The Missouri Mines State Historic Site’s annual Old Mine Open House event was held Saturday, and was one of the few events in the area not cancelled due to forecasted rain.
Visitors took advantage of the indoor facilities and free admission to the site’s museum to escape the soggy Saturday and to learn about the history of mining from some of the men who were there.
The annual open house event sees, among other attendees, individuals who were employed by the St. Joe Lead Company during its mining efforts in the area, and who are the event’s “special guests.”
The special guests are on hand to describe their former work with the machinery on display in the site’s museum and to explain what life was like working at the mine.
Two of the special guests who were present this year were Paul Gerdemann and Bill Oder, who each worked at the lead mine.
Gerdemann, who says he worked all over during his 40 year career that began in 1952, worked as a geologist at the St. Joe mine.
Oder went to work in 1965 as an electrician through an apprenticeship program and worked 13 years at St. Joe.
Both men said they have been coming to the open house for about 10 years, with the event being a great opportunity to reunite with former coworkers and to speak with members of the public who may have questions about the mining process.
“It’s very interesting to see people coming in and asking questions,” Oder said. “A lot of times, people want to know what this cable here is, hanging up in the back of the museum.”
Oder pointed to a large electrical wire suspended from the ceiling over one of the display’s locomotives.
“I explain to them how we used to have rails underground that we had trolley cable hung for,” he said. “You’d hook a hook over it and take your little speeder or motor back into the drifts and on into the bore where they’d get loads from.”
Gerdemann said even those who work in mines today may not be familiar with such a system, as most mines nowadays are trackless unlike St. Joe, which relied heavily on the machines displayed in the site’s museum to effectively break up and haul ore throughout the mine.
It should come as no surprise that some of the museum’s visitors on Saturday knew those who worked in the mines, or were directly related to them.
Sandi Green Saurage, for example, visited the open house on Saturday and said that several members of her family worked in the area’s mines. The open house, she said, is a chance to refresh oneself on the history and reality of the mining that took place here.
“We’ve been here before,” Saurage said. “We come out to get re-acclimated to all of the history about lead mining.”
Having relatives who worked in the mine, Saurage has a connection that perhaps not everyone has when visiting the site and museum.
“I think about the time period and how old my dad might have been when he was working,” she said. “And I listen to the older guys talk about how they made do with what they had. They did their job and probably didn’t complain a whole lot while they were doing it.”
The Old Mines Open House is one of the Missouri Mines State Historic Site’s annual events, which also includes next month’s “Fall Rocks” event.
Jacob Scott is a reporter with the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.