When the Bunker Hill mine shut down in this narrow, rugged valley where Darrell Fisher was born, he made a quick decision: "I'm going to get out of here. I'm going to do something exciting in the big city."
A week in Boise, a week in Vancouver, and Fisher is back, determined never to leave these northern Idaho mountains again. No matter that unemployment in Kellogg is about 60 percent or that Fisher has no job prospects in sight.
"Where else in the world," he said, "can I play golf on Monday and go skiing Wednesday, all in the same place? "
Kellogg, population 3,600, once produced a quarter of the nation's refined lead, zinc and silver. When the Bunker Hill company closed its mines and refining plant, people predicted Kellogg would become a ghost town.
But one year later, the local Safeway store still has a full parking lot, and the Kellogg Evening News still sells 6,000 copies a day.
Almost all of the 2,000 workers laid off by Bunker Hill are still here, and of the few who tried to leave, many have returned.
When the silver and gold mines of Nevada's Virginia City ran dry a century ago, almost all the workers left. The ghost town that remained was a bleak sight, but it signaled economic health. Everyone had somewhere else to go in the expanding, 19th-century West.
Today, in places like Butte, Mont., or here a new kind of ghost town has appeared, not empty at all but full of people who survive without a major employer--living off unemployment checks and odd jobs. For supposedly mobile 20th-century Americans, they exhibit a surprising commitment to their particular way of life.
"The general problem of attachment to a community inhibits moves, especially permanent moves," said a new report by researchers at the University of Idaho. "People appear to have selected a life style first and a job second."
For the moment, towns like these are blights on the landscape, pockets of overwhelming unemployment in the midst of evergreen forests. Yet other cities once similarly afflicted--such as Bisbee, Ariz.; Tonopah, Nev.; and at least a dozen towns near former military bases--have managed the kind of comeback Kellogg dreams of.
They have profited from the same forces that once laid them waste: unused buildings, plummeting property values and a desperate need to diversify their economy.
Mining goes back a century in Kellogg, a soot-stained collection of buildings and abandoned mining equipment along Interstate 90. Prospectors discovered gold in the early 1880s, and silver, lead and zinc mining followed.
Unlike modern oil boom-towns in other parts of the country, Bunker Hill workers have fathers and grandfathers who also worked here, making it all the more difficult for this generation to leave.
Now almost 24, Fisher had four years at the Bunker Hill company and a $400-a-week job in its sample-testing laboratory when Gulf Resources and Chemical Corp. decided to shut the plant in 1981 because of falling metal prices.
Fisher now lives on $159-a-week unemployment benefits, plus $43 a week for driving a school bus. His wife, Lisa, has a job at a local bank. They get by.
They sold their trailer home and rented a house from the school system at $225 a month, far less than what Fisher says he would pay in Spokane, Wash., the nearest big city.
A recent visitor found Fisher in his sparsely furnished living room watching a television game show as his 5-year-old son, Casey, bounced a basketball vigorously on the carpet.
A half-block away, laid-off Bunker Hill miner Charles Supulver, 48, sat watching television in the living room of his five-bedroom frame house. The monthly mortgage is $104.
If Congress does not extend unemployment benefits again, Supulver's payments will run out in April and he may look for work outside the area--foresaking his favorite fishing spot on the Coeur d'Alene River.
But his wife, Gladys, a therapist at a convalescent home, would continue to live here with the youngest of their three daughters. "I don't think you can go anywhere in the United States and rent a home for as low as this," he said.
Another former Bunker Hill employe, Francis Heck, and his wife, Lillian, took all their savings last summer and paid off the small mortagage on their tidy two-story house. That left them with no housing costs.
Francis Heck remains unemployed, chopping wood and doing chores to keep busy, while Lillian works six hours a day at a school.
Few if any Bunker Hill workers have left the area permanently, according to Gary Beck, manager of the Idaho Department of Employment office here.
In July, 135 former Bunker Hill employes were receiving their unemployment checks outside the valley. By November that number shrank to 70. Beck said many had returned discouraged at job prospects beyond the valley.
One problem is that few workers feel qualified for jobs other than mining. Applicants for unemployment insurance commonly say they have no other skills.
For those who do have another talent, perhaps as a gunsmith, Beck's office offers training in seeking new jobs and even gives them free use of a telephone. But most still stay here.
To some, like Silverhorn Motor Inn owner Dale Farlee, the challenge of turning the town around is "90 percent of the reason why I'm still here."
Farlee and other businessmen are attempting to attract state and federal financing for low-interest loan programs to encourage new businesses.
Most ordinary workers here still have the cushion of unemployment compensation pumping about $1 million a month into the local economy.
But two University of Idaho studies, one by Ian Hodge of the Agricultural Economics Department and the other by Michael DiNoto and Lawrence H. Merk of the Center for Business Development and Research, show many other ties binding Kellogg's unemployed to the valley.
DiNoto said most workers do not want to sell their houses and and appliances and would have trouble finding buyers, anyway. Many balk at jobs that pay less than the high union rates they received at Bunker Hill.
Several appeared content for the moment to let their spouses work while they save and earn what they can by hunting or selling firewood gathered from a nearby federal forest. Some even told university researchers they were contemplating illegal poaching, DiNoto said.
"The resultant high cost of relocation, both economic and psychic, clearly indicates a very large and quite costly adjustment has just begun," DiNoto's report concluded.
Hodge inteviewed 102 unemployed workers, 64 of whom had traveled outside the county in search of work.
Almost all returned at the end. Francis and Lillian Heck spent most of last summer with relatives near Sacramento, Calif., but he failed to find even a minimum-wage job.
Some 20th Century ghost towns have shown resiliency, according to Jerome Edwards, a University of Nevada history professor. Tonopah, Nev., survived in part by taking advantage of its place as a convenient tourist stop halfway between Reno and Las Vegas. Laredo, Tex., and Roswell, N.M., have found new industries to fill the gap left closed military installations.
Bisbee, Ariz., was once just as heavily dependent on mining as Kellogg but survived even without much government help, acccording to Steve Virck, urban affairs manager for the Tucson Chamber of Commerce who studied that transformation for a master's thesis.
When the town's open copper pit, underground copper mine, and concentrator closed in 1974 and 1975, many residents predicted disaster.
But many laid-off miners resisted leaving, and those who did were often replaced by "people not so dependent on local jobs, like retired people," Virck said
Tucked into mountains along the Mexican border, Bisbee offers cool relief from the hot Arizona summer. Many retired elderly were also attracted by the plummeting real estate market caused by the mine closing.
"People were getting two- or three-bedroom houses for $5,000, $6,000, or $7,000," Virck said.
Bisbee, like Kellogg, had a century of history to sustain it. Miners whose fathers had lived there were willing to take jobs hundreds of miles away and come home just on weekends.
"I interviewed people who had been doing that for six years," Virck said. "They wanted their families to remain in Bisbee."
A long weekend commute does not appeal to the Fishers or many other couples here.
"I did have a friend who got a job in Vancouver (300 miles to the northwest), but it just didn't work out, Fisher said. "It's too hard on the marriage. He is happy to be back."
A group of northern Idaho businessmen bought out Gulf's interests in the Bunker Hill company in November.
If the price of zinc and lead improves as the price of silver has begun to, the plant may reopen someday.
Even if it doesn't and Fisher's unemployment benefits expire, he said he would stay.
"I'll find something. Minimum wage, I don't care, " he said. "Even if it's washing dishes, I'll do it just to stay."