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Competition Drilling

drilling contest Bisbee, Arizona

Miners  immense pride in their skills of the craft  led to mining competitions. Miners competed in mucking, pushing cars, machine drilling and the greatest contest of all them, hand drilling.  To be successful in a hand drilling competition  one has to master ,team work, technique, and have speed, with fantastic  endurance. Danger always lurkers  with the possibility of a hand destroyed by a miss of the steel by the hammer. The best drillers will be striking the steel 60 to over 70 hits a minute. 

The contest were held using all styles of hand drilling with additional style call single hand . It is done like double jacking except the driller does all the hitting except no switching with the person turning the steel.

There is a lot of disagreement and misinformation on the drilling records set.  Most of the misinformation is from the lack of understanding how to drill.

The important factors to consider in comparing early drilling contest

  • Rock type – hardness, consistence

  • Hammer weight

  • Steel width

  • Time allotted

  • Style

Some contests limited the number of steel changes I personally believe this hurts the contest a critical   part of the drillers skill is to know when  it is time to change steel. If the steel is change to much  or too little the driller will lose time drilling. The difficulty of pulling the longer drill steels from a deep hole without missing a hammer strike proves great ability.   

Drillers had their steels custom made with specific tapers, edges and flaring, some of the them went as far as having custom made hammers.  The Bisbee Mining and Historical museum has in their collection a beautiful set of custom steels. These were supposed to have been made by the blacksmith James O’Malley for the Calumet and Arizona  team and  used in the July 4th 1913 contest in Bisbee

Champion rock drillers were the rock stars of the day, Mrs. Hugh Brown describes them like this “Champion drillers were kings, known and feted throughout the mining world. Prize money was accompanied by cases of champagne and liquors”.

One of the greatest contests was held August 18,1907 in Butte Montana. McIvor and Pickens of  Bisbee  won a purse of $1250.00 by drilling 45 31/32 inches in front of a crowd of  25,000 spectators .


With the introduction of pneumatic drills, hand drilling went to the wayside. In 1913 Bisbee’s hand drilling contest came to an end. They were replaced with machine drilling contest which never took hold and they were eventually  stopped.  Bisbee’s hand drilling contest were restarted but have never reached their past glory.



  Today  the “Iron Man” represent Bisbee’s hand drilling  past.  A statue of a miner holding a single jack and steel, mounted atop the block of Gunnison granite which the contest drilling was done.

Iron man  statue of miner drilling  Bisbee, Az

Iron Man circa 1940’s

single jack and double jack hand drilling records
Fred Yockey Single Jack world record holder

Fred Yockey Single Jack world record holder 23 ¼” in 15 minutes

The 1907 Butte Montana drilling contest won by Melvor and Pickens  of Bisbee, Arizona

The 1907 Butte Montana drilling contest won by Melvor and Pickens  of Bisbee, Arizona

Bisbee Arizona 1903 drilling contest

Bisbee 1903 drilling contest, note raised boulder for single jack event

Drilling scores Bisbee daily review July 5th 1903

Prize money for the Bisbee 1913 drilling contest

Bisbee, Arizona 1903  double jack drilling contest

Bisbee 1903 drilling contest, The lowered  boulder for double jack event

Hammer strokes from the Bisbee 1902 competition

Drilling rules used at the Arizona state fair 1905


Annie Larkin 2010, pers. comm., 8 March

Arizona Republican December 28, 1905

 A treatise on metal mining vol 3 1899, Burr printing house New York, section 38 pp. 55-56

Benton-Cohen, Katherine 2009,Borderline Americans: racial division and labor in the Arizona borderlands, Harvard university press, p96

Bisbee Daily Review July 5th 1902

Bisbee Daily Review July 5th 1903

Bisbee Daily Review June 27th 1903

Bisbee Daily Review June 29th 1913

California Hardware Co. Catalog 1962,Catalogue No. 16-D Los Angeles, California

Colliery Engineer February 1907 Vol 27 p291

Compressed Air Magazine May 1918 Vol XXIII No.5 p8766

Graeme, R ‘ Bisbee Arizona” Mineralogical Record Sept- Oct 1981 Vol 25 p 274

Horace Jared Stevens, Walter Harvey Weed, 1911, The Copper Handbook, Vol 10

Journal of Leisure Research C. Frank Zarnowski Vol 36, Number 2, 2004pp. 257-281

Mines and Minerals, February, 1907 Vol XXVII, No.7

Mining & scientific  press, July 19, 1913 p.108

Mrs. Hugh Brown, Railroad Days: A Memoir of Tonopah, 1904, The American West, 5,   November, 1968, p.28.

Montana Butte Standard March 4,1932

Peele, R 1941, Mining Engineers’ Handbook 3rd edition John Wiley & Sons, Inc     pp. 5-07,5-08

Young, Otis, Western Mining, University of Oklahoma press, 1987 pp.185-186

The Arizona Republican, September 9, 1903

The Arizona Republican, September 4, 1903

The Arizona Republic  November 12, 1960

Richard Graeme IV 2010, pers. comm., 8 February

Richard Graeme III  2010, pers. comm., 2 February

Reno Evening Gazette January 14,1903

University Missourian October 28 1908

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