Charles Fetterhoff, more affectionately known as "Choppo," left us February 3, 1996. Choppo owned and operated a gold mine in the Central City/Black Hawk area, at the top of the hill called Miner's Mesa which overlooks Black Hawk.
I first met Choppo in 1993. I was driving around the Black Hawk area and came upon a sign for the Hidee Gold Mine. A short drive down a dirt road brought me to the mine. It is a small operation. Outside the mine was a small fellow dressed in overalls and a miner's hard hat working on an electric tram car.
I introduced myself and we struck up a conversation. I saw that this fellow was up in years, but when you talked about his mine, his eyes would light up like a teenager with his first true love. That's the way Choppo was with mining. It wasn't a job, it was a passion. Later on, as I got to know him much better, I was sure it was what kept him going.
We talked about his problem with the tram car not running and he asked me if I knew anything about electrical systems. I told him I did and that I would take a look at it. This was important to Choppo, because he suffered from lung disease brought on by his many years in the mines and he had to use oxygen full time. The tram car was his transportation in and out of the mine.
After looking over the tram car, I determined that I would need some of my equipment to diagnose the problem. I asked if he would be at the mine the next weekend and he said he would. I told him I would come back with my equipment and help him repair the tram car.
The following weekend, I packed up the Scout and drove back to the mine. Choppo was there and in about 30 minutes I had the tram car running. He was very excited that he could once again enter the mine and offered to give me a tour. As a member of the Gold Prospectors of the Rockies (GPR), a gold prospecting club in the Denver area, nothing could have suited me better.
As we toured the mine, we took a break for lunch and some further talk of mining and long-ago days. Somewhere about this time, Choppo offered me a job to work at the mine, but only for Hidee Mining Company stock. Well, knock me over and call me stupid, but I felt that as a fledgling prospector, I couldn't ask for a better deal.
I began working with Choppo almost every weekend and some holidays. It seemed he was always at the mine and he developed a habit of calling me from his home in Idaho Springs. The first summer was great for me! I learned more about hard rock mining and the lode mines in Gilpin County than I could have gotten from years of reading books.
Who was Charles "Choppo" Fetterhoff? He was born in New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania, in 1912. He studied mining engineering at the University of Alabama, which happened to be my school, too. He also attended classes at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden.
Choppo mined for copper in the east then came to Colorado. He worked for more than 60 years in mining, working for every major mining operation in the local Colorado mining area. His experience in the industry included construction, base metals, mercury, tungsten, iron ore, and gold and silver.
Work began on the Hidee in 1896. Production continued until 1905, when operations ceased. The mine consisted of two levels with a vertical shaft. The drifts, horizontal tunnels following veins of ore, were at 200 feet and 300 feet with the shaft extending to approximately 340 feet.
In 1934, Choppo and Friedel Wenderoth removed two ore samples from the Hidee shaft dump. These samples were taken to Denver where they were assayed as having a gold content of 36.0 troy ounces of gold per ton and 112.90 troy ounces of silver per ton. Only part of the 200-foot level was accessible at that time. Two samples from this level yielded much lower levels of 1.40 oz. (t) of gold and 7.0 oz. (t) of silver per ton. It was clear that the rich ore in the shaft was not coming from the 200-foot level. From that day forward, Choppo dreamed of the rich ore vein and of rediscovering it.
In 1984, Choppo began work on a walk-in adit, a tunnel that is open on one end, which had been started around 1936 by another company that had been exploring the property. This entrance was in the side of the mountain at about the 135-foot. Choppo continued on this level and finally intersected with the vertical shaft. Along with the help of Maxine Stewart, he cleard the shaft and explored portions of the 200-foot level. He speculated that the rich ore must have come from the 300-foot level, an area blocked by 10- to 15-feet of debris in the shaft. No one had been on the 300-foot level since 1905.
Over the years, Choppo acquired the majority ownership on the Hidee claims and property, as well as the mining company. He was determined to establish the Hidee as a tour mine and installed ventilation and lighting for all of the 135-foot level. The mine was inspected and approved as a tour mine operation. For several years, groups of school children were brought to the mine and taught about hard rock mining and the history of mining in Colorado.
In 1995, during my second summer working with Choppo, I met two other members of the GPR club, Dave and Ginny Swank (two nicer people I have never met). During the summer, Choppo was always accompanied by Dave and sometimes by Ginny. His health was getting worse and he was no longer able to drive up to the mine alone, but once he got there, it seemed that old mine infused him with a vigor he could not find in the valley.
We worked the entire summer and Choppo had big plans for the coming year. He was forever the optimist and a true dreamer. He infected me with his dream and I began feeling that it was my responsibility to assure that he saw the dream to reality.
Dave and Ginny took care of Choppo, taking him to the doctor, store, post office--whatever he needed. They were true friends to Choppo.
The last day Choppo spent at the mine in 1995, it was very cold; winter was coming on. In January, I had talked to Choppo by phone and he had asked me to come by his home to pick up the keys to the mine so I could do some work. I told him I would do so but the weather turned very bad and that week we put it off. I received a call on February 3, 1996, from Dave. He and Ginny had stopped at Choppo's to check on him and had found that he had passed away sometime that evening.
The history of the old days is fading fast. If you are lucky enough to meet a piece of history, as I have, take the time to listen, learn, and remember. I often think that if Choppo could have lived at the mine, he might have outlived us all. The mine aded a quickness to his step, a sparkle in his eye, and a sly smile on his face. It was always as if he and that mine had a secret and he was not about to tell it to anyone. As I think of him nowdays, I feel both a happiness to have known and worked with him, and a terrible sadness at the loss of a good friend--one of the last of the true old-time miners.