The chief mineral is zinc, which is sent to San Luís Potosí for smelting. Lead and copper are sent to Taxco for smelting. There are also two low grade silver and gold mines. About 1600, there was a thick silver vein, but not much of it is left now.
One of our narrators, Francisco, had worked in the mine for forty-seven years. He was pleased to report that there had been no loss of life during that time. However, in recent years, there have been serious accidents. The distance between levels in the mine is 30 meters (about 100 feet). Francisco worked on level twelve. One of his foremen, whom he respected, was a Canadian.
The mine has been operating since 1600, although native people had mined there since 1300. At first, picks were used. The ore was taken in hand-pushed cars. One of these cars is mounted on a pedestal, along with a man built from nuts and bolts, not far from the downtown plazas. To bring out the rock, it was placed inside the hide of a cow.
In the 1940’s, a German firm operated the mine. Using the North Star as a guide, their drilling of the shaft was exact. Francisco spoke highly of the Germans for their efficiency and their training of the miners. Between 1900 and 1945, the rock was shipped to the United States. At the time, this was the second most productive lead mine in the world. After 1945, the rock stayed in Mexico. Currently, there is a long vein of zinc and copper running from the east side of the city to the hills west of the mine. However, it is not being extracted at the present time.
The mine is 600 meters (about 1980 feet) deep. The tunnels, which go through the hills, are 4 meters (about 13 feet) wide and 3 meters (10 feet) high. Now, electric trains, having three or four cars, carry the ore. The cars go down into the mine in a spiral route. The ore is ground into powder, then carried to the smelters by trucks. When a dynamite charge is set off, the blast will vibrate throughout the mine.
A miner works an eight-hour shift and forty hours a week for regular pay. The next thirty hours of overtime bring one and one-half times regular pay. Over seventy hours bring triple pay. The type of job determines what regular pay is. Although the union does not like the rates being made public knowledge, it is estimated that a typical worker at the low end currently makes about thirty pesos a day. That is enough to provide a modest living. Some miners have housing near the mine, but most live in the city. There is one section at the west side of the city where there are good-looking homes owned by the miners. Nearby is another section of more modest homes, owned by the mining company and rented to the miners. The rent is one peso a week. Utilities are paid by the renters.