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» Living My Lifelong Dream

As told to Marcie Stumpf/Foley

BOY!!! All my life I’ve wanted to go look for gold, and, by golly, now I’m going to give it a try!” Ralph said, as he looked at the advertisement offering an introductory week on The New 49’er claims.

Ralph Geidel is a New York City resident—he was a fireman, and is now retired due to an injury, and spends a great deal of time metal detecting. While browsing through the magazines in his favorite shop, he came across “Gold and Treasure Hunter” magazine. Taking it home, he was carefully going through it when he came across the advertisement, and his excitement grew as he read all the details. He immediately called his brother Michael, who also lives in New York City (and is still a fireman), and they eagerly discussed how they could get together to make the trip to California.

Ralph’s son, Ralph, Jr., was so excited about the prospect that they immediately included him in their plans. Every time they were together, until Michael’s vacation time, their talk centered around the plans for the trip, and when vacation time finally came they were thoroughly prepared.

On the trip to California they stopped at Yellowstone, and a couple of other places to see the sites, but were so eager to try their hand at finding gold on their own that they didn’t take much time!

On their arrival in Happy Camp, they checked in at The New 49’er Headquarters and followed the recommendations for setting up their tent camping area.

The next morning they eagerly arrived back at headquarters, ready for an original tour of the mining properties with Bill Stumpf. Bill spent several hours with them, showing them different areas, showing them how to pan and how to use a Mack-Vack.

The first site of gold sent a rush through Ralph, and he knew he was hooked! Gold! Real, actual gold, and he’d found it! What a thrill. Nothing he’d ever found while metal detecting had ever caused this reaction!

On their arrival back at headquarters, Ralph bought a Mack-Vack, and off they headed. The three of them worked tirelessly the rest of the day. At the end of the day when they panned out, they had more gold to put in their bottle.

You see, they had spent so much time talking to all their friends and neighbors about their trip that by the time they started out, they began to have some doubts about whether they’d find anything that they could show off upon their return.

The next morning they returned to the headquarters once again, to take part in the weekend training program and group mining operation conducted by Dave McCracken and Bill. The morning was spent under shade trees at outdoor tables, learning where to look for gold, and how. That afternoon, after lunch, they met the other participants back at headquarters, and they all headed upriver. They were going to an area across the river, where “Railroad Don” had made a strike the week before, using a high bank unit.

Everyone learned how to pan, and Dave and Bill helped them locate likely areas for sampling. The afternoon was spent sampling the area, locating the richest spot.

Next morning they were all waiting early, eager to load up the equipment and get upriver, where two high banking units were set up once all the participants were ferried across the river in a boat. Ralph really enjoyed the friendship and camaraderie shared by all the participants, and they could see they were getting gold as they worked! Boy, what fun! This was just great—out in a beautiful setting, fresh air, with his son and brother and lots of great people—what a life! Before they headed back to headquarters to clean up the concentrates, Ralph, Mike, and Ralph, Jr. (already nicknamed “the New York Boys”),

made the decision to rent the high bank unit on the spot.

When they returned to headquarters with the concentrates, Dave showed how to pan it down and clean it up, and then they weighed it. They estimated their working time at about three hours. They’d found 1/2 ounce in one afternoon! Everyone was so excited that the joking and laughing continued all through the dividing of the gold, so that each participant had an equal share.

That night the excitement lasted through cooking their meal outdoors, and while sitting around after, they eagerly made plans for the week. Their goal was to go home with an ounce of gold!

The next morning they were at it early, and worked hard all day. There were several groups working in the area, and Ralph was really impressed with the help they received from all the old hands. “High banker Jerry” (Jerry Snell of Eugene, Oregon), Bob and Vivian Harris of Florida, and “Railroad Don” of Klamath Falls, Oregon, all longtime members, gave help to the newcomers freely.

Most nights they were so tired they didn’t make the trip into town—several days, Ralph, Jr. worked with the Mack-Vack after Ralph and Mike quit high banking for the day, concerned that they might not fill their bottle. But, during the group mining operation they did spend Saturday evening in town so they could attend The New 49’er potluck, where they met dozens of club members, and had a great time listening to stories, and telling about themselves, as lots of people were really interested in learning about them, and showing off the gold they’d found.

All the rest of their week they worked hard, arriving early and staying late, adding each day’s “take” to their bottle. On Saturday they cleaned up their concentrates for the last time, got ready to leave in the morning, and headed into town for their last potluck. After eating, everyone who’d met them was eager to know how they’d done. Huge smiles lit their features as they hauled out their bottle—it was full, right to the top! They’d actually found an ounce, all by themselves, with no more knowledge than what they’d learned in their week on the Klamath River.

They passed the bottle around, someone snapped a photo, and then they were off, heading back home. The excitement from the trip stayed with them, and they recounted the events of the week as they traveled across country. Ralph had saved five full buckets of concentrate from their cleanups, and they were hauling it all the way home. He wanted to share the excitement of panning with friends.

After arriving home they were celebrities! They were gold miners! And, every barbecue they had for the rest of the summer, friends would pan out some of the concentrates Ralph had brought back, and find some gold.

Ralph couldn’t get their trip out of his mind, and he has plans for this year all worked out—he can hardly wait. First, he’s joining The New 49’ers—right away, before leaving home, even. Then, the minute Ralph, Jr. gets out of school they’re heading back out to California, and Happy Camp. They’re going to stay for two whole months this trip, and he’s going to have a dredge—a new, 5 inch dredge. He’s going to learn how to dredge, and the sky’s the limit! Wow! No telling how much gold he may go home with this year!

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