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Video: Is there gold in this Montana mine town?

  1. Transcript of: Is there gold in this Montana mine town?

    LESTER HOLT, co-host: Back now at 8:17 with TODAY'S AMERICAN STORY WITH BOB DOTSON . This morning, an old gold mining town in Montana about a half-hour west of the capital of Helena , where its lucrative history may be repeating itself.

    BOB DOTSON reporting: Out here, the past is not past, it tilts into the wind, marking the spot where 5,000 people once perched on a mother lode of gold.

    Mr. EARL FRED: We had 27 saloons and three newspapers and every kind of a story you can imagine.

    DOTSON: Now memories are all Earl Fred mines.

    Mr. FRED: Even the tiniest little flake will stay in there, it won't work out.

    DOTSON: About 90 people live amid the debris of this once-thriving mining camp.

    Ms. DEB O'CONNELL: My great-grandpa, my grandpa, my dad all worked there.

    DOTSON: Now Deb O'Connell does, too.

    Ms. O'CONNELL: All of the old-timers always said there was way more gold in that mountain than ever came out.

    DOTSON: Because the mine flooded a century ago, covering 20 miles of track. How deep does it get?

    Mr. BEN PORTERFIELD: This is about it.

    DOTSON: A Canadian company, RX Exploration , bought the old digs for a bit more than a million bucks and started draining the water. Previous managers said the mine had played out, but Mike Gunzinger figured...

    Mr. MIKE GUNZINGER: They were lying.

    DOTSON: You think they were just covering up what they really had?

    Mr. GUNZINGER: Definitely.

    DOTSON: Holding the hand close.

    Mr. GUNZINGER: Most definitely. The first five holes we drilled, we had ore in every hole.

    DOTSON: Engineer Ben Porterfield led me half a mile to the mother lode . How much money is in that ore?

    Mr. PORTERFIELD: Well, every eight-foot blast we take, we take out probably about $100,000.

    DOTSON: From a newly discovered vein overlooked in the gold rush digs. The old guys didn't get it all.

    Mr. PORTERFIELD: They missed by about 80 feet.

    DOTSON: Tommie Cruse borrowed money to buy a pick axe and dug the first mine. Named it Drumlummon after his hometown in Ireland .

    Unidentified Woman: And they just thought he was nuts, you know, `What do you mean you're going to start going back in the mountain?'

    DOTSON: Back in 1876 , most gold was panned in creeks. By the end of the 19th century , miners had hacked $16 million out of that hole.

    Ms. LORNA JOHNS (Marysville Resident): These are uncles. It would be wonderful to have that mine just, you know, aglow again.

    DOTSON: Not all the neighbors share in this gold rush nostalgia. They love the town's history, but prefer the ghosts remain quiet. Some people wonder what all this digging and draining will do to their water, other miners who came before left behind an environmental mess.

    Ms. SHERI LONG (Marysville Resident): This summer they're spending $3.5 million to clean up 100-year-old mine waste at Bald Butte and the Great Divide .

    DOTSON: Sheri Long doesn't trust the company to have a cleanup plan given what happened with the oil spill in the Gulf .

    Ms. LONG: The history of cleanup and reclamation in Montana hasn't been stellar.

    Mr. GUNZINGER: They should not distrust us because we've made it better so far.

    DOTSON: Cleaning arsenic-laced water that's been leaching from the old mine for 60 years.

    Mr. PORTERFIELD: Probably better than some of the other water around here once it comes out of the mine.

    DOTSON: The company is not in full production yet, it's still exploring. The miners could be a foot away from a million bucks, or a million feet from a dollar.

    Mr. GUNZINGER: My goodness.

    DOTSON: Mike Gunzinger got the results of their first dig while we were there.

    Mr. GUNZINGER: Holy smokes.

    DOTSON: It came wrapped up like a Russian doll . The first of 44 ounces, worth about $50,000, sent from the mill in the mail. They mailed it in?

    Mr. GUNZINGER: They mailed it in.

    DOTSON: Sheesh .

    Mr. GUNZINGER: We're in Montana , you know?

    DOTSON: And feeling lucky. For TODAY , Bob Dotson , NBC News , with AN AMERICAN STORY in Marysville , Montana .

By
TODAY contributor
updated 7/2/2010 2:40:12 PM ET 2010-07-02T18:40:12
Producer’s notebook

Here’s what I know about Marysville, Mont.: There’s gold in them thar hills — plus a ton of irritating sound. Who would have thought in the middle of Big Sky Country we’d be battling so much noise pollution?

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In the latest American Story with Bob Dotson, we tell you about the modern-day search for gold in Marysville, which is about 30 minutes — and a world away — from the state capital of Helena. Once a bustling gold mine town with a population of 5,000, it’s now a tiny village of fewer than 100 residents, with a ghost-town feel.

Story: Is there still gold in them thar Montana hills?

That's the story Bob tells. That’s not my story.

For crying out loud
My story is about hills alive with the sound of ... lawn-mowing, weed-whacking, power-sawing, and hammer-pounding. Not to mention a cacophony of screaming Air Force jets, a family van of sightseers with an ear-piercing broken fan belt, and a handful of chatty neighbors yakking at about a bazillion decibels. Not to mention the relentless beep-beep-beep of dump trucks backing up at the mine clear across town. And we hadn’t even gotten to the dynamite explosions.

TODAY
Before venturing deep into a gold mine to film American Story with Bob Dotson, producer Stephanie Becker was issued a brass tag. In case of mishap, it would identify her body.

As a producer, it’s my job to worry about that extraneous stuff: the stuff that can drown out what someone’s saying — or cause you to shift your focus. Like the leafy shrub that looks like it’s a Chia Pet Afro growing out of the reporter’s head, or some nitwit flashing gang signs in the middle of a live shot.

Out there in the middle of rural America, I was having an aural fixation. You could hardly hear yourself think. You expect that kind of stuff in the city — the jackhammer with its bone-cracking staccato, the garbagemen bouncing metal cans like rubber balls on the pavement, or the suburban riding mower that roars to life the second you ask, “Why’d you kill him?”

So my main occupation in Marysville was putting the kibosh on those reverberating conversations, garden implements and mine equipment. (There wasn’t much I could do about the roar of the jets, other than wave at them.)

Playing it safe (sort of)
As a producer, it’s also my job to try to keep the crew from life-threatening situations. It’s simply bad for morale. In the past I’ve used my body to divert speeding traffic because the cameraman had to get the shot from the center lane. I’ve wrapped my arms in a death grip around the waist of a cameraman as we spun around Homestead, Fla., in a helicopter after Hurricane Andrew, wanting to puke my brains out. I snatched a soundwoman from a rapidly deteriorating “peace rally” on the Green Line in Somalia as we ducked a man with an Uzi. Most important, I always buy gallons of water and energy bars, just so the crew won’t die of hunger.

In Marysville, we relied on the mine folks to keep us safe. And they did. Before we made our trek down into the bowels of the earth, we got our hard hats and headlights with battery packs. We got a safety lecture: No smoking. Watch your step. Put on these boots. Stick together.

We also learned the proper use of the emergency respirator: “If you need it, put this mouthpiece in with a good seal. It’ll burn your lips, but don’t take it out or you’ll die.” That’s a safety admonition I can stick with.

Then each one of us got a small brass tag with a number on it. In case our bodies could not be identified, the brass tag would survive.

We signed a logbook with the tag numbers and our names. My tag was No. 1. It made me feel like a winner.

Having a blast
I asked if we could shoot that afternoon’s dynamite blast down in the mine. Sure, they said.

As the time ticked closer, I started getting filled in. We could be down there, but if we stayed with the camera, we would have to bolt like Usain Bolt the minute we heard the explosion; otherwise a choking cloud could trap us. Oh, and by the way, the mine operators weren’t going to let any of their people down there.

So, as much as I would have loved to turn me and my crew (not to mention a very expensive HD camera) into a human lint trap for precious metal dust, I took a pass. We’d use file footage.

At 5:30 that day, when those sticks of dynamite blew a half-mile down in the mine, we were surface-side.

Ironically, we didn’t hear a thing. 

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