BY GENE MEDENWALD

 

Yesterday’s production was nine pennyweights and 22 grains–just a tad shy of one-half ounce of gold. This was the very best I’d ever done with my five-inch suction dredge. The very best I’d ever done in my life! I was excited. I was obviously getting into a really good pay-streak. The gold was less than half fines, with a lot of wheat kernel-sized pieces, and a few quarter and half-pennyweight chunkies, some attached to quartz.

Things were going good and looking better. Yesterday had been a long day, but not as long as I was able to work; about three and a half tanks of gasoline or seven hours. Today, as planned after the gold weigh-up last night, I was at the river early, determined to put in at least a four-tank day . . . and pull my first half-ounce of gold in a day!

Though the water’s flow was quite strong and the water deep, I had an excellent hole developed and it was comfortable working it. I was developing cuts forward and to the right. First, a layer of sand and small cobbles, then down through a layer of gray and blackish clay-like old hydraulic mine tailings, and finally into a beautiful yellow/orange boulder-strewn hard-pack laden with flecks of yellow gold throughout–and last, onto crevassed and jagged bedrock where the wheat kernels and golden chunkies were. Man, this was FUN! This is what gold mining should be. This is what people have been telling me it is like, and all of this time I kept wondering if it was true and if it would ever happen to me. Now I am really doing it and it is wonderful . . . thoughts like these were running through my mind when suddenly: WOW! Something is pulling on my suction hose. Pulling strong! This is weird. I can’t hold it back! I’m being pulled out of my hole! Rats, it slipped out of my hand. Sheez, now it’s pulling on my airline! I’m on my back, now buffeted and rolling about in the current.

Don’t panic! You’ve still got air. Clear your mask so you can see! Where am I?

That huge boulder; I must be about 15 feet from the ledge; on the other side of the boulder, just a ways, where it is only four feet of water and mild current–get there! I was slowly moving by laborious and exasperating crawling against the strong current, slipping and sliding over the slick and mossy rocks, resisting the constant pulling on the air hose. And while doing so, I was thinking, a little more calmly now, will the strong air line break? If it does, I can always drop my weights and “bail out;” where’s the weight belt buckle, dummy? Yeah, the weights are all at your stomach, the buckle is at your back; pull the belt around so if that air line pops, you can reach the buckle.

Totally exhausted, I finally, made it to the boulder and to the shallow, quiet water and stood up and automatically raised my face mask and spit out the regulator to gasp for open, unrestricted air — and was SHOCKED and dumfounded to discover I was standing in a deluge of water, blasting at me from the sky! And the smell, the foul, disgusting odor, the stench; ack, gasp, gag! Drop the weight belt, the mask, the regulator, the everything and swim the hell away from there!

That is a very brief description of how I experienced and survived an example of Murphy’s Law and several of its corollaries that day.

Experiencing it was frightening — fright caused by what was happening to me physically, fright caused by fear of the unknown. (What in the HECK is going on? Did my hi-line break? Is my dredge towing me downstream to the rapids?) Experiencing it was also incredibly physically exhausting, and nearly debilitating from stench-induced vomit. The cause of all this was simplicity itself: the pressure hoses blew off the dredge pump. No big thing. Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it generally will!

A miner’s suction dredge is, of course, a machine. Lots of moving parts. Lots of things to go wrong. But I was dredging three-fourths of the way across the river; and when a pressure hose blows off the pump of a five-inch dredge with the engine going wide open, and with the current and the hi-line set up just right (just wrong?), the whole dredge becomes a jet boat and zooms before the immense force of water being blown from the pump with great power. In my instance, it dragged me 30 feet across the river bottom, and of course (Murphy’s Law), lodged against the bank, in a backwater eddy chock full of floating long-dead fish and eels, carcasses so rotten that the water intake simply sucked them to pieces and the pump blew them into a huge spume of a rainbow-like arch of solid water under which, by chance (Murphy’s Law), I had the misfortune to surface!

What an experience!

And what a horrible job it was to correct everything and get back to mining for gold.

I reeked of dead fish. There were particles of stinking dead fish and eels all over my wetsuit, and all over my mask (when I finally recovered it after an hour’s search with my spare and snorkel) and the regulator/mouth piece. I had to completely disrobe and wash all of this with lots of soapy water in my clean-up tub. Then I had to hike back to camp for my chest waders so I could extract the dredge from the backwater eddy and the mushed-up rotten fish stew. The Law did display a little grace (pity?) though; because the dredge engine quit running shortly after I surfaced and I at least did not have to wade into the rotten fish stew to turn it off. It was a big job representing a lot of unproductive labor, but I eventually did get back into the river again that day and was able to run one more tank of gas before dark. Needless to say, I did not reach my goal of one-half ounce of gold that day.

At the time when this event occurred, two seasons ago, I must admit I rather soundly cursed Murphy’s Law and all of the gods of wayward, askance, and evil fortune. But on reflection, was it really The Law or just dumb o1′ me?

I had been advised and warned about that pressure hose. I really had. I did nothing about the advice. It was an old but serviceably-good dredge. The flange on the pump had been reduced in size from years of tightening. The pressure hose was old and stiff, and it was really too short.

How silly we are at times, to our own detriment. After several more “blow offs,” I eventually replaced the hose with a longer one, which was cheap and thin and kept getting holes in it which reduced suction intensity . . . only to finally replace that one with a correctly-specified one which again blew off because of the small flange. Finally, I simply had a miner-friend weld on a threaded pipe nipple and used a fire hose fitting like those on the newer dredges.

I could have done that simple alteration before I ever put the dredge in the water that season . . . and maybe The Law would have ignored me completely–well, being miners we know that can’t be true.

The other day a young man up here on an exploratory visit stopped by where I was working and we shared a cup of coffee. During the course of our conversation, he began to elaborate to me the intricacies of the Thomas T-80 air compressor with which my dredge is equipped, as are most suction dredges these days. I listened as politely as I could for a while and then got out my daily log book and began reading a few old entries to him:

May 19–0n the Little South Fork of Indian Creek. Inadequate air. Something is wrong with the air compressor.

May 20–Repaired compressor. A broken piston reed.

May 22–Reed in compressor broke again. Repaired it with last reed in Pro-Mack Shop.

May 25–Reed in compressor broke again. Repaired it with one scavenged off Dave Mack’s spare, at his generous offer. This is getting exasperating.

May 27–Air compressor reed broke again (the fourth one). I am depressed. Visited Dave Mack about it. He says one can expect a reed to occasionally break, usually after many, many hours of diving. Certainly not every other day. Possibly the pulley ratios are wrong on my dredge and the compressor is running too fast? (His suggestion.)

May 28–Spent the day borrowing a pulley tachometer. Took readings off my dredge (not a Keene) and readings on another miner’s Keene dredge. My compressor is running three times faster than his!

May29–Drove to Yreka to obtain new pulleys and belts and made necessary alterations on my dredge. Cannot try it out yet because I used up every spare compressor reed in town. Must wait for new parts to arrive.

June 1–0n Thompson Creek. Hurray! Got new reed for compressor and moved to sample Thompson Creek and have wonderful, wonderful AIR!

June 2–Air compressor broke again. A screw apparently came loose from the problem reed and bounced around on top of the piston until it cracked and shattered the upper reed plate.

June 3–Depressed. Didn’t dive. Repaired air compressor in p.m.

June 8–Moved to Klamath River near Tim’s Creek. Sampling.

June 12–Still getting inadequate air. Took compressor apart and discovered eventually that all of the pieces from the broken reeds, etc., have apparently caused holes in the diaphragm. Replaced same, and for the first time in nearly a month seem to have adequate air.I am not convinced that I can strip down and repair the Thomas T-80 compressor in the dark. I am infinitely more familiar with it than I ever became with my M-1 rifle in the Army.

June 16–Damned near drowned myself for lack of air and panic. Tipped the dredge upside-down with engine running full out. A quick but rather dubious way of stopping the engine!

The Law almost did a final job on me that June 16. I was using a three-inch dredge, one with great suction through 30 feet of hose and was sampling extensively.

I had just made my first dive in quite deep water (for me at the time), probably about 15 feet, and was working off a hi-line for the first time and had gone quite far off the bank into fast(er) water.

Breathing is such an automatic function of our almost magical bodies that the average person, I think, rarely ever considers it. I’ve visited with many diving, dredging miners who have never had an air mishap who barely consider it. It is such a simple function. Exhale carbon dioxide, inhale air.

However, when you are a relatively inexperienced hookah diver and are in deep and fast water for the very first time in your life and, having exhaled and when you attempt to inhale, your body receives nothing, nothing at all, like sucking on a hose with a plug in the other end, that is decidedly an arresting situation!

Your mind immediately goes wild with random suppositions and questions and images. How much air is left in your lungs for your body to use after you have exhaled? How far off the bank am I? Don’t panic! Should I drop my weights now? Don’t panic! N-a-a-h. That’s a chicken’s way out. I’ve got time. Don’t panic! Just keep moving, calmly, toward shore. There is nothing left in my lungs! Don’t panic! (All the while I am scrambling up a soft sand bar toward the river bank, slipping and sliding and being washed downstream by the current.) Don’t panic! I-am-going-to-pass-out-soon-it-is-time-to-drop-the-weight-belt! There-is-a-weight-where-the-buckle-should-be!

WHERE’S-THE-BUCKLE?!

I simply do not remember what happened after that or what I did next. I DID PANIC. My next conscious memory is of a fellow miner holding me as I was floating in the water, gasping and gasping for air, as he kept repeating over and over, “Are you alright?” I was, kind of, alright and The Law didn’t get me down in finality, but just by a bare smidgen. I think my poor friend was much more frightened than I was during those climactic moments.

The scene as he recalled it: as he, too, was sampling, he was peacefully panning the concentrates from his most recent sampling hole and my dredge was purring away about 30 feet off the bank. Then he observed my dredge moving slowly toward shore and when about 15 feet off-shore this maniac erupts violently from the water, his mouthpiece/regulator goes flying through the air, he takes a huge gasp and sinks below the surface again, turning the dredge completely upside down! Moments later, the madman surfaces again, floating on his back and goes drifting downstream toward some rapids, repeatedly gasping for air. The fellow then dove into the river, swam out to me and pulled me to shore.

Later, after we’d both calmed down a bit, we found my suction hose nozzle, my weight belt and my crow bar all directly under the overturned dredge. The conclusion we came to was that I must have climbed up the dredge suction hose for a desperate breath of air, then found the buckle to the weight belt, released the weights and popped to the surface.

The cause of the air stoppage? Bits and pieces of compressor reeds and diaphragm rubber lodged in the airline where the yellow line connects to the black regulator line. Simple! If after each problem with the compressor (which was a problem I had caused and not a fault of the machine), I had simply opened that connection and permitted the debris to blow out, I (and not The Law) would not have nearly killed me.

Also, if I had simply taken the few seconds necessary to drop my weights before a bad situation became a panic situation, nothing really dramatic would have happened. I kind of think macho-ing and diving, like drinking and driving, don’t mix very well.

I am now a more experienced hookah diver and a more experienced dredger and a more experienced miner. I have a giant respect for Murphy’s Law and its corollaries–and I’ve tried to learn from the “anythings” that have happened to me. Some of the things Murphy’s Law have taught me:

Do not dive with crumby, unproven equipment. If you have garbage gear, and your gold production won’t permit purchasing better stuff (and that’s probably why), get a job and save your money until you can buy the right good gear.

Do not skip or postpone the most minute maintenance or repair task. Fix it now, before the next dive, even if it means hiking back to camp or running into town in the middle of the day when you are just entering a great pay-streak

Don’t Dredge Dumb. Use your head. Develop your hole safely and methodically as is described in the book, Advanced Dredging Techniques by Dave McCracken.

 

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 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 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 GENE MEDENWALD

 

 
Recently, after about a two-year absence from gold mining with a suction dredge, I returned to the activity.

I guess I am what is known as “middle-aged.” After the first day of dredging and diving (and not a long day), I found my body wracked with painful protests at what I had subjected it to; I mean aches and pains—everywhere. After the second day of dredging, my aches and pains had aches and pains. Just crawling into bed was agony. Getting out of bed the next morning was no easier.

On the third day, after I had run a tank of gas through the dredge, I found myself sitting on the bank of the river enjoying a coffee break; and the thought came in to my mind:

Why? Why are you doing this, Gene?

Well, I thought, I must like doing it. But then again came the question, why do you like it?

And then I remembered something I’d come across years ago in some obscure reading: Around the turn of the century, there were hundreds of signs posted throughout the Southwest which read: RIDE WITH PANCHO FOR GOLD AND GLORY! The small print on the signs supposedly told in glowing terms of Pancho Villa’s efforts toward furthering the Mexican Revolution and how he needed courageous and adventuresome young men. Some historians have called Pancho a plain and simple bandit and not a revolutionary at all—but that is beside from the point.

The point is, I think I’ve figured out why I do what some people call a totally insane activity: this business of gold mining by diving with a suction dredge…FOR THE GLORY OF IT! There is so little, too little, many say, opportunity for glory in the lives of contemporary Americans. Everything is organized, corporatized, burocratized.

How often have you been in a group of people where everyone does not know everyone else and the inevitable questions comes up, “What do you do?” The asker doesn’t want to know, really, what the person does. He or she wants to know, not what you do, but who you are. And how often when the response is, “I’m a mechanic-painter-doctor-lawyer or typical whatever category,” you hear the flat “Oh.” And there is a decidedly noticeable lapse in the conversation? Well, when the question is put to me and I respond, “I’m a gold miner,”there is no “Oh.” Instead, I must again respond to further questions and remarks like, “No kidding! Where do you do that?” and “Really! Can you actually make a living doing that?” and “Is there really still gold out there? I thought the old-timers got it all?” etc., etc., etc.

The nifty thing is, I think that most people like to put most people that they encounter into comfortable categories—and they don’t have a ready category for a “gold miner.” But what, really, do I mean by this idea called “glory?” Certainly, as regards cocktail party conversation, it is a quality of uniqueness. But it is much more than that. If I cannot define it accurately in so many given words, I can describe it by relating the first five minutes of a typical day of dredging for me.

It matters not if the weather is hot, cold, clear, rainy or even snowing. When I reach my dredge site, the first thing I do is slip out of my small backpack, pull out the thermos and pour myself just a small dash of coffee and pull out a cigarette and lighter from the waterproof pouch…light up, sit back with that dash of coffee and survey the scene before me.

The wildlife…the blue heron is working for his breakfast in the placid shallows as he is every morning. Some mornings, there is a black bear watching me from across the river, and he feels I don’t know he’s there, but I do, but don’t want to him know that I do (why disturb him?). The same silly mallard duck is foraging above the rapids (one day he’s going to begin his frenzied paddling toward the quiet water a tad too late!)…

The flora…two seasons now I’ve watched it turn from the lush green of summer to all of the brilliant yellow and reds and gold of fall to dreary winter drab…

I am here…it is wonderful…I am free…No one is telling me I have to be here, when I have to be here, what I have to be doing here, and how I have to be doing what I am doing here.

The gold I get here is important, very important. For, if I do not get it or enough of it, I cannot continue this life. But, for me, it is truly a secondary significance though a very important one.

And as I finish my coffee and cigarette, I reflect on yesterday’s activities. I got to my dredge site late yesterday. Only ran less than a tank of gasoline. I’d spent almost the entire day helping Larry move his dredge. But I’d volunteered to help him. Because two weeks after I’d arrived here, he helped me move my machine. And I owed him? Not really.

Glory and those who participate in it yield a kind of camaraderie that few humans alive ever have the good fortune to experience. It is not a question of owing. It is a goodwill, man to man, man to life.

And it is not all the proverbial bowl of cherries. The hardships are severe. It is a physically taxing activity to the extreme. Everything is against you. The rocks are sometimes so slippery with moss and slime, it can be dangerous attempting to walk upright. Add a 40 to 60-pound weight belt and it is, indeed, dangerous.

The river’s current is constantly, unremittingly, attempting to wash you downstream. Cobbles and boulders, which one must move constantly and as efficiently as possible, are unwieldy, slippery, cumbersome, heavy and tedious to exasperation. This, when things are going well. I’ve seen a series of exasperating breakdowns drive a grown dredger to tears, and been near the experience myself.

Managing your money in this business is incredibly tricky. One day you may be rich with gold. Pounds of it. Then you may go for 60-days or more without finding more than a few pennyweights. Meanwhile, you have daily operating expenses, daily living expenses, breakdowns which can be costly, the constant risk of uninsurable theft of some or all of your equipment or machinery, and the constant worry of having to set enough aside for the constant and rapid depreciation of your gear and equipment. There have been times when I’ve felt guilt for going into a restaurant to share a cup of coffee with a friend; or buying a pack of cigarettes instead of rolling my own, which is much cheaper.

There is no wonder nearly all miners are single. What lady would want to participate in a venture of such uncertainty? And yet…

Yet, when you see two miners together who have spent the last three or four days in a row underwater to the point where they are obviously taking well-earned days off because of sheer bodily exhaustion, what are they avidly speaking of and gesticulating about? Dredging!

In a very real sense, this dredging activity is almost a kind of madness. And, yes, I am proud of myself for doing what I am doing and for the fact that I am doing it. I bow to no man. In the words of William Hailey:

“I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”

And yet, the dredging-miners for whom I have the most admiration are those who are not only successful and making a living or a very good living at it, but who are doing so with the companionship of a lady-friend.

Being a man, it is of course impossible for me to view things from the point of a woman. Yet, knowing this is not the kind of vocation the typical man embraces, I am doubly sure it is not viewed positively by many of the female gender. The evidence supports me! I have not seen so many lonely single men engaged in one activity since my woeful experience with the military. Yet, contrary to my military experience, I have never met so many dedicated, intelligent, physically virile men of all ages gathered together in one spot in my life.

Glorious men!

If I were a lonesome single lady, an absolute sure-bet for sophisticated companionship would be to drive along a gold-veering river, keeping my eyes out for a machine floating on yellow pontoons. For, underwater, not far away, is one hell of a man — a bit grubby in appearance, perhaps, but only temporarily. One friendly, feminine grin will most assuredly send him immediately to the nearest tonsorial parlor with the day’s take in hand…

But, alas, whimsy is not reality. My coffee cup is empty and my cigarette is smoked down to the filter. It is time to crank up the engines and don the weight belt and the rest of my gear and begin another day of diving for Gold and Glory.

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