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» Dan & Verna Fifer

BY ROBERT MILES

Dan and Verna  Good clean-up

Theirs is a story that reads a bit like a fantasy from a modern romance or a legendary yarn from a fictional book…A husband and wife team, who not only love each other and the adventure of finding gold, but can also consistently find and recover literally pounds of it!

It was a cold and very wet day in 1978 on the Sixes river in Oregon, windy and coastal Oregon wet, not at all the kind of day one would expect to later recall as extraordinary. Sitting in his little camp trailer, Dan Fifer was bored to death. And even though the river right next to his campground was running 10 feet or more above summer levels, he decided that since he had bought that gold mining stuff, which included a 2 1/2 inch Keene gold dredge, a wet-suit, and assorted gold mining screens, buckets, and pans, he might as well go ahead and try it out.

Not knowing a thing about gold mining or what he should look for when setting up a dredging location, Dan just put on his wet-suit, mustered his ambition, situated himself and his gear, and then set up the dredge in front of a huge boulder and started pumping sand and gravel for something to do.

As the morning passed, Dan ran out of gas and headed up to the trailer for some hot coffee and more fuel. “My boredom was gone now, replaced with at least something interesting and new, but then as I returned to the dredge and looked in the trays, I was completely blown away, because there were pieces of gold lying behind every riffle.”

“Having no working knowledge of gold, I didn’t know the first thing about what I had just found,” recalls Dan. “I didn’t know how to clean it up or what it would be worth if I did want to sell it. So I just picked the gold out along with a lot of black sand and put it in a bottle. Well, my good fortune just seemed to continue; because a few days later, an old oriental gold-buyer from San Francisco came by the campground asking if anyone had gold they wanted to sell. I said I wasn’t sure, but I thought I had a little bit. Imagine, here I was, not knowing a thing about gold, not even how to clean it.”

“I just handed him my bottle — the gold still mixed with black sands and other heavy material — thinking how happy I’d be if I had pulled $10 or $15 dollars worth. Imagine my surprise when after helping me with the clean-up process, he grinned and paid me over $3,000 dollars for it. Needless to say, I’ve had a passion for gold mining ever since.”

Gold in a pan Watching dredgers

By the following year, Dan had purchased a new triple sluice five-inch dredge with air. He also met Verna, who was already a gold seeker, herself. Verna recalls how she was panning and sluicing on the bank and digging about in search for the elusive golden flakes when Dan, after getting acquainted, tried to talk her into putting on a mask and dredging with him on the bottom of the river. “I wouldn’t have anything to do with it at first,” she says with a knowing twinkle in her eyes, “But Dan was really smart, and he fixed up an extra air line and just left it lying on the bank along with a face mask; and before long, I not only was married to him, I was down there right next to him bringing that beautiful gold right up from the river bottom.”

8-inch dredgeThat was nearly ten years ago, and today Dan and Verna consider themselves to be some of the luckiest people in the world. Lucky because they have each other, share a love for the beauty of the great outdoors. They also have the greatest job in the world… looking for and finding gold. “Now that’s not to say that we don’t get disgusted and even a little depressed now and then,” says Verna. “We’ve even considered making our living in some other way. In fact, one time we sold our trailer and even our dredge and bought a house. But the minute that sun started shining, we just couldn’t stand it. We sold the house and bought our 34-foot travel trailer and a new dredge and headed out for the gold and the river. When you come right down to it, there’s just something about professional mining and getting into the gold that makes all the hard work worth it.”

To Dan, the enticement seems to lie more in the “sense of discovery,” than in the finding of the gold itself. “Of course, we enjoy the money that finding a real nice pocket or pay-streak can bring, but I know that I can make a good living doing any number of things. For me, when I get under that water, whether I’m moving the rocks or nozzling, the rest of the world just seems to not even exist.”

Verna says that for her, it’s the beauty of the gold, especially once it’s been cleaned and turned into exquisite, but simple, jewelry. She also feels that gold dredging is the greatest exercise program in the world. In fact, in a single season she and Dan will both take off as much as 15 or 20 pounds of extra weight put on during the winter months while not in the river dredging.

Verna FiferVerna is a firm believer in the equality of the sexes as far as gold mining is concerned. She gets a real big kick out of taking her turn at running the nozzle on their eight-inch Pro-Mack dredge. “You know, it’s amazing how many miners’ wives and girl friends I’ve turned on to the fun and adventure of actually getting under the water where the action is. At first, they often seem reserved or even a little taken aback, but boy do most of them have fun once they actually suit up and try it.”

Both are quick to point out that their success is a direct result of hard work with the right approach. Having access to so much mining property through The New 49’er membership program has laid the foundation for their success on multiple levels.

Like most of us who love gold mining, the Fifers readily admit wanting to hit the real big one, of constantly prospecting for that rich pay-streak. “We’ve had spectacular days;” they say, both grinning from ear to ear, “Like those two-and-four-ounce days — last year in the Glory Hole on the Klamath River in northern California, when every single spiral in our wheel would be just full of gold in nearly every single clean-up. Last year, we pulled a little over four pounds, and that was with our five-inch dredge. And this year, we plan to do even better with our new eight-incher.”

Gold in Gold wheel

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