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Former miner still enjoys witching for deposits

WENATCHEE — Minerals are important to Jim Marr.

They were key to his childhood at Holden Village in the early 1940s, his working life as a miner in Wenatchee in the 1970s, and his hobby as a prospector in his retirement years.

“As the saying goes, once a miner, always a miner,” Marr says. “That’s me. It’s in my blood.”

At 84, the Wenatchee man credits his childhood years at Holden with starting his interest in minerals.

Marr’s father, Jim Sr., was a miner there from 1939 to 1945. He had been farming and orcharding in the East Wenatchee area but hard times in those businesses prompted him to make money at the mine. His goal was to eventually get back to farming.

In 1939, the Marr family moved to Lucerne, which is on Lake Chelan nine miles northwest of the city of Chelan. Lucerne was then, and is now, only accessible by boat.

Lucerne is several miles down a winding forested road from Holden, where Howe Sound Mining Co., had set up machinery to mine for copper, lead and zinc. The miners’ quarters and main buildings are now a Lutheran retreat center. In recent years, the mine area has been the location of a $500 million project to clean up toxic materials.

At Lucerne in the late 1930s, housing was available for the miners’ families. After the mining company built housing at Holden, the Marr family moved there when Jim Jr. was 4 years old.

“Dad was what they called a coyote miner,” Marr says. “He hand-drilled 3-by-3-foot holes while laying on his stomach.”

Marr Jr. learned early on that mining was dangerous work.

“I came home from school one day and all I saw was just bloody work clothes,” he says. “There was all this blood. He got a piece of steel in his eye and they had to take him downlake for help.”

His father did not lose his eyesight and was soon back to work.

Other than that, Marr Jr. remembers wonderful times at Holden.

“Every weekend in the summer, the miners played baseball and it was the engineers versus the miners, or the miners versus the muckers,” Marr says. “Usually the miners won because they could hit the ball farther. They were stronger.”

Every Fourth of July, there were games for all the families. Every winter, there were sleigh rides down the winding road through the community.

“We had several sleds and had our toes on each others sleds to form a train,” he says. “On any corner, you’d lose two or three kids.”

In the forest, the boys played army, using pine cones for hand grenades.

The 15 to 17 children who lived at Holden attended class in a two-room schoolhouse.

In 1945, the family moved back to East Wenatchee to tend the family orchard and wheat farm.

Marr feels like the best part of his childhood was at Holden.

“I didn’t want to leave,” he says. “I just loved Holden and the kids. In those few years, I did a lot of livin’.”

In East Wenatchee, Marr lived in “a little white house” that his father had built in 1935. He says the house still stands on the corner of Eastmont Avenue and 10th Street Northeast.

Marr has deep roots in the Wenatchee Valley. His great-grandfather, Gilford Marr, moved here in 1896, heading up a crew that was laying railroad tracks. His grandfather, Wilbur, was a time-keeper for his own father on the railroad. Wilbur Marr also homesteaded on the hills above East Wenatchee. Marr Jr. says Gilford Marr was a big promoter of the YMCA in Wenatchee.

After high school, Marr Jr. took time off from farming and started in on a long list of jobs. Those included working as a billing clerk, meat-cutting and collecting garbage cans for the city of Wenatchee. “That was back when you had to carry the cans on your back,” he says.

In 1959, he joined the Army and met his future wife, Helga, when he was stationed in Germany. After the Army, he worked as a laborer on Wanapum Dam.

Later, he joined his father, working as miners at the Lovitt Mine, which is off Methow Street in south Wenatchee.

“I worked the mucking machine, then was into drilling,” he says.

It was hard work but he loved the adventure of it. He says he was always struck by the newly exposed ground that came after a big drill or a dynamite explosion.

“You’re seeing something that nobody else has ever seen before,” he says.

The Lovitt Mine, which was hauling out gold and silver, opened in 1959 and closed in 1967. Marr Jr. worked there from 1961 to 1967. Today, he is employed as a caretaker by the owner of the old Lovitt Mine property.

Marr Jr. worked for Douglas County road and sign departments from 1972 until he retired in 2000. During much of that time, he also grew wheat on Badger Mountain.

For much of his adult life, Marr has enjoyed prospecting in his free time.

“There is a lot of gold through here,” he says. “I know every hot spot there is.”

Marr uses a two-pronged metal tool for mineral witching. The prongs move dramatically when a mineral deposit is nearby.

He has what he calls a “show-and-tell” box of rocks that highlights many of the minerals in the area.

He knows he’s not about to strike it rich, though. Most of the places where he hits minerals are off-limits to mining, mostly because of private property or federal regulations.

“You don’t do this to get rich,” he says. “It’s just fun to know where the stuff is. I get a thrill out of it.”

He calls prospecting the “most interesting hobby you can get outside of mining. Once you’re a miner, you’re always a miner.”

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