The Miners Strike Out
Or, How to make a fool of yourself for 25 cents an hour
The time; 1964. The place; Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The perpetrators; First Lieutenant Jess Pugh and Second Lieutenant Dirck Praeger. It was early on a Saturday morning and Jess and Dirck were drinking coffee in Pugh’s kitchen as his wife Jean was busily fixing them some breakfast. These two officers of Marines and good friends had a history of participating in some rather offbeat leisure time activities, several examples of which included the Great Exploding Beer Caper and the Nude Motorcycle Racing Club. Jess was an H-34 helicopter pilot flying out of Marine Corps Air Facility, New River, across the river from Camp Lejeune, and Dirck led a rifle platoon in Mike Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines.
On this particular morning Jess came up with an idea that would make both of them some extra money to supplement their meager Lieutenants pay. They would proceed to the pistol ranges at MCAF, New River, and Camp Geiger, a smaller satellite of Camp Lejeune next door to MCAF, and mine the butts of all the expended lead .45 and .38 rounds fired at those ranges. Jess figured that there must be year’s worth of lead in those butts. They would then remove the lead from whatever copper full metal jackets remained, melt the lead down into ingots, and sell it to the local junk dealer in Jacksonville, the town outside Camp Lejeune’s gate. Dirck agreed that it was a great idea to come up with some easy money.
After breakfast they loaded up the trunk of Jess’ car with shovels, rakes, buckets, sieves and whatever other paraphernalia they would need to collect all the spent lead in Onslow County, and thus be rewarded with great wealth for their noble efforts. Plus it would benefit the Marine Corps to have the butts of two of their pistols ranges cleaned out. How could they lose?
Digging the lead out of the butts proved to be a little harder than they had expected and it was well past noon when they loaded two buckets full of spent rounds into Jess’ car. Next they had to separate any copper that remained on the lead bullets. That took several more hours.
Finally they were ready to melt the lead into ingots. But what to use for molds? Ah ha! Jean’s cast iron skillet was sitting on the stove and appeared to be just about the right size to make two or three lead ingots. They fired up the stove, dropped the spent bullets into the skillet and watched as it slowly melted. What they didn’t think of was that some of that lead would end up in the pores of the cast iron skillet, and Jess would be eating lead along with his eggs and bacon for several years to come. That may help to explain several eccentricities that appeared in Jess’ behavior as he grew older. Jess always ensured that there was no lead based paint anywhere in the house to poison their kids, but he obviously wasn’t that vigilant in the kitchen.
But on with the story. Our stalwarts finally had created three heavy lead ingots about 10-12 inches in diameter and several inches thick. They had spent an entire Saturday at this endeavor, and were about to be rewarded. As it was getting late on Saturday afternoon, they had to hurry to the junkyard to sell their wares. The junkman gave them $2 each for the ingots. Instead of splitting up the $6, they decided to spend it all on beer, and in 1964 you could probably get a case of the cheap stuff for that amount. They proceeded home and spent Saturday night drinking the beer and drowning their sorrow, lamenting that all their hard work had been improperly rewarded.
As the years went on and Jess and Dirck’s paths crossed on several more occasions during their Marine Corps careers, they continued to participate in cockamamie schemes and activities, but they never mined the butts again. It just wasn’t worth about twenty five cents an hour.
Dirck Praeger sends