Author: Eric Twitty, pulbished 2002.
Whether you are a tourist with a casual interest in old mine sites or a serious mining historian wanting to know more about mining methods, you will find Riches to Rust to be fascinating reading. Eric Twitty’s new book can be used as a field guide for exploring the many old mine sites across the West and understanding the relics strewn around an abandoned mine, or it can be useful in understanding the processes involved in mining in the nineteenth century in the United States. It includes chapters on mine development and organization as well as details on prospecting, mining, milling and transporting ore.
Riches to Rust can be thought of as both a historical overview of the development of mining in the West, and a lightweight technical manual for the budding mining historian or industrial archaeologist. This is not the kind of page-turner that is going to hold the interest of the casual reader looking for a historical novel full of intrigue, suspense, and colorful old-west characters. Rather, it is a detailed study of the technology used by mining outfits large and small from the burgeoning days of hard rock mining in the West, through Gilded Age, finally ending at the conclusion of the Great Depression (1860’s through 1930’s).
The book chronicles the development of technology in western mining, from early horse whims, hand drills, and heavy manual labor, to increasingly complex systems and machines designed to delve ever deeper into the Earth and increase ore production. Today most of these machines are gone from historic mines. However, they leave behind foundations and other supporting equipment and infrastructure that identify both the machines used and ultimately whether the mine was merely for exploration or was actually an ore producing venture. Riches to Rust arms the history enthusiast with the knowledge to interpret the mine sites that are ubiquitous throughout the West.
My one complaint about this book is organizational. The bulk of this book is divided into just a few lengthy chapters, some with over 100 pages. For a book with potential as a reference manual, it’s value is somewhat diminished by bulking too much information into lengthy chapters. Breaking the book into more chapters, or subchapters, would have enhanced the books usefulness as a reference. Image captions often reference another image “above” (often referring to an image located several pages prior to the previous page) or “in chapter 3”. Using actual page numbers would have made comparing related images much easier.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and learned a lot that will help me interpret historical mine sites through examination of surface-plant remains. This may be a tough read for some, but I would encourage anyone with an interest in mining history or old mine sites to read the book, even if you can’t get through the entire book at once. Ultimately I would call Riches to Rust an important work in the study of western mining history and would encourage anyone with an interest in old mines to keep this book in your collection.