MY EARLY RESEARCH ON ORVIL JACK resulted in story after story about an old one-armed coot living in a box car near the old Gold Acres townsite. With a little help from Google, I located Orvil’s daughter, Grace Wintle, who still lives in the area. She assured me that her father was no old coot, and that he did indeed have both of his arms. I concluded that there must have been some old one-armed miner that people were confusing with Orvil Jack. Then author/photographer Richard Menzies emailed me the above photograph that he shot in 1975.
Here’s Richard’s description of the picture:
“He (Orvil) was highly regarded as a mechanical genius, the sort of guy who could field strip a D-9 Cat in a sandstorm and put it all back together, single handedly. Literally. Orval lost a hand to a steam shovel in Manassa, Colorado.
I’ve had people complain about this picture, which they find disgusting. One woman wrote to say she was shocked that I would snap a picture of a man who had just lost his hand and who was bleeding profusely–instead of running for help. Actually, it’s not blood. It’s degreasing salve. And although he looks pretty intimidating in this picture, Orvil was a genial fellow.”
So rather than a one-armed geezer, Orvil Jack was a one-handed mechanical mastermind.
Later, Grace explained to me that “missing a hand is very different from missing an arm.” She was clearly frustrated at her father’s portrayal in ghost town lore and was grateful that I called her to clarify.
Orvil and his wife, Bessie, founded the Blue Ridge Mine in 1956 while Orvil was working as an assayer in Gold Acres. There he discovered the famous neon green turquoise that now bears his name. Grace and her husband took over the mine when Orvil passed away in 1986. I sensed joy in Grace’s voice as she recounted the old days with her father.
“Every day my sisters and I would hear dad’s pickup driving home. We would run down the hill to meet him and he’d give us a ride back up to the house.”
The Wintle family continues to work the mine, but Grace is suffering from cancer and no longer works the mine herself. Much thanks to this dear lady for her time and her willingness to speak with me.
Grace Wintle told me the old buildings in Gold Acres were bulldozed in the seventies, nearly a couple decades before our visit. She referred me to Steve Bishop, who grew up in Gold Acres and now lives in Elko. Bishop describes Gold Acres as a quaint little town filled with “stick-built” houses. He was educated in a one-room school, where a single teacher taught kindergarten through eighth grade. The town had no gas station, one commissary, a bunkhouse and a cookhouse. Contrary to what I’ve read in various ghost town books, Bishop says Gold Acres was a dry town. That doesn’t mean there weren’t any underground booze operations, but no swinging saloon doors creaking in the dusty breeze.
Gold Acres was a company town with most of its residents working for the company. Bishop says one of the very few vehicles in town was the “manwagon,” which would pick up and drop off the miners.
Bishop says he has pictures of the old town packed away somewhere in boxes, which he’ll scan and send to me as soon as he can dig them up. I will post them at that time.
Bishop also told me that many of Cortez’s residents were Chinese- former railroad workers that turned to mining. These workers were buried in a separate cemetery near town. According to Bishop, all but one body in this cemetery were exhumed at some point and reburied in China.
THE HOLY GRAIL
A short note on that pristine abandoned mining camp that I mentioned in Part 2 of this article: Using a popular satellite imagery program, Tyler and I believe we have located it. And that’s all I’m going to say…
* Charles, I’ve been desperately trying to reach you to ask permission post a couple of your pictures of Cortez. When all attempts to contact you failed, I posted the above two pictures anyway. If you’re out there, let me know if you have a problem with that.