BY “CRICKET” KOONS

How many of you gals out there are “miner’s widows” ?

We’ve all heard of football widows, golf widows and fishing widows. Now we have mining widows. Well, I’m here to tell you to rise and revolt! Don’t let your husband or boyfriend go off and leave you behind to watch the kids and wash the dog. Join in!

Let him know that, by gosh, you’re a miner too, and good at it. If you really haven’t tried it yet, come on up to the river and one of us gals will show you how.

I haven’t had this much fun in years, and gals, mining is not just for the young, although we will let them in on the fun too. I’m on the waning side of 50, run my own full-time business, have a couple of part-time money makers on the side, still keep house, help my children (all grown up), and take care of my grandchildren. BUT, I make the time to get to the river or at least the outback on weekends. Now if I can do it, so can you. I know what we gals can do if we just put our minds to it. Let’s rise up, young and not too young, and show these men a thing or two.

We can all watch Dave McCracken’s mining tapes and read his books, or read any of the other mining books available. Now, we know we learn faster than the men folks, and we are more flexible and willing to make a change for a better idea. You know how stubborn and set in their ways some of our old coots can be!

I’m here to tell you, mining is a great way to melt those hips, increase your lung power, and join in the conversation.

Let me throw out a few mining terms for you to think about. How about overburden? No, I’m not referring to what’s on my hips or maybe yours. Overburden is worthless junk, sand, rocks and anything else that covers bedrock.

We all know what material is, right? Wrong, it’s not the fabric we all have sitting on our sewing machines; I think mine is about six months old now…well, maybe someday. Material in mining lingo is rocks, sand, gravel, mud, clay and silt that sits on top of bedrock, junk we have to work through to get to the bottom.

Bedrock…no, it’s not that old faithful thing you’ve been sleeping on for twenty years, or even something inherited from Great Aunt Fannie. It’s the solid rock surface of the earth’s crust which lies under, where else, the material.

Out of all of this, we end up with the concentrates. We all know how to concentrate. We do it with a good book or our knitting and lots of other things. Ahhhhh, but Mother Nature,when she concentrates, she takes this sand, makes it heavy, turns it black, and hopefully throws in a little gold. Then we come along, work real hard, get out all the other junk, and bingo…Mother Nature’s concentrates give us her gold.

This should tickle your fancy and get the old gray matter moving We, the members of the “Female Mining Sorority”, salute you and respectfully request the honor of your presence at our next meeting.

Place: Happy Camp, California

Time: This summer

Object: Get the gold

So get out the oil can and get your bones moving, grab the kids, that dog and , of course, old hubby, and get moving.

See you on the river.

 

BY SCOTT S. WARNER

Family Finds Gold — And Fun While On Vacation

 

There I was seven feet deep in the Merced River, staring at a human skull. Was this a watery grave for some murdered miner from the 1800’s or an early native Indian from the Miwok tribe of the Sierra Nevada foothills?

As I wondered about the origin of my latest find, I remembered what happened to me the year before on a similar trip with my father, brother, and sister. We were finding gold crowns on the bedrock, and I found one in the sluice box that had a partial tooth in it. My dredging partners and I believed we had a body or skull minus a few teeth close by. It wasn’t until the end of the weekend that my family had a good laugh and admitted they had planted the gold teeth in my hole. For the complete story read “The Toothless Miner” in the October, 1992 issue of Gold and Treasure Hunter Magazine.

On this particular trip, I was dredging with my father, my Uncle John Bard, and his son Michael. My Uncle John was an experienced diver who also had some experience at gold prospecting. It wasn’t until I had started dredging on the Merced River that I found out about John’s prospecting experiences. During the 1960’s, John had dredged the American River and had done some prospecting in Alaska.

After talking to John about his gold prospecting experiences, I found that we shared a special bond. It was the love of hunting and finding gold, and sharing your experiences with other prospectors. My Uncle John had it, I could see it in his face and hear it in the excitement of his voice. It didn’t take much for me to talk my uncle into joining me on a dredging trip to the Merced River.

I pulled into East Bagby on the Merced River on a Wednesday in mid-August. I was working a hole upriver and had uncovered a few crevices with nuggets showing. I cleaned the bedrock and left the gold so that my relatives who were arriving later in the week could enjoy crevicing the gold. They arrived Friday and had a great time picking the gold nuggets out of the bedrock. Unfortunately, the gold played out in that location and we decided to move downriver and try a new location. We opened up our new hole and attempted to locate bedrock. We were about seven feet down, which is a little deeper than I like to work with my 4″ dredge. We were working two-man crews. My father and I were in the dredge hole working through about six feet of overburden without hitting bottom. I was getting a little discouraged because of the possible depth of the bedrock and lack of gold in the overburden.

I was working the nozzle when my father tapped me on the shoulder and pointed at something in the bottom of the hole. As I took a closer look at the object, I saw a white cap peering through the overburden. I began to fan the sand and gravel away from the object when suddenly, two eye sockets looked out at me. Well, I almost had a heart attack right there on the spot, and I think I went into a slight state of shock. I jumped out of the hole and started screaming about a dead man. My Uncle John and Michael looked at me in a funny way when I explained that I was moving my dredge because there was no gold, and there were dead people in our hole.

About a half hour later, the shock began to wear off. I decided that I just had to have some pictures of my new discovery, so I went back down into the hole and uncovered the skull. When I lifted it out, I realized something was wrong– it was very heavy. Once I took a closer look, I found out why; it wasn’t bone, but a fake plaster, skull. My relatives from hell had struck again!

I went crazy and popped out of the water screaming obscenities, that would offend most Christian people. They all stood around laughing and enjoying themselves because they had put one over on me again. They had all done a good job setting me up for it. The night before, we had been discussing the history of the Merced River–it was very interesting how they kept talking about all the dead miners who had lost their lives on the river. Needless to say, I was totally embarrassed. To this day, I can’t believe I fell for the old “Hide a skull in the dredge hole” trick. I can hardly wait to see what they have in store for me next year. Maybe I’ll find an arm, a leg, or possibly a full cadaver.

 

BY GENE MEDENWALD

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What an experience!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 20–Repaired compressor. A broken piston reed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHERE’S-THE-BUCKLE?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BY GENE MEDENWALD

 

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

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

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

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

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

LESSON:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

LESSON:

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

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

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

SOME DREDGING AXIOMS OF MURPHY’S LAW:

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

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

 

BY KITTY NELSON

Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, and, at the most inappropriate time!

 

It was spring, and John and I were ready for another adventure on the Klamath River in northern California. We arrived earlier than we normally do, thinking we were really going to get a jump on the season. Well, so much for that idea—the water was raging and visibility was about three inches. We decided we’d do some motorized sluicing while we waited for the water to clear up.

We set up the sluicing equipment on a gravel bar and started shoveling. Within 15 minutes we recovered a one-pennyweight nugget! We took this as a sign—we knew we were going to have a good year!

By the end of June, the water was clear enough to) put the dredge in. The New 49’ers had a new claim downriver, where access was bad — there were no roads in, and it was 250 feet nearly straight down to the water at the lower-end of the claim. But some big nuggets were coming off this claim, and I decided this was the place we wanted to be. All I had to do was to convince John. His philosophy is “If you can’t park at the front door, I don’t want to go.”

 

It took a few weeks before he reluctantly agreed, so it was the middle of July when we finally went downriver to the new claim. First we set up a tent camp so we wouldn’t

have to drive back and forth to Happy Camp every day. Then John decided the easiest way to get the dredge and all our equipment into the canyon would be to strap it onto an old car hood and slide it down. With the use of both our pickups to help, a snatch block, and our friend, David, we slid the dredge down the mountain with no problem.

The next day we took our two dogs and climbed down the mountain with the help of a rope tied at the top of the trail.We chose a likely place to start sampling and set up the equipment.

We started finding gold in our first sample hole, but we received a hot tip about the set of rapids two sets above us, and decided to give them a try. You know, gold always glitters brighter on the other side of the river!

We literally dragged our dredge up two sets of rapids. We spent a little more than a week punching sampling holes, only to decide most of it had already been dredged or swept out by high winter flows. So we decided we’d just float back down, sampling along the way.
By the time we made it to the last set of rapids, the water had really dropped. That meant we had to float the dredge through the swiftest part of the rapids. I wasn’t looking forward to this — I was scared!

John tried to convince me it was going to be easy. He said we just had to feed it through the rapids with a rope; and as soon as it was through, it would float over to the side where the water was calm. Sounds easy, right?

We’d no sooner started the voyage when the dredge hung up on a big rock. John waded out and lifted it off, while I held onto the rope. But in the process of lifting it off the rock, he pulled his back and could hardly move. As he bent over the rock in pain, the dredge (free of the rock) started down through the rapids. The rope began burning through my hands. I couldn’t hold it! I curled myself around the pontoon of our supply-float to get better leverage, but then John fell onto the rope as he attempted to help me hold it.

Then, as the rope burned through my fingers again, John (who was still trying to hold onto it) was dragged over the rocks on his stomach. He saw that the dredge was beginning to sink from the strain we were putting on the rope as it fought against the current, and yelled for me to let it go. What a sick, helpless feeling it was to watch our dredge rushing down the river, out of control!

John, who could not even get up by this time, called to me to run downriver and catch it! He thought that the dredge would float out of the current below the rapids, and over to the side of the river.

I was thinking he expected me to run a quarter of a mile down the riverbank, jump into the water (out of breath and wearing combat boots), swim out into the current to the dredge, and pull it into the shore. I was also thinking “Yeah, right! There he goes again, thinking I’m “Lady Schwarzenegger.” But I ran anyway.

I’d almost caught up to the dredge when some rafters happened to float by. They yelled at me to ask if that was my dredge. I told them yes, and they then asked if anyone was holding it. I yelled “No!” and they said “Don’t worry, we’ll get it for you!”

They paddled hard and caught up with it, and pulled it up onto a sand bar on the other side of the river, tying it off on a rock. Thank God for rafters! Without their help, our summer would have been ruined. Our dredge would have surely been smashed up as it went through the next set of rapids, only yards away from where they pulled it out. We decided we’d had enough excitement for the day and went back to our tent camp.

The next morning my back hurt so badly I could hardly stand up. John was in pain, so we broke camp and went back upriver to our fifth-wheel trailer to recoup.

In a few days we felt better, so we took our raft and 3hp motor down into the canyon to pull our dredge back across the river. All went well, and I said to John, “Maybe it’s fate we ended up here. Maybe this is the spot.” So, we decided to punch a sample hole right there.

We discovered one of the dredge engines had water in the gas when we attempted to start it. We called it a day.

The next day we drained the engine and attempted to get it re-started. After several hours it finally started, but we were so tired and full of blisters that we called it a day again.

The next day, I walked the dogs down the riverbank while John took the raft, and I arrived at our dredge site before him — and he was not going to be happy! A bear had been at the site and had torn up John’s new wetsuit! After that, the bear had tried to eat a bottle of dish soap, and must not have cared for it, because nothing else was disturbed.

After John finally quit yelling about his new wetsuit, we called it a day once again and drove to town to buy another wetsuit.

Coming down the trail the next day, John wore my new 60 lb. weight belt, rather than carry it. The trail was a little loose from so much use, so he veered off to the right in hopes of getting better footing. Halfway down, he hit a yellow jacket’s nest. His first reaction was to swat at the swarming wasps—big mistake! He let loose the rope to start swatting, lost his balance, and rolled 70 feet down the hill, still wearing my 60 lb. weight belt! When he finally came to a stop, he managed to get the belt off and started to run for the river, only to trip and fall a few more feet, landing on a rock. He came out of this little adventure with 5 stings, some bad scrapes, and bruised “buns.”

An hour or so later, after he looked like he’d recovered, I asked him if we were going to dredge, or what? He answered “Why, sure! What else could go wrong?”

The “what else” turned out to be one of the foot valves, which wouldn’t prime. We had to tear it apart and rebuild it. By that time most of the day was gone, and we were ready for a day off.

A few days later, we began dredging at our original spot. The day went very well—no breakdowns, no accidents, and cleanup wasn’t bad, either. After 3-1/2 hours of dredging time, we had 6 pennyweights of gold in our sluice box. Things were finally going our way!

John ran the nozzle, and I was his rock person. I’d built a huge rock wall behind us to separate us from a bad undertow in the middle of the river. John had been caught in it earlier, while we were setting up the dredge. I wasn’t going to take any more chances with it, so I put my cobbles to good use. He decided to move a large rock for me, knowing I would have trouble with it. As he shoved the rock out of the way, he smashed his hand between it and another in my rock wall. Several bones in his left hand were broken. So with our tails tucked between our legs, we headed back to camp.

We spent our downtime doing some sightseeing. But after being out of the water for a little more than a month, John was dying to get back to dredging. Every little bump and jar caused him a lot of pain, but he managed to work the nozzle. We finished off the spot we were in, getting good gold right to the finish. That took about a week. But under better circumstances, it might only have taken a day or so. We then moved forward between the next set of boulders. The amount of gold we were finding dropped drastically, and we decided we probably should have dropped further back on the river, instead. The strange currents in this area probably dropped the gold differently from normal.

It was late in the season by then — the weather was cooler and so was the water. John’s hand still bothered him a lot, so we decided to throw in the towel and head for Arizona.

Even with all the mishaps, this was one of the best summers we’ve ever had. Ask us ten years from now what we did last summer, and we will laugh and recall all of our adventures as though it were yesterday.

We will be back next year. Look for us at the weekly Saturday-night potlucks-we’ll be the couple with all the band aids and bruises!

 

By Jude Colleen Kendrick

“Ever have a prospecting trip where everything went wrong?”

 

Image 1Three months of planning, over a thousand miles of traveling, anticipation of gold pans shining with stringers of gold — then, almost everything went wrong!

It had been quite a while since I had taken a 12-day prospecting trip. I am tied to work obligations, as most of us are; and it is rare to have an opportunity to escape and do what I love for that length of time.

The plans began several months ago, when my prospecting partner, Gail Butler, and I were invited on a nugget-shooting hunt. Two friends of Gail’s, Marc Davis and W.R.C. Shedenheim, of Rock and Gem Magazine, had researched the old dredge tailings near Sacramento, and had asked us to join them this past October for a group hunt.

Gail and I decided we would “dig our way” up from Los Angeles and do a little bit of high-banking on the Stanislaus River, near Columbia, before heading up to Sacramento.

Image 2The trip to Columbia was uneventful; but it was a very, very long drive. We finally arrived at the road which would lead us down to the river. As we descended, we saw ahead of us large billowing clouds of smoke coming over the mountain ridge. We could not believe that we had driven all this way and the mountain was on fire! This was not a canyon that you would want to get trapped in. As we watched the smoke increasing and nervously viewed a bomber plane flying overhead, a truck was approaching us, coming out of the canyon. We waved the man down and asked if he knew what was happening. He replied that it was just a controlled burn — we were extremely relieved. That relief quickly disappeared when the man left us with the statement “But those burns don’t always remain controlled.” What a comforting thought! We decided to go down anyway, finally finding a clearing near the river which looked great for camping and high-banking.

Opening the back window of my truck shell was like releasing the top of a Jack-in-the-Box. I had decided not to take my tent trailer, because we had planned, on the return trip home, to do a little gold prospecting in an area above Death Valley. The roads there are not very kind to tent trailers. So, my truck was packed with every camping item you could imagine, along with high-bankers, sluices, metal detectors and all our personal belongings. Once I removed the much-needed bungee cord, out popped everything.

The first sign of bad luck hit us just after setting up camp. With the truck now empty, I discovered that I had forgotten most of my clothes. Ten minutes later, when I attempted to take a picture of camp, I found that my camera was broken. I joked with Gail about “What else could go wrong?” The answer came the following morning. We woke up to an pretty substantial rain storm. Gail’s hat was floating around in a pool of water that was on the floor of the tent. I had owned this tent for years; but it had never been rained on before. The ceiling wasn’t leaking, but the side-seams certainly were! Everything on the floor was soaked. Everything outside — the stove, the lanterns, and supplies — was soaked. This was not fun!

Within an hour or so, the rain finally let up enough for us to head for the river and start high-banking. After setting up all the equipment, I proceeded to crank-up the engine and guess what? It would not start! The engine had not gotten wet and it had never, ever acted like this before. After about 45 minutes, I finally got it to turnover.

The rain continued on and off for four days. I don’t recall that we were ever reallydry. We found one nice nugget, but it was very difficult trying to shovel mud into the high-banker.

About two days into this wonderful trip, we met two other prospectors who were camped downstream from us. Larry and “‘Half-Bucket,” as he called himself (because he only moved a half bucket of dirt a day), kind of felt sorry for us and thought it would be nice to cook us a dinner. They had RV’s, so they did not have to cook under a tarp.

Gail and I are not in the habit of accepting invitations from strangers, but these gentlemen were gentlemen, and we felt it was all right to go for a dry meal. At dinner, Larry brought out some Irish Crème that he had made himself. Neither Gail nor I are really drinkers, but it sounded like a great idea on this cold and rainy night.

After drinking about a quarter-Dixie cup full, I realized something was very strange. I could not feel my legs! I was told later that I was walking and stepping as if I was trying to walk up steps — but there were no steps! I finally asked Larry how he made his Irish Crème, and he confessed that in place of whiskey, he used 190-proof moonshine that was being made by some hardrock miner down the road. I am not sure how Gail felt, but I felt as though I was under anesthesia for the next two days.
On the fifth day, our day of departure, we woke to rain again.

Have you ever tried to pack-up a six-person tent that is soaking wet? Not easy! We barely had enough dry clothes to wear for the trip up to Sacramento. I could not wait to get to the hotel. When: we arrived there, we immediately found a Laundromat to wash all of our “mud clothes.” Can you imagine looking so bad that people in a Laundromat were staring at you? And these people were campers as well!

After a night of rest in dry beds, Gail and I connected with Marc and W.R.C. for our first day of nugget shooting. Rain was again threatening, but we all figured we would go for it anyway. Marc had gone to great lengths to secure permission to detect the old bucket-line dredge tailings that were located on private property. But at the first site, after gearing up and getting started, we were asked to leave. Apparently, several owners were involved, and the two owners who had granted permission to Marc had not told the third owner of their actions.

On the second day, after arriving at an area that we could hunt, we found an incredible valley that went on for miles, covered totally with old bucket-line dredge tailings. Again, the weather was threatening; but the landscape was so beautiful, you could almost forget about the impending storm.

Most of the tailing piles were over 10-to 15-feet high and covered with various sizes of river rock. About mid-day, as I attempted to climb one of these, I lost my balance and fell forward, head first, and then down on my stomach. Down the tailing pile, I slid as if my body were a sled on a snow hill. When I finally hit bottom, as I lay there, I was looking around to see if any of the group had seen me exhibit this graceful attempt at metal detecting. I was a bit banged up, but nothing serious. We found no gold; but it certainly was not because we didn’t try.

On the last day, heading back to the hotel, it started to hail and I wondered — when were the locusts coming?

Gail and I decided on that last evening that we had better go back to Los Angeles for a couple of days, dry everything out, and then proceed on to the area above Death Valley. We re-mapped so that we could return on Highway 395, and I could drop Gail off in Upland.

Well — the curse was obviously not through with us! Just about eight miles out of the town of Mojave, we smelled something burning in the truck, and snap went the fan belt! There we were on a stretch of Highway 14 right between two high mountain peaks.

I mention that because, of course, my CB radio was worthless to me in the canyon. It was very windy and cold, and I was out making hand signals to the drivers of the big rigs to call for help. I am not sure how this looked; because some of them looked at me like I was crazy. I was crazy!
Finally, we saw a California Highway Patrol (CHP) car on the opposite side of the highway. He looked over at us, got off the freeway, came back on our side and drove right past us! We could hardly believe our eyes.

To make a long story short, a Deputy Sheriff finally stopped and called for a tow truck. He was kind enough to stay with us until the truck arrived. During the wait, CHP and other Sheriffs then stopped to see what was going on. It looked like a crime scene!

After a couple of hours in Mojave, and an unwanted repair bill, we finally headed back home. I enjoyed every minute of my two-day “drying out” time at home. The second leg of the trip would only be an overnighter, so at least I didn’t have to pack very much.

I picked Gail up and we were off to an area in the Clark Mountains above Death Valley. We had planned to go to an old abandoned mining camp that Gail had found and written about a few years earlier. This camp had been deserted for over 40 years; but when we got there, the old buildings had been replaced with new ones and the old mining equipment replaced with a new backhoe and trucks. There were “NO TRESPASSING” signs everywhere. We had just driven six hours to do some metal detecting at this place!.

We do not give up very easily, so down the road we went to investigate some other old mining areas. Darkness came quickly, and we had to find a place to camp for the night. After settling behind a large knoll, we emptied the truck only to find that the lantern had no mantles and the flashlight batteries were dead! We had not brought spares of either item. Can you believe that?

We left early the next morning for home. This was the last leg of our 12-day trip; and although we had our share of bad luck, we did have some good times, as well. That was, until while driving home on Highway 395, just five miles out of Kramer Junction, the clutch on my truck decided that it would quit working. This was just to show us that we were not yet done with our “trip from Hell!”
So remember O’Reilly’s Law, Murphy was definitely an optimist!

But don’t ever give up! My next trip, and all of our trips, will always bring a moment of joy that only we prospectors and treasure hunters understand. Good Luck!!

 

BY CRICKET KOONS

A life of “Dredgery.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you on the river!

 

BY MARCIE STUMPF/FOLEY

 

Bill StumpfMost miners have a season that is very special. Sometimes because they find a lot of gold, sometimes because of a very special nugget; but they all seem to have one year that stands apart from all the rest. We, too, have such a year, but not for any of the above reasons. Our year stands apart because it really put our love of mining to the test.

The year was 1979, and we were especially looking forward to it. We had a new motor- home; but more important to my husband, Bill, we were upgrading from a 2 1/2″ dredge to a brand new 4-incher. Our three teenage sons were staying home, and we were taking our first vacation alone, ever!

We tried to plan carefully, as usual; but due to our three sons, there was always an ever-present need to economize. We decided that we would carry our mining gear in our aluminum fishing boat on its trailer, which didn’t have really good tires. However, after looking them over, we decided they would make just one more trip. That was our first mistake.

Our second mistake was the date we picked to start our vacation. California was in the midst of a record heat wave, and we left home on the hottest day (anywhere in the State) in a decade. By late afternoon, heading up Interstate 5 near Red Bluff, the temperature was somewhere over 120 degrees. We were wilted; the left tire on the boat trailer had developed an alarming bulge; and the auto air-conditioning in our new motor-home had died. We pulled into a campground, showered, and collapsed under the rig’s air conditioner, too tired to even eat dinner.

A good night’s sleep helped, and we were at a tire store when they opened early the next morning. After they replaced the tire, we pulled out onto the main street and headed out of town-so we thought. We hadn’t gone a block when we heard a big “thunk!”, and our new tire went flying past us, up Main Street. I can still clearly see Bill slumping over the steering wheel, saying “Oh, no!..Oh, no!,” as cars and trucks swerved, trying to dodge the tire as it merrily sped down the street. It looked like something from the Keystone Kops ! Then, a glancing blow from a truck sent it spinning crazily off toward the sidewalk. And as I looked up, I saw that it was headed right for a beautiful little church with stained glass windows.

We could only watch and hold our breath as it jumped the curb, crossed the sidewalk, and started up the church steps. One big bounce, then two, and the next would send it over the top and right into the window! But the tire just didn’t have quite enough “oomph” to go over the top, and we gave a sigh of relief as it hit the edge of the top step to bounce back down and into the street where it finally came to rest.

Only then did we notice that traffic had completely stopped, and we had quite a large audience. Bill was really thrilled to have to get out and retrieve the tire and all the lug bolts, apologizing all along the way. Red Bluff was quite small, and the audience obliged by waiting and watching him.

The lug bolts were stripped, but he put it back together as best he could, and we made it back to the store. Bill had a few things to say the whole time he worked, but I wisely kept silent. In such a situation, I have found it is better to not even murmur sympathy.

Although they did not have what we needed to fix it, they managed to get it together well enough for us to limp along the shoulder to Redding, another 33 miles. There, they managed to make the necessary repairs, and Bill bought a replacement for the spare tire on the trailer.

By this time, we had lost what little coolness the early morning held, and we sped on our way in the heat. Our next stop, Yreka, came at about noon, and we quickly picked up groceries, gasoline and propane, and then headed on our way. About 15 miles further, we had to find a large open area back from the road to stop.

Our third mistake was in not making sure they did not overfill our propane tank. (We have found this is common, and can be very dangerous). By now, it was 114 degrees, and we were in the sun, of course. We gratefully climbed back into the rig to resume our journey. But unfortunately it was not for long. Soon, a passing motorist, by honking the horn and pointing back, signaled another problem. You guessed it! The other trailer tire was flat. There was no shade in sight, and I don’t exaggerate when I say that we sizzled each time we had to touch the hot metal of the boat to get what we needed. I stayed out to help as much as I could, but made sure I stayed out of the way, and behind Bill, in case he reached the stage of throwing things. He was seeing so much red by this time I was afraid he might not see me.

The tire-change went smoothly, however; and in another fifteen miles, we had reached our destination to join our friends, Ned and Dori. What a relief it was to relax in the shade, sip a cool drink, and visit.

When we’d finished our news, Ned told us theirs. They had made a deal for us to dredge on a private claim about 10 miles further up the mountain. We excitedly broke camp, and hauled everything up there, where we labored the rest of the day getting our rigs back into the thick trees, in the cool shade. We were going to be here a while, and we wanted it right.

There had been a cabin here at one time, and the cleared area where it had stood would be perfect for campfires at night. We also discovered, off a ways, a “Three- Holer .” For you city folks, that is an outhouse with three holes. Actually, I’d never heard of one, either. It had critters, and it was dirty; but was still sound. Dori and I decided we’d clean it up when we had time. That night, as we sat around a fire, the tension from our trip faded, and the wonderful peace that we always felt when we got away like this descended upon us. It was August, and the days were long. By bedtime, the guys had made plans to get going early in the morning, and be dredging by noon.

In the morning, Bill sprang from the bed, eager to get the day started. Unfortunately, his aim was off a little, and he smashed his knee into the cupboard next to the bed. Ignoring my offer of a band-aid, he quickly donned a pair of shorts and went out to get things ready. In an hour or so he was back. He had added a bee sting to his other knee, and a huge multi-colored goose egg to a shin. Now he was ready for band-aids and medicine.

After I’d done what I could, he put on his wetsuit. His fourth mistake was in not putting his wet suit on first thing in the morning. They are good protection! He then hobbled off to finish putting the dredges into the water with Ned’s help.

When they finished, we took a break for lunch; and as we finished, we had a visitor. It was the miner who had the next claim up the creek, and he was very nice about it, but…Ned and Bill had launched the dredges over the claim line. So they spent the rest of the day moving the dredges and setting up in a new location.

When we arose the next morning, Bill’s cut, sting, and goose egg were surrounded by rash and were inflamed. His fifth mistake was in not watching carefully enough for poison oak. From there, he proceeded right to his sixth mistake. He dredged anyway.

By the next morning it was obvious even to Bill that everything was infected, and his poison oak was rapidly spreading to cover his entire body. Reluctantly he stayed out of the water; we soaked and applied creams and ointments, as he stared at it all, willing it to go away.

Despite all of our efforts, Bill looked much worse the following day, and we were growing concerned. He still refused to see a doctor. Our seventh mistake was to use band-aids and tape, which Bill has always been allergic to. As I tried to remove them to put fresh ones on, each small tug of the tape caused Bill to say “~UGH!!!” The sound was approximately equivalent to the ones they make in a movie when having a leg sawn off without anesthetic. No matter how hard I tried to be careful, each tug brought forth another “~UGH!!!”. To make matters worse, I soon had tears flowing freely from laughing so hard.

Ned and Dori came running to see what had happened now, and when I answered the door with tears running, they were really concerned. As I tried to explain, they became very confused, since Bill had a huge scowl, and was at the same time telling them about the cruel and inhuman torture I was putting him through. Finally, I removed just a small piece to show them (and to shut Bill up), and his words changed to “~UGH!!!” Then they were laughing, too, and Ned insisted on staying to the end to get even for the many things Bill had done in the past.

We decided we’d better leave it the band-aids off, which meant that Bill had to stay indoors to keep dirt out. With that development, and the seriousness of the infection, Bill finally agreed to see a doctor. We went to the hospital in Medford (Oregon) the next morning. The doctor kept his hands in his pockets the entire time he looked at Bill, said he had severe staph infection along with the poison oak. He prescribed several medications, along with many restrictions to keep it from spreading. This really sent Bill into the depths of depression, and it took us several days to get all the soaking, etc., worked out in our small motorhome. But then we came up with a plan to ease his problem. I became Bill’s “surrogate dredger,” and this is how it worked: (Until then, I had always participated in his dredging, but only as a dredge-tender, or by shoveling tailings.) Bill would stand up on the bank, about 30 feet high, and tell me where to dredge, and shout directions, which I was to follow. In most places here, bedrock was extremely shallow, only 2 or 3 feet deep, and I soon found that working the nozzle was actually a lot of fun. It sucked up all the stuff, and then I could fan the crevices and cracks; and most of the time, there would be some gold that I could see and pick up with my tweezers.

It was hard to hear Bill over the dredge engine, and he was frustrated because he could not see very well what I was doing. More often than not, he said that the gold I was recovering wasn’t good enough, and that I should move to a different place. Now this was the very first gold that I personally had ever found on my own, and I had a very special feeling for it. I was most-often content to stay right where I was. Also, one of the things I am not known for is my muscles or athletic ability, and dragging (the water wasn’t deep enough to float the dredge in many places) a 4-inch dredge over rocks is not a fun thing to do. Besides, I always believed he did not sample thoroughly enough when testing.

Naturally, this led to much “discussion,” something we are experienced at, having been married a long time. At times, in fact, I was sorry that we were no longer using tape. I’d have really enjoyed ripping some off. However, I would eventually realize, or be reminded, that I was only a surrogate dredger, and remember that I was supposed to be helping him; so I would usually move. Eventually, however, I lost all my understanding, patience, energy, and enthusiasm, and we gave up that experiment.

The next week, when we weren’t snarling and snapping at each other, Bill read and listened to the radio, and I recruited Dori to help me refurbish the “Three-Holer,” when I needed to get away. We cleaned out the nests, put a spare piece of outdoor carpet on the floor and contact paper down the seats, hung a lantern and fixed the latch on the door. Then we cleaned the path and lined it with rocks. Ned helped me fix a metal poker we heated in the campfire, and I burned “3-Holer” into a piece of picturesque wood that pointed the way. Then finally, the day arrived when Bill could go back into the water. We had four days left for dredging.

We set the dredge up in a deeper pool that he wanted to try, but we developed a problem right away. In dragging the dredge around, one of the pontoons was taking in water, and Bill was too anxious to take the time to fix it right. That was a mistake.

He hit good gold right away, but we were using every bit of hose we had. Each time he’d tug on the hose, the pontoon would settle a little bit deeper in the water. Eventually, the dredge would be in danger of sinking, and he would have to come up to pump it out.

Bill worked a very long day; and when he came out, he did no more than shower, grab a sandwich, and fall into bed. He got up early the next morning, put his suit on immediately, and we went to the creek. By this time, the heat wave was long gone, and it didn’t climb above 45 degrees until the sun came over the mountain, late in the morning. I did not argue, however. He was doing some serious dredging, now; and he was even angrier each time he had to come up to pump the pontoon.

I tried to build a dam under the dredge. But each time he pulled the hose, the rocks would fall, and I had to start over. By early afternoon, I had given up; and when I signaled him to come up about the tenth time, he came up boiling mad. He broke water like a fish on a hook, ripped the regulator from his mouth, and told us all just what he thought of his pontoon, the manufacturers of the dredge, dredging, and life in general. The whole time he was talking, he was shedding his gear; and when he reached the bank, he started pulling in the dredge, and proceeded to break it down.

Our friends quietly faded away, and I found a rock to sit on a safe distance away. When Bill finished, he told me I could pan the concentrates or not, he didn’t care. I did pan them after he went back to camp; and as I took a break before panning the last pan, I sat on my rock in the middle of the creek, and the beauty of the scene struck me, again. I listened to the creek as I watched the rays of sunlight shining through the trees to dance on the water. The black-berry bushes twined among the trees and ripe with big, luscious fruit, hung low over the water, and the air smelled so fresh and sweet I could taste it. The image is as bright today in my mind as when I sat there, and with the image comes the feeling of peace and contentment I felt at that moment.

We packed up that night and started home the next morning. Bill was very silent through the packing and the drive home. About halfway home, I was beginning to get concerned that he was really finished with mining, when out of the blue he said, “Next year.”

 

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