DIY Mining Machinery

In early decades of mining at Lightning Ridge the miners made and maintained their own equipment.

There was no need for an engineering workshop then, everyone was too poor.

Fritz Thurner, 2013

When many new miners arrived in the 1960s, the pool of technical knowledge and skills which could be drawn upon grew rapidly.

The talent available at the 3-Mile was amazing – you could get any mechanical or electrical job done.

Lawrie Cree, 2013

Dry puddlers were the first special-purpose powered machines to be made and used widely in the opal fields. To make these, miners learned to improvise and customise new ways of using available materials and drive systems.

For puddling, some vehicles had the tailshaft disconnected and attached to the puddler. To move to another area, the tailshaft was reconnected to the vehicle.

Graeme Anderson, 2013

Several miners who constructed machines for their own use were asked by other miners to make more for sale. These miners supplemented their income from opal mining by making and selling machines, usually just one kind of machine. Fritz Thurner, Drago Lipnik, Rex Boyes, Ernie McAllister, and many others became well known for their home-made mining machines.

Machinery Fabrication Businesses

A few miners who began with small-scale machinery making and repair services, went on to establish successful engineering fabrication and repair businesses.

The first was Bob Davidson who, when living at Brewarrina in the late 1950s, made dry puddlers to sell to miners. Bob then moved to Lightning Ridge to set up his business Rural Welding with hissons.

Dad would make a puddler in his garage, bring it over with the family to Lightning Ridge during holidays or weekends, process dirt at the Nine Mile, sell the puddler, then drive back to Brewarrina. We moved here in 1959 and Dad started his business, Rural Welding…. Dad and the boys made puddlers, ladders, picks, dump hoists, and other gear…. He pushed a ladder he had made into a wet concrete floor to leave an impression, this was a jig for welding more ladders.

Barbara Wright, 2013

Knud Nexo, who had trained as a toolmaker in Denmark, arrived in Lightning Ridge in 1967.

He did a little mining and then set up a repair business under a tree. When I came here in 1974 he had an engineering workshop and people working with him; welders and fitters. I got my first mining gear from him; we had a partnership where he got a percentage of the opals in return for supplying the equipment.

Wolfgang Johansson, 2013

Knud, working in his business Nexo Engineering, made crucial improvements to the designs of many machines: autohoists, wet puddlers, rumblers, blowers, diggers, man-hoists, and other equipment that was part of the revolution in opal mining which began in the 1960s. His distinctive blue-painted machines were made in large numbers and used in hundreds of mines in the opal fields around Lightning Ridge.

It has been his [Knud’s] revolutionary ideas and pioneering machinery which have played a dramatic part in the increased production of opal from Lightning Ridge over the past 30 years.

Len Cram, 2004

A few fabrication businesses outside Lightning Ridge became leading suppliers of specialised machines for opal mining. One of these was Almet Masters in Adelaide, who built nine-inch auger drill rigs (the Investigator series) for prospecting at Lightning Ridge and Coober Pedy, later also used in other opal fields. These drill rigs, designed for the demanding local conditions, soon replaced Calweld drills for prospecting.

I had a business, NW Machinery, now called Lightning Ridge Machinery and Repairs. I employed boilermakers and welders, and made ladders, hoists, blowers, boggers, and agitators made from old mobile cement mixers.

George Mulder, 2013

DIY Machinery Repairs and Modifications

As opal mining machinery became more complex and expensive, all miners have had to learn how to maintain and repair their machines, and comply with more stringent health and safety regulations. In recent years, as fuel prices escalated, it also became important for miners to measure and improve the efficiency of their mining machinery, to reduce fuel usage and other operating costs.