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Senior Spectrum Newspaper
December 2018
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BIGGEST little City
by Harry Spencer
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UNR Mackay Muckers Mining Team to Host Mining Competition 

Harry Spencer
Harry Spencer

The University of Nevada, Reno’s (UNR) Mackay Muckers mining team is preparing to welcome teams from around the world to the 41st Annual International Intercollegiate Mining Competition next spring. This exciting mining skills competition will be held at the Virginia City Arena & Fairgrounds during UNR’s Spring Break, March 20—March 23, 2019. The Mackay Muckers have invited teams from around the world to compete with them in Virginia City, “The Richest Place On Earth”. To become a sponsor or register a team, please contact Claire Roberts, Mackay Muckers President, at or (530) 559-2278.

The mining competition began in 1978 and was dedicated to the 91 miners who died from smoke inhalation or carbon monoxide poisoning during an underground fire in the Sunshine Mine on May 2, 1972 in Idaho.

This past spring the mining competition was held at the King Edward Mine in Camborne, England. About 40 teams from around the world participated in the competition and the Mackay Muckers student team captured second place overall in the coed division. The Mackay Muckers are looking forward to hosting at least 40 teams and more than 200 competitors next year on the Comstock from England, India, Germany, Brazil, The Netherlands, Australia and throughout the U.S.

Joining the Mackay Mucker student team in England was the Mackay Mucker alumni team. This was the inaugural year for the alumni category and the alums from UNR still have “it” as they tied for fifth place overall. This grueling mining skills competition has four categories of teams: men, women, coed and alumni. Each team has five members plus one alternate.

Participants compete in seven different events which are: single jack drilling, a ten minute contest where all five team members drill for two minutes into a block of concrete with a hand steel and a four pound hammer; jackleg drilling, two members machine drill into concrete for the best depth; mucking, four members fill and tram an ore car for the best time by hand; swede saw, all five members hand saw through a 6”x 6” timber for the fastest total time; gold panning, all five members pan by hand for the fastest total time to recover lead pellets; surveying, two members survey for speed and accuracy with modern equipment and track stand, four competitors lay railroad ties and track for speed and accuracy.

The Mackay Muckers mining team is proud to welcome mining students and miners from around the world to Virginia City and the Comstock Lode where John Mackay utilized his mining acumen during the 1860s and 1870s and made a great fortune. As one of the Bonanza Kings, he and his wife Louise and son Clarence, as well as the Mackay family, were magnanimous benefactors of UNR. In fact, each year during the first week of March, UNR celebrates Mackay Week at the campus “on the hill” in Reno.

In addition to the Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering, the Mackay name is found on the football stadium and there is a magnificent statue of John Mackay overlooking the Quad made by Gutzon Borglum who later became famous for his grand sculpture of the four Presidents of the United States at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

Participants in next year’s mining competition will be able to tour the Mackay Mansion as well as other landmarks in Virginia City and will have an opportunity to learn more about “The Richest Place on Earth”.

In the 1850s, Mackay worked as a miner at placer gold mines in Sierra County. In 1859, based on reports of the Comstock Lode, he decided to relocate to the Comstock and try his hand at mining this new discovery. As a handson miner, Mackay was able to learn a lot about the geological formations of the Comstock Lode. When he wasn’t mining for owners of other mines, he worked his own mining claims and began investing in other mining operations. By 1865, he became a millionaire and used the proceeds and his firsthand knowledge to purchase several other mines with his Bonanza King partners that led to their Big Bonanza discovery in 1873 and enormous wealth for Mackay.

The Mackay Muckers are working hard to make next spring’s mining competition on the Comstock a great event for participants and spectators and they are honing their mining and mucking skills to capture first place as the hometown hosts.