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Notes and Reflections on Books and Media

by Hannah Leitheiser


Tales of Lonely Trails





"borax was mined thirty years ago, and hauled out of Death Valley by teams of twenty mules. Next morning, while Nielsen packed the outfit, I visited the borax mill. It was the property of an English firm, and the work of hauling, grinding, roasting borax ore went on day and night. Inside it was as dusty and full of a powdery atmosphere as an old-fashioned flour mill. The ore was hauled by train from some twenty miles over toward the valley, and was dumped from a high trestle into shutes that fed the grinders. For an hour I watched this constant stream of borax as it slid down into the hungry crushers, and I listened to the chalk-faced operator who yelled in my ear. Once he picked a piece of gypsum out of the borax. He said the mill was getting out twenty-five hundred sacks a day. The most significant thing he said was that men did not last long at such labor, and in the mines six months appeared to be the limit of human endurance. How soon I had enough of that choking air in the room where the borax was ground! And the place where the borax was roasted in huge round revolving furnaces—I found that intolerable. When I got out into the cool clean desert air I felt an immeasurable relief. And that relief made me thoughtful of the lives of men who labored, who were chained by necessity, by duty or habit, or by love, to the hard tasks of the world. It did not seem fair. These laborers of the borax mines and mills, like the stokers of ships, and coal-diggers, and blast-furnace hands—like thousands and millions of men, killed themselves outright or impaired their strength, and when they were gone or rendered useless others were found to take their places." - Tales of lonely trails by Zane Grey, 1922

Mules were used from 1883 to 1889 to haul borax over a 160 mile stretch of desert, before rail.