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THE MONEY PIT

THE GLORY HOLE HAS MURDER, INTRIGUE AND ENOUGH GOLD TO MAKE YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE. NO WONDER PEOPLE HAVEN'T STOPPED FIGHTING OVER IT.DISHING DIRT THEY'RE NOT MINING GOLD AT THE GLORY HOLE ANYMORE. JUST TROUBLE.

Judge Barnes and the judge who heard his case, Joe B. Evins, admit knowing each other professionally. Both deny any wrongdoing.

"Hobbs is living a fairy tale," says E. Alan Hampson, a Lakewood attorney who represents Barnes. As part of Barnes's case against Caldwell, Hampson scoured 20,000 pages of documents to piece together a paper trail on Harold Caldwell. Like his great-aunt, who signed over the assets of Chain O' Mines to Caldwell 25 years ago, Scott Hobbs is being bamboozled, says Hampson. "Harold's got him fighting his battles for him."

Caldwell fires back that Hampson is "known as `the Snake' by every attorney in Denver." The Lakewood resident also talks of collusion between Robert Barnes and the judges who have ruled in his favor in Colorado and Texas. "We've had half a dozen groups try to take over the Chain O' Mines since the '60s," he says. "They were kids compared to this Barnes group."

The fight to protect the Chain has busted him, Caldwell says, but he regrets none of it. "You've got to crusade for something in life," he says. Recently, according to the erstwhile mining magnate, he's had to borrow money from his attorney to buy groceries. Now, he adds, "even the dogs are going hungry."

Evidence presented during the trial before Judge Barnhill showed that at least a dozen judgments have been entered against Caldwell in various states since 1986. No money has been collected, says Hampson, who asserts that Caldwell has made a career of constructing a maze of corporations and fraudulent trusts to frustrate creditors and litigants. Even successful plaintiffs, he says, end up lost in the labyrinth, unable to get their hands on Caldwell's personal assets--which Caldwell claims don't exist.

"In court, I've dealt with a number of different con men, and Harold Caldwell is as good as any of them," says Hampson. "In the scope of his operation, he's probably better."

Miners first came to the Central City-Black Hawk area in 1859 and began tunneling through solid rock looking for gold. When they found it, they and their cohorts got to be so common that Quartz Hill looked like a berm of prairie dogs. And with more than 400 claims on the hill and only a few veins of gold, miners spent much of their time not getting along.

As mines multiplied and began running into each other, what couldn't be resolved with a simple hammer blow to the head often ended up in court, which even then was considered an awful experience. Some miners stalled in court couldn't take it and left town. Others continued punching out tunnels, shafts and each other until the 1920s, when an enterprising dentist got off the train from Chicago.

Dr. William Muchow was no ordinary tooth-puller. He was the inventor of dental floss as well as "the amalgamator," a machine that mixed materials for fillings. Muchow sensed opportunity in the cavities dotting Quartz Hill. Forming a holding company to acquire mining claims, he dubbed it the Chain O' Mines. Muchow spent the next two years raising capital and buying up claims. A persuasive pitchman, he convinced most of the other claim-holders on the hill that they could help their undercapitalized operations and end their legal stalemates by selling to the company, which would lease back to them under a profit-sharing deal.

Muchow changed the most heavily mined part of the hill--called "the Patch" for its crazy-quilt pattern of claims--to a glory-hole operation, which used explosives to systematically collapse existing mines from the bottom up to get at the minerals in their walls. Blasted rock was loaded down chutes to ore cars running through a tunnel beneath the works and out the side of the hill to a mill near Central City. When the blasting reached the surface, a pit was formed. The technique was cheaper than conventional mining because gravity did much of the work. And money rolled in: While the rest of the country was mired in the Great Depression, the Glory Hole was reportedly one of the largest mineral producers in the country.

Doc Muchow had a Barnumesque flair that brought a steady stream of fresh operating capital into the Chain O' Mines. On train trips he liked to get the attention of his fellow passengers by rolling a ten-pound ball of gold down the aisle. Once he'd retrieved it and the commotion had subsided, Muchow would fill in curious passengers on the mine that produced his ball of gold--the Glory Hole, which, fortunately for the listener, was just then looking for a few qualified investors.

The dentist was said to be such a disarming pitchman that he once talked a policeman who had arrested him into buying stock in the Glory Hole. He also was cagey, but a conviction on a stock scam in Oregon in the 1940s was the only time authorities caught Muchow on the wrong side of the line between salesmanship and flimflammery.

From the mid-1920s to World War II, Muchow ran the Glory Hole as both a gold mine and a cash cow, fattened on the green of investors impressed with the view from the observation tower he had constructed overlooking the Hole. From the perspective of mining-tycoons-to-be, the investors could survey tiny workers below loading out ore-laden rock.

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