Terry Platts, Hard Rock Miner

Terry Platts pushing an ore cart

These days, it takes money and lots of it to be a hard rock miner. That makes Terry Platts a dinosaur in the world of mining.

Terry can trace his mining lineage to his grandfather, who built a mill in Idaho's Smokey Mountains in the 1930's. At one time, there were hundreds of mills like this one pictured here, scattered throughout the state.

These small mills allowed miners to separate the gold from the quartz, first by crushing it and then grinding it to powder, then running it over copper plates that had been prepared with mercury. Gold adheres to mercury.

Terry Platts standing in his mill"The old timers sometimes would use the mercury process and take the mercury and put it in a baked potato and cut a hole in the potato, throw the potato on the campfire and cook it," says Platts. "And the mercury would cook out into the potato, and they would be left with the gold in the middle. That’s early day mining on small amounts, and it’s awful dangerous sitting around a campfire cooking mercury. It’s not good for the health!"

The Mining Act of 1872 gave miners the right to search for minerals just about anywhere, without having to pay royalties on what they found. Miners refer to the 1872 law as their "bill of rights." But in the 1970's Platts says their bill of rights got trampled, when the Forest Service took over the regulation of mining.

"The Forest Service has consequently installed all of these rules andTerry Platts standing at the opening of a mine regulations that supersede the 1872 mining law. So today the mining laws may be in the background and may allow you to mine, and may allow you to do certain things, but you’re still under the strict control of the Forest Service and the mineral division of the Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management."

Platts doesn't do much mining any more. A bad winter has left his mill in disrepair. He wants to restore it, because he's convinced it's the last complete unmodified mining mill of this type in the nation.

"If I’d taken up golf, I probably would have been dollars ahead. But you do what’s in your blood, and what you love, and what you care about. And we certainly have a love affair of the country, and we have a love affair of what we’re doing here."

"Small mining is just about extinct. It takes a big mining company, it takes a lot of money, to follow the new rules that they have. As far as hard rock and other types of mining like this, we are definitely a breed that’s almost done."

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