Three men were required to keep the wheels in continuous operation. Each man worked an eight-hour shift. Headquarters were located at wheel No. 4, where there was a shower and change room with a wood heater. There, the operators change shifts. The man "going off shift" reported any condition that might require the immediate attention of the one "coming on-shift". This last wheel was chosen because a failure in any of those proceeding could be detected there. Regular inspection trips, about one each hour when things ran smoothly, gave him plenty of footwork and fresh air.
This photo showing wheel No. 3 prior to its collapse.
In case serious trouble beset the wheels, the system was completely shut down. The operator walked to the mine site where he turned the tailings into a small dam which would hold the sand until the master mechanic and his crew could make the necessary repairs. When the time came to get the system rolling again, the wheels were started one by one, but not before the buckets in the loaded section had been emptied.
Serious mechanical failure was less frequent than power failure, usually caused by electrical storms which had a way of occurring during the night. Power failures were known to have occurred several times during on night shift which was a test of perseverance, skill, and self-reliance on the part of the operator.
This photo showing wheels No. 3 and 4 prior to wheel No. 3 collapsing.
The experience records of these men would show twenty years or more, and this, added to their diligence and dependability, made them invaluable to their employers.
Only one life is known to have been lost in the operation of the giant wheels. One bitter cold night in January, 1930, Mr. Ed Purcell reported for the night shift. Over the customary denim jumper or jacket, he wore an old overcoat. It was well known that the operating machinery was not adequately safeguarded, so there was little doubt that the bulky overcoat had caught on some part of the mechanism and the unfortunate man had been pulled in the gears.
Photo showing wheel No. 4 looking back at the Kennedy Mine.
Information, photographs courtesy of the Amador County Archives, The Historical Marker Database, and the Chronicling America Database