Carson City hand driller Tobin Rupert was silhouetted by the sun Saturday afternoon, flecks of mud flew through the air as he powered a 41Ú2 pound hammer into the block of Sierra White Granite. The beer-gulping Nevada Day revelers wouldn't let him stop, though his face was strained and he faltered several times in the end.
After 10 minutes, Rupert stood back, bare hands caked in mud, and shook his head wearily.
"I don't think I got it, man," he said to the hundreds gathered in a parking lot beside Carson Street for the Nevada Day 31st annual World Championship Single-Jack Hard Rock Drilling Contest. Many egged him on with shouts of "You own that rock!" or "Let's go Tob, it's your day!"
Not quite. His hole was less than nine inches, just about what Rupert drilled in the competition last year. The 39-year-old owner of Rupert's Auto Body hits the bit at about 70-75 strokes a minute. He was hoping for 10 inches.
"It's painful, it's hard and it's grueling," he said afterward. "But when you're done, it's worth it. Tonight I think I'll just sit at home. I haven't had a beer in three months, so maybe I'll have that. And the greasiest hot dog I can find."
But he's still in the money. Rupert finished in sixth place, which is just enough to give him a small slice of the $6,000 purse.
He evaluated his drill with his coach, Fred Andreasen, while taking handshakes and hugs from friends and family. Rupert said he erred because he thought he was getting behind, so he panicked, sped up and wore himself out early.
This is something that Andreasen, also Nevada Day rock drilling chairman, has warned him about.
"He didn't have a great day, but that's what happens sometimes when you get up there in front of the crowd," the seven-time world champion said.
The old-fashioned mining method goes like so: The driller swings a hammer over his head and pounds a hand-forged steel drill bit into the rock. After each hit, the driller will rotate the bit inside the hole. A helper washes the hole out with water to remove the granite shards. This goes on for about 10 minutes. Thumb hits are common.
Earlier Ted Rupert, assisted at the block by his brother, drilled a hole a little over 51Ú2 inches deep. His first year in the competition, Ted Rupert said he is pleased with his drill.
"It's like a piece of iron now," Ted Rupert said about his arm after the drill. "A kung fu grip."
The first sight of blood came from Craig Lemons, of Reno, who drilled a hole just more than nine inches deep.
It's the danger that attracts spectators to the event. Some rock drillers have left the Nevada Day competition and gone straight to Carson-Tahoe Hospital.
Sipping a Budweiser and sitting in the first row of the grandstands, Carson City man Nyle Pennington said in 30 years he has never missed Nevada Day rock drilling.
"Drilling into solid rock like this is an art form," he said.
Tim Stenger, of Carson City, stood in a group of Rupert supporters.
"It's all rhythm," he said. "Let the hammer do the work. The guy that's coming up next is a 2001-2004 world champion."
He was talking about Skip Leedy, a local legend in the rock drilling sport. He did not disappoint his Nevada Day fans. Leedy came in second with a drill just over 13 inches.
- Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at email@example.com or 881-1212.
World Championship Single-Jack Hard Rock Drilling winners
1st: Tom Donovan of Reno 13.93 inches, $2,000
2nd: Skip Leedy of Reno 13.37 inches, $1,500
3rd: Scott Havens of Elko 12.57 inches, $1,000
4th: Steve MacDonald of Yuma, Ariz. 12.15 inches, $750
5th: Craig Leedy of Reno 10.85 inches, $500
6th: Tobin Rupert of Carson City 8.94 inches, $250 (In 2004, he came in 7th place)
9th: Ted Rupert of Carson City 5.6 inches