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Quiet craftsmen hard at work

 

Clanking, groaning and moving right along,
the Over-the-Hill Gang works wonders at Empire Mine

 

By Courtney Ferguson

“When I say clanking, groaning and moving, I’m not referring to the fifteen members of the Over-the-Hill Gang,” quipped “gang” leader, Tom Newmark. “I’m referring to Empire Mine’s mechanical equipment — and how one of our goals is to make that equipment move again so visitors enjoy a riveting, authentic experience. Rather than having our Tour Guides talk about the mine machines, isn’t it more exciting to see them in action?”
The Over the Hill Gang has been busy maintaining and improving the Park since around 1976. “We tackle the tasks that our State Park staff may not have the time, funds or specialized skills to accomplish,” he said.
At 86 years young, Newmark admits that, like many of the Gang’s members, his involvement keeps him challenged and active. “We’re all retired,” he explained, “and our work here makes a difference to the Park’s appeal and safety. We’re not only able to use our skills, but we’re always improving them — and often learning new ones. While our ages range from 70 to 90 plus, our spirit is unstoppable.”
Quiet craftsmen hard at work
Early each Tuesday and Thursday morning, the Over-the-Hill Gang meets at the Park. Examples of their combined expertise include restoring the two-stamp stamp mill and adding dramatic lighting and sound to the mine model in the Visitor Center. They’ve designed and built the popular Blacksmith Shop, Compressor House and other buildings to replicate the ones from Empire’s hard-rock heydays, dating from the late 1800s to the mid-1950s, when Empire closed.
The photography for the interpretive panels and the traditional iron stands they’re displayed on are further evidence of the Gang’s craftsmanship in action. “We are passionate about the Park,” Newmark added. “Time and weather mean constant deterioration. Add the fact that everything we do must meet the State Parks’ standards for authenticity, using traditional techniques — and there’s always a new challenge; yet that’s what makes it fun.” Predictably, over time, everything from the leaded windows in the Clubhouse, Cottage and old offices to the machinery in the mine yard needs attention, and the Over-the-Hill Gang has the quiet craftsmen to get this vital jobs done.
In addition to the restoration-and-repair work they do, the Gang also prepares the Park for its annual special events, including the Mother’s Day springtime event, Holidays at Empire Mine — and the 122nd Miners Picnic, coming up on August 26th.
It’s a costly, on-going process, and funds for materials come from sales in the Park’s popular Gift Shop. Both the Gang and the Gift Shop are part of Empire Mine Park Association (EMPA, for short). EMPA is dedicated to raising and donating funds to support the Park.
Tom Newmark’s team includes Bill Blount, Tom Bumgarner, Deane Dvoracek, Bob Flannigan, Jay Hansell, Bob Hansen, Ed Kittredge, Gary Larsen, Jim Schroeder, Dick Spoerer, Alan Trood, Jim Ward, Steve Wolf and Bert Wymer. Several are from the Auburn area.
While not official members, retired supervising ranger Don Schmidt and former EMPA president Jim Dierberger frequently share their time and talents on special projects. “We have a serious need for help with painting right now,” Newmark added. “Maybe someone will read this and get in touch.”
For further information about the Over-the-Hill Gang, contact volunteer coordinator, Lauren Wilson at the Visitor Center, (530) 273-8522. For further information about Empire Mine Park Association, visit http://www.empiremine.org.

Courtney Ferguson is a freelance writer and EMPA’s Outreach Coordinator and Publicist, courtneycopy@gmail.com.

Photos by Courtney Ferguson

 

 


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