BY KITTY NELSON

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

By Jude Colleen Kendrick

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BY GENE MEDENWALD

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What an experience!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 20–Repaired compressor. A broken piston reed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHERE’S-THE-BUCKLE?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BY CRICKET KOONS

A life of “Dredgery.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you on the river!

 

BY 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!!

 

 

By Denise Brown

“A long time treasure hunter turns to nugget hunting for some adventure.”

 

Frank "Midas" MasleySearching for tiny, elusive gold flakes is like looking for a needle in the proverbial haystack. Just ask Frank Masley of Boise, Idaho. He went looking for that needle and found an entire flag pole instead!

Frank has been an avid treasure hunter for fifteen years. Treasure, not gold. Coins, bullets, relics of any kind, not gold. But after years of the “same old thing,” he caved in and bought his first gold detector in May of 1997. Anxious to get right to it with his new Fisher Gold Bug-2, Frank and his good friend Bob Lyons made three trips in five days to break it in. The third time was a charm. On a 120-mile trip to the Blue Mountains just across the Oregon border, success waited for Frank.

Tiny gold nuggets and flakes are Frank’s targets of choice. And placer areas that were hand-worked a hundred years ago are his favorite destinations. According to Frank, old-time miners didn’t get all the gold. They were only interested in the big stuff and weren’t looking for tiny flakes. At $20 an ounce back then, it’s easy to see why they ignored it. Their recovery techniques were appropriate for their time, but not for ours. The holes in their screens were as big as ¼-inch, they didn’t use carpet on the bottom of their sluice boxes and they didn’t have metal detectors. “They left all the small stuff for today’s prospectors to find.”

And find he does; but to do the job right, Frank ground-balances his machine every few feet, especially within the highly-mineralized areas where he searches.

One day, while searching for gold with two friends, Frank got a couple of good signals from his metal detector, but thought he might be picking up hot rock. So he switched on his iron discrimination option to see if that would phase out the target, but he kept getting a signal. Then he dug the spot with a hand trowel to check it out further, but the beeping still continued. “One more shovel full, then another, then just one more,” he told himself. When he finally ran a handful of material by his search coil, Frank’s machine sounded-out a tremendously-loud scream. Frank now says it sounded like the whistle on a steam locomotive! So he thought he had found yet another lead bullet, since the area is littered with them. Then he began searching through the dirt in his hand. And there it was!

According to Frank, the gold nugget was so big, it could have jumped into his hand and told him all about it! “Oh my god, look at the size of that!” Frank yelled. “Bob, come here and look at this!” His partner meandered over and asked, “What are you hollering about now?” Frank popped it into his hand. “Oh my god! Look at the size of that!” Bob yelled excitedly. “That’s what I just said!” laughed Frank. The two were both jumping up and down like school kids and started to guess at its weight.

Frank said he didn’t realize it was as big as it was until he poured beer on it to wash it off. Neither of them had a quarter to compare its size to, or a dime or even a penny. But the nugget easily covered the only nickel they had between them. Its resemblance to a large kidney bean took them both by surprise as well; it was the perfect shape of a human heart. That’s also when he realized it had to have its own name, “Frank’s Heart of Gold.”

Frank has been a member of the Boise Basin Search & Recovery Club for ten years. In a short article recounting the event in a recent issue of their newsletter, he was referred to as Frank “Midas” Masley. It went on to report the statistics on his “Heart of Gold” nugget: 1.275 ounces, or 1.16 Troy ounces, or 23.25 Pennyweights, or 36.18 Grams.

Wow!

It’s not always easy to find the time to go metal detecting. But closer to home, Frank has still had the luck of the Irish on his side. One afternoon, he and Bob journeyed to the heart of a long-abandoned Chinese placer mining area in the Boise Basin near Idaho City. They had been there before and had uncovered their share of small nuggets. But after an arduous day of searching, they decided to leave; because the hour was late and the temperature was falling. As they turned to leave, Frank swept his detector over a spot he had already been over, and he got a signal that would “stop a bus.” Inside of one hole which was no bigger than half a cantaloupe, he uncovered a nugget patch and cleaned out a total of 203 small gold nuggets. What a find! After hitting pay-dirt so many times, perhaps beginner’s luck has nothing to do with Frank’s success. Maybe he has truly earned his nickname!

 

 

BY CHUCK MORRIS

 

I’m not exactly certain just when my dream of gold mining began, but last year I said to my wife, “prospecting for gold is something I’ve always wanted to do. I don’t know how or where and have no idea who to contact to find out. If that opportunity ever knocks, I will definitely open the door.”

Just one week later, while going through the mail I noticed an article in the latest issue of Reader’s Digest, “Is There Gold In Your Backyard?” It mentioned a place called Gold n’ Gems Grubbin in Cleveland, Georgia; a working mine where you can actually pan and sluice for placer gold and gem stones. One quick look at my wife for approval and within minutes I was talking to Susan Devan at the G & G.

I explained that I knew absolutely nothing about gold mining from bedrock up, but that I wanted to visit the mine and find out. I asked if she could recommend a source of information regarding mining and gold recovery. She suggested that I read a book called “Gold Mining in the 20th Century” by Dave McCracken. She said the book would explain everything I ever wanted to know about small-scale gold recovery from panning to dredging. The book arrived within days, and I read it at least a dozen times.

In September I packed my truck and headed for Cleveland, Georgia. I was going to learn how to pan and find some gold. The spark had suddenly burst into flames.After I returned from Georgia, I placed a call to Dave Mack in Happy Camp to thank him for writing his book (one of many), and helping me to get started on my new adventure. I subscribed to “Gold and Treasure Hunter” magazine and read all about the New 49’ers. Then I ordered Dave’s video about prospecting along the Klamath River. However, that was 2,500 miles away. But the flames had spread like wildfire. I was ready to go it on my own, somewhere, and a chance to relive a part of the past with a pick, a pan and a shovel.

Then I remembered what Dave Mack had said at the end of his video-“Why not take a couple of extra days and come to Happy Camp. We have miles of proven claims, experienced instructors and no questions regarding property rights, just miners helping miners and …gold.” So, in April, after several months of planning, I started my trek from Louisiana to Happy Camp, California.

Soon after I arrived, New 49’er representative Bill Stumpf helped me set up a motorized sluice to use on a New 49’er claim. I couldn’t have done it without his help. As we set up the equipment, he explained the procedure step by step and the importance of settling dirty water up out of the active waterway. Then we washed a couple of sample buckets just for practice. Although Bill covered all aspects of using a motorized sluice, I must admit that I really didn’t get into that until later in my trip. I’d been panning, trying my luck at crevicing and working moss, and stocking up on material to take home. Maybe I was just reluctant to try motorized sluicing on my own.

Finally, I made up my mind to give the sluice my best shot. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And after all, I didn’t drive 2,500 miles just to collect dirt and scrape moss off a rock. I dug and filled my containers with about 20 gallons of material out of surface gravels up out of the water, and set up the sluice near the river, connected the hoses, anchored the intake line, primed the pump and cranked the engine just like Bill had instructed…and cranked… and cranked… for nearly an hour. The engine wouldn’t start. I thought maybe I had flooded it. Needless to say, I was glad no one was within earshot. I got so frustrated that I decided to find me a big, flat river rock, put on my clown nose and sit it down for a while to try to regain my sense of humor.

After I calmed down I walked back to try again and just happened to glance down at the side of the engine where the switch is located and realized that, like any engine, if you want it to start…YOU HAVE TO TURN THE SWITCH ON…like Bill had instructed. After that I managed to find considerable color the remainder of the day.

The next day, because the sluice was situated in such a rocky area, I decided to make it a little easier on myself and took the time to move it about 50 yards down river where I could maneuver without tripping over every Tom, Dick and river rock. After stockpiling another 20 gallons of material, I secured the engine, connected the hoses and anchored the intake line. That’s when I noticed the clear tubing had come loose from the priming pump. No problem. I reconnected it.

Then I pumped… and I pumped…and I pumped; and then started looking again for that same river rock. I must admit that I nearly lost it for good that time. Suddenly, it dawned on me…there are two connections that look identical near the pump handle. Maybe, just maybe, I had connected the tubing to the wrong one. So I changed it, and first pull on the pump…PRIMED! Cranked the engine…STARTED!

Then, can you believe this-the initial force of water going through the hose caused the elevated sluice box to tip over. I’d placed it so it would flow into a settling area and didn’t have it leveled. Now let’s go through this one mo’ time. Turn off the pump, run up the hill, upright the sluice, run back down the hill, check the prime, crank the engine…After that, all worked well.

By late afternoon I was into some serious sampling on the down river side of a large tree in the tree line. Remembering what I’d read in Dave’s book, that rocks sometimes act like riffles, I washed several pans and did get some nice color. Problem: I was 75 yards down river of the motorized sluice, and it was getting late. I decided that come first light I’d move it all, one more time.

I prayed a little on the way to my worksite next morning. “Lord, I only have three more days of vacation left. I have lifted, carried, pumped, primed and cranked until I’m about worn out getting ready to get worn out. Please, let it all go right.” I moved the rig, dug a few containers of surface gravel, connected, anchored, primed and cranked-AND IT ALL WORKED! How sweet it was. He must have been listening. I turned to and was diggin’ like a Siskiyou mole when I heard somebody yell, “You’re diggin’ in the wrong place!” Say what? Whoever it was, they were pushing their bodily well-being at this point.

It was Chuck Tabbert, a New 49’er member, who’d been laid up with a bad back, easin’ down the trail road, bad back and all. He introduced himself and said he wanted to meet me before I left Happy Camp. I said, “I’m sure glad you have a smile on your face, but what do you mean I’m digging in the wrong place? This is where I thought I was suppose to dig…out of the surface gravels and down towards the bedrock.” Chuck said, “That’s right. Gold is down on bedrock. But where you’re digging it’ll take you a month to get down there. You’re too high on the bank. Why not move closer to the river? Just below the flood gold stage, about in line with that tree, right there. All you’re going to find where you’re digging is seed gold from the spring flood-pinhead size pieces.” I must admit it did make a whole lot of sense because that’s exactly what I was finding. Chuck said, “Move down by that big tree, the one with the big rocks jammed against it.” Wouldn’t you just know it, that was the same place, same tree, where I was the day before.

Chuck said, “Get me your shovel.” I said, “Are you crazy, with that bad back?” He said, “Just get me your shovel and I’ll teach you something, real quick.” He took the shovel, walked to a sandy area near that tree and started “chunkin” the shovel into the sand like a probe. I said, “I thought you couldn’t find gold in river sand.” He said, “You probably won’t, but watch this.” Chunk, chunk, chunk…CHANG! Chang, chang, chang. “Hear that? That’s bedrock. About 6 inches under this sand. That’s where you’ll find larger gold. Clear off an area where you can work on top of this bedrock and dig along there. Look for those small, coin-sized river rocks and stay on bedrock.”

Just as in Dave’s book, Chuck explained the importance of getting to know the area where you are going to work being able to recognize tree lines caused by mineralization; how gold travels in a line; taking the time to sample; being familiar with your equipment (I had too steep an angle on the sluice box) and above all, remember the AU rule: “Gold is always in the bottom of your pan and on top of bedrock”. Chuck departed and I, with an abundance of renewed self-confidence, went back to work.

Just before the sun went down, with the body starting to stiffen from getting up and down, and from carrying containers to the sluice (makes one appreciate what the old timers must have had to endure), I cleaned the sluice, took my concentrates down to the river and began to pan down.

That’s when it all came together-Dave’s concept of miners helping miners. Thanks to the book, Bill’s seminar on setup and sluicing procedures and Chuck’s on-site instructions and suggestions, I managed to recover not only nice flakes but also the nicest string of fine gold that I had found around the back of my pan since I’d arrived in Happy Camp.

I don’t have to tell you that I was up Friday morning at the crack of dawn with only two days to go. I loaded my gear and provisions and was ready to go the whole nine yards right after I stopped at the prospecting store in Happy Camp. I knew that I wouldn’t see the staff on Saturday and wanted to personally express my appreciation for the first-class treatment I received. Then, I headed upriver.

Friday and Saturday went as smooth as worn bedrock. I managed to wash about 60 gallons of material altogether. Every evening I sniffed some of the nicer pieces of gold out of my pan and put them in my sample bottle. I brought the remainder of the black sand home for final clean-up. I’m still sniffing out the gold…one teaspoon of black sand at a time.

Nice part about my last day was that Chuck and Kay Tabbert brought their picnic lunch and came down to moss and crevice near the area where I was working.

I finally had to give it up about 3 p.m. Except for dredging in the river (due to very high water) I had done it all and enjoyed every bit of it, especially motorized sluicing.

Then it was back to the Angler’s Motel to finish packing for the long trip home. I took some time to relax and visit with the owner of the motel, a most gracious and pleasant hostess. Accommodations at the Angler were just right-not too little, not too much. Just enough country to be comfortable.

Leaving Happy Camp and all it has to offer-the sunrise on that snowcapped mountain as I headed upriver each morning; the blacktail deer and gray squirrels along the highway; that breathtaking valley view along the way before crossing the bridge at Thompson’s Creek; the solitude of experiencing my first morning along the river watching an eagle glide silently down river; Canadian geese honking their way upriver; the young king snake I disturbed when I lifted the rock under which he was sleeping, and quickly replaced (along with a few more); an osprey diving from atop a dead fir tree into the river to catch a fish, and more species of wild ducks and songbirds than I’ve ever seen in one place before-and even a potpourri of lizards engaged in their territorial disputes along the streambank.

Add to that the apple blossoms, the lilacs, and the dogwood in spring bloom; the bluebird flitting about in the tree outside my motel kitchen window; or, just sitting on the patio at the end of the day watching the sunset over the Siskiyou Mountains; savoring the peace and contentment-no, leaving Happy Camp wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done in my life. But thanks to Dave, all the New 49’er staff, and especially my wife, I had lived my dream.

The first question I get asked about my trip: “Did you find a lot of gold?” Well, that depends on what you call a lot. “Did you find the big one?” That depends on what you call big. “Did you have a good time?” Now there’s something you can take to the bank! It was without a doubt the most exciting outdoor adventure I have ever experienced in my life. Long haul, yes. Physically tiring, yes. Worth the effort, you better believe it! And yes, I found some flakes and a lot of fine gold, some color in every pan. But what I found most were more important things than you will never find until you visit one of God’s very special places- Happy Camp, California.

As for the dream…it’s still burning bright as ever…and probably always will. But somehow I managed to bring it under control and my dream became what I wanted it to be…a reality.

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