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Mining Minds: A Conversation With Dan West

Mining Minds: A Conversation With Dan West

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Hello miners, hello podcast listeners, welcome to another episode of mining minds. We appreciate you guys taking your time to hang out with us knuckleheads, and we believe we have a good one on deck for you. Mr. Dan West sits in, talks about some of his stories as a youngster, his time in “Yale,” and what I really enjoyed listening to was him seizing the opportunity every time he got a chance to do something different in his career. So check it out, don’t forget to brass in, and as always thank you the listener.

MM: We have the privilege and opportunity to hang out with Dan West today. We are going to walk through your journey, to kind of set it up, we wanted Dan to come on because he is an emergency response system chief. He is in charge of teams that go and compete, that do rescues on site. Why don’t you walk us through your journey in life, how did you get here, what do you know?

DW: I know we had talked about this a little bit before, you guys had asked if I am from this area, and that is kind of true. I was born in Provo, Utah. I have a twin brother. We lived in a really small town in Ferron, Utah, which is over kind of by Price, which is coal country.

MM: What did your folks do over there?

DW: My dad worked in mining. He was working at a coal mine underground and that is why he was working in that area.

MM: I did not know that there was a coal mine over in Utah. .

DW: Yeah, if you ever go through Price, Utah, hey have a pretty cool museum. They have some monuments around town for guys that have died in coal mining accidents over there. I know that because I have an uncle with his name on one of those plaques.

MM: Is the mine still active?

DW: There is not a whole lot active over there, and that that is just indicative of coal at the moment anyway.

MM: When did you move here?

DW: My parents moved here in 1992, I was two-years-old, so I don’t really remember a lot of living in Utah. My dad moved over here and took a job on the surface running equipment. We went to Spring Creek Elementary and Spring Creek High School.

MM: So you got through high school, what did you do after that?

DW: So immediately out of high school my brother and I started working at an apartment complex here in Elko, we knew the guy through family connections that managed it, and they said they needed people to do maintenance and grounds keeping and hourly wage.

MM: Keep walking us through, man.

DW: Apartment complex and then I went into mining. It was funny, growing up here, there was sort of a perception that was like, you don’t want to go out there, you’ll get out to the mines and you’ll never leave, stuck forever. As a young person, I was like I’m never doing it. I’m never going out there I’m fighting that man, I’m fighting the system. (Eventually) I was like, how am I going to buy a house? I need health insurance, I need a 401k, I’m mid-way through my 20s now, what am I going to do? It was kind of just that different mentality. I was like, it can’t be that bad out there, people move here from all over the world to work. I talked to my brother and I said, hey man, we need to do this, let’s do it and so we both started applying. So like three months later I ended up getting a phone call saying, why don’t you come in for an interview for out at Goldstrike at the roaster. It wasn’t anything I applied for.

MM: Did your brother get an interview?

DW: He actually hadn’t got a call yet. So I went in I do my interview, and on my way out, I’m telling the recruiting, HR ladies, I said hey, just so you know, I have a twin brother, and his name is David, and our middle names are the same because its after our dad. I said just so you know that is a separate application. We work at the same place, our birthday is the same and our social securities are really close together. I didn’t misspell my name on an application, it is a whole other person.

MM: What I am gathering out of this story is that you and your brother are a team.

DW: Absolutely, if I could work with him today, like starting all over, I would do it in a heartbeat. I have a great relationship with my brother, I loved working with him at those apartments. If we could work together out at the mines, I would absolutely do it. Sure enough he got a call a couple days later and for the mill, over at Goldstrike, where he is still at.

DW: Actually I didn’t end up at the roaster and I don’t even know…when I was 19-years-old I made some not super great choices, ended up getting arrested, going to jail and having a misdemeanor.

MM: So you went to Yale?

DW: Yeah, it’s not a fun time. I do not recommend it. Worst bologna sandwich of my life.

MM: So why did you go to jail?

DW: I kind of like keeping the mystery alive. I bailed myself out of jail, and actually, I was with two of my other buddies. It was like all three of us, and they gave us a court date. We go to court and the judge is like, quit being stupid kids. I am not going to give you guys any probation, I am not going to give you guys any court fees, you are not going to have any community service, just don’t get trouble in the next 365 days and go about your lives.

DW: So five or six-years, later here I am sitting in an interview, and when you are applying one question is do you have a felony or misdemeanor. I mark no because it’s been years and it never really came up. (The mine) says, hey we want to offer you a job, they pull me in again and they say, hey do you need to disclose anything else? I am like no, honestly I wasn’t event thinking about it. (The arrest) hadn’t crossed my mind in years, so no. They look at me and say well this came up on your background check, so ultimately we can’t offer you a job. I said well that super sucks.

MM: I think that says a lot about the mining industry, man. That they say were ready to give you a job and we are going to pull you back in and we are going to give you one last chance to be honest with us and if you are honest with us you are in.

DW: One-hundred percent that is on me as a person. I am watching my brother accept this job and go off, and I am like great, now what am I going to do? I ended up getting my MSHAW on my own and going to one of the temp agencies. Eventually they gave me a call and said hey, we have a job out at one of the mines if you want to do it, I said absolutely, let’s go, which is how I ended up at Cortez. I went out there and I was working on leach pads, if you have never been to a mine and someone tells you they are going out to a leach pad. I didn’t even know what to think or what it would even look like.

MM: What did you think when somebody said you’re going to a leach pad?

DW: I’m thinking water or something. I have no idea? I head out there and I work for maybe four months or so, the end of the year through the beginning of the year. They really like me, but they are like okay we’re done, we don’t need you anymore, which sucks as a temp because it’s like, what do you do?

DW: I am kind of freaking out a little bit. I am talking to all my supervisors, asking where can I go? They said, we need a temp at the lab. Obviously, I am going to take that.

MM: So you are starting to put the pieces of the puzzle together. You are going from the leach to the lab and you are going okay, this is how this works. You were learning about the mining process at that point.

DW: What I found interesting about that is certain individuals want to know and certain individuals don’t. They go out there for the paycheck or they hop in their equipment, they do their assigned jobs and that is it, they never ask (questions) again. I don’t know if it is because of the way I was brought up, but I like to know. I asked a bunch of questions and then we went to the lab and I was working like 5-6 days on one day off, anything I could do. I am talking to my supervisors like, what can I do to get me hired. I was told apply again in six months and we will look at your application again. They were pulling really hard for me and it was a process because I had that black mark against me.

DW: The supervisors are sticking their necks out, I guess they had ruffled enough feathers at this point. I think I had enough people saying he’s a good option, we should hire this guy.

DW: Two-weeks later I had an offer letter for the lab.

MM: How did that change your mental focus?

DW: I had worked so hard and I was just going to keep pushing hard. I was working six days a week and I kept asking for more time at work, because as a temp, they only let you do certain things. At the lab they were like crush these rocks, and I did that for days in and days out and I was finally like hey, what else can I do? I need to learn. I talked my way into doing fire assay.

MM: For the listeners out there, let’s explain fire assay. What does that mean?

DW: What it is, you take a crushed rock ore with gold in it, you take a certain weight of that and you go into a room with these furnaces that are 2-3000 degrees and you add some lead flux, you add some silver in there and then you stick them in these furnaces.

MM: Why do you add those two things?

DW: The silver draws the gold together and the lead binds it. What you are wanting to do is essentially get all the lead out, which is essentially going to turn into glass and break away and you are left with this lead button, it is tiny, it looks like a little Hershey’s Kiss or something like that. You stick that into another furnace and it evaporates the lead and what you are left with is a little tiny, like gold and silver bead. Then you take this little tiny gold and silver bead and you go into a different part of the lab and you mix it with some acid and that acid dissolves the silver away and you are left with just a little gold bead. You weigh it and then they calculate the tonnage of how much gold there is per-ton with what you crushed.

MM: As I was walking through that in my mind, that was probably the best description of what we do out here.

DW: When people ask, I try to explain the process in a way that most people would understand. It is fairly technical and that is not the only way they weigh gold in the lab but that’s a pretty common way. As time goes on, over the next six-months, ironically, I am like, I don’t think I can stay here for 30-40 years and do this day in and day out, not that it was a bad job. There was a position back at leach and I really liked the schedule. It was a Monday through Thursday, 10-hour-a-day schedule, which was more way more conducive to my home life.

MM: Were you married at that point?

DW: I was not married, but engaged. I was with my wife six-years before we got married, so we had been together a long time. She worked a 9-5 Monday through Friday Job and there times on nights I just didn’t see her. It was like, I guess I’ll see you in a week.

I wanted to base my income off of a lower scale, so it allowed me room to move. If you start making really, really good money immediately, it is hard to move around. So I was like at entry training level pay. As soon as I got my first tech level at the lab I transferred out. Back to the same level, but it was basically the same training level pay, it was pretty lateral. I think those people at the lab were not super happy that they went to bat for me and a week before my six-months I transferred out of there.

MM: The cool thing about the industry thing man, is that there are so many opportunities. If you are excelling at one-point in the mining industry and you want to move and people know that you are a solid person, it doesn’t really matter, you still harness those relationships.

DW: I moved on, worked over at leach for like two-years.

MM: What did you think about that?

DW: I liked the pads, it gave a certain freedom at the mines. I worked on both sides of the valley out at Cortez because it is such a big footprint. There was a lot of freedom to go see a lot. I saw the whole footprint, that part of it was really, really awesome and I learned a lot of hands on mining skills out there.

DW: What I didn’t like, you are working outside when it is 105 degrees outside or when it is 10 degrees and snowing, you are out there.

MM: You really were in mining for 3-4 years with the temp agency, and then actually being a miner for a while.

DW: I am coming up on my fifth-year next month.

MM: But what you did, you joined the emergency response team at some point.

DW: Like three months after I got hired. I don’t know what it was specifically, but I was like, I am going to do that. Something that is going to break up my day out there, it is going to give me something to look forward to all the time and I get to help.

MM: I like how you said that man, you get to help. When you get those guys that come in that want to help and they are part of your emergency response team, those are your leaders. Those are the guys looking forward. Those are the guys who are going to be your future managers.

DW: You have your bottom 10 percent and your middle, and then your top 10 percent. I am very fortunate that I deal with the top 10 percent all the time. Here during quarantine, we pulled all the EMTs and AMTs off of crew for a time and I am telling you the front-line supervision were not thrilled because I’m pulling lead men, and shovel operators, plasters from the underground.

MM: You are pulling the future management of that company.

DW: I said, I’m sorry that they are the leaders on your crew, but this is also what they do. Right now, I need them.

MM: Let’s take a step back. You joined mine rescue, but then you jumped into a coordinator role.

DW: I knew that I wanted to get into safety. I was in leach and it was still another one of those things where I knew there was no way I was going to do that for the rest of my career. As great as leach was, it doesn’t transition to a lot of other places. In the event that mining takes a downturn, what am I going to do? Safety that seems like a really good place to be, they need it everywhere and I am already doing rescue. It probably took a year-and-a-half of applying and trying to look for place. There were mergers and things that happened that kind of postponed that, but they knew. There was finally a coordinator position for safety that came open.

DW: I said at the end of the day, I am going to give you 110 percent and I am going to kill it. About two days later they offered me the chief job.

MM: For a lot of people that might not understand, why do you guys use the chief, lieutenant labeling?

DW: That is from the fire department side, and it is just a really good structure and chain of command. It is an easy way for communication to go up.

MM: If you guys are following this nomenclature at the mines, and you are making that correlation with civilian life, I imagine that you training has to be such that somebody could step off a mine site as a lieutenant and do the same thing in civilian life?

DW: Oh, absolutely, and it is something I do on my free time, I volunteer with Elko Fire and I have been doing that for three-years now. So I get to do all that fun stuff too, and it transitions over really well.

MM: What is amazing to me, walking through this journey with you Dan is you go from Yale to five-years into your career being influential, a super success story in my opinion, of what the mining industry can offer people if they want to take it.

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