Patricia Robertson is not afraid to get dirty. In fact, she welcomes it.
As two-year captain of the Women’s Mucking Team at UMR, Robertson is familiar with the old-fashioned mining methods that helped both the men’s and women’s mucking teams at UMR to win the annual Intercollegiate Mining Competition for the second year in a row.
“Mucking is a celebration of the way mining used to be done,” Robertson says. She explains that in the past, miners didn’t have technology such as mechanized loaders, haul trucks or drills. “It was just you and your mule, cart and shovel,” she says. “This reminds us to be thankful for what we have now.”
The annual competition began in 1979 as a tribute to the 1972 Sunshine Mining Disaster in Idaho–the second worst hard rock mining disaster in U.S. history. The competition features seven timed events that are based on mining techniques used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: gold panning, surveying, hand-mucking, hand-steeling, track-standing, Swede sawing and jackleg drilling.
“Mucking is a lot of brute strength, but it’s also technique and skill,” Robertson says. She agrees that mucking is “a happy medium between the two.”
Each fall, interested students try out and are selected for the six-member men’s and women’s mucking teams. Former team members pass down the techniques and skills to the new members with hopes of making improvements each year. “We try to look at it like an engineering problem,” Robertson says. “What are the principles of it, and how can I make it better or faster?”
The annual competition is held each year in April, and the location rotates between Rolla, Mo.; Butte, Mont.; Reno, Nev.; Kalgoorlie, Western Australia; and Tucson, Ariz. From January through April, the team practices almost every weekday and often on the weekends. The 2006 competition will be held in Kalgoorlie.
Robertson says her favorite part of mucking has been working with other team members. “Each person has to hold their own, so you learn to work with people and encourage each other,” she says. “And you learn to work through the pain.” Throughout her years of mucking, Robertson has survived injuries to her back, ankle, knee, arm and hand, as well as a broken finger and numerous scars.
Although mucking is sponsored by the mining department, students from other majors have been involved, including physics, computer science and psychology, as well as various fields of engineering. Robertson first got involved with mucking when she was a student in UMR’s English department. Since then she has pursued a second undergraduate degree, mining engineering.
Robertson will graduate from UMR in December 2005, but she says she plans to stay involved in mucking by participating in alumni teams at the annual mucking competitions. “You’re a mucker for life,” she says. “You support it all the time.”