minerals up to 8 for them to take home. The kids always asked why I only went up to 8 and I would tell them that the last two minerals were very expensive and if they wanted to complete the "free" kit I was giving them, they could get the help of their parents or start saving their allowance monies.
In later years it was found that in the talc mines were other minerals that were dangerous, in particular, chrysotile, which is what they used to make asbestos. Because of this being in association with the talc the industry stopped using talc to make baby powder. By about 1976 they figured out how to keep the pure talc separate from the impure that was used for other industrial applications and the asbestos problem was solved. Today talc is still used for a multitude of applications from paint to cosmetics and many more.
I had a number of very compact pieces of the talc and used some for carving . Talc was an easy mineral to work since at hardness one it was easily worked with any kind of tool. I had the occasional customer that would ask if I had any soapstone, another name for the talc.
Just recently I was looking at the pages on mindat to see if I might be able to put a mine name to the talc I had collected back in the 1970's. The first thing I noticed was that there were no photos of any talc specimens from anywhere in either Inyo or San Bernardino Counties. When looking at the number of mines that were talc mines in the districts there were nearly one hundred locations that produced talc. This made me realize that to identify the mine that the material I found by the road came from would be difficult if not impossible.
Since talc is a very non descript mineral and mostly massive in what I had collected, it was not a showy material that would make wonderful photos. It was mostly to show what the talc that had been mined in California would look like I wanted to add a few photos.
I realized that to pin down the actual location that the piles had been from would be a tall order. I am sure that the State of California has records of the weigh station but to get access to them may not be so easy. A mindat member sent me a number of links to the books published on the mines of that area that worked the talc and in going through those I realized that no mention was made in my quick inspection of the books, of where the material was actually shipped. I only wanted to add a few photos and didn't really want to go into an extensive study of talc mines of Southern California.
Since the piles were not of crushed material, the mines hauling the material were taking it either to a plant that processed the material or to a rail head where it was shipped to processing plants. The books were very good with the explanation of the mines, geology and more about the various mines but it would still be a lot of work to simply post a couple of photos.
The talc I had found most likely came from Inyo County but it was also possible that the material came from San Bernardino County. This made a posting of photos a bit more difficult. Talc is listed in both counties but guessing is not an option.
I have had this material since the 1970's and a number more years wouldn't really matter to try and find the mine it had come from.
I thought I put the story to "paper" and people might get a kick out of stumbling across absolutely tons of talc, right by the road, especially since it was the mineral I was looking for. In a recent search on the satellite maps I found one spot along highway 127 that had a lot of white areas showing. There was no building left and the weigh station must have been removed since those years but the white areas seen on the satellite maps may be the spot the material came from. From the satellite map one can't tell if the white areas are actually still piles or just the remnants of where the piles had been. Since it is in a very dry desert area there is not a lot of rain to wash away any remnants of the white talc. There is also little vegetation to cover up the old dumped in areas. I have not been to the area in many years so don't know if there is anything left of what I had found in the 1970's.

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