By Dave McCracken General Manager

“This was one of those few times in life where the accomplishment in itself, along with the shared experiences, were worth as much as the gold.”

Dave Mack

  

There were 18 participants in this gold dredging Project, including myself. We decided to do it on the Club’s K-13 property. Other New 49’er members had discovered high-grade gold on both sides and in the middle of the river in that area over the years. Since K-13 is such a long mining claim, we figured the earlier mining activity could barely have scratched the surface of the larger gold deposits which pretty-much extend continuously down the full length of the Klamath River.

We have been finding consistently during these Group Mining Projects that if we just launch an aggressive sampling program into an area where other members have already found gold on New 49’er properties, we always seem to be able to discover that some meaningful part of the high-grade gold remains in place – sometimes even the best part of the pay-streak!

People wonder why we always seem to be able to get into high-grade when we do these Group Projects. Really, there is no secret to it. The first thing we do is choose a place along the river where we are nearly certain that high-grade gold deposits exist within reach of the mining equipment that we will use. This is nearly always the result of other New 49’er members having already discovered high-grade in the same area at some time during the past. Then we perform an aggressive, coordinated sampling program into that immediate area.

We were using 4 dredges on this project, because we had a pretty large team. Using four dredges provided us with a sampling-advantage, in that we were able to carefully coordinate the sample holes while paying very careful attention to where the gold traces are being found. In a step-by-step process, we are able to walk our way right up into the high-grade gold deposits.

We initially arranged to have 2 chemical toilets delivered to a large gravel bar and river access area (named “Sluice Box”) located towards the upper-end of K-13. There was plenty of room there to organize a group camp. But, early on Saturday morning, our shore boss, Otto Gaither, suggested we set up our camp a little further downriver on K-15A. Several other members had just vacated that area, which left plenty of room for a group camp with more natural shade. So we sent a small crew over on early Saturday morning with a flat bed trailer to move the toilets down to K-15A.

The first day on these Projects (Saturday) is always planned for setting up our group camp in the vicinity of where we will spend the week on the river – and to get all the mining equipment moved to the river and set up. Depending upon the circumstances, sometimes we even have time to get the sampling program started on Saturday afternoon.

This time, though, we used up all of the first day launching gear and positioning it on the river. This was the first time we had ever used an 8-inch dredge on one of these Group Projects. Launching the larger dredge into this particular section of the Klamath River required us to disconnect the flat bed trailer from my truck and use a winch to lower it down a sandy access trail to the river. All of this took some very coordinated teamwork and a lot of effort. But we finally got the big dredge into the river. Otto captured the following video sequence as we wrestled that big dredge into the water:

We were also using two 5-inch dredges on this Project, along with a great 6-inch dredge that Richard Dahlke had brought along. Those dredges all went into the water quite easily after what we went through to launch the 8-incher. We were using a small motor boat to help position dredges on both sides of the river, and to move people, gear and supplies up and down the river all week long.

My trusty assistants, Craig Colt, Andrew Inks and Jake Urban were all present on this Project to give a hand. Our shore boss, Otto, was also present to help organize all of our ongoing support needs, capture some video, do the photography, make sure there was a pot of coffee ready every morning, and generally help with everything else that needed doing. We call Otto “Mr. Mom.” In turn, once in a while, if we start crying or complaining too much, he starts calling us names, like “Sally” and “Betty.” Otto keeps everyone reminded that life is too short to not enjoy yourself at least a little bit every day. He adds a friendly, human side to these Projects. We are lucky to have him!

Andrew and Craig agreed to manage the 8-inch dredge. Jake agreed to supervise one of the 5-inch dredges; the one where we would help beginners get through the early stages of underwater mining. Richard Dahlke agreed to supervise a team using his 6-inch dredge as the primary sampling rig on this Project.

Matt Johnson agreed to supervise the second 5-inch dredge. Matt had participated on an earlier dredging Project and had already proven himself to be a dependable and experienced dredger and team-leader. Also, from several days of dredging before the Project started, Matt and his wife, Jennifer, had already located some kind of gold deposit using their 4-inch dredge on K-13. So the immediate mission for Matt’s team was to open up that area using a 5-inch dredge and establish where (what layer in the streambed) the gold was coming from.

We all split off into separate teams early on Sunday morning, with each of the 4 dredges having their own assigned targets to complete. These individual dredge targets are part of a bigger sampling plan where we attempt to: (1) establish where the strongest path(s) of gold is traveling down the river; (2) establish which layer(s) within the streambed where the richest gold is located, and; (3) then locate the high-grade gold deposits within those zones.

The following video sequence captured a typical morning on one of these Projects. Our entire team meets every morning to review how progress is being made on the larger sampling program, to better-coordinate our efforts and to set new targets for the upcoming day:

Since Craig’s was the most experienced team, using the 8-inch dredge, their mission was to push a sample hole out towards the middle of the river. Not surprisingly, they immediately started turning up lots of fine-sized flake-gold over towards the edge of the river. The reason we were not surprised, was because other members had already long-established a continuous line of fine gold in the hard-packed gravels along the Highway-96-side of the river throughout the entire length of K-13. But others had found higher-grade deposits out in the center of the river in the vicinity of where we were sampling. That’s what I was hoping we would find! But after several days of hard work, we pretty-much discovered that those earlier members dredged out the middle in that area. Too bad! So Craig’s team ultimately decided to devote the remainder of the week to working the fine gold deposit closer to the edge of the river.

  

While I do oversee the bigger sampling program during these Projects, early in the week, I am mainly concerned with helping beginners work through the early steps necessary to get them underwater. This is so they can become a meaningful part of the forward momentum that is necessary to recover exciting amounts of gold from the bottom of a river. Gold mining is a volume-sensitive activity. The more work you get accomplished (in the right places), the more gold you end up with. So, early in the week, I am eager to help all participants get off to a good start. The following video sequence captured a typical setting during these Projects when we are helping some beginners to get started:

It is normal for some participants to arrive with a healthy fear of the water. Actually, everyone has a healthy fear of the water. That fear just happens to be energized more-easily in some, than others. People who arrive afraid need some special help during the beginning stages. We always start them in shallow-enough water that there is zero chance of drowning, and nearly zero chance of encountering any traumatic experience. Under very controlled conditions, we assist beginners to overcome the initial fear, simply by starting them doing things which they are comfortable with. This might begin with just floating around along the edge of the river while getting used to looking through a face mask or breathing through a hookah regulator. In a step-by-step process, it seldom takes long to be out there holding beginners just underwater so they can get used to breathing down there. Having helped hundreds of members through these early stages, I have found that most people are able to overcome the initial fear on the first or second day. By the end of the week on these Projects, most beginners have worked their way onto an important part of the underwater-production aspect of the program. Once in a while, it is a beginner that makes the highest-grade discovery of the week!

Jake’s 5-inch dredge remained in the same place all week long. This was because the dredge was recovering a handsome showing of fine gold alongside the highway-side of the river. Several beginners graduated up to Matt’s dredge that was working the very same fine-gold deposit further upstream, only in deeper water. The remainder of the beginner-team utilized the rest of the week to develop a production dredging program so they could recover as much gold as possible.

We established on the first day that the gold was being recovered out of a tan-colored hard-packed streambed layer which was resting on top of an older grey-colored layer. The key to production was to dredge up as much of the tan material as possible.

One of the really nice things about these Projects is how much help and support that team members give to each other – especially when getting into and out of the water with dredging gear strapped on. Otto captured this following sequence showing a beginner get into the water, just as he was starting to feel some personal confidence underwater:

As Matt and Jennifer had already located some kind of pay-streak further upriver the week before, we decided that would be a great place for them to operate the 5-inch dredge during the first day or two of this Project. But when we towed the 5-inch dredge up there using the boat, we discovered that someone else had already moved in on the location. This turned out to be an old grizzly-looking gold miner who materialized there from 150 years ago. When we pulled up in the boat, he gave us a very friendly welcome and showed us all the gold that he was recovering from just digging gravel from the bottom of the river (using a shovel!) in about 5 feet of water. He had a lot of gold to show for his effort!

As we had already targeted that same area for some dredge sampling, but the other guy was in there ahead of us, we were initially concerned about not stepping on his right to mine the immediate location. But he told us that he didn’t mind, because he did not have the equipment to get further out into the river where we wanted to go. There was plenty of room for everyone. Otto captured the following video sequence showing us working side-by-side. It’s only one of the few times I have ever watched a prospector recovering an impressive amount of gold from underwater with the use of a normal hand-shovel!

That’s one of the great things about The New 49’ers. You are always meeting such nice and helpful people!

Matt’s team opened up a test hole not far upstream from where the member was shoveling gold off the bottom of the river; and it only took a few hours before Matt was showing us some incredible initial sample results. Here follows a video sequence that was captured just as Matt and Jennifer were showing off the first good sample result from their dredge:

Several participants from the beginner dredge then moved up to help Matt and Jennifer; and I have to say, that was the highest-morale I have seen in a dredge team for as far back as I can remember. They sure were having a great time!

Bob Dahlke (Richard’s Dad) had specially-built a 6-inch dredge for us to use on this Group Project. What a great machine! We had to keep reminding Richard to turn the motor down so the dredge wouldn’t suck someone’s arm off! Those guys really know how to build a dredge!

Once the beginners were all doing well in the water, I spent most of the remainder of the week working close with the Dahlke team in search of high-grade gold. We were looking for nuggets, baby! I knew there was a strong line of beautiful gold nuggets extending down the far side of the river (the side opposite Highway 96), because we had a member devote an entire winter several years ago, dredging up nice nuggets off the far side. I saw the gold. Other members have also occasionally tapped into that same line of beautiful nuggets. As K-13 is such a very long claim, I personally believe that most of the nugget deposits on the far side have yet to be discovered.

So it was with this in mind that we started Richard’s team early in the week, sampling the far side of the river. The problem was that they were finding a lot of sand over there. The thing about sand is that you never know how deep it’s going to go without at least trying to dredge a hole down through it. So you can eat up days and days just trying to reach down to find bottom!

Richard’s dredge touched down on bedrock several times in the first few days. Each time, he recovered a nice showing of gold; mostly which consisted of bigger pieces than what we were finding on the Highway-96-side of the river. We were encouraged, but mainly overwhelmed by an endless flow of sand sliding into the sample excavations.

When I finally had more time to spend with Richard’s team, we began a sampling process of swimming around with mask and snorkel, free-diving (without hookah) down to survey the bottom of the river. We were looking for places that the boulders and hard-packed streambed were not buried in sand. This is accomplished easier without the added floatation of a wet-suit. Sometimes, in deeper water, we will do bottom surveys similar to this by operating the dredge at idle-speed to provide air for the divers, and just allow them to pull the dredge around by the suction nozzle until they find a location that looks like a good place to do a sample. In this case, a shore team usually has to work the side and rear tie-off lines from the dredge along the riverbank. The following two video sequences captured this important underwater prospecting activity as it all played out:

With some help from me, Richard’s team surveyed the bottom of the far side of the river for the longest way; perhaps a quarter-mile or so. We were looking for places along the river bottom where we could get some samples without having to move a lot of sand out of our way. As we started moving upstream, we found that the sand deposits were no longer present once we got to where the water was moving along in a steady flow.

With only a few days remaining in the Project, I was very motivated to try and tap some of those nuggets! The problem was that once we got upstream of the sand deposits, nearly the entire flow of the Klamath River was directly alongside the bank in about 20 feet of water on the far side. This created near-impossible (fast water) dredging conditions! Still, just to get an idea, Ray Derrick and I went down to give it a try. The water was so fast in that place, we were mostly down there holding onto upcroppings of bedrock, flapping like flags in a strong wind! But we kept at it hard enough to get a pretty good sample; and sure enough, there were a few bigger pieces of gold in the sample result.

The problem, though, was that we could not gain access to the high-grade gold deposit from the far side of the river. The water was just too fast over there. So we found ourselves having an important discussion on the bank of the river; the same discussion I have found myself having countless times before. We knew where the high-grade gold was. How could we get it off the bottom of the river?

Basically, we had two options: One was to drop further down river to where the water slowed enough to allow us to do some work. The other was to swing the dredge across the river and try and gain access to the deposit which we had already located from over there. This second option would require us to put divers in the river on one side of the river. Then, once the dredge was running, the divers would need to walk the suction hose nearly all the way across the river to do the dredging. Operationally, this was much more difficult than the first option. But with only a few days remaining in the Project, I felt more comfortable going after the sure thing in the second option. After all, we had just found some rice-sized pieces of gold in that sample!

Rigging-up for this exercise meant that we would need to keep a dredge tender on the dredge platform at all times, so he or she could knock plug-ups out for us without our having to pull the dredge all the way back across the river. We rigged the dredge with two ropes; one from upstream to keep the dredge from getting swept downriver by the current; and the other from the rear, to prevent the dredge from motor-boating beyond where we wanted it to position on the river. Otto captured the following video sequence as we completed the first encouraging sample out beyond the middle of the river:

One person was placed on each of the ropes with instructions to allow the dredge to follow us out beyond the middle of the river where we wanted to dredge. This is not hard to do, because you can get a pretty good idea where the divers are by where their bubbles are surfacing. The dredge had a 25-foot suction hose which was clamped tightly to the power jet. So, as long as they allowed a little slack in the lines, they would allow us to drag the dredge out to where we wanted to go. We worked it out after a little trial and error; and soon we were back out within a few yards of where Ray and I had taken a sample off the far side about an hour or so earlier. The following video sequence captured how we were able to dredge high-grade on the far side of the river. Check out the nice nuggets we were finding out there!

But this time, since we were dredging from the slack-water side of the river, we had almost no fast current to contend with. We were making progress!

Without the fast current to slow us down, we were able to get a good sample finished in about an hour. Sure enough, when we checked the sluice box, there were some nice pieces of gold there to pay for all the effort! We were getting gold nuggets!

But now we had a new problem: The slack-side of the river we were launching from was actually a great big, slow-moving back eddy; and the silty water from our tailings was washing back around to completely eliminate underwater visibility throughout the entire distance between the bank where we were launching from, and the fast water on the far side of the river. So, getting back to the bank from the place we were dredging meant having to traverse almost all the way across the river in zero visibility. The water was deep and pitch dark (on the bottom) out there!

Traversing back out from the bank to the underwater work area through zero visibility was even harder, because it meant that we had to find the dredge excavation. This was not going to be easy!

After coming up with the first good sample result, the second underwater crew completely failed in their attempt to find the underwater work site. We all watched in amazement as their bubbles showed that they were all over the place down there; just about everywhere but where the work site was. Ultimately, both divers decided that they were not up to the task.

As the work site was actually out in the river’s current, that area was not being clouded-out by the tailings water. It was only the large slack-water area in-between the bank and the current (nearly all the way across the river) where we could not see a thing (near total darkness). It was a long way to go in the dark!

Crawling around along the bottom of a river in the pitch black can draw some serious, primal fear out of you. Do you remember those really nasty nightmares you had when you were just a little kid? That sort of thing! I suspect this has to do with deep, hidden genetic memories, perhaps from times long ago when human beings were not at the top of the food chainâ?¦

I have experienced a lot of deep, dark-water adventures in my time. It always scares the heck out of me! It is definitely not something the average participant in these Dredging Projects signs on to do!

So after our second team failed to get out to the site where we were finding the gold nuggets, we found nearly all of our project crew in a serious discussion about what to do. Several participants felt like they were up to the task. Mario Marroqim volunteered to give it a try, even though up until just a few days before, he had never even breathed from a hookah system before. Ultimately, Mario got out there without any problem.

After seeing the gold from that sample, quitting was not an option that was even considered by the team. It was just a matter of working out who and how we were going to do it. These more difficult conditions required us to pause and catch our breath.

Thursday found us with several teams of divers ready to take shifts on the Dahlke dredge, along with a more-experienced shore crew that had already learned to play out the dredge lines to allow the dredge to follow the divers nearly all the way across the dark river. Since the divers could not see anything underwater in the slack-water area, we worked out a system whereby they would hold onto the suction nozzle together and just crawl out towards the far side as fast and straight as they could go, until they felt the river’s current. As the current was flowing clean water, visibility would return just as soon as they got out there. Then it was just a matter of following the current up or downstream until the excavation was located.

Pretty soon, we were spending more time dredging, than planning – and the gold nuggets started adding up. Here follow 2 video sequences that were captured as we were cleaning up some beautiful gold nuggets from several different dives:

Morale was very high on Thursday afternoon when it was time to dump-off the dredge-sluice from the day’s run. Besides recovering some really nice gold, we all felt a strong sense of team-camaraderie, knowing that we had overcome something difficult together; something that required courage and teamwork. It was a good feeling of accomplishment.

It subtracts too much time to do a final clean-up of gold production every day. So we allow all of our concentrates to accumulate in a bucket, and we deal with all of it on the final day. Friday’s clean-up on this Project was particularly challenging, because most of the week’s gold production was in fine gold.

All participants always participate in the final clean-up steps. This is because there is a lot of work involved with separating all of the gold from all of the black (iron) sands. When we had all of the week’s gold concentrated down into a single gold pan, I would have bet anyone that we had accumulated at least a pound. It really looked like a lot!

The following video sequence captured the steps that we usually follow during a final clean-up. Check out how much gold looks to be in that gold pan!

Ultimately, though, by the time we removed all the black sand from the week’s production, we ended up with a total of 4.92 ounces. There were 1.4 ounces of nuggets. The largest nugget weighed 2 pennyweights.

While we have recovered more gold in other Projects, I don’t ever recall another time when the participants needed to overcome more difficult circumstances to win the prize. This was one of those few times in life where the accomplishment in itself, along with the shared experiences, were worth as much as the gold.

 

 

By Dave McCracken

Before vack-machines arrived on the scene, we had to clean the bedrock traps using wisk-brooms, wash-brushes and sometimes even toothbrushes.

Dave Mack

This story is dedicated to Mary Taylor, who is one of the most enthusiastic and dedicated gold prospectors that I have ever met. Mary will always be a welcome participant on any of the group mining projects that we organize!

Happy Camp is a great place to be during the summer months. The weather is nice. The water in the river is low, allowing optimum access to high-grade gold deposits alongside the edge of the waterway.

There were nine of us participating on this surface mining project during the early days of August. By surface mining, I mean prospecting for and developing gold deposits that are located outside of the active waterway. We do six 2-day (weekend) surface mining group projects and one or two week-long surface group mining projects each season. We also do several week-long dredging projects. Everyone who participates is rewarded with an equal share of all the gold that is recovered during a project.

Even though we usually recover plenty of gold, most people that participate say the team-building and learning experiences during these projects are worth more than gold.

I find that we generally do as good on these projects as we are able to pull together in a team effort. So I was optimistic at the beginning of the week that we were going to recover plenty of gold on this project. Everyone showed up eager to work and enthusiastic about just being there.

Having well over 60 miles of mining property to choose from (actually 120 miles when you count both sides of the river), we have plenty of choices where to do our surface mining projects. This time, though, we decided that we would begin on the far side of the Klamath River, just downstream from Savage Rapids, on K-15A. This claim was named the “Mega-Hole” years ago, because it produced so much gold for so many members. In fact, the area across the river where we were going to start had previously been thoroughly mined by members during the early 90’s.

Several days before this project started, I was driving past the Mega-Hole and spotted a lady walking up the bank towards the road with a bunch of prospecting supplies in her arms. So I pulled right over to speak with her. I seldom pass up an opportunity to speak to members who are actively prospecting or mining along our claims. This is how I gather most of the information which adds up to the hot prospecting leads that we follow during these group projects!

Anyway, she showed me a pretty impressive amount of gold that she had panned on the far side of the river. Her husband was in the process of paddling their small raft across the river with a second load of prospecting gear. He had even more gold than his wife to show for his effort. I could see where they had been digging. The amount of gold they recovered was impressive for what they had done.

The interesting thing is that the area where they were digging had already been mined by members in the past!

As we were talking alongside the road, Jake Urban and Lily Fuller pulled their vehicle off the highway to see what was going on. Jake and Lily are long-time active New 49’er members and very experienced prospectors. So they also know better than to drive past New 49’er members who are discussing gold prospects alongside the road.

The next day, Jake and Lily told me that they had already crossed the river with gold pans to check out the area. They told me that the whole bar on the other side appeared to consist of hard-packed streambed that was paying with gold. So we came up with the theory that the whole area must have been re-deposited with hard-pack and high-grade gold during the big flood of 1997. This was good!
So that’s where we found ourselves on the first day of this group mining project. Our plan was to begin with some pan-sampling on the bar across the river. We were using one of the Club’s large rubber rafts. If we didn’t find something exciting over there, using the raft, we were going to continue sampling the far side of the river on down through K-15A and into the “Glory Hole” (K-15). The Glory Hole is an extension of the rich Mega-Hole area. Having a full week to prospect around, we were confident that we would find some high-grade to work in that 2-mile stretch of river. That whole area is very productive for surface mining, because there is so much exposed bedrock everywhere. A lot of the other side has never been touched, because a boat or raft is required to get gear over there.

It only took about 15 minutes on the far side of the river before I started hearing hoops and hollers from those who had already started taking pan samples. In fact, the gold was rich enough that the participants immediately started firing up their vack-mining machines.

Vack-mining machines are powerful motorized vacuums which have been adapted to suck rocks, sand and gravel up into a 5-gallon bucket. Sometimes they are called “dry-land dredges.” Vack-machines allow you to clean out the inside of cracks and crevices along the bedrock where concentrations of gold are often trapped during major flood storms. Before vack-machines arrived on the scene, we had to clean the bedrock traps using wisk-brooms, wash-brushes and sometimes even toothbrushes. Those days are now pretty-much over.

Vack-mining exposed bedrock to recover high-grade gold alongside active waterways is growing in popularity amongst modern gold prospectors, especially with people that do not wish to dredge in the active river. It is less difficult to do than pick-and-shovel mining, but can be more productive in the right kind of areas.

Normally during these projects, I manage every phase of the program; especially at the point where we switch from sampling to production. But the excitement over the gold everyone was finding did not allow me the opportunity this time. Within the first hour of being on the other side of the river, the participants had already organized themselves into a production team and were asking me to bring the high-banker over in the raft.

Mostly, they were finding hard-packed streambed material that was around a foot deep on top of bedrock. Fine and flake gold were disbursed throughout the hard-pack, but the richest values were inside the bedrock traps. Those using the Vack-machines were doing a great job to get the gold out of those cracks!

We worked out a team program where several of us were shoveling material into buckets and loading them to a single high-banker. Two others were processing the material through the high-banker. And several others were using vack-machines to thoroughly clean the bedrock. Once an area was finished, we rolled the rocks back generally to their original places to reclaim the area.

A high-banker is a surface mining recovery devise that we use to process gravels. The trick is to feed material at a uniform rate so that gold recovery is optimized. Our team was in the spirit of doing things right even before we set the high-banker up! It did not take us long to get into a steady pace whereby the high-banker was processing material at about the same speed as we were able to deliver it up in buckets. We were in production even before lunch on the first day!

As is usually the case, my long-time, very experienced assistants, Craig Colt and Dick Bendtzen, were participating on this project. Under normal circumstances, they do a lot of the work in the early stages of prospecting to help us locate a high-grade deposit. That was not necessary this time around. Once we got things started, Dick devoted some effort to locate the outside boundaries of the pay-streak that we were working. You do this by extending pan-samples outward until you discover where the gold deposit is not as rich. The pay-streak turned out to be pretty large; about 30 feet wide by about 70 feet long! Once the boundaries were established, we focused on working only the hard-pack inside the known pay-streak.

Craig, being the younger guy on our team, usually sets the work pace when we get into production. This also was not necessary on this project, because Mary Taylor had already established a respectable pace even before Craig stepped off the raft!

As the days went by, we fell into a routine, cleaning up the higher-grade portion of the recovery system when we broke for lunch, and then the whole recovery system at the end of each day. We were using gold pans to work our concentrated material down far enough to get a look at the gold we were recovering. It was good! All the concentrates were saved in a bucket until the last day of the project.

Under normal circumstances on these projects, we usually sample around for a day or two before we locate a deposit that is rich enough to develop with a production plan. In this way, participants gain valuable exposure to the sampling process. So about mid-way through the week on this particular project, I started getting concerned that the participants were not going to experience any sampling activity.

I like to engage participants in some debate concerning all of the important decisions we make on these projects. The reason is that the choices we must make are similar in most prospecting programs. Each choice is a crossroads which will have an important impact upon the final result. Including everyone in the ongoing decision-making process includes an educational perspective that can be helpful later when participants go off on their own.

When I brought up the idea of quitting the area about mid-week to go look for some new deposits, there was not much of a debate. This was the richest gold deposit the participants had ever mined. We were staying!

It takes too long to do a full clean-up of our gold every day during these projects. So we save the concentrates from the high-banker until the final day, and then we clean them up back at the office. All participants help with every step of the process. We use several devices to remove as much of the iron particles as possible, dry the final material and then do a final separation using a magnet and a mild blowing action.

Separating the gold from the final concentrate and splitting it all up is always the highlight of the week. It is when we all experience the rewarding feelings associated with being part of a team spirit while recovering some of mother-nature’s golden treasure. True and lasting friendships are made on these projects.

 

 

By Dave McCracken General Manager

Dave Mack
 
 

There were 11 of us involved with this particular Week-long Dredging Project. Our team included Craig Colt, Jason and Andrew Inks as individual dredge supervisors, and Otto Gaither as the Project’s shore boss. Over time, we have found that our dredging projects go a lot better when we have an experienced operator supervising each dredge, along with a shore boss that looks after all of the ongoing support needs on the river and in the camp. This leaves me free to work with beginners, coordinate the sampling program, and then push production forward as soon as we locate some high-grade gold.

Craig Colt and I had invested some time the week before, working out where we would launch this Project. New strikes are being made by active members of The New 49’ers all the time along the Club’s extensive mining properties. We pay very close attention to this; because once someone establishes the existence of high-grade in a section of river, it opens up a whole new perspective on where we are likely to discover more high-grade within the immediate area.

We have worked out a sampling program in these Projects that always works. So, how much gold we are going to recover basically comes back to how good the area is where we decide to launch the project in the first place. There is always some risk, though. This is because we never really know how much gold is present until the work is done.

There is not enough time in a week to change our minds and start all over again in a whole new area. So we must choose our area with care. In choosing an area, Craig and I must balance the desire for uncovering rich high-grade gold, with the risk of maybe not finding any high-grade at all. Finding nothing is the nightmare that we have managed to avoid on every project so far. We want to keep it that way!

After weighing all the options, Craig and I decided we were going to launch this Project into the lower-end of K-14. This is an area on the Klamath River just upstream from Portuguese Creek. That is about 20 miles upriver from Happy Camp. There were 2 very serious high-grade discoveries in there a few years ago. Several members were recovering ounces and ounces of nuggets along a bedrock shelf on the edge of the Highway-96 side of the river. They were using 5-inch dredges, although the work could have easily been done with 3-inch dredges, because the water and material were very shallow. Several other members were dredging a rich fine and flake-gold pay-streak using an 8-inch dredge from the far side of the river. But we never saw anyone work the river in the middle, between the two pay-streaks. Craig and I swam that section of the river with mask & snorkel, doing a thorough survey of the bottom. It looked good!

We work hard to prepare in advance for each of these Group Mining Projects. To get a head start, we launched the 8-inch dredge well in advance. This is the piece of equipment which takes the most time to set up. Our dredge supervisors and shore boss went through all our gear several days in advance. We bought all the supplies and fuel necessary to get us through the week. Everything was ready to go!

Then, the day before we were to begin, an oil tanker truck was involved in an accident about 25 miles upstream of our intended project site, and spilled some unknown amount of chemical substance into the river. This prompted the local authorities to issue a heath advisory, telling swimmers and rafters that they should avoid going into the river downstream of the spill.

So there went another perfectly good (great) mining plan! Although we will probably resurrect it during his next season, if nobody else beats us into that location.

All of this created somewhat of an emergency situation where our dredge supervisors and I found ourselves down on the river after dark on the night before the project, using two winches to pull our 8-inch dredge out of the river, up the side of a rather steep embankment, and onto the road. We needed to do this to keep from losing the first full day of the project!

Saturday morning found us back in Happy Camp, doing orientation and planning with all of our team partners in this Project. Everybody adjusted quickly to the news that we were going to go back up to UK-3. We coordinated a plan to get all the gear and camping outfits moved up to the Club’s camping location near the UK-Claims. Most of us drove up there in a long parade of trailered dredges and RV’s. That was really something to see!

After allowing everyone a while to set up camp on Saturday afternoon, we all drove down to look over our options along the UK-claims. We had to figure out where we were going to launch this project. Since we were starting this process over again right from the beginning, I took the time to explain everything important that I already knew about these claims along the upper Klamath River; where other members had already made high-grade discoveries, and where I believed the best opportunities were located.

It didn’t take us long to decide that we would drop back behind where we had done a very successful dredging project last year. Lee Kracher and his family had also operated several dredges in the same area the year before, and they had recovered a lot of gold. Our plan was to drop back just behind where they had been dredging. As good as they had done, it seemed reasonable that we would find something good just downriver.

So we devoted the remaining part of the first day launching a 5-inch, 6-inch and an 8-inch dredge into the river. Getting the 8-incher in required us to winch the dredge (using a trailer) down an embankment. This was a bit of a challenge, but we worked it all out pretty fast. Years ago, we mounted an electric winch in the back of a truck that we rigged up to support these mining programs. That winching system helps us gain access (with dredges and boats) to some of the more remote areas of the river. Being able to get your gear in and out of difficult areas without much trouble increases your sampling options!

  

The second day found our entire team getting started down on the river. We split the crew into three teams. The most experienced guys joined Craig on the 8-inch dredge. Those with some previous experience teamed up with Jason on the 6-inch dredge. Andrew and I planned to work with beginners on the 5-inch dredge for the first few days over in the shallow part of the river.

While these Dredging Projects are not classes or training events, it still remains necessary for us to show participants how to do the things that they need to do to contribute to the forward motion of the mining program. Some participants do not want to go underwater. Although, I will say that many change their minds about this when they see how fast other beginners take to it. For those who will support the program from the surface, we take the necessary time to show them how to do that part of the job. In this way, it does not take very long for helpers on the surface to become a strong and important part of the program

We also take the necessary time to help beginners through the early stages of getting themselves underwater. Doing this requires shallow water where we can help participants to get accustomed to the underwater environment in a location which is shallow enough that a person can lift his or her head out of the water anytime it feels necessary. This removes most of the immediate fear of drowning, so that the person can better-focus on the skills involved.

Every human being has a basic fear of the water. Some of us don’t feel that fear until some panic situation arises. For others, intense fear can be energized at just the thought of putting your head underwater. This is actually pretty normal. Through long experience, we have discovered that the key to helping someone through this is by beginning with some activity that the person is comfortable with. This might start with just sitting down along the edge of the river and getting comfortable breathing through the hookah regulator. Then, in a step-by-step process, just allowing the person some personal time to become comfortable with each step along the way, we will soon have the person breathing from the hookah regulator in shallow water. The rest is easy.

The main purpose for helping beginners to get comfortably through these first stages is that they will soon become very productive partners on the dredging program. By mid-way through the week on these projects, most beginners are already playing an important roll in the team effort to locate and recover high-grade gold.

We used a small boat and outboard motor to move dredges around during this project. This saves us time in swimming ropes across the river and pulling gear and supplies across. With the boat, we just hook onto the dredge and pull it anywhere we want to go. Sometimes, we put the dredge’s suction nozzle in the boat and just drag the dredge around backwards by the suction hose. This allows us to quickly reposition the dredges in an ongoing sampling plan without having to waste valuable time and energy in disconnecting and reconnecting the suction hoses every time the dredges are moved. All of this adds up to more productive activity.

Otto captured the following video sequences as we were using the boat to move our dredges around:

Craig’s crew wasted no time in setting up the 8-inch dredge on the far side of the river. Their first test hole was put down into high-grade gold not far off the stream bank. The streambed material over there was less than 3 feet on top of some rough bedrock. Those

guys came up hooping & hollering after the very first dive! I remember thinking, “Wow, this is going to be an easy week!”When I went over to take a look, they already had a good showing of gold in their pan for just the little work they had done! So I encouraged Craig’s team to drop the 8-inch dredge further downstream to see if they could pick up an extension of the high-grade.

Jason and his team set up the 6-inch dredge on the Klamathon Road-side of the river. Jason then went out into the river on an extended airline to do an underwater survey. This is a drill where we attach 2 airlines together so the person can get out as much as 90 or 100 feet into the river away from the dredge. While the dredge is operating at idle (to provide air to the diver), with his lead weights on, Jason crawled out to take a good look at the river-bottom in the area where we wanted to get a good sample. Normally when we do this, we are looking for places where the bedrock is exposed along the bottom of the river. This allows us to target sample locations where we know that streambed depth will not extend beyond our reach. While crabbing around out there on the bottom, Jason found a place where someone else had already dredged a sample hole to the bedrock in about 5 feet of hard-packed streambed material. He and his team were lucky. They would have an opportunity to get a sample out there without having to dredge an entire sample hole from scratch. This saved them about a full day of work!

Like Craig’s crew on the other side of the river, Jason’s team was cheering their results by the end of our first day on the river. Except that Jason’s crew was finding nice gold nuggets! The following video sequence was captured as Jason’s team was just pulling the first nuggets from their sluice box:

Andrew and I were not recovering very much gold on the 5-inch dredge over near the edge of the river; but by the end of the first day, all of our beginners had progressed to spending some time dredging underwater. This was a good beginning!

It took another day before all of our beginners had graduated to the 6-inch dredge. This required us to move a few of Jason’s guys over to the 8-inch dredge. Consequently, both dredges could be operated in shifts all day long. After that, we just used the 5-inch dredge to provide extra air for the divers.

As often happens, the two dredging teams quickly evolved into some friendly competition. While it is nearly impossible for a 6-inch dredge to match the production (nearly double) of an 8-inch dredge, Jason’s team gave Craig’s team a good run for their money all week long. This was because the stronger line of beautiful nuggets was running down Jason’s side of the river. The following video sequence captured how much excitement was going around while we recovered all that beautiful gold:

There was a little frustration during the first few days on Craig’s dredge, because the pay-streak was not as rich when they dropped back and dredged another sample hole. It is always hard to drop back on a high-grade pay-streak. We do it to block-out a whole section of high-grade material in front of us. This is kind of like having money in a bank account! Otherwise, you can dredge forward and drop tailings all over the best gold!

Since several of the participants in this Project were planning to stay around for another week or two after we finished (using their own dredges to work the pay-streak), it seemed worth the effort to drop back and provide them with some good high-grade to dredge when our week together was over. It took about 3 sample holes for Craig’s team to work it all out. After that was accomplished, they were hooping & hollering on Craig’s dredge for the rest of the week.

Because the streambed material was deeper where Jason got started, we did not bother to drop the 6-inch dredge back on the pay-streak. That would have taken too much of our limited time. So there will be plenty more high-grade to go back to during the upcoming season. We will do another Project in there unless someone else beats us to it!!

This was kind of an unusual dredging Project, in that we were recovering nice gold from our first day of operating dredges on the river. More often, it takes us several days of progressive, coordinated sampling to walk our way into a rich pay-streak. Still, we had some interesting challenges to overcome in developing this gold deposit. The richest portion clearly was located in the middle of the river where the water-flow was stronger. There were some big rocks out there that we needed to roll back. All of this took a serious, coordinated effort. The following video sequences will give you the reality that these are serious mining projects where everyone on the team is usually tested:

With all of the beginners integrated into the two production teams, and the friendly competition between the two dredges to find the most and best gold each day, this group evolved into a tight-knit team by mid-week. Nearly everyone was camped in the Club camping area located just up the road from where we were dredging. Evenings found us enjoying meals together over at Otto’s camp. We set up chairs near his barbeque, so we could enjoy the beautiful sunsets. There was a lot of excited conversation about the gold we were recovering – and the additional gold which must also be in that section of K-3. Otto is one of the best BBQ cooks I have ever met! He is always there with a friendly smile and helpful hand. So shared some nice, relaxing evenings after working hard on the river each day.

Our team was so grooved-in and organized by Thursday, that I found myself with nearly nothing to do. In fact, I was so bored, that I drank my whole thermos of coffee before noon, and had to go back to camp and brew up another pot! I am never comfortable just sitting around with nothing to do when there is productive activity going on all around me. Usually, on these Projects, there is an opportunity for me to take a short dive or two every day. I like to jump in and help with the sampling process. I like to jump in and operate the production dredge alongside a good support team that knows what to do. I get a big charge watching gold uncovered from a rich pay-streak!

But I found myself a spectator up in the boat on Thursday afternoon. There was no place for me on the dredges. This team had taken completely over. They knew exactly what to do to prevent any momentum from being lost. They had it together so well, that I couldn’t even make any suggestions how to improve things. So I resigned myself to work on my sun tan up in the boat, while sitting back proudly watching my team. These partners were so good, that if we went another day, we would have had to split-off a third team onto the 5-inch dredge just to make the most out of them.

Just to give them all a good run for their money, on Thursday afternoon, I challenged anyone to dive in on a breath of air, swim out to the middle of the river, and walk the 6-inch suction hose to the bank against the strong pull of the river. This is quite a challenging task. Not having done much that day, I was hoping to demonstrate for everybody how it is done. But Andrew succeeded on his first try.

At camp that night, we all agreed that we would use the final day to remove our gear from the river and do a final gold clean-up. As our project site was far from any road access points where we could back a trailer down to the river, we would normally break down the dredges and pack individual components up the hill. But this crew was so geared-up by now, that we packed the entire dredges up to the road without breaking them down! It only took us a few hours to remove all of our gear from the river.

We also helped several of the participants to move their personal dredges down the hill, so they could pick up in the pay-streak right from where we left off on the project. Other members were also moving in to take up positions not far up and downstream from where we were working. Smart moves! There was a lot of excitement going around!

  

We accumulate our clean-ups all week inside of a 5-gallon bucket and save it all for the final day. It would subtract too much productive-time during the week if we were to perform a final clean-up every day. So we always allow the afternoon on Friday to do the final clean-up and split-off the gold evenly amongst all the participants. The following video sequences demonstrate that the final separation and gold-split are a fantastic way to end off on one of these projects. Receiving a split of the gold is a very satisfying acknowledgement for all of the hard work:

Friday afternoon found our entire crew doing the final clean-up process together up at camp. In all, we recovered 99.2 pennyweights (4.96 ounces) in beautiful gold, of which there were 27.9 pennyweights of nice nugget material. Each person received some of the nuggets. Everyone was happy with their individual shares. But I believe everyone was even more excited about the team experience and lasting friendships that we created on this project.

After doing a group photo, those of us that had to leave said our goodbyes and broke camp. The others stayed around to work the gold deposit. Other members were arriving just in time to take up our camping spots as we were pulling out.

 

 

By Dave McCracken General Manager

Dave Mack

 

 

We have learned over the years that no matter how good some mining property is, most beginners and moderately-experienced prospectors might need a little help in figuring out how to locate high-grade gold deposits. This is partly because different geographical areas may have been affected by different types and magnitudes of geological events which may have deposited gold in different ways. While the fundamentals will be the same everywhere, finding high-grade gold deposits in our part of the world may require a different prospecting focus than elsewhere.

Some people arrive in Happy Camp who have never even prospected for gold before. Some have never seen gold in its raw state. Some who arrive do not even believe there is any gold left to be found! Just about everyone arrives needing some amount of assistance in understanding how successful gold prospecting is being accomplished along our mining properties.

This is why we started organizing weekend group mining projects, and have been scheduling them throughout each mining season for the past 20 years. We know how important it is for members to get off to the right start on our mining properties. So I personally join in and supervise nearly all of these weekend projects, myself. I also get a lot of help from other experienced members who enjoy going out on a weekend and finding gold; sometimes, lots of it.

We had a number of experienced helpers along on this particular weekend project. Otto Gaither is often referred to as “The High-banker Kid.” That’s because his personal high-banking machine is always producing in good gold. Otto has been helping out on all of the weekend projects for several years. Craig Colt has also been helping for years. Craig’s nick name on the river is “The Nose.” This is because Craig can smell-out a high-grade pay-streak better than anyone else that I know. While we went into one of Otto’s favorite high-banking areas on this project, it was Craig that found the rich gold deposit. Together, we make a great management team for these weekend gold mining projects!

 

The way that Craig finds these gold deposits, is that he just aggressively follows our basic sampling plan. It is the very same plan that we use in all of our gold mining projects. This is a simple plan that we have developed over many, many years of serious prospecting. Because it is the plan that will get you into high-grade gold every time, we devote a big part of these weekend projects explaining and demonstrating for everyone how it is done. In fact, this is the reason we organize these projects in the first place; to get as many members as possible following a sampling plan that works!

Our weekend high-banking projects are free. But you must be either a Full, Associate or Affiliate Member to participate. Each participant receives an equal share of all the gold that we recover on Sunday.

Weekend projects begin at 9 am on Saturday morning. Participants arrive at our headquarters (from all over the world), and are directed down to the Happy Camp Lions Hall where there is a comfortable place to sit down. A fresh pot of hot coffee is always ready to go. After introductions, we devote the remainder of Saturday morning to a discussion about where we will be going, and about how we will all be working together to locate a high-grade gold deposit. Using a chalkboard to demonstrate the theory, I invest a few hours into providing a substantial explanation of what the basic sampling plan is, and why this plan will always lead you into high-grade (as long as high-grade exists within the area that you are prospecting). I make it a point to answer any and all questions.

After lunch, we meet back at headquarters and carpool to whatever mining property we have chosen for the project. Sometimes we use a boat to get everyone across the river.


This particular project found us prospecting on the Highway 96-side of upper K-15A, otherwise known as the “Upper Mega-Hole.” Participants are supposed to bring their own basic prospecting tools, and especially a gold pan. They should wear clothes and foot ware that they don’t mind getting dirty and wet. A container or two of drinking water is always a good idea!

After everyone is gathered together out on the mining property, I take a moment to relay all or most of

the important information that we have collected from previous mining activity in the area. This is veryimportant; because knowing where others have found high-grade in the past will allow everyone a head start in being able to find more during the project.

Because gold is very heavy, it follows a common path down the waterway, and nearly always deposits along the bottom-edge of hard-packed layers of streambed. So if you know where others have already found high-grade in the area, you then know where to target your samples to find it again. This is what the basic sampling plan is all about! Since we do not have much time on a 2-day project, my personal mission is to direct as much energy as possible towards the areas where the gold is most likely to be found. The following video sequence captured some of our beginning moments as we began sampling for high-grade:

Once we are out there, the first thing everyone needs to do is demonstrate that they can operate a gold pan well. The remainder of Saturday will be devoted to locating a rich gold deposit with the use of gold pans. If your panning method is not capturing every speck of gold, you can easily miss the pay-streak even if you place your samples right down in the middle of a good deposit!

So after providing a panning demonstration to everyone who wanted to see it, I devoted the first hour or so just going around and critiquing everyone’s panning methods. Otto also helps with this. It usually comes down to just a few people who need some extra help. We focus on that until everyone in the program knows how to pan for gold without losing any in the process.

Since it is also important that we find high-grade before Saturday is finished out on the river, Craig and other experienced helpers usually get started in a serious sampling effort as soon as we get out on the river. This day was no different. Craig disappeared soon after we arrived on the river. So, as soon as everyone was panning alright, I went hunting for Craig to see if he had made any important gold strikes, yet. I found him towards the upper-end of K-15A. Craig was digging around the top layer of big rocks within the top layer of hard-pack.

Hard-packed streambed viewed from the surface.
Fortunately, most of the high-grade gold deposits that we find in surface mining (out of the water) are located around the top layer of imbedded rocks. I say “fortunately” because it means you usually do not need to dig very deep to recover the gold. We believe most of the gold that we find in this top layer of hard-pack is gold that has washed down during large winter storms. This is why some prospectors call it “flood gold.” Imbedded rocks which protrude up through the surface layer form natural riffles. Gold being washed downstream during high-water becomes trapped between the rocks. Sampling is mainly a matter of freeing-up the top layer of embedded rocks, and panning the gravel-material that is between and just under them.

Craig was busy following the basic sample plan when I found him. He had placed himself in the same path, just a short distance upstream from where some earlier prospector had made a strike. Craig was gathering his sample along the bottom of the same layer of streambed that the other prospector was finding his gold. As Craig was digging in hard-pack, he already knew that no other prospector had been there since the flood layer was created by a major flood storm (probably the great flood of 1964)

In gold prospecting, the bigger the sample, the more accurate and dependable the result is going to be. Since we cannot make our gold pans bigger, we compensate by using a classification screen to eliminate larger-sized gravel and rocks. This allows us to double or triple the amount of gold-bearing-sized material that we actually process in the pan. Craig was screening his sample into his gold pan through an 8-mesh screen. The larger-sized material was being tossed to the side of where he was digging.

I showed up just in time to watch Craig work his sample down in the gold pan. And sure enough, there was a good showing of gold in the pan; 3 or 4 nice middle-sized flakes. Craig told me that the previous several pans were about the same. So Craig had already made a strike for this weekend project, just in case we were not able to find something better during the next few hours. This was good; my worries were pretty-much over for this project! Craig is my personal insurance plan that we will always recover some amount of gold on these projects!

Having been managing these prospecting events for more than 20 years, my worries come down to: (1) don’t hurt anyone, and (2) make sure everyone leaves knowing how to operate a gold pan, and (3) send everyone home with as much gold as possible!

Wandering back down to where most of the others were actively sampling, several participants already had some pretty encouraging results of their own to show me. This is always the most rewarding part of the weekend for me. My job out there is to look at and compare the results of all the sampling. Someone is always finding something that looks encouraging. So, I ask others who have not been finding very much to help expand the sampling effort where we are finding more gold. Within an hour or so, we usually have everyone out there doing pan-samples in several different strikes. There can be a lot of excitement to go along with this. This is especially true with people who have never found their own gold before!

Here is a video sequence that captured how we were all working together to establish some high-grade gold:

One of the most valuable things we do during these weekend projects is show all of the participants exactly what hard-packed streamed is. “Hard-pack” is streambed that is formed by a major flood storm after pay-streaks are already formed. There is a world of difference between loose material or tailings from earlier mining activity, and naturally-formed streambed material (hard-pack). It is vital to know the difference, because almost all of the high-grade gold you will find along New 49’er mining properties will be located at the bottom-edge of one or more layers of hard-packed streambed. Knowing what to look for allows you to target your sampling activity at the right areas.

Another very important thing we do in these weekend projects is demonstrate how to place a relative value upon the amount of gold that is being found in a pan-sample. It is not unusual for a person to walk up with a great sample result, and say, “I didn’t get very much!” And it’s true that there is not very much gold in the pan. But that small amount of gold is only from about a single shovel of streambed material. That is a very small volume! Getting 4 or 5 nice little flakes of gold in a single pan can relate to a half-ounce or more of gold on Sunday when we have a dozen people shoveling the very same material into a high-banker!

 

A small showing of gold in a single pan-sample can add up to a lot of gold once you start processing more volume!

So, one of our goals during these projects is to help all of the participants gain the ability to relate how the gold found in pan-samples (on Saturday) will add up in a high-banker that will process more volume of the same material (on Sunday). While I am evaluating pan-sample results on Saturday afternoon, I make it a point to show around the sample results coming from the areas that we will work as a team on Sunday. I also try and get everyone to do some personal panning in those very same areas. This goes a long way to help beginners form a personal judgment about what is a good sample result when panning.

But on this particular day, most of the participants were totally absorbed in all the gold they were finding. Everyone gets to keep for themselves all the gold they find on Saturday afternoon. There was a lot of excitement going on; some people were yelling out their enthusiasm, having found their first-ever gold!

We do a weekly potluck gathering at the Happy Camp Lions hall nearly every Saturday evening during the season. The gathering starts at 6:30 pm, and we start dinner at around 7 pm. Then we do a short meeting and have a prize drawing. We have a lot of fun, and it gives members a chance for a weekly get-together.

Some members look to the Saturday evening potluck as the highlight of their week!

To give everyone some time to clean up and pull something together to contribute to the evening meal, we wrapped up the sampling program out on the river at around 4:30 pm. Some participants were having too much fun out there to quit when we did. Still, I did notice that they made it to the potluck in time for dinner! We filled the Lions hall that evening, as we usually do.

Sunday morning found our energetic group packing several motorized high-bankers over to where we had made our strikes the day before. A high-banker is basically a sluicing device which can be set up near to where you want to dig. This way, your pay-dirt can either be shoveled or dredged directly into the recovery system, rather than packed some distance across land. A motorized pump provides water to the system through a flexible pressure hose.

With all that help, it did not take us very long to get things set up. We split the group into three different teams, each to operate their own high-banker. It wasn’t long before team leaders on each crew organized the activity. Some people were tossing the top loose rocks into piles. Others were using picks and pry bars to loosen-up the top layer of hard-pack. Others were filling 5-gallon buckets about half-full and packing the pay-dirt just a short distance to the high-bankers. Others were pouring a steady feed of material into the high-bankers. There was a whole lot of productive activity going on! Check out the following video sequence:


Once I was sure the high-bankers were operating with the proper water flow, and that they were being fed with pay-dirt at a good speed (not too fast, not too slow), my focus turned to the tailings water coming off the high-bankers. Dirty water is not allowed to flow back into the river. This is something that always determines where we set up the high-bankers in the first place! In this case, we had found a location where natural contours up on the gravel bar had already created a place that would trap the dirty water. That water was seeping into the gravel bar about as fast as we were pumping it up there. So we were not going to have any worries about washing dirty water back into the river.

The other main job I have is to keep an eye on what participants are shoveling into the 5-gallon buckets that will be fed into the high-bankers. We only want high-grade material in those buckets! Once in a while, we get someone trying to help things along by shoveling sand or low-grade material into the buckets. That is counter-productive, because those low-grade buckets will ultimately be processed instead of other buckets that would contain high-grade material (more gold). Why do people do this? It’s usually because the loose material is easier to dig, and everyone wants to feel like they are helping.


You learn early in gold mining that you can work all day and not recover very much gold if you are shoveling the wrong kind of material! But this particular group had been listening when I talked to them about this, and they were focused upon filling buckets with material from the layer of streambed that we had identified as being the pay-dirt.

After a few hours of good hard work, we shut everything down for lunch and took a look in our recovery systems. There was lots of gold to be seen there. Some people were hooping and hollering, which is music to my ears. Enthusiasm is a good thing!


We don’t normally clean-up the recovery systems at lunch. This is because the process generally is time-consuming and would likely subtract from the amount of digging we can accomplish after lunch. After seeing all that gold, everyone ate just a little faster than normal so they could get back to work! This is pretty normal. Several participants were already filling buckets even before I finished my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Gold fever! Everyone was pretty excited!

 

We processed more pay-dirt for another hour and a half after lunch. I closely watched how things were going. It gets pretty hot out there on Sunday afternoon. When people start slowing down, I know its time to begin shutting things down for the day.
Of course, the first part of shutting things down involves removing all of the gold concentrates from each recovery system. This was the part everybody had worked so hard for all day! The following video sequence captured some of those magic moments as we all got our first good look at the gold that we had recovered:

While one part of the crew cleaned the concentrates from the recovery systems, everyone else pitched in by back-filling our excavations with the rocks that we had been carefully placing in piles all day. By the time we left the area, you could not tell we had ever even been digging or prospecting there. This is the right way to leave a prospecting excavation when you are finished with it!

This is what an area should look like after you have finished prospecting there!

Note: I returned there a few weeks later with the top minerals officer for the Klamath National Forest, and he was not able to point out any of the places where we had been mining!

We timed things so that we were back at headquarters in Happy Camp with our final concentrates at around 2:30 on Sunday afternoon. What do I mean by “concentrates?” Like most other gold recovery systems, high-bankers do not just recover the gold. They recover a concentrate of all the heavy materials which have been shoveled into them. Concentrates normally consist of some (iron) black sands, along with the gold that has been recovered.


Back at our headquarters in Happy Camp, our mission for Sunday afternoon was to separate all of our gold from the other concentrated material. We have a special garage area in the back of our building where this final clean-up process is accomplished. As this is something that every prospector needs to know how to do, we always invite all of the participants to either watch or help with the process. This enthusiastic group was all too ready to help!

We use a special device for final gold separation which is called the “Gold Extractor.” This is basically a finely-tuned, narrow sluice that uses very low-profile riffles. In 30 years as a serious prospector, I have never seen a more effective portable tool for reducing concentrates down to a very small volume (about the amount of a rounded tablespoon) – with zero loss of gold during the process. The whole idea is to reduce the amount of concentrates down to a small enough volume that can be dried for final separation.

Our most experienced panners went through the tailings from the Gold Extractor and were not able to locate a single speck of lost gold. Everyone was happy about that!

After drying our final concentrates, we passed them over a set of final clean-up classification screens to separate the material into several different sizes. The different sizes of concentrate were then placed on separate clean sheets of paper so we could carefully complete the final separation – mainly by gently blowing away the iron sands. This is usually not very hard to do, because the iron is about 3 times lighter than the gold.


By around 5 pm, we had all the gold cleaned up and on the weight scale. It weighted out at about 13.3 pennyweights. That’s almost 3/4 of an ounce. This was pretty good for about 3 ½ hours of hard work! It was especially good, being that none of us even knew that particular gold deposit existed on Saturday morning!


After taking a few moments to pat ourselves on the backs for a job well done, I carefully weighed the gold into equal shares for everyone who participated. I like to place the gold shares in small glass sample viles. But some people prefer to keep their shares in small zip lock baggies. Here is a video sequence that captured part of the final clean-up:



The project was over by 6 pm on Sunday evening. Some participants went away with the first gold they had ever found. Most went away with big smiles on their faces. Everyone went away with a full understanding of how successful gold prospecting is accomplished, from pan-sampling, to production-mining on a small scale, to final clean-up and gold separation. That was going help each of them to become more successful in their own prospecting activities.

 

 

 

By Dave McCracken


This Group Dredging Project took place towards the lower end of the Club’s K-11 claim (Hwy-96 mile marker 63.58) along the Klamath River, not far upriver from Schutt’s Gulch. This is located about 3 miles upriver from where Highway 96 crosses Seiad Creek, near the small town of Seiad.

We conducted another Group Dredging Project towards the upper-end of this claim earlier in the season and did pretty well. K-11 is a very productive section of river, both for dredging and surface-sluicing activity on the far side of the river. The claim is quite long; and despite lots of successful activity, I don’t believe that most of the area has even been adequately sampled yet.

I have had my eye on the lower-end of K-11 since all the way back to 1997, when founding Club member, Tony Steury, was dredging there with a 5-inch dredge, consistently recovering an ounce of gold per day. I was buying his gold, so I knew he was getting it. And because of that, I made a special visit to Tony’s dredging site one day, and even swam down into his excavation to get a first-hand look. Tony was dredging towards the road-side edge of the river, pretty near to the lower-end of K-11.

To my knowledge, no-one ever returned to the area where Tony was dredging to pick up what he might have missed. Tony’s gold was all flakes and fines. It was a lot of gold for the amount of material he was processing through his 5-inch dredge.

Over the years, I have swam down through the lower-end of K-11 with lots of different members who were participating in various group events, and I have always encouraged members to go back there and search for the gold Tony left behind. Tony only dredged in there for a few weeks, so he could not have cleaned the area out. But I have never seen anyone go back there.

That’s the thing about the The New 49’ers; we have so many available options, it takes a long time to get around to all of them!

Anyway, “Tony’s lost gold” was one of the primary targets we were considering for this Group Project. I figured we could find it with an organized group using 3 dredges to sample around the target area. So, a few days before this Group Project, Craig Colt and I were down standing along the edge of the river at Schutts Gulch, taking a hard look at the speed and depth of the water, access points, parking, camping and other things that are important to these Group Projects.

Group Projects require at least a few slow, shallow areas where we can work with less experienced miners. Projects sometimes require more parking than would normally be needed. They require the access to not be too difficult. These are all things we have to think about in advance. Because we don’t know everyone who will be on a Group Project until everyone shows up on Saturday morning, we have to plan for members that might not be up for difficult situations.

Craig and I spent most of a day comparing the lower-end of K-11 to another very promising-looking area towards the lower-end of K-9. Here is another area where few members have gone, and where the dredging prospects look fantastic! No question that we will do a Group Dredging Project on K-9 in the near future.

Anyway, after spending the better part of a day weighing and balancing the two areas, Craig and I decided we would do this Group Project at K-9. It really looked the best for what we wanted to do.

But on our way back to Happy Camp, we saw a 5-inch dredge floating out on the river towards the lower-end of K-11; perhaps 100-yards upstream of where Tony Steury made his big strike. So we stopped to talk with the member, Bruce Johnson, who was dredging there. He showed us his gold, which consisted of plenty of fines and flakes, with some nice, crystalline nuggets. Wow!

Bruce told us he was getting his gold from around some larger rocks in a hard-packed layer around three feet into the material. The water was only about 6-feet deep out where Bruce was dredging. Bruce told us emphatically that he did not have any problem with the Group Project moving in around him, since he was about to finish his season, anyway. In fact, he said he would welcome the company.

So Craig and I immediately did the smart thing; we asked Bruce if we could operate his dredge for an hour or so, allowing him to keep any gold that we found. With no hesitation, Bruce agreed to allow us the use of his dredge. So Craig and I jumped right into his hole and started dredging without any further delay.

There is an important lesson in this: The New 49’ers is a highly-active mining association, with very expansive property reserves. The choices of where to go are endless. For better success, it is important to narrow the choices to the best-possible prospects any way you can. The most effective way I know to do this, is to get right down inside of an active mining excavation that is recovering high-grade gold. Then you can see for yourself what the streambed layers look like, and where the gold is coming from. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Members often ask me how I am able to readily locate high-grade pay-streaks on New 49’er claims. There is no secret to this. I pay attention to every strike that is made on our claims. Whenever possible, when there is a new strike, I go right down and look at where the gold is coming from, what streambed layers are involved, how wide the pay-streak is, how much volume is being processed, and how the deposit lines out in the waterway. These are things that I never forget!

My memory is poor on some things. But I never forget the details of where someone finds gold! Because I know I can always go back to those same areas with a sampling team and pick up where the earlier miners left off – either at one end of the pay-streak, or a little further up or downstream, where the next pay-streak is located.

The nice thing about a Group Project is that I can direct a dozen or so people, using several dredges, in a very-organized sampling program that is targeted to re-establish a gold-line that has already been found before.

So when Bruce offered to allow Craig and I to use his dredge to have a look at a pay-streak he was actively mining, we wasted no time getting into the water. Bruce told us that most of his gold was coming from the contact zone on top of a really hard-packed grey layer down about three feet into the streambed material. He said he could see the gold sitting right on top of the grey layer. It didn’t take but about 15 minutes for Craig and I to work a top-cut (reaching out and working about 4 or 5-square feet of material off the front of Bruce’s dredge hole) down to the grey layer. Sure enough, we saw the pieces of gold sitting right on top of the grey material. That’s all we needed to see!

The wonderful thing about our mining group is that we have so many really nice people associated with us as active members. Miners helping miners! I cannot tell you how lucky Craig and I felt when Bruce invited us to bring the Group Dredging Project into the area where he was actively dredging up a high-grade gold

deposit!

Here’s my secret to finding gold: When someone offers you a sure thing, take it!

So Craig and I quickly altered our plans to manage this Group Project at the lower-end of K-11 near Schutt’s Gulch. Fortunately, the Forest Service has a very nice developed campground at O’Neil Creek (Hwy 96 mile marker 65.50), about a mile upriver from where we were going to be doing the Project. We made arrangements to rent the group camping site for a week, so participants would have a comfortable, quiet place to camp.

This Group Project involved 12 participants (11 men and 1 woman), plus my two very-experienced helpers, Craig Colt and Ernie Kroo and myself; 15 of us in all.

Several of the participants were dredging for the first time ever, and several others had little previous experience under the water. One of the primary objectives of these projects is to help all participants achieve personal confidence while dredging underwater. We take this responsibility very serious. The nice thing about this Project was that since we already pretty-much knew where the gold was, I was going to be able to put 100% of my own focus into helping others dial in, to what we needed to do.

Most of us camped in the Forest Service O’Neil campground for duration of the project. So, we were also able to spend some very pleasant after-hour time visiting and enjoying our moments together during this adventure. Ernie Kroo is one of the best guys on a BBQ-pit that I have ever seen, and he takes great pleasure in making sure everyone eats well on these Projects. The food was great!

All of the participants in this Project arrived full of motivated-enthusiasm. When Craig and I walked everyone down on the first morning to show them where the gold had already been located, it was everything we could do to slow things down enough to keep track of the activity. I have to say, this was the fastest I have ever seen three dredges put into the water and set up. People were actually running with the loads! Usually, I am happy if we just get camp set up and the dredges in the water on the first day. But this was all done before lunch on the first day of this Project!

So with just a little discussion, we turned three separate teams loose on Saturday afternoon in an organized sampling plan. One dredge was placed around 60 feet in front of where Bruce was dredging, directly in line with him. Another dredge was placed around 60 feet downstream and directly in line with where Bruce was getting his gold. And the third dredge was sent about 100 yards downstream in an effort to find “Tony Steury’s lost gold.”

This type of gold mining (dredging) is not rocket science. Since Bruce was getting good gold, we were nearly certain that if we got directly in line with him in the river, and dredged down to the very same layer, that we would get gold, too. We proved this theory correct by the end of the first day. While our upstream dredge was already producing fines and nice-sized golden flakes, the downstream dredge started producing nice big corn-flake-sized crystalline gold nuggets.

I just cannot tell you how excited everyone was! I was sitting back thanking my lucky stars for how easy the week was going to be for me. Incredible!

These Group Dredging Projects are usually very challenging for me. While there are many things we have to make happen during the week, they all basically add up to three very important things: (1) we have to help all the participants get dialed in to what we want to accomplish, with no-one getting injured. (2) We have to locate a high-grade gold deposit. (3) We need to develop the gold deposit in such a way as to recover as much gold as we can during the remaining time allowed to us.

While the other things are incredibly important, I can tell you from plenty of experience that it is the recovery of lots of gold that carries the emotional tone of the group during the project. Every gold deposit is different, and therefore causes different types of feelings. This deposit was full of beautiful, crystalline nuggets that were being picked out of the dredges after every dive – and sometimes even while the dives were happening. All week long, people were rejoicing in their excitement about the nuggets we were recovering. What a week!

All of the important choices and decisions are discussed during these Group Projects. This is part of the experience. Because, just like the fork in the road when you only have enough time to go in one direction, every main choice during any gold prospecting expedition will affect how things come out in the end. While we have narrowed the choices down to just a few by the time we begin one of these Projects by choosing the section of river, we still must decide where we will do our sample holes, and how much time we will devote to each sample.

There are never any fixed answers to these choices. There is an emotional and intellectual chemistry involved where the results of samples are compared to each other, measured against the prior information we have about the area, and balanced against how much time we have. Seldom is there a fixed right-or-wrong answer. You just do the best you can and push forward. We always try and get all of the participants directly involved with this chemistry; because this is the risk-taking adventure-side of prospecting that turns to an incredible feeling of wonder and excitement, and a fantastic feeling of team-work accomplishment, when high-grade gold is recovered.

Having seen Tony Steury’s gold back in 1987, I knew without a doubt that his pay-streak was richer than the one we were mining near­­­ Bruce. But the question was: When there is a limited amount of time, and we are already mining a very good pay-streak further up-stream, how much of our available resources should be invested into looking for something we might not find? One of our three dredges (33% of our production-capability) was being spent looking for “Tony’s lost gold” with no luck so far. So, by mid-week, we collectively decided to move the third dredge up to the sure-pay-streak and leave the richer strike for another day.

The main challenge we faced in the established pay-streak, was that the richest gold was being recovered out of the deepest, fastest water out in the middle of the river. Although, luckily, the biggest, nicest nuggets were being recovered closer to the edge of the river, where the water was much slower. So we spent most of the remainder of the week shifting crews off and on, with everyone dredging where they were most comfortable. I think it is safe to say that everyone involved with the project was personally challenged in meaningful ways as the week played out.

In all, we recovered 5.5 ounces of gold for the week, of which 52.7 pennyweights (half the gold) were nuggets. This was, by far, the most nuggets (5 nice nuggets to each participant) we have ever recovered during a Group Project.

 


Several of the participants, along with other members of the Club, stayed around the immediate area to work out the deposit with Bruce after our project was completed.

But don’t think for a moment that this claim is worked out. We could easily devote 10 more Group Dredging Projects to sample this very long claim! The potential is fantastic!

 

 
 
 

As told to Marcie Stumpf/Foley

BOY!!! All my life I’ve wanted to go look for gold, and, by golly, now I’m going to give it a try!” Ralph said, as he looked at the advertisement offering an introductory week on The New 49’er claims.

Ralph Geidel is a New York City resident—he was a fireman, and is now retired due to an injury, and spends a great deal of time metal detecting. While browsing through the magazines in his favorite shop, he came across “Gold and Treasure Hunter” magazine. Taking it home, he was carefully going through it when he came across the advertisement, and his excitement grew as he read all the details. He immediately called his brother Michael, who also lives in New York City (and is still a fireman), and they eagerly discussed how they could get together to make the trip to California.

Ralph’s son, Ralph, Jr., was so excited about the prospect that they immediately included him in their plans. Every time they were together, until Michael’s vacation time, their talk centered around the plans for the trip, and when vacation time finally came they were thoroughly prepared.

On the trip to California they stopped at Yellowstone, and a couple of other places to see the sites, but were so eager to try their hand at finding gold on their own that they didn’t take much time!

On their arrival in Happy Camp, they checked in at The New 49’er Headquarters and followed the recommendations for setting up their tent camping area.

The next morning they eagerly arrived back at headquarters, ready for an original tour of the mining properties with Bill Stumpf. Bill spent several hours with them, showing them different areas, showing them how to pan and how to use a Mack-Vack.

The first site of gold sent a rush through Ralph, and he knew he was hooked! Gold! Real, actual gold, and he’d found it! What a thrill. Nothing he’d ever found while metal detecting had ever caused this reaction!

On their arrival back at headquarters, Ralph bought a Mack-Vack, and off they headed. The three of them worked tirelessly the rest of the day. At the end of the day when they panned out, they had more gold to put in their bottle.

You see, they had spent so much time talking to all their friends and neighbors about their trip that by the time they started out, they began to have some doubts about whether they’d find anything that they could show off upon their return.

The next morning they returned to the headquarters once again, to take part in the weekend training program and group mining operation conducted by Dave McCracken and Bill. The morning was spent under shade trees at outdoor tables, learning where to look for gold, and how. That afternoon, after lunch, they met the other participants back at headquarters, and they all headed upriver. They were going to an area across the river, where “Railroad Don” had made a strike the week before, using a high bank unit.

Everyone learned how to pan, and Dave and Bill helped them locate likely areas for sampling. The afternoon was spent sampling the area, locating the richest spot.

Next morning they were all waiting early, eager to load up the equipment and get upriver, where two high banking units were set up once all the participants were ferried across the river in a boat. Ralph really enjoyed the friendship and camaraderie shared by all the participants, and they could see they were getting gold as they worked! Boy, what fun! This was just great—out in a beautiful setting, fresh air, with his son and brother and lots of great people—what a life! Before they headed back to headquarters to clean up the concentrates, Ralph, Mike, and Ralph, Jr. (already nicknamed “the New York Boys”),

made the decision to rent the high bank unit on the spot.

When they returned to headquarters with the concentrates, Dave showed how to pan it down and clean it up, and then they weighed it. They estimated their working time at about three hours. They’d found 1/2 ounce in one afternoon! Everyone was so excited that the joking and laughing continued all through the dividing of the gold, so that each participant had an equal share.

That night the excitement lasted through cooking their meal outdoors, and while sitting around after, they eagerly made plans for the week. Their goal was to go home with an ounce of gold!

The next morning they were at it early, and worked hard all day. There were several groups working in the area, and Ralph was really impressed with the help they received from all the old hands. “High banker Jerry” (Jerry Snell of Eugene, Oregon), Bob and Vivian Harris of Florida, and “Railroad Don” of Klamath Falls, Oregon, all longtime members, gave help to the newcomers freely.

Most nights they were so tired they didn’t make the trip into town—several days, Ralph, Jr. worked with the Mack-Vack after Ralph and Mike quit high banking for the day, concerned that they might not fill their bottle. But, during the group mining operation they did spend Saturday evening in town so they could attend The New 49’er potluck, where they met dozens of club members, and had a great time listening to stories, and telling about themselves, as lots of people were really interested in learning about them, and showing off the gold they’d found.

All the rest of their week they worked hard, arriving early and staying late, adding each day’s “take” to their bottle. On Saturday they cleaned up their concentrates for the last time, got ready to leave in the morning, and headed into town for their last potluck. After eating, everyone who’d met them was eager to know how they’d done. Huge smiles lit their features as they hauled out their bottle—it was full, right to the top! They’d actually found an ounce, all by themselves, with no more knowledge than what they’d learned in their week on the Klamath River.

They passed the bottle around, someone snapped a photo, and then they were off, heading back home. The excitement from the trip stayed with them, and they recounted the events of the week as they traveled across country. Ralph had saved five full buckets of concentrate from their cleanups, and they were hauling it all the way home. He wanted to share the excitement of panning with friends.

After arriving home they were celebrities! They were gold miners! And, every barbecue they had for the rest of the summer, friends would pan out some of the concentrates Ralph had brought back, and find some gold.

Ralph couldn’t get their trip out of his mind, and he has plans for this year all worked out—he can hardly wait. First, he’s joining The New 49’ers—right away, before leaving home, even. Then, the minute Ralph, Jr. gets out of school they’re heading back out to California, and Happy Camp. They’re going to stay for two whole months this trip, and he’s going to have a dredge—a new, 5 inch dredge. He’s going to learn how to dredge, and the sky’s the limit! Wow! No telling how much gold he may go home with this year!

 

By Sara Koehler

It has been said that there is a time for everything under the sun. Well, the time for dredging is definitely summertime…And, there is no better place to dredge than Happy Camp, California! “Happy Camp.” The very name makes me smile in disbelief! This place really does exist! The water is cool, but not too cold, and the weather is usually quite mild. Better yet, there are “Gold Nuggets” as big as your thumbnail! We always find enough nuggets to make every day feel like a “surprise” birthday party!

Wherever we settle in for our dredging season, we all work as a team to make our home away from home as comfortable and relaxing as it can be. The children take turns taking care of our trash, making sure we always have a nice, clean camp. Everyone takes turns doing dishes and setting the table for meals…all except for Scott and me! With six children there are plenty of extra hands, eager to be of help.

When Scott and the boys get our equipment ready to launch at the spot we have chosen on the Klamath River, we dredge for a couple of hours at the beginning of each day. We can’t contain ourselves, and check our sluice box for gold every time we stop the engine to refuel. If some of the children are on the beach and hear the dredge engine being turned off, they all dive into the river and swim up to the edge of the dredge to get a sneak preview. We lift the flare’s flap, and “Surprise,” there are beautiful gold nuggets staring us in the face!

At the end of the day, we jump in our car and drive back to our camp. We try to take turns talking about everything that had happened to us during the day. Our adventure is not just about finding gold; but, also about the frogs, the insects, the birds, the swimming feats, the great lunch, the interesting people we meet at the river, the weather conditions, and all the “little things” that make us laugh.

How did we find this place? We’ve always had an interest in gold mining and had heard about Dave Mack’s videos from a friend of my brother. We bought Dave’s video at a mining equipment store in Sacramento, and had become spellbound watching Dave’s mining techniques, instructions and demonstrations. This is the first time that we had ever heard of the New 49’ers and Happy Camp! I knew that my husband, Scott, was going to get really excited about “all this new information!” Immediately we called the New 49’er office, that very same day!

We don’t want to sound like expert gold nugget hunters, because we’re not. We don’t own any private claims. When we became members of the New 49’ers Prospecting Club we instantly had over 60 miles of mining claims along the Klamath River and its tributaries in the northwest corner of California. Thus, we began our dredging adventure –we signed up for group dredging projects, and we even ordered a 5-inch dredge!

All winter long we watched all of Dave Mack’s videos, so that when we finally got to meet him face-to-face, our kids thought that they already knew him personally. Dave was very surprised, and taken aback, by all the admiration and affection our kids showered on him. If Dave Mack had a free hand, one of my kids had a hold of it. The other ones just waited until another free hand became available so they could latch on. I have to say that Dave took our children’s affection with good cheer and appreciation.

Our six children accompany Scott and me on our gold mining adventures. I do all the cooking and run errands, but there is also plenty of time for me to enjoy reading and sewing on the beach. It is very relaxing, and when Scott comes up for a break or lunch, we enjoy just being together in these great outdoors and fresh air. The children assist in all the various aspects of dredging, but there is plenty of time for swimming, getting sunburned, and eating!

Scott spends as much time as possible under the water, “vacuuming” the bottom of the river. We started out with both Pro-Mack 2-inch and 5-inch dredges. Then the second summer we ordered a 10-inch, customized, “wonder”-dredge. It is a beautiful piece of equipment! Being on it makes one feel like a “King and Queen of the River.”

We made our first trip to Happy Camp in June of 1995. Taking our tents, tent-trailer, and dredges, we camped at the Anderson Campground, on the Klamath River. The weather was chilly and wet, but we sure did have fun anyway! We dredged, panned, and high-banked. We attended group mining projects and attended claim tours. We cooked, washed clothes, read books, talked-over ideas and created many “plans.”

During our first week in Happy Camp the Discovery Channel (Cable TV) paid us a visit at our home on the river. Their crew was producing a show entitled “Easy Does It!” They wanted to film a piece on small-scale gold mining and they spent most all of one day with us. The cameraman filmed Scott dredging and the children panning. They interviewed both Dave Mack and us. The next time we heard from the Discovery Channel was at the end of the summer when they called our home to ask how much gold we had found. A few weeks later they sent us a copy of the 5-minute segment that they had made for television. Then a few months after that we were actually on television! We were thrilled!

After our time at “Anderson Campground,” we moved to a place down-river from Happy Camp named Independence. During that same first summer we camped on a roadside turnout, 230-feet above the claim. Getting down to the river each morning, which was a difficult access from that location (downhill), made for an exciting beginning and ending of each day. Scott and the kids immediately went to work cutting a trail down to the river. It was a very steep trail, and perilously paved with poison oak! Our children became experts in identifying poison oak! The section of river we were on had small and large boulders that created a nice area for our kids to swim in, away for the rushing flow of the Klamath. It was deep enough and safe enough for Ben, our youngest, to dive off some of the boulders. At the end of the day we would all get filthy-dirty clawing our way back up to our camp. The “best,” or should I say most challenging, part of the day was that we had no running water! But, otherwise we certainly got a lot of great exercise! That particular summer was extremely hot, and there was no break from either the heat or the “jack-braked” semi-trucks. The high point of our experience at Independence was being invited by some very hospitable, new friends to take showers in their home!

The next summer, 1996, we stayed with friends in their house, and felt free to dredge anywhere that looked appealing. We learned how to work the 10-inch dredge. We couldn’t believe the attention the dredge received, running or not. It has incredible size, volume, power, and beauty! This is when we first met the Andrezejewski family for the first time.

By the beginning of the summer of 1998 our family was no longer working and functioning in isolation. We teamed up with a wonderful couple, Max and Lesley Andrzejewski, and their five children. They had driven to Happy Camp every summer for three years from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with their children. We “hit it off” immediately when we met them for the first time at a weekly New 49’er potluck. We have become extremely good friends since then! We have done so many things together; dredging, eating, shopping, making repairs, putting out fires, and even doctoring “ouch-ies.” All these activities have firmly “cemented” our friendship!

Two sets of parents, eleven children, two dogs, a pan full of gold, and a cool river on a hot day all add up to non-stop adventure and fun! We have all learned a lot from each other in many, many ways! Some of the lessons we learned together even included “bloopers,” such as: Don’t fill your dredge’s gas tank while it is still running; keep plenty of duct-tape on hand; don’t forget to wash your ears out with Domeboro after dredging; peanut butter and jam sandwiches taste best when eaten on a beach; any kind of cookies and chips will be devoured; and be sure to take lots of food to the Saturday night potlucks! Happy Camp is a great place to bring a family. There’s no doubt about it! It’s also a good place to invite your friends to come and visit. The area is really beautiful and the New 49’ers are a great group of people. They are helpful, friendly, hardworking, and adventuresome.

But, did we find many gold nuggets? Yes! We kept our ears open and heard a hot tip from Dave McCracken during one of his river tours with 20 or more people. “Go to this spot! It has nuggets along the far bank,” he said. We checked it out, and sure enough, he was telling the truth!

We’ve been coming to Happy Camp for the last four summers. We’ve camped in campgrounds and on a highway turn-out, stayed in a motel, “borrowed” and rented friends’ houses, and this year we’ll probably buy our own property. I will be glad to have a “permanent” place to call home during the summer when that “dredging itch” needs scratching, and we all climb into our car and head back to Happy Camp!

Really, though, we didn’t start gold mining to become rich. God has truly blessed us with a wonderful family and many, very dear friends—who have become family. We have already found the Motherlode!

 

 

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