Kelsey, William F. Interview, 1975 January 20. OH-01005. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.
UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey i An Interview with William Kelsey An Oral History Conducted by James Greene Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas Special Collections and Archives Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada, Las Vegas UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey ii © Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2019 UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey iii The Oral History Research Center (OHRC) was formally established by the Board of Regents of the University of Nevada System in September 2003 as an entity of the UNLV University Libraries’ Special Collections Division. The OHRC conducts oral interviews with individuals who are selected for their ability to provide first-hand observations on a variety of historical topics in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada. The OHRC is also home to legacy oral history interviews conducted prior to its establishment including many conducted by UNLV History Professor Ralph Roske and his students. This legacy interview transcript received minimal editing, such as the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader's understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. The interviewee/narrator was not involved in the editing process. UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey iv Abstract On January 20, 1975, collector businessman, James M. Greene interviewed businessman, William F. Kelsey (born November 6th, 1908 in Pasadena, California) in his home in Nelson, Nevada. Mrs. Kelsey is also present during the interview. This interview covers the life and times of Mr. Kelsey. UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 1 (Audio begins midsentence)—Nevada, on January 20th, 1975. Mr. Kelsey’s experience in the mining of an area of Southern Nevada and Northern Arizona, Oatman and Caymans and Searchlight, Nelson area. And developing through (unintelligible) from his father, an ability, as machinist, and to the point he established his own firm in Las Vegas, Nevada. Now Mr. Kelsey’s experience is a unique one, in that he pointed out to the interviewer that miners were completely self-sufficient—in that they had their own machine shops. They built their own ore cars, and everything that was needed in case of an emergency or some—anything that could be foreseen to be needed. Mr. Kelsey’s tapes will be—will repose in the University of Nevada Las Vegas library, for his use and those of his heirs, if—or his family, and for serious researchers in history. Mr. Kelsey, I—your father was a machinist by trade? Well, not—he was what was known as a millwright, I believe. A millwright? A millwright. Yes. A construction worker. Yes. And he followed this—as, oh, in the mining and that, I suppose, during the early days, why, it required you had to be a jack of all trades, I guess. He’s a master mechanic, then? Right. I suppose you would call it that. Just a little bit of (unintelligible) Yes. And he worked in, oh, the mines for a while. He was in, I think the Goldfield, in 1905 or ‘06, in there. Yes. UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 2 And then, the city of Los Angeles, had the metropolitan, well, it wasn’t the metropolitan, it was a (unintelligible) they called it, at that time. And they were seeking water, so that Los Angeles could become a big city. Yes. And in so doing, why, they secured water out of the Owens Valley. I remember that, yes. And they built the Los Angeles (Unintelligible) Yes. And when this started why he—he went to work for the Bureau of Water and Power and driving tunnels. Yes. And doing—building dams. Uh-huh. And he did a lot of work for them doing construction there. Up in, oh, I recall some of the work that he did in 1912. Yes. Out of Lancaster. Yes. He built the—what they call the Fairmont Reservoir. And they used to haul all the equipment with mule teams. Yes. I have some pictures somewhere of them hauling them, what they call the Marian steam shovel, from Lancaster to Fairmont. UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 3 Uh-huh. And I think it was something like twenty-five miles or something, it took them about five weeks to move the steam shovel. (Laughs) Goodness! And they have— (Laughs) They have in the picture, as I recall—there was about four teams. Each one consisting of twenty of. Twenty? Twenty to each team. Yes. And there was four teams pulling this wagon—well, they had to pull it across through the desert to get it out, the main part of the (unintelligible) That was quite a hitch up, wasn’t it? Right. It was quite a feat. (Laughs) (Laughs) of course. Course, I didn’t know anything about it. Yes. It was just the pictures that my father had. And I have ‘em somewhere. When did you first start observing your fathers wonderful all around ability? And did it attract you? Yes. I was— As possibly something for your life’s work? UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 4 Right. This is all I knew. Because I was raised in the construction camps and in the mines. And I didn’t know anything else. Yes. All I knew was miners and Teamsters. (Laughs) And it was eight years old—I was eight years old before I ever knew there was any such thing as a school. (Laughs) Where did you first go to school? I first went to school in Mohave. In Mohave, in California? Mm-hmm. Then as—? That was quite an experience I had never been around kids before in my life. I didn’t hardly know that there was such a thing as kids. Yes. They were completely strangers to me. (Laughs) (Laughs) And I revolted quite a bit. (Laughs) There weren’t many families, in other words? No. Not in the camps where we were. I see. And when did dad come south into Arizona? Well. In the Oatman area, possibly, and then, into Nelson? (Unintelligible)? Oh, that was probably in the ‘30s, in the 20s, and 30s. Thirties? UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 5 His—his, most of his work in Arizona and around, was just explorer—exploratory work, looking for mines. Uh-huh. And prospecting in there. And he came, oh, to Searchlight, I guess about ’31 or ’32, along in there. Well, that made you about twenty-two. You’re a full-fledged workman, by that time? Just starting out good. (Laughs) Yes? I imagine you had to, you know? Right. I first started working when I was 12 years old. Did he see that you went on to school after you left Mohave? Yes. Yes, that was—he was concerned about the private schools at that time. (Laughs) He figured I—would, I guess be lead astray, by going to the private schools. So they sent me away to a military academy in San Diego. I was—went to the San Diego Army and Navy Academy. How long were you there, sir? Oh. I’d say, that was 1925, in the first year. Nineteen twenty-four. Twenty-four when I attended the school. And I put in four years and graduated with the—I was the highest cadet honors that there was at the school. I was a cadet major at the time we had graduated. Yes. In the Reserve Office of the Training. School interests you? It did. It was rather hard for me. And then I— UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 6 I can see why. And then. Surely. And during my summer vacations I was—would always work. I would rather work with the Bureau of (Unintelligible) on the— Yes. (Unintelligible) at that time. I see. I worked for them. Because I had known a lot of the engineers, and that, that was— Yes. Conducting the operation of that. And then, I started to—I went to Pasadena City College. And was taking up engineering, mechanical engineering. This pleased your father? Right. He was pleased about that. Was he still back in the mines, at that—? No. He— While you were in Pasadena? No. He was still doing some work for the PAR—he was building some PAR houses at that time. I see. Uh-huh. There for them. And course when this happened I went to school. I had some unfortunate happenings. I got mixed up with a girl and— (Laughs) (Laughs) That was my first wife. UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 7 (Laughs) And this went on and kind of handicapped my education, so to speak. Oftentimes. This pretty girl. (Unintelligible) Yes. Sir. (Unintelligible) The need to make money. Right. (Laughs) And then, I went to work for the Bureau and (Unintelligible) as a steel foreman, for them. Yes. This was during the time, we had a little argument with the Owens Valley people and they were dynamiting the (Unintelligible) and— What do you—? What would be the responsibilities of a steel foremen or what would his crews be doing? I was— Building tunnels? No. I—they would blow up these (unintelligible). They were dynamiting them and they would blow ‘em up and my job was to replace them. I see. Had to go out in to the field with a gang of steelworkers. I see. And put in the— UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 8 You have welders and—? A couple of welders. Right. We had everything. Rigging equipment? Right. You’d just start off from nothing. Sometimes you’d be called up and they had an emergency, a (unintelligible) had been blown up, and you had to get out. And—and the next morning you’d be working and he’d go out and even sometimes we would use our shovels to eat our food off of. We wouldn’t even have a camp made up in time. I see. Because it was emergency jobs. You were really field men, then? Right. (Unintelligible) And the water had to be back flowing in that (unintelligible) I see. Because at that time (unintelligible) only had about a three week supply of water. I see. (Unintelligible) So what attracted you over here to Nevada? Well, Boulder Dam, was getting underway at the time. Yes sir. And I transferred from the L.A Water Department over to the Babcock and Wilcox and the Boulder Dam (unintelligible) They were one of the Six Companies. Yes. They were fabricating the (unintelligible) pipe for them. I see. UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 9 And I didn’t work there very long. It was too rugged. And it was— Physically, it was—? Hard work and very long days. Hard to—? Yes. The pay was very poor, then. Well, now you’ve had how much education by this time in Pasadena City College? I have about three years. Well, of course, you had an idea by that time, what a day’s pay should be, too? Yes. (Laughs) And it wasn’t at Boulder Dam, then? Not at all. No. And then—then I left to—I left Boulder Dam, and came here to Nelson at the little Dunkin Mine, which was across from the Techatticup and I worked there for a short time. I see. And—were you in the same roll as your father was then? No. He was in—he was mining at that time, then. He had some pretty good sized mines going at that time. I see. He had one in Death Valley and one at Rosamond, California. Yes. And they were big operating mines. Well, what was your work in Nelson at that time? Oh. I was just swamping around in the mill. Just (unintelligible) in the mill and working around (unintelligible) I see. UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 10 And so on. Now this was getting close to the late ‘30s, was it not? Right. Yes. Uh-huh. This was in about ’31, I believe, ’32—along in there. And then, they were paying more money at the mines at that time, then they were— At the dam! At the dam. That’s the reason I came over here. And then, oh, I got tired of working here and I went to Searchlight. And that’s when, oh, we became—first I started leasing there, with another friend of mind. (Unintelligible) Yes. (Unintelligible) Ernie Sandfritz? (Unintelligible) it was. Fritz? Right. He’s the superintendent for Las Vegas Building Materials now. Oh yes. Vegas. And we had a lease on the Blossom Mine that we worked on, oh, for about a year or so, digging in there, on a little street that would hardly buy our beer. (Laughs) We (unintelligible) by golly, (unintelligible) games that we had a sublease from. And they went back in the same place where we were digging. Yes. UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 11 And they went on drifting on the little hole where we were in. I think they went about twenty-five feet and it opened up. The vein widened off to about four feet and ran about three thousand dollars a ton. (Whistles) They just really had it. Oh. Fantastic money. (Laughs) (Laughs) Really. That was one of the richest leaser properties. How were you mining then? Now—what I’m thinking about is, still using dynamite or? Oh yes. Or had compressed air come in? Yes. We had compressed air, there. But the—these two old leasers, Kirk Aby and Gaines, would never use jackhammers. They—(unintelligible) they figured I would blow out a (unintelligible) out of rocks. (Laughs) So they—they worked it all by hand, with hand steels. (Laughs) Oh goodness sake. But it was so rich that they just made money if you used a spoon. (Laughs) If you—for instance, in your trade, say you had an emergency, where would the nearest say (unintelligible) be? Area in a machine shop. Were they located right at the mine site? Right on the mine site. UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 12 Right in the mines? Yes. Then most of the mines all have their own lave and (unintelligible) And how do they get up here? Oh they would buy ‘em and ship ‘em in. I see. You showed me one of your prizes, I’m sure. A belt driven lave. Right. Now the power for that lave came from what? A gasoline motor? Gasoline engines (unintelligible) Gasoline engine and drove a shaft, which—? (Unintelligible) shaft. Drove—uh-huh. Drove your line shaft. With belts (unintelligible) Great big, wide, leather belts. Right. With leather lacing, too? Yes. (Laughs) I haven’t seen this— (Laughs) For so many years. Mrs. Kelsey joins the discussion: I know that’s right. We had so many belts down at that— Techatticup. Oh my. Techatticup. Yes. (Unintelligible) belts. Oh yes. UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 13 Everything. And bigger wheels? Yes. Yes. They have lots of them. In fact, he used this lave to fill this. That, that’s— When he worked there. That’s really an heirloom. I think I recall the date of its patent was 1892, was it not—on your lave on your garage? We’d have to look that up again. (Laughs) I think it was a little older than that. (Laughs) It was a little older than 1892? Right. I think it was a little older than that. The patent date on it. I’m not sure without going out and looking at that. How long have you had that lave, Mr. Kelsey? About a year now, haven’t we? Where in the world did you find it? (Laughs) It was in the Techatticup Mine. It was? And you salvaged it from there? Yes. I see. Well, how long did you work in your—gold mining in—? Searchlight? Searchlight? UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 14 Well, I guess it was about, certainly after we split up our partnership at the Blossom. Why, I got my father interested in building a custom mill in Searchlight. Because there was no place to mill ore. The ore was all being hauled over to Oatman, to the Tom Reed Mine, at that time. Oh really? You’d have to ship it quite a ways and if they didn’t ship it to Oatman, they’d have to truck it to Nipton and put it on the rail and send it to the smelter at Salt Lake. Uh-huh. So he can send it and rebuilt the custom mill there. And that was ’33 or ’34. Was that about when I—? (Unintelligible) ’33? Somewhere in that vicinity there. Mm-hmm. And first one we started up the mill, why, as usual, everybody got all kinds of ore, and they could (unintelligible) the mill under. But it so happened that there wasn’t, that amount of ore available. So. I see. We had a hard time getting enough ore to run the mills. Mm-hmm. So then, we started acquiring leases of the property. Mm-hmm. (Unintelligible) Had Searchlight grown much by that time? No. It was very quite static (unintelligible) UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 15 It had stayed pretty much the same? The—we got a lease on the M&M Mine and then, we also acquired the St. Louis Mine. And we got a lease on the Quartet Mine. Yes. Dorothy Spot and myself, we leased in there. And we were—we were successful in producing quite a little ore. I see. In fact, we had some real good ore in Quartet. We thought we were millionaires at one time. (Unintelligible) (Laughs) Father (Laughs) and then we were sampling in there and we were down on the four hundred foot level and there was a big cave in there. And we were crawling back in there and taking some samples. We (unintelligible) and usually they run a dollar and a half and two and five dollars. Mm-hmm. And that particular day, we had about a fifty pound sample and we ground it up and (unintelligible) and all our samples were low. Except we have one and one thirty thousand dollars a ton. (Unintelligible) (Unintelligible) Just can’t run that. We got salt (unintelligible) Surely. (Unintelligible) (Laughs) And left it? Do something else. (Laughs) So we went over to the bar and had a beer and left it. UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 16 Hm. Sample. And then, the next day, he got to thinking about it and we had some more samples that we were running. And then, he said, “We’ll run that over again.” Yes. So the next day, we run it. And the same thing. We had a big button the size of your fingernail (unintelligible) Yes. He said, “Why, there’s something wrong.” He says, “Let’s look at the sample.” So we took the sample and looked at it. And it was three gold (unintelligible) Oh. (Laughs) (Unintelligible) gold all through this thing. Wow. You wouldn’t believe. No. We couldn’t believe it. We couldn’t even sleep. (Laughs) We went back over to the mine. (Laughs) (Laughs) We was afraid somebody would steal it. (Laughs) Oh my gosh. Yes. You had to put some kind of security there. (Unintelligible) Yes. You mentioned the Tom Reed Mine. Were these the raids from Searchlight? No. No. No connection at all. This was—the Tom Reed Mine was a very famous mine. It was a corporation. Very large mine. In fact, Dorothy’s father used to work there at one time. What did the Searchlight (unintelligible) do? Primarily as work? Well. Were they mine owners or operators? Or? UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 17 They—they leased and operated. Leased. Uh-huh. Yes. Yes. Were the Colton’s in the area at that time? Right. They were quite a—the Colton’s were a, quite a substantial family at that time. They were the owners of the Duplex Mine. (Unintelligible) I see. Is that before Gordon’s time? Gordon (Unintelligible) time? Well. Yes. (Unintelligible) his father. His father. That was his father. Yes. Well, soon after that came the war. Right. And certainly changed your life. It did, very much so. We were going real good at the mine. ‘Course we had some interruptions in between there. But after we had the (unintelligible) ore, why, Dorothy and I ventured to California, and went into the machine shop and boat works in California. Fishing. Fishing. Commercial fishing. (Unintelligible) Oh yes. We tried that. (Laughs) Tried it. That was right in the middle of the Depression, down there in that time. And we didn’t know it. But we got down there and nobody had any money, and they couldn’t pay us. UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 18 (Laughs) So we had to take boats as security. (Laughs) And then, in the meantime, that was when tragedy entered the family. Dorothy’s father was killed in an automobile accident. And then, of course, that, we had to fold up everything down there and came back and run the mill then. Because he was running the mill at that time. So. Mr. Kelsey, what would have happened to your ownership of the mine, after the Federal government declared the mines no longer essential? I can understand readily from your background in education that a machine shop, that you founded, the Las Vegas Machine Company in Las Vegas, was the natural thing for you to do. That’s the only thing you could do, really. Well, that’s the only thing that I could do at that time. Right. That was the only thing left. Because it was a central occupation to the area at that time. Right. It was. Now years later, after successful operation of your machine shop that you founded, you retire, and I’m curious about the ownership of your mines. Now I know very little about staking a claim. I have a smattering of information that maybe you can help me with. I understand if you don’t—do not do your assessment work, and I see you in Las Vegas for twenty-six years, what happens to that wonderful mine in—? Searchlight? Searchlight? The M&M Mine? UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 19 Did that belong to you? Yes. Or? That—we have—we had the mine. We owned it. And of course, when the war came on. This made it nonessential. So they took our (unintelligible) away from us and everything. Yes. Yes. And the mine was completely closed then. So my father decided the only one thing to do in that was to sell off everything. So he auctioned off everything. They had a big auction. Yes. And sold the mill. Uh-huh. And the bunkhouses and the houses at the mine and the whole works (unintelligible) But say people who did not do that, Mr. Kelsey? Well, now. Did they still retain? (Unintelligible)? Or where they still required to do their assessment work? You had—you have to do your assessment work every year. You have to spend so—a hundred dollars, worth of work, on each and every claim. Now there are a lot of people, yes, that didn’t have machine shops to earn a living with. Yes. But still had mining claims in Searchlight. Well, they (unintelligible) UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 20 And they had to do this work (unintelligible)? They had to do the work. You have to keep ‘em up. And we kept it up for a number of years, I guess, didn’t we? He and my brother used to help deal assessment work. Well, how do you prove assessment—that you’ve done your assessment work, to the government? You make out an affidavit swearing to it, that you do, and have it notarized and recorded in the recorder’s office. Does an inspector ever come out? No. To verify your affidavit? No. Then of course, that can be done in a number of different ways, I understand. Yes. Your assessment work. So presumably, some of those less fortunate people than you, without machine shops, could stay in Searchlight and do a minimum amount of work and perhaps earn a living? Oh yes. Still there. In their goldmine. Right. They can probably (unintelligible) Or whatever they leased or anything like that. Yes. But it was pretty hard. Very few of them could do it. Because they—they were unable to secure a potter, and without potter you can’t mine. UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 21 Yes. So. Well. They were just helpless. Did mining ever resume? No. I know—just this year, we have been permitted to—by the congress to own gold again, and so forth. Of what value are Searchlight mines and perhaps many other mines around the country? Primarily, for the sale of their leases or the subleasing of their lease, could they do that? Yes. They can lease a lease, and sublease (unintelligible) So a livelihood could be made out of that? Out of some of the mines, yes. (Unintelligible) And it would be within the law? Right. Now we—I think in fifty sometime—we sold the M&M Mine. We sold it to a group of people in Henderson. So that ended that. Yes. Of course. (Unintelligible) That ended your interest there. That’s right. Mm-hmm. Can you—explain for us, some of your most interesting work as a young man, as a say, a machinist in a mine? Well. (Laughs) UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 22 I know you did about everything. That’s right. We would— A troubleshooter so to speak. Yes. Everything. It doesn’t—something broke (unintelligible) Did you have forges? Oh yes. Yes. We had forges and like at Searchlight at the mill we had—had our own Blacksmith shop and lays and welding machines and drill presses and— I see. Just— Just a regular machine shop. Everything that—everything that was necessary to maintain the— Maintain that mine. Maintain the mine. How big were those ore cars in? Well they— That you built? They varied. The most popular was about a ton ore car. A ton? That we called a ton. And then you had the half ton. How did you get the—did you have any animals in the mine? No. To move the cars out. Or were they all by cable and— No the— UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 23 (Unintelligible) or whatever? No. If you was working in a shaft, why you had a hoist and a skip on it, that hauled the ore up. And then, the levels. Yes. You had the hundred foot level, why you used these half ton and ton cars on. And you pushed them by hand on the rail. Pushed them by hand. Mm-hmm. And you usually went out to the station. And then, the station would have, what we called the skip pocket, which is the same, just like a bin on the ore, for the surface. Yes. And then the main skip would go in underneath it. And you had a shoot that you’d open and fill the skip and then hoist it to the surface over the head frames. Do you think there’d be any further mining activity of any significance in Nelson now? Today, in 1975, Mr. Kelsey, that we can mine and maybe ore gold, become more attractive. You think it will attract (unintelligible) here? Oh. And—? Yes. There’s possibilities but first you still have to go back to the old prospector. You have to get back to somebody that is going to go out and find a vein that is paying. Or they will have to go in to the old mines and open them up. And you have to develop. You have to drift on the vein and find new kidneys of ore on the veins. Yes. It— UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 24 So the prospector is the key man, right now? He is the key man. They’ve got to locate new ore bodies. New ore bodies. Right. And of course, in an old mining area, where there has been ore bodies, why there is the possibility of finding new ones is much higher than it is in the virgin area. Uh-huh. Where it hasn’t been proven. But it—the problem with developing ores today, or doing this dead work as we used to call it, or developing work. Yes. It’s so expensive, it’s just almost prohibitive to do these things today. It’s hard to find somebody with enough capital to invest in operations of this type. And really it seems to me that precious metals might not really be the future of this area. So far as mining is concerned. It’s hard to say. Yes. It is. It’s a—it’s a gamble. And it’s a highly risk— Yes. Adventure. I’ve heard Gertha Gresh say—(Laughs)—“It’s either chicken or feathers.” Well, this— (Laughs) This is— Doesn’t that sound like her? UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 25 Right. (Laughs) (Laughs) This is the old, you know, this always has—has— (Laughs) Bless her heart. You might say, the romance of it is that, just one more round might be the million. Yes. You know. Might be. And then, course when you get it the next round might shoot it out, too. So (Laughs) it’s— (Laughs) Right? You got a million today and nothing tomorrow (unintelligible) I— (Unintelligible) Yes. Yes. (Unintelligible) Really? Yes. I had been on a train of thought that really precious metals might not be the thing here, in this area. Magnesium and manganese, copper, maybe. So many different common ores, goodness, maybe even stone and gravel, you know, might be the thing of the future here. No one really knows. UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 26 Or silver is a—will be always a precious metal. And is a highly—technology is, it advances so widely. The use of silver is going to become more necessary, yes, you could say that. (Unintelligible) Do you have mine electronics, Mr. Kelsey? Electronic equipment? Uh-huh. In all. Better than copper? Right. Mm-hmm. Yes. ‘Course your—your photo industry, film— Oh yes, yes. (Unintelligible) Yes. (Unintelligible) Silver is becoming more in demand than it’s—the production of it, is far less than what the consumption of it is in the industry. So, it’s going to be a precious metal. First when we think of silver, we think of Nevada. Right. But we’re gonna have to get those prospectors in the field, like you say. This is right. Well, Mr. Kelsey, we want to thank you, for your courtesy, and illuminating for us, some of the problems for the (unintelligible) mines in maintaining operations, in that they had to be self-sufficient in so far, as they needed machine shops, and welders, trades of all sorts. It’s UNLV University Libraries William Kelsey 27 an area of mining, not specifically mining, but just keeping the miner going. Now thank you very, very kindly for your time, sir. That’s the end of tape now.