“You feel empowered, like you can conquer the world.”Cyndi Elkins, an industrial mechanic at the Pinto Valley mine site, maintains the big machines that power the operation –– from crushers, conveyors, feeders, shakers, ballmills, flotation banks, and filter press.
“Most equipment is huge in scale ,” she says, “and you’re running we make it run.”
Our crews works 12-hour shifts, some days, some nights. There is no everyday routine with shift work. When a machine goes down, it can shut down the entire plant, so the work is non-stop until its up and running. When nothing breaks, there’s always something to keep you busy.
“That’s a good day,” explains Cyndi, “but it makes for long nights.”
Most of the work is heavy and very physical. Pinto Valley is an older mine. There is are issues of rust and corrosion.
The hardest part, according to Cyndi, is packing her tools on her back, up and down stairs to various locations.
“It’s nothing to be on your feet all day,” she says. “Routine checks involve a lot of walking.”
What inspired your mining career?
Cyndi grew up in Playas, New Mexico, a small mining town owned by Phelps Dodge Corporation. When the mine closed in 1999, everyone had to move, and her father, a precision millwright, took his skills on the road.
“Always Daddy’s girl,” falling into some hardships Cyndi later left her two children with her mother and followed his lead.
“Take the time to find out who you want to be,” he told her, “and build it.”
Cyndi worked contract to contract, and in her off hours she studied online to become a nurse. Then she witnessed an accident at work; it brought an end to her nursing ambition.“$60K later,” Cyndi says with ironic regret, “I realized I couldn’t stand the sight or smell of blood.”
She was, however, fascinated by millwright work, which involves precision leveling and motor alignments. Her skills landed her contract work with mines, power plants and a nuclear facility.
“My dad taught me a lot,” says Cyndi. “Training built my confidence.”
There is always somebody on the crew, who will take the time to answer questions.
“It’s fun,” she says, “It becomes a family.“
Advice for women interested in a mining career today
“There is always the right tool or procedure to use,” she says, when strength alone won’t do the job. “But there will be times you’ll need to just go get help.”
In her 19-year career, Cyndi has had zero safety infractions.
“I’m cautious,” she says, “because I’m a mother and grandmother.”
Cyndi doesn’t sugarcoat the mining experience. The work can be exhausting. The environment harsh. Construction is a dangerous business.
Despite all that, she’s in awe of the operation. The size of the equipment. The processes employed. The treasure it extracts.
“You think it’s just a plain old rock,” she says, “but within it you find turquoise or gold or copper.”
“Never let anyone define you.” — Gary Elkins.Cyndi Elkins, 43, was born in Douglas, Arizona and raised in Playas, New Mexico. Married and living in Globe, she enjoys visiting family, drawing, writing poetry and searching for artifacts.
A traveler, Patti Daley came to Globe in 2016 to face the heat, follow love, and find desert treasure. She writes in many formats and records travel scraps and other musings at daleywriting.com.