By Ulf Dannenberg

When Michael Schneider and Gaby Kroeger switched on their TV one night in February of 1989, they had no idea that their lives would be changed so drastically.

Typical for that time of year, Hamburg, the main port of entry in the north of Germany, has the kind of weather everybody hates—gray, low, overcast clouds, chilling winds, and temperatures that linger around the freezing point. It can put you in a very depressing mood. The only solution to beat the cold is to turn your heater on maximum, and stay home!

The TV special lasted for forty-five minutes, and it turned out to be the most exciting minutes for Michael and Gaby in a long time. The show was about THE NEW 49’ERS gold mining organization and gold mining along the Klamath River in Happy Camp, California.

Before the show started Michael decided to tape the show on his VCR.

“We watched the show at least a dozen times over the next two weeks,” Gaby said with a smile. “We were stunned with the clarity of the underwater filming. You could see how little flakes of gold were sucked up by the nozzle of the dredge. I’ve never seen anything like it before!”

Michael put the most interesting parts of the show on “slow-motion”, giving him a better opportunity to watch the details.

“We had been looking for a change in our lifestyle for a long time,” Michael explained. “We had our nine to five routine with no way out—-so it seemed. But the gold mining special on TV changed all of that!”

“And we had to be spontaneous about making up our minds,” Gaby put in quickly. “Because when you think about the pros and cons too long you never get started.”

To most people, this is easier said than done. There were so many things to be taken care of. Michael, as a TV repair specialist with his own shop, had to sell it for a good price in a short period of time. Their car had to be sold and a solution had to be found concerning their apartment. Apartments are hard to find in Hamburg and they are pretty expensive as well. As it turned out, none of these things posed a problem for Michael and Gaby. Within three months the shop was sold and the car, too. A friend moved into the apartment, reserving it for them until they returned from their trip.

“We knew we were giving up all the ‘security thinking’ that the hard working people of Germany are well known for,” Gaby said. “This TV special on THE NEW 49’ERS was the rare opportunity that gave us the final push in a direction we had subconsciously wanted for a long time.”

Michael and Gaby had never been overseas. Travels to Morocco and Turkey were the only extensive journeys they had ever taken. After they made up their minds to go, the winter climate didn’t affect them any more. Occupied with obtaining visas for the U.S., the airplane tickets and other items they needed, the weeks until their departure flew by.

Finally, in June of 1989, they boarded the plane to San Francisco. After a pleasant flight they grabbed the Greyhound bus to Eureka. Here they browsed through the used car lots to buy a good transportation car. They picked a station wagon with V-8 power and were on their way to Happy Camp.

“The impact of nature and the landscape in this part of California amazed me,” commented Michael. “Not so crowded like in Germany.”

When they arrived in Happy Camp they drove to the mining store where the office of The New 49’ers is situated. There, they met Hoss Blackman. Hoss had the job of showing newcomers around the claims. He took Michael and Gaby on a tour up and down the Klamath River. They had taken a couple of gold pans with them and when Hoss pointed at tree roots with lots of gravel in them they eagerly panned out the black sand. A few flakes of gold appeared in the pan.

“I had never seen placer gold before,” Gaby said with a broad grin. “Those flakes just doubled my heartbeat!”

Excited, they went back to Pro-Mack Mining and bought their first basic mining equipment; pans, classifiers and digging tools. A two-week visitor’s pass that later became the down payment for their New 49’er membership was paid; and, armed with high expectations, they started going after the elusive gold. Soon, they switched to a highbanker, but Michael was more attracted by the dredges in the river.

“I knew a highbanker was not the final solution for us,” Michael pointed out. “I spoke to dredgers and saw the gold they recovered and I just had to have one of those machines.”

The opportunity came quick enough. There was a used six-inch dredge for sale in southern Oregon and Michael bought it. When I visited them on the Klamath River near O’Neil Creek they were both in the water—Gaby helping move heavy boulders and assisting Michael who was dredging eight feet down in the overburden. Everything worked fine until one morning when “Murphy’s Law” struck. The engine blew a rod.

When they took it down to the local repair shop they found out that the previous owner had tampered with the motor in an unprofessional way. Michael returned the dredge to the person and luckily got most of their money back. With the motto “miners helping miners,” they were able to borrow a five-inch triple-sluice Keene dredge from other members of The New 49’ers and keep right on working.

One day in August I visited them at Tim’s Creek Campground where they had their tent and mini-trailer set up. Gaby came towards me carrying a large ice box in which they stored their food.

“Look at that,” she said. I noticed deep scratches right next to the flip lock. “A bear came last night and visited us while we were in our tent. He must have been attracted by the smell of the ham that was inside the box.” They were fortunate. The bear left them alone after he managed to get the lock open and had a feast on ham and cheese. That was a close encounter they will not forget for quite some time.

Soon the summer was over. Fall had set in and by mid-October it was time for them to go back home to Germany.

“We had our first experience, found our first gold and next year everything is going to be a little bit more organized!” Michael told me. “Now we know all the WHERE, WHO, WHEN, and HOW!”

Now it’s 1990 and they’re back. They have a better dredge, better accommodation in a bachelor apartment, met all their friends from last year, and have a good spot in the river to work.

“We know we won’t get rich,” they both agreed, “but the many, many friendly people, the beautiful surroundings, the rugged, outdoor lifestyle, makes it all worth while to us. That’s what life is all about, isn’t it?”

I had to agree. It is my second mining season in Happy Camp as a New 49’er and I love it. I’ll be back in the years to come and I’m looking forward to again seeing Michael and Gaby, and more people like them. Maybe you’ll be one of them!