The 2007 Rock Mechanics Award
Awarded To: John G. Abel, Jr.
"In recognition of an outstanding career as an educator in teaching the application of rock mechanics to a generation of engineers and significant contributions to the application of rock mechanics to tunneling, and open pit and underground mine design."
John came to rock mechanics in a logical way; his father was a timberman in the Cripple Creek District. However, the road was not direct. When the gold mines were shut down at the start of World War II, his father went to work for Morrison Knudsen on the Red Hill Project to store diesel fuel underground on Oahu in Hawaii. The rest of the family moved to Colorado Springs where John graduated from Colorado Springs High School and completed one year in the geological engineering program at Colorado College.
Pfc John Abel’s National Guard unit was activated on September 3, 1950, and he spent the next 19 months and ten days going through basic five times, getting a job as a typist in battalion headquarters and eventually becoming the Operations Sergeant. He used the Korean GI Bill to enroll in the mining engineering program at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) in 1952. His first real mining experience was during the summer of 1953. At $10/day he was the youngest person and only gofer at the Ajax Mine in Victor, Colorado. He went back every Christmas vacation until he graduated from CSM in 1956. He worked as the mine surveyor at Thompson Creek Coal and Coke the summer of 1954 and as a GS-3 Engineering Aid for the Bureau of Mines during the summer of 1955.
John went back to CSM to work on a master’s degree in the fall of 1956. so he took a summer job helping to drive a tunnel with pick, shovel and sled and mining a 60- by 60-ft room in the Greenland Ice Cap. After one semester in the master’s program at CSM he had had enough and started on the engineer trainee program at Climax, Colorado. In 1957 he was offered a summer job as a shift boss on a project to enlarge and extend the Greenland ice tunnel using a Joy coal cutter, 18-inch gauge track and #10 scoops. On his return from Greenland he went to work full-time for the Corps of Engineers (COE). His first paper, “Ice Tunneling in Greenland,” was published in October, 1959, in MINING ENGINEERING. During his time with the Corps, he wrangled a one-man, half-pay TDY assignment in Golden, Colorado, to write a COE report on ice tunnel closure phenomena and to finish his M.S. His next job (1960 - 62) was as Mine Engineer at Thompson Creek Coal and Coke followed by six months as “Temporary Junior Lecturer in Metalliferous Mining” at King’s College, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England. Then for 18 months he installed rock mechanics instrumentation in the Straight Creek Tunnel Pilot Bore with Terrametrics, Inc.
In 1964 he returned to CSM for the doctoral program, which he completed in 1966. He subsequently taught rock mechanics and other courses for eight years in the Dept. of Mining and Geological Engineering at the University of Arizona, then taught in the Mining Department at the Colorado School of Mines for 18 years. During that time he worked parts of ten summers as the research mining engineer for the Engineering Geology Branch of the USGS. He retired from teaching in 1992 and has been consulting since that time.
The Rock Mechanics Award, established in 1967, shall be given for distinguished contributions to the advancement of the field of rock mechanics.