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Leaving Las Vegas

By: David Bond

-- Posted 6 April, 2007 | |

The Wallace Street Journal


By David Bond, Editor

The Silver Valley Mining Journal


Wallace, IdahoLas Vegas is one dreadful dump. Used to be you could go to Nevada for a good time with not a lot of money. No more. As guests of the Luxor (that big black pyramid-shaped thingie) we were treated to $3 coffee, $4 orange juice, $5 beer and $7 cigarettes, a television remote control that wasn't there, and an Internet connexion that didn't work. We were delighted that the elevators did not charge boarding fees.


In our Olden Days, Sunshine Mining Co. had a new working mine by the little town of Silver Peak called the Sixteen-To-One, named in honour of the old silver-gold ratio. Nearby at Goldfields was an excellent brothel, and also, in Tonopah, the Mezpah Hotel in Nye County, where you could stand in line in the casino floor for a half hour and then get a steak and lobster dinner to die for, for $7, Nevada's current price for one deck of Marlboros. Sunshine did its annual meeting of shareholders at Silver Peak, because it was our new property and because after Paris the previous year when silver was $50 and now was skidding towards $4, the middle of nowhere in Nevada seemed like a safer place from pissed-off stockholders. We pitched a circus tent. True fact.


Sunshine Mining Co. had serious stroke back then. On our board were guys like Sam Dash of the Watergate hearings, Claude Fuqua of the department store chain, and a Christian member of the Kuwaiti Royal Family named Joseph. Several of us hopped aboard a rented Ford van out of Vegas for the trip to Silver Peak and the SSC annual meeting. It was a hot (is there any other kind in the Nevada desert?) day and one of those splendid May days when the desert is in bloom. The gorgeous view notwithstanding and   despite ample provisioning in Las Vegas, we ran out of beer somewhere along the way, which was causing consternation amongst our distinguished traveling companions.


We cruised along for another several billion flat straight Nevada miles until, off the left side of the highway, appeared an Olympia beer neon sign. The Ford van immediately veered in that direction, its occupants hugely thirsty. We bellied up to the bar in anticipation of buying a few cold ones. Suddenly indecently-clad girls appeared, apparently bent on obtaining our affections. We thought we had died and gone to Heaven, all this sudden and beautiful female attention with Oly on tap, but it turns out we had arrived at the Cottontail Ranch, Nevada's famous house of ill repute. We paid several thousand dollars for a few cases of Olympia beer but not without getting a business card. If you wanted to call the Cottontail, the telephone number was Goldfields 3. You have to call the Operator to get the call plugged through.


(You will have to give Goldfields and the Cottontail Ranch this much: Their telephones may have been rudimentary, but right next to the brothel was a 5,000-foot paved and lighted runway – quite regularly used.)


Our reminiscences of Nevada are not without fondness. Nor was our current trip there with a bunch of guys and gals from Switzerland and Austria, to Atlanta, Nevada, some 220 miles north up Highway 93 from Lost Wages, after which you take a right turn and go another 10 miles or so up a dirt road to encounter a very nice little open-cast gold mine, replete with an 800 ton-per-day mill, cone crushers all in, which Zürich-based Hemis Corporation has just picked up for a little less than the scrap value of the mill.


So, what are Swiss people doing in North America, looking at this gold mine? Well, same thing they are doing in Sonora and Zacatecas, Mexico, and in Alaska's Cook Inlet. The Swiss, led by a couple of recovering bankers from Zürich and Vancouver, are buying up properties of value in this hemisphere. They also are very interested in the Silver Valley.


Switzerland, despite all of its monetary mystique, is not a huge country. You can cross the entire place in 3 hours by rail, from Geneva in the French-speaking south to German-speaking Zürich up north. To put this in a larger perspective, you can get all the way to Geneva from Paris in about 4 hours. Europe is not a big place. The Swiss are as vulnerable to, and just as frightened of, the mechanized death that emanates from this country as any other sane group of people could be.


So they come here to buy and mine gold and silver. Hemis Corporation are the shock troops of the European re-invasion of the Americas. We see chaos forthcoming. There's a European rock star, a construction company manager, and an Olympic Swiss team tennis champ, along on this trip, and they become instant fans of Pacifico beer. To which Hemis' CFO, Bruno Weiss, replies, “I like Chaos Theory.”


The chaos Bruno Weiss sees is coming in the U.S. dollar. He is a self-described recovering Swiss banker, decades on the Forex and asset managements desks at UBS and Credit Suisse. Something is making Bruno nervous about the nature of paper money. He has given up his fancy oak-paneled Zürich desks deal with scorpions in Mexico and Nevada, and killer whales in Alaska. That Bruno and his shareholders would endure a night at the hideous Luxor to play in the silver and gold game in North America is all you need to know. What does this tell you about your paper money?

-- Posted 6 April, 2007 | |

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