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» The Fulfillment of a Childhood Dream

BY ULF DANNENBERG

 

The memory is still very clear. When I was a kid about 9 years old, we played Cowboys and Indians in the ruins of bombed-out Hamburg in postwar Germany. We kids consumed the mandatory literature about Billy the Kid, the Lone Ranger, and the exploring of America’s Wild West. Sometimes we read with a flashlight under the bedspread, reading until deep into the night.

These stories had such an impact on me that my fantasies about America nearly became an obsession. The dream that formed in my mind at that time came true in 1965.

My first time in America and I was hooked. I spent the second half of the 60’s in Hollywood, California, became part of the Hippie crowd with all its good and bad things. While I survived all of that in pretty good shape, I was hopelessly spoiled. Unable to go back to the 9-to-5 routine in Germany, I became a world traveler with odd job opportunities that lay left and right along my way of life.

Mining for gold was one of the more adventurous tasks I took on in ’81. The last frontier–Alaska was calling me from afar. My old VW camper was shipped from Germany to Houston, Texas; and after four weeks, I picked it up and was on my way. I made a stop in Phoenix, Arizona and bought a 2″ dredge, together with all the other mining paraphernalia that was needed

The distance between Los Angeles and Fairbanks on a small scale map doesn’t look very far–but drive it and you’ll be surprised. It took me about a week to get there. Fantastic landscape and thrilling wildlife throughout the trip. Breathtaking, awesome, unbelievable, hard to put into words!!

My first mining experience was a bad one. Everywhere I went along the rivers and creeks, I saw huge signs with KEEP OUT, ACTIVE MINING CLAIM. After two days of looking, I ended up along the old Steese Highway some 30 miles out of Fairbanks, working the tailings of one of the old bucket-line dredges they used in the past. The outside temperature was 75 degrees by the end of June; but when I put my hands into the water -brrr – I pulled them out and checked for frostbite. The water temperature was barely above the freezing point, and it took all the fun out of the gold mining.

Disappointed, I left Alaska and went south. A short stop over in Auburn, California along the North Fork of the American River looked much more promising. I recovered two ounces of gold in six weeks – not bad for a beginner with my little dredge.

When I went back to Germany (I had run out of cash), I decided to become a belt-maker. For the next five years, I worked in Spain on the lovely island of Ibiza, making and selling my designer-belts with great success. In 1987, I tired and retired. I had enough funds to be on the road again for the rest of my life and could do whatever I wanted.

Shortly after my retirement, in Germany, I saw a TV special about the New 49’ers Gold Prospecting Association in Happy Camp, California. The impression I got was sound and solid. I was off to California in a jiffy and arrived in Happy Camp in July of 1989. I joined the New 49’ers and scouted out the miles and miles of claims along the Klamath River.

Because of my busted eardrum, deep diving was out of the question. I could only operate a gold dredge in shallow water, hoping to find bedrock in no more depth than five feet. For the rest of the summer, I was finding enough gold to show the folks back home.

I especially like the fringe benefits of mining, like the unspoiled nature, the abundance of wildlife, and the friendly, helpful people. That was something I had never experienced before. Socializing at the Saturday potlucks with raffles, stories and games, made my stay a happy one.

I have returned to Happy Camp multiple times in the preceding years. I can think of no other place where there is more active small-scale mining going on, and so many other people who have similar interests.
The very valuable training and assistance I received from the New 49’ers was thorough and founded on many years of experience. All I can say is – thank you – you’ve been a great help – and I’ll be back!

 

Let me end with a little poem that just crossed my mind:

The summer is gone,
Now is September,
And the end of your vacation is near.
You had a good time,
And you’ll remember –
Back home – frustrations you fear.
Then think of the Klamath,
Its gold and its fame,
Make plans for the upcoming year.
And maybe – who knows –
I’ll be seeing you again,
‘Cause part of my heart is left here.

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