Liz and Merle

When we were working a mine many years ago we were driving a tunnel to reach an old buried river channel. Our drift had meandered up and down some from a water grade, creating a couple of low spots that started to accumulate water. One spot was maybe a foot or so deep and we had not set up a pump yet.

Let me back up a second through and talk some about one of the fellows helping me out at the time. His name was Merle Litzsinger.  Merle was getting on in age, but was skilled in many ways, including practically standing on his head driving nails into mining timber, and he was doing this at the age of 84! There are lots of stories about Merle, some of which I could not tell you since they were private to him. He was a highly decorated veteran, who served in Korea at the height of the war there, especially when the Chinese became involved. Merle was in a fox hole when a grenade was lobbed in and went off. He was injured then and recovered fine except for a hearing loss, that got worse over the years. That did not stop him though.

One quick story I will share with you. When Merle was in his 60’s he was prospecting over by the Drivers Flat area, just down for Foresthill.  He was walking by himself and had wandered off onto a small path, and looked down just in time to see a wire about six inches high going across it. Merle said when he saw it and he knew right off what it was.  A trip wire, likely leading to an explosive. His military training and experience paid off. He followed the line for about 100 feet and saw it was hooked up to the pin off a hand grenade! He disarmed the grenade, picked it up and took it to the Sheriffs Office. They were mighty shocked and concerned that a man walked in with a live hand grenade! Once they settled down and got their ducks in order, they went out with Merle and found the marijuana crop. 

I will write more about Merle later but I need to get back to the story that I am about to tell you.

The water had accumulated in the drift and I thought I would have some fun with it before the guys saw it. I tried to find a 6 ft long, blown up type alligator that I could put in that water and give the guys a little treat! That would wake them up in the morning. I just could not find one and finally ended up with a small, real looking alligator, but it was only about a foot and half long. I tried it in the water and it just sank so I gave up on the idea. However, I put the alligator up on a high shelf next to the crown boards, which was part of the support lumber for a set. I just left it there – and forgot about it mostly because it was too high to see and it was sort of in a darker area anyway.

A couple of months passed by and Merle happened to be the guy who was setting a hammer temporarily up out of the way, onto an upper shelf. Yep, the upper shelf was where the alligator was. I was there and did not even remember where I put the alligator. I saw his hand reach up, and what followed should have been on one of those television shows. 

I could see he got hold of it and several things happened almost simultaneously. His hand came flying down, at first holding that critter, and then it went flying loose and his hand was jerking back, and the words that followed I cannot print. I will tell you that Merle is a real gentleman and up that point, over several years, I had never heard him say one curse or four-letter word out of line.

Let me tell you this time his words would have made a hard-core, old time sailor blush. Ther were several of us there and we were laughing mighty hard and he was looking mighty hard at us at first. He thought sure that damn critter had bit him! He didn’t know what it was but it sure had big mouth and was mighty scaly. A good think he wasn’t carrying! He would have shot it before it hit the ground.

He finally took it with a smile though, and from his looks we knew our turn would be coming!

Well, this alligator became our mine mascot, and somehow got the name of Lizzy.

Liz, from then on, sat on a waist high shelf at the mine portal. It became a ritual that when you went into the mine you patted Liz and said hello, just like you would with a special puppy. Liz became the mine protector, and patting Lizzy brought safety and good luck. Lizzy always did, but whoa to those who did not!

Liz is still around and one day you might be saying hello again!