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Chapter Ten
Climax, 1918

Molybdenum was then a rather unknown metal, of little or no commercial value, its uses had not been known. It had just been discovered that this metal was most valuable as a steel alloy to be used in rapid fire guns and heavy artillery. It being war times and the government having taken over American Metal for the duration, the company was just starting to open up the molybdenum deposits up at Climax, on top of Fremount Pass, between Leadville and Breckenridge, all as a war baby.

Nothing was known about the refining of molybdenum then. It was all an experiment. They rented a corner of a public assay office in Denver, Roat and Simpsons, and put me in there working by myself to develop practical methods of analysis for molybdenum, which were then unknown. During this time they were starting mining operations up at Climax and building the floatation mill. The main or business offices were in Denver.

After about a month, I went up to Climax in dead winter. Climax is right on top of the Continental Divide, over 12,000 feet altitude, just about timberline. In fact, as the snow melted in our back yard up there later, part of it flowed into the Pacific and part to the Atlantic via the Gulf of Mexico. Florence with the two boys was still in Idaho Springs as there were then no houses or facilities at Climax for families.

As soon as the weather broke in the spring and the snow permitted, they started building houses for families. The manager, mine superintendent and mill superintendent did not want a house. The first one named being an old bachelor, the latter two not bringing their wives. So, we had the first family house in Climax. By the way, we had the first, and then the only, piano in town or maybe we should say camp. Then Florence and the two boys came there.

Climax is now one of the largest mining operations in the world today, some 40 years after we started it. It is a large, somewhat modern city, on top of the world. They now employ several thousands, whereas our payroll was about 300. Today they work up about 30,000 tons of ore daily. Our early day production was between 200 and 250 tons per 24 hours. As I recall, we achieved 300 tons only twice, but we were the pioneers and laid the groundwork.

Our life in Climax was in a sense a beautiful mountain vacation. It was still a place of natural beauty, that one summer the flowers were beyond description. We could walk just a few hundred yards from our house and pick armloads of columbines in a space no larger than a large room. Basically, it was a rough mining camp similar to Galconda, but on a much finer scale. The labor was of a much better class and there was a larger group of you might say educated people. Facilities in our home were modern and it was not like camping out as it had been in Arizona.

In the early fall the terrible first world wide epidemic of Spanish influenza hit our Climax camp. Heavy snows and cold weather had set in. No doctors or nurses in camp, as they were all in the army service, still World War I or tied down in the cities with this terrible, contagious epidemic. I, during the summer had been sick with the so-called grippe which we later suspected was a light case of this influenza, which might explain why I did not catch it during the terrible epidemic for certainly I was exposed to it in every way. Within one week after the first case hit us, ten percent, or one out of every ten people, in camp were dead and far more than half of the population was in bed seriously ill. We few who remained on our feet tried to keep the mill going and attend to the sick and dead under telephoned directions from doctors over in Leadville and Breckenridge. We made hospitals out of dining or mess halls and did the best we could. It fell to the lot of our first aid man and myself to be in charge of this work. We were instructed to wear masks and chew tobacco as we were around the sick and dead. One of our problems was to handle some of the husky men as they would go crazy and raving mad during their bad spells. Once we had a terrible time subduing a man who was out of his head and was trying to kill one of the girl waitresses who was acting as a nurse. Several other times we had trouble keeping some of the raving men in bed and inside. They would panic and rush into the snow and cold with only their underwear or nothing on. As they would die we would bury the bodies in snow banks to freeze them as of course there was no mortician available, also there was a national emergency law that no bodies could be shipped in anyway without first embalming, this die to the contagion.

After about ten days of this nightmare, we were able to persuade a young medical student to come to camp, also an old lady from Breckenridge who had been an undertaker in her younger days. As we dug some of the bodies out of the snow banks, for her to attend to, to our horror we found that wild animals had found them and made havoc. All this was a terrible experience and now seems like a dream. The high altitude was against us.

Just as we were recovering from the epidemic, orders came from Washington to shut the place down. This was about a week before the Armistice, so powers that be knew the war was practically over.

At that time, no commercial use for molybdenum was know, so it was assumed that with the war over, the place would be worthless. Climax then and now produced probably 80 to 90 percent of the world's molybdenum. We had to make quick decisions as to our individual futures. Florence, and properly so, took the stand that now that we were raising a family we had to plan on a different life and education for the children. Hence, it appeared I should try to get away from mining camp life, which too often is not adapted to families with small children. I had done nothing but chemical work, so that is what I looked for. I heard that the Great Western Sugar Company was looking for chemists so I applied. They sent me to their sugar factory at Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and I had to start at the bottom as a routine chemist. Of course sugar chemistry was entirely different than what I had been doing, so I had plenty to learn.

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©1958 James H. Zisch, ©1974 James H. Zisch, III