The Chat Pile, now a 3-acre parking lot that looks north at the new Valles Mines Post Office, had formerly
looked before that for years at the old Post Office formerly in the A.P. Rowe General Store.
But let's not stir up trouble about how that PO got moved after decades being across the street from the General
Store in Valles Mines (14117 Valles Mines School Road) so we can get on with how the Chat
Pile came to be...
The Chat Pile Ore-Dressing and Beneficiation Mill
came about as an answer to World
War II's need for materials to fight a war (see
"PRELIMINARY WAR MINERALS REPORT"). The Bureau of Mines in 1942, reporting to Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes, thought
it worthwhile to send mine tailings left behind from two centuries of mining through a concentration process to get
lead and zinc for the war. Where? On what thereafter would be called "The Chat Pile". Dumps from mines all over
the area were hauled here for concentration even though they had been left behind for decades because the nuggets
and particles were too small for human hands to pick out. Lead and barite in principle are simple to separate when
they come from a Valles Mines deposit, you just wash the clay off and what is left is the ore. Unfortunately, in
doing that in 1942, not only were fine lead particles lost, depositing in the stream bed downstream from the Chat Pile for miles but
also the zinc component called "smithsonite"(see "Valles Mines Ore Washer"
report, page 2 of 6).
Because it resembled red clay, was very similar in weight, and bonded when wet to the
rust-colored goethite, also weighing and looking the same. Things did not go well, as all three ingredients
got washed downstream together, mistaken as huge amounts of waste mud.
Little zinc got recovered because it "glued" to the goethite, an iron
compound, when it came in contact with water in their washer on the Chat Pile. Oops! The operation was finally
abandoned. To this day, those washings can be detected in nooks and crannies of the creek bed and that century
old technology was never used again at Valles Mines.
On a brighter side, the lead from the Chat Pile Mill supplied during WWII
helped win another war just like Valles Mines lead had helped win the
Revolutionary War (see the
Battle For St. Louis, Fort San Carlos), AND the Civil War AND WW I.
A lot has happened to mining technology
since WWII. Valles Miners never saw modern technology like electric lights in the mines. Miners were thrilled
when they could wear the then-new carbide lamps on their heads instead of using candles. To this day, no one
ever drilled horizontally to prospect when their current mine played out. Who could have imagined in 1942 how
the invention of the hydrocone,
the centrifuge, the teeter-bed separator,
or chip wringer, pneumatic, or
electrostatic separator would change our world today? What would have those old miners
have done with these modern
Who would have figured that the goethite separation problem which kept the Mining Company from success in 1942
and also reopening its zinc operation in 2010 would be solved by a
magnetic separator from the Chinese mining industry?
lots of shopping to do for new stuff. If the goverment wanted to stimulate the economy of the
Lead Belt and SE Missouri, maybe they could start at Valles Mines. With zinc reaching a dollar/lb. recently
(up from $28/ton back then), everybody would be better off.