By Neville Ryan
Tiger Iron is dramatically different to Tiger Eye, both in looks and in mining procedure. Tiger Eye mining involved a lot of prospecting and testing to find the right seams of material and could be found over a wide area of the Hamersley Ranges.
Tiger Iron however, which is a combination of Red Jasper, Tiger Eye and Hematite, was a different proposition. At the time it was only mined on one claim and hadn’t been found in any large quantity anywhere else. The Tiger Iron rose from the earth in a vertical metamorphic seam and if there was another end of the seam no one had been able to find it. This is where our mighty mining team enters the picture. We had found Tiger Iron traces nearby in unclaimed areas and we decided that we would find and open up another mine site.
Unfortunately the sheer mass and density of Tiger Iron meant that we would have to use a huge machine to carry out our prospecting. Due to the exorbitant cost of of purchasing and maintaing a machine of this size we decided to hire one for the day. We eventually decided on a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer. For people unfamiliar with this machine it weighed around 100,000 pounds, had a blade that was about 14 feet wide and over 6 feet high and had a huge ripper on the rear for breaking up the ground so the dirt could be pushed away.
Before we started the exploration there was one small problem that had to be overcome. There was no road leading to the site which meant the closest the low loader, carrying the dozer, could get was several miles away. Luckily a committee had formed early on in the planning and together with the owner we all agreed that the dozer would be “walked” to the site. “Walking” simply means unloading the machine at the closest possible point and driving through the bush to the work site. As you can imagine a 100,000 pound machine is not regarded as the Greyhound of the mining world.
The machine was unloaded and we waited….and waited….and waited. A small speck in the distance slowly began to get larger and then we could see the black exhaust shooting into the air. As time passed we could start to see the shape of the machine. As more time passed the machine began to grow and become more detailed until eventually the snarling roaring beast was with us. The excitement level was pretty high by this time and we were all confident that the foundation for a huge Tiger Iron mine would be laid that very day. Little did we know
With a roar of the engine and a cloud of black exhaust the beast began to do its work. The huge mounds of pushed dirt……didn’t eventuate. The ground was so hard the machine was struggling to move any dirt at all. It was time for the huge ripper to come into play. The ripper was like a huge metal tooth at the rear of the dozer designed to act like a hoe and penetrate the ground and break up the surface so the blade could push the dirt. It was a very effective way of opening up a site for mining……except in the case of mining Tiger Iron. Loud scraping noises accompanied by sparks caused by the scraping signified that the machine was struggling and couldn’t break the surface. A committee formed and we decided to try another area. Success! The machine was succeeding and dirt was being pushed. We worked down to a layer of Hematite and the dozer blade began to struggle once again. Time for the ripper and on to glory and success. The ripper was struggling but the driver was determined to make things happen. He was going to break this layer of rock come what may! It was at this critical point that the dozer decided to blow a hose which sent oil squirting onto the hot engine. Let me tell you it is quite a sight standing in the desert watching a D9 bulldozer going up in flames. No time for a committee. We all jumped into action and managed to put the fire out. NOW it was time for a committee to form. After a lengthy discussion weighing all the pro’s and cons and after weighing all the options we decided to “get the hell out of Dodge”. A hurried goodbye to the unhappy driver and we were out of there in a cloud of dust.
To this day I still wonder what ever happened to that D9 dozer.