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A Lady in Boomtown: Miners and Manners on the Nevada Frontier - Page 65

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Beside being one of the first women in town to buy fresh milk, I was definitely the first to have a vacuum cleaner. Sometime along in the early years, I chanced upon a three- line ad in a copy of the Sunday New York Times announcing a “ mechanical sweeper.” In Tonopah, the constant struggle with the talcum- like dust was a trial to all of us, so the ad caught my interest. I replied, sending along the twenty- five dollars requested. When the machine was finally delivered, Hugh recognized its likeness to the Butters filter in use at the Belmont mill. Charles Butters, a distinguished metallurgist from California, had only recently developed this filter to complement a cyanide formula. My sweeper acted with the dust exactly as the Butters filter acted with the mud from the cyanide- silver solution. The dust, like the muddy solution, was drawn into the vacuum chamber by the hand pump, and just as the mud adhered to the big filters when the silver-impregnated solution was pumped through, so the dust stuck to the little filters in the sweeper. The way that machine sucked the fine dust out of my carpets was glorious! We made a social event of cleaning the filters, calling in our neighbors to view the marvel and wager on the volume of dust that would be extracted. Later we learned the promoters were two former mill hands from Goldfield, who had indeed borrowed the idea from the Butters filter. We were also told that they cleaned up a neat fortune before Charles Butters’ lawyers and prison caught up with them on charges of patent infringements. Today we take our luxuries so much for granted: vacuum cleaners, refrigeration, inspected milk, and so on; yet it was hardly more than yesterday that young women were wrestling with relatively primitive conditions. Tonopah had three disastrous fires during my life there. I was personally somewhat involved with the first one. The birth of our second son was approaching, and I lay in bed one night timing the rapidity of my pains, wondering if I ought to alert the family. Suddenly I heard the fire whistle, a terrifying sound in the night. Hugh ascertained that the fire was in a big miners’ boardinghouse across town called “ The Ship.” An hour later, when Hugh thought it was time to telephone our doctor that we needed him, he was told that the doctor had been called to the hospital to care for those who had been hurt. As the night advanced, this situation became of real concern to us. Ultimately the doctor did arrive, and not any too soon. No mention was made of the tragedy on the other side of town. The second fire was a holocaust. One winter morning the news spread through the town as if by telepathy: “ Fire in the Belmont!” Clouds of dense smoke were billowing from the mine shaft, precluding any possibility of rescue, and the lives of seventeen men were snuffed out. It was surmised that some miner



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