Fluorspar                                                  



Milton Yandell - Fluorspar and Oil Interests - P.O. Box 107 Marion, Kentucky Telephone no.259 J - was the information given on Papa's business cards.

Anyone who came to Crittenden County inquiring about the fluorspar industry was sent to Mitt Yandell, Bob Fraser or Ben Clement. Mitt, my father, was highly knowledgeable about every aspect of the industry.  He was in the business for most of his adult life.

Fluorite, also known as fluorspar, Blue John, Darbyshire Spar, Crittenden County Gold or just "Spar" is made up of Sl.3% calcium & 48.7% fluorine = CaF2. It is a major industrial mineral.  Mines in Crittenden and Livingston Counties in Kentucky and Hardin and Pope Counties in Illinois produced more fluorspar than any other place in the world until 1948. Tariffs were lifted and the U.S. market was flooded with cheaper fluorspar from Mexico.

The first fluorspar mined in Kentucky was from the Yandell Mine near the small village of Frances, Kentucky in the early 1870's. The mine was on the farm of John A. Yandell, my grandfather.  It was hauled by wagon, about eight miles, to the small town of Mexico, Kentucky, where it was shipped by rail, or to Dycusburg, Kentucky, where it was shipped by barge via the Cumberland river to steel mills in the East.

While in school in the 1920's and '30's, I wrote a paper on fluorspar every year, for some class.  As it was an every-day topic of conversation in our house, I'm sure I knew more about fluorspar than any child my age. I wrote that paper so many times that today I could write it verbatim. I knew of the many uses for fluorspar then, but that was 65 years ago.  Today, it is used in making products that weren't even heard of back then.

While in Crittenden County in July 1997, I visited the Ben E. Clement Mineral Museum. I picked up an informative brochure telling of the many uses for fluorspar today.  It stated, "There are many uses for fluorspar. It is the most powerful fluxing agent known. The many uses of the mineral are as follows: It is used in making steel, aluminum, plastics, glass, ceramics, freon, hydrofluoric acid, fiberglass, enamels and teflon.

It was used in the development of the atomic bomb, as the scientists could not have reduced Uranium 238 to the Uranium U235. Without it, the atomic bomb would probably never have never been invented. In fact, it is second in importance only to uranium in making the atomic bomb. It is on the government's list of strategic minerals because the things listed above cannot be manufactured without fluorspar.

From the many chemicals manufactured as a result of fluorspar, many are used in our homes today.  These would be from fluoride treated toothpaste to the insecticides used to kill flies and mosquitoes. The optical products of war and peace are coated with fluorite to help cut out glare.

It is found in vein mines which extend down as deep as 1000 feet. The veins are sometimes ten feet wide, but usually are about six to ten feet wide.  Fluorspar is a beautiful mineral, colors vary, the most common is light green, yellow, bluish green, purple, white, brown and all shades of blue.

Papa was a broker dealing in mineral and oil properties. When he determined that there was fluorspar on a piece of property, he got a lease on the mineral rights from the owner.  A crew of miners was then sent to the site to sink a shaft. When they struck a vein of spar, Papa came home all smiles and announcing, "We struck a fine vein today."  Some mines were more productive than others, but he rarely sank a completely dry shaft.

All mines were given a name, they were usually named for the owners' daughters or other relatives.  Some were named for the property owners. Some of the names were: The Babb, Watson, Willie Edna, Crystal, Mary Belle, Blue Diggins, Hickory Cane, Mary Helen and Pigmy. All of my life I felt slighted because I didn't have a mine named for me.

I enjoyed going to the mine with Papa, I liked talking to the men pulling the windlass and watching them dump the big tub of spar into the log-washer and watch it turn as the spar was being washed. The big chunks of colored spar looked like giant gemstones. I spent hours on end looking for pretty specimens of spar to take home to put on the mantel or to use for a doorstop. I always wanted to go down in the mine, but Papa would never let me go below the surface of the mine.

From the time I learned to drive until after I was married, I ran errands for Papa. I was sent to J.N. Boston's Lumber Company to get a keg of sixteen- penny nails or a specially cut piece of wood. Papa was mining the Babb Mine during World War II. As Jay was overseas, I was free to run errands.  Papa sent me to T. H. Cochran's Hardware to get a case of dynamite, caps and fuse. They loaded it in his 1938 Dodge and I took it to the mine. The roads were rocky with deep ruts, sometimes when I ran over a boulder I bounced so high that my head hit the top of the car. I thought nothing of it at the time, but I get the shivers when I think about now. I had a small baby at home and should never have taken risks like that.

I was sad when Papa no longer went to the mines. I loved the fluorspar business almost as much as he did.  It was our livelihood, our bread and butter, so to speak and it served us well.

9-12-1997

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