The event was hosted by the Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering at UNR, one of only 13 mining engineering schools in the United States. Established in 1908, Mackay was one of the first comprehensive schools of mines in the world.
According to UNR competitor Alex Hatt, in order for a school to participate in the mining competition it must have a mining engineering school. He said the competition is held at rotating locations and that UNR hosts the event about every five years.
Gale force winds on Friday and snow on Saturday didn’t stop 33 men’s and women’s teams representing 15 schools from three continents as they drilled, hammered and shoveled their way through the competition.
“The two days of competition are a flurry of action as the teams are on the field all at once hauling sand, pounding drill steel into rock with a hand sledge, setting railroad ties or drilling with a jackleg drill,” said Danny Taylor, chair of the mining engineering department and advisor to the student club that organizes the event. “The competition was invented by students in 1979 and is run by students. It’s all historic mining techniques, and is fun to watch.”
Hatt said each team is comprised of six members, with five competing in each of the following contests:
Jackleg: drilling into a vertical rock or concrete face using a pneumatic jackleg drill.
Handsteel: drilling a hole or holes into a 36-inch-thick block of concrete, using a 4-pound sledgehammer and a 7/8-inch-wide steel chisel.
Survey: Reporting coordinates using an old-fashioned vernier transit, a plumb bob and a 50-meter steel tape.
Gold Pan: panning five BBs from a 1-pound coffee can of dirt and rock
Swede Saw: sawing through a 6-inch by 6-inch piece of pine timber with a 36-inch bow saw.
Trackstand: Setting up and tearing down a 5-meter section of track, including sleepers, rail, connecting plates and bolts.
Mucking: Pushing empty ore cart down a 75-foot section of track and back, then shovel “muck” (rock, clay sand and mud) into cart until full. When full, team must push ore cart down and back again.
According to Hatt, one team member sits out of each event to allow the team to capitalize on each member’s strengths.
“The weakest person in each event sits out,” Hatt said.
Hatt and fellow team member Greg Stokes elaborated on the dynamics of each event.
“In the hand mucking, you load up a cart with two tons of rocks and then unload it,” Hatt said as he motioned toward a team hard at work with shovels. “A winning time would be under three minutes.”
Stokes said in the gold panning event, teams must pan for gold and find five smashed BBs. The event is timed and an ideal time would be under 45 seconds, but there is a catch: if a team loses a BB, five minutes are added to the final time.
For track standing, Hatt said teams must lay a 15-foot section of railroad track.
“You get penalties for things like not putting the spikes in far enough,” Hatt said.
In the surveying competition, teams must conduct a survey using the open transit method and no digital equipment, Hatt said.
To win the jackleg drilling contest, competitors must use a pneumatic air-powered drill to achieve the deepest horizontal hole in three minutes. Stokes said holes with a depth of eight to 10 feet usually win.
The handsteel competition is similar in nature, Hatt said. Each team member has two minutes to drill into a concrete block and the best depth wins. Usually 16-inch to 18-inch holes win.
The swede saw contest requires competitors to make five consecutive cuts in a piece of wood with a bow saw, Hatt said. Penalties are given for deviating too far from marks on the wood. A good time would be 45-50 seconds for five cuts, he said.
“Guys have done it in seven to eight seconds,” Hatt said.
The competition is light-hearted and educational in nature, Stokes said.
“We compete for bragging rights and traveling trophies,” he said.
First, second and third place teams receive plaques for their schools, and first through third place individuals receive medals, Hatt said.
UNR’s women’s team placed third in overall competition on Friday, and the UNR coed team won the survey contest.