BY GENE MEDENWALD

 

A partner and I were dredging together, working a hole upstream on both sides of a very large boulder, about six feet across. We were working dangerous, sluffy streambed material near a back-eddy. Material, cobbles and small boulders would slide in unexpectedly from anywhere at any time. Foof! The hole would immediately silt up. Visibility became nil. It was scary! We were both getting gold, but not a lot. We discussed pulling out of the area. We both knew and agreed it was dangerous, but decided to stay in it, “just one more day.” “Maybe we’ll run into some decent hard-pack.”

The next day a large boulder slid in on my partner and pinned his leg to the bedrock. He was just barely able to pry himself free, leaving his boot and the suction hose pinned under the boulder and his dredge in midstream. He swam to the bank.

The first thing I saw when I surfaced at the end of my dive on my reserve air when the fuel tank on my dredge went dry was my partner’s dredge, floating in midstream with a dead engine. The emotional feeling caused by that vision I do not ever want to experience again.

My panicked search for the shore for — what? What was I to do? How long had his dredge been floating there with a dead engine? And then I sighted my partner lying there on the bank with one booted and one bare foot, the ecstasy of happy relief! All the while I had been happily dredging away, totally unaware of the drama taking place six feet away. Oh yeah, the engine on his dredge quit for lack of fuel less than five minutes after he reached shore. Close!

He lost three days’ work while the swelling on his foot went down. It took us both nearly a full day, working with six-foot crowbars to recover his boot and the suction hose from under the boulder. The hose was flattened to about an inch thick.

LESSON:

Take your time, be careful and enjoy yourself. Good grief! There are thousands of easier and more comfortable ways of making a living. If you enjoy this activity, why not do it in an enjoyable manner so that you can continue to enjoy it?

But, even when you are taking your time and you are thoroughly enjoying yourself and are doing everything as right as you can do it, for sure, The Law can still get you!

Late in the season, a fellow miner had to leave for a couple days. As we’d traded favors all season long, and as he apparently thought he owed me one, he invited me to use his brand-new five-inch triple sluice dredge in his absence. I jumped at the opportunity and immediately moved it downstream into my hole. New dredge; prefect equipment. A nicely developed hole, a safe hole with no huge boulder lurking about, although it was in fast water. Minutes after the beginning of the first dive, I found myself completely washed out of my hole and bouncing down the river bottom on my back. For some reason, I found this to be ridiculously hilarious. A vision formed in my mind of a topsy-turvy turtle, bump-bump-bumping his way downstream along the river bottom, arms and legs flailing about, just as silly as I was doing that very second! “Good grief,” I’m mentally telling myself, “And you consider yourself a somewhat experienced dredger. This is embarrassing.” I finally lodged behind a large rock in lesser-current and was able to right myself. And as I still held the suction nozzle, I placed it between my knees and knelt over it while I cleared my face mask which was all awry and full of water. (There was a time in my dredging career when just doing that would have been a near-panic situation.) Then, being able to see again, as I straightened my weight belt so the buckle was in easy reach in front, I began searching for my air regulator which somehow had simply disappeared. So far, I didn’t even have to mentally shout to myself, “Don’t Panic!”

Well, darn. Where is that stupid regulator (right-hand is now firmly grasping the weight belt buckle)? There it is! There’s a yellow line leading right into the suction nozzle!

Well, I was able to extract it undamaged from the suction nozzle and clear it with nearly the last bit of air in my lungs. After resting a spell behind the rock, I went on to put that new dredge through its paces, uneventfully.

Had that experience happened to me early in the season, when I was a rank beginner, for sure it would have been a horrible, traumatic affair. At the time I found it to be a bit funny and certainly embarrassing.

 

LESSON:

Get experience. Practice. Gain confidence. Do it in easy places to dredge, in quieter water close to shore. One of the larger nuggets gotten out of the Klamath this season was dredged up a foot off-shore in two feet of quiet water. With an eight-inch dredge, true; but any first-time dredger with the very smallest of machines could have gotten it, while he was safely gaining valuable experience and confidence before tackling some of the more challenging stretches of the river.

I think you’ll become as convinced as I am that Murphy was, indeed, a miner before he came to immortalize himself with his famous LAW.

May all of YOUR experiences with his Law be funny, hilarious or at the worst, embarrassing-and do your darndest to stay out of its jurisdiction with wisdom, just plain smarts and anything else you figure might keep things going uneventfully and productively for you. Maybe a rabbit’s foot….

SOME DREDGING AXIOMS OF MURPHY’S LAW:

  • Your dredge will run out of fuel when you are moving a large boulder and your first indication of this is NO AIR.
  • Your dredge will run out of fuel just as you are uncovering gold-laden bedrock, which will be covered with three feet of cobbles after you’ve re-fueled.
  • Your dredge always has plenty of fuel left when you are freezing, starving or crosseyed from having to relieve yourself, and are seeking any excuse to end the dive.
  • Dredges never nearly sink from cobble build-ups in the sluice box when you have a friend visiting your mining site.
  • Dredges always run fine when you are removing barren overburden.
  • Breakdowns will occur as soon as you uncover a rich, gold laden pay-streak.
Bad things never happen singularly:
  • If you slip and fall and injure yourself, you will fall on something expensive and break it as well.
  • If you slip and fall underwater with jam-rod in hand while wearing your weight belt, you will fall on your regulator and not be able to find it.
  • It will begin raining furiously the night of the day you neglected to place your support gear six feet up the bank.
  • If something you are not familiar with comes apart, some of the pieces will fall into the river — but you will not know which ones or how many.
  • Anything placed on a boulder in the water will fall off. It will fall into the fast current, not the dead water on the shore-side.
Murphy’s Law applies to all cold water diving protective gear:
  • All wet-suits and dry-suits are made for Alien Beings. They are too large or too small, usually both and in the same suit in different places.
  • Chances are, you will have gone broke before your custom-sized protective suit arrives.
  • You will forget to zip up your dry-suit at least once in your diving career after a rest break. This, however, is such a shocking experience it is rarely forgotten.
  • If you have steel-capped toes in your boots you will drop a boulder on your ankle. If you don’t have steel-tips of course it will drop on your toes.
  • Dry-suits only cost three times a wetsuit, are twice as heavy, one-and-a-half times as buoyant, require only twice the effort to move around in because of the bulk, and are not dry because of your perspiration. They are extremely difficult to get into, nearly impossible to get out of and can be destroyed with one simple mishap of closing the zipper improperly.
  • Hot water systems for wetsuits cost much less than dry-suits and are wonderful, when they work. However…
  • If there is anything sharp or pointed in the general vicinity of your dredge, your hole or access to same, it will puncture your suit.
  • Suit punctures requiring immediate repairs only occur a few minutes before the first dive; never a few minutes before ending the last dive.
  • Weight belts only come loose underwater when both of your hands are occupied.
  • You never lose your weight belt until you’ve loaned your spare to a friend.
  • Ditto on losing your face mask.
Murphy had several spools of rope when he was moved to give his famous Law to posterity:
  • There are many simple ways to coil a long rope, but no simple way to uncoil it.
  • A length of rope left running free from your dredge or swing-line will snag on anything and everything; and, for certain, just right after you’ve put on your weight belt.
  • Floating line is a terrible nuisance as it snags on everything on the river’s surface.
  • Non-floating line is a terrible nuisance as it snags on everything below the river’s surface.
  • The bow-line knot refutes Murphy’s Law. It is the only known thing in the universe that does.
  • Rope, for a gold dredger, exemplifies another famous axiom: You can ‘t live with it and you can’t live without it!
All of the most recalcitrant (stubbornly resistant to authority or guidance)
individuals of eons past have been reincarnated as boulders and armful-size cobbles. Some are mindful of past mothers-in-law:
  • Clear a space to drop a boulder left, and it will roll right; and vice versa.
  • Rocks too heavy to lift, and too small to winch, are usually covered with slime making them too slippery to roll, too.
  • Some distinctive-colored and shaped nozzle-plugging-type cobbles can re-appear in your hole several times, after each time being frustratingly tossed out–until finally, you pick up the dinky thing and walk it 12 feet out of your hole, for good!

Perhaps you have some axioms which have not been listed here?

 
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This story first appeared in Gold & Treasure Hunter Magazine Nov/Dec, 1998 on Page 24. This issue is still available! Click here.

By Dave McCracken

You never really know what might lurk deep down in the depths of a muddy, tropical river…

 

This story is dedicated to my long-time loyal friend and fellow adventurer, Ernie Pierce. Ernie and I did three prospecting trips to Madagascar together, of which this is just one of the stories. He played a very important part on this project in working out how to increase fine gold recovery when processing heavy sands through standard riffles within the sluice box of a suction dredge. Ernie has an enthusiastic, magic disposition for being able to work out solutions to challenging problems in the field. He also overcame the primordial fear that every human being has of going down into deep, black underwater holes (where dangerous monsters lurk, if only in your imagination). I don’t know very many people who are willing to do that! It has been one of my greatest pleasures, and it has been a personal honor, to participate in adventures alongside of Ernie in California, and in multiple other interesting places all around the world.

It was difficult to see into the deep canyon, because it dropped off so steeply, and because the driver was veering around the bends in the road so fast, racing the Toyota Land Cruiser down the mountain road. This road had no guard rails to prevent us from plunging a thousand feet into the abyss. So, while I would like to have taken a better look at the breath-taking scenery, and I should have captured this part of the adventure with my video camera, all of my personal attention was riveted on the bumpy, narrow, winding road in front of us. I was scared that we were going to fly out over the edge to a certain and violent end! Once in a while, though, I did get a glimpse of a large river cascading down a steady series of natural falls. What an wonderfully-spectacular place! And I did manage to capture the incredible, wild river in the following video segment at one place where we stopped for a moment so I could relieve myself:

The traffic obstacles that posed the most serious threat to our safety were the pain-stakingly slow, and what appeared to be an endless procession, of supply trucks that were inching their way up and down this very steep grade, taking advantage of the lowest gear they had, to save their brakes, those that even had breaks! Our driver, as did all the other drivers of the smaller vehicles moving in both directions, had the hair-raising
challenge of passing the slower vehicles without running into something coming from the other direction. One blind curve after the next placed us almost entirely in the hands of fate. Our driver had no way of knowing whether a vehicle was or was not coming from the other direction, as he committed our vehicle to many of the “go-for-it” passes that we made.


I was holding on for dear life!

Madagascar was colonized by the French, so driving is done on the right side of the road. Being on the right side of the road put us dangerously-close to the precipice! At the high speed we were traveling, I was certain my time had finally come this late afternoon! On several occasions, by my calculations, there was no possible way that we were going to make it around the next curve! There just wasn’t enough room on the road to get past oncoming traffic without our wheels slipping over the edge of a very deep canyon. I couldn’t even see the canyon’s bottom! Each “go-for-it-pass” succeeded, either by divine intervention, or by the incredible driving ability of the young Malgasy man at the wheel.

I have lived a pretty gifted life, and I find myself counting my blessings pretty often. It’s not that very much was given to me; I have pretty-much had to climb the painful ladder of success several times. The end-result is all the more sweet when you have to work hard and sacrifice greatly to get there. I have lived on the cutting edge of danger a good part of the time; this is really true! There are not that many more things I feel I need to do before I meet my end of this life. So I find myself saying every once in a while that when the time comes, I am ready to move on to whatever is next. A lot of people say they/we are not scared to die. And you really feel that way when you are saying it! But we only feel that way when we are not looking death right in the eye! When sudden death lurks near, I feel the terror just like anyone else!

As quickly as the hair-raising ride began, we suddenly found ourselves safe at the bottom of the mountain. The immediate danger was over. We were graciously treated to a hot meal and a comfortable bed in the best (and only) hotel in the small village located at the base of the mountain. It was great to still be alive!

This was my fourth expedition to Madagascar in search of gold. Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island. It is located about 400 miles off the south-east coast of mainland Africa. The country is approximately 1,200 miles long by 400 miles wide (at its longest and widest points). So it is no small country. The country is extremely poor, one of the poorest nations on earth. It is also extremely rich in mineral wealth. Especially in precious stones! Madagascar is an incredibly beautiful and scenic country! For the most part, the country is nearly undeveloped. Although, there are some larger towns that are quite developed. I captured the following video segment in the capital city of Antananarivo, a place where I have spent quite a lot of time:

This preliminary dredge sampling program was on behalf of clients who own some gold mineral concessions in Madagascar. Ernie Pierce was along to assist with the sampling. We were there to get a preliminary idea of how much gold we could recover using suction dredges on two large rivers. We already knew gold was there because of an earlier expedition that we made into both locations to do a preliminary evaluation. Local gold miners were mining gold all over the place. They were mostly panning river gravel alongside the active river. Some were shoveling gravel from the active waterway in the shallow areas. Others were shoveling deeper-water areas out of dug-out boats, using the longest-handled shovels I have ever seen. The native miners were getting gold from everywhere!

As this area was accessible by road, the logistics for setting up a dredging project were not too bad. We arrived with a substantial contingent of people and equipment. We had enough support to move us around, set up our camps, cook for us, do laundry and take care of all our basic needs.

The company we were working for had quite a substantial base camp located where the end of the road met this river. There was a mess hall, some hot showers, individual bungalows; all the comforts of home! Unfortunately, the river near to and downstream of the base camp appeared to have deep sand deposits everywhere. There was no bedrock showing anywhere along that part of the river. Our initial impression was that the sand deposits in that lower section of river were going to be too deep to penetrate using our 5-inch sampling dredge. So we made a plan to pack all of our sampling gear and a fly camp (only basic needs) several kilometers upstream where the streambed deposits were shallow to bedrock. Our intention was to float down river, dredging sample holes through the entire distance back to the base camp.

After initially settling into our fly camp, the primary task at hand was for Ernie and I to determine whether or not the gold here was present in sufficient quantities (over a large enough area) to justify a production dredging program on this river. Ernie captured the following video sequence showing myself, Sam Speerstra (project manager) and Jack (Malagasy manager of our local support team) finalizing a sample plan after our camp was set up alongside the first river:

We spent the better part of a rather uneventful week dredging sample holes on this first river. Interestingly, while local miners were supporting their villages panning gold from placer deposits alongside the river, we could not find any high-grade gold deposits inside the active waterway. Ernie and I devoted long hours to making sizable excavations through hard-packed streambed material to bedrock. And while there was some amount of gold present everywhere, we could find no places where gold concentrated enough to justify any type of production dredging program. While we could speculate about the reasons why, the important thing was that we ruled out the possibility of a commercial dredging program in this area. This was what we went there to do. End of story!

As we did not bring anything extra with us when we packed our gear into the upper area of this river, I was not able to capture video until we arrived back down near the base camp. The video link just above includes a sequence that I took while we were dredging the final sample in front of the base camp. See how deep the light sand and gravel deposits appear to be? We did not expect to find the bottom of this loose streambed material, and we didn’t. But our sampling plan required that we at least try in several areas.

After spending a week on the first river, we were eager to relocate ourselves and our sampling infrastructure over to the second river that we intended to sample, which was several hundred miles away. That process took several days to accomplish. Prospects for commercial dredging opportunity on the second river looked much better to us during the earlier preliminary evaluation. We decided to save this area for last so we could devote most of our time there.

Normally, the first thing we do before making a sampling plan on a new section of river is walk, boat and/or swim the entire length if we can, to see what is there. This allows us to look everything over to see where the best opportunities appear to be. If lucky, we will come upon local mining operations. Those will communicate a lot to us about the prospects. This is because local miners, having spent generations prospecting for gold in the area, will already have a good idea where the best potential opportunities are for the type of mining that we do.

The following video segment found us making a plan on the first morning after we arrived at this second river. The person talking is Sam Speerstra:

Note the active shoveling operations in the river behind where we were pulling the dredge upriver.

How clear is the water?

The first and most important fact of note about the second river was that it was flowing with muddy water. Too bad! Water clarity is the first thing I look for when evaluating a river for dredging. Will I be able to see anything when I get on the bottom of the river? The answer in this case was an emphatic “NO!” This was pretty disappointing to me, because I had been assured by Sam months before, when we proposed the sampling program, that I could depend upon having clear water in this river. As it turns out, this particular waterway drains many thousand acres of upstream rice paddies. It never runs clear!

This was not Sam’s fault. It is nearly certain that you are going to get wrong information from locals in these types of places. With the help of even the best interpreters, communication and understanding tends to break down on technical things. What is clear water to me, and what is clear water to a rice farmer in remote Madagascar, are sure to be widely-different perceptions of reality. Especially when he has never even seen a face mask or a diver before! Over time, on the important things, I have learned to keep asking the same question over and over again in different ways. In doing so, it never ceases to amaze me how many different answers we come up with! Sometimes, no matter how many different ways you pose the questions, you can still never arrive at an answer that you have much faith in. This is not because the locals are lying. It is usually because their perception of the world is so vastly different than ours.

You have to be pretty flexible when conditions turn out not to be the way you expected them to be…

Sam Speerstra is the modern incarnation of “Indiana Jones.”

Sam Speerstra is the true-life incarnation of “Indiana Jones.” Sam has gotten me into and out of more (mis)adventures than anyone should experience in a single lifetime. The last dirty river Sam had me diving in was full of crocodiles and electric eels. That river was a nightmarish diamond project in Venezuela.

Without visibility, there was no way of knowing for certain what was on the bottom of this deep river! I’m not talking about the gold; we can figure that out through careful sampling. I’m talking about the critters!

When I initially evaluate a tropical river for a potential dredging project, the second condition that I evaluate after water clarity is whether or not there are life forms present that are potentially dangerous to me or my helpers. I do this mainly by visual observation. First, I look to see if the local people are working, washing, bathing and swimming in the water. If they are, and they appear healthy; I generally assume that the river is alright to dive in. Although, locals always have a stronger resistance to higher levels of bacteria in their local rivers. So our standard medicine kit on these projects always contains a supply of the best antibiotics to prevent serious types of internal or external infections.

I also ask the locals about sickness and dangerous critters. However, the problem with asking about critters in the water lies with the interpretation. You cannot depend upon only one inquiry or interpretation. For instance, I will never forget the size of the alligator I saw along a river in Borneo several years ago. This was after assurances from our local jungle-guides that alligators did not even exist there. We had been dredging the river several weeks when I suddenly encountered an alligator which must have been 18 feet long! It turned out that these man-eaters were being called “dragons” (not alligators) by the local village people! So I have learned to frame the most important questions in numerous different ways, and I keep asking them over and over again to different locals as I am trying to find things out about a new area.

A lot of local natives were in the river where Ernie and I wanted to sample, so it was probably safe — at least in the shallow portion. You never really know what might lurk deep down in the depths of a muddy, tropical river…

Ernie and his team capturing a little video…

I have accomplished quite a few dredge sampling projects in dirty water. It is a very scary and difficult business. The work involves going down into deep, pitch-dark, frightening places “in the blind,” with no visual assistance. I know that there are live creatures down there that do not appreciate my intrusion into their territory (unless they intend to eat me). To move around cautiously, I have to feel my way by sticking my hand or foot out into complete darkness, feeling around for what is there. Most of the time, before going down, I don’t even know how deep the water is. Sometimes I have to find out by shimmying down the suction hose, reaching out tentatively with one leg at a time to see if I can touch bottom. I am in a state of heightened awareness, desperately hoping that I am not going to touch something that is big and alive. All the while, I am wondering, “How far am I going to have to go this time?”

It is one thing to read about this in the comfort of your computer within a safe environment and feel like you can do it. But you are not exactly the same person when you are dangling dangerously in the dark. You might be the same basic identity; but other parts of you (like terror) get switched on at full volume. I suppose you would really have to go through the experience to fully-appreciate it. Until you do; take it from someone who is used to living on the edge: Diving down in deep, muddy, tropical rivers is not easy!

Muddy water creates total darkness about three feet beneath the water’s surface, sometimes less. So, all you can see down there is what is in your imagination. Do you remember those terrifying nightmares that you had when you were a kid? They still lurk in your subconscious. When going down into deep, dark, terrifying physical places, memories of nightmarish dreams are brought immediately back to life. If you are someone who doesn’t think you are afraid of anything, you ought to try diving in deep, muddy, tropical rivers! You will find there that your deepest fears are just below the surface of your normal, everyday life.

Let me try this a different way: Do you know that feeling when someone startles you at just the right (wrong) time and frightens the heck out of you? Just for that split second, you feel a deeply-seated fear; right on the edge of a panic attack? That is exactly what you experience when you go down into the deep darkness of a tropical river; especially on the first dive.

Nevertheless, over time, I have learned to deal with dirty water. This does not mean that I am not still afraid. I am! It means that I have worked out a way to proceed. Dredging in dirty water is a much slower process. Everything must be done by blind feel, and therefore with care. The process is all about taking control over a single space in the darkness. You get to know every rock in the hole and every obstruction which defines the space. Sometimes, there are submerged trees or other obstacles that you must be very careful around to prevent your airline from becoming snagged. You must dredge alone in dirty water. Otherwise, you cannot toss rocks or roll boulders out of the excavation without a good chance of hurting someone else down there that you cannot even see.

Base camp

Several years ago, my lead diver on a dirty-water sampling operation in Cambodia had a portion of his ear bitten off by a fish. One quick bite and it was gone! That created lots of blood and drama to slow the job down! After that, none of the other guys that I had brought with me wanted to dive. Who could blame them? But we still needed to complete the job; that’s what we do! Surprisingly, it was the lead diver who had to continue the diving on that particular job. I did a little, too; but, that was mainly to show the other guys that I would not ask them to do something which I personally was not willing to do. We wore full dive hoods and dive helmets to protect ourselves from the biting fish, whatever it was. We never saw the creature that took the bite! And as it went, just a few more dives to finish the job proved-out one of the richest gold locations I have ever discovered. But underwater, we couldn’t see a thing!

The primary consideration in assessing a dirty river is how much more time we need to allow ourselves to get the job done in an underwater environment where the divers cannot see anything.

This is one main factor which nearly always undermines the commercial viability of a sizable dredging operation. Who is going to go down and run a 10-inch dredge in zero visibility, 6 hours a day, for a living? The gold deposits will have to be very rich to support this kind of program. I have found several underwater gold deposits that are moderately rich, but they are protected by dirty water conditions. The deposit that we found in Cambodia, for example, would make a dredging operation a lot of money if the diver-visibility problem could be overcome.

People often ask why we need to send divers down in the first place to conduct a gold dredging program. They want to know why the excavation cannot be managed from the surface using mechanical arms. The reason is that sizable rocks along the river-bottom must be moved out of the way of the suction nozzle. Otherwise, one oversized rock (too big to go up the nozzle) after another gets in front of the suction nozzle, blocking further progress until it is moved out of the way. Because of this, with few exceptions, there is no other effective way to proceed without putting divers down into the depths.

These two articles explain the underwater process in detail:

When Ernie and I first started watching the local gold miners on this particular river in Madagascar, we relaxed our fears; because even their small children were bathing and playing inside the river. This was a good break for us!

Now it was just a matter of deciding where to do our sample holes. Ernie and I used a two-pronged strategy that we have developed over the years for these situations. First, we dredge sample holes near and in line with where the local miners are actively achieving positive results. Most high-grade gold deposits follow a common line down along a waterway. For example, see how the following important video segment shows how the many local digging operations inside the river are following a common path. If you look closely, you can see tailings remaining from previous digging activity right on the same path. To get our own sampling operations off to a good start, we usually begin along the same path in the river where most of the local miners are working:

Secondly, Ernie and I offered financial rewards to the local miners for each place they showed us to dredge where we could find lots of gold. Such places are usually in the deeper areas where locals cannot gain access using the gear at their disposal. A “grande” reward goes to the person who shows us the place where we find the most gold. Wow, this incentive sure got Malagasy miners talking; and we started to find a lot of gold!

We moved our sample dredge in direct line with where local miners were doing well working out of dug-out canoes using long-handled shovels. This got us into rich gold right away!

Since we could not see how deep the water was in this dirty river, and because we had already established that there were some deep deposits of sand and loose gravel along the bottom that we wanted to avoid with our 5-inch dredge, before doing dredge samples, we used a long steel probe to find areas along the established gold path where the water was not too deep for us to reach bottom, and where we could reach hard-packed streambed without having to go through a deep layer of sand first. The following video segment shows how we performed this important pre-sampling process:

In one location, I decided to sample directly underneath a native “boat-mining” operation. I did this because I noticed the natives were working the location very aggressively. This is always a good sign! They were using long-handled shovels, about 20 feet long, from anchored boats well out into the river. The water was at least 12 feet deep! These shovels were especially designed to bring gravel up from deep water. The natives were very good at it. Have you ever tried shoveling material from underwater? Nearly all the material washes off the shovel before you can get it to the surface. Not with the Malagasy boat miners, however. They were bringing up full shovels every time. The material was being panned at the surface.

The following video segment provides a firsthand look and explanation of the boat-mining which we saw when we first arrived at this river. Seeing this type of active mining along the river by local miners was very encouraging, and immediately helped shape the sampling plan which Ernie and I would follow:

As it turned out, local miners from the boat-mining operations had plenty of gold to sell! They were anchoring their boats out in the river by driving hardwood poles deeply down into the streambed material, and then tying their boats off firmly to the poles at the water’s surface. The boats needed to remain stationary to allow the miners a firm platform from which to work the hard-packed streambed material along the bottom of the river. Consequently, we could look along the river and see many stakes remaining from earlier mining activity. Unsurprisingly, most of the stakes followed a common line down the river as far as we could see. We still needed to confirm it by sampling, but Ernie and I had a pretty good idea where the high-grade gold line was located in this river even before we unloaded our sample dredge from the truck. This was good!

The following video segment shows how we went about our sampling program. Notice the wooden poles out in the river? Because there was zero visibility underwater, you will see that Ernie had to keep jumping up to peak his head above water to steer himself and the dredge out in line with the poles. Where the water was too deep for that, we had to shimmy up the suction hose to have a look. Sometimes, it was so difficult to find our way in the dark, that we first positioned the dredge out on the river using ropes, and then shimmied down the suction hose in the dark to take a sample:

Ernie and I felt it was important to get one sample directly under one of the active boat-mining operations. This was so that our clients could estimate the value of gold deposits that local miners were developing in the river, and to see if they were excavating all the way to the bedrock. I was the one to dredge that particular sample. To accomplish this safely, we paid those particular boat-miners to stop digging for a few hours while I was under their boat.

As we had to drive our dredge out past the middle of the river to reach their hole on the bottom of the river, it was quite a challenge to find their hole in the pitch dark. When I finally found it, I was amazed to discover that they were actually penetrating deep into the hard-packed streambed material with their long-handled shovels. This must have presented them with a substantial challenge, because the cobbles were tightly interlocked together. At the bottom of their excavation, I found that their shovels were touching on bedrock, but that there was no way for them to take up the highest-grade material which was resting directly on bottom. They also were not able to clean the natural gold traps inside of the bedrock where most of the gold should have been. Too bad!

Being mindful that I was dredging in a high-grade deposit that had been previously located by other miners, I did not stay under the boat-miner platform any longer than it took to dredge up about a cubic meter of the hard-packed pay-dirt off the bottom. The material was only around four feet to bedrock; an easy place to dredge even in the dark water. We recovered a lot of gold proportionately to the volume of streambed that I processed. My estimation is that the river could produce 5 ounces of gold per day in dirty water using a 5-inch dredge.

The following video segment shows the gold we recovered from this sample, and captures my summation of what we needed to do to complete our preliminary sampling program on this part of the river:

 

 

The gravel being brought up from the river bottom by local miners was panning out very well!

As it turned out, the local miners were greatly impressed and worried by our dredging machine. They watched the volume of gravel wash across our sluice box, while they were bringing it up one small shovelful at a time. Prior to our arrival on the scene, they were the biggest and the best miners around! They could put two and two together, however. After our test under their boat, they began 24-hour boat-mining operations in that location. You could see their campfires down by the river (for light) burning all night long. Within a few days, there were a dozen boat-mining operations going full blast, 24 hours a day. They were worried we were going to return and dredge up all their gold. As good as their discovery was, we were not going to do that. Our sampling thrust thereafter was to determine if the high-grade streambed material extended downstream; and if so, how far?

There was certainly high-grade gold at the bottom of the river!

I’ll never forget Ernie’s first deep, dirty-water dredging dive. I could see that he was pretty nervous about taking the dive, so I offered to walk (crawl) him out into the river for the first time. He agreed to this. After everything was up and running, I took Ernie by the hand and crawled alongside of him in total darkness out to the middle of the river. It was a long way out to where Ernie was going to help finish the sample that I had already started. We grabbed onto the suction hose and dragged the dredge out into the middle of the river, instructing the dredge-tenders to allow the dredge to follow our bubbles. The water was about 12 feet deep in the middle of the river. I could tell that Ernie was having a difficult experience by the way he was gripping my hand. He was holding on for dear life! Finally, Ernie had enough and he began giving me the signal that he wanted to go back to the shore. I got the message immediately from the way he was grabbing me with both hands and jerking me toward the dredge. After we returned to the surface, Ernie told me that he was just “not up to it.” He had that look of panic in his eyes, a feeling I personally know very well! There is no use in trying to push anyone into doing something while they’re in a state of fear and panic. As I have said, it is not easy diving in dirty water! We all have a limit, beyond which we are not willing to go!

Instead, I urged Ernie to do some initial sampling in shallow water so he could get a feel for it. He could work standing up, with his head out of water, if he needed to. Ernie was up for this and immediately went to work closer to the shore. We needed to get some samples over there, anyway. A few minutes later, on his own determination, Ernie went bravely out into the middle of the river and was taking samples from the particular area where we really needed them; in line with where the locals were getting the most gold for their effort. Dirty water dredging is an experience you really have to ease into at your own pace. Ernie adapted quickly, and was soon working efficiently. I could tell this by the continuous gravel which was washing across the dredge’s sluice box.

Locals observing Ernie do a final clean-up

 

Each of us has our own personal limits. Would you walk a tight rope suspended a thousand feet in the air between two tall buildings? Most of us wouldn’t! What would it take to get you to do it?

It takes a lot of personal courage to go well beyond our normal comfort zone into the realm of personal terror. The type of work I do often allows me the opportunity to watch others confront their own personal limitations. In defining this particular character trait of an individual, it is unfair to make your judgment based upon where the initial limits are. True courage is tested when a person is confronted with the need to go beyond personal limits, no-matter where the limits are! I was very honored that day to be present when Ernie overcame very personal and serious fears, and went out into the middle of the river to help accomplish what we were there to do.

On one occasion, Ernie came up the suction hose in a real hurry! I saw the dredge bob up and down as he pulled himself up the suction hose. As it turns out, Ernie was walking around on the bottom of the river (total darkness), and he stepped off into a “bottomless hole”. When he got to the surface, Ernie said that it all had happened within a split second. He suddenly found himself dangling like fish bait from the end of the 20-foot suction hose directly over the “depths of hell.” Luckily, the weight of his body did not pull the suction hose free from the power-jet. I have had the same experience happen to me in dark water. So now, I am careful to take only small steps, feeling my way along the bottom slowly to avoid frightening surprises!

One of the most important things to do in any sampling program is test the efficiency of the recovery system that is being used. To do a proper job of it, you must establish how much of the target mineral (gold, gemstones or whatever) that your recovery system is not catching when processing the raw material from each sample. You cannot just assume the recovery system being used is providing 100% recovery. You have to make regular tests of your tailings using other recovery equipment that can provide the most accurate results possible. During a preliminary sampling program, this usually means careful panning of random tailing samples.

On this program, since we had plenty of very experienced local panners giving us support, whenever possible, we directed our dredge tailings over near the riverbank where our helpers could pan everything that passed over the dredge. They would then show us what we were losing from the dredge.

Since our most important samples were dredged out in deep water, Ernie and I ended up building a wooden box that we were able to suspend from its own floats and catch all the tailings from our dredge. After each sample was complete, while we processed the dredge concentrates through our special concentrator, local miners would carefully pan all our tailings for us.

As it turned out, our losses from the dredge initially were quite substantial. This river had a lot of fine-sized gold that was just passing through our recovery system into tailings with sand. Within the limitations of the tools we had available to us in the field, Ernie and I tried different ideas to improve the dredge’s recovery system. Ultimately, Ernie came to the conclusion that the classification screen needed to be raised further away from the riffles in our sluice box. This allowed more water flow to help the riffles to concentrate. Working this out in the field gave us important insight into what would be needed in the recovery system on a commercial dredge in that area.

The following video segment shows the process we were following to work out how to recover the substantial amount of fine gold we were finding in the river-bottom deposits on this river:

 

 

 

 

 

BY MARCIE STUMPF/FOLEY

In the town of Tollhattan, Sweden, lives a goldpanner named Morgan Bjarne Zakariasson. There he works and enjoys his life with his girlfriend Ingela Kvist, and a group of gold panners of the Guldgravarnas Forening (Golddigger’s Association).

When Morgan was 23 years old, he was told about the Goldpanner’s Association, and soon developed a severe case of gold fever. Still active in the club, he is now their “cashier” or Treasurer. The group has more than 500 family memberships and is very active.

Each September they hold a large, weekend-long “Gold Rush Days” meeting at the site of the oldest gold mine in Sweden, located in the southern part of the country. One of the high points of the weekend is when they each show the gold recovered for the year and tell about their experiences.

Several years ago, a group of young men who had come to the U.S., and to Happy Camp, were at the gathering, and Morgan was very interested in their story. He talked to them in detail, finding out all he could about The New 49’ers, whose club they’d joined, the claims, the gold, living conditions and expenses; and it became his goal to come to Happy Camp and join The New 49’ers himself.

By trade, Morgan is a lathe operator in a factory where hydraulic pumps are manufactured. He is allowed five weeks vacation a year; and if he wants, can put one week in a “bank” to save for a long trip. He is also allowed to work overtime, saving that also. In this way, he can save up a two-month vacation every two years.

In the intervening years, Morgan made trips to Norway and Italy prospecting for gold. In Italy, he met a gold miner who showed him a place to dredge at the base of the Alps, and Morgan did well there.

In 1993 Morgan and his girlfriend Ingela made the trip to Happy Camp and stayed for a month. They joined the New 49’ers on arriving, and set up Morgan’s 2-1/2” dredge on the East Fork of Elk Creek. Soon they met Floyd and Donna Parker, New 49’er members from North Carolina who were also dredging on the East Fork of Elk Creek. Floyd, after seeing how Morgan was doing, said, “That’s not good enough! Move your dredge down here below us-I’m sure you can do much better!” Morgan took his advice and did do much better after that. Floyd and Donna remained good friends, providing a lot of helpful assistance, and have kept up a correspondence with Morgan ever since. While Morgan was happy with the gold he was finding, he looked with envy at the four-inch dredges while he was in Happy Camp. He was determined that he would have a dredge that size before he returned again.

When Morgan arrived again in Happy Camp in the late spring of 1995, it was to pick up a brand new four-inch dredge he’d ordered ahead of time, and he beamed from ear to ear as everyone helped him pack it into and on top of his rental car. He was so excited, he could hardly stand it!

This trip was made without Ingela. She had to work, so Morgan was here on his own. Their first trip they’d flown into San Francisco, and driven up from there. This time he flew into Seattle, visiting with his mother’s cousin, and making plans for the cousin to visit while he was in Happy Camp.

It was so late on that first day, by the time he was ready to leave with his new equipment, Morgan drove up to his old camping spot on Elk Creek and pitched his tent in the dark, leaving everything else for the morning.

Early the next morning, he quickly cleaned up and then headed for the creek to look for the ideal spot to put his new dredge. He was almost skipping along; everything was right in his world. He was where he wanted to be, doing what he loved most; the weather was beautiful, and the scenery was gorgeous, when he found he was not alone.

It seemed he and the bear had seen each other at the same moment, and they both paused while they sized each other up. Then the bear began walking toward Morgan.

Morgan was thinking…”I’ve seen the bears at the dump here in Happy Camp, and they looked very friendly down there below me. This bear does not look so very friendly. I think he is going to tell me it would be better for me to find another place to dredge.” As he finished this last thought, he began slowly backing up. Once he put a tree between himself and the bear, he turned and sprinted the short distance to his car. Morgan decided to move camp.

He had thought he might dredge on the creek until the high water went down, and while he acquainted himself with his new, larger dredge. Spring rains were hanging on, and rainy weather kept him from the water much of his first two weeks. He spent the time looking around, however; and found many places right on the river where he could be out of the current with shallow bedrock while he familiarized himself with hookah diving and the larger dredge.

Already an experienced scuba diver, it didn’t take long to master the technique involved; and Morgan grew more and more enthused about this new adventure. He loved being able to process more streambed material, and felt he was really accomplishing a lot for the time worked, in comparison to the smaller dredge.

And, it didn’t take long to find out that his rewards were going to be much greater with this equipment. He was able to find much, much more gold.

While Morgan was mastering his new dredge, he took time to attend several of the training events sponsored by The New 49ers. He attended the two-day electronic prospecting seminar. He wanted to broaden his knowledge of methods; and before investing in a metal detector, he wanted to learn the right way to use it from the first. He was so impressed with the method, that he ordered an underwater detector to take scuba diving with him in Sweden.

Morgan also attended the weekly potlucks sponsored by The New 49’ers and found that he was warmly welcomed there by many gold prospectors from around the world.

With all these other activities going on, Morgan found that he had a hard time pulling himself away from dredging, because he was enjoying it so much. Even so, Morgan made time to attend one of Dave McCracken’s week-long Group Mining Projects. This is the most comprehensive training available anywhere in the world on modern small-scale gold mining, and he didn’t want to miss out on it.

Morgan really gained a lot from the week of training. Floating the river with Dave was very educational, as Dave helped him understand how to look for pay-streaks in the river and the materials that make up the layers of the river. Learning how to process material through a suction nozzle at optimum speed was a big help.

Armed with all his new information, and a tip from Dave about where to do some testing, Morgan set up a daily routine that seldom varied. Up by 7:30, he quickly ate, cleaned up the gold from the previous day, and prepared to leave camp, arriving at the dredge by 9:30. He wanted to be “suited up,” have the dredge filled with fuel, and into the water before 10:30. This first dive was a 21/2-hour dive. After frilling the gas tank, he took his lunch break. He then went back to dredging; and except for refill and short breaks, he dredged each day until 7:00PM. It was not full-dark until 9:30 or so in summer, so he had long days, and he wanted to pack just as much into every minute that he could.

At the end of each day, Morgan cleaned the dredge, but did not clean up his “fines” — the gold too small to pick out. He then made sure his dredging area was all cleaned up and neat, and headed back to camp, where he most often had a canned meal for dinner, out under a canopy of a million stars and a brilliant moon, then climbed into bed to be soothed by the sounds of the nearby river as he drifted off to sleep.

Some Saturdays, Morgan took a break and either did chores in town or quit early to attend the potlucks held by The New 49’ers. These were lots of fun, and the food was really great!

While much of his time was spent alone, Morgan could always find someone to visit with when he was ready for some company. That was one of the things he most enjoyed about The New 49’ers and his experience in Happy camp. He had met people from all corners of the U.S. here in this one little town. And all of them were friendly! He hadn’t met even one person who was not friendly and helpful.

On the days he was alone, Morgan didn’t feel lonely. The river was so alive with wildlife, he drew great pleasure from being a part of it. The plentiful deer and the Great Blue Heron that frequented his dredging area were a joy to watch. Ducks, geese, and other birdlife, and the playful otter in the river, kept his time above water occupied. The relaxed atmosphere in the town, and the spectacular scenery of the Klamath River Canyon and the Siskiyou Mountains gave him a feeling of peace and contentment.

His mother’s cousin came to visit, and Morgan proudly showed off his new dredge and all the gold he was finding. The cousin was very impressed, and he and Morgan spent the rest of the weekend panning and relaxing. Morgan drove back up with him as far as Grants Pass, Oregon, where they went rafting on the Rogue River, and then parted until time for Morgan to Leave.

Morgan called home each week, and kept everyone informed about his trip. Ingela told him all his friends had given him two nicknames. One was “Morgan More Gold” and the other was “Bear” from his bear experience ”Morgan More Gold” was winning out as the favorite name. Morgan was pleased — he liked that one better, also.

At long last, his trip came to an end, and Morgan had to go home. He delayed so long, in fact, that his mother’s cousin became worried and called, trying to locate him. Morgan really didn’t want to leave.

His last stop was to the New 49’s headquarters to weigh his gold. He had kept it all separate; and his best day totaled 8.8 pennyweight. The total found on the Klamath River was 47.3 pennyweight, almost 2-1/2 ounces; and another 6.6 pennyweight he’d found while visiting in Seattle his first two weeks. As he posed for photos with the gold, he regretted having to leave, again; but then he thought-the sooner he was home, the sooner another two years would arrive, and he could come back again. And, what a great trip he’d had! He’d learned so much he no longer felt like a beginner. “Wait until next time!”

With this cheerful thought, and already-forming plans for his next visit. And, with the sensation he would make at the September outing with his story (and his gold), he made his way toward Seattle, and a long, satisfied trip home to Sweden.

 

By Denise Brown

“A long time treasure hunter turns to nugget hunting for some adventure.”

 

Frank "Midas" MasleySearching for tiny, elusive gold flakes is like looking for a needle in the proverbial haystack. Just ask Frank Masley of Boise, Idaho. He went looking for that needle and found an entire flag pole instead!

Frank has been an avid treasure hunter for fifteen years. Treasure, not gold. Coins, bullets, relics of any kind, not gold. But after years of the “same old thing,” he caved in and bought his first gold detector in May of 1997. Anxious to get right to it with his new Fisher Gold Bug-2, Frank and his good friend Bob Lyons made three trips in five days to break it in. The third time was a charm. On a 120-mile trip to the Blue Mountains just across the Oregon border, success waited for Frank.

Tiny gold nuggets and flakes are Frank’s targets of choice. And placer areas that were hand-worked a hundred years ago are his favorite destinations. According to Frank, old-time miners didn’t get all the gold. They were only interested in the big stuff and weren’t looking for tiny flakes. At $20 an ounce back then, it’s easy to see why they ignored it. Their recovery techniques were appropriate for their time, but not for ours. The holes in their screens were as big as ¼-inch, they didn’t use carpet on the bottom of their sluice boxes and they didn’t have metal detectors. “They left all the small stuff for today’s prospectors to find.”

And find he does; but to do the job right, Frank ground-balances his machine every few feet, especially within the highly-mineralized areas where he searches.

One day, while searching for gold with two friends, Frank got a couple of good signals from his metal detector, but thought he might be picking up hot rock. So he switched on his iron discrimination option to see if that would phase out the target, but he kept getting a signal. Then he dug the spot with a hand trowel to check it out further, but the beeping still continued. “One more shovel full, then another, then just one more,” he told himself. When he finally ran a handful of material by his search coil, Frank’s machine sounded-out a tremendously-loud scream. Frank now says it sounded like the whistle on a steam locomotive! So he thought he had found yet another lead bullet, since the area is littered with them. Then he began searching through the dirt in his hand. And there it was!

According to Frank, the gold nugget was so big, it could have jumped into his hand and told him all about it! “Oh my god, look at the size of that!” Frank yelled. “Bob, come here and look at this!” His partner meandered over and asked, “What are you hollering about now?” Frank popped it into his hand. “Oh my god! Look at the size of that!” Bob yelled excitedly. “That’s what I just said!” laughed Frank. The two were both jumping up and down like school kids and started to guess at its weight.

Frank said he didn’t realize it was as big as it was until he poured beer on it to wash it off. Neither of them had a quarter to compare its size to, or a dime or even a penny. But the nugget easily covered the only nickel they had between them. Its resemblance to a large kidney bean took them both by surprise as well; it was the perfect shape of a human heart. That’s also when he realized it had to have its own name, “Frank’s Heart of Gold.”

Frank has been a member of the Boise Basin Search & Recovery Club for ten years. In a short article recounting the event in a recent issue of their newsletter, he was referred to as Frank “Midas” Masley. It went on to report the statistics on his “Heart of Gold” nugget: 1.275 ounces, or 1.16 Troy ounces, or 23.25 Pennyweights, or 36.18 Grams.

Wow!

It’s not always easy to find the time to go metal detecting. But closer to home, Frank has still had the luck of the Irish on his side. One afternoon, he and Bob journeyed to the heart of a long-abandoned Chinese placer mining area in the Boise Basin near Idaho City. They had been there before and had uncovered their share of small nuggets. But after an arduous day of searching, they decided to leave; because the hour was late and the temperature was falling. As they turned to leave, Frank swept his detector over a spot he had already been over, and he got a signal that would “stop a bus.” Inside of one hole which was no bigger than half a cantaloupe, he uncovered a nugget patch and cleaned out a total of 203 small gold nuggets. What a find! After hitting pay-dirt so many times, perhaps beginner’s luck has nothing to do with Frank’s success. Maybe he has truly earned his nickname!

 

 

BY CRICKET KOONS

A life of “Dredgery.”

 

My BH (Big Hubby) and I became interested in gold several years ago. Some friends took BH under their wings for the summer (while I stayed home and slaved) and taught him to dive and run a gold dredge.

Now, let me tell you how I learned to dive, dredge and become the world’s greatest rock man or rather “rock woman.” Good old BH took me down, and we had this custom-made wet suit put together. Now you realize BH didn’t do this out of the goodness of his heart. With a great shape like mine, I defy you to get one of those cute slinky things off a rack! Being a kind, considerate BH, he decided the river was too fast and deep for me to learn to dredge in, so we headed up to Thompson Creek, a beautiful creek about 11 miles out of Happy Camp, California.”Better place to start,” BH says. “Not too deep,” BH says. “Clear water,” BH says.

BH was really looking out for me. What a great guy, right? Let me tell you how it really was. First, I was sure I’d freeze to death even with 100 degree temperatures outside; the water must have been at least 40 degrees cold! During my first day at the creek, we were taking the dredge off the top of the truck. Now, I’m a little on the short side but pretty strong. Anyway, good old BH drives our truck with dredge down pretty close to the water. He climbs on the truck, gives our 5-inch triple-sluice dredge a push, and yells for me to catch it as it slides off the truck rack! Well, after I picked myself up and reminded him my insurance premium had not yet been paid that month, I asked him politely to be a tiny bit more careful about dropping 300 pounds on my head. I had a few other ending words for him, but you just can’t share all the intimate things in life.

When he finally got over his belly roll laugh, I chased him into the creek, and we dove in to catch up with the dredge, which was floating downstream. After I chipped the ice cubes off me, BH tells me that before he can teach me to dive, we have to move rocks. You know, “Me teacher — you new rock man.”

So I picked up, rolled, kicked, shifted, propelled, pushed, and coaxed a few million rocks and boulders of various sizes and created the start of my very first dredge hole. This was all minus the dredge, which was floating by my side without so much as a pop-pop from its engine.

Ahhh, but I was on my way after clearing an area the size of my living room of all rocks and other miscellaneous stuff. I was a ROCK MAN*!**# with experience. I knew I could toss cobbles with the best of them.

Then, it was BH’s turn. He revved up the engine on the dredge, put on his mask, dusted off his sitter-downer and told me to watch very carefully, as he was going to get this hole going and show me how to get some real work done. I watched very carefully and wished I’d left just one rock that I could sit on, but then I am the efficient type.

About 15 minutes later, up popped BH’s head, out comes the air line, off comes the mask, and guess what? Yep, it’s my turn. When learning to dive the first time, it is a good idea to first stand on good solid ground, stick your face underwater with your mask and regulator, and continue to breathe until you feel comfortable about breathing underwater. When gearing up for a dive, always, always start by putting on your air first. Insert the regulator ¾ the thing you breathe through ¾ into your mouth and only then put on your weight belt.

We don’t want you to fall over backwards and drown from the weight! Personally, I’m like a beached whale when I fall on my back; I need help to get turned over.

So, put on your mask, get your BH by the hand and head for the hole. He can show you what to do from that point. If your BH is like mine, he’ll stick the nozzle in your hand, point you in a direction, and tell you to keep going until you bring up the gold.

I did bring up a little gold and learned what to do, with a lot of help from BH. We’ve been mining now for a few years, and I’m starting to get BH trained into my way of doing it. After all, who would know better, BH or me, considering that in this family at least, I’m the ROCK MAN!**$# with experience.

I gotta go now; the coffee’s boiling over on the stove, and BH is giving me directions on coffee making.

See you on the river!

 

BY J. CHARLES COX

“A man so finely tuned to the wavelength of gold and precious stones,
he might just as well be a magician!”

 

During my recent visit to Happy Camp, California, I had the pleasure of being introduced to Jim Swinney. Jim is one of the old breed of mining men and, as such, is a wealth of information. Jim and I talked in his home, where he showed me his specimens of opal, jade, crystal, and gold.

“I started rock-hounding when I was nine,” he said, with an easy grin. “I’ve been at it ever since. One of my relatives was a geologist and when I’d go to the field with him, he’d teach me to identify the different rocks. From there, it was a natural process to become a prospector and jewelry maker.”

I looked across the room at his display case, where multicolored opals bounced sunlight in my direction.

“Did you find those around here?” I asked.

“No. Those are from my opal claim in Nevada. Some of that jade is from this area and most of the gold is too. That’s only a small part of what I’ve found. Some of it I’ve made into jewelry, some of it I sell, and some is in a safe deposit box at the bank.”

“It must be an interesting way to make a living, “I said.

Jim laughed. “It’s interesting all right, but I work for the Forest Service to keep beans on the table. I retire in two more years and between my retirement, prospecting, and being a mining consultant, I figure I’ll do okay.”

“What kind of mine consulting?” I asked, sitting back on the comfortable couch in his living room.

“Gemstone mines, mostly. I go in and tell the owners if I think the claim is worth working or if the mine is safe enough to work, and how to go about getting the gems without damaging them.”

“So you don’t consult on gold mines?”

“Oh yes, but I specialize in gems. I have a friend who’s a gold mine specialist, he does most of the work around here.”

“Is there any pet peeve that you have about the ‘New Age’ prospectors that you want to share with our readers?”

“Yes, now that you mention it,” he said, getting up and going over to the display and taking out a white rock laced with red veins. “I’ve seen inexperienced prospectors pick up a specimen and either lick it or put it in their mouth to bring out the color. They don’t know what it is, or what’s on it. Now if they were to do that with this rock, they’d be dead before help could arrive. This is natural arsenic.”

We talked a while longer, then decided to take our detectors out and stir up a little gold. On the way, Jim told me that Happy Camp was not only surrounded by old hydraulic mining areas, but was actually built on one.

“One woman found a 3/4 ounce nugget by the airport,” he said, as he drove to the place he wanted to check out.

We parked and walked up a medium steep grade, pausing often to let me catch my breath. When we had reached the spot and before I could tune up my detector, Jim said, “Watch it, you’re about to step on that nugget!”

“Nugget?” I asked looking around. “What nugget?”

“This one,” he answered, as he bent down and picked it up.

He put the sub-grain nugget in my hand and said “Look, there’s another one.”

“What are you, a magician?” I asked

He found three small nuggets without even turning his detector on. To say that I was amazed would be an understatement!

Yes, we all found gold that day; and at the truck when we were getting ready to leave, Jim came strolling up with an unusual rock in his hands.

“You carry that all the way from the bottom of that gully?” I asked with a grin.

“You bet! It’s white jade and easily worth a hundred dollars.” “You are a magician!” I said

Summary: I believe that Jim Swinney is one of the finest men that I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. As a prospector, mining consultant, jewelry and custom knife maker, few are his equal. So, should you happen to need any of the above, or if you’re out in the hills around Happy Camp and see a man with iron-grey hair, ask your questions. Then close your yap and listen close. You’ll surely learn something.

 

BY MARCIE STUMPF/FOLEY

PHOTOS BY MARIA

 

john_coombs_sept89
John Coombs is a miner. He hasn’t been one all of his life, but he is a miner in the truest sense of the word. He spends his summers in the river, dredging, and his winters thinking about the next summer’s dredging, no matter what else he happens to do. He has approached mining as he has everything in his life, with a zest that belies his age and the sense of adventure that has always led him.

He’s a Canadian and has spent most of his life in Vancouver, B.C. His sense of adventure has led him far and wide, however. He left home for the first time during the depression, at the age of 16, “riding the -rails,” alone to go to Quebec for the summer to work for an uncle.

The next summer he had a motorcycle, not something everyone had in the 30’s;and on it he set off across Canada for Saskatchewan to get a job harvesting wheat on the prairies. At the time he was so small that his brothers teased him about needing to be a jockey, and when he did get to Saskatchewan, no one would hire him because of his size. Although they still used horse-drawn wagons for harvesting at that time, he was finally hired because he knew how to drive a car.

A small crew who had the use of the boss’s touring car to go into town on Saturday nights had no one who could drive it, so they struck a bargain. He was much smaller than all of them, but they showed him the ropes and helped him, so he could take them to town and back. They protected him from the other crews in town, and generally took him under their wing. With his motorcycle he was a big hit with all the girls in town. When the summer was over, he returned home; his mother didn’t even recognize him. He’d grown four inches and gained over 40 pounds!

After several other occupations, John finally settled on being a commercial fisherman. He had a boat built, and he captained his own fishing boat for many years, making excursions to warm areas when he wasn’t fishing.

John remained unmarried until he was 40. While on a trip to Mexico, he met a lovely young woman and began courting her in the traditional way, with a “duenna,” or chaperone, along whenever they met. After returning home, they carried on a correspondence, and he finally proposed by mail. After marrying her in Mexico, he brought her home to Vancouver, where he had a home built for them, and they raised two daughters.

John is a gifted storyteller with a marvelously expressive face. As he talks of the days when he was a fisherman, it’s easy to picture yourself alongside him on his trips. You can almost feel and smell the salt spray, and the love he feels for the sea comes through clearly. As his daughters grew up, they became part of his crew, and a very special relationship grew out of the trips they took together. Just talking about them brings a bright twinkle to his eye and a smile to his lips.

Before he gave up fishing, he became friends with someone who
panned
for gold up in Canada, and after a few trips, he decided that that was what he wanted to do next, so he did. He spent a few years panning and sluicing in various parts of Canada, but there were so many restrictions against dredging there, that he decided to come down to California and try it here. He bought a small dredge, but decided that wasn’t what he wanted, so he went to a 5-inch dredge. Now each spring he packs it up and heads south, sets up his dredge and mines alone all summer.

I stress that he dredges alone, because John Coombs has celebrated his 70th birthday, and most people that age who do dredge don’t dredge by themselves. John has won the respect of all his fellow miners along the Klamath River, young and old alike.

Usually the first one in the water in the morning, he suits up while it’s still very cool. He spreads his weight belt with 60 lbs. of weights out on the ground; lies down on it to fasten it, then rolls over before rising. He adds his mask and regulator, then heads into the river while the younger guys are shaking their heads on the bank, still waiting for it to warm up some before going in.
His dredging days are long, and his days off are few. He works hard at what he does, and he is good at it. In all my conversations with him, however, it occurred to me that he never mentioned his gold. He was perfectly willing to talk about it if I mentioned it, and it finally dawned on me that the gold itself isn’t as important to John as the finding of it and the camaraderie he shares with his fellow miners.

This summer is over now, and John packed up his dredge last week and headed home for the winter, but I know that when spring returns, John will return with it. He’ll be full of life and eager to get into the river. He’ll have more stories to tell, more adventures to take me on, but only on his days off. That’s because he’s a miner. It’s what he does, and he does it well.

 

By Marcie Stumpf/Foley

 

Dredging

When you first meet L.A. Lawson, you know immediately that he has spent much of his life in the state of Texas. He has a distinct Texas drawl, and the lean look of a cowboy. His occupation, however, has been that of the modern Texan—working at laying pipeline. Sometimes for oil, sometimes not. He is no longer concerned with what the pipeline is going to carry—his main concern is that it’s going to be laid in a gold-bearing area of the western Sunbelt states! He works at this occupation only during the winter months. During the summer, he can be found dredging for gold on the Klamath River near Happy Camp in northern California.

Actually, laying pipeline is only one of several occupations L.A. has had. He fell in love with scuba diving 22 years ago, and that naturally led to instructing. It also led to beautiful and exciting trips for him and his wife, Brenda, all over the U.S., and in various parts of the Caribbean.

Scuba diving also led them to several diving industry shows, which is where they kept running into Mark Keene, of Keene Engineering. They eventually bought a couple of Dave McCracken’s videos from Mark, and were interested in learning more about dredging. It seemed an ideal complement to the diving they were doing.

Their next contact with the pursuit of gold came when L.A. and Brenda went to Quartzsite, Arizona, to put in a gas pipeline. They became acquainted with a local miner who was not actively working his claim, but was interested in letting L.A. and Brenda work it.

By this time, L.A. had begun accumulating mining equipment, which included a dry-washer and a motorized sluice. They started out dry-washing, but didn’t like the dust; so they figured out a way to use the motorized sluice in the desert: They transported a 55-gallon drum of water out to the claim each day, and used a succession of several drums to re-circulate their water. This was more fun! They found about 1 1/2 ounces of gold—not a lot, but they were beginners, and not many people even attempt to dredge for gold in the middle of the desert! What it actually did was spark their gold fever, and L.A. began buying more books and gathering information.

Shortly thereafter, they found out about the New 49’ers Prospecting Organization, and joined while they were still in Arizona.

With their winter job completed, they first came to Happy Camp, California in late August. L.A. told Brenda on the way up that they might not see a flake of gold for months; that he knew very little about mining; and that he didn’t have any idea what they were getting into.

L.A. and Brenda get along with most everybody—making friends easily is one of their assets. One of the 49’er members they became friends with was in the process of abandoning his dredge-hole, because the water was so rough and fast, that it was just “beating him up.” He was leaving a high-grade gold deposit, because he felt it wasn’t worth the beating he was taking to get the gold. He was also selling his dredge, since he was going to work with a larger one that he already had. When he told L.A. about the dredge for sale, and the gold he was leaving behind because of the rough water, well, L.A. just figured it was a challenge, and jumped on in. He bought the dredge, took over the hole; and in just two weeks, he took out four and a half ounces of gold.

Ah, but then it was time to go, so he and Brenda reluctantly left Happy Camp, to begin their winter work. He says that this work, with him on pipelines and Brenda as a waitress, is just to support their “prospecting-habit.” If they find gold during the summer, well fine; and if they don’t, “Well, we had a lot of fun lookin.”

But, all joking aside, no-one should ever doubt the seriousness of L.A. Lawson. His dream is to strike “the big one!” And by the nature of his approach, he is just the guy to do it!

When they arrived back in Happy Camp on the first of May this past year, they had 2-inch, 3-inch, 4-inch, and 5-inch dredges—they were prepared for anything!

Looking over the claims early this year, L.A. and Brenda decided they wanted to work a pool beneath a waterfall on one of the New 49’er upper-creek claims. They were told by several people, that usually this is not a good place to find gold. They wanted to find out for themselves, however; so they put their 3-inch dredge in the pool. It was only a small creek, after all. After working as deep as they could with the 3-inch dredge, they still seemed to be a ways above bedrock. They were finding some gold in the overburden, however; so they took the 3-inch out and put in the 4-inch dredge. After working as deep as they could with that, they soon found themselves exchanging it with the 5-inch dredge. They were still finding gold in the overburden, which amazed everyone; and by this time, the others were all watching to see what they found. When L.A. and Brenda finally reached bedrock (at about 13 feet!), they were working deeper than they should have been, and the gold played out above the bedrock.

L.A. and Brenda looked at this as a “learning experience,” and went onto another area, where they also found good gold. They really just enjoyed the “looking”—it was in a beautiful setting, and they were just having fun. They also earned the respect of more experienced miners because the professional way they worked, their hard work and by quitting as soon as they reached bedrock and found no gold. Many an experienced miner has dredged a sample hole they wish they hadn’t started. But once you’ve begun a hole, if at all possible, you’re going to dredge to bedrock! Sometimes this can turn a sample hole into a major production – all for little or no return.

L.A. and Brenda spend time finding out as much as possible about an area before working there; but when they finally make the commitment to work an area, they test it as thoroughly as possible.

Gold in a panThey have concentrated most of their efforts into areas where other people do not want to work—mostly in very fast water, and have done quite well. When they quit dredging, they had accumulated between seven and eight ounces of gold by the end of August, this past season.

L.A. says, “We also found out that finding the gold in the river was only part of it.” “When it’s found, then you have to be able to recover it with your equipment. Once you get it home, you have to be even smarter at night than you are during the day,” meaning the choice of efficient, effective concentrating equipment to accomplish final clean-up is just as important as choosing the right dredge.”

LA and Brenda have spent a good deal of time testing various types of concentration equipment that other club members had loaned them, to see which worked best in the least time. Adopting the methods that worked best for them, they bought their own equipment wisely. They also liked working with other people on various-sized dredges to see which one was the largest they could comfortably work with.

L.A. was working for a short time this past season on another 8-inch dredge; so he turned Brenda loose with the 4-inch dredge in some slack water for a few days to see how she liked it. All the areas he had been dredging in had been in fast water; and although Brenda is an accomplished diver, she prefers water not as turbulent to begin dredging in.

The LawsonsBrenda really liked it! She plans to dredge right along with L.A. next year. Brenda is a quiet person until you get to know her; but once she opens up, she makes it clear that she loves the lifestyle they lead–however unconventional it may appear.

They feel they were very fortunate to do so well so soon—to have someone put them into gold right away. However, many people would not have worked where they did, to get that gold. L.A. and Brenda have decided that this is what they really want to do, so they have totally committed themselves to finding out all they can about it. They are putting all their efforts into making better miners of themselves. They are enthusiastic, eager, and optimistic in the face of breakdowns, days of finding no gold, and adverse mining conditions. They are thorough, persistent, and run an efficient operation. With all these things going for them, they will do very well as gold miners.

They are looking forward to coming back to Happy Camp the first of May next year with a 6-inch dredge, and they’re looking forward to doing some “playing around” with a Mack-Vack this winter.

L.A. has made some calls, and has found a winter pipeline job in northern New Mexico. He researched the area, and there are several interesting areas of New Mexico and Colorado where they could do some mining during their spare time.

Wherever they go, and whatever they decide to do, you can bet that gold mining and fun will be part of their lives, and that they will be back dredging again next summer!

 

BY LINDA DONNELLY

Family finds Gold and Adventure While Dredging on The Klamath River in Northern California

 

Does your husband have a new hobby? Did he one-day show up with a gold pan, vial, snifter bottle, tweezers and screen?

You thought it wouldn’t last, right? Then you begin to notice other things popping up–like a small sluice box which you almost tripped over in the garage, a nice heavy set of black boots for wearing in a creek, stream or river and a pair of rubberized gloves.

Did he begin to take weekend trips to a local spot that was, or is still, known for gold? Vials began to fill up with water and nice flecks of gold—some of them no bigger than coarse pepper.

Did he begin to bring home buckets of dirt and turn your bathtub into a prospecting center? Did he take you on a trip to Sonora, Columbia, and Jamestown where you and the kids wanted to see the sights; but instead, ended up in the wilderness digging dirt and bending over a creek? The gold there was a different color than the local spot, but only he would have noticed.

Interestingly enough, you discover your neighbor has this same hobby. You’ve lived next door for a number of years, and you think you would have known. Paul’s excitement rekindled our neighbor’s gold fever and he remembered a bucket of black sand concentrates he had set aside a year ago. They both started panning them right there in the garage immediately. Soon our neighbor borrowed our dredging video and is having thoughts of making his own dredge. You find yourself explaining to people about your husband’s hobby and they begin coming out of the closet with their stories about their own adventures of panning and dredging.

That is how it all started for us. The next thing I knew, my brother-in-law, Kevin, had introduced Paul to a few more videos and books by some young guy named Dave McCracken. Then Paul and Kevin ventured off to Happy Camp to take part in a motorized sluicing seminar sponsored by The New 49’ers.

Paul came back even more excited, telling me how beautiful the area was and that we had to go visit. Of course, you’ve guessed that he has been infected with “gold fever” – either you have it or you don’t.

When Paul suggested a nine-day vacation to Happy Camp, I had no idea what I was in for! I’d had some big clues though, and I almost didn’t go. I figured that if he went and took our two boys, I would have nine days of relaxation at home. But, I’m big on vacations and needed one; so I decided to go. We love the mountains and usually take camping trips anyway. So, before we left, I made it clear that this was a family vacation, and I didn’t want to be left watching the boys, while he went off panning, or whatever the case might be.

Have you ever been to a dredging workshop with the New 49’ers?

On day one, after breakfast in 100 degree heat, we went to the Pro-Mack store. I HAD to meet Kay! She was this fabulous person whose name had been used quite regularly around our home recently—“Kay might know this or that, Kay helped us with this when we were up there,” says my husband. “So you must meet Kay.” And, she certainly lived up to everything her reputation promised.

Before I know it, we are on our way to a mini-seminar on dredging. Well, this is our vacation, and it’s so hot I’m thinking, I might as well join ‘em. I learned a lot from what Dave had to say—I paid attention and even took notes.

Day two is a demonstration with a visual of a mock river showing how and where gold deposits. Then we caravanned for a tour of different spots on the river where other people had been successful in finding gold. Dave tied together the theory, with the simulation of the actual field conditions.

Day three was the dredging day. We spent all day on the river and people went down underwater with Dave two at a time. Even the kids went underwater with Dave; and after getting my nerve up, I did some dredging, too. We were dredging in a high-grade pay-streak, and Dave showed us what to look for. Seeing the gold coming out of the bedrock cracks did it–I was hooked! Everyone was excited!
Once you actually see the gold being recovered out of a natural pay-streak, all of the theory comes together and something clicks; you realize you can do it, too!
Days four and five were my favorites! We all floated down river in our wetsuits, equipped with masks and snorkels, with Dave pointing out some of the places we had seen from the road on our tour earlier in the week.

I can’t say enough about what a great time our family had. Dave was extremely thorough in his seminar and answered our questions all week long. The people associated with prospecting shop, The New 49’ers, and the people in our group were friendly and helpful.

About a week and a half after our vacation, Paul and Kevin returned to Happy Camp. They put the dredge in a spot on the Klamath which Dave said had proven successful before; and sure enough, it was again. I had never seen that much gold!

Now I think I’d happily trip over a dredge in our garage that we could take to Happy Camp to put in the Klamath River every summer.

Until next summer, though, my husband will go back to work, and I’ll get my children settled in school. I will probably still trip over buckets around the bathroom and nurse that little fever I feel coming on!!

 

 

BY CHUCK MORRIS

 

I’m not exactly certain just when my dream of gold mining began, but last year I said to my wife, “prospecting for gold is something I’ve always wanted to do. I don’t know how or where and have no idea who to contact to find out. If that opportunity ever knocks, I will definitely open the door.”

Just one week later, while going through the mail I noticed an article in the latest issue of Reader’s Digest, “Is There Gold In Your Backyard?” It mentioned a place called Gold n’ Gems Grubbin in Cleveland, Georgia; a working mine where you can actually pan and sluice for placer gold and gem stones. One quick look at my wife for approval and within minutes I was talking to Susan Devan at the G & G.

I explained that I knew absolutely nothing about gold mining from bedrock up, but that I wanted to visit the mine and find out. I asked if she could recommend a source of information regarding mining and gold recovery. She suggested that I read a book called “Gold Mining in the 20th Century” by Dave McCracken. She said the book would explain everything I ever wanted to know about small-scale gold recovery from panning to dredging. The book arrived within days, and I read it at least a dozen times.

In September I packed my truck and headed for Cleveland, Georgia. I was going to learn how to pan and find some gold. The spark had suddenly burst into flames.After I returned from Georgia, I placed a call to Dave Mack in Happy Camp to thank him for writing his book (one of many), and helping me to get started on my new adventure. I subscribed to “Gold and Treasure Hunter” magazine and read all about the New 49’ers. Then I ordered Dave’s video about prospecting along the Klamath River. However, that was 2,500 miles away. But the flames had spread like wildfire. I was ready to go it on my own, somewhere, and a chance to relive a part of the past with a pick, a pan and a shovel.

Then I remembered what Dave Mack had said at the end of his video-“Why not take a couple of extra days and come to Happy Camp. We have miles of proven claims, experienced instructors and no questions regarding property rights, just miners helping miners and …gold.” So, in April, after several months of planning, I started my trek from Louisiana to Happy Camp, California.

Soon after I arrived, New 49’er representative Bill Stumpf helped me set up a motorized sluice to use on a New 49’er claim. I couldn’t have done it without his help. As we set up the equipment, he explained the procedure step by step and the importance of settling dirty water up out of the active waterway. Then we washed a couple of sample buckets just for practice. Although Bill covered all aspects of using a motorized sluice, I must admit that I really didn’t get into that until later in my trip. I’d been panning, trying my luck at crevicing and working moss, and stocking up on material to take home. Maybe I was just reluctant to try motorized sluicing on my own.

Finally, I made up my mind to give the sluice my best shot. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And after all, I didn’t drive 2,500 miles just to collect dirt and scrape moss off a rock. I dug and filled my containers with about 20 gallons of material out of surface gravels up out of the water, and set up the sluice near the river, connected the hoses, anchored the intake line, primed the pump and cranked the engine just like Bill had instructed…and cranked… and cranked… for nearly an hour. The engine wouldn’t start. I thought maybe I had flooded it. Needless to say, I was glad no one was within earshot. I got so frustrated that I decided to find me a big, flat river rock, put on my clown nose and sit it down for a while to try to regain my sense of humor.

After I calmed down I walked back to try again and just happened to glance down at the side of the engine where the switch is located and realized that, like any engine, if you want it to start…YOU HAVE TO TURN THE SWITCH ON…like Bill had instructed. After that I managed to find considerable color the remainder of the day.

The next day, because the sluice was situated in such a rocky area, I decided to make it a little easier on myself and took the time to move it about 50 yards down river where I could maneuver without tripping over every Tom, Dick and river rock. After stockpiling another 20 gallons of material, I secured the engine, connected the hoses and anchored the intake line. That’s when I noticed the clear tubing had come loose from the priming pump. No problem. I reconnected it.

Then I pumped… and I pumped…and I pumped; and then started looking again for that same river rock. I must admit that I nearly lost it for good that time. Suddenly, it dawned on me…there are two connections that look identical near the pump handle. Maybe, just maybe, I had connected the tubing to the wrong one. So I changed it, and first pull on the pump…PRIMED! Cranked the engine…STARTED!

Then, can you believe this-the initial force of water going through the hose caused the elevated sluice box to tip over. I’d placed it so it would flow into a settling area and didn’t have it leveled. Now let’s go through this one mo’ time. Turn off the pump, run up the hill, upright the sluice, run back down the hill, check the prime, crank the engine…After that, all worked well.

By late afternoon I was into some serious sampling on the down river side of a large tree in the tree line. Remembering what I’d read in Dave’s book, that rocks sometimes act like riffles, I washed several pans and did get some nice color. Problem: I was 75 yards down river of the motorized sluice, and it was getting late. I decided that come first light I’d move it all, one more time.

I prayed a little on the way to my worksite next morning. “Lord, I only have three more days of vacation left. I have lifted, carried, pumped, primed and cranked until I’m about worn out getting ready to get worn out. Please, let it all go right.” I moved the rig, dug a few containers of surface gravel, connected, anchored, primed and cranked-AND IT ALL WORKED! How sweet it was. He must have been listening. I turned to and was diggin’ like a Siskiyou mole when I heard somebody yell, “You’re diggin’ in the wrong place!” Say what? Whoever it was, they were pushing their bodily well-being at this point.

It was Chuck Tabbert, a New 49’er member, who’d been laid up with a bad back, easin’ down the trail road, bad back and all. He introduced himself and said he wanted to meet me before I left Happy Camp. I said, “I’m sure glad you have a smile on your face, but what do you mean I’m digging in the wrong place? This is where I thought I was suppose to dig…out of the surface gravels and down towards the bedrock.” Chuck said, “That’s right. Gold is down on bedrock. But where you’re digging it’ll take you a month to get down there. You’re too high on the bank. Why not move closer to the river? Just below the flood gold stage, about in line with that tree, right there. All you’re going to find where you’re digging is seed gold from the spring flood-pinhead size pieces.” I must admit it did make a whole lot of sense because that’s exactly what I was finding. Chuck said, “Move down by that big tree, the one with the big rocks jammed against it.” Wouldn’t you just know it, that was the same place, same tree, where I was the day before.

Chuck said, “Get me your shovel.” I said, “Are you crazy, with that bad back?” He said, “Just get me your shovel and I’ll teach you something, real quick.” He took the shovel, walked to a sandy area near that tree and started “chunkin” the shovel into the sand like a probe. I said, “I thought you couldn’t find gold in river sand.” He said, “You probably won’t, but watch this.” Chunk, chunk, chunk…CHANG! Chang, chang, chang. “Hear that? That’s bedrock. About 6 inches under this sand. That’s where you’ll find larger gold. Clear off an area where you can work on top of this bedrock and dig along there. Look for those small, coin-sized river rocks and stay on bedrock.”

Just as in Dave’s book, Chuck explained the importance of getting to know the area where you are going to work being able to recognize tree lines caused by mineralization; how gold travels in a line; taking the time to sample; being familiar with your equipment (I had too steep an angle on the sluice box) and above all, remember the AU rule: “Gold is always in the bottom of your pan and on top of bedrock”. Chuck departed and I, with an abundance of renewed self-confidence, went back to work.

Just before the sun went down, with the body starting to stiffen from getting up and down, and from carrying containers to the sluice (makes one appreciate what the old timers must have had to endure), I cleaned the sluice, took my concentrates down to the river and began to pan down.

That’s when it all came together-Dave’s concept of miners helping miners. Thanks to the book, Bill’s seminar on setup and sluicing procedures and Chuck’s on-site instructions and suggestions, I managed to recover not only nice flakes but also the nicest string of fine gold that I had found around the back of my pan since I’d arrived in Happy Camp.

I don’t have to tell you that I was up Friday morning at the crack of dawn with only two days to go. I loaded my gear and provisions and was ready to go the whole nine yards right after I stopped at the prospecting store in Happy Camp. I knew that I wouldn’t see the staff on Saturday and wanted to personally express my appreciation for the first-class treatment I received. Then, I headed upriver.

Friday and Saturday went as smooth as worn bedrock. I managed to wash about 60 gallons of material altogether. Every evening I sniffed some of the nicer pieces of gold out of my pan and put them in my sample bottle. I brought the remainder of the black sand home for final clean-up. I’m still sniffing out the gold…one teaspoon of black sand at a time.

Nice part about my last day was that Chuck and Kay Tabbert brought their picnic lunch and came down to moss and crevice near the area where I was working.

I finally had to give it up about 3 p.m. Except for dredging in the river (due to very high water) I had done it all and enjoyed every bit of it, especially motorized sluicing.

Then it was back to the Angler’s Motel to finish packing for the long trip home. I took some time to relax and visit with the owner of the motel, a most gracious and pleasant hostess. Accommodations at the Angler were just right-not too little, not too much. Just enough country to be comfortable.

Leaving Happy Camp and all it has to offer-the sunrise on that snowcapped mountain as I headed upriver each morning; the blacktail deer and gray squirrels along the highway; that breathtaking valley view along the way before crossing the bridge at Thompson’s Creek; the solitude of experiencing my first morning along the river watching an eagle glide silently down river; Canadian geese honking their way upriver; the young king snake I disturbed when I lifted the rock under which he was sleeping, and quickly replaced (along with a few more); an osprey diving from atop a dead fir tree into the river to catch a fish, and more species of wild ducks and songbirds than I’ve ever seen in one place before-and even a potpourri of lizards engaged in their territorial disputes along the streambank.

Add to that the apple blossoms, the lilacs, and the dogwood in spring bloom; the bluebird flitting about in the tree outside my motel kitchen window; or, just sitting on the patio at the end of the day watching the sunset over the Siskiyou Mountains; savoring the peace and contentment-no, leaving Happy Camp wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done in my life. But thanks to Dave, all the New 49’er staff, and especially my wife, I had lived my dream.

The first question I get asked about my trip: “Did you find a lot of gold?” Well, that depends on what you call a lot. “Did you find the big one?” That depends on what you call big. “Did you have a good time?” Now there’s something you can take to the bank! It was without a doubt the most exciting outdoor adventure I have ever experienced in my life. Long haul, yes. Physically tiring, yes. Worth the effort, you better believe it! And yes, I found some flakes and a lot of fine gold, some color in every pan. But what I found most were more important things than you will never find until you visit one of God’s very special places- Happy Camp, California.

As for the dream…it’s still burning bright as ever…and probably always will. But somehow I managed to bring it under control and my dream became what I wanted it to be…a reality.

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