Today I’m posting Chapter 23 of High Pocket. In this chapter, Jake, Sandy and Mary will find out if their months of planning are up to the challenges of reaching the 3800′.
Both Sandy and Mary thought it best to leave the old engine connected to the cables and hoist and swap out new parts from the engine we’d hauled in. They were moving quickly according to our plan, right down to the size of the wrenches, pullers, and screwdrivers. Mary was starting on the battery and generator and then she’d drain the oil and water and take the hoses off the radiator. Sandy was starting with the carburetor, his specialty. I planned on going right after the clutch, and if it went fast, I would go onto the distributor and points.
We rigged up two flashlights, and with each of us having our cap lamps going, the light wasn’t half bad. I looked down the drift behind me and had this terrible feeling of Olner suddenly appearing with the police and asking, “Just what do you think you’re doing?” I shook the thought out of my mind and got down to work.
“I don’t think we ought to smoke down here once we get the carburetor off,” I said to Sandy. “There’s no ventilation.”
“None at all,” he answered, which was his way of agreeing with me.
“How’s the linkage on the carb?” I asked.
“The battery’s in and the generator’s almost hooked up,” Mary said a few minutes later.
“I’m going to leave the carb,” Sandy said, “for the time being. I’ll adjust it when we start the engine.”
“It’s working,” I said, meaning the jack I’d brought. It backed the engine off far enough so I could pull the trans spline free to get at the clutch.
“Sure it’s working,” Sandy said. “We got it all planned. They’d never figure it in a 100 years. But we got it. Them bastards.”
Me and Mary said nothing to that, just kept on working. I don’t know how long we went on exactly. I swear, not one of us looked at our synchronized watches. But after a while, we’d all done our own jobs and the distributor was in an I took the plugs out so I could tune the engine.
“Give me hand,” I said to them. “Put the bar there on the hoist wheel and both of you push down hard.”
They did and I waited till No. 1 cylinder was top dead center and then I set the points. I put the rotor in and the cap on and put in the new spark plugs. Sandy had already gapped the plugs at home.
“Well, shit,” I said standing up. “We’re almost ready to give it a try.”
I walked over to the gas tank that was set up on a timber stand, about ten feet from the engine. I disconnected the gas lines and unbolted the tank, then carried it as far down the drift as I thought safe to dump out the old gasoline. We hooked it back up and Mary filled it with fresh fuel while I looked at the control panel of the engine and hoist. There wasn’t much to it. It had an starter switch and a gas and clutch pedal, and a hand brake and shift lever. We’d never bothered thinking about the starter switch. That was something we’d missed. If it didn’t work, we’d just have to hot wire the engine.
“Come here a second, Sandy. Tell me if you think this is neutral.” There were no markings on the panel.
“It’s only got one gear up and one gear down,” he said coming over. “Up is up, down is down. Here,” he pointed to the lever, “in the middle is neutral. That’s all there can be to it.”
“Okay,” I said, “You prime the carb and I’ll get the Honda going, and we’re ready to give it a try.”
“We’re all set?” Mary said, almost like she wished we weren’t.
“I think so,” I looked to Sandy.
He was quiet now. He just nodded. I looked over at Mary and then around the room, too. There were shadows and dark holes beyond them. The engine and hoist were the brightest spots in the place with the flashlights hanging above them. If they didn’t work, or if just the engine worked and not the hoist or the other way around, then it wouldn’t matter if there was gold the 3800’or not. It was up to fate now, or luck or whatever you want to call it.
“What time you got?” Sandy said.
“11:00,” I said.
“That’s what I got, 11:01,” Mary said.
“All right,” Sandy barked, “Let’s start the Honda.”
He walked over to the ore car and got out the little Honda generator. He took hold of the rope and gave it a good yank. It fired right up, and in the close hoist room it sounded like a tank running at you. Mary attached jumper cables to it and to the battery for the engine. I was just about to flip the starter switch at the panel, but Sandy yelled, “Let it charge,” meaning let the battery charge awhile.
Mary came over to me and stood behind the panel. Sandy walked over and primed the carburetor again, and pulled out the manual choke all the way.
“Now! Hit it!” he yelled.
I hit the starter switch and the engine cranked and cranked with plenty of juice from the Honda. But the engine wouldn’t fire up. We had left the valve covers off to verify the oil pump was working and I could see that it was. Sandy waved to me to turn off the switch.
“Why won’t it start?” Mary said looking at me, but Sandy snapped out an answer.
“”Nothing’s wrong with it! It will start!”
“Mary,” I said, “come here and when I tell you, flip the starter switch to ‘On,’ not all the way to “Start.”
I walked over to the engine and popped the distributor cap.
“Okay. Put it to ‘On.'”
There was plenty of spark. So I checked the gap again, and it seemed good. Understand, I wasn’t worried about anything yet. Hell, we had barely given it a try.
“Okay,” I said back to Mary. “This time when I say, put it up to start and hold it there.”
I had more than one plug off so it wasn’t going to start up on me. I just wanted to see if spark was getting to the plugs. I told her to hit it. When she did, the spark jumped off the wire and to the block where I was grounding it.
“Okay. Cut it.” I said. “We got fire all the way through.”
“Could be gas,” Sandy said.
“Could be,” I said, “but the pump’s new and should be plenty strong.”
I walked back to the panel and hit the gas pedal.
“Is there gas coming to the carb?”
“Shit, yes! Stop it!” he yelled at me. “You’re going to flood it.”
He was beginning to get to me some. This was a team effort here, and he was acting like the leader.
“All right,” I yelled back. “Let’s try it again. This time no choke. Push it in. If it doesn’t fire, you can pull it out a bit at a time till it takes off.”
He pushed the choke in. We fired the Honda back up. As soon as it went on, I hit the switch and the engine turned over and over; then it almost caught, but instead sputtered and went over and over again. “Pump it! Pump it!” Sandy was yelling at me. I put my foot down hard, and up and down again, and goddamn if the engine didn’t sputter then all the sudden the room filled with the roar of it taking off! It was louder than any of us had figured on. It sounded like a jet about ten feet above your head. I could just barely hear Mary screaming out in joy behind me, and I could see Sandy jumping up and whooping under the lights next to the engine. “We got it! We got it!” he was yelling.
I waved to him to shut it off, worrying that maybe it was too loud, that Olner and his crew would hear it and follow the sound to us.
“Take grease for the pulleys,” I said and pointed. Sandy opened up the tub of grease we had and just stuck his hand in and came out with a great gob of it. He handed the tub to Mary and she didn’t hesitate to do the same thing, thoroughly dousing the pulleys with grease.
Then we looked at each other, standing still, waiting, just waiting.
“Go on and do it!” Sandy yelled.
He was right. There was nothing left to do but engage the clutch and see if we could pull the skip bucket up. There was no sense putting it off. If the clutch plate was set wrong or it the pulleys didn’t hold, we’d have to pack it all in and go home. This was the moment of truth.
“Go on!” he said softly now.
“All right,” I nodded back.
Mary started the engine up this time so that she’d have some practice doing it alone, which she’d have to do bringing us back up. Then I put my foot on the clutch pedal and slowly pushed it in. I heard it squeal, and I was about ready to let out on it, but then it quieted and I could feel the throw-out bearing seating correctly. I put my hand on the gear lever and slipped it into forward position, and then I eased out on the clutch slower than I’ve ever eased out on any clutch. The cables and pulleys held firm, and the drum started turning. It was pulling up! We could hear the cables squeak at first until the grease started to work and then it was pretty much smooth.
We were all smiling at each other and happier than happy, and then the damn clutch slipped and jerked and the engine stalled, jerking the cables hard. The place got deathly quiet.
“Jesus Christ!” Sandy yelled. “What the fuck happened?”
“We gotta adjust the clutch cable that’s all.”
Sandy jumped to it and took the play out of the cable.
Mary restarted the engine and I eased the clutch out. Right away, I could tell that it was better this time. It felt solid. Sandy and Mary walked over to the bore hole.
“Stay back!” I yelled, “that skip could pop out of the hole.”
It seemed like hours, like they say, but it probably couldn’t have been more than five or six minutes when Sandy and then Mary started yelling that they could see something coming up! I put the lever in neutral and ran over to them.
“Goddamn it!” Sandy yelled. “Don’t stop it now!”
“I want to see if the hoist can hold it steady. We won’t be getting a second chance when we’re both in it coming back up loaded with gold.”
I took Mary’s light and shined it down the shaft. Sure enough, about 40 feet away was the top of the skip bucket, covered with rock and debris.
“It’s there!” I turned to Sandy.
“Damn right it is,” he said.
I went back to the panel and put the hoist back in gear.
“Slow! Slow!” Sandy yelled. “A few more feet!”
And then the skip bucket came into view, cresting out of the bore hole and into the hoist room. It was about the size of two 50 gallons drums, open at the top, wire mesh floor, and iron bars on the sides.
“That’s going to hold you two?” Mary said.
“Course it’ll hold us,” Sandy snapped at her, but man it was a lot smaller than I thought it was going to be. We wouldn’t be bringing the gear back so at least we could pack in the gold in the lower bucket and sit on top of it to get back out…assuming that we found gold of course.
But there was no time to talk about any of that now because we all suddenly heard a booming and banging on what must be the Supply Level. The sounds meant that Olner’s crews were out there now that the cyanide must have cleared trying to clean up the mess. I knew Olner’s team would be working their heads to figure out how such a mess could’ve happened. I only hoped we’d be down to the ‘3800 and back up long before they found the answer. We all must have been thinking the same thing because we started running around getting our gear together like madmen. We pushed cargo bags into the bottom bucket, being careful of course with the dynamite we’d need to blast open the cavern once we reached it.
And then we were ready to go. No more planning, no more waiting, no more nothing.
Sandy climbed into the top bucket and Mary leaned in to kiss him.
“You stay with Jake, daddy, you hear me.”
“Ain’t too far to stray down there,” he said gruffly.
“Well, fine, but listen to what he says, okay?”
He didn’t answer.
“I got 11:50,” I said to her.
“That’s right,” she nodded looking at her watch.
“Four hours, no more. We’ll whistle and you pull us up.”
“Four hours,” she nodded.
“We know all that,” Sandy yelled, “Start the goddamn engine!”
We ignored him and I walked Mary over to the panel. She was shaking like a leaf.
“It’s going to be okay,” I said, “don’t worry about us. This is all you have to think about,” I pointed to the engine.
“I’m be fine,” she said.
“You’ll know we’ve bottomed out on the 3800 when the cable goes to that marker,” I pointed to one of the metal bars welded at different spots above the drum. “Slow way down when you get near there. But be sure to let us drop down to the bottom, so we don’t wind up off the ground.”
She started the engine up and it sounded good, solid and smooth. I headed for the skip and she grabbed my arm.
I tried to smile, “We’ll be back before you know it.”
“Don’t take any chances down there.”
“That’s really funny,” I said and she smiled realizing what a fool thing it was to say.
“Let’s go!” Sandy yelled.
She kissed me quickly, “I love you, Jake.”
“I love you, too. Just listen for my whistle, that’s all.”
I got in the skip, damn near sitting on top of Sandy. He looked scared it seemed to me, but he smiled his weird smile and said, “Here we go, boy. Blow the whistle!”
I blew the start signal and Mary started lowering us. We held tight but still jerked forward as the skip bucket slipped into the dark of the bore hole.
It was a slow ride, nothing like the Yates cage. I looked down through the wire bottom and there was nothing see. No blue lights, no water running by us, nothing but blackness below and blackness above. And it was quiet except for the sound of the cable and the engine now off in the distance. I looked up and soon could barely see the mouth of the bore hole. I pictured Mary sitting at the panel lowering us. I could see her nervous face.
“Feels solid,” Sandy said, but there was some question in his voice.
“Yeah, slow like this is good.”
Very soon the engine sound all but faded, and I got scared for a minute that maybe it had died. But, of course, we were still moving. Going down in a mine shaft you’d normally be passing levels of 150′ each with indicator lights, but here there wasn’t anything at all to tell you how far you were down and how far there was to go. In this darkness, I was fighting dizziness already, forcing myself to breathe slowly, in and out, in and out.
“Should bottom soon,” Sandy said kind of startling me.
Then we started slowing down, meaning Mary had seen the marker coming up on the drum. Sandy shined his light through the mesh floor.
“Look!” he yelled and his voice echoing up and down the shaft. “There!”
About 30 feet below us was a timber square set where the bucket would rest.
“Goddamn,” I said feeling out of breath from nerves I guess.
We were really going slowly now. Mary was doing a hell of a job. I reached out and touched the side of the shaft, feeling the warm rock beneath my fingertips.
“Hold on,” I said.
It wasn’t much of a jolt when we hit the platform, but it sure creaked under the weight of us. The sound was eerie and loud in the shaft like it was breaking apart. Then it got quiet all at once and I knew that meant Mary had shut off the engine. I felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, and the idea of really being down here, about ready to step out into it the dark was like we’d landed on the moon.
“We made it!” Sandy said slapping me on the back.
“Yeah, yeah,” I said softly as if afraid to disturb the tomb.
From where I was standing, the 3800’ didn’t seem like a level at all. I mean, it was no more than a drift going off in two directions. It wasn’t much wider than the bucket we were in. The back, or ceiling, was very low. I looked off into the dark, and I could hear my heart beating in my head where my cap fit tight. I had never been underground in this kind of silence, and I didn’t like it one bit. Nobody had been here for over twelve years. It was like walking into somebody’s dream; and when I heard a sharp scraping sounded echoing down the drift, I nearly jumped off my feet until I realized that it was just Sandy opening the wire mesh gate of the skip bucket.
“Which way?” I said getting out now myself.
“Yeah, you don’t know, do you?” He said real proud. “You’d have to flip a coin.” He pretended to take a coin out of his pocket and he flipped it in the air and watched it come down. He caught it. “Heads, Left, Tails, Right,” he laughed a little . He put his hand on his arm, like he had the coin under there and he peeked at it. “What do you say? Heads or Tails?”
“C’mon!” I said. “Which way?”
“Heads or Tails?” he said again, and serious, too.
The look in his eyes spooked me some. I stared back at him and was pissed off at the time we were wasting with his fool game.
“Tails? You want Tails? Or Heads? Which one,” he chuckled. “Don’t be too quick, either. There’s riches for you one way, and nothing but the dead black of night the other.”
“Knock it off, Sandy!”
“Heads? Or Tails?”
I still didn’t answer. Then I thought of something…maybe he didn’t know either. Jesus! Wouldn’t that be something? Here we’d planned and planned and come all this way, and maybe he’d forgot which way the cavern was. Maybe he wanted me to choose. Okay, I thought, I’ll call his bluff and find out.
“Heads,” I said. “Left.”
“Well, now,” he said real slow, “Let me check her out.”
He peeked under his hand. “It’s Heads, and Right we go.”
“Wait a minute! You said Heads was Left.”
“Bullshit!” he shouted and you could hear it a hundred times echoing around us. “We’re going to go your way, Jake, my boy, to the Right.”
He started to laugh and took off limping down the right side of the drift. I didn’t know what the hell to make of him now. There’s no doubting that he’d said Left was Heads. But, hell, he was already getting some distance away from me and there didn’t seem much choice but to follow. Besides, he had spoken the truth about one thing…he was the only one among us who’d ever been down here before.
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