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Tuesday March 15th: Rollin’ Like Bill Gates

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<– Day 6- Monday March 14th: Train to Yuma Prison | Beginning | Day 8 – Wednesday March 16th: More Earth Sciences –>


Sculpture in downtown Tucson

Today, we spent the day in the Tucson area (See yesterday’s post here).

A few weeks ago I wrote an email to the folks at ASARCO’s Mineral Discovery Center (AMDC) southwest of Tucson. I told them we were coming for a visit and wanted to join one of their mine tours. Their tour involves taking a bus through the working open-pit Mission Mine, then a visit to one of their mills. As most of you know, my upcoming book SLAG includes my great great grandfather’s role in co-founding the American Smelting & Refining Company in 1899, now known as ASARCO. I asked if anyone at the Discovery Center would be curious to meet with us and learn about the book I was writing that included the early history of ASARCO.

Vice President of Environmental Affairs Thomas Aldrich, a forty year veteran of ASARCO, wrote back explaining that, yes, they would enjoy meeting us. Moreover, after the exchange of a few emails, he offered to take us on a personal tour of the mine facility. I thought that pretty generous, so I snapped up the offer before he could change his mind.


The AMDC is just off I-19, about twenty minutes south of Tucson.

On Tuesday morning we arrived at 9:00am for the 9:30am meeting (Sorry for rushing you out the door honey, but I got my times confused!). However, we put the early arrival to good use by watching the Discovery Center’s movie about ASARCO’s mining and smelting process. I found it particularly interesting, given my work on the book.


Beautiful grounds outside the Discovery Center.

After the movie, Sandra Elizondo, director of the AMDC introduced us to Tom Aldrich and Tom Klempel, Mission Environmental Manager. Together, Tom and Tom were in charge of wrangling us (basically keeping us out of trouble I think — apparently our reputation proceeds us). The four of us hopped into Tom K.’s truck and he drove us to the Mission MIne’s overlook. It takes some time to reach the top of the mine, so we had plenty of time to chat about ASARCO, the book, and each other.

At the mine overlook, the Toms explained the details of open pit mining, from the removal of the overburden, to the removal and tracking of the valuable deposits, to its processing in the mills. The copper at the Mission Mine is so low grade that only about 1% of the ore mined is copper. Put another way, the mine processes about three hundred truck loads of ore per day (see truck below), which results in three truckloads of copper. But, that’s been the story of most mines. It’s a volume business requiring transportation, industry, and science to profitably produce predictable amounts of valuable minerals.


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From the top of the mine, we traveled to the south mill, where the copper ore is crushed and concentrated. The size and scope of the operation is impressive and really must be seen to be understood.



After the mill, we drove back down the mine, stopping at a pair of the trucks that carry the ore. As you can see they can carry many tons! But, those trucks aren’t cheap. Just one tire runs about $60,000 and lasts only about a year.

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With our photo op finished, we met up with the President of ASARCO, Manuel Ramos, who came from a family of smeltermen. His father and grandfather both worked at smelters. We also met with Ted, whose last name I can’t recall at this late hour. He shared with us a ledger from 1903 that had the names of early American Smelting executives.


Ted showing me the 1903 ledger.


Tom, Manuel, Me, Ann, & Ted.

After another photo op, they took Ann and I to lunch at a local Mexican restaurant. There, Manuel kindly presented me with three copper coins, one of which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Hayden Mine, which my great grandfather rebuilt in 1911. That was special.


Three commemorative copper coins.

Perhaps the funniest part of the visit was when they explained to Ann and I that a few years ago someone else from the northwest came to visit. A Mr. Bill Gates arranged a special visit at ASARCO for his son so Bill could teach his son where stuff came from. The ASARCO folks arranged a visit similar to the one they’d given us. Ann preferred to think that Bill’s visit was just a practice run for our visit. That works for me 🙂

If you are in Tucson, take the opportunity to visit the AMDC. You have to see it in person!

We arrived back in Tucson in the early afternoon with enough time to explore some of downtown. Ann wanted to take photos near the University of Arizona, so we headed that area. Like most University districts, the U of A had an interesting cast of characters, plenty of color to make our stroll an interesting one.

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Next, we made our way to the old part of downtown. There we met up with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday for a visit.


Next, we made our way to a downtown tile sculpture that was really neat.

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Finally, we found a church with an unusual outdoor gazebo.


St. Augustine Church in downtown Tucson.


Flower covered stage.

Following a quick dinner of Pho soup, we returned to our motel room. Tomorrow, we will head to Biosphere 2 near Oracle, AZ, before visiting Hayden and then stopping in Globe for the evening.

<– Day 6- Monday March 14th: Train to Yuma Prison | Beginning | Day 8 – Wednesday March 16th: More Earth Sciences –>


7 Comments on “Tuesday March 15th: Rollin’ Like Bill Gates

  1. scramboleer

    That’s awesome Dave. I once went on a tour of a coal mine (we stayed above ground) in the Rheinland near Cologne. The scale was awe-inspiring.

  2. Brandon

    What a cool stop!! I drive along 19 and pass those mines twice a day. My father hauls sulfuric acid in support of all the local southern AZ mines that leach. Maybe my father will run into you this weekend at the show.

  3. David Eilers Post author

    Brandon … I’ll be wearing an “eWillys” ball cap, so i shouldn’t be too hard to miss.

    – Dave

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