Change in Profession

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
Man buys a house in the old mining town of Bisbee and finds treasure of mineral specimens under house.

Submitted: June 04, 2012

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Submitted: June 04, 2012

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A  Change in Profession By Rolf Luetcke

 

 

I moved to Bisbee back in 1972.  A job as curator for a small zoo had brought me here.

For the first year I lived in a small trailer behind the zoo.  That was not a good idea since living that close had cornered me into working every day.  I loved the animals but I needed some time for myself.

I was walking by the open door of the fire station in Bisbee one day when a whim made me go inside.  There was someone washing equipment over in one corner.

"Hi, you wouldn't happen to know of any good places for rent?"  I asked him.  This morning I had made up my mind to look for a place in earnest.

"Funny you should ask that!  One of the guys is moving to a bigger house in a couple of days."He called to a guy in the kitchen.  A young, dark haired fellow came out.  He wore an apron and carried a potato peeler.

"Yes, I am moving in a couple of days.  You can come up and look at the place this afternoon.  I'll be home after three.  The rent's fifty bucks a month." he said.

That was how I had found the house!

It was an old house, built sometime around 1900.  It had a porch which ran along the front of the house and a huge pine tree which shaded the front yard.  I only needed a quick look to decide I wanted it.

The house was rectangular, with a steep roof.  The front was at street level but it sat on a slope and ground level was ten feet lower at the back.  This left a big, enclosed space beneath the house for storage.

Since I was renting I did minimal repairs.The house needed some major work but I didn't want to ask the owners to do repairs, fearful they would raise the rent.  The floors weren't level, the roof needed a new layer of tar-paper and the toilet rocked when you sat down.

Then one day there was a knock on the door.  The owner, who lived somewhere in Utah, had come down to put the house on the market.He wanted to give me first crack at it since I had been good about paying my rent on time.  I told him about all the repairs it would need.  He had anticipated that and when he quoted me a price, I was surprised and jumped at his offer.  I had a house for twenty-three hundred dollars!

I spent my days off making small repairs but had saved the leveling job for my two week vacation.  I purchased a couple of ten ton house jacks and a pile of bricks, 4by4 lumber and set to work.  The original four by four posts had been set directly on the ground and been rotten at ground level.  It was no wonder the house had sagged.

I had replaced several of the supports near the front end of the house, where I practically had to crawl in to replace them.I moved farther toward the back of the house where the posts were over ten feet tall to replace one or two that had rotten bottoms.It had all gone very well when I decided to tackle the one near the toilet which had been leaking for a long time.  The ground was damp and as I walked toward the support that was luckily on a brick and in good shape, it happened.  It was so sudden it caught me totally by surprise as the ground beneath my feet gave way.

I threw out my arms and caught the four by four with my left hand at the last second.  I hung over a black hole and listened as the rubble crashed deep below.  I carefully twisted my body around and got my other hand around the post.  I swung my legs up on the edge of the hole and pulled myself to safety.  I clung to the post until my heartbeat slowed.  I looked back at the hole to see what it was when I noticed there was a ladder going down into the hole. 

I went up to the house and got a flashlight.  The tunnel went down nearly fifty feet, where the debris had landed.  The old wooden hatch had been right beneath the bathroom, where the leaky toilet had rotted the wood.  The hatch had been covered with dirt and I had never noticed there was anything hidden there.  I could have been killed!  What in the heck was this thing anyway?  At the bottom I could see a horizontal tunnel going in both directions.  Was this an old mine tunnel that the house had accidentally been built over?

I went up and got my climbing rope out of the truck.

I tied it to the house support and to my waist, in case the ladder was also rotten.  I tested the first rung and it was solid.  I went down, keeping my feet at the edge of the rungs.  When I reached the bottom I found a place free of debris and stood, in an old mine tunnel.

I shone my light down the tunnel in one direction.  It was lined, on both sides, with wooden boxes stacked at least five high.  The lettering on the boxes was still clear.  EXPLOSIVES!  The boxes went along the tunnel as far as my light would reach.  I turned around and the same boxes lined the other side of the tunnel as well.  The hair on my neck was standing on end.  There were enough explosives here to blow the town of Bisbee right off the map.  I knew that old dynamite was very unstable.  I wondered why the falling debris hadn't set it off.  I wouldn't have known what had hit me.  I was carefully reaching for the ladder when I noticed that one of the falling boards had knocked a lid off one of the boxes.  I stopped in my tracks. 

The boxes weren't filled with explosives at all!  My light reflected off brilliant blue azurite crystals.

It took a minute or two to calm down and they the excitement started building again as I looked at the beautiful minerals. 

Since I lived in Bisbee, one of the most famous old copper camps of Arizona, I had learned enough about the minerals to recognize a number of them.

I started popping lids off of the other boxes.  Each was filled with beautiful mineral specimens wrapped in old newspaper.

I had knocked the tops off about a dozen boxes before I stopped.  Most of the minerals were wrapped in old newspaper.I picked up one of the specimens and the paper it was wrapped in crumbled like dry leaves.  I lifted several pieces gently until I found one with a date on it, 1919.  Boy!  This stuff had been here a long time!

I looked at more boxes.  There were glittering pyrites, ruby-red cubes of cuprite, delicate, hair-like aragonites, large crystals of native copper, even one box with gold specimens.  I wasn't an expert, but I knew minerals from Bisbee were expensive, especially nice ones.  So far I had seen stuff that had made the display at the local bank look like throw outs!

I did know a bit about turquoise.My parents collected old pawn Indian jewelry and the deep blue Bisbee turquoise was prized.  I had heard it sold for up to a thousand dollars a pound, for the top grade.  Here was a whole box of it.  I hefted the box off the stack and guessed it held forty to fifty pounds.  I hoped there were more boxes of the turquoise in the stacks.

I stood staring down the mine tunnel.  This stuff was worth a fortune!  There were hundreds of boxes down here.  I had barely opened a couple of dozen boxes and each was filled with museum quality minerals.

My mind was reeling as I climbed back up the ladder.  Where had it all come from?  Who had put it here?  I knew that the underground tunnels were interconnected and there were over 1500 miles of tunnels under Bisbee.

I climbed back up the ladder thinking about my find the whole way up.Suddenly the repairs took a back seat and I decided I needed to find out more about who could have put the minerals here.

I went up and dug out the packet of papers the guy had given me when I bought the house.  There were old deeds and mortgage papers dating back to when the house must have been new.  I wrote the older names on a piece of paper and headed for the library.  They had a collection of newspapers from the Bisbee early days and I went to work.

I spent the better part of the next two days looking through the old newspapers when I hit something.

Bingo!  There it was.  The obituary had all the information I was looking for.  He was from Boston and had gotten a degree in Geology at Harvard.  He had been the geologist at the Bisbee mines for twenty-five years.  He had died suddenly of a heart attack and had no next of kin listed.

The geologist must have known the tunnels under Bisbee pretty well and had found one that went directly under his house and dug the one to reach his basement and concealed it with the wooden hatch.

So, the old coot had been squirreling away minerals for a rainy day.From what I had found, he must have been expecting quite a flood!

In the early days of the mines, many wonderful minerals had been found.Nearly all had gone to the crushers to be turned into copper.Only the higher ups had access to the mines and were able to pick up minerals.  The geologist was one who had the opportunity to collect minerals.In fact, that is how the mining company had gotten such a nice collection, much of which was in the Smithsonian.  I had read about the incredible minerals that had all been turned into copper.The collection at the museum was amazing but the pieces in the boxes below my house were even better.The old geologist must have kept the best for himself and given the managers the seconds.

 

I called the people down at the zoo and told them I wouldn't be coming back to work.  I had decided on a career change, I was starting a new line of work as a dealer in fine Bisbee minerals.

 

 

Copyright Rolf Luetcke

 

 

 

 

Post script:  The part about the house and repairs I did underneath are true, it was my actual house.The tunnel and the minerals were dreamed up and never existed.

When I sold the house in 1986, I moved to a town about 50 miles away where I had a small store.One day an older lady stopped in to my store and told me she had bought my old house and was having it all fixed up.She was a retired librarian from Tucson and loved to read.  I told her I had written a story about the house and she was happy to take home a copy.  I never thought much more about it until about ten years later, when a man from Bisbee came into the store.We got to talking about Bisbee, minerals and the like.He started telling me about a man who had found a tunnel under his house and found a fortune of minerals there.He described my story almost exactly and I laughed and told him that it was just a story I had written and was fiction.He started arguing with me that it had happened.We went back and forth a couple of minutes and when I realized I could not make him believe it was just a fiction story, I gave up.  I can only assume that the librarian had passed the story around and it had taken on a life of its own. 


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