Moolick retired, but not retiring
A 1980 Business Week article described Richard T. Moolick as “a tough and abrasive mining engineer.” Could be.He is known locally for his frequent letters to the editor, which more than one reader has taken exception with, if not found down right abrasive.As for tough, Moolick tells the story of a contract proposal to the United Steelworkers Union he presented as president of Phelps Dodge Corp. in the early 1980s.Phelps Dodge is one of the world’s biggest copper mining companies, but in 1980 the industry was suffering a depression brought on by the lowest copper prices since the 1930s. It was Moolick’s job to negotiate a better deal with the union, which opposed his radical and complicated settlement offer.At one tense meeting when Moolick addressed miners at the Morenci copper mine in Arizona, Phelps Dodge security people rushed in and told him a bomb would go off in 15 minutes.”I looked at my watch and said `We’ve got 12 minutes.’ At the end of the 12 minutes we left,” Moolick stated with a bit of aplomb.Moolick’s compensation proposal, the strike and resulting fallout are documented in the 256-page book “Copper Crucible: How the Arizona Miners’ Strike of 1983 Recast Labor-Management Relations in America,” by Jonathan D. Rosenblum.At one point during negotiations, Moolick had one-on-one lunch meetings with the head of the United Steelworkers union, but since neither would budge and they knew it, all they talked about was golf.Moolick chuckled and said, “I never did find out his handicap.”Moolick lives with Esther, his wife of seven years, in a rambling log home on the banks of the Roaring Fork River near the Colorado Mountain College turnoff south of Glenwood Springs. At the driveway, visitors notice a metal alligator sculpture with a dummy’s leg jutting from the mouth. Inside, the house is filled with Esther’s paintings, western sculpture, books and mineral displays.Moolick is a congenial host, game for discussions on numerous topics, and could probably still fit into his World War II Navy uniform. On a coffee table sits “The Pocket Book on World Figures, 2001,” published by “The Economist.”In letters to the editor over the years, Moolick has taken on environmentalists, accused Republican Congressman Scott McInnis of playing “footsie” with the Sierra Club, complained about the dearth of Christmas carols in downtown Glenwood Springs, cautioned against global warming alarmists, and more. Much, much more.”I write the letters for amusement purposes,” Moolick said, as his little dog Sparky bounced around the room, checking out the visitors.Growing up in Stanton, Calif., in the 1920s, Moolick started his letter-writing career when he was 12 or 13, when he noticed a junk- and weed-covered lumberyard leading to the entry of the town and Huntington Beach.”What a despicable thing … The first thing they see is this lumberyard,” he said, still a little outraged.Under the pen name “A Stanton Housewife,” Moolick sent a letter to the editor of the Stanton Gazette, which published it on the front page.”In two months, that lumberyard was spiffed up clean,” he boasted.These days, Moolick said, “I rarely respond to a letter, unless it’s so dumb someone ought to respond. There’s a lot of stupidity out there.”When reminded of the one-sentence letter from a Silt reader that said, “Whatever happened to Mr. Moolick’s threat to cancel his subscription to the Post Independent,” Moolick laughed and said, “I thought the letter was stupid, but cleverly stupid.”A story about the 80-year-old Moolick (pronounced Mule-ick) is more conducive for an entire book than a page or two in a newspaper. His could almost be a cousin to Forrest Gump, in that he’s been places, seen things and associated with people regular folks only know through books and news stories.During World War II, he palled around with a member of Flying Walenda trapeze family.While stationed in the South Pacific as a combat pilot, Moolick was rummaging around court martial documents and found a pending case against a PT boat officer. It seems the officer and his crew allegedly shut off the boat’s engines, went swimming, and a Japanese plane came along and blew up the boat.”He was John F. Kennedy,” Moolick said.In 1979, Moolick was one of the first industrialists invited to China. “It was incredible how primitive everything was,” he recalled.Moolick’s mining blood dates back to his grandfather on his mother’s side, who homesteaded in western Nebraska. “But they got hungry, and went to Leadville and learned mining,” he said.They moved back and forth between Nebraska and Cripple Creek, then finally to Death Valley in California.”They were in mining for the rest of their lives … We always had rocks around the house,” he said.Moolick’s father drilled oil wells in southern California. When exploration slowed in 1928 and hard times set in, young Richard had to give up violin lessons. “When I think back to the Depression, that’s one bright spot,” Moolick said with a smile.Moolick attended Fullerton Junior College and majored in journalism. In his off time he roamed Death Valley, “looking for gold, anything we could find. Mostly strange things.”He graduated with a two-year degree in journalism, took a third year and studied geology, drafting and other mining-related courses, then joined the Navy in May 1942. The idea was that he would buy a newspaper and prospect on the side.During flight training in Arizona, Moolick learned the ride is a lot smoother over alfalfa fields than desert sand and rocks. He didn’t know how to swim, and he later paid a guy $10 to pass the test for him.”If you’re a thousand miles out in the ocean, it doesn’t matter if you can swim or not,” he surmised.His flight teacher in Corpus Christie, Texas, got busted down to ensign for flying upside down the length of the city’s Main Street.While stationed on the island of Trinidad, he noticed a sign over a fountain that said Eleanor Roosevelt had taken a drink there. “Not liking Eleanor, I didn’t drink there,” he noted.After World War II, Moolick attended the University of Arizona on the G.I. Bill and earned a degree in mining geology. He spent his whole, 35-year career with Phelps Dodge, mostly in Arizona and New Mexico, finding two major ore bodies, “and some smaller ones, too.”He traveled overseas, and is still fascinated with a Turkish deposit that lies under a tea plantation, but showed evidence of having been worked during Roman times.Moolick retired from Phelps Dodge on Jan. 1, 1985. In 1987, he was instrumental in establishing the National Mining Hall of Fame & Museum in Leadville. The directors settled on Leadville after negotiations between Moolick and officials from the school district that owned the Victorian building the directors were eyeing.The school district’s opening offer was to sell the three-story building for $2 million. Moolick emerged with a lease of 50 cents per year in perpetuity, and the town of Leadville agreed to pay $50,000 per year for utilities for the first two years, plus mow the grass.Although Moolick can relate endless stories from the 1920s through recent times, he keeps up on current events. Ask about President Bush’s proposed tariff on imported steel, and he quickly says, “It’s vital … and I’ll tell you why.”When this reporter said he wanted to play devil’s advocate, Moolick smiled and learned forward in his chair. The question was, “Have you ever met a mine you didn’t like?”Moolick thought for a second, then said, “I’ve seen mines that were created by nonminers. They didn’t know what they were doing. Mining is complicated. You’ve got to know your stuff, like anything else.”
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