Timing is everything, and for a couple of local gold prospectors back in 1942, that adage certainly rang true.
The Hamme brothers, Richard and Joe, didn’t find gold in the northwest part of Vance County, but what they did find certainly proved valuable and timely.
It wasn’t gold. But they found tungsten.
Mark Pace and Bill Harris talked about the origins of The Tungsten Mine near Townsville on the Around Old Granville segment of Tuesday’s The Local Skinny!
If you remember your world history, the U.S. and its Allied forces were in the middle of World War II in 1942. The Hamme brothers’ discovery came at a very opportune time – the U.S. military needed the tungsten to put on artillery tips. Tungsten is the hardest naturally occurring metal, Pace explained. The world’s tungsten supply was in control of various countries that supported the Axis armies, and the Allied forces needed access to tungsten.
“Within six weeks, the tungsten mine was in operation,” Pace said. It started out as an open mine pit, but soon a 1,700-foot deep shaft was dug and horizontal shafts extended from the single vertical shaft.
But it wasn’t so simple to get the tungsten out of the ground. “The problem was it was very labor intensive,” Pace said. The tungsten was embedded in clear quartz rock that is ubiquitous in the area. Workers had to pulverize the rock into a fine-grained sand. “And then (they’d) run a magnet across it,” Pace said. If you were to study a Google map of the area today, he said you’d see acres and acres of those quartz “tailings” at the site of the former mine, which closed permanently in 1971.
One other problem with the tungsten mine was that folks around here didn’t have much experience with mining. Many families relocated in the area after having worked for generations up in Mitchell County, NC in iron and feldspar mines.
Although there’s probably still plenty of tungsten to be had, there’s probably not much chance of the tungsten mine being reopened, Pace said.
But, just to be on the safe side, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built two dams during construction of Kerr Lake. And it’s the Island Creek Dam that is safeguarding from possible flooding the valley where the tungsten mine is located.
Just in case.