By George Anderson

Prospecting around and enjoying the New 49’er properties near Happy Camp in northern California!

 

 

Last winter my partner and I devoted our two-week-long vacation to gold prospecting. We enjoyed our time exploring some New 49’ers Mining Club claims, in the beautiful Mountains of Siskiyou County in northern California. We panned for gold, dug out crevices in rocks that “old-timers” missed, hunted for nuggets with metal detectors (“nugget-shooting,”) and surface-sluiced some virgin placer material!

The New 49’ers Mining Club has around 60 linear miles of mining claims on the famous gold-rich Klamath River and its tributaries, including the Scott River, Salmon River, Elk Creek, Indian Creek, and others.

Our objective on this trip was to locate promising stretches of river to gold dredge this next summer. We also “scouted” easy access points and comfortable, enjoyable campsites. The rivers and creeks were running fast and high, making it easy to identify the low pressure areas, like back eddies, that allow placer gold deposits to form. We quickly found more highly promising stretches of river to mine than we could ever hope to dredge in a hundred lifetimes!

The first couple of days we did some surface-sluicing behind a huge boulder on the west bank of the world famous Scott River. We found a few small nuggets (“pickers”) in our first small sample hole. We averaged about 10 to 15 gold flakes in each pan. That was pretty good, since we’d only mined a couple of yards of material and weren’t on bedrock! But, we wanted more gold!

Moving upriver, we located a large bedrock outcropping with a two-foot ledge that extended into the bank at least six feet. This bedrock was smooth; it was old river channel! A very good place for placer gold to deposit! So we set up our sluice there, and started following this bedrock across the surface of the streambed. My partner soon found a nice nugget in the header-box of our sluice. I cannot tell you how excited we got, because we hadn’t even dug three feet! Some nice little nuggets (“pickers”) were visible in front of the first riffle. Panning the material from the sluice box averaged around ten thick golden flakes to the pan. This gold was a little more coarse (i.e. “chunky,”) than the gold from the first sample hole. We worked on this ledge a couple more days, finding some really nice gold, before deciding to sample another area.

Nuggets weighing many pounds have been found on the New 49’er claims along the Scott River and in the immediate surrounding locations. That’s the reason we wanted to use our metal detectors!

However, even though we went to some old hydraulic mining tailings high above the Scott River, we were only able to find nails, foil, hot- rocks, an old shovel and a horseshoe; not quite the large nuggets that we know are “out-there” still waiting to be found! Don’t worry; we will be back!

It rained again the next day. So we decided to set up our sluice on a tributary of the South Fork of Indian Creek. We knew several members of the New 49’ers Mining Club had previously done very well on this creek.

After looking around a bit, we located their workplace a short distance from the road. Starting where they had left off, we soon encountered extremely hard-packed gravel. This made digging pretty slow and difficult. We used picks and six-foot steel bars to break up the gravel before running it through the sluice. We mined this site slightly more than a day, recovering a few nuggets and approximately five nice golden flakes to the pan while cleaning up.

Cleaning up the sluice every hour told us if we were on the right track. After a while, we felt we should move to better ground. During the rest of the second day, we drove up the South Fork of Indian Creek, looking for access roads. We encountered snow towards the top of the mountains. About four inches fell the night before. Driving down steep access roads in the snow did not seem wise, so we didn’t have the opportunity to prospect the New 49’er Indian Creek claims as much as we had hoped. We plan to get back up there this summer and really take a look!

Rain fell pretty steadily the next few days. We scouted out claims on the Klamath River, while crevicing and “nugget shooting,” One afternoon, in between rain showers, we stopped on K-21 just below the bridge over the Klamath River in Happy Camp. My partner pulled a clump of roots out of a crack in the bedrock. We couldn’t believe our eyes! It easily produced the richest pan of gold either of us have ever seen! I’ll bet that there were at least 50 gold “colors” in that one pan! I thought, after seeing that pan: How much more can we find with a dredge or motorized sluice? We definitely plan to mine this particular spot in the future!

Only one more day to play! We decided to check out the New 49’er claims on Elk Creek. The main road into the area was passable, “one-lane” in some spots. But it wasn’t too bad, considering the extent of the previous year’s flooding. We found a lot of good access roads and excellent camping locations along Elk Creek. A deep pool, just downstream from a high-pressure area, looked very good! Elk Creek has a very rich gold mining history, and I am looking forward to spending some quality time dredging here this summer.

Winter is a good time to go prospecting; it is a sure cure for cabin fever. You have the whole country to yourself at this time of year, because there is hardly anyone around. We did not see a single person on the river or creeks that we visited. Water is high enough that it is possible to prospect (pan or surface sluice) locations that are normally dry. Mosquitoes and flies are very “low-profile” during the winter. We did not see any! Perhaps most important of all, the high water allows you to see where the gold is being deposited, since you can actually see the water in flood conditions.

Go prepared! A good rain suit, hat, gloves, and rubber boots are essential, if you plan to work in the rain. I’ll bet that it rained 12 of the 14 winter-days we spent on the Klamath River in Northern California. When you have got gold fever” as much as my partner and I do, a little rain won’t stop you from doing what you enjoy most in life; prospecting and finding gold!

 

BY KAY TABBERT

Realizing Our Lifetime Dream In Siskiyou County, California

 

More than 12 years ago the siren song of gold captured the attention of my husband Chuck and myself. Since that time the song has not diminished, but grown stronger with the years as we have searched the wilds of the San Gabriel Mountains, the ancient rivers of the Mojave Desert, and worked our way to the northwest to retire in the beautiful Siskiyou Mountains in a little town called Happy Camp.

Our first glimpse of gold in the San Gabriels was just that, a glimpse; flecks of gold so small we called them gnat’s eyelashes. Our fever was so strong that even those minute specks of gold brought shouts of joy. But as we read and practiced our panning and gold finding techniques, the amount of gold we recovered became larger and so did our longing for more!

We have gradually expanded our gold-finding equipment from a pan & sluice box, to include a drywasher, a motorized sluice, a Goldmaster V/S.A.T. metal detector and a 5″ dredge.

Not satisfied with ordinary equipment, Chuck began modifying our sluice box. Then he graduated to what I call “The Awesome Dry Washer.” It was built entirely of wood, with a recovery system of 97 percent — which is unheard of in processing dry gravels. This machine is so beautiful I used to drag my friends out to our garage and allow them to gaze at it in wonderment!

Chuck’s real love, however, is his motorized sluice. Of course, he has also redesigned it — vastly improving the recovery system and allowing easier handling of the nozzle when dredging. Sometimes I wonder if gold miners have more fun redesigning and working on the equipment than they do in using it!

We had decided to come to Happy Camp on a one-week vacation when friends sent us some pictures of gold they recovered while panning on the Klamath River in northern California. Their stories, along with the pictures, convinced us the 16-hour drive from southern California would be worth it.

Chuck and I had already spent a great deal of time visiting many beautiful and remote areas of California. But nothing had prepared us for the beauty of Happy Camp!

The moment we left Interstate 5 and turned onto Highway 96 just north of Yreka, we already knew it was worth making the trip. We had never seen anything so beautiful in all our lives as the Klamath River. Everywhere we looked we saw great blue herons fishing for their dinner, flocks of Canadian geese, and osprey, which we first thought were eagles. Beautiful pine trees lined the highway, the dogwood was in full bloom, and the brilliant flowers looked like bright lights in the forest. We weren’t on the river 15 minutes before we had to stop and watch a family of river otters playing on the far bank of the river. And we knew we had found heaven on earth!

Shortly thereafter, we joined the New 49’ers Prospecting Organization and also found more gold than we had found on our previous adventures. By the time our vacation was over, we knew we would be coming back to Happy Camp permanently!

Within two years, Chuck took early retirement from his 20-year career as a big-rig driver. We sold the house, bought a fifth-wheel, and moved to Happy Camp. I had already taken early retirement from my many years in the field of accounting. Our kids were grown and gone and we split!

We found a place to park our new 34-foot “home” in Happy Camp and proceeded to immediately beat a path to the Klamath River. The first area we worked our motorized sluice was in the Independence area. This is located about 18 miles down river from Happy Camp. Even though the Club has an extraordinary amount of mining property which is easily accessed, for our first prospecting adventure, Chuck and I picked a more remote location. This required us to hike a half mile on a narrow deer trail several hundred feet above the river carefully balancing our equipment. The spot was great! Over a period of six weeks, we found a large quantity of fine Klamath River gold. One of the nice things about Happy Camp is all the fun and interesting people you get a chance to meet. One time, upon arriving at our diggings, I was dumbfounded to find a large banner reading “Happy Birthday Kay, ” which had been strung across the beach by one of our new-found friends. He had gotten up before dawn in order to get to the site and hang the banner before Chuck and I arrived. Nobody had ever done anything like that for me before, and I was deeply touched.

Over time, a lot of fellow New 49’ers and other gold miners in the area were so impressed with the changes Chuck had made to his own motorized sluice, that they began asking him to make the same changes to their equipment. This kind of set a whole new standard. That’s the thing about having a lot of different people involved in an activity. When somebody comes up with something good, others grab onto it and make some other improvements; and that’s how progress is made, I guess. Anyway, everyone around here is pretty proud of Chuck.

More recently, we bought our first dredge, had wet suits made, and began our dredging career in Elk Creek — where the water is safe and shallow. Chuck rapidly adjusted to being under water, but it took me a little longer. We moved our equipment to the Klamath River once we had perfected our technique and felt confident.

After about a year on the river, I decided it was about time to get involved in something which would also challenge my intellectual abilities — something like a job. Luckily the New 49’ers had an opening and I joined the staff.

I really enjoy the work and meeting so many wonderful people, helping them with vacation plans and sharing in the excitement when they find their own gold.

My primary duty is to help people join in the fun and excitement which is taking place in Happy Camp; when you call the New 49’ers on the phone, it’s likely I’m the one you’ll be talking with. Chuck is out prospecting on the river almost every day and I join him on the weekends. It’s kind of like having the best of both worlds!

Hardly a day passes that something exciting doesn’t happen around here. With so many different people hunting around looking for some new and exciting gold strike, there is always a sense of anticipation. It keeps life interesting. Not long ago, I was talking with a member on the phone when I looked up and saw Chuck standing at my window dripping wet. When I got off the phone, he told me to hold out my hand and dropped a 7.8 pennyweight nugget in it. I now wear this nugget around my neck!

Happy Camp has turned out to be everything we had hoped for — a slower pace (a traffic jam is more than two cars on the road at one time), very friendly people, we’ve made lots of new friends, and there is gold here. What more could you ask? So if you think you might like to visit the area, call me; I’ll make sure you feel welcome when you arrive!

 

BY PAM RICHARDS

Finding Friends, Adventure and Gold on The Klamath River and its Tributaries in Northern California

 

Nestled outside a small town called Happy Camp in northern California is a wonderland of wilderness. When Larry and I leave our home in upstate New York for our yearly vacation, this is where we always go.

We both have professional careers in New York; the type of work which includes lots of politics and stress. Larry isn’t the type of person who can sit around and relax. He has to be involved in a physical activity to find some balance. Dredging for gold provides an exciting and demanding diversion from normal everyday life. Larry enjoys the challenge of simply having to strategically move rocks and boulders out of the way on the intuition that mother nature’s golden treasure might be located underneath. I have to admit that I enjoy the activity, too. While I haven’t started diving yet, I make myself useful by operating the winch and helping with the gold cleanup.

Back in 1985, Larry was introduced to gold mining by a friend. The first time he saw gold in the sluice box of a gold dredge, he was hooked. Gold Fever–he has it and there is no cure!

Larry’s most memorable gold mining trip was when he found his first pocket of nuggets in a hidden crack in the bedrock, up on Indian Creek near Happy Camp. He had been mining along and not finding very much when he decided to break open that crack. It was loaded! From then on, every crack has been opened up.

    

Larry’s sister, brother-in-law and eight-year-old niece made the trip to California to join us in Happy Camp several seasons ago. We introduced them to gold prospecting and re-introduced Sharon to camping, which she always enjoyed as a kid. Perhaps because of the friendly quiet time around the evening campfire, it was amazing to watch the family relationship become rejuvenated. Larry gave his niece a nice locket containing some of the gold he was finding and it was an experience she will probably remember for the rest of her life!

As long as we stay able, we will continue to dredge for gold. We started with a 2 1/2 inch dredge and have graduated to a 5-incher. Over the years, Larry has bought a lot of equipment in his search for gold. We have not gotten financially rich from the gold we have found, but we have found some awfully-nice gold; we have had many emotionally-enriching experiences; we have had great vacations, and met wonderful people through the New 49’er Prospecting Organization in Happy Camp.

The interesting thing about gold prospecting, is that when you are following a pay-streak, you never know what you might find. The possibility of “striking it rich” is always right there, That’s one of the things that makes the activity so exciting.

Every summer, The New 49’ers sponsors kinds of interesting activity, including metal detecting hunts, white-water rafting and hiking trips, slide presentations of Dave McCracken’s gold mining adventures from around the world, organized group mining and training projects, and weekly potlucks with wonderful food and the fellowship of many other interesting people on the quest for gold and adventure. Besides the more serious activity of prospecting, there is a lot of other outdoor fun for the whole family.

This year’s vacation started out the same as previous years for Larry and me. We spent the first day setting up camp and getting the dredge into the water. We found a really excellent spot several years ago and have been returning to the same location each year, but the pay-streak we have been working (for years) was almost finished. We knew this because the gold was getting spotty. Sometimes it was rich with big nuggets, and sometimes it was poor. We worked all the first week to find no gold that we would be able take and show off at the Saturday night potluck dinner. Showing off our nuggets on Saturday night has always been a highlight! A lot of 49’er members bring their gold-finds to the weekly potlucks.

Week two started out to be the same, and we thought that we would be returning to New York with no gold this year. On day three, after 45 minutes of dredging, Larry came out of the water. The look on his face was one of disappointment. He said I could look in the sluice box, but there wouldn’t be anything in it. He was right, because he was holding a beautiful 3/4 ounce nugget in his glove where I couldn’t see it. He was not disappointed–he just wanted to see the look on my face when he dropped it into the sluice box.

The sight of that big hunk of gold in the sluice box just made my day–my vacation, for that matter.

here’s a lot more to a gold mining adventure than the gold you get. There’s the beautiful outdoors, the clear nights with bright stars, the great camping and campfire-meetings with new-found friends. There’s nothing better than fresh-cooked trout that you just caught out of the creek. But, I have to say that finding Mother Nature’s hidden gold deposits is sweeter than frosting on the cake!

I had to go home at the end of that week. Larry had another week of vacation, so was able to stay longer. When he came home, he had a little over 2 1/2 ounces of gold. This was one of the best gold-finding vacations we have had. You take what you can get while you are searching for the mother lode! Sometimes its pretty good!

All the money in the world couldn’t buy a better vacation for Larry and I! It is now winter and cold and snowing here in New York. Our thoughts are of our next vacation–hoping we will find bigger and better gold.

 

 

 

 

BY ERNEST PIERCE

Gold Dredging for Fortune and Adventure

 

It was a beautiful June morning in Austin, Texas when my son Evan and I got up to leave for our trip to California. After killing some time getting some last minute things together and calling my Friend Truman to be sure he was ready to go, we finally set out. It was good to know that after months of careful planning and hard work, this trip started off only an hour behind schedule. No sudden problems cropped up–not a bad start at all.

I have learned that if things start to slow you down and nothing falls in place easily, then it’s time to stop and take a good look to see what might be wrong. Usually I find the problem, or the potential problem, and stop it from getting out of hand. This works every time without fail for me, and sure makes things easier all around.

On this trip out to Happy Camp, California, we decided to take a different route to see some more of the country, so we took Interstate 10 through west Texas and southern New Mexico. This is some beautiful country–very nice mountains, rolling prairies, mesas–and it continued that way on into Arizona and southern California. “Man!” It was hot out there. We stopped in Quartzsite about 10 o’clock on Sunday morning, and it was already 115 degrees. “Whew!”

After spending the night camped out with the rabbits at a KOA campground near Bakersfield, we grabbed a quick shower, a bite to eat, and rolled on up Interstate 5. We encountered very little traffic and no problems. Traveling was smooth all the way to Redding, where we got off the interstate to stop in at the Fish and Game Department to get my dredging permit. After a brief bit of being lost in town, we finally got the permit and were back northward-bound toward Happy Camp. (That name has a ring to it, doesn’t it?) I just love this little town–the laid back attitude, the friendly people, and no one rushing around in a hurry. It’s wonderful! It’s great! Just like a little fishing town I lived in on the Texas coast.

Evan and I finally arrived in Happy Camp about 6:30 Monday evening. We had arrived just in time for one of the nightly activities that is put on by the New 49’ers Prospecting Club during the summer months. These things are always a lot of fun and a person can meet some very good people in addition to picking up some good information.

Now, getting up on Tuesday morning wasn’t a problem at all, as we were both keyed up and ready to go. Evan and I started off by getting needed parts and other things at the Pro-Mack shop. The people who work and run this store are the most helpful folks you have ever seen. They will patiently listen to your questions and answer them if they can. If not, they will direct you to someone who can. While I was there, I left a note for our friends, Truman and Ruth, so they could find us without any trouble.

On we went out Highway 96 to a claim that I wanted to try. Two years before, two other friends and I tested parts of this claim and were not too impressed; but I always felt that we didn’t sample the right area.

In looking over this claim, I had spotted an area just past a set of mean-looking rapids that had a large chunk of stone missing from a sheer rock wall which formed an eddy pool about 15 feet by 20 feet. This was right on the inside bend of the river–right when the water started to slow down after the rapids. It looked real good. Sure enough, the water level in the river was low, and it looked like we should be able to work the spot. “Oh Boy,” time to set up the dredge. We drove down to the river about a quarter of a mile above the rapids where there was better access, and put together my five-inch dredge. This went very smoothly which surprised me; because I had extensively-overhauled this Keene five-inch dredge so that it didn’t look like its normal self at all.

The next step was floating it down to the rapids. After looking things over, I decided not to float it through, but to winch it around and over the rocks. About half way across the rocks, we stumbled onto a come-along-winch that someone had lost, possibly the previous year. It had some rust on it; but after a minor application of oil, it worked very well. Moving the dredge took almost two hours to get over about 200 feet of rocks (next time I will float it through and not be so chicken). After resting for a few minutes, we went back to get a load of things we floated to just-above the rapids on an innertube. On the way, I found a seven-pound lead dive weight and thought I sure was getting lucky finding things. Then, getting back to the dredge, I discovered that it was one of my own weights that had fallen off while we were moving the dredge. Oh well!

Evan and I finally got the dredge to a gravel bar on the opposite bank from where I was going to work, and parked it there. I ran a line across the river, got it firmly attached to a boulder on one side and a big tree on the other, then tested it by coming back across hand over hand. Well, OK, I didn’t get all the way back across, but it was fun trying. My son didn’t know what to think of his father acting so silly hanging from a rope going across the water.

I discovered that all this time, while I was stringing the rope and tying it off to the tree, I had been as close as three feet to a wild bee hive. Well, they didn’t bother me, so I didn’t bother them, and that’s the way it stood between us for the rest of our stay in the area. By the way, the hive was about the size of a basketball.

The next part was the most difficult so far because I had to put everything on the dredge and pull it across the rapids without turning over or losing it. So I sat down and studied the current and the flows and calculated how much rope to use, where to tie it and what angle to tie it on the dredge. It helps to understand about this kind of stuff in order to let the river help as much as it can and not fight you.

Well, we launched the dredge. It floated out a little way and then got caught in a reverse current. It floated upstream quite a bit, then shifted into the main current and started across a little faster than planned. About halfway to this side it reached the end of the rope and tried to play like a submarine. Finally the poor thing came up and smoothly settled into the notch in the cliff where I wanted it. Lucky!

Meanwhile, Evan was waving to get my attention and pointing down stream. When I looked, I saw the last few inches of the suction hose dive under water. Good thing the river was making plenty of noise, because what I said about that hose didn’t need to be heard. Oh well, the only thing to do was get my mask on and dive in. It took about ten minutes to locate the hose, then another five or ten to get it back on the bank. The water was about 12 to 15 feet deep where it stopped, and it took four dives in the swift current to even put my hands on it.

The rest of the afternoon was spent getting the dredge ready to go. When it was all done, Evan and I went back to camp, rested for a while and ate supper. We then returned to Happy Camp for the night’s activities with the New 49’ers.

Now I’ll tell you the whole trip is worth making just to attend the activities that are put on by The New 49’ers. I met some of the best people I have seen anywhere at these get-togethers. This night, I met a family from Georgia, and I really liked them from the moment we met. It turned out we were camping in the same campground and they were just around the bend down-stream from my son and me. They also had children the same age as my son, so that worked out great.

Wednesday morning dawned; and, by nine, we headed for the dredge and got it fired up and operating by 10. The water temperature was just right for dredging, very comfortable. Visibility was around 15 feet, and I considered that good. This area had looked great when I scouted it out. Being on the bottom with a suction hose made it look even better.

Working the gravel, I could tell it had not been dredged. When I uncovered an old car frame, mostly rusted away, I knew it hadn’t been touched at least as far back as the 1964 flood. This looked good!

An hour and a half later, when the first tank of gas ran out, I checked the sluice box and saw good color at the head of the riffles. I have a small one-foot square area at the top of the riffles that I can remove the sample carpet from, and so I panned this out. Wow! What came out of that section was the most gold I have ever seen come out of any of my dredging experiences! I have seen some pictures of gold in a pan like this, but it was a thrill to do it myself. I finished panning this down and set it aside to weigh it separately. (It came out to two penny-weight.) The next tank-full of gas that I ran through the dredge produced about the same results. As I cut deeper into the streambed, the amount of gold kept increasing for the next four days.

While I was on the bottom dredging, Evan was busy on the bank classifying some gravel he was digging at a spot I found for him. After he got about half a bucket full, he sat and panned it out. He did very well at this and always had some colors in the pan–sometimes he had a lot of them. Anyway, he stayed dedicated to panning for a longer period of time than I had thought he would. Also, when I would gas-up the motor, I cleaned the top of the sluice. Then I would separate out some of the concentrates to give to Evan to pan out. He really enjoyed this, because there was so much gold coming from the dredge.

It wasn’t all fun and games. I had to move some big rocks out of the way and that was no problem, but the one I waited too long to move was the one that almost got me. Yep, “The Loomer,” that one I just didn’t want to move yet–the one I would get to in a minute–the one that wasn’t really dangerous. Yeah; that one! Sure enough, I took my attention off it and turned to do something else. Well, when it started to move, I actually sensed it and instinctively jumped and pulled my legs up at the same time. It’s a good thing I did, because when the rock rolled, it missed my legs, but nicked me in the arm hard enough to throw me a few feet out of the way. It didn’t hurt, but it stunned my arm for a minute or two. After the silt cleared and I could see the real size of the rock, I set to work moving it out of the way. This rock was about 600 pounds, so it took a while to move by myself. All the while I was moving this thing I was wondering what I was doing this for anyway. But the longer I worked, the less I worried about it. You know that saying about getting back on the horse that threw you? That really does work! I felt better about the whole situation after I worked around that rock and finally moved it out of the way.

On Thursday, when we stopped for the day, we discovered that Truman and Ruth had finally arrived in camp and wanted to know how we were doing. We had split up at Bakersfield so they could go to visit some places around San Francisco; then they went up the coast to Eureka and finally across to Happy Camp. It was nice to have them in camp, so the next morning I took them down to the river to show where we were working. I showed Truman where Evan was digging and panning, so the two of them did that while I went back dredging. (I also showed them where the bees were.) These two people are the best people I know, and I think a lot of them. Truman and Ruth stayed with us for a few more days, and then they had to head back home. But in that time, we sure had a lot of fun and they both learned how to walk on river rocks without slipping too much.

Saturday was a big day back at Happy Camp. The New 49’ers were sponsoring a coin and prize hunt and the big Saturday barbecue. This is an event you don’t want to miss. More people were there than you could find the time to talk to. It was a grand event–lots of prizes and coins, not to mention the real nice folks. The potluck and barbecue-lunch was marvelous and that barely describes it.

Enough of the fun and games, and it was back to dredging the next day for us.

I continued to work that area, and when the hole reached a layer of packed and rotten branches mixed with tree stumps and logs, I spread it out further until I ran out of room to work. After this, I cleaned up the sluice completely, then got back in the water and began to break up the mass of wood to get underneath it. This was the first time I had run into anything of this nature. The stuff would mostly turn to a reddish powder when I touched it and cloud-out the area.

The layer under it turned out to be loose-packed and made of fine crushed stone but had almost no gold. I was expecting to find some big nuggets or a lot of small ones, but it really turned out to be a disappointment; because after getting through it, I found nothing on the bedrock. So, I quit and checked the sluice–sure enough, after panning out the sample carpet I only found 12 to 15 colors, so I pulled the dredge back to the other side to sample there. After sampling several places, I didn’t find any amount of gold to make me stay and work. Sad to say, but if I had tried a sample hole another 100 feet from where I stopped, I would have found another good pocket that produced as much as the one I worked. (It turned out that I was able to return to this area a month later, but that is another story.) I usually keep good records of the time I spend every day actually dredging, so I checked to see what the statistics were on this spot. It turned out that I was only dredging this hole for close to 12 1/2 hours total work-time under water. This produced close to 35 pennyweight of gold. Figure that out and it comes to over 2 1/2 pennyweight an hour. That’s not bad for a five-inch dredge and an semi-beginner who has only two years part-time gold dredging experience.

On Saturday of the next week, my wife Mary flew into Medford, Oregon, where Evan and I picked her up and brought her back to Happy Camp. We had been gone so long, she sure was glad to see that her long-lost husband and son were safe. She also loves Happy Camp and looks forward to going back next year.

All three of us spent the next week going around the area sampling here and there, just having a real good time. I showed Mary how to pan gold and that kept her busy for quite a while. She gets excited when she finds some color in the pan and calls me over to look at it. If there is a more beautiful part of this country than this area of northern California, I don’t know where it would be. The beauty of the countryside as we drive through is a wonder to behold. We really enjoy our trips out there and discover something new every time we visit.

After all this, you might think I would wait until the next summer to come back. But as we were leaving, I was thinking that it sure would be nice if I could return to California sooner than that… Well, it turned out that things arranged themselves in such a way that I came back at the end of August–but that is another story. See you on the Klamath!

Other Adventures with Ernie:

 

 

BY MARCIE STUMPF/FOLEY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BY 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 J. CHARLES COX

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So you don’t consult on gold mines?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you, a magician?” I asked

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

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

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

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

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

 

BY MARCIE STUMPF/FOLEY

PHOTOS BY MARIA

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

By Marcie Stumpf/Foley

 

Dredging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BY LINDA DONNELLY

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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