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By Dave McCracken

“It is vital that you design your recovery systems from the beginning to make certain they will actually do the job!”

Dave Mack
 

 Rubies and sapphires from Cambodia.

Over the many years, my various partners and I have experimented a lot with secondary recovery systems to catch fine gold and gemstones that get sucked up the suction nozzle of a floating dredge. There are numerous issues involved, each which must be carefully resolved to make it all work out right. I strongly advise you to study these issues for yourself as much as possible before deciding how to acquire accurate samples, and what to do for a production dredge if you decide to move forward with a mining program.

If these problems are not carefully considered and resolved in the construction of the equipment, the problems will definitely have to be dealt with in the field, where it becomes much more difficult to fix them!

Since the purpose of sampling is to accurately determine the real value of gold (and/or gemstones) in the river gravels, it is important how you acquire the samples. And if the samples turn out well, it is vital that you design your production dredge and recovery system from the beginning, to make certain they will actually do the job. The reason I stress this point so strenuously is because my team has been called in so many times to help with projects that did not acquire equipment that would efficiently recover fine gold and/or gemstones in the first place.

I also advise you to please not take for granted that gemstone-dredges advertised by various dredge-builders within the industry will recover diamonds or other gemstones efficiently just because the builders advertise that they do. I encourage you to review the points that I will outline here. Then you will have a foundation of understanding from which to ask questions and make your own judgments at the time when you will need to make pivotal decisions.

Gemstones are not heavy like gold. Therefore, they are much more difficult to recover.

Conditions must be set up to near-perfection to effectively recover gemstones from the volume of sand and gravel which passes through a dredge nozzle. This is especially true of production dredges in the hands of experienced operators!

Any enquiry into gemstone-recovery on suction dredges should certainly lead you to the subject of “mineral jigs”. A mineral-jig is a mechanical device that can be adjusted to create a specific suspended medium inside. As raw material flows into a jig which has been set up properly, different minerals are separated according to their specific gravity. Minerals that are lighter than a specific weight-range are allowed to flow off the top of the jig as tailings. Minerals that are heavier are allowed to settle to the bed, or to the bottom of the jig. The heaviest finer-sized materials (mostly gold and iron) are allowed to (flow) bleed out the bottom of the jig to keep it from concentrating with heavy material. Heavier materials are then collected elsewhere, or are directed to even more finely-tuned recovery systems.

The following video segment will demonstrate a mechanical suspension medium that can be created by a mineral jig:

Any and every enquiry into suction dredges and jigs should prompt a series of important questions:

1) classify and separate the smaller-sized raw material that is sucked up through the dredge’s suction nozzle?

2) What size-classification and how much volume of material will feed the jig?

3) How much volume and velocity of water will be included with the feed to the jig?

4) What will you do with the heavier material that is bled from the bottom of the jig?

Let’s please take these important questions up one at a time:

1) Classification: You cannot direct large-sized materials (rocks) into a mineral jig and expect it to perform well. This is actually true of any recovery system being set up to recover gemstones or fine-sized gold. Some method of screening is necessary to “classify” the size-range of materials that you want to direct into each type of recovery system. The more that different size-fractions of material are separated from each other, the easier it is to separate gold or gemstones from the other materials by their differences in weight.

Since dredges have limited space to work with (usually on a floatation platform or two), classification systems must be kept reasonably simple and portable.

Most suction dredges are set up with a fixed (not mechanical) classification screen which material and water flow across inside the sluice box. Riffles and various types of traps are constructed below the screen to trap gold and other valuable minerals out of the flow of water. All of the material that passes over top of the classification screen, or that is not trapped by the riffles under the screen, is allowed to flow out of the box and be discarded as tailings. For lack of a better term, let’s call this a “hydraulic classification and recovery system,” because it depends entirely upon water-flow to move raw material across the classification screen and through the riffles. This is the type of system that you can expect to receive as standard dredging equipment on today’s market.

Hydraulic classification and recovery systems have evolved over the years to the point where they generally recover gold and platinum with a reasonable degree of efficiency down to size-fractions relatively small in size. How fine in size depends upon various factors, like the purity of the gold, its average shape (round, flat or crystalline), and the nature of the material (slurry) that is flowing through the recovery system along with the gold or platinum.

It is reasonably safe to say that any recovery system is efficient down to a certain size-fraction of gold or platinum in any given area. The size-fraction might vary from one place to another. The reason for this is that the specific gravity of gold and platinum is generally 5 to 6 times greater than the average of other materials which commonly exist within a streambed. This incredible difference in weight will generally allow pieces of the heavier metal to penetrate the screen and drop behind the riffles in a sluice box – even though there is a strong force of water present to wash larger-sized material (rocks) over top of the screen.

It is also reasonably safe to say that the smaller a piece of heavy metal is (gold or platinum), the more it will be influenced by the fast, turbulent flow of water that is required to wash larger-sized material through a sluice box. For example, it requires a violent force of water to wash 9-inch rocks over top of a screen in the recovery system of a 10-inch dredge. So the smaller it is, the less likely that a piece of gold will drop through a hydraulic screen and get trapped behind a fixed riffle. Therefore, hydraulic classification and recovery systems lose efficiency as the particle-size of a heavy metal becomes smaller.


It is important to understand this: Because gemstones are only slightly heavier than quartz, and are within a similar weight-range as the average materials generally found in a streambed, hydraulic classification systems on dredges are not an efficient method of sizing raw material. This means that probably more gemstones wash across the top of a stationary classification screen (into tailings), than drop through it into the recovery system.

Furthermore, hydraulic recovery systems (fixed riffles and baffles) are actually designed to discard gemstones.

Because gemstones are light, it is unreasonable to expect them to drop through a classification screen that has a torrent of water passing over top. And then, because riffles will quickly accumulate a concentrate of material behind them that is heavier than the average specific gravity of a gemstone, you should not expect to recover gemstones efficiently using fixed riffles.

As far as I know, Pro-Mack is the only dredge-builder that has accomplished mechanical classification on a suction dredge. We do it by placing a shaker-screen (powered by a hydraulic pump) in place of the sluice box. Raw material from the suction nozzle is directed onto the shaker-screen. Minus-size raw streambed materials drop into a hopper under the screen and are then pumped to a recovery system – usually on a second platform. The following two video segments demonstrate this very important principle:

Summary: On suction dredges, there are basically 2 kinds of classification systems:

(A) A fixed screen which a flow of raw material is washed across by the force of water, with some portion of minus-sized raw streambed material dropping through. This system works relatively well on heavy metals down to a certain size-fraction. Efficiency is lost below that size, and there is poor efficiency on gemstones (they are too light).

(B) Mechanical classification, when set up properly, can be depended-upon to provide nearly 100% of the size-fraction that you want to separate out from the raw material, then to be directed into a recovery system. Please take a look at the following free video segment to see how we recently worked this out on a Pro-Mack commercial dredge system that is being used on a diamond recovery project in India:

Since it is impractical to refit smaller-sized dredges (which must remain portable for sampling) with mechanical classification, here is a substantial explanation of the system which we have developed to effectively recover more fine gold on our conventional suction dredges. It combines two classification screens to more-effectively separate material-feed into three size-fractions, each which is directed into a different recovery system. The smallest gold particles (which are most difficult to recover) are directed into low-profile riffles along the bottom of the sluice box which have long been proven to be very effective at trapping fine gold.

2) Size and volume: Jigs are available in different types and sizes. Generally, a certain size of jig is designed to process a given volume of material. Each manufacturer will have their own set of guidelines.

I say “guidelines” because there are variables that will change from one location to the next. The main consideration is the difference in weight between the mineral you are trying to save, and the medium that it is mixed with.

For example, because the weight-difference is so great, it is relatively easy to drop a particle of gold (19.6 times heavier than water) through a suspended medium of pre-sized quartz crystals (only 3 times heavier than water), because the difference in weight is more than 6 times. Therefore, with heavy metals, there is greater margin to introduce a larger variation of size-fraction (different sized material) into the jig, or a larger volume of pre-sized raw material, without forfeiting recovery.

If you are trying to drop gold particles through a raw material made up of iron (8 times heavier than water), you will be required to tighten-up the sizing and slow down the feed to the jig. This is because the weight-difference between what you want to retain and what you want to discard is only around 2 ½ times.

Sizing and volume are critical in the recovery of gemstones (usually only around 3.5 times heavier than water), because there will be only the smallest weight-difference between the valued material and the other streambed materials which must be rejected by the recovery system.

Summary: Sizing and volume requirements for jigs are largely affected by the difference in weight between the type of material you are trying to recover, and the raw material you want to discard as tailings. This becomes critical as you try and recover gemstones with efficiency.

3) Water feed: Most suction dredges operate on a “venturi” system, where a stream of high-pressure water is pumped into a power-jet at an angle to create a vacuum through the suction hose and nozzle. In this way, gravel and rocks can be sucked up from the bottom of the river and directed to a screening or recovery system floating at the surface, without having to pass them through a water pump. This allows a suction dredge to be manufactured at a small fraction of the cost to produce a dredge of the same size which must pass rocks and material through a pump.

But venturi-dredges are limited, in that they cannot lift streambed material and water more than about a foot (or less) above the water’s surface. Therefore, anything that is going to initially be done to raw material excavated by a suction dredge must be accomplished directly at the water’s surface. This is the reason why almost all standard suction dredges are equipped with hydraulic classification and recovery systems; because there is very little room at the water’s surface to do much else.


Men installing the Catch-hopper which mounts under the shaker-screen on a 10-inch commercial Pro-Mack dredge.

 

Classification systems used on a suction dredge almost always drop the minus-sized gravels into a sump or hopper that is located below the water’s surface. Therefore, to get the classified material up into a recovery system, it will need to be pumped.

Any jig is designed to allow only so much water-flow with the feed. The reason is that too much water velocity can wash sized-material across the top of the jig before the suspended medium has an opportunity to place particles where they should go.

Water-flow through a jig is highly critical in the recovery of gemstones because they are so light.

Therefore, important consideration must be given to how classified materials will be directed into the feed of a jig. We use hydraulic-powered gravel pumps on the Pro-Mack design, because we have found that venturi-elevators (using a high-pressure water flow) usually deliver too much water volume with the feed. For example, check out the water and raw material feed into the rougher jig (Preliminary jig) on one of the commercial dredges we were operating in the following video segment:

4) Bleeding off the heavy material: One of the reasons why jigs work so well, is that they are allowed to keep bleeding off the heaviest materials from the bottom. These otherwise would accumulate inside the jig and alter the suspended medium which creates the desired separation of your target-mineral from the other streambed materials. For example, if your target mineral is an average weight of 3.5 (times the weight of water), you must bleed enough heavy material from the bottom of the jig to maintain a suspended medium that is lighter than 3.5. Get the idea? If the suspended medium in the recovery system is heavier than your target mineral, the system will then be set up to discharge your target mineral along with tailings.

What you should do with the heavy materials from the bottom of a jig depends entirely upon what they contain.

On the production dredges we build at Pro-Mack, it is common to have a series of three jigs. The first (called a “rougher”) accepts the classified raw material from the sump under the dredge’s screen. The rougher accepts a larger classification of material at volume speed. Its purpose is just to make an initial classification and trap the largest gemstones and heavy metals on top of a bed (smaller classification screen) inside the jig. Large materials and the lightest small materials flow off the top of the rougher-jig as tailings. Heavier, classified materials are bled off the bottom and directed into a “secondary-jig.”

The secondary-jig can be more finely-tuned to further separate a finer-classified, slightly-heavier material at a slower speed. Then the finer-classified, heavier material from the bottom of the secondary jig is fed into a “finishing-jig” – which can be tuned to complete a final separation.

The following video sequence demonstrates how these systems harmonize together:

Most or all of the gemstones will become trapped on top of the jig-beds (classification screens) inside of the jigs. If there are fine-sized heavy metals present, the bleed from the bottom of the finishing-jig usually is directed into a final concentrating device – commonly a centrifugal bowl. The final concentrate is then separated in camp, often with the use of a mechanical shaker table. This final step is demonstrated by a video segment included in an article that I wrote about a sampling project we performed in Cambodia.

As all of these mechanical recovery systems are very sensitive to sudden jerking movements, changes in water pressure and other factors, we have found that it is much better to set up the recovery system for a production dredging operation on its own independent flotation platform. This includes the water pumping system that supports the recovery system(s). Here are a few reasons why we have found this works better:

1) Dredge platforms jerk around a lot as the suction nozzle is managed underwater. The suction hose is flexible, so there is an accordion-affect when varying amounts of suction are used at the nozzle. This causes the dredge to bounce around. The bouncing can throw off critical settings on mechanical recovery equipment.

2) Demands made upon the dredge’s main water pump fluctuate widely, depending upon how much suction is being used at the nozzle. If the dredge’s water pump is being used to supply water to mechanical recovery systems, the pressure-fluctuations can throw off the criticle suspended mediums that make the systems work.

3) A production gold dredging platform has a constant parade of divers, managers and tenders moving about while doing their various jobs. Most recovery systems are designed to be fastened down to a level, stable platform. The movement of numerous people around a dredge platform can throw off important settings.

4) Security: The final product(s) on a commercial mining operation should accumulate in a safe location where traffic can be carefully controlled.

5) These mechanical recovery systems have a lot of moving parts. It is better to keep wet, slippery divers and all their gear clear of the machinery.

In my view, the best way to do it is to set up two platforms:
A) A dredge platform that you can move around, put divers and tenders on, pump raw material to; and pump classified materials from.

B) A recovery platform that receives the classified materials and processes them. This system needs to be carefully engineered, and large enough to manage the volume of raw, classified material that is directed to it from the dredge. You only need to have one or two operators on this platform, so as to not upset the delicate balances that can be easily offset by people walking around changing the way the platform is sitting in the water.

Please take a closer look at the point I am trying to make here by viewing the following video sequence. See how much more organized it is to have a separate platform to contain an advanced recovery system. Just picture trying to combine all of that equipment onto a single platform and still retain some mobile flexibility:

I have found that when you try and put it all on one platform, you are forced to ignore several vital factors which can ultimately add up to a dredge-package that does not do the job very well.

 

 

By Dave McCracken

To recover finer gold more efficiently, it is necessary to direct finer-sized materials into more-shallow riffles, that require milder water flows to keep them functioning when filled with concentrated material.

Dave McCracken

 

In gold mining, when we talk about gravity-recovery systems (as opposed to chemical-recovery systems), we are basically talking about the creation of a suspended medium. A suspended medium is a condition of fluidity where materials are allowed to separate because of their relative weights.

Since gold is around six times heavier than the average of other materials which make up a streambed, if you pass raw streambed material through the right kind of suspended medium, you are able to drop the gold to the bottom, and direct the lighter materials off the top as tailings.

As an example of this, if you dropped some gold onto the hard ground, even though the gold is much heavier than the material making up the ground, because the ground is somewhat hard and compacted, it would probably take a very long time for the gold to work its way through to the bottom of the material in that compacted state.

But if you dug up all that ground (and gold), and dumped it into a raging river during a major flood storm, the material would all get churned into a liquid slurry as it is washed downstream in the river, and the gold would very quickly work its way down through to the bottom of the slurry. This is because the slurry is in a liquefied state of suspension, where heavier particles can easily penetrate downward, because gravity is pulling on them much harder than the lighter materials.

There are different ways to create suspended mediums so that gold can be recovered from streambed materials. Mechanical jigs create a pulsating medium within a chamber that keeps water and material in a state of fluid suspension. Oscillating sluices create a left and right movement (similar to panning) as material is washed over top by a mild flow of water. Shaker tables use a finely-tuned vibrating action, with a very mild flow of water, to separate material by weight. Because these systems use mechanics to help keep or create a suspended medium, we refer to them as “mechanical recovery systems.”

Most recovery systems on suction dredges use fixed riffles to trap gold out of lighter streambed materials as they are washed through a sluice box by a flow of water. Riffles are baffle-like obstructions, fixed in place along the bottom of the sluice box. They are designed and positioned so that there is a back-pressure created that sucks water and material behind the riffles from the flow over top. When the correct water-flow is directed over a riffle, the back pressure keeps the area just behind the riffle in a state of continuous fluid suspension. This creates a medium where the heaviest material (gold) is allowed to concentrate.

Gold recovery systems that use a flow of water over riffles are called “fixed recovery systems.”

Classification (sizing of material) is the key to fine gold recovery. This is true in both fixed and mechanical-type recovery systems. In general terms, this means that the finer (smaller) in size that you want to recover gold efficiently, the more closely the material must be sized, and the more finely-tuned the suspended medium must be to facilitate the separation.

As an example to put this in perspective, the water flow it would take to move a 5-inch (diameter) rock will likely be violent enough to wash away a fine particle of gold. And vise-versa: A suspended medium tuned so gentle as to allow fine particles of gold to efficiently separate from lighter streambed materials would be completely overwhelmed by a 5-inch rock.

The general idea is that if you want to efficiently recover finer-sized gold, you have to first separate it from larger-sized material. This is accomplished by screening. The process of screening is called “classification.” Classified material(s) can then be directed into a recovery system that has slower water and more gentle suspended medium(s).

What do I mean by a “gentler suspended medium?” In this discussion, I am mainly talking about the size of riffles. Because, the bigger (deeper) the riffle, the greater (and more violent) water-flow required to maintain a suspended medium of water and material behind the riffle.

Let’s talk a little about what happens behind the riffle in a sluice box. If you only run water over the box, it does not take very much water-flow to maintain fluid movement behind the riffle, because there is nothing solid to obstruct the flow. But the average streambed material (rocks, gravel and sand) weighs around 4 times more than water. This means water-flow and turbulence must be dramatically increased to keep material in a suspended state behind a riffle. The deeper the riffle, the greater the volume and weight of material which must remain suspended – so the greater the water force (and violence) needed to keep a riffle from packing up.

What is “packing up?” That is when you overwhelm a riffle with too much weight of material (rocks, sand, silt), and the suspended medium is lost. When the suspended medium is lost, most of the riffle will no longer concentrate the heaviest materials as they are washed over the sluice box.

Keep in mind that when a riffle is operating correctly, it will continue to concentrate the heaviest materials that are passed through the suspended medium.

At the beginning of a production-run, the specific gravity of the average material behind a riffle will be similar to the average specific gravity of the raw material found in the streambed. For the purposes if this discussion, let’s say this is around 4 times the weight of water. But as other heavier materials like iron (specific gravity of around 8) flow into the riffles, the heavier materials will displace lighter materials, and the materials behind the riffle (called “concentrates”) will become heavier. Each area is different, but it generally does not take long to accumulate concentrates in a sluice box that are around twice as heavy as the average raw material being processed. Heavier materials are usually associated with iron, and dark-colored by nature. These are often referred to as “black sands.”

The heavier the concentrate behind a riffle, the more water-flow and turbulence is required to maintain a suspended medium. The deeper the riffle, the more it will become overwhelmed by the increased accumulation of heavy material. So a deeper riffle requires a faster, more violent flow to keep it working as the concentrated material behind the riffle becomes heavier.

On the other hand, the shallower the riffle, the less water-force it takes to maintain a suspended medium behind the riffle. Less water force and violence will allow smaller particles of gold to settle.

But a shallow riffle also requires that the water flow be reduced. This is because a shallow riffle will not create enough protection behind it to prevent turbulent flows from boiling fine gold away. What do I mean by “boiling?” I mean that if you put too much water-flow over top of any riffle, the suspended medium becomes so violent that even the heaviest particles can be washed away.

Here is what I am saying: If you want to recover finer gold more efficiently, then it is necessary to direct finer-sized materials into more-shallow riffles, that require milder water flows to keep them functioning when filled with concentrated material.

But the problem with suction dredges is that we are sucking up a lot of rocks! Let’s just use the example of a 5-inch dredge. The nozzle-restriction will allow a 4.5-inch rock to be sucked up into the sluice box. And there must be enough water-flow through the sluice to keep the 4.5-inch rocks, and everything else that is being sucked up, flowing through and out as tailings. Otherwise, the material will build up on the dredge and sink it in very short order!

So initially, we are dealing with a water-force through the sluice box that will wash 4.5-inck rocks all the way through. That is a lot of force. And the force is turbulent.

Part of the reason why a rock is moved by a water-flow is because it is being pushed along by the water. A nearly-equal reason is that it is also being pulled along by the vacuum that is created behind the rock as the water flows around it. The vacuum behind a rock creates enormous turbulence that will affect anything it comes in contact with – including small particles of gold. The turbulence associated with the movement of a 4.5-inch rock is a lot, compared to the mild state of suspension necessary to allow a fine-sized particle of gold to settle behind a short riffle.

Since we must suck up rocks in dredging, the bigger rock we can suck up, the fewer we have to move out of the way by hand. Therefore, the first priority in the recovery system is to separate the big rocks away from where we want to recover the fine-sized gold. We do this by dropping the smaller-sized materials through a classification screen, and then directing them into slower-moving recovery systems. Sometimes, we are even able to screen two different sized products, and direct each into a separate recovery system, where the suspended mediums can be adjusted accordingly.

But the one mistake I often see is that the pre-sized materials are usually being directed into slower-moving recovery systems that are using deep riffles. As these riffles do not have enough water-flow directed over them to create the required suspended medium, they pack up and don’t work very well. What I mean by this is that most of the space behind a larger riffle can pack up. Sometimes it is only the surface area behind a big riffle that is working, while the rest of the area behind the riffle is packed solid.

Bigger is not better when it comes to riffles in a fine-gold recovery system. In fact, it can be worse.

Here is a substantial explanation of the system which we have developed to effectively recover more fine gold on our conventional suction dredges. It combines two classification screens to more-effectively separate material-feed into three size-fractions, each which is directed into a different recovery system. The smallest gold particles (which are most difficult to recover) are directed into low-profile riffles along the bottom of the sluice box which have long been proven to be very effective at trapping fine gold.

Here are some things to look for to get a better idea if a riffle is working for you:

  

 

1) The material behind a riffle should be visibly dancing during normal operation. You should be able to see that all of the material there is in a continuous state of vibration and movement. This can be deceiving, however. Because sometimes, only the surface of the material behind a riffle is in movement. Everything under the surface can often be packed up.

This is almost certainly the case; if after you shut down, you scrape behind the riffle and find that just below the surface of black sand, it is all packed up with lighter, blond-colored material. In this case, you will have to decide if you need to increase the water flow and violence (which will make it harder to settle fine gold) or shorten the riffle.

Shortening the riffle is usually the best solution.

Please don’t get me wrong here. I am not talking about the riffles that get big rocks passed over top of them. I am talking about the riffles where you direct pre-sized, smaller material.

2) Do some controlled tests at production-speed (meaning while someone is sucking material into the dredge’s suction nozzle or feeding material into a sluice), while feeding a pre-weighed amount of fine-gold into the system. You can either catch and test the tailings, or you can process the gold from the recovery system (or both), to evaluate how well your recovery system is working.

Here is where you can buy panning ore which contains fine gold.

If you are losing gold from a fixed recovery system, it will come down to either a screening system that is not working very well (to separate the fine gold from the big rocks that must be washed away using heavy force), or a bad relationship between the flow of water and depth of riffles in the fine-gold recovery system.

The answer is to just keep working at it until you get it right.

Okay; so, if bigger and deeper riffles are not the answer to recovering fine-gold from pre-sized material, how small and shallow should you go? Weight and shape-characteristics of the average streambed material in each area may be a little different. For example, crystalline, angular-type material requires more force and turbulence to keep it moving along. So there is not a fixed answer that will work perfectly in every single situation.

However, as a general guideline, I would say that the depth of a riffle should not be much more than the maximum size of material that is being directed there. In other words, if a 3/8-inch screen is being used to pre-size material, you probably don’t want to use riffles much deeper than 3/8-inches. Then you set the water-flow to keep those riffles fluid when there is an accumulation of concentrated material behind them. This is not a fixed formula. You will have to use your own best judgment to dial it in right based upon your local conditions.

Remember: If you use shorter riffles, you must slow down the flow over top of them to keep from boiling-out your fine gold. Slower water, and less violence, allows for finer particles of gold to settle – as long as a suspended medium is maintained behind the riffle. If you can keep the black sand in movement, without boiling out the riffles, you will have a great recovery system. Because gold is around 2.5-times heavier than iron, fine particles of gold will displace the iron behind the riffles, as long as there is movement there.

 

 

BY LEROY HARDENBURGER

Have you ever seen gold in a hairline crack and reached for your crevice tool, screwdriver, or rock hammer; and then spent the next 20 minutes prying, scraping, and/or prodding to get it out of that crack, wishing all the while that this tiresome process wouldn’t take quite so long? Well, the answer to quick gold removal from hairline cracks as suggested and demonstrated by veteran miner Dan Fifer is to go to your local auto parts store and purchase a muffler/tailpipe air chisel. Prices vary from $39.95 to $89.95, chisel included.

Using an air chisel, you can rip up a four-foot crack containing gold in one to five minutes, and then move on to either pumping more overburden or to the next uncovered crack. The amount of time spent depends on how deep the crack is and/or how hard the bedrock is.

My partner Chuck and I found that the speed of our operation dramatically increased when we began using our air chisel. If you do decide to use a chisel, be sure to oil it once every day. We use Marvel Mystery oil each evening after we’ve finished dredging. In our dredging operation, we use a Pro-Mac 8-inch dredge with VW power plant, two pneumatic 100 PSI air compressors as standard equipment, and have two divers down at all times.

We added one additional air tank and 50 feet of air line to power the air chisel and provide extra air for the divers when the chisel is not in use. With the extra tank, we have yet to run out of air. The only draw back in using the chisel underwater is that the noise is quite loud, but you get used to it. So save time and bring in more of the yellow stuff each day; invest in an air chisel. You will be glad you did!

 

By John Cline

Sniping1As young kids growing up in the country, we would play a joke on the new kids from the city. We would take them “snipe hunting”, or “sniping.” You see, sniping is a way of catching a small, but very tasty bird.

These types of birds only come out at night, with little or no moonlight, and always in a wooded area. It takes several kids to catch snipes. Some of us would spread out in the area and herd the snipes toward the new kid waiting by himself with a gunnysack. We always had the new kid holding the bag so he wouldn’t get lost in the woods. It’s rough being the new kid…

These were the thoughts racing through my mind when I was invited to go “sniping” for gold this past summer. I was told it was easy and fun. Oh sure, I’ve been there, done that; and I was even the one left holding the bag one night…

Finally, someone explained to me that sniping or crevicing for gold was really about working crevices in exposed bedrock. They told me stories about several people who snipe throughout the summer months, recovering ten-to-fifteen ounces of small (and sometimes large) gold nuggets per season. Was this a joke, or was it for real?

On the first morning, a friend and I were off on a sniping adventure, I took my wet-suit, a face mask and snorkel, a crevicing tool, hammer, small bar, small shovel & hand trowel, gold pan, my “Super Nugget Sucker,” and a bulb-snifter with me. My wet-suit was necessary, because the water was a little cool until about midday! Everything fit into my backpack and; surprisingly, weighed not more than 20-25 pounds.

We went to an area where the creek was wide and shallow, with exposed bedrock running across the water-flow. I could see material in the crevices and cracks in the bedrock. Also, I could see the bedrock cracks running from one side of the creek to the other, not in a straight line, but across the creek, with no real pattern. Where the bedrock wasn’t exposed, the streambed material (overburden) was no more than a couple of feet, if that.

Getting started in one place, I removed the top six-inches of overburden with the shovel. This is when the fun starts! You need to “fan” the remaining material away. This is accomplished by waving your hand back and forth in a fanning motion. It’s kind of like doing a dog-paddling motion, sweeping the remaining streambed material away with water-force. It only took me a moment to realize that it is much easier to work with the water flow, rather than against it. Yes, one must learn the hard way sometimes!

Fan or paddle an area about a foot or so, wait a moment for the water to clear, and hope to see that beautiful yellow glimmer—Gold! After an hour or so of not finding anything, I began thinking back to that night in the woods when I was left holding the sack… But I felt reassured when I looked up and saw my friend still there working in the creek.

Then it happened. There was a beautiful, small golden flake sitting right on top of the exposed bedrock! Not really expecting to find any gold, I almost overlooked it!

Using the bulb-snifter, I sniped my first piece of gold along the edge of a crevice, not really at the bottom of the bedrock crack where I had expected it would be. What a wonderful feeling! The joke wasn’t on me, after all.

Within three or four feet of that spot, I found several more really nice flakes of glimmering gold. Encouraged, I followed the crevice to the other side of the creek, but I didn’t find anything else. So I moved up to the next crevice and started the procedure all over again. This time, I found a bigger piece of gold in a crack along the side of the bedrock. Breaking the bedrock with a pointed-bar and hammer, I found that a large golden flake was trapped in the crack. Wow, what a great feeling when that piece of gold first popped into view!

During the day, I found several pieces in this manner. Working another crevice, I used the super-sucker, because the crevice was about three feet deep. By using the super nugget sucker, I could stand with my face in the water and remove the material with no problem. Several times, I pumped water out of the super sucker, thus blowing material away, like fanning. I recovered several nice nuggets about the size of small rice-grains.

By the end of my first day, I had found about 2.5 pennyweights of gold. Not bad!Sniping 2

Seeing all that gold was enough to lure my wife out on the creek on my second day. As I was fanning an area, I turned-up five nice flakes of gold in about a one-square-foot area. This was fantastic! So I invited my wife to put on a mask, and she came down and ended-up recovering about a dozen pieces of really nice gold, including one beautiful nugget weighing about 10 grains! That’s a big one! We had spent almost an hour together, having the time of our lives! It is a wonderful feeling every time you uncover more gold at the bottom of a waterway! It was really great sharing this experience together!

On the following weekend, a couple of friends and I went into a whole new area. We found several locations where exposed bedrock was visible along the bottom of the creek. I found a long and narrow slot (crevice) that ran in the same direction as the water-flow. This seemed like a great place to start, so I suited-up and got busy. I spotted some flood gold as I was removing the overburden by hand (not using a shovel). I carefully placed that streambed material in my bucket, so I could pan it off after my dive.

After removing about a foot of overburden, I discovered the crevice was a foot deeper than I had originally estimated. The streambed material along the bottom of the crevice was a reddish-colored hard-pack. Using my dog paddling, fanning motion, I uncovered several nice flakes of gold. Working very carefully, enjoying the excitement, I found two small, really nice quartz-gold nuggets. What a thrill!

Everyone found gold. Some found more than others did, but we all enjoyed this new experience.

My last visit up there was late in the season. The leaves on the trees covering the creek had turned color, and the water was colder. Squirrels were busy gathering the last of the pine cones along the edges of the creek. The birds were singing what could be one of their last songs for the year before the snow. I had been sniping for about an hour, having a great time and finding gold.

As I sat on a rock in the sun, warming myself and enjoying the sounds of nature, its beauty and tranquility, I heard a noise from not far upstream. A small bear cub came out of the brush and started to cross the creek. By the time the cub had reached the middle of the stream, the mother-bear stepped from the brush onto the stream’s edge. The cub was looking downstream toward me. It stood up onto its hind legs. With its head held high in the air, it was trying to smell me, or probably did smell me! I just sat there quietly, trying not to move, captured by the moment. The cub slowly dropped onto all fours and crossed the creek with the mother-bear close behind. Up the hill they went. This was a rare moment that I will never forget! I then went back to sniping, finishing the day with almost 2 pennyweights of gold to add to my ever-growing collection.

Sniping is an inexpensive way to mine for gold. It can be done alone, with friends or with your entire family. Kids get real excited about it as soon as they begin finding their own gold! There is no heavy or noisy equipment to pack in or out (Well, maybe your kids and their day-packs, but you know “what I mean.”). Sniping is a safe and fun activity for the whole family. I really did enjoy sniping this past summer! Each time was an exciting and educational experience. On my best day of sniping, I found 7 pennyweights of gold. In total, I found almost an ounce of gold. How about that for a beginner?

I know an old-timer who found more than 20 ounces of gold this past summer, sniping. He told me that on his best day, he found 11 pennyweights, plus a one-ounce nugget. He said most of it came out of a single crevice in the bedrock. Can you imagine?

As for next year, David, my oldest son, and I are talking about an adventure into the Wild and Scenic area of the Feather River to do some sniping for a long weekend. That will be another story!

 

By Budd Salsig

 

CartoonThe day is just beginning–you and Carl are in the dredge hole. Carl is on the nozzle, and it is your turn to heave cobbles and boulders downstream and out of the hole.

Next hour, you will manage the nozzle while Carl gets to bust his back on boulders. Throughout the day, you will swap around like this. Except when you have to shut down; because it takes two to winch-out a three-footer like the one just upstream that is sitting right inside of the pay-streak. Winching is slow and dangerous work because of rigging, fast water and other challenges which must be overcome.

By now, you and Carl know a lot about boulders and cobbles, in the water or out. Your experience is practical–learned the hard way. But maybe it would help to know, say within ten percent, what a boulder weighs in the water and out. So let’s look at a formula to calculate the weight of rocks in and out of water, by rock diameter. You can easily estimate diameter underwater using hand-spans. You already know that a boulder you can lift underwater just buckles your knees when you try to lift it above the surface. So how much weight is added by lifting it clear of the water? This matters when you are winching, too.

We can figure out rock weights both in and out of the water using a concept called Specific Gravity. We don’t have to weigh the rocks in the air and then in the water. But you could check our results if you want to. Plenty of work has been done on rocks and weights, so we will use existing tables and equations rather than re-invent the wheel.

The definition of Specific Gravity (SG) is: The ratio of the density of a substance (rock) to the density of some pure substance (water), taken as a standard when both densities are obtained by weighing in air. As an example, if one cubic centimeter of gold weighs 19.3 grams, and one cubic centimeter of water weighs 1 gram, then:

Weight of 1 cm3 of ~old SG gold / Weight of 1 cm3 of water = 19.3 gm /1gm = 19.3gm

Or, we say that gold is 19.3 times heavier than water. Water is our standard, and the SG of water is 1.

Now we find from a geology handbook that the SG of most rocks runs from sedimentary (sandstone) (where SG = 2.50); then granite (where SG = 2.73); to basalt (where SG = 3.00). These are typical rocks which you handle all the time while dredging.

Then from Dana’s Manual of Mineralogy, we can find an equation relating Wa (the weight of rock in air), to Ww (the weight of a rock submerged in water), and the specific gravity of that rock:

Or we can rearrange this equation showing the ratio of Ww over Wa, and separate-out the sa-factor, which reveals the weight of the rock underwater:

~ = SG-1 or Ww = ~Wa Wa SG SG

Using our three SG rock numbers: 2.50 for sandstone; 2.73 for granite; and 3.00 for basalt, then:

Ww = 2.50- 1 = L2Q = 3/5 = .6 for sandstone

Ww = .6 Wa SG 2.50 2.50 ~= 2.73- 1 = ill= .63 for granite

Ww = .63 Wa SG 2.73 2.73 ~ = 3.00- 1 = 2/3 = .66 for basalt

Since most rocks end up with SG a little greater than granite, it is reasonable to use the .66 or 2/3 ratio as a general rule. That generally means that Ww = 2/3 Wa.

If Wa is a 10-pound rock above the water, it should weigh around 6.6 pounds when submerged underwater. If Wa is a 300-pound boulder, it will weigh about 200 pounds underwater. Looking at it another way, it is the water which supports one-third of the rock’s weight.

Going back to the knee-buckling maneuver; when you try to lift that 100-pound submerged rock out of the water, it suddenly weighs 150 pounds. Knees buckle! Your winch has the same problem.

Bad back and all, you now have a handy 2/3 rule of thumb!

Let’s go a step further and put together a Table of Average Rock Weights submerged and above the water. For simplicity, we will assume all boulders are river-worn to round-shaped objects (spherical). This way, we can list them by diameter in inches. That will be close enough. You can estimate rock-diameter underwater by hand-spans; that is, from tip of thumb to tip of little finger with your fingers spread. Yours will be around 8 or 9 inches; very easy to check with a ruler.

Let’s do one case in detail to show how it is done: Water weighs 62.5 pounds/cubic foot. The SG of water is 1. The SG of an average rock is 2.75. The rock weighs 2.75 times what the water weighs. Remember, that’s our definition of SG. So, (SG rock = 2.75 x 62.5 pounds/cubic foot (weight of water in air) = 2.75 x 62.5 lbs/cu. ft. (weight of rock in air) = Wa = 172Ibs/cu. ft. (weight of rock in air) Using our handy rule of thumb: 2/3 x 172 lbs/cu. ft. (weight of rock submerged) = 113 pounds while underwater

So a rock which is about 15-inches in diameter will weigh about 113 pounds submerged and 172 pounds above the water’s surface. About the best you can with a rock this size is roll it around underwater. It will take you and Carl both to roll it out of the hole, and a winch to get it out of the water.

That 10-footer in the bottom of your dredge hole is a pretty serious boulder–30 tons in the water, and 45 tons at the surface!

This next hour, Carl is going to be heaving rocks and you will be on the suction nozzle. But before you two get back in the hole, let’s consider if there might be a way to improve the efficiency of rock-removal. Especially on rocks that are too big to roll out of your dredge hole. Can it be done by a single person? The marine salvage people use inflatable air bags to lift loads. Bags are lowered deflated. Then they are connected to a basket-load from a single-point suspension, like a pelican hook. This allows for a quick-disconnect. The bag is inflated with compressed air, just enough to lift the load. A tether guides the load’s rise. There must be an air-bleed to prevent too-rapid ascent. What happens when the air bag reaches the surface and loses lift? This would be a major problem in a shallow river with a swift current. If the air bag can be kept underwater while helping to move rocks out of a dredge excavation, it might work. For example, A15-inch diameter air bag should lift about 60 pounds when it is fully submerged.

Well, I guess you guys (and gals) are ready to get back to that pay-streak under all those rocks. Oh yes, if you and Carl think this specific gravity business is piddling, consider this: The difference between the SG of magma (2.74), and the SG of country rock (2.97), is enough to produce a volcano. With a few additional facts like the depth of the magma, as determined by seismic readings, the resulting height of the volcano can be reasonably estimated. Now that’s a very big deal!

Have a happy 2/3!

 

By Ron Wendt

“I have found some bedrock so rich, it has averaged
over $300 an hour for half a day”

 

Bedrock gold 1With each scoop of dirt and piece of bedrock I dumped into the bucket, it was tempting to glance over my glasses to try and catch a glimpse of gold in the pay-dirt. But having learned from experience, if I panned-out every little spoonful or trowel full of bedrock dirt, my production of bedrock gold would be sparse.

Working bedrock on most Alaskan creeks is working the cream of the crop. It is where the best pay usually is. At times, when pay-streaks become concentrated, the only good way I know of to work bedrock is by old fashioned scraping. Although you can go over the top of bedrock with a metal detector; or if it is underwater, you can dredge bedrock, there is only one way I know of to work on bedrock located high and dry, and that’s with old-fashioned hand tools.

During recent years, a lot of bedrock I have worked has been the stuff that is up high and dry. It has usually been cleared away by bulldozers, where massive amounts of the pay-streak have already been washed through sluice boxes. You would be amazed how much gold remains in bedrock cracks in places where the large equipment has already gone through. It is just a matter of finding the right pocket to dig in, and here lies the key to success.

Working bedrock can be a life of leisure. I have found some bedrock so rich it has averaged over $300 an hour for half a day, and I laid down to do it.

Obviously, the first step to take if you want to gain access to a nearly-guaranteed pay-streak is to go where the gold has already been found before in large quantities. If you have an opportunity to get out to the goldfields, and you find out who owns some of the mining claims, ask if you can do some sniping of mining ground where bedrock has been exposed and worked on an industrial scale. The nuggets usually won’t be big; but if you find the right pocket, it is possible to take out several pennyweights or even ounces of gold from bedrock traps that were missed by the heavy earth-moving equipment.

Bedrock gold 2 B&WIf it is convenient, sometimes I am able to drive my pickup truck close to the golden spot that I have chosen. I carry a five-gallon jug of water, a small plastic tub big enough to pan into, and a few tools for crevicing. Without having to walk down to a stream, I can pan-out my pay-dirt into the tub with water from my five-gallon jug. This makes working bedrock a lot easier.

There are several types of bedrock in the north. Once you gain enough experience, you can eventually read bedrock like a book. Alaska has some unique formations of bedrock. There are the limestone bedrock formations in Livengood, where one old-timer used to tell me about scraping gold off its surface with a candlestick.

There is the Birch Creek schist of the Circle Mining District, which can be interspersed with granite bedrock.

The slate bedrock of the Kenai Peninsula’s gold-rich creeks is some of the most fascinating to work, and contains some very rich pockets.

Bedrock off the Koyokuk River area creeks in the Brooks Range contains unusual bedrock formations where the schist stands on end and can be peeled apart with a crow bar.

The bedrock on Jack Wade Creek in the Fortymile District contains quartzite schists, graphic schists and garnet-hornblende schists. Quartz seams are common on this creek. The gold is found not only in the bedrock, but in gravels as much as two feet above the bedrock. In the original pay-streak on Wade Creek, gold is found as deep as 1 1/2 feet into the bedrock. The origin of the gold is supposed to have been from the quartz stringers in the schists. The gold becomes black toward the head of Wade Creek. This is the result of a manganese stain in the surrounding gravel.

Canyon Creek in the Fortymile has some bedrock with a makeup of marble, schist and quartzite with occasional granite dikes running through it.

Over on Franklin Gulch, the bedrock includes micaceous, garnetiferous, hornblendic schists, and crystalline limestone. Though the gulch has a width of only 50 feet at the bottom, the bedrock has folded up considerably, and the gold is found in the bedrock at a depth of about two feet. The bedrock is so versatile in this vicinity; that over in the Chicken area, the bedrock is made up of dark-jointed shale with gold-bearing quartz and calcite seams. Clay is also known as a gold-robber in these areas, a curse to the miner; because it has a tendency to ball-up in the sluice boxes and roll on out.

When working these bedrock areas, it is always good practice to break-up all the clay that you find. Though this can be a tedious task, it may be worth doing in the long run. I have found some pretty nice little nuggets after kneading my fingers through a wad of slimy clay!

When prospecting, you do not have to become an expert in rock identification; but it does help to become aware of the essential types of rocks and bedrock that you will encounter in the field. Learning to read these rocks and layers can greatly enhance your ability to find gold.

It also helps to locate portions of the original pay-layer that were not worked by past miners. These can often prove to be very rich. Finding portions of an original pay-streak from past rich and historical creeks in Alaska can be a real and enriching thrill.

Panning out your take of pay-dirt from bedrock cracks can tell the tale of a lot of the mineral-types that are on the creek or gulch where you are prospecting. The little stones and sands that are left in the bottom of your gold pan are your heaviest minerals. If you are planning to spend an extended length of time on a creek, it might be good to save these heavies and study them. Also, if you have a small hand microscope (available at most mining supply or lapidary shops), take a closer look at the small rocks and iron sands in your gold pan. You may be surprised at how much gold is clinging to the sands or small pieces of stone!

In a lot of cases, the deepest portion of a bedrock crack or crevice will contain the most value. It is amazing how deep gold will actually penetrate.

Gold-bearing bedrock found off the Koyukuk River in the Brooks Range is generally mica-schist and slate, is uplifted, and stands on edge. Gold is found on the bedrock and inside the cleavages and crevices.

If you are in a gold-bearing area, I suggest you don’t waste too much of your time digging around smooth bedrock. Back through the eons of time when old streambeds once washed higher up on the hill or bench, most of the gold would wash right across smooth bedrock. Very rarely will gold occur on a regular basis on top of a smooth surface. The more rugged, and the more cracks in bedrock, the better your chances are of striking a rich crevice. This is generally true anywhere you go to find gold.

Once you make friends with local miners on the creek where you are going to snipe or crevice, ask the miners which side of the creek the pay happens to be most abundant, and also which stream bend or portion of the valley or gulch seems to contain the most pay. Some areas are better than others. And gold does tend to follow its own path down the waterway.

In some places, you can use a metal detector to scan the surface of the bedrock, finding occasional nuggets. But the crevices might also have many ounces of gold scattered throughout, too disbursed to sound-out on a metal detector.

If you prospect with the right approach, you will figure it out on your own. Plan to spend some time when exploring bedrock. Finding gold does not always happen on the first pan. It takes a lot of patience, and you must possess a keen interest in what you are doing and keep your hopes kindled.

 

By Dave McCracken

With comments added by
Brian & Jim McCracken and Eric Bosch

“It was only Pure Luck that got us through this Whole Adventure.”

Dave Mack

 

Jim with gold  Three guys waving from the dredges

Atlin Lake

Note: This story was originally formatted as a pictorial-diary to document and memorialize one of the greatest adventures in my life. My brother Brian presented the pictorial presentation to me as a Christmas present in 1989. Many of the original pictures are included here.

Brain: I have known my brother, Dave Mack, for his entire lifetime. That’s because I was born two years ahead of him. During our growing-up years, Dave was “my younger brother.” Adventure has been Dave’s calling since his earliest days.

We grew up in a navy family. Our dad was a submarine commander during the cold war, so we were moving somewhere else every two years or so. When we lived near the water, Dave’s adventures nearly always revolved around boats. He devoted a winter to building his first row boat in the family’s living room when he was about 13 year’s old (we didn’t have a garage). The following summer, he used that boat to start a lobster-trapping business in Long Island Sound. Saving his money for something more substantial, Dave built his first motor boat in a friend’s garage the following winter – which vastly expended his reach out on the water. He got himself SCUBA qualified when he was 15, and most of his adventures after that revolved around being underwater. I remember he built this tow-sled to drag behind one of his motor boats, which allowed him to get dragged around with the ability to control his depth so he could search the bottom for signs of wreckage or anything else interesting. Dave and one of his friends used that sled day-in and day-out, searching for a sunken wreak that was supposed to be located near where we lived in Waterford, Connecticut. He never found the wreak; but until this day, I’ll bet nobody has covered more of the bottom of Long Island Sound off of Waterford, Connecticut. Dave was a heck of a good fisherman during those early years, and I never met anyone who could spear fish better underwater.

During the times we lived away from the water, Dave’s adventures were all about building forts. All the way back to the third grade, Dave was building them underground when we did not have access to trees. But Dave’s tree forts were the best. He built this fantastic, large 2-story tree fort back when he was in the 5th grade. A bunch of us pitched in to help with that project. We used that fort to make war with our next door neighbors of the time (the greatly-feared Garrett brothers). Those were several local guys of about the same age as us. We were kind of looked upon as “outsiders” because we moved around a lot. Dave came up with a big piece of tire inner tube and rigged a huge slingshot on top of our fort, and we were landing big green apples about a hundred yards over the trees to smack against the (much smaller) tree fort of our neighbors. We couldn’t even see their fort; but we could certainly hear when our apples struck home. In turn, they lobbed pretty sizable rocks in our direction. Those guys were not really our enemies. “Making war” from elevated forts in the trees was fun; something exciting for boys to do. Those skirmishes eventually evolved into battles with BB guns. We were lucky nobody ever got hurt really bad. We lost interest in war with our neighbors when the Garrets and several other local guys, Tommy Tracy and Peter Oats, started a rock band. That’s about the time that Dave really got going with his sea adventures – and I got interested in girls.

Dave’s tree forts were built so well, we used them as a place to meet up (mostly with our girlfriends) all the way until our youngest brother, Jim, graduated from high-school. Jim tore the fort down before he departed Connecticut to meet up with Dave out in California. It must have been a big job taking that fort down!

Being the oldest, I was strongly influenced by our father and was somewhat strong-armed into the U.S. navel academy at Annapolis just after high-school. Dave was much-less of a conformist. Rather than being pushed off on a university by our father, he and his best friend devoted most of their senior year in high school making a camper out of a Chevy step van (bread truck). They saved their money and departed on a year-long trip zigzagging across Canada and the U.S., eventually to end up out in California. After a time, Dave decided to join the navy and try out for the Navy Seals. The Seals were a seriously-dreaded program at that time (during the Viet Nam war), and I’m not sure any of us believed Dave would make it through the training. It was probably more of a surprise to our father than anyone that Dave actually did make it into the navy Seals!

Tent in snowAfter that, Dave and I were fortunate that our time in the service brought us together in Subic Bay, Philippines during 1975. That was another very interesting time. We shared some very hair-raising (and probably illegal) adventures there, as well. But we will save those stories for another day.

This particular adventure started during the winter of 1981. Dave had already been dredging gold for about a year or two and was just starting to figure out how to find the high-grade gold deposits. I was between jobs at the time and invited myself to spend the winter of 1981-82 dredging with Dave on the Trinity River in northern California. There was snow on the ground, man; it was freezing! We lived in a timberline tent, heated by a wood stove. Dave lived out there in that tent for the better part of three years. It was something you adjusted to after a while. Dave and I took turns on the cooking detail. We ate a lot!

Now, anyone that knows Dave, knows that he is a hard-pusher. “No pain, no gain!” You had to get the work done if you wanted the gold to add up. End of story! We dredged as hard as we could nearly every day.

We were dredging right out in the middle of the Trinity River about 8 miles upstream from where we were camped. To minimize the pain involved of trying to get into a diving suit out in the snow and mud, we were getting into our dry-suits in the warm tent and then driving up to the claim. All we had to get around with at the time was Dave’s Honda motorcycle. I used to ride on back, balancing a fuel container on each side of the bike, hugging Dave with my legs to keep from falling off the back. There was often snow and ice on the road. We used to get some pretty strange looks from others who were driving cars. But it was just another day to us. No pain, no gain!

The water in the Trinity River that winter was ice cold, sometimes down in the mid-30’s. We were doing two long dives in that cold water every day. We would stay in until our bodies were so cold, we could not take it any longer. Sometimes, even before lunch, we would do jumping-jacks on the bank to get some heat fired back up in our diving suits. Our toes were so numb, they were beyond feeling. The second dive of the day was always the hardest. Many times, we stood there and dared each other to be last, “one, two, three, go!” and we would both be still standing there looking at each other, sometimes laughing at our situation. It was hard, but we did it. Placing your face in the water was like getting smacked in the head with a power slap; it stung something awful and gave you a splitting headache! I always dreaded that part of it.

Still, we were recovering quite a bit of gold for our effort, including some nice, big nuggets. It wasn’t enough to get rich. It was enough to get by. Uncovering cracks that were loaded with gold on the bottom of the river, sometimes even pockets of gold, was serious adventure! We were hoping for a real bonanza, but we just found steady gold.

Dave with bottle of goldIf Dave wasn’t filling up spice bottles with gold, he would just keep sampling around until he found a richer gold deposit!

If the gold prices in 1982 were the same as they are today, we would have been making some serious money! But as it was, we were having to sell a lot of the gold we mined so we could pay for fuel, food and the other costs. We were keeping the nuggets, though!

One day, Dave suggested that we should spend the upcoming summer season dredging in Alaska. I immediately jumped on the idea and ran it by our younger brother, Jim. Jim had never done any gold dredging, but he had been getting an earful about it from Dave and me. Jim immediately signed onto the plan. Dave then ran the idea by one of his best dredging buddies, Eric Bosch. Eric could not have been more than about 18 years old at the time. His mother, Anita, told Eric he could go with us on the condition that we also take along her young black lab, Sadie, to help protect us from grizzly bears. Eric & Sadie jumped right on board. That made five of us. One day I suggested to Dave that we bring a cook along so we could devote most of our efforts to mining. So Dave arranged with this strange old prospector named “Joe” to go along with us on the trip. Joe had a 3-inch dredge. In exchange for cooking and cleaning up after the rest of us, Joe was going to be allowed to mine for gold in his spare time. That made six of us.

Jim: This was a life-long dream come true for me; going to Alaska with my brothers on a gold mining adventure! Everyone else was just as excited about it as I was.

Brian: After taking some time to prepare, we all met in Big Bar, California in Mid-May of 1982. Big Bar is a small community nestled along the Trinity River. Dave had already acquired a beast of a Dodge Power Wagon that was in pretty sound shape. When Jim and I arrived in Big Bar, Dave and Eric had nearly finished building-up an 18-foot box trailer that we would pull behind the truck. The trailer would be used to haul Dave’s 6-incher, three 5-inchers and Joe’s 3-inch dredge, along with all the support gear and supplies that we needed. Then it was to serve as a cook shack and bunk house once the gear was removed. We located and installed propane and 12-volt lights, along with a very large, old propane freezer. We installed a wood stove with a removable smoke stack. This was a lot better than a tent!

Dave: Brian and Jim both grew full beards before they arrived so they could look the part of “Alaskan miners.” They looked pretty good, too. So they were real disappointed when I asked them to shave the beards off. I was warned in advance by some Canadian friends that we should not go up there looking all rough and burly, especially if we planned to do any business in Canada. I predicted in advance, if the opportunity presented itself, that we might want to stop in British Columbia or the Yukon Territory on the way to Alaska and do a little mining. Eric and I had already trimmed ourselves up even before Brian and Jim arrived. We were going to play it safe and project a clean-cut image.

Brian: There was still more work to do when Jim and I arrived on the Trinity. We all jumped to it, and we departed exactly on schedule at 10 AM on the first of June, 1982.

We had mounted an old camper shell and had removed the back window out of the truck so that the six of us could ride together. We had no plans to stop until we reached Alaska, except for fuel and meals – which we made for ourselves (mostly sandwiches) to save money. Eric’s small row boat was tied down to the top of the camper. We were really loaded!

Jim: The first part of the trip was really hairy. This was because the trailer was wandering around dangerously behind the truck – especially if we got going faster than about 45 miles per hour. As hardy as that Power Wagon was, our trailer was packed full to the top with heavy gear. All we started with was a bumper hitch. We could not load any more weight in the front of the trailer without fear of breaking the truck. There was so much weight on the bumper, sometimes it felt like we were pulling a wheelie down the highway!

In Portland, Oregon, we finally decided to stop and buy an anti-sway bar that connected between the truck’s bumper and the trailer hitch. That made all the difference, and we were able to pick up the pace. After that, we started making pretty good time, shifting off with the driving, taking turns sleeping in the back. We traveled day and night.

Eric: We started going through tires on the truck shortly after we got on the road. Before we reached Whitehorse, I believe we replaced every tire at least once. The trailer tires had plenty of tread on them when we started, but they were old and could not take the heavy load, especially once we reached the Alcan Highway in Canada, much which remained unpaved at the time.Alcan Highway

Brian: We drove straight on through, day and night, hour after hour. But we had a reliable tape deck and brought along some great music. We were rocking out to Pat Benatar, Sticks, the Alman Brothers Band, Santana, Steve Miller and other rock n’ roll music that each of us had brought along. The rule was that whoever was driving got to pick the music. Our old companion, Joe, from an earlier generation, was having visible trouble adjusting to our music, but he was not really complaining, yet. That came later. For the moment, we were moving right along. We were on the Alcan Highway by the third day.

Never mind that we were in June; it was cold once we began driving through the Canadian Rockies. It was like 14 degrees during the daytime and got really cold at night.

Jim: One morning at around 6 AM, just as it was getting light, I was driving along (dirt road) at about 50 miles an hour; and just like that, it was everything I could do to keep the steering wheel in my hands. Everything was flipping out of control!

Brian: I looked out the window and saw the trailer right next to us! I remember thinking, “What’s going on?” It turned out that we got a flat back on the trailer, and then broke one of the bolts that held the leaf spring to the trailer’s frame, causing the trailer to fishtail all over the place. We were quite fortunate that we did not completely jackknife and roll both the truck and trailer right there. That would have been the end of our trip, big time! We were lucky!Trailer with broken wheel

We really did a number on that wheel, but we were feeling lucky that we had not lost the whole trailer!

Eric: It was our first flat on the trailer. We also destroyed the wheel rim. This was not just any rim; it was something special from an old trailer axle. Fortunately, we had brought two spares. Unfortunately, to place more weight in the front of the trailer, we had stored both spares all the way in the front of the trailer. That was a mistake we only made once! So there we were on the side of the Alcan where we needed to unpack nearly the entire trailer just to get at our spares. We all felt pretty foolish about that. This is one of the things you learn on a trip to Alaska: Plan on getting flats!

While Dave and Jim worked on unpacking and repacking the trailer, Brian and I drove the Honda motorcycle 20-miles back to the nearest town to find a hardened steel bolt that would reattach our leaf spring. This was a bit of a challenge, since Canada is on a metric system, and the bolt went along with a bushing that had to fit just right. It took us a while, but we finally found what we were looking for. The store had three in stock. We bought all of them!

Alcan HighwayWhen we returned to the trailer, we were about frozen to death! The temperature was below freezing. Brian and I had to take turns driving the Honda, because it was so cold on the guy in front. When we got back to the trailer, Dave and Jim were waiting for us with the spare tire ready to go. In all, we only lost about half a day.

Dave: The bigger problem was that we were going through our money much faster than we had planned. Pulling that heavy load, the Power Wagon was only getting about 4 miles to the gallon of gasoline; 6 at the most, even when we were going down hill. We had to buy things along the way that we had not planned for, especially tires. After we blew the second tire on the trailer, we went into a tire store and bought 4 brand new ones. It was too risky to run the Alcan with such a heavy load on those old tires!

Out of pure luck, we also were able to find another spare rim for the trailer. This turned out to be very fortunate, because we lost another rim one day when I was driving. We had just topped another hill, and I was manually applying trailer breaks as we descended the other side. We were totally overloaded, and the last thing we needed was to get going too fast down a hill on a dirt road!

I’ll never forget driving down this hill and getting passed up by a wheel that went right by the driver’s side. It was going quite a bit faster than we were. Maybe it was sleep depravation, but I could not put any logic to it. My first thought was that it was someone else’s wheel. But we were the only ones out there! About the time the wheel bounded off the road and out of sight down a steep hill, it occurred to me that it might have been one of our own wheels. Sure enough, when I looked in the Northern Lightsrearview mirror, I could see that the break drum from the rear left wheel on the trailer was down rolling on the road. Great! Luckily there was no serious damage. But it took us hours down in the brush before we finally found the wheel. The lug bolts had torn right through the rim, rendering it useless. But the tire was still good.

Eric: One night, we came up over a hilltop and the entire sky was lit up in a blaze of bright-colored white, yellow and red electricity. It was so dramatic and sudden that we pulled the truck over to the side of the road and had this very serious discussion, trying to decide what was going on. We finally came to the conclusion that there must have been a nuclear war. We turned on the radio for news, but there Dave & Ericwas no reception out there. There were also no other vehicles on the road. We even had some discussion about turning around and going back home. That’s when Joe, who was dozing in the back of the truck, sat up and said, “No, you knuckleheads, those are the Northern Lights!” The entire sky was on fire with an electric light show. We grew quite accustomed to this later in the trip after the midnight sun would disappear, again.


Brian:
It took us a full five, long non-stop days to reach the town of Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory. We were down to our last 200 Dollars. That wasn’t even enough to get us up into Alaska! Basically, we were broke! We found a camping area just outside of town, set up some tents, and took a timeout to get some real sleep, clean things up a bit, and take stock in our situation. Our financial situation was not good. We were going to have to come up with some money!Joe and Brian

Even though we were out of money, Joe was always asking us to buy something else that he needed to do the cooking properly for us.

Jim: We were just young guys in those days, and we had already invested all of our savings into this trip. There was no more! By the nature of the way we were raised by our father, looking back on it, I don’t think any of us even considered the idea of asking him for a loan. Not that he wouldn’t have helped us. Sure he would have. But the price to pay for telling our dad that we had gotten ourselves stuck up in the middle of nowhere with no money would have been way too much to pay. We would have looked for dishwashing jobs before we did that!

Dave: I knew an American gold buyer who was based out of Whitehorse during the summer months. It was something about the Dollar exchange between the Canadian and U.S. currencies that was making it work for him and the Canadian miners that he was buying gold from. He told me to look him up when we reached Whitehorse. I had his phone number. So I gave him a call as soon as we had a chance to catch our breath. He invited me over to his office. Jim and I drove the motorcycle over there from where we were camped.

Jim: The first thing we learned in Whitehorse was that Canada was strictly enforcing a motorcycle helmet law. We barely got into town, and were sternly scolded by an RCMP officer (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) from the open window of his cruiser on the far side of the street. He yelled at us so loudly that I thought we had joined the Marines. He was a totally no-nonsense dude. He said, “Get some helmets on or else!” We said, “Yes sir!”

Dave: After advising my friend of our situation, he suggested that he could introduce us to some of his clients that were recovering hundreds of pounds of gold from ancient gold deposits located adjacent to Pine Creek near Atlin, British Columbia. This location was more than a hundred miles from Whitehorse (that is a 3-hour drive on today’s roads according to Google Earth). My friend was pretty certain these Canadian miners would allow us on their creek since they were not doing anything with it. And if not there, my friend said we would turn up others near Atlin that would allow us to dredge on their property.

Atlin has a fantastic gold mining history; it is one of the richest areas in all of Canada. The standard dealwas 10% of gold recovery to the claim holders, and another 5% finder’s fee for my friend. That seemed more than reasonable to me and my partners!

Wide view of campWithin just a few days, we had made 10% deals with several claim owners in the Atlin area. Let me just say that while America might be the super power, generally speaking, we do not even come close to matching up with what the Canadians are doing with mining. The miners who we were being introduced to were operating whole fleets of huge earth-moving machines. They were literally removing hundreds of feet of overburden to gain access to extremely rich layers of pay-dirt. When they saw our tiny 5-inch Keene dredges, it was only politeness that kept them from laughing out loud at us! I’m sure we made for amusing discussion at the local bar, because we heard about it later. To them, we were just playing. Besides, they had zero interest in Pine Creek, because their forefathers had already mined the creek…

Brian: We found this wonderful place to camp up on Surprise Lake, which was about 15 miles upstream from Atlin on Pine Creek. It was an organized campground with a pit toilet, but we were the only ones there. The surroundings were outstanding! We didn’t know it until we pulled in there, but this turned out to be a renowned fishing area with glacier-fed lakes (cold), beautiful rivers and creeks, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It was now mid-June, and there was still 3-to-4 feet of snow on the ground in some places. Surprise Lake overflowed to begin the lower stretch of Pine Creek.

Unloading at the lakeUnfortunately, the entrance into the campground was very rough and we broke a leaf spring on the trailer getting into the campground, something we would have to replace before we could leave.

Eric: After unloading all the mining gear and setting up camp, I decided to row out on the lake and see if I could catch any fish. Mainly, I was just happy to get out of that truck. The guys kind of laughed at me when I first went out there. This was because they were used to fishing on lakes in America where you usually have to work hard to catch even a small fish. I had a nice big fish in the boat after my first cast! That sent the other guys running for their own fishing gear. Then, everybody got into the act and we were catching fish like crazy! Later, Jim and I rowed over to the other side where a small creek was emptying into the lake, and these same fish were trying to get up the very shallow creek in such large numbers that we could have gathered up as many as we wanted.Lake Camp

We were the only ones out there camped on this beautiful lake that was full of fish!

Dave: One thing we noticed as soon as we got into Canada was that things seemed a lot more expensive there than what we were used to. This was even more true when we got out to Atlin. Just a medium-sized jar of peanut butter was like $10. And we were some hungry boys. Since our money needed to be spent on fuel for the dredges, we felt we needed to do something drastic to get some meat in the freezer.

Jim: The day after setting up camp at Surprise Lake, Eric and I went hunting on the Honda. There were all sorts of primitive roads out there, and we had to be careful to not get lost! As we started driving around, it became clear almost immediately that we were in the middle of a massive, historical gold mining area. There were old miner’s shacks and old mines around nearly every bend! Gold prices were very low at the time, so most of the buildings and mines were abandoned. There was hardly anyone around, except for an occasional person or two we would see driving around from time-to-time. It seemed pretty safe to go on an unlicensed hunting trip.Eric & Jim going hunting

Eric: We had brought two weapons with us on this trip. The first was a shot gun that we literally had loaded and ready for potential bear attacks. The second was my trusty Winchester 30-30. This was my personal favorite hunting rifle. I had knocked off a lot of dear using this gun. Since I was familiar with the 30-30, Jim agreed that he would drive the motorcycle and let me take a shot if we spotted any game.

 

 

 

Old mine  Two Cabins
Old mine 2

Similar to the way we underestimated the fishing, we realized how plentiful the game was before we had traveled more than about a mile away from camp. Jim followed the road around this bend; and there was an entire herd of these huge animals right out in an open meadow. We didn’t even know what they were. It was meat! They were so close; I didn’t even have to get off the back of the motorcycle to nail one. He went down in a single shot!

Driving through mudJim: Dave and Brian had gone off in the truck to case out where we would begin our dredge sampling program on the following day. So Eric and I went back to camp and got one of the tarps that we had brought along, some knives and some trash bags. Then we spent the rest of the entire day cleaning that big animal and packing hunks of meat to our freezer in camp. We stocked it completely full of meat. We then dragged the remaining carcass off out of sight to help feed the wolves (which were surely there). When Dave and Brian returned later that afternoon, Joe already had steaks cooking on the Barbie! Things were looking better. Worst case, we could just eat fish and meat until we started mining some gold. We were not going to go hungry out there! But our money shortage forced us to place a severe limit on what we would spend on food in the store.

Power wagon at high speedBrian: Before deciding where to begin sampling, we spent quite a bit of time driving around the surrounding area. As they were in their spring thaw, the side roads off the beaten track were mostly wet and muddy. We got stuck several times even with the 4-wheel drive. Ultimately, we decided the best way to deal with the muddy sections of road were to hit them hard and fast so the momentum would carry us through. Boy, that old Power Wagon was like an army tank!

Here was Brian charging through a bog at about 60 miles an hour!

Dave: The local claim owners that we were working with owned several miles of Pine Creek. But there were only a few places which allowed direct road access. So, on the following day, we launched a 5-inch dredge and decided to knock out a sample hole right there where the road met the creek. There was still snow and ice on the edges of the water. The creek was ice-cold! We all had dry-suits to keep our core temperatures intact. But I got a migraine headache that hurt so bad that it turned my stomach every time I stuck my face in that water; no exceptions!Jim thumbs up

Jim giving the thumbs-up signaling that we were recovering gold on the first sample.

Amazingly, we got right into pretty rich gold on the first sample hole! The gold was sitting right on top of a layer of hydraulic tailings, under about two feet of hard-packed streambed material. This was gold that was lost from old-timer recovery systems. There were a lot of fines and flakes. There were also some nice gold nuggets! We were making money on the first day. Things were looking up!dredges on pine creek

Production dredging in the first gold deposit we found on Pine Creek.

We launched my 6-incher on the following day and decided to shift-dive the dredges, one person down on each of the two dredges at a time, while the other two guys had a chance to warm up. We wanted to do some production dredging in the deposit to see how the gold was going to add up before we committed the other two dredges.

It was going pretty good. But, things were so expensive up there, it didn’t take long to realize that we needed to find a richer gold deposit if we wanted to come out ahead after all the costs. When I say “come out ahead,” I mean we wanted to come out way ahead!

Here is the sun at about 3 O’clock in the morning!

Midnight sunEric: By this time, it was not really getting dark at night. The sun got smaller, kind of like the moon; but it never really got dark. This had the four of us out on the creek until very late in the day. Working in the cold water gave us insatiable appetites! This all came to a head one evening when we returned to camp and Joe had not cooked nearly enough food to feed our hungry appetites. He was also complaining bitterly that he had no way to get to the creek after we went off for the day — so he was not able to get any mining in. Joe generally had a negative emotional attitude. He was just made up that way. His negative emotions were something that had been dragging on all of us for the whole trip. It all came to a head that evening with the rest of us fiercely growling (in hunger) at Joe that he must feed us more! We were so angry at him; I believe Joe thought we were going to kill him. This is not an exaggeration. From then on, Joe was fearing for his life!

The meals were much bigger after that, and Joe was sending each of us out with three thick peanut butter plus two cheese sandwiches per day. We were using most of the gold we were mining to buy more food at the local store. We were eating it all.

Joe never got in a single moment of mining. All his time was devoted to meal preparation and clean-up. He was quiet and sullen. He was very hard to read, but we could all sense his resentment. We were not sure if he was worried that we were going to kill him, or if he was perhaps planning to poison us. We were all regretting that we had brought him along.

Jim in dry suitWe had to back out of our dry-suits one person at a time to keep from being swarmed by millions of hungry mosquitoes!

Jim: The mosquitoes along pine creek were so ferocious; that to keep from being eaten alive, we each had to get out of our dry-suits one person at a time, with the other three guys waving the mosquitoes off. The (big) mosquitoes would literally swarm us in clouds!

Brian: After we got a few ounces of gold ahead, we made a special trip in to Whitehorse and sold it to Dave’s friend (he paid us $260/ounce at 70% of the spot price), and we used the money to stock up on fuel, food and supplies. We were filling two 55-gallon drums with fuel in the back of the truck. Fuel and supplies cost us much less in Whitehorse, than in Atlin.

Dave: One of the T-80 air-breathing compressors from the two new 5-inch dredges we had bought from Keene Industries lost a bearing on the first day. I called Jerry Keene and asked if he would please send us a replacement. He said no problem. So I gave him a General Delivery address for Atlin, British Columbia. One of our 5-inchers was going to be out of action until the compressor arrived.

After a few days of working this first gold deposit, we decided it would be best if Jim and Brian continued to work it to produce income, while Eric and I, who were the most experienced, started a serious dredge-sampling program on Pine Creek. We needed to locate a richer gold deposit!creek

The claim owners were coming down every few days to see how we were doing. They were impressed with what we were recovering, surprised that we were finding any gold at all from the creek. They were also showing us some of the larger nuggets they were finding. The claim owners were into really big gold, and lots of it!

Eric: Since the creek was accessible by road up there, Dave and I just started up by Surprise Lake, dredging sample holes as we drifted downstream towards where Brian and Jim were dredging. The water was freezing, so we shifted off, each taking turns. We didn’t find very much gold during the first few days, so we were starting to get a bit discouraged. Still, Dave and I had learned from previous experience that the only way to win was to continue the best we could with enthusiasm.

fast waterDave: Eric and I had just successfully maneuvered the dredge down through a very bad set of rapids. This required him to run downstream with the dredge to get it lined up just right. I was downstream with a rope and had to pull the dredge across the creek just at the right time, to keep it from smashing into some boulders out in the current that certainly would have flipped the dredge over (which would have been a disaster). The operation went smooth and we were pleased with ourselves. We set up to do a sample hole just below the rapids. It was my turn.

After getting through my blinding headache, I dredged a sample hole right out in the middle of the fast water. The streambed was only about a foot to bedrock, so the sample was completed pretty fast. I only saw a smidgen of gold on the bedrock; it was not what we were looking for!

As I was dragging the suction hose back into the slower-moving water towards the side of the creek, it occurred to me that I ought to try a sample there. That was a moment of fate. To this day, I remember the thought process playing out: “Should I or shouldn’t I?” You have to have your mind and emotions in the right place to find high-grade gold. It is a lot about getting dialed into the right wavelength. Since the streambed was so shallow to bedrock, I decided to dredge another hole. That single decision changed the outcome of this whole adventure, and that of the others who were with me! A whole philosophy could be built up out of this single idea that virtually every decision we make in our lives affects the final outcome for each of us, and perhaps, to some degree, for all of us!

In closer to the bank of the creek, only about 6-inches into the streambed, I could see that I was getting into something entirely different than what we had seen in any of our earlier experiences along Pine Creek. This was a much harder, older material. I immediately saw the gold spread all throughout the material. Unbelievable; we struck it rich!

I took a moment to uncover an entire pothole along the bedrock that was completely filled with gold nuggets!

Eric: Dave came up and told me to bring my mask over and take a look. As painful as the cold water was, I already knew he must have turned up something really good. Heck, he was only in three or four feet of water! When I stuck my head in the water, I could see the gold even before I dipped down closer to take a look. The small area he had uncovered with the dredge had gold spread all over it. It was the richest gold deposit I had ever seen!

Dave: After Eric got a look, I took an hour or so and tried to load the sluice box with gold. I wanted it to be the most abundant clean-up I ever had. The streambed material was just pocked full, all throughout with gold. The cracks and holes in the bedrock were completely full of gold. It was, by far, the richest deposit I had ever seen. One thing I noticed was that the streambed material was so hard that it was coming apart in clumps. I didn’t give much thought to this, mainly focused on getting as much material sucked up into the dredge as I could.

When I ended the dive, I was disappointed that there was not more gold in the dredge’s sluice box. The riffles should have been overflowing! Don’t get me wrong; there was a lot of gold there. But there should have been more! Then it occurred to me that I should look at the dredge’s tailings…

Eric: The box was loaded with gold when Dave came up. It was, by far, the best clean-up I had ever seen. There were beautiful nuggets up to ¼-ounce in size. The riffles were loaded with flakes. I just could not believe our good fortune. It was soooo amazing how things had changed for us in just a single sample hole!

Then Dave put his mask on and looked at the tailing pile. He came up and told me to take a look. I don’t recall that either of us were experiencing cold-water headaches at that time. I could see that the tailings pile was almost entirely made up of streambed clumps of hard-pack that remained full of gold. The clumps had washed right through the sluice box carrying the gold along. It looked as though there was more gold in the tailings, than we had recovered in the sluice!

Dave and I devoted the remaining part of the day scooping all those tailing into our clean-up tub. We then broke up the material as best we could to release the gold. After our clean-up, we floated down river to where Brian and Jim were just finishing up their day. It was late; maybe 8 or 9 PM. But, by the light in the sky, it might just as well been five O’clock in the afternoon.Eric with first clean-up

Eric showing off our first serious clean-up. It was around 8 ounces for about an hour of dredging.

We were all in a celebration mood that night! We probably worked till 2 AM doing final clean-up on all that gold, rocking-out with Pat Benatar, Led Zeppelin, Steve Martin and some Rolling Stones. Joe saw our gold and immediately retreated to his tent. I suppose I was closest to him of anyone on the trip. He had completely separated himself from all of us, including me. The only feelings coming from Joe were resentment. It was starting to feel very wrong for us to have someone with that much resentment preparing our food for us…

Dave: We had to come up with a new plan on how to work this very compacted streambed material so we could avoid washing clumps of gold right across our recovery systems. These days, we would just hook up a pressure washer to break up the gravel. But this all happened long before low-cost pressure washers were on the market.

Finally, we decided that we would sacrifice the following day making a trip into Whitehorse and buy some geology rock picks at the local prospecting store. We would sell some gold and stock up on supplies. I had also received a notice from Canadian Customs to stop by and pick up the T-80 compressor which had been shipped by Keene.

Jim: Not having any better ideas, and being worried about Joe, Dave, Brian, Eric and I began taking turns sneaking out into the forest and burying our rapidly-growing stash of golden treasure. Over top of what we were selling for expenses, our stash started adding up big-time as soon as we got into the rich deposit.

Brian: Our plan was to place all four dredges into this extremely rich gold deposit. We were going to float the two dredges from downriver upstream about half-mile to get them there. We were going to lower the other 5-incher down over the hillside with a rope as soon as we got the replacement compressor installed. It was looking like we could turn this into serious gold production. We figured we still had two months remaining in our season. We were gearing up!

Dave: Our first stop in Whitehorse was at Canadian Customs. They had sent a pick-up slip to me in care of General Delivery in Atlin. I went to the counter totally unprepared for what happened. After giving the slip to the lady, she brought the box over and set it down on the counter. I could see that the box had been opened. Without any fanfare, she looked me right in the eye and asked me what it was. I told her that it was an air compressor for a portable gold dredge. She then freaked out and demanded to know what I, as a U.S. citizen, was doing with a gold dredge in Canada? That’s when I realized this was not going as planned.

Improvising as best I could, I told her we were actually on our way to Alaska and stopped to do some fishing on Surprise Lake. I told her that we broke the compressor when we unloaded our trailer so we could have a living space on the lake. She wanted to know if we were gold mining in Canada, and I told her no (this gal knew a liar when she saw one). Then, she explained that I had no need for the compressor; and that I could pick it up when we passed through on our way to Alaska. Her boss was listening in. He seemed like a nice guy, older and more calm. He told her to give me the compressor. I took it and made a hasty retreat.

I have not been back up to Canada since then, so I don’t know the way things are these days. But back in 1982, the Canadian Customs authorities and RCMP officers were some no-nonsense, very serious officials! We had also got (forcefully) yelled at by the local RCMP officer near Atlin for driving the motorcycle around on the back dirt roads without wearing helmets. There was no politeness in the demeanor.

Jim: On the other hand, during our short time there, we had made friends with some of the local people – who were as hospitable as anyone we had ever met. We were buying some supplies in Atlin, going to the post office, using the pay phone in town to call home, and doing other business there. In our running around, we had gotten a chance to meet several other Canadians that were actively mining. They had extended open invitations for us to operate our dredges on their claims.

It turns out the Forth of July is also a big holiday in Canada, and the local mayor actually sent someone up to our camp one day to insist we go down and play in the annual fast-pitch softball game. We spent the entire Forth of July making friends with the very hospitable locals in Atlin. Everyone was really nice to us!

Dave: My encounter with the lady in Customs changed everything. It was clear from our conversation that our days dredging in British Columbia were going to be limited. Until I walked into Customs that morning, we had no idea that we were not allowed to mine up there. My understanding was that America and Canada have a mutual agreement which allows citizens from both countries to mine in either country. And while this is most-certainly true in America for Canadians (or anyone else who wants to operate a gold dredge in America), Canada turns out to have some very substantial bureaucratic steps that an American must take (before you even enter into Canada) prior to doing any type of commercial mining up there. At least that’s the way it was in 1982.

Eric: We went from Customs directly over to the prospecting shop and bought some geology rock picks, the kind with hard-pointed tips. We were going to use those to pick apart the gold-laden hard-pack on the bottom of Pine creek before dredging it up. The idea was to break the gold loose from the other material so it would get caught in our recovery systems. We also pitched out enough dough for two motorcycle helmets. Then we loaded up on groceries and fuel and returned to camp.

Jim: Our feelings of exhilaration from the day before now had a dark shadow hanging over us. We did not want to be in trouble. But we also did not want to walk away from all that gold!

Dave: Have you ever experienced the feeling of “impending trouble,” even when you don’t know exactly where it is going to come from? It’s like you know that powerful forces are organizing against you. It is the feeling of “being in trouble,” even though it has not caught up to you, yet. I saw the determination in the lady from Customs. This was not over. It was just starting!

Still, since we had made our discovery in a place along Pine Creek that could not be seen from the road (even though we could see from down on the creek when vehicles passed by up on the road), we believed that we could get some days of dredge-production on the creek before anything was going to happen. Actually, we were not even certain that anything was going to happen. The gold deposit was Lowering Dredgesso rich; it was only going to take a few days of production to put us in really good shape!

We lowered the other 5-inch dredge down a steep hill on a rope to get it set up in the rich deposit as fast as we could.

Brian: With uncertainty hanging over us, we decided to drop the other 5-incher down over the side of the hill (with the new T-80 compressor back on board) and leave the two other dredges down near the creek access road for a while. This would allow us to get more time immediately dredging in the rich gold deposit. It was a good plan. After getting the second dredge down there and set up, we did shift-diving well into the first night, using two dredges side-by-side.

It had to be about midnight by the time we got back to camp. Joe was about to have a nervous breakdown when we pulled in. He was like an old mother hen, giving us a hard time about getting home so late while dinner had been ready for three hours. Actually, it occurred to us later that he might have been frightened to be in camp at night alone. This was grizzly country!

When we showed Joe the concentrate from the day’s production, he shut right the heck up and returned to his tent. The concentrate was loaded down with pounds of beautiful golden flakes and nuggets. It was just an unbelievable sight to behold!

We reheated our own dinner and ate quickly. Final clean-up took several more hours to complete. Now we were filling up bottles with gold. Some of the nuggets were too large to fit in the standard-sized 4-ounce bottles that we had brought along, so we emptied out spice bottles of their contents and started filling those up, too! I remember it was Eric’s turn that night to sneak off into the forest and find a hiding spot for the gold.

We hid the gold in a different place every night, carefully refilling and covering past hiding places so nobody would catch onto what we were doing.

Dave: One of Joe’s responsibilities was to be first up in the morning and get the coffee going. Since this was done inside the trailer, and I was bunked in the trailer, I was always up as soon as I smelled the coffee. Joe always poured me the first cup, because he knew I was going to want it as soon as I rolled out of my sleeping bag.

The following morning, I heard Joe come into the trailer, but did not hear him preparing the coffee. Everything was quiet, but I knew he was there. So, after a while, I rolled over and peaked out of my warm sleeping bag at him. Joe was just standing there, holding his crotch with both hands. Both of his eyes were rolled back in his head. He had flipped out on us! Concerned, I asked Joe how he was doing. Without even looking at me, he said, “I gotta get out of here!” He clearly meant it. So I told him I would arrange to get him on a bus towards home that very morning. He went off to pack his things. I made the coffee.

After getting breakfast and lunch together, we all drove into Atlin and dropped Joe off at the Greyhound station. A bus went through there every day. We bought his ticket home, gave him a few hundred Dollars for food, and slipped him two ounces of the beautiful gold that we had recovered just the day before. He was so surprised when we gave him the gold, we could see that he was having second thoughts about leaving. But we had already bought his ticket, and it really was time for him to go. So we each said our goodbyes to Joe and could see that he was crying as we pulled away in the truck. That was the last any of us ever saw of him. Some years later, Eric said he heard that Joe died of a stroke sometime shortly after returning to America.

After that, we started bringing the motorcycle with us to the claim. Each day, when we were winding down with the mining program, one of us would return to camp and cook dinner and pre-make lunch for the following day. We took turns. As much as we all got used to Joe, things were a lot lighter around camp after he was gone. We turned the music up louder!Jim and Dave with coffee

Dave & Jim with the all-important hot coffee.

Jim: Yeah; I remember one day it was my day to cook and I decided to take a short cut with Dave’s motorcycle back to camp. Dave and I were always into motocross riding when we were growing up. As I came down this hill, I drove through what looked to be a puddle and buried the Honda in muck all the way to the handlebars! As hard as I tried, I could not get the bike out of the water alone, so had I to hike back and get the guys to help me pull it out of the stink-hole. Dave was (rightfully) pissed off about that, because he loved that bike. He spent the next day in camp flushing all the water out of the engine and getting the bike operational, again. I’ll never forget the first time he pushed down on the kick starter and a whole bunch of dirty water gushed out of the exhaust pipe. I looked around, and Brian and Eric were doing everything they could to keep from laughing. We didn’t really lose much production out of it. The rest of us just worked all the harder to keep the dredges running while Dave fixed the bike.

There were no more short cuts with the Honda allowed after that!

Eric with handfuls of gold  Close up of gold

Eric showing off the clean-up from our second day; more than double
what we did with a single dredge, but only in a few hours of work.

Eric: Our second production day with the two 5-inch dredges was much better than the first, even though we lost quite a bit of the day getting a second dredge into action and moving everyone’s dive gear to the new location. The deposit consisted of around two feet of black-colored very hard-packed material. It was laced full of gold! This special material would disappear once we got out into the creek a ways. But the rich material extended right up under the bank. It was on the second day that we recognized that we were dredging directly under an old water ditch that had once followed alongside the creek. Remnants of the old ditch could still be seen for a long way. Best we could tell, the old-timers never mined under the ditch. This was a near certainty, because if they had, the old ditch would have been gone, and we could still see parts of it.

Jim: But that black material was really slow to work. We had to manually pick the material apart with our little rock picks.

Overview of rich depositDave: These days, we would just plow through that hard-pack with a low-cost high-pressure washer. One of those would have had us going dozens of times faster. As it was, we were only able to dredge a small fraction of our real production capability. Still, for what we were doing, the deposit was building up our gold reserves very quickly.

The rich gold deposit also extended up under the stream-bank.

Brian: Towards the end of one day, right on schedule, one of the claim owners arrived to see how we were doing. He didn’t have any trouble finding us and climbing down the hill using our rope. When we showed him the gold we recovered, he about had a heart attack! He was also quite pleased. And you could tell right off that he was reassessing the potential of these yellow-pontooned dredges of ours. When we explained that our deposit was extending up under the bank, he offered to send a tracked excavator over to remove the overburden for us. How’s that for hospitality? We accepted his offer with great appreciation! We would not need his help for several days, because there were still plenty of the underwater portions of the deposit accessible to us.

Dave: Whenever we took the truck anywhere, it was usually Brian who did the driving. As the oldest brother, he had always been the most experienced driver. So he just naturally took up that role in our program. That is, except for the days when Brian returned to camp early to cook dinner. Brian made wonderful spaghetti where he would add in nice hunks of different kinds of vegetables and meat. Everyone liked that.

Since we were doing so well with the gold, we voted unanimously one day to up our daily ration of jelly and milk-honey on the peanut butter sandwiches. This was a big morale-booster, because we were getting tired of these thick peanut butter sandwiches which only had a little sweetener on them. BullwinkleCanada has this special, fresh milk-honey mix that is to kill for on a peanut butter sandwich!

One morning, we were driving along Pine Creek in the direction towards the claim; and out of nowhere came this mammoth of a she-moose. No horse ever got this big! It came running out from the side of the road, generally in the same direction as we were going, except at an angle to cut us off. She was right on top of us before we even realized she was there! We were driving about 40 miles an hour, and she was going faster. When she bumped the side of the truck, we went into a slide right off the side of the road. Brian managed the slide just right to keep us from toppling over in the truck. The moose just kept on going. There was a pretty sizable indentation in the driver’s side door where the moose bumped into us (nothing more than a nudge).

That moose was not afraid of us a bit. Clearly she was showing us who the boss was. I’m certain she nudged us on purpose. I was in the passenger seat, so I probably got the best look at the animal. There is one point where she dipped her head down and looked right in the window at us, and I remember thinking that she had that very same silly smile as Bullwinkle the Moose in the television cartoons!

The whole emergency was over in 10 seconds and the moose was already long gone. We sat there for a moment in silent disbelief, and then broke out into hilarious laughter.

Brian: Actually, my read was that the moose was trying to knock us off our feet. On that slippery dirt road, had I allowed her to make full contact with the truck, we probably would have spun around and rolled.

Eric: It was late spring. She probably had a young calf around somewhere close and was just trying to keep us away. Good thing we were not walking up the road that morning!

Two dredgesJim: Work continued pretty-much the same for a few more days. We were limited by how much black material we could pick apart underwater. It was very slow going because the water resistance would only allow you to pick so fast. After a while, my arm would get so tired from the activity, it would go numb. Then it would be someone else’s turn for a while.

Taking shifts, we kept two dredges running side-by-side for long hours into the night. Since we were not using them, we removed the other two dredges from the creek downstream, and stored the components in a tent and under our trailer in camp to make the mining components less visible.

Brian: One day, these people drove into camp and launched this big canoe into the lake. They were using an outboard motor for power. The two guys loaded the canoe completely full of supplies and prospecting gear. We sent Jim over to talk with them. They said that once you get off the main road up there in a boat, there is an entire universe of rich mining country that has never even been prospected before!

Loaded canoe  Canoe departure

Jim: The prospectors were friendly. But they were committed to their own program, only talking as they were loading their canoe. It would have been overstepping to ask where they were going, and they didn’t offer anything up on their own. Once the canoe was loaded, they parked their car up in the campground, and off they went. We never saw them again.

Dave: But we watched them motor across the lake, and we were all thinking how that would be a wonderful, romantic way to launch a future prospecting trip…

SadieEric: Sadie turned out to be a wonderful companion for the whole trip. She also played her important part in warding off dangerous animals. We made her into an outside dog, but she didn’t seem to mind. We depended upon her to sound out if any bears (or moose) decided to visit us during the night. None ever did, probably because she was there. Even though we locked the back door on our trailer when we went to the creek every day, Sadie would remain tied up there so any visitors would have to contend with her in our absence. Nobody ever bothered any of our stuff for the whole trip. We were all glad we brought Sadie along, and I’m sure she was glad to be there with us. We delivered her safely back to my mom when the trip was over.

Brian: Atlin during 1982 was a small, friendly town. My perception was that all or most of the inhabitants were involved with gold mining in one way or another. There were no secrets in that little town. Everyone there had known what we Americans were doing with our yellow dredges. It started off as a friendly joke to them.

Dave: But when we got into the really rich gold, the claim owner, and sometimes his partners, was coming down towards the end of every day to see how we were doing. They were clearly impressed. One day, the claim owner actually made the comment that we were doing better than they were! And that would not have surprised me, because they were having to clear hundreds of feet of overburden to gain access to the very same ancient layer that was directly exposed to our dredges.

Dave, Brian and Jim with goldThere are a number of good reasons why I should not say how much, but we were getting a lot of gold. This was probably our undoing, because news of our discovery must have traveled all around Atlin and elsewhere. The amount of gold we were pulling out of the creek was no joke!

Brian, Dave & Jim showing off a clean-up

Jim: But the gold was not coming for free. Some days we would go to the creek at 7 or 8 in the morning and not return to camp until almost midnight. Dave was pushing us really hard. Nobody was complaining, though. We didn’t know how many days we had left before we were going to get bounced from this rich deposit, so we wanted to make the most of it while we could.


Eric:
I was the first one to spot the RCMP patrol car drive up the road one day, going towards our camp. I pointed it out to Jim when it drove by. Jim just rolled his eyes back in this “here comes the problem” look. I nodded to him.

All four of us together

We asked one of the claim owners to snap this picture of the four of us. The picture was taken
at the height of our gold production, about a day before the heat came down upon us.

Dave: When Brian and I came up for a break, Jim and Eric told us the patrol car was probably up in our camp looking for us. We had been expecting trouble from the authorities ever since my visit to Customs in Whitehorse about a week before. In fact, we were surprised that it took them so long to show up!

While we were there on the bank discussing our options, we saw the patrol car drive right past our location, headed down towards Atlin. Our truck was parked behind the claim owner’s gate and out of sight, so the officer didn’t know where we were at. We decided to finish out our day on the creek. While the going was slow with those rock picks, every minute of dredging-time was adding serious gold to our reserves.

Brian: On a notion, the following morning, we sent Jim into Whitehorse on the Honda to sell some gold for traveling money, and to buy a replacement leaf spring for the trailer. It seemed wise to get ourselves ready if a quick departure became necessary.

Jim: That was a long, cold drive on the motorcycle even during the daytime! I was wearing the helmet and my best winter clothes, but I still had to stop frequently to warm myself up. The trip took a long time. When I got to Whitehorse, I sold gold to Dave’s friend first. Then it took a while, but I found a replacement spring and a few more bolts to repair the trailer. Then I made the very long drive back to camp.

Brian: We decided to park the truck even further down the access road by the creek where it would be harder to find in case anyone was looking for us that next morning. This meant we had to make an extended walk up the road in our dry-suits, but we decided it was better to stay out of sight.

Dave and Eric were down dredging when I spotted the patrol car drive by the first time. A little while later, the officer drove back down the road going the other way. We knew in our guts that he was looking for us. You know that deep, aching feeling in your belly when you are in trouble? That feeling was growing in me.

Eric: The patrol car drove by two more times while we were eating lunch.

Dave: I was sitting there on a rock eating a sandwich when I saw my brother, Brian, dive behind a rock to keep from being seen as the RCMP officer drove by. That’s when I knew it was time for us to leave. How things came out on this project was really my responsibility. The original idea was to stop in Atlin and mine gold just long enough to get well again. We had already far-exceeded those expectations. When Brian dove behind the rock, I felt deep internal pang of irresponsibility. I have been living on the edge of some kind of trouble my entire life. It is quite something else to put others through it; guys that are not used to being in trouble with authority.

After just a short discussion, Eric, Brian and I unanimously agreed that we would float the two dredges and all of our support gear down to where we had parked the truck, load everything up, take it all back to camp and stow our gear. The following day, we would go ask for some assistance from the claim owners in dealing with the authorities. It still was not clear to us that we were really doing anything wrong. The claim owners had told us they believed we were within the law.

Brian: As soon as we reached camp, Dave and Eric went right to work on our final gold clean-up so we would not have any visible gold lying around if the officer showed up in camp.

On a hunch that we were in trouble, the first thing I did was load all of our remaining meat from the freezer into trash bags. Then I dumped it all into the pit toilet there in the campground. I also emptied the trash. It was not easy to let go of that meat. But we had switched gears into damage control.

Dave: When the clean-up was finished, I immediately went and hid the latest gold out in the forest. It was a good thing that I did. Because just after I returned, five or six official vehicles came driving into camp. The local RCMP officer was leading the pack. As they were pulling down onto the flat, I told Brian and Eric to just keep taking the mining gear apart and allow me to do all the talking. Brian made some kind of comment like, “Sounds good to me!”

I walked up to the officials as they were getting out of their vehicles. There were several RCMP officers in their unfriendly, no-nonsense mode. It reminded me a little bit of boot camp where the drill instructors always treated us like low-life worms. There were several officials there from the Department of Environmental Control. They were not friendly. There were two officials from the official Canadian Mining Office. The superior of these seemed to be in charge. He seemed like a nice guy that you could talk to. He asked me what we were doing.

I walked him over and showed him that we had broken a spring on our trailer and explained that we had to remove all our gear from the trailer to have a safe place to sleep. He wanted to know if we had been using the mining gear, and I told him some local claim owners had given us permission to play around in the creek. He wanted to know if we found any gold. So I showed him our bucket of concentrates and told him we were doing pretty well. He and his assistant borrowed some of our gold pans and worked some of the black sands down in a wash tub. The boss was impressed, but his deputy told him it was a poor showing. It really was a poor showing!

Brian: While the mining guys were talking to Dave, all the other officials spread out and started looking around at everything in the camp. I remember hoping with my most sincere prayer to the universe that they were not going to go up and look in the pit toilet. They looked in the trash cans there, but they never went into the toilet. Good thing; because if they looked, they probably would have seen all that raw, frozen meat laying in there. That would have been the end of us!

Eric: After a while, both patrol officers came over and started grilling me about the gold we found. I told them we were mainly fishing and that we had only played around in the creek just a little bit. I told them, “There wasn’t much gold.”

It was very interesting; because both RCMP officers seemed really nervous. They each had a walky-talky in their hands, held out in front, like perhaps someone else was monitoring the conversation. Perhaps they were accustomed to handling more hardened criminals than we were.

Dave: The patrol officer then came over and grilled me. This was the local guy from Atlin that was so impolite to us about the motorcycle helmet (riding around out on back dirt roads). He could have just as easily informed us politely that we needed helmets in Canada even when riding out in the forest. Why all the yelling? He was yelling at me now, it was common knowledge all over Atlin that we were recovering kilos and kilos of gold with our suction dredges. I just calmly waved that off as something that happens everywhere we go. “You know how stories get started; there is nothing to it”

In anger, the local RCMP officer informed us they were going to search our truck and trailer. The other officer was going to search our truck. “Go for it,” I gave him permission, and I followed him into the trailer. He looked in the refrigerator; but it was empty, except for some butter and a partial bottle of local milk honey.

He saw the 30-30 and shotgun on the wall and asked if they were loaded. I told him they were not. I watched him struggle with the internal decision to not check the guns. There was ego involved here, and he didn’t want to look foolish trying to open the breaches of unfamiliar firearms to take a look. It was a good thing he didn’t look, because it actually turned out both guns were fully loaded. We had normally been unloading them during the daytime, but I guess we overlooked it with everything else that was on our minds.

I gather that loaded guns would have gotten us into a lot of trouble if they wanted to push it.

While the officer was searching in our internal storage compartments, Brian came up into the trailer and was kind of crowding us. I couldn’t figure out why he did that, but just kept my mouth shut while the officer searched. The officer also felt Brian crowding us and didn’t like it. He ordered Brian out of the trailer. But his search turned up nothing of interest inside the compartment, and soon we were all standing in a group outside.

Eric: I was just a young guy in those days and didn’t have much experience in business. But I was learning a lot from Dave and Brian, both who had received some similar management training during their younger years. They were managing our mining program with the use of a production graph. Every day, after our final clean-up was weighed, they would carefully mark the number of ounces on the graph and connect the line from the previous day. Their management approach was to do whatever was necessary to make the curve move upwards in a steep direction every day. After marking daily results on the graph, we would have some discussion about what we could do on the following day to push the production results even higher. We were always coming up with a new idea. Mostly, it was just about working long, hard hours in the creek. Dave is one of the hardest pushers I ever met. But we were all pushing together to make each production day better and better. There was not a single day we didn’t push the gold production higher than the day before, some days it was double. The production curve on our graph showed nearly a vertical line. Production was so high after the first few days in the rich deposit; we had to add another sheet of graph paper to the top of the first one just so we could log the growing amount of ounces that we were getting every day!

Brian: I was standing there outside the trailer watching the officer go through our stuff, and then had this nightmare awakening that our production graph was taped to the wall inside the trailer right there in plain sight. All of the information was right there on the graph, from the pennyweights we found on our first day, to the kilos we were getting during the final week.

The officer had not recognized the graph on the wall for what it was, yet. The only thing I could think of to do was distract him. So I moved up into the trailer and started looking over his shoulder with Dave while he was searching. This made the officer suspicious, nervous and mad. He told me to get out of the trailer. Shortly afterwards, he followed me out. Unbelievable; he totally missed our production graph that was in plain sight on the wall!

The other officer didn’t find what he was looking for in the truck, either. We were not hiding any gold there.

Dave: Actually our biggest luck was that they did not take the film from our cameras!

Eric: When the searching was finished, the local officer gave it one more forceful try, “We know you guys found at least 100 kilos of gold in the creek; the news is all over Atlin. Either come up with the gold right now or you guys are going to be in a lot of trouble!”

Dave: I looked him right in the eye and told him he could have all the gold we found. “It’s all right there in the bucket of concentrates,” I told him. Everyone present knew we were lying. They declined to take our bucket of concentrates.

Brian: By now, it was pretty late in the day, and the officials from Whitehorse had a long way to go to get home. There is no doubt in my mind that they would have forced us to follow them back to the impound-yard in Whitehorse right then and there, but one of our leaf springs was missing off the trailer. We could not go anywhere. It really turned out lucky for us that we broke that spring!

Dave: After some discussion on his hand-held radio, the local RCMP officer ordered us to get our spring repaired and go to Canadian Customs on the following day. He was talking to me. I was listening very closely, “You will repair that spring and be at Customs tomorrow in Whitehorse.” I said, “Yes sir.”

Eric: You could have picked up their disappointment off the ground when they all drove out of there. They really expected they were going to make the mega-gold bust; it was going to be big news on television!

Brian: As soon as they drove up the road, I tore the production graph off the wall and used the propane stove to burn it. Everyone else just looked on with disbelief that the officers had overlooked it.

Dave: I wasted no time grabbing the bucket of concentrates and flushed them into the lake. That, just in case they changed their minds and decided they wanted to use them against us.

Eric: We didn’t like the way they were always holding their walky-talkies out in front of themselves. It was like they had someone else listening in all the time. We were actually a little worried that they might have bugged the trailer and truck, and perhaps just went a little ways up the road to listen in on us. So we met quietly out in the middle of the campground and made our plan.

Brian: The most difficult part to work out was what to do with all that gold. It was far too much to effectively hide anywhere in the truck or trailer. We strongly considered the idea of hiding it really good and then return to retrieve it later, once the heat was off us. But ultimately, we decided to take the risk of getting the gold up into Alaska that very night where it would effectively belong to us. This was the largest risk we took on the whole trip!

Dave: Seal Team 101: When being stalked in enemy territory, sometimes it can be better to take an unexpected, bold initiative. It was already late in the day and we had a broken trailer. They did not expect us to depart until the following day. We would leave as quickly as we could!

Eric: The trailer was already jacked up so we could put the spring and wheel back on once Jim arrived. So we hooked up the truck to keep the trailer from rolling, and we just started loading our mining gear as fast as we could. We had already done it enough times by now to know exactly how everything had to fit back in.

Brian: We were very worried about Jim arriving back with a spring. This was a really old trailer frame, and we were not sure if we could even find a replacement spring in Whitehorse!

Jim: I was so cold from driving the motorcycle all that way that I could barely talk through my shivers when I drove into camp!

Eric: We cheered like it was a sports event when Jim arrived back with the replacement spring. I installed it while the others finished loading the trailer and filled Jim in on the latest events and our departure plan.

Dave: The plan was to have Brian and Jim lead the way with the truck and Trailer. Eric and I were going to follow behind a ways on the motorcycle. We had all the gold in a heavily reinforced back-pack. The back-pack was heavy. But that was nothing compared to the weight on our shoulders with the worry of getting caught with all that gold! I was 90% certain that the Canadian authorities would anticipate our move, or perhaps be notified of our changed location because of some kind of location beacon attached to our truck and trailer when they were in the camp. So we were expecting an ambush (road block) somewhere between camp and the main road.

Brian: We went over the plan several times just to make sure we all had it right: If we came up on law enforcement or a road block with the truck and trailer, I would turn on the emergency flashers.

Eric: If we saw the emergency flashers on the truck, Dave and I would back-track with the motorcycle and find a place to stash the back-pack full of gold.

Dave: And if law enforcement came up behind us on the Honda, we would haul-butt ahead of the truck and trailer and get up out of sight so we could stash the back-pack.

Brian: If Dave and Eric came up on us quickly with the motorcycle, it was going to mean law enforcement was coming up from behind. Once Dave got past us with the motorcycle, I was going to take the middle of the road, blocking anyone from chasing Dave and Eric on the motorcycle.

Eric: That would allow us time to hide the gold.

Jim: We would all stick to the same story that we did not pack the trailer with enough room to load the motorcycle. So we had to drive it to Whitehorse.

Brian: We waited until 11 PM to depart, believing it was less likely the cops would be waiting for us somewhere along the road. Actually, we were on pins and needles for the first 20 miles or so of our trip, figuring that was most-likely where they would be waiting for us. But they were not there!

Dave: It was the best plan we could come up with under the circumstances. The only thing we didn’t take into consideration was how cold it was going to be out there on the motorcycle! After about an hour on the road, my shivers turned into shakes that were threatening to crash the motorcycle. Eric was holding on behind. He was freezing, too!

Eric: Dave was so cold; he was shaking in big convulsions! We still had a long way to go. There was no way we were going to make it all the way! I was also freezing. It had to be below 10 (F) degrees out there. Plus, that heavy weight of the back-pack was getting to my back. It felt like I had the full weight of a 70-pound weight belt on my shoulders!

Dave: Knowing that Eric and I could not make it all the way on the Honda, I decided the only thing to do was catch up with Brian and Jim in the truck and talk them into taking a shift.

Brian: Everything was going along just fine. We only had about another hour to go before we reached the main paved road to Whitehorse. It was unlikely we would encounter any law enforcement after we reached the main road. Jim and I were in the truck with our fingers crossed.

Jim: Then I noticed in the rear view mirror that Dave was coming up on us fast.

Brian: I saw Dave speeding up on me and about had a heart attack. “Oh crap,” I thought. “Here come the cops!”

Jim: Dave and Eric went by us fast, then slowed down and stopped right in the middle of the road. Both of them got off the bike and walked back to the truck.

Brian: I was still trying to figure out if the cops were coming. I remember thinking, “What the heck?”

Jim: Totally shivering through his words, Dave told Brian that he and I needed to take a shift on the Honda. Those were the last words I wanted to hear; I had spent the whole day on the Honda. But it was clear that Brian and I were going to take a shift, or we were going to have a fist fight right there in the middle of the road.

Brian: I was so relieved that the cops weren’t coming, I didn’t even argue!

Eric: The transition took place fast, and soon we were on our way again. I remember that the heat was on full blast in the truck, and I was so cold I could hardly feel the warmth! That last leg of the dirt road was the only time during the entire trip that Dave Allowed Sadie up in the front seat. I put her in my lap to collect some of her heat. Good old Sadie was just happy to finally be up in the front seat with the boys!

Jim: Brian agreed to drive, since I was already dog-tired. Riding on the back of that bike, I looked up and the entire sky was on fire with the northern lights. The weight on my shoulders felt enormous. I’ll never forget how dramatic that was under the circumstances!

Dave: While it was not part of the original plan, we stopped just short of the main road and loaded the Honda in the trailer. Not being able to figure out any better places to hide such a big load, Jim and Eric removed the door panel on the front-passenger side of the truck and hid the gold in the door. There was hardly enough room, and the window would no longer work. But it was the best we were going to do under the circumstances. We needed to keep moving.

Brian: We were some tired puppies when we pulled into Whitehorse about an hour later. It was sometime in the middle of the night. Dave, Eric and I were dredging that morning, had removed two dredges from the river, had our whole confrontation with the law, broke camp, and here we were in Whitehorse. It had been a long, long day. But it wasn’t over, yet!

Dave: Our plan was to have Brian and Eric drive all our gear and the gold up into Alaska before the start of business on the following day. Jim and I were going to wait in a hotel room until they called us from Alaska. Then Jim and I would go to the Customs office and try to resolve our problems with the Canadian authorities.

Eric: I was envious of that nice warm hotel room (with two beds) as Brian and I drove out of Whitehorse. We were on our way to Tok, Alaska.

Brian: We must have looked at the map wrong when we were making our plan. As Eric and I were driving up the road, he started looking at the map to estimate our progress, and we realized we had a lot further to go than we thought. It turned out to be over 500 miles between Whitehorse and Tok, more than double the distance we had planned on. Even today, when the roads have improved a lot, Google Maps says that is an 8.5 hour drive in a car (without a trailer).

Dave: As nice as it was to lie on a bed in the room, I was too nervous and worried to sleep. There was not going to be any way to know if Brian and Eric made it up into Alaska until they called us. If they got caught, I was sure we were not going to hear from them at all!

Jim: What if they got caught? Dave and I were going to be stuck in that hotel room in Whitehorse until we got some word from them!

Dave: The following day was a Friday. We had to get in to resolve matters with Customs before the weekend, or we were going to be stuck there over the weekend and have to deal with Customs on Monday. They ordered me to be there on Friday!

Jim: We were still waiting for a call at breakfast-time in the morning. I went out and brought some take-out food back to the room. Dave made a short call to the claim owners in Atlin to tell them what had happened. We were planning on leaving their cut of the gold with Dave’s friend, the gold buyer.

Dave: But the claim owners told me to hold onto the gold for them, because they were going to drive into Whitehorse and help us with the authorities. They told us to wait for them at the hotel. Reinforcements were coming!

Jim: We were still waiting for a phone call from Brian and Jim when the claim owners arrived just after noon. They understood our desire to wait a bit longer. After waiting around a while, they gave us a local number where we could reach them when we were ready.

Eric: Brian insisted on driving all the way. Sometimes, to stay awake, he opened his driver’s-side window for a blast of cold air. That sent me into shivers every time. It was like the road to hell! We had the music blasting, but neither of us were listening to it.

Brian: Our hope was to have all our stuff out of Canada before the start of business on Friday morning, but we still had hours and hours to go. I knew Dave and Jim had to get the business done, so I was pushing it along as hard as I dared. The road was really rough in places.

Eric: I was dozing off into more unconsciousness when Brian hit a really deep hole in the road.

Brian: I remember seeing the hole too late and thinking, “This is not going to be good!”

Eric: That poor, overloaded truck and trailer hit that hole in the road, and babooom; it sent us jack-knifing down the road something awful! Brian was wrestling back and forth with the steering wheel, and I was sure he was going to lose it and we were going to dump our whole load right there on the road, only about 50 miles away from Alaska.

Dave: By 2 O’clock on Friday afternoon, I was really sweating it. No word at all from Brian and Eric. What to do? What to do? Should Jim and I go in and try to resolve with the authorities before we were sure our stuff was out of Canada? I decided to give it another hour. I was absolutely exhausted.

Brian: I came very close to losing the truck and trailer; as close as you can come. I mean if we jack knifed an inch further, there would have been no saving the day. It was sooooo close! But I managed to regain control and applied breaks. Something was broken bad. We could hear and feel it dragging on the road. This was awful! The rearview mirror showed the trailer listing forward at a sickly angle.

Eric: The big bump had caused both bumper bolts on the left side to completely sheer off the truck frame. That side of the bumper was dragging on the road. It is a miracle that the trailer ball was even still connected to the bumper! Dragging it down the road caused the bumper to bend out of shape really bad! It was going to be hard to fix out there alongside the road.

Brian: Eric and I got right to it. It was about 2 PM on Friday afternoon. It was only going to be about an hour to reach Alaska if we could get going, again. There was still enough time…

Eric: We had to unhook the trailer. Fortunately, we had taken to leaving all our tools, extra parts, the tall jack, and even our splitting maul in the back of the truck. We had also bought extra bumper bolts from when we had trouble earlier on the trip.

Brian: So there we were, Eric and I, out on the side of the Alcan Highway using the tall jack to try and force the mangled bumper back up so we could get some bolts back through the left side of the truck’s frame. It was hard! The jack slipped off several times, but we kept at it from slightly different directions, each time getting a little closer. When we got the first bolt through the hole in the truck’s frame, we had to tighten it down to pull that part into alignment. Then it was clear that we were not going to get the second bolt to go. It was not even close to lining up!

Eric: So Brian says, “Let’s just hook up the trailer and go!” I said, “Are you crazy; it’s never going to hold!”

Brian: We just needed to make it to the first pay phone over the border. I decided we would get there sooner if I just drove slower. I know it was risky. But there was no way we would make it on time if we had to take the whole bumper off the truck and try to straighten it out by banging on it with a splitting maul Road to Alaskaright there on the side of the road.

The road to Alaska; beautiful, but it was heck on wheels and bumpers!

Eric: I was holding my breath every inch of the way once we got back on the road. Every bump in the road, and I was thinking, “That one is going to do it.” Brian was pushing it up to 45 or 50 miles an hour in places. If we lost the bumper again at that speed, there is no doubt in my mind that we were going to lose the entire trailer!

Brian: If the trailer gave us any more trouble, I was prepared to park it somewhere and just drive up into Alaska with the gold. The gold was worth many times more than the entire trailer package. The gold was also the one thing we had in Canada that would have gotten us into very serious trouble!

Dave: At 3:30 in the afternoon, I was on the edge of a panic attack. Then the phone rang. It was Brian. They had made it into Tok, Alaska. No problems. He gave me the name of an RV park where they would be waiting for us. Before he hung up, he said, “Good luck with the heat, brother!”

Jim: Man. I cannot tell you how much of a relief that was!

Dave: But we were not out of trouble, yet! I called the claim owners, who were not far away. They came over to pick up Jim and I; and we arrived at Customs at about four O’clock on Friday afternoon. I was expecting fireworks!Jim

My younger brother, Jim, is a really nice guy. He was supposed to help bring these angry Canadian officials around to feeling good about us.

There’s something important here about the chemistry between the McCracken brothers. Brian is the oldest; so he is the one who followed most-closely in our father’s foot steps. He is the smartest of the three of us in book learning. He always got straight A’s on his report card, graduated from the U.S. naval academy; he’s the intelligent one. As the second in line, I have always been the nonconformist; strike out on my own, “get er done” kind of guy. I am an organizer. Jim, as the youngest, turned out to be the nicest guy in the family. Not just nice; he truly cares. When he smiles at you, you naturally want to like him. When you talk, he actually listens to you and you get the feeling that he cares. Jim is a really nice guy!

And that’s why I asked Jim to stay back in Whitehorse with me and help try and reconcile things with the Canadian authorities. Up to that time, I was not able to do anything to break through with the officials there. In fact, I had been yelled at during every single encounter with the Canadian authorities! None of us wanted to be “Wanted” by the law in Canada. We had to fix this!

Jim: So Dave’s plan was for me to allow him to do all or most of the talking (lying). My job was just to be there, smile a lot, try and build understanding with the people we were going to see; I was supposed to establish something friendly on a human level.

The truth is that I was scared as hell we were going to jail!

Dave: When we arrived at Customs, we were pleasantly surprised that the claim owners had also arranged for the Mayor of Atlin to be there, along with their crack-shot mining attorney, to provide us with support. It felt really good to have friends right at that moment!

We all walked in the front door of Customs together. The lady that I got the compressor from thankfully was not present, so I had to explain who we were to another official. He flashed on it right away and said they had been expecting us. That brought others out of an inner office almost like they had all been waiting back there. Without any delay, one of the officials told me to follow him so he could show me exactly where to park our gear. As I suspected, they had planned to impound everything!

Jim: That’s when Dave came out with the speech that he had been practicing all day long, “To demonstrate good faith, and to prove to you that we have no intention of breaking any laws or rules in Canada, we have already moved all of our gear from your country up into Alaska.”

Dave: Boy that stopped them all in their tracks. Visibly angry, the guy said, “You were ordered to bring everything here to Customs today!” I said, “No; the officer ordered me to be here today. So I am here with my brother, Jim. The others moved on to Alaska with all the gear that everyone was objecting to. It seemed like the correct thing to do, to show you our good faith in not wanting to break your rules.”

Jim: They were mad as hell! One of them suggested that there wasn’t enough time for us to get the gear up into Alaska and they could put out an all points bulletin for our truck and trailer on the highways. I just kept trying to project a friendly calmness unto the officials, “We are your friends. We don’t want to break your rules. We are good guys. This is no big deal…”

Dave: But it was a big deal to them! My best guess is that they intended to confiscate all our stuff and send us back home on a bus. They were going to make an example out of us!

Jim: That’s when the claim owner spoke up and asked what the problem was? He told them that he owned the property and had given us permission to play around on a recreational scale – and that’s all we had been doing.

Dave: The Customs guy answered that we were not playing around, “They were doing serious mining!”

Jim: That’s when the lawyer asked them how they knew what the Americans were doing? “You guys never even saw what they were doing!”

Dave: “But we heard,…” the official started in. He was cut off by the claim owner who was getting more heated up by the moment, “You heard what? A bunch of bar talk? Nobody goes through the gate on my property without my permission. I was down there watching what these Yanks were doing. Compared to what we are doing on the claim, I can get testimony from every miner in Atlin that they were just playing around!”

Jim: Then the lawyer reminded the officials that Americans are allowed to prospect around on a recreational scale without having to notify anyone. The Customs guy that was doing all the talking certainly was not convinced.

Dave: It was about then that the Mayor of Atlin spoke up in anger, “We are in an economic recession! Why the heck are you guys chasing away the only tourists Atlin has seen all summer? These are nice people. They have spent their money in our community. They have attended our events. How can we ever expect to attract visitors if you guys are trying to make criminals out of them over this kind of nonsense?”

Jim: That was the winning argument. The older official who was listening in quietly stepped up and said, “Never mind! This is over. If your gear is not yet up in Alaska, please see that it gets there without further delay. If you intend to use it again in Canada, make sure you declare the gear properly at the border before you enter into Canada. If you intend to mine for gold in Canada, please contact our mining department in advance of your arrival and make your formal declarations. This meeting is over.”

Dave: Yes; that was the same supervisor who told the lady to give me our compressor several weeks before. He was a nice guy.

But they also had no witnesses, no pictures, no gold, no concentrates, no dredges, nothing!

Jim: I smiled at him a lot!

It was exactly 5 PM on Friday afternoon when we walked out of Canadian Customs. Dave and I were so relieved; we were falling all over ourselves to thank the lawyer and the Mayor of Atlin. The Mayor told us to come back anytime, “You guys will always be welcome in our town.”

Dave: The claim owners dropped us off at our hotel. As we had already passed their share off to them earlier in the day, our immediate business was over. They invited us to come back whenever we wanted, and we said our goodbyes. We all felt a little sad that this part of our adventure had come to an end.

Jim: When you make friends with them, Canadians will stand right up and stick by you. Those guys were really concerned that we did not get into trouble with the authorities!

Dave: While it was late on Friday afternoon, there was still plenty of daylight left; so Jim and I gathered up just the few things we had and checked out of the room. The hotel was right there alongside the main road which led in the direction of Tok, Alaska. Eager to put some distance between us and all that trouble, we thought we would try and hitch a ride out on the highway.

Jim: But we had used up all our luck on that day. In several hours of standing out there in the cold, not a single car or truck stopped. Both Dave and I were totally exhausted. So after a while, we went back over to the hotel and checked back into the room for another night. Then we caught a bus to Tok on the following morning.

Dave: Once we boarded the bus, I knew we were free. That was a close one! I’ve been close to trouble (almost caught) many times in my life. This one with the Canadian authorities was one of the most stressful of all.

Jim: Yeah; that’s about the most trouble I have ever been in!Brian

Brian – “I can’t tell you how much better we all felt when we all made it to Tok and still had all our belongings!”

Dave: We met up with Brian and Eric in Tok on the following afternoon. They had already completed the bumper repair and did some other maintenance duties. The rig was ready to go. But we decided to relax for an evening and just catch up with ourselves. We were feeling pretty lucky at the moment. A lot of different things had gone our way when they just might not have.

Brian: “Had anything at all gone wrong, we would have lost all our gear and certainly all the gold.”

Eric: “If they caught us trying to run with that hoard of gold, I’m sure they would have put us all in jail!”

Jim: “No doubt about it!”

Dave: “Yup, we were lucky!”

After notes:

Dave with map making plans

Dave in Tok, looking at maps, working out the next plan.

By the time we arrived in Alaska, it was mid-August and most of the mining season up there was already behind us. To make the best of what we had left, we decided to dredge in a free section of the South Fork of the Forty Mile River, near the small town of Chicken. By “Free area,” I mean there were no mining claims allowed there at the time, so anyone could prospect for gold.

Just within a few days of sampling, we found a location that would produce about an ounce of fine gold per day for a single guy on a 5-inch dredge. This was pretty good. I had set an once of gold as a minimum daily standard long before we arrived in Canada or Alaska. In those days, that was about $270. Today it is many times that. The thing is, I had already discovered from my own painful experiences that you can go around and spend weeks and weeks sampling and not find a deposit that will pay an ounce per day to a 5-inch dredge. Eric, who also had plenty of dredging experience, was also satisfied with the deposit.

But my two brothers wanted more “shock and awe!” An once per day was really poor when compared with what we were finding in Atlin. They wanted more of the really rich stuff! I wanted more of that, too. But the reality was that we were unlikely to find it, because we were on an entirely new river that we knew nothing about. We didn’t have much time left in the season!

In all the time I have dredged, I have only seen one place as rich as Atlin. That was in Cambodia at a later time. Take Atlin out of the equation back in 1982, and an ounce per day was pretty good. Here is the thing about gold mining: Once in a while, you get a really nice bonus. Then, when it is finished, you have to readjust yourself to what an acceptable gold deposit is. In my own experience, a person working alone on a 5-inch dredge, recovering an ounce of gold per day, is good enough. Otherwise, you might spend all of your time and resources looking for something better and never find it!

Brian and Jim ultimately decided that they had already done well enough for the season. So within a week or so of arriving in Alaska, they arranged a bus tour home through the Inland Passage. Later, they both agreed that they were very happy they chose to do that; they said they covered some of the most breathtaking wilderness scenery on the planet. They arrived home with their gold a few weeks later.

Dredges in Alaska

Dave and Eric dredging side-by-side on the South Fork of the Forty Mile River in Alaska.

Eric and I decided to finish out our dredging season on the South Fork of the Forty Mile River. We worked two 5-inchers side-by-side up there, pushing it hard, nearly every day. Sadie continued to keep a close eye on our camp, because we were still in grizzly and moose territory.

We made occasional supply trips into Fairbanks, which we found to be a nice place with friendly people. The river water was about 70 degrees when we first arrived there, but it did not take long for the days to grow short and the nights to grow cold. We finally decided to call it quits on the 4th of October when ice was forming on the sides of the river. The water was 34 degrees; and while Eric was prepared to continue, he readily agreed the season was over the day I decided it was not worth another ounce of gold to suffer through yet another cold water headache.

They got their first heavy snow in Chicken the day after we pulled out!

Knowing that we were going to be driving all our stuff back down through Canada, Eric and I decided it would be wise to mail our stashes of gold down to California in care of Eric’s Mom, Anita. She had already looked into it, and I remember her telling me very clearly, “The only safe way to ship gold through the U.S. Post Office is by registered mail!”

The U.S. Post Office in Chicken, Alaska in those days was in the very same building as the local restaurant and bar. In fact, the very same person who would sell you a draft beer on one side of the counter would do your postal business just by walking a few steps over and helping you across a different counter. In other words, the bar tender was also the postmaster. I’m not making this up!

When Eric and I went in to see the postmaster about sending a registered package, she told us they were not doing registered mail out of Chicken. She told us, “Certified mail is just as good!” We had quite a lot of discussion with her about our package being very valuable and we did not want to take any chances at losing it. Ultimately, she convinced us that certified would be alright. Man were we young and naive!

Eric’s mom still had not received the package several weeks after we mailed all our gold (mostly accumulated from Atlin)! Anita kept explaining to me on the phone that a registered package can be tracked and insured, because it gets signed for every time it changes hands, and it is kept in a locked safe when it is not moving. The only way to track a certified package is when it arrives and someone signs for it. What happens in-between is anybody’s guess! But it was too late to change the way we sent the package!

Eric: Both Dave and I were feeling really foolish having been talked into sending all that gold in a certified package. “Stressed out” is an understatement!

Dave: When the package still had not reached Anita after 3 weeks, I pretty-much decided that the Postmaster never sent it. After all, we had all but told her that the package was full of gold. The box was heavy! The only thing really going on around Chicken while we were there was gold mining. Even the Postmaster’s husband was a gold miner! So she must have had a pretty good idea what was in our package.

It is human nature to adjust yourself to whatever you have, or whatever you don’t have. I had overcome quite a lot to keep that gold; and I had it long enough that it became part of my life-planning. That gold had become a very important part of my life! I was going to take the winter off, rent an apartment and write my two books on Advanced Dredging Techniques. This was my big plan. It was the way I was balancing all the pain I was suffering in that cold water! I was banking on it. Now the gold was gone!

Eric: I personally was not convinced that the Postmaster stole our gold, but Dave felt it was time to shake things up.

Dave: On the verge of another panic attack, I decided I was going to go confront the Postmaster about stealing our gold! On our way over there, we decided to call Anita one more time to make sure the package had not arrived. I didn’t have much hope.

Eric: “Your package arrived!” my mom said, as soon as I got her on the phone.

Dave: I about had a stroke! I also felt bad about suspecting the Postmaster. Good thing we called or I would have really stirred up a hornet’s nest over nothing. After the phone call, we went up and told the Postmaster the package had arrived. She looked about as relieved as I was! We then confided that the box was full of gold. She said she figured as much the way we were so worried about it. Nice lady!

Eric: My Mom said the box looked like it had gone through the wrong end of a machine. She said it looked more like a cardboard bag, than a box. This was probably because of all the weight inside the box!

Dave: Before shipping, Eric and I had transferred all our gold into 35 mm plastic film containers and plastic spice bottles that we spray-painted black. We taped the covers so they would remain closed. We used all sorts of packing to try and stabilize everything inside the box. It seemed fine.

Eric: My mom said there was a pretty sizable hole torn in the side of the box. When the Postmaster in Auburn (California) set the box down on the counter, one of the film containers (full of gold) rolled right out onto the counter!

Dave: So Anita was asking us on the phone how many containers we loaded in the box? When we told her how many, that was exactly how many were still in there. Unbelievable luck!

Eric and I decided to take the scenic route back home through Dawson City, Yukon. There was only a single Canadian official at the border station when we arrived there. He waved us right through (whew!).

Dawson City was about abandoned when we were there in early October of 1982. We drove the historical streets in awe; there is a lot of mining history in that place! We stopped for lunch, but were the only customers in the restaurant. Clearly, the tourist season was already over in Dawson City. We vowed to return there, someday.

Eric and I took it slow and easy on our trip back down to California. By then, we knew the driving limits of our overloaded rig. We were not in much of a hurry, deciding not to depend upon good luck alone to get us home. How much good luck can you depend upon?

My brother Brian returned to San Francisco and started a general contractor’s business which became highly successful. He is still doing general contracting there today.

Jim got involved early in the High Tech revolution and worked his way into a partnership in a very successful company that installs and maintains administrative software programs for municipalities all across America.

While both Brian and Jim have spent time visiting with me in the gold country, our trip to Alaska was the end of their mining careers.

Eric and I mined together as partners and best friends for quite a few years. He helped me start The New 49’ers, and we even did a mining adventure together in Borneo, Indonesia. Later, he put himself through professional welding school; and as a result of a lot of hard work, Eric has become a Project Supplier Quality Supervisor at Bechtel Oil, Gas and Chemicals. That is a really good job, and he will likely stay with it until retirement. He is happily married and raising three sons in Weimar, Texas.

I have spent most of my adult life involved with gold mining, and am still out there getting my share of the gold. Last summer, I nearly made my “ounce per day,” every day, along the Rogue River in Southern Oregon.

Final note: You will notice that I have not included any images of all the gold recovered together, or even of our clean-ups during the final 10 days or so that we were dredging in Atlin. This was deliberate. When I tell this story to others, the most common question I am asked is, “How much gold did you guys recover in all?” Isn’t that what you have been wondering? And I always roll my eyes up and answer that it was a lot, but it was not as much as I make it sound, “You know how these gold stories get exaggerated over time!”

As I said earlier in the story, making sure the adventure turned out as a winning experience for my brothers and Eric still remains a responsibility that I take seriously. I don’t want any of us to be in trouble with the Canadian authorities, especially after all this time has passed. In fact, my existing dredging team and I have recently been invited by a mining company to return to British Columbia. I would like to be able to go up there, again without fear of being tossed in jail for past misdeeds. With that in mind, my best answer is, “Most of this story was the way we would have liked it to have played out, rather than the way it really did.”

What do you think?

 

By Dave McCracken

You have a substantial prospecting-advantage with a modern gold detector!

Dave McCracken

 

 

woman with a gold nuggetI highly recommend The Fundamentals of Electronic Prospecting be read before reading this article.

All the rules of placer and desert geology apply to gold nugget hunting, and this knowledge should be utilized to establish where gold deposits and nuggets are most likely to be found.

Particular attention should be paid to locations which have little or no streambed or other material present, so the detector’s coil can search as closely as possible to bedrock or false bedrock layers. Also, exposed tree roots along the edges of the present streams, rivers and dry-washes have been proving successful, especially along the smaller tributaries in the higher elevations of known gold country.

Some of the most productive areas for electronic prospecting in the dry regions are in the near vicinity of old dry-washing operations. The old-timers were only able to make dry-washing work in very high-grade areas. They seldom recovered all the high-grade gold out of an area, because they did not have the means or equipment to prospect extensive areas. You have a substantial prospecting-advantage with a modern gold detector. Natural erosion over the years has likely uncovered more high-grade in the immediate area, or concentrated other spots into new high-grade gold deposits.

When prospecting old dry-wash workings, it is always worth a little time to rake back some of the old tailings piles and scan them with your detector. Dry-washers, today and during the past, almost always used a classification screen over the feed area. The screen was commonly around half-inch mesh. An operation shoveling onto the screen at production speed in dry high-grade gravel might have missed larger nuggets as they rolled off the top of the screen. Sometimes, when working a layer of caliche, if the material was not broken-up well enough, it would roll off the screen with nuggets still attached. A metal detector reads out strongly on these kinds of targets. Make sure to ground-balance to the tailing pile. One nice thing about prospecting in these tailing piles is that they usually are not filled with iron trash targets.

When dealing with natural streambeds above the water, you generally do not find too many other reading metallic objects besides gold, unless the spot which you are scanning is near an inhabited location, like a park or an old dump. So it is reasonably safe to dig any target that gives off a metallic reading in a streambed.

However, some locations have lots of trash and small iron targets. Sometimes, iron targets seem to accumulate heavily in the same areas as gold. This presents a big challenge! Once you have been scanning a particular area for a while, you will gain an understanding of how much “trash” (metallic objects of no value) exists within the vicinity. With some experience on gold objects, you will learn to distinguish the different tone changes between most gold objects and most trash targets. Pay particular attention to the very faint readings, as is often the case with natural gold targets.

One of the main keys to successful electronic prospecting is to slow down your sweeping action. You cannot do it fast like when hunting for coins. You almost have to crawl across the ground. Remember, you are listening for even the faintest whisper of a sudden increased threshold hum. A gold target may sound like a coin—only a quieter signal.

Different types of detectors have special non-motion or pinpointing settings which allow the coil to be moved very slowly and still pick up targets. This means you are able to slow down your sweep to almost a standstill and still hear a target as the coil moves over it. On the other hand, these settings may be too sensitive to use for nugget hunting on some detectors, depending upon field conditions and how fast you are sweeping. When in doubt, experiment while using a test-nugget on or in the ground you are searching.

Another important point is to overlap your coil sweeps. The area covered by the search-field under your coil is similar to a triangle. Directly underneath the coil, the search area is about the same size as the diameter of your coil. The search area becomes narrower as it penetrates the ground further away from the coil.

However, the size of this triangular search-field is not constant underneath the coil. It changes as mineralized conditions change in the ground below your search coil. If you do not overlap your search strokes, you can leave as much as 50 percent or more of the area below the search coil behind, without being adequately searched.

Image 1

You have to use your own judgment about how to discriminate between which targets to dig, and which to leave behind. This comes with practice and experience. Discrimination of any kind, whether by electronic circuitry or the audio sounds given off by the target, has limited accuracy. The depth of a target and the degree of ground-mineralization in that particular location can confuse any discriminator. In some places, you will want to dig every target. In other places, where there is lots of trash, you may find it more productive to discriminate your targets by sound and/or in combination with electronic discrimination features on your detector. In this case, you have to balance the need to leave some small pieces of gold behind, with not wanting to dig a bucket full of trash and valueless iron targets; and therefore, less gold.

When in doubt, dig! Or at least toss your sample nugget down and get a comparative reading.

With lots of practice in the field, you will eventually reach the point where your metal detector is like an extension of your arm—like an extension of your perception and knowingness. You will gain the ability to look down into the ground and have a pretty good idea of what is there.

Big nuggets are generally not too difficult to find. In most areas, however, there are hoards of smaller gold targets in ratio to each large nugget found. Small pieces of gold are your bread and butter! Most gold is small gold, but it has to be large enough to be worth your while. Some of the modern gold detectors will pick up pieces of gold so small that you could be finding them all day long; and at the end of the day, not have accumulated very much gold by weight. In this case, you may want to move to a different area.

Just like in other forms of gold mining, electronic prospectors have to set standards for themselves. Someone pursuing the activity to make money will be motivated to recover volume-amounts (by weight) of gold. Another person pursuing electronic prospecting as a part time activity may receive his or her best thrills by recovering the smallest-sized targets.

One interesting development in the electronic prospecting field, which I have not seen happen in other gold mining activities, is the tremendous emotional success gained from finding extraordinarily-small pieces of gold. Normally, in gold prospecting, we get excited to find a big nugget or a rich deposit. These are easy to locate when scanned over by a metal detector. The big challenge with a metal detector is in locating the smaller pieces. Experienced prospectors know that if they are finding the small pieces, they will easily-find the big pieces.

When scanning, keep your coil as close to the ground as possible. It takes a coordinated arm and wrist-action to keep the bottom of the coil parallel and close to the ground throughout the full sweeping action. Allowing the coil to move one or two inches away from the ground during the outside of a sweeping motion will also reduce depth-penetration by one or two inches. This will certainly result in lost gold targets. You have to practice keeping the coil close to the ground. Shorter sweeps is usually the answer.

Sometimes it helps to kick rocks out of the way, or use a garden rake to remove multiple smaller obstructions before you search an area. This allows you to keep the coil close to the ground with minimum obstructions.

During your prospecting activities, it is possible that you may find occasional targets which could potentially be classified as artifacts. The Archaeological Resources Protection Act defines just about anything you might find as a “protected” artifact. There are criminal penalties for disturbing or removing artifacts. What constitutes a protected artifact is primarily up to the judgment of local bureaucrats. Searching for natural gold targets is legal. Messing around with old junk and trash may be illegal. Sometimes, it is better to just leave old items where they lie. You will have to decide.

The main suggestion I commonly give to beginners about electronic prospecting is to not give up. With practice and by working in the right area, you will surely find some gold!

PINPOINTING

When you do have a reading target, its exact position in the ground should be pinpointed. This can be done by noting when the detector sounds out while scanning over the target in fore and aft and left to right motions. A steel or iron object can be often be distinguished by noting the size and shape of the object during the pinpointing process. Sometimes trash objects are large and/or lengthy in size.

Sometimes a stronger-reading target will seem to cover a larger area than it actually does. If you are having trouble getting an exact location, continue to lift the search coil higher off the ground while scanning with an even back and forth motion. As the coil is raised higher, the signal will become fainter; but the position of the metal object will sound-out at the very center of the search coil.

PINPOINTING WITH THE GOLD PAN IN WET AREAS

Once you have pinpointed the exact position of a target in an area near water, one way of recovering the object is to carefully dig up that portion of ground, using a shovel or digging tool, and place the material in your gold pan. Here is where a large plastic gold pan comes in real handy. Be careful not to cause any more disturbance or vibration of the streambed than is necessary while you are attempting to dig up a target. It is possible to miss the target on the first try and cause it to work further down into the streambed because of its greater weight in the wet environment. Sometimes you can lose the target, and not be able to locate it again with the detector.

Sometimes the ground is hard and needs to be broken up or scraped with a small pick. Keep in mind that a sharp blow from a pick can destroy a coin or disfigure a gold nugget, reducing its value. Digging and scraping is better than pounding, if possible. In hard ground, sometimes it is easier to loosen the material up and shuffle it into several small piles. These can then be flattened out and scanned to see which contains the target.

Once you have dug up that section of material where the target was reading, place it in your plastic gold pan and scan it with your detector. If the contents of the pan do not make your detector sound-out, scan the original target area over again. If you get a read in the original location, pour the contents of the pan neatly into a pile out of your way, pinpoint the target all over again, and make another try at getting the target into your gold pan. Continue this until you finally have the target sounding out in your pan. If you cannot see the target, and water is immediately available, pan-off the contents until the target is visible.

There is a good reason why you should not ever throw away any material from the target area until after you know for certain exactly what the reading target is. If you are looking for placer gold deposits and it happens that your detector is sounding out on a gold flake or nugget, the chances are pretty good of additional gold being present in paying quantities within the material which has been dug out of the hole, even if it does not sound-out on your detector. Remember, small particles of gold often do not make metal detectors sound-out. Therefore, the possibility exists that there could be hundreds of dollars worth of gold in a single shovelful of material not tightly-concentrated enough to cause your detector to sound-out. So wait until you have seen the reading target before you start throwing any material away.

If you dig for a target and then cannot get any further reads on the detector from either the pan or in the original target area, quickly pan-off the pan’s contents. There is always a possibility of a concentrated gold deposit which is no longer concentrated enough to read-out on your detector. In this case, you are most likely to have some of the gold deposit in your gold pan, which will quickly be discovered when you pan off the contents.

There is also another reason why you save the material from a hole until you have recovered your target. Because of the shape of a gold pan, and depending upon the size and shape of the coil you are using, if the gold target (especially a small target) ends up in the bottom of your pan, your coil may no-longer be able to scan close enough to the bottom of the pan to sound-off on the target. Because of this problem, gold pans have limited workability as a pinpointing tool in electronic prospecting. Sometimes, you can have better luck scanning the bottom-side of a gold pan.

DRY METHODS OF PINPOINTING

There are several popular methods of pinpointing reading targets in the dry regions where water is not available for panning. Some prospectors use a plastic cup. Material from the target area is scooped up and passed over the coil. If the contents of the cup do not sound-out on the detector, the target area is scanned again until the target is located. Take another scoop, pass it over the coil for a signal, and repeat until the target is in the cup. Then pour some of the contents into your hand. Pass the cup over the coil, then your hand, until you locate the target. Put the rest away in a neat pile, and repeat the process until you recover the object.

One important point to mention is that most search coils have equal sensitivity to targets both above and below the coil. In other words, during pinpointing, you can pass material over top of the coil and obtain the same results as if you turn the detector upside down and pass the material across the bottom of the coil.

Your handy magnet can be a big help when you are having difficulty finding a faintly reading target. Sometimes it is just a small piece of iron.

There is also the hand-to-hand method of pinpointing a target. You can reach down with your hand and grab a handful of dirt or material. Pass your hand over the coil to see if you are holding the target. Continue until you have the target in one hand. Then pass half the material in that hand to your other hand. Use the coil to find which hand has the reading target. Discard the material from the other hand and pass half the material from the reading hand to the second hand, again. Keep up the process until you only have a small amount of material in the reading hand. Carefully blow off the lighter material to locate the target.

Another procedure is to grab a handful and pass it over the coil as explained above. Once you have a reading handful, toss it in a pouch for later panning.

Some prospectors prefer to sprinkle a handful of reading material slowly on top of the detector’s coil. There are different ways to do this. One effective way, which requires some practice, is to sprinkle material over a slightly slanted coil while you vibrate it so that material slowly sweeps across and off. When the target drops onto the coil, the detector will sound-off with a distinctive bleep. Then, all you have to do is gently blow the dirt off the coil, or recover the target from the top of the pile where the material is landing. This method is nearly impossible in wet material.

One important thing about using your hands to pinpoint and recover gold targets, is that some of today’s most sensitive high frequency gold detectors react to the salt (mineral) content on or in your hand. When this occurs, your hand will give a reading when passed over the coil by itself, sometimes even a strong signal. This makes hand pinpointing methods more difficult. In this case, the plastic tray or cup works just fine, or the method of pouring material onto the coil.

If you find a gold target, be sure to scan the hole again. Sometimes it is worth doing a lot of digging and/or raking, with alternate scanning of the immediate area. Gold targets almost never travel alone! I have seen dozens of gold flakes and nuggets come from within a one-foot square area on bedrock. Many times!

HOT ROCKS

Sometimes you get soft or strong signals from your metal detector when the coil is passed over rocks which contain heavy mineralization. These rocks are called “hot rocks.” This needs to be clarified. It isn’t necessary for a rock to have an extraordinary amount of mineralization to sound-off as a hot rock. It just needs to have more than the average ground which your detector is ground-balanced to. The opposite of this is also true. A rock containing less mineralization than the average ground will change tone on a detector in the opposite way. These are called “cold rocks.” A hot rock from one location could be a cold rock in another location containing higher mineralization in the average ground.

Put another way, when your detector is properly ground-balanced to the average ground, it will sound-off on rocks containing condensed heavier mineralization. Often, the signals given off by these hot rocks can be mistaken for signals which might be given off by gold targets in the ground. Some locations have lots of hot rocks. Naturally, since gold travels with other heavy mineralization, you can expect to find hot rocks in the various gold fields.

Hot rocks come in all sorts of colors and sizes. A big hot rock, depending upon the degree of mineralization over the average ground, can sound very similar to a gold target. The same goes for small hot rocks.

Quite often, most of the hot rocks within a given area will be similar in nature, color and hardness, but not necessarily in size. After searching an area for a while, you will know what most of the hot rocks look like. This makes pinpointing targets a little easier, especially when dealing with small hot rocks. When receiving signals from rocks which are dissimilar to the average-looking hot rock of the area, check them out closely, especially when they have quartz. Some of these may not be hot rocks at all, but gold specimens.

If you are finding hot rocks on top of the ground, you will almost always find them buried, as well.

Metal targets gradually lose signal-strength in proportion to the increased distance from the coil. Hot rocks rapidly lose their signal-strength as they are scanned further from the coil. Also, a metal target tends to create a more specific, sharper signal as the coil is passed over. The signal given off by most hot rocks is not as sharp. It is more of a mushy sound which doesn’t have as clear a change in tone-intensity as the coil passes over the target.

When uncertain about a reading target, one way that some hot rocks can be identified is by passing the coil over the target from different directions. If the target only sounds out when being swept from one particular direction, then it is nearly certain that the target is not a gold nugget.

Sometimes, when lowering the sensitivity on your detector a few numbers, the signal given off by a nugget will continue, but weaker. A hot rock signal will quickly disappear by lowering the sensitivity. You can get a better idea how your detector is reacting to sensitivity changes by running it over your test-nugget.

Another test is to slowly raise the coil further away from the reading target as you are scanning. The signal of a metal object will become progressively fainter as the distance is increased. The signal given off by a hot rock will rapidly die away as just a little distance is put between the target and the coil. Most hot rocks in a given area will have a very similar sound, the intensity depending upon size and distance from the coil. Sometimes, you will find that a gold nugget gives off a much sharper signal. But not always. Much also depends upon the size of a gold target, its distance from the coil, and the amount of mineralization interference in the ground that is being scanned.

Each area is different. The hot rocks in some areas are reasonably easy to distinguish. In other areas, it is necessary to dig every signal.

Larger hot rocks are easier to detect. Many can simply be kicked out of the way. It is the smaller pebble-sized hot rocks which create faint signals. In some locations, these signals are so similar to the signals given off by gold nuggets that you have no other choice but to dig them up.

If lots of hot rocks are making it difficult for you in a particular area, you might try experimenting with smaller coils. Smaller coils are more sensitive to smaller pieces of gold. Therefore, the sharpness of the signal over gold targets is also intensified. This may give you the needed edge in distinguishing the slightly-different signals being given off by hot rocks in that area.

Some gold prospectors go so far as to ground-balance over top of a hot rock until it no longer gives off a signal. This will eliminate a large portion of the hot rocks in the area, but it is also likely to eliminate a large portion of the small and marginal signals given off by gold targets. This procedure may work well in areas containing just large nuggets. However, most areas I am aware of have dozens or hundreds of smaller pieces of gold for every larger piece that you will find.

Since cold rocks are made up of a lesser-concentration of iron than the average material which your detector is balanced to, they give off a negative reading signal on your detector. Ground-balancing over a cold rock will cause your detector to react positively to the average ground within the vicinity.

PRODUCTION

Once you find a location which is producing gold targets, you will want to thoroughly work the entire area. This is commonly accomplished by carefully gridding the site. By this, I mean creating parallel crisscross lines on the ground, usually about four feet apart. You can do this by drawing light lines in the sand with a stick. Grid lines allow you to keep track of where you are, and what has already been searched.

If there are obstructions in the producing area (“nugget patch”), they should be moved or rolled out of the way if possible. The smaller rocks and materials on the ground can be raked out of the way. This allows you to keep the coil closer to the ground. In a proven area, this will surely mean more recovered gold targets.

Some areas produce quite well on the surface. Then, by raking or shoveling several inches off the surface and scanning again, sometimes you can find even more targets. I know of numerous small-scale mining operations in many different parts of the world, using metal detectors as the only recovery system. They use a bulldozer to scrape away material which has already been scanned, two or three inches at a time. A layer is removed; the area is scanned thoroughly with metal detectors to locate all of the exposed gold targets. Then, another layer is removed and scanned. This process is done all the way to bedrock. They make good money at it!

I have heard of others doing the same process on a smaller-scale by attaching plow blades to four-wheel drive vehicles. Some even do it using ATV’s!

While hunting over a proven nugget patch, be sure to keep your detector properly tuned all the time. Otherwise, you will certainly miss gold targets.

PROSPECTING OLD HYDRAULIC MINING AREAS

Perhaps the most productive areas of all to prospect with metal detectors are areas which were already mined by the old-timers using hydraulic methods. Many of these areas are left with a large amount of bedrock exposed. This allows immediate and easy access for search coils to get close to old gold traps. Sometimes, the exposed bedrock has been further-deteriorated because of direct exposure to the elements. Once a nugget patch is located, raking away decomposed bedrock sometimes can produce remarkable results.

While searching such areas, pay attention to the color of dirt which covers and surrounds nugget patch. You might discover a pattern. In our area of operation, it is a white powder which often signifies the possible presence of a good spot. Perhaps in other areas, it might also be this white powder, or something else.

PROSPECTING OLD MINING TAILINGS

It is usually possible to find piles and piles of old mining tailings throughout most proven gold-bearing country.

Many of the larger earlier gold mining operations (the ones that were set up to move large volumes of material), concentrated on recovering only the fine and medium-sized values from the material being processed. This meant that the larger material was classified-out so the smaller material could be processed through controlled, slower-moving recovery systems. On the larger operations, classification was usually done either with mechanical vibrating classification screens, or with the use of a “trommel.” A trommel is a large circular screening classifier which rotates and tumbles material through, allowing the smaller classification of materials to pass through the outer screen and into a channel which directs them to the recovery system. The larger materials are passed down the inside of the trommel to be discarded as tailings.

In many of the larger operations, there were no means to recover the larger pieces of gold which were screened-out along with the other large materials. As a result, larger nuggets were sometimes discarded along with the waste material as tailings.

Anywhere you see large tailings piles, especially near the present waterways, it is evidence of a large volume operation where it is possible that the nuggets were discarded with the waste and are likely to still be there. Some large tailing piles still have large goodies inside them, which sing out very nicely on the proper metal detectors. One way to distinguish the right kind of tailing pile to be looking through is there should be a pretty wide range of material sizes in the tailing pile. Tailing piles which consist only of the larger rocks (cobble piles) were most likely stacked there by hand during a smaller surface-type operation.

Scanning tailing piles with a metal detector is proving to be highly-productive in some cases, and should not be overlooked as a possibility for finding nice specimen-sized gold nuggets. VLF ground-cancelling detectors are usually best-suited for this, because tailings almost always also contain a large quantity of mineral content, which is likely to cause interference on a BFO-detector.

PROSPECTING OLD MINING SHAFTS

Even the most experienced cave explorers shy away from entering declining mine shafts because of the dangers involved.

CAUTION: The first thing to say about prospecting in old mine shafts is that they are dangerous! There are different things that can go wrong when prospecting around in such places, one main danger being a potential cave-in. The shoring beams in some of these old shafts may have become rotten and faulty over the years. So it is best not to lean up against or bump any of the old wooden structures situated in old mine shafts. Loud, sharp noises should also be avoided.

Shafts which extend down into the earth on a declining angle are particularly dangerous; because if the ladders or suspension systems are faulty and collapse while you are down inside, you may not have any way to get out again. It is never a bad idea to bring along a caving rope, and use it, when exploring declining-type old mine shafts. Caving rope is different than mountaineering rope in that it is made not to stretch nearly as much. But I suppose, when going down in dark holes, any rope is better than no rope at all!

Another potential danger involved with exploring old mine shafts is encountering poisonous or explosive gasses. Entire mines were shut down because of such gasses—even when they were good-producing mines. These, however, were usually caved in and closed off to prevent unsuspecting adventurers from entering at a later date and getting into trouble.

Before you enter any old mine and start sorting through its low-grade ore piles, or pecking samples off the walls of the mine, it is a good idea to make sure the mine is not already owned by someone else. Or, if somebody does own it, it is wise to get the person’s permission first. There is probably nothing more dangerous in a mine shaft, cave-ins and poisonous gases included, than some old cantankerous miner who catches you, uninvited, in his mine and thinks you are stealing his gold!

There is probably more danger in prospecting old shafts than in any other gold prospecting activity.

After all that, just in case I have not succeeded in scaring you out of the idea of entering old mine shafts in your prospecting adventures, here are a few pointers about how and where you might find some rich ore deposits, or rich ore specimens, with the use of your metal detector:

But first, let me recommend that if you do go into such places, you bring along a buddy and leave another one at the surface with explicit instructions to not enter the shaft under any circumstances, but to go get help in the event that you should get into trouble within. It is also a good idea to let a few others know where you are going, just in case your outside-man doesn’t follow orders and you all become trapped inside.

There are two main sources of possible gold and silver in an old mine:

1) High-grade ore specimens that may have been placed in the low-grade ore piles and left as waste material.

2) High-grade ore which has yet to be mined.

With the exception of the largest production hardrock mines, there is always a certain amount of rock (ore) which has been blasted away from the wall of the tunnel that was not milled and processed. This was because some ore is of such apparent low-grade value that it is not worth the expense to process.

Sometimes the vein being followed into the mountainside was not as wide as the tunnel needed to be in order to progress into the mountain. Therefore, that rock material which was not part of the vein itself, or the contact zone, that looked to be of lower-grade value, was also discarded into the waste piles.

Crushing and milling ore is, and always has been, somewhat of a timely and expensive process. For this reason, a good many mines only processed what appeared to be the highest-grade ore that was blasted from the ore body. The rest was usually piled out of production’s way inside or outside of the shafts.

In the smaller operations, the kind where the ore was crushed and milled by hand and then processed with a gold pan to recover the values, only the highest of high-grade ores could be processed at a profit. The rest was usually laid aside out of the way.

The sorting of a higher-grade ore from lower-grade ore has always been a matter of judgment on the part of the person who was doing that part of the job. And, until the more recent breakthroughs in electronic detecting equipment, sorting needed to be done by eye or by feel (weight). There simply was no other way.

The interior of mine tunnels was often poorly lit with miner’s candles during earlier days, and the air inside the shaft was often foul after the powder explosions used to blast ore from the interior of the mountain. As a result of all this, it is not difficult to imagine that some higher-grade ore was likely discarded as waste material in most mines.

How rich the ore was in a mine will have a lot of bearing on whether or not a present-day prospector will find high-grade ore in the waste piles of that mine. The size of a mine does not necessarily have anything to do with how high-grade its ore was, although it may have a bearing upon how much waste ore will be available to test.

County reports can be looked over to locate the old mines within an area. Many of these reports also include information about the grade of ore being extracted from some of the mines.

When you are testing ore samples from a mine with a metal detector, and you do not come up with any specimens, try a few different piles. If you still do not come up with any specimens, it was probably not a high-grade mine. Try another.

Keep in mind that the floor of a mine shaft is likely to have some iron, brass and other metallic objects which will cause your detector to read-out.

One of the fastest and most effective ways of thoroughly checking out samples of ore is to lay the detector down on the ground or upon a makeshift bench with the search coil pointing upward so individual ore samples can be quickly passed by the most sensitive portion of the coil. The 3-inch diameter search coils are probably best-suited for this kind of work, because of the increased sensitivity, and because there is seldom great need for increased depth-sounding when testing ore specimens.

The most sensitive portion of the search coil is usually located near the center of the coil. It can be easily pinpointed by passing a coin back and forth across the coil while the detector is in tune, and by finding that spot where the coin causes the loudest and sharpest reading. The most sensitive area should be marked brightly with a Magic Marker so it will be easier for you to move ore samples directly past it. It is worthy to note that the top of the coil should have similar sensitivity to targets as does the bottom.

Ground-balancing would probably best be achieved by tuning to the overall ore pile. But, you may need to experiment. A lot will depend upon the grade of ore you are looking for. High-grade gold specimens will require the surrounding mineral to be cancelled out. On the other hand, sometimes high-grade ore is full of fine particles of gold which would not sound-off on a detector. In this case, the high degree of mineralization in the ore specimen might sound-out like a hot rock. Therefore, you would not want to ground-balance out high mineralization. So, depending upon the nature of the ore in a mine, you will need to use your own best judgment regarding the proper way to ground-balance.

Bring along a bucket, canvas bag or a knapsack so you will have something to carry your specimens as you find them.

Both BFO and the VLF ground-cancelling metal detectors can be successfully used to locate high-grade ore specimens. For the individual who is interested in finding a wider range of high-grade ore specimens rich enough to be worth milling on a small-scale for the gold and silver values, perhaps a BFO is the better type of metal detector to be used for the job. This is because the BFO does exceptionally well at picking up highly-mineralized ore. When you are dealing with hardrock veins, high mineralization is a good index of gold being present, especially when you are working with the ore that was blasted out of a previously-successful gold mine. Ore which contains large amounts of locked-in values or lots of fine gold that is thoroughly dispersed throughout the ore is not likely to read-out as a metal on any kind of conventional metal detector, although the high degree of mineralization which usually goes along with such ore probably will sound-out on a BFO-detector as a mineral. So the BFO-detector is handy in finding rich ores which might otherwise be undetectable.

By placing a BFO-detector on its mineral setting and keeping the pieces of ore which sound-out, you can accumulate a lot of good-paying ore. With the use of a BFO as such, the perimeters of ore piles can be scanned first to find a pile that has a lot of mineralization.

Portable rock crushers and mills and processing plants are available on the market. Perhaps by combining these with the use of a good BFO-detector to pick out the highly-mineralized, discarded ore, a small operation could be quite profitable without having to invest the higher costs associated with developing a lode mine from scratch.

LOCATING RICH ORE DEPOSITS

When prospecting around in an old mine with a metal detector, don’t discount the idea of searching the walls of the various shafts to locate rich ore deposits which may have been overlooked by the miners who originally developed the mine. With today’s market value of gold and advanced milling techniques, a small-scale mining operation can be run profitably in ore producing about ½-ounce to the ton in gold values, or perhaps even less. Abandoned mines which will pay this well and even better are scattered all over the west. If a person were really interested in locating a lode mine that he could work at a profit, one way would be with the use of a BFO-detector to prospect the various abandoned mines within the area of his or her interest. In using the BFO to scan the walls of such mines, highly-mineralized ore deposits can be located, samples can be taken for assay, and a person could find the mines having the richer-paying ore deposits. When prospecting like this, it is a good idea to bring a can of spray paint, a pen and paper and some zip-lock bags, so samples can be accurately marked as to where they came from, along with their respective deposits being marked with the spray paint.

If you are not interested in starting up a lode mine, but are just prospecting around for a bonus, again, the VLF detector is good for looking through mineralization and detecting the richest deposits. If, however, you do locate a reading metal inside the wall of a mine shaft with a VLF detector, and you have determined that it is not some falsely-reading mineralization, it could be well worth your while to investigate further. This is because the chances are pretty good that you have located some bonanza paying ore. I know of one highly successful high-grade gold mine in the Mother Lode area of California that is using VLF detectors as its sole method of determining where to blast. At this writing, they have located and recovered millions of dollars in gold during the past two years, in a mine which was failing prior to the use of metal detectors.

MEDICAL

Bring along some mosquito repellent during electronic prospecting ventures. Otherwise, if bugs are around, sometimes it is difficult to put your full attention on listening to what your detector is trying to tell you.

In some areas, you also have to be careful of ticks. Some ticks carry Lyme disease. Some insect repellents will keep ticks off of you. DEEP WOODS, TECNU 10-HR INSECT REPELLENT, and OFF seems to work pretty well. Spread the repellent on your boots, pants and other clothing.

In the hot climates, you should bring along the proper sunscreen and apply it to exposed body parts.

It’s always a good idea to bring along a good first aid kit, and at least leave it in your vehicle in case of emergencies.

Extra clothing and water is also a good idea. You can leave it in your vehicle. You never know…

 

By Roy Lagal

 

Nugget hunting in the desert.The term “nugget hunting” is so ambiguous that no description of it could ever be complete. Countless books have been written about this method of searching. Weekend prospectors generally find their instructions too complicated. By condensing descriptions of target areas and summarizing the easiest searching methods for beginners to use, I offer you instructions that are simple but that employ methods proven successful the world over. Tools you may include:

  • Gold pan or gold panning kit
  • Waders
  • Gold tweezers
  • Rock hammer
  • Small bar
  • Shovel
  • Metal detector (suitable for use in mineralized areas)

The metal detector will unquestionably produce the best results in areas where gold abounds and large nuggets commonly occur, such as the western United States deserts, certain “mother lode” areas, Australia, New Zealand, China, Africa and other parts of the world where sizeable nuggets appear in nature. Fantastic finds with metal detectors are regularly reported.

Nugget Hunting Instructions

An electronic metal detector can be used effectively because gold is conductive and its presence will be indicated.

Unfortunately, so-called “hot rocks” contain an iron mineral content that is either greater than or less than the levels for which the ground-canceling detector has been adjusted. They present a constant nuisance to prospectors because they register as metallic (conductive) on a detector. Calibrated circuits used in modern metal detectors that allow easy identification and rejection of “hot rocks” are an absolute necessity in helping a prospector determine whether a rock contains gold or a predominance of iron. Make certain that your detector is a ground-canceling type that contains these special circuits.

In wet areas, start your search near water.

  1.  Adjust your detector to the magnetic iron content of the area according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. Pinpoint your target.
  3. Slip a shovel under the target and place it into a plastic gold pan. If the target is located in a bedrock formation, use your rock hammer and small bar to dislodge it. Then place the dislodged target into the pan for examination.
  4. Check the contents once again with your detector. If a “hot rock” is suspected, use the detector to determine if it is ore. If not, discard it.
  5. When the detector indicates gold is present, inspect the contents visually or follow panning procedures.
  6. When the detector indicates no gold in the pan, repeat Steps 3-5 until the target is located.

Metal detectors used for prospecting will also indicate large concentrations of black magnetic sand. Shovel the sand into your gold pan. Inspect for gold nuggets and save the black sand discards for later separation.

In dry areas, the procedure will vary only slightly. Locate the target with your detector, and dig carefully using your hands or a small tool, while being careful to not damage the nugget.

Metal detector headphones are an advantage in most areas, since small nuggets usually generate only a faint response. It is best to dig and visually investigate all targets unless they can be identified absolutely as “hot rocks.”

Electronic discrimination is a valuable aid but should not be relied upon entirely.

Dry areas with small, loose material make visual identification of targets more difficult. When searching such areas, shovel targets into a plastic gold pan or small plastic cup and check for electronic responses. When your detector indicates that a metal object is in the pan, use dry panning first to reduce contents. Then grasp a handful of the pan’s remaining contents with your hand (which must be free of rings and other metallic jewelry) and pass your hand across the search coil’s detection area. The material can be inspected in the same manner if you use a plastic cup. Make certain your detector is tuned correctly and move your hand containing the material across its coil. Continue until you get a response. Then place the contents which generated the response into another pan to avoid loss of the target.

Cracks and other sections of bedrock where gold may be trapped can be inspected in a similar manner. This is called crevicing.”

In desert areas where medium-to-large nuggets occur, and water for testing them is scarce, the metal detector provides the easiest method of recovery. The introduction of VLF metal detectors has brought with it fantastic success stories. Natural elements continually erode mountains, allowing rich deposits to surface. Once a gold nugget of sufficient size becomes exposed, it can be discovered by a metal detector. These nuggets are rarely detectable by sight alone and the absence of water leaves electronic detection as the surest and most effective method for small-scale prospectors.

Gold is too fine for electronic detection in some areas of the western United States, so dry washing machines or dry panning must be employed for recovery. Almost all areas where gold is now located once contained an original vein or concentration of ore that weathered over the ages into a placer deposit. This means that nuggets may still be present even in areas where the gold has been too fine to register on metal detectors. Presence of such valuable nuggets is continually proved as successful searches are conducted with detectors in the dry washes, arroyos and canyons of arid locations.

Streams can be a valuable source of nuggets. In heavily-mineralized areas where productive mines are located, rich ore specimens are often deposited in streams by natural erosion. All targets should be carefully examined before assuming that one is merely a “hot rock.” Valuable coins can often be found in streams of old mining districts. The silver- producing areas of Mexico also produce large nuggets that can be easily recovered from creeks and rivers. Small streams created by the melting of large glaciers in Alaska and western Canada often contain nuggets easily found with detectors.

Searching underwater for nuggets with a metal detector is often not as profitable as in above-water areas. Considering the small amount of labor required, however, especially in comparison with dredging or panning, underwater exploration can be well worth the time and effort. Search slowly and carefully. Even though metallic junk is usually present in streams and rivers, you pretty-much have to examine all target responses from your metal detector. Hot rocks are present in water just as on land.

Very often, companions of dredge operators use their spare time to search streams for nuggets. Persistence and patience are the keys to success here.

Large nuggets encrusted with a black or dark coating have been found particularly on mountain tops. It is believed that volcanic action or oxidation of other minerals and materials encrusted gold with the black coating.

Such discoveries commonly called “volcanic gold” or “black nuggets” represent a rare opportunity for the prospector, and are almost impossible to locate except by electronic detection.

Literally millions of dollars in gold nuggets are being discovered all over the world. Metal detectors enable gold-bearing areas to be searched in a manner never before possible. It is reasonable to state that more nuggets have already been discovered with metal detectors than were ever discovered in all the old gold rushes. The use of a metal detector will provide the weekend prospector with many enjoyable and rewarding hours of activity, and have the potential to detect riches beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.

Editor’s note: The preceding article is a chapter reprinted from WEEKEND PROSPECTING by Roy Lagal, used with permission of the author and Ram Publishing Company, copyright owners. For further information about the book, contact Hal Dawson, Editor; RAM Publishing Company, P.O. Box 38469, Dallas, TX 75238 (214) 278-6151.

 

By Dave McCracken

The water flow should be just enough to keep the concentrating action going behind each riffle, yet not so much that the riffles are being swept clean.

Dave McCracken

 

As a general rule, the optimum slope-setting of a sluice is around one inch of drop per linear foot of box. This can change, depending upon the volume and velocity of water being used, and/or the average shape, size, volume or weight (specific gravity) of material that you are processing.

There is no exact formula for setting the proper water velocity through a sluice box which will work optimally under all conditions for all the different types of riffles being used today. Therefore, rather than give you a formula, I will attempt to give you an understanding of what affects the proper amount of water velocity will cause in a sluice box, and also what the affects are of too much or too little water velocity. In this way, you will be able to act from direct observation to ensure that your, or anyone else’s, sluicing device will be recovering gold to the fullest extent possible.

In setting up a sluice, if feasible, it is desirable to have enough water flow to move the material through the box as fast as you can shovel (or dredge) it in at full production speed.

Most of the riffles being used today are designed so that a concentrating-action takes place behind the riffles. By increasing or decreasing the amount of water velocity over a set of riffles, the amount of water-action behind each riffle is also increased or decreased—which has an effect on the amount of concentrating action taking place. Water velocity can be increased by either putting more water through the sluice box or by moving the same amount through faster. Optimally, the water flow is just enough to keep the concentrating action going behind each riffle, yet not so much that the riffles are being swept clean (called “boiling”) of their concentrated material.

How much water velocity is directed over the box directly affects how much material will stay behind the riffles. When the correct amount of water force is being put through a sluice, its riffles will run about half full of material, and the material can be seen to be dancing and vibrating behind the riffles (concentrating) when the water is flowing.

If too little flow of water is directed through a sluice box, not enough water force can get into the riffles and they will “pack up” with material. In this case, little or no concentrating-action will take place and gold recovery will be poor. When this happens, little or no visible vibrating action behind the riffles will be seen and material will not be moving through the box fast enough to allow you to feed the sluice at production speed without loading up the entire box.

Too much force of water through a sluice box will put too much turbulence behind the riffles. This will cause some of the heavier concentrated material to be swept out of the box.

When this happens, gold recovery will also likely suffer, because the areas located behind the riffles are not calm enough to allow some percentage of the finer pieces of gold to settle. You will notice in this case that the dancing action is occurring behind each riffle, but less material will collect behind the riffles because of the increased amount of turbulence there. When you have too much water velocity, as material is shoveled into the box, it passes through very quickly and has little time to make contact with the riffles.

All the above points remain true when adjusting to get the proper amount of water flowing over an expanded metal-riffle system. However, when using such a system, it is necessary to remember that the riffles are very short. So it does not take very much water velocity to make them concentrate properly.

This means that the size of riffles affect how much water velocity is optimum through the box, how much classification of material is necessary and how fine in size your effective gold recovery will be.

The correct amount of flow is usually found to be just enough to move the material over the box to keep up with your feed of material. Since gold is around 6 times heavier than the average material that will pass through a sluice, there is usually some margin for error if velocity is a little faster than necessary. But a faster flow (than necessary) will affect how fine in size your effective gold recovery will be, if fine gold is present.

Once you have your sluice box set up the way you think it ought to be, it is a good idea to run a sizable portion of gold-bearing material through the box and then pan some samples of the tailings. If you do not find any gold in the tailings, you are set up properly. If you are finding gold in the tailings, some changes are in order. Another test is to mix some pieces of lead in with some material, run it through the sluice, and see where the lead stops.

Sluice boxes process material best when receiving it from a steady feed. Too much material dumped at once into a sluice box has a tendency to overload the riffles and choke off the concentrating-action behind the riffles. This will cause gold to wash right through the sluice box as if there were no riffles present at all.

On the other hand, it is not good practice to run volume-amounts of water flow over a sluice box without some material being constantly or regularly fed through. This is because the scouring-action from the water flows will continue to further-concentrate materials trapped behind the riffles, causing heavier materials to be washed out of the box. A sluice box operated for extended periods with no new material being fed to it has an increased chance of losing some of its fine gold values. How much gold loss will depend on a multitude of factors, such as the type of riffle design, how much water flow, the type and weight of concentrates and the size and purity (specific gravity) of the gold.

So if you will not feed more material into your sluice for a while, it is a good idea to cut your water flow back to reduce turbulence behind the riffles until you are ready to feed again.

Even when a sluice box is set properly, occasional larger-sized stones or rocks can become lodged within the riffles. These should be picked or flipped out of the riffles with minimum disturbance to the remaining portion of the sluice.

On most suction dredges, the volume of water being moved through the sluice continues at the same steady flow during production speed. So adjusting the water velocity to set up the dredge right is accomplished by changing the slope of the sluice box itself—which will speed up or slow down the flow of water over the box. Then, once you are dredging, if you will stop feeding streambed material into the suction nozzle for any period of time, it is wise to block the nozzle with a larger-sized cobble to slow the water flow through your sluice box.

When placing a sluice box within a stream or creek for its water flow, the water velocity can be adjusted by either changing the slope of the box, by varying the volume of water being directed through the box, or by placing the sluice at different sites in the stream or creek where the water is moving at different depths and speeds. Getting the right flow of water to pass through a sluice box out in the field is not difficult. But it is sometimes necessary to try different ideas until you find what works best in each situation. For example, in a location where the water is moving slowly, you might be able to direct more water through the sluice and gain the amount of water velocity that you need. In a stream where the flow is moving more swiftly, the water velocity through your box can usually be adjusted by changing the volume of water directed into it, and/or by varying its downward slope.

Usually, you will have little trouble arriving at the correct velocity through your sluice box when placing it in a fast stream of water. You can use river rocks to make a foundation within the stream so your box can sit level from side to side. By allowing different amounts of water volume through the box, and by changing its downward slope, you can work out a combination that does the job. It is good to have a length of nylon cord along with you for securing the sluice box to a rock or some other object upstream. This prevents the box from being moved off its foundation by the force of water. Sometimes it is necessary to pile a rock or two on top of the box to hold it in place. This is especially true when you are using a sluice made out of wood. You can shovel gravel into the box while trying the different combinations to see what effects the changes have on water velocity.

In a situation where you must set your sluice into slower water, you will find it is generally more difficult to get the flow you need, because you have to create more water velocity than is presently there.

If the flow of the stream itself is not enough to move material through your box, you will sometimes find that changing the slope of the box within the stream has little or no effect on speeding up the flow through the sluice. In this situation, there are several things that might be done to channel enough flow through your box so that you can run material through at production speed. Sometimes the flow of water within the overall stream itself is enough, so that by setting up a “water director” in the stream, you can move enough water through the box to give you the desired result. A water deflector, or barrier, like this can sometimes be built by throwing river rocks out into the stream to make more water flow into and through the sluice.

In this situation, there are several things that might be done to channel enough flow through your box so that you can run material through at production speed. Sometimes the flow of water within the overall stream itself is enough, so that by setting up a “water director” in the stream, you can move enough water through the box to give you the desired result. A water deflector, or barrier, like this can sometimes be built by throwing river rocks out into the stream to make more water flow into and through the sluice.

Sometimes you can get the water velocity needed by arranging a small water-elevator across the waterway. By doing so, and by placing your sluice where the moving water spills over the top, you might create more than enough water flow through the box to meet your needs. It really does not take very much volume of water through a medium-sized sluice box to get the right amount of velocity, if the water is moved through the box at speed. In the case of a short elevator (dam), the water level might only need to be raised up slightly to increase the downward slope of the box enough to create the needed water velocity. How high the elevator needs to be depends mostly upon how much water is flowing within the stream or creek.

A sheet or two of thin plastic, or a plastic tarp, or some old rice bags, can come in handy when you are arranging an elevator or water director within a stream. Such material helps prevent the water from pouring through the holes in your man-made barriers.

A water director or elevator can most often be used with good result wherever the water in a stream or creek is moving and is shallow enough that the barriers can be built easily.

If the water at the work site is moving too slowly, or for some reason a water director or elevator will not work in a particular location, it will be necessary to either set up your sluice in a different location where the water is moving faster, or use a motorized pump to feed water into your sluice. Or, in some situations, it is possible to siphon water into your box from a higher point upstream. Siphoning can be done effectively with the use of reinforced garden hose(es), other types of heavy-walled water hose or PVC.