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A story about my father

Dad was a Bisbee copper miner

  • 3 min to read
Dad was a Bisbee copper miner

My gentle father did hard work.

Every workday, he was hoisted a mile down a dark narrow elevator shaft. His return to the light depended on that same elevator coming back down for him.

With painstaking precision, he drilled holes to place chargers that would blast into the walls. He shoveled the muck or blasted materials, and he cut timber to brace the tunnels — necessary to prevent cave-ins. This work required clear thinking and a levelheaded temperament.

He was a copper miner in the town I was born in, Bisbee.

It was what he did, what our family did. My grandfathers and the majority of my uncles were miners. Jerome, Ajo, Safford and Superior were towns we often visited.

Dad was a tall, strong man. He had the right body frame to endure the lifting, strength and sturdiness the work demanded. His voice was even and calming. And his large hands were warm and gentle. He never was too tired for us; his family always came first. He made us feel safe and loved with his soothing and compassionate nature. His humble ways taught us what was important in life. He was a sharp contrast to the harsh environment in which he worked.

He started mining in Jerome after he served in the Navy and married my mom. My sister Patsy and brother Bob were born in Jerome and my other brother Tom, in Cottonwood. I was the only one born in Bisbee. When the mine in Jerome closed down, my dad was one of a handful of men who helped with its last days. In 1954, he transferred to Bisbee and moved the family. I was born in 1962.

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The view the author had of a Bisbee copper mine while waiting for her father to get off work. He saved the dessert in his packed lunch to eat with her on the walk back to their house.

In Bisbee, he worked at the Campbell Shaft until the day he retired.

The house I grew up in was in the Bakerville neighborhood. Most people only know the tourist areas of Old Bisbee and Main Street. But Bisbee is actually spread out and consists of many small neighborhoods. Our home was about a quarter of a mile from the Campbell Shaft. From my backyard I could see the head frame that lifted the cage that carried my dad and the other miners deep underground.

My dad’s day started around 7 a.m. and ended at 3 p.m. When I could, I would walk or ride my bike to greet him when he got out of work. I loved waiting for the whistle to blow knowing he would soon be walking out. I always enjoyed focusing on the faces of the large group of men being released until I found that familiar face.

My mom packed a lunch for him every day and on days he knew I would be waiting, he saved the dessert she packed for us to eat on the walk back to the house.

During the Christmas holidays, the head frame also carried a brightly colored star that shined bright each night. My father had me convinced that he had personally placed the star there just for me to admire from our house. After I learned the truth, I still admired the star and his story.

My eyes were opened when I moved to Tucson after high school and learned what other fathers did for a living; that most did not do such risky, hard work. My admiration and love grew stronger once I understood all he sacrificed and endured. There is no glamour in being hoisted a mile below ground, working in tunnels and limited space that was often poorly lit, and thick with mud and dirt.

Knowing each day you would face the same dangerous elements requires a unique man. I never heard my dad complain about his work. He never brought the day’s drudgery home. His goal was to work hard and support his family. Mining was not what he wanted for his sons. The days underground were worth it so he could help put them through college.

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Manuel Castaneda’s mining hat and Navy photo. Mining did not define him, and it was not what he wanted for his sons.

In the 1970s, mining started to slow down and in Bisbee, it came to an end.

I was lucky. My dad was eligible to retire. Our family didn’t have to endure a transfer to another mining town, a fate that fell to my uncle and many close friends.

Mining did not define my dad. He and my mother were strong Catholics. Prayers, Masses and faith in God were the foundations of our family. He had the love of a strong woman. My parents were married 70 years. They still held hands until the end. He was such a patient man. He raised us without ever shouting or yelling. Love was always unconditional and without expectations. I believe he learned that from my Nana, his mother, whom he adored.

My dad, Manuel Castaneda, passed away on May 14, 2012. He left behind a family that each day tries to live up to the values that we so respected and loved. He would have turned 92 today. Happy birthday and Father’s Day.

Barbara Castaneda Poole is a news assistant for the Arizona Daily Star.