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Slater woman competes in international mucking contest/Jen Fizer participates on Missouri University of Science & Technology women's mucking team

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Jen Fizer of Slater, left, as captain of the Missouri University of Science & Technology women's Team A, is coaching another team member during the Swede saw event at the International Mucking Contest held recently in Rolla.
(Contributed photo)
The University of Science & Technology (MST) hosted the International Mucking Contest on their campus in Rolla recently. Slater native Jen Fizer, a senior at MST majoring in mining and aerospace engineering, competed on Team A, one of MST's two women's teams in the event.

This tough contest required muscles and stamina, as well as coordinated teamwork.

The competition included seven events: hand-mucking, gold panning, surveying, hand steeling, track standing, Swede sawing, and jackleg drilling. Each of these events relates to specific skills needed by miners in previous years.

Fizer participates in the gold-panning contest during the International Mucking Contest. Fizer said the contest helps students keep in touch with mining techniques of the past and with the lives miners led before modern mining technologies were invented.
(Contributed photo)
"Theses techniques aren't used today," explains Fizer. "With modern mining methods and machinery, they are no longer valid, but this competition keeps us in touch with the past, and helps us to remember that miners worked hard and did these things so that we don't have to work so hard today."

MST entered a total of six teams, including three men's teams, one co-ed team, and two women's teams, out of the 27 teams in the 2008 competition. All the mining schools in the U.S. compete in the event, as well as teams from Australia and Great Britain.

MST hosted this year's competition on the Rolla campus.

MST did well, with the MST men's Team A and Team B coming in second and third, respectively, in the men's category, and the MST co-ed team winning their division.

The MST women's Team A, captained by Fizer, came in second in the women's division, narrowly missing defending the championship title won last year.

Hand mucking

"Mucking is slang for moving material out of the mine," explains Fizer. "In the old days, you loaded your cart by hand, and moved the material out of the mine. We use it as a general term for the entire competition.

"This event consists of five team members, with three shoveling, and two people that block and level the cart. The blockers make sure the muck goes into the cart, by blocking the muck with their hands, so that it drops into the cart. Team members take turns shoveling, with one minute of shoveling as fast as they can, and 30 seconds off. It's a timed event. You have to load your cart, then move the cart down a section of track, and last, move it back to the start. We use gravel for the 'muck' for this event."

Gold panning

In this event, each member on the team is handed a pan full of dirt, and has to pan it out to find five flattened bb's, which are used to simulate gold nuggets. They're heavy enough that they act like gold and settle to the bottom. Team members swish out the mud and other material in their pans, to find all the BBs. The time of each team member is added together, for a total score. The best total time was under five minutes.


For the surveying portion, students use an old-fashioned transit to measure the distance between points. None of today's fancy laser-based models with GPS are allowed. "We have a course that's set up, where you have to shoot a point, and find the coordinates, then move and shoot a second point, and find those coordinates. You're judged on how close you come to getting the coordinates of the final point," explains Fizer.

Swede sawing

In the old days, miners used wooden beams to support mine entrances and weak spots. For this event, each one of the team members has to saw through a 6-foot by 6-foot timber, as fast as possible, using a Swede saw, which looks similar to a very large hacksaw.

The wood has to be sawn all the way through before the next team member can start sawing. The times of each team member are added together, and the shortest total time wins. The best overall time was under one minute.

Track standing

"In this event, you actually have to build a section of track," says Fizer. "To prepare, you have to carry everything out individually onto the site. There's two parts to the actual event: building the track, then tearing it down. You bring out wooden ties and rails, and connect them to previously laid rails. You have to set all your rails, and drive all your spikes. Then, after a short break, during the second part of the time event you have to dismantle it, by prying up all the spikes and unbolting it, and carrying it back to the starting location as fast as you can."

In addition to racing for the fastest time, judges look at how well the track was built. Rails can't "float" on uneven ground, and spikes have to be driven in straight, not at an angle, or penalties are given. Best overall time for this event was under eight minutes.

Hand steeling

Miners used to drill holes in rock to insert explosives. This event simulates the process. Contestants use a metal chisel and hammer, to put a 7/8-inch diameter hole into a piece of concrete. During this 10-minute event, each team member has two minutes to drill as far as they can. The total depth is measured at the end, and the team with the deepest hole wins.

Jackleg drilling

Jackleg drilling is the same event as hand steeling, but using a machine. Also, rather than the surface being flat on the ground, it is on a wall. The drill itself weighs 144 pounds.

"A Jackleg drill is a pneumatic drill. It has a water supply to it, to flush out all the rock that you drill," says Fizer. "For this event, you have to pick it up and carry it to the rock base, set it up, and drill as far as you can in an allotted amount of time."

Teammates work in pairs, with one holding the drill and the other holding the steel (drill bit). The pairs switch every two minutes, for a total of five minutes.

The best team was able to drill 197 inches in five minutes.

Now a tradition

Fizer explains that this is the 30th year for the mucking competition, which started in honor of the Sunshine (silver) Mine disaster. In this 1972 mine disaster in Kellogg, Idaho, 91 people died from smoke inhalation or carbon monoxide poisoning, when a fire started and miners couldn't escape. It was considered the worst hard rock mine disaster since 1917.

"Mines are much safer now," explains Fizer. "We have much better monitoring equipment, and better mining equipment, too."

A reunion, too

The competitions have become much more than honoring past miners. The event gets mining engineers together from all over the world.

"The event is for fun, as well as for networking," says Rachel Skipper, another mining student participating in the games. "Mining engineers are like a big family, and this is like a family reunion. Lots of alumni come out. We even have some alumni teams competing. It's a good time to meet managers from different mines, and get perspectives on different mining schools.

Some of the engineers from the big mining companies come and watch the event. They're also looking for potential employees."

Jen already knew by high school that she wanted to go into engineering for a career. "I'm a very 'hands on' person," explains Fizer. "I knew I wanted a job where I work with my hands. I came down here for a summer camp during high school, the Jackling summer camp, and really enjoyed it. It's a camp that focuses on the earth sciences such as mining, petroleum, and geology.

"While I was there, they mentioned that they hold another summer camp, an explosives camp. I came back for the explosives camp, which is sponsored by the mining department, and got interested in mining.

"I decided on Rolla for several reasons. First, it's considered one of the best mining schools in the country. I also feel like the people are similar to those I grew up around in my farming community of Slater. They're laid back, friendly, and close-knit, because it's a small industry. Last, it's something to do for your livelihood, like farming. We have a saying in the mining world, 'if it can't be grown, it must be mined.'"

Starting in May, Fizer will spend her summer internship with Cargill, at a salt mine in Lansing, N.Y. Last summer, she worked at Doe Run, a lead mine in southeast Missouri.

"After I graduate, I'll get a job somewhere as a mining engineer. There's a wide variety of options -- there's such a shortage of mining engineers that there are lots of jobs available.

The mining industry is currently having a large turnover. Many people went into the mines after WWII; now most of the workforce is retiring, so there is a huge shortage of educated engineers to take over the running of these mining operations."

Although technically considered a senior because of the number of hours she's completed, Fizer is currently in her third year, and will return to MST for one more year before graduating. She's leaning toward a career in underground hard rock mines, because she finds them interesting, and likes the challenges they present.

And with one more competition next April, perhaps Fizer's team can re-take the women's title in the International Mucking Contest before she graduates.

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Jennifer Winston is currently employed by Cargill at the Avery Island Salt Mine in Avery Island, Louisiana. The mine is owned by Avery Island Incorporated, a company formed by the Avery and McIlhenny families. The McIlhennys are known worldwide as the makers of TABASCO, and the facility where it is manufactured is also located at Avery Island.

-- Posted by Gracie May on Sat, Jan 23, 2010, at 10:23 PM

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