Sixteen to One worker remembered for ethics
Though just 19 years old, Warren Johnson had an attitude and a work ethic that impressed the hard-rock miners at the Original Sixteen to One Mine in Alleghany.
So they hired the young Penn Valley man in April, one of three "baby miners," as mine owner Mike Miller affectionately calls the teenagers he took on in the spring.
The family feeling among the hard-rock miners makes Johnson's death deeply painful to everyone, Miller said. Johnson died Friday morning at Sutter Roseville Memorial Hospital of injuries he received in an accident Thursday afternoon on Highway 49 near Moonshine Road.
Johnson had been on his way to see his girlfriend, said his mother, Jimi Johnson of Penn Valley on Friday.
The trio of young miners included Johnson's best friend and mining partner, 18-year-old Matt Jurgensen of Nevada City, and 19-year-old Aaron Willis of Smartville.
There is a bare-bones aspect to working so closely with nature and its dangers as one does in a hard-rock mine. The miners won't work with anyone they wouldn't sit down to a meal with, Miller said.
"It takes a certain character that would enjoy this hard, physical labor, and I saw that in Warren. It excited him, and that rejuvenated me," mine manager and 28-year mining veteran Ian Haley said. "We let them into the family and they earned their way."
In the past when Miller has advertised for applicants he has listed "no whiners" as one of the job qualifications.
This spring after Jurgensen interviewed for a job, he called his friend Johnson, who was vacationing in Hawaii.
"Warren flew back on the next plane," Miller recalled. "He was looking for something to bite into."
Haley worked the young men above-ground for nearly three weeks.
"I had them cutting brush and shoveling muck. They did it all day long for days. I'm the boss, and I got to feeling guilty," Haley chuckled at the memory.
"They said, 'Ian, get us under ground. We just want to be miners.' They did something that, in that generation, is really hard to find.
"Warren paid his dues and then some. He worked his way underground. I'm glad he got to go underground," Haley said, choking back his emotions.
Miller said drugs and irresponsibility often make it difficult to find good employees, but not for these three. The older miners had a fatherly feeling toward the "baby miners" they initiated into their way of life.
"Their parents should be real proud of them for being raised well," Miller said. "I want more baby miners because they are the future of our community. Warren's one of them and it's a sad loss."
Johnson was driving a gray pickup truck when he entered a curve. The pickup veered into the opposing lane and collided with a white box truck. The highway was closed for two hours, while Johnson was extricated from the truck and flown to Sutter Roseville, the California Highway Patrol reported.