There were some other good guesses. My dad would have appreciated Urimaginaryfrnd's second one, although he did eventually make it to full bird.
3_tens was on the money though. Or should I say he knows the drill? My son and I were at the World Mining Museum in Butte, Montana yesterday in between soccer games. It's really quite the place. All kinds of historic displays. And then there's the old Orphan Girl mine and the machinery. Among that was a display on the pneumatic drill, including a jackleg drill. If you want to get an idea of what operating one of those is like, check out:
The jackleg drill allowed even a smaller operator to use one for extended periods of time. The one we saw weighed about 110 lbs. They would come apart into two pieces for easier transportation. The beefier miners, of course, would just sling the whole thing casually over a shoulder while walking to the rock face.
Pneumatic drills were first put into use around 1850. The early bits were forged by blacksmiths, meaning by hand. They were all one piece. Some smiths were better than others and steel would vary so a bit might last 6 inches or 6 feet. Either way, the entire thing had to be changed out. Boys as young as 12 would lug spent bits back to the smithies, climbing up a 100 feet of ladder by candlelight. (I guess headlamps were too expensive for the child labor). Then they'd lug fresh ones back down.
Eventually, bits like this one were developed. They could be hammered on or off the shaft so miners could carry all the spares they needed. Carbide bits could last for hundreds of feet. Note also the hole in the center. I'm not sure but I think that's where water would be sprayed through to keep the dust down and help prevent silicosis. Still, when I was a kid and my great uncle (who had lived in Butte for over 50 years) used to take us around, we met more miners' widows than miners. It was a dangerous occupation, taking over 2500 lives in the Butte district.
What I didn't expect was to actually find one of these bits. We were poking around all the machinery and walked over towards an old shed. Next to it was a pile of boxes. Spilling out of those were hundreds of rusting bits. I asked one of the museum staff if we could make a donation and have permission to take one with us.
Among the more interesting exhibits was the chippy hoist. A mine like this has several elevators. The main ones, of course, were used for hauling ore and waste rock out. Two others were used to raise and lower the miners. The chippy was a service elevator that would carry lighter loads rapidly up and down and it operated continuously, rotating around the drum at the top. Since "chippy" was slang for a prostitute, the speculation is that the hoist was named that either because it "serviced" the men or because it "got around" more than the other hoists.
When I was a kid, my great uncle would point out the various houses of ill repute, one of which stayed open into the early '80s. I never asked him if he partook. My grandmother would try to dissuade him from mentioning such things in front of children or from telling his off-color Ole and Lena jokes. I remember him leaning over and whispering once, "I bet she enjoyed it plenty in her day."
Edited by jonoMT - September/23/2013 at 09:35