by John Cline

Fred Goff and I live near the Honcut Dredgings, just a few miles south of Oroville, California. This entire area is famous for its many gold strikes. All around is Gold Country, but neither of us knew anything about gold mining.

Late last summer my wife Margie said jokingly that Fred and I should take up gold mining as a hobby, and Fred’s wife Glenda agreed. A couple of days later, Fred and I bought our first gold pan. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing, and our wives didn’t know what they were in for.

On our first trip we got permission to gold pan on Honcut Creek, just a few miles from where we live. By the end of the afternoon we had several specks of gold. We didn’t know it either, but we had just been infected by the bug. The gold bug.

Two weeks later some friends came for a visit, and we took a gold panning trip up the Feather River Canyon. We found more specks. We all had a good time, but unknown to us, Jerry and Terry were bitten by the bug.

Fred and I decided we needed to go into the mountains, where the big gold was to be found. A few miles above La Porte on upper Slate Creek we met a miner who suggested we go upstream and work a corner with some exposed bedrock showing. We headed upstream and started panning. We panned and panned and panned, then worked the banks. We found more black sand and more specks. It was late in the day, we were ready to quit and our spirits were almost broken. then, Fred found a large flake, or small nugget (depending on how you look at it)…you could hear it when it dropped into the bottle. We were flying high. We were on our way to finding gold. Ouch, the bug bit us again!

We started talking to anyone and everyone about mining, we read books, we watched it on TV, we demanded to find gold! Several more trips into the mountains, and still just color (now we call it color and not specks. It makes us feel more successful).

Then, I saw some mining equipment on display at an Army/Navy store. I had to stop. I was in luck–the owner was a gold miner. He suggested I watch a video produced by some guy up north. Well, that video was the best find a newcomer could put his hands on–it was Dave McCracken’s video, Modern Gold Mining Techniques. After watching it several times, Fred and I were up on the Slate with some theory and concepts and all the will power any two people could have. And, believe it or not, we found lots of color and some small flakes.

We upgraded from pans to a sluice box. What a learning experience–we did everything wrong. The box loaded up on us or we washed everything out. Back to the video. Then we made another discovery--Gold & Treasure Hunter magazine. That month’s articles included one about operating a sluice box. We copied it and went back up the mountain. After several tries it worked, just like the article! and video said it would. We got lots of black sand and lots of color–no size, but it didn’t matter…we were on our way. Ouch, we were bitten again!

The first week of October I went deer hunting with several guys near Happy Camp. I was the only person in our group who did any mining. And now I was going to the Klamath River area. I called The New 49’ers and asked where our group of five could go panning. I talked to Marcie Stumpf, who was helpful and patient. She suggested that if I stopped at their headquarters they would be more than happy to help me locate an area to pan in. They sent information and maps about the area. I’ve been teaching customer service for ten years, and I received total customer service from these people. They went out of their way to make me feel important and meet my needs.

Our first day we had a great day o the river, enjoying the outdoors and the camaraderie. It was a day one never forgets.

Toward the end of our trip I met some very interesting people high banking on the river. I asked one pair if they would show me how their high banker worked if I filled their buckets (all 50 of their 5-gallon buckets). They looked at each other, smiled and shrugged their shoulders, saying “Sure, why not.” They had a new Pro-Mack 3″ High banker/Dredge Combo from New Era Productions. Very impressive! I was sold…I wanted, no, needed one of those units! I couldn’t wait to tell Fred what I’d seen and experienced. Ouch! Did something just bite me again?

I received my Pro-Mack Combo the first of December. Soon after, Fred and I were off to the Yuba River for our first “test run.” In several hours we found lots and lots of color. Then we encountered our first major problem. Carrying this equipment up the steep bank to the truck was not fun–we had to solve this problem.

Fred and I knew we had to make some adjustments if we were going to carry this Combo in and out to our new claim. In Viet Nam I’d used an Alice pack. Alice packs can carry about a hundred pounds of equipment and are somewhat comfortable.

I bought an Alice pack frame with a tray. Fred and I made a large carrying tray of thick aluminum and attached it to the Alice tray with pop-rivets. Using a tie-down strap, we had a very comfortable backpack for the motor. We then cut two strips of aluminum and drilled holes to match the upper bolt pattern of the leg assembly under the hopper of our unit, making clips on both sides. We could then slide a backpack up under the clips and use tie-down straps to hold the hopper and sluice box. We strapped the 50 feet of pressure hose (layflat hose) to the bottom of the sluice box for balance, keeping it from being top-heavy.

I suggested to my wife Margie that a two-year subscription to Gold & Treasure Hunter magazine and Dave McCracken’s High banking seminar would be a great Christmas gift. And I told her to tell Fred’s wife. Santa came through for us, and we were going to be on our way to Happy Camp in May. By this time I’d shared my Dave McCracken video with Jerry and Terry. I made a copy of the workshop information from the magazine and suggested they come along. That way we could all have a good time and learn what we should be doing from a pro.

Now mid-April, the rain continues, and our workshop is four weeks away. Many lakes are overflowing, and all the large rivers are at flood stage.

A week to go, and the weather forecast isn’t the best. It’s forecasting possible rain for the weekend of the workshop. Should we ask to be re-scheduled for later, or just go. Well, that is a dumb question if you’re bitten by the bug…there is only one answer.

The workshop started on Saturday morning with each person introducing himself, telling where he lived, how he found out about the workshop, and his gold mining experience. Fred and I shared that we could find what looked like good gold-bearing areas, but never found any gold bigger than specks and small flakes. Dave’s reply was that we needed to learn to sample. We knew we had come to the right place. That morning he explained where to find gold and why. Dave’s presentation was very good and easy to understand. He talked about being proactive, meaning that you have the freedom or ability to choose your actions, that you can make decisions based upon your feelings or upon your values or goals. To give up, or continue trying, it’s up to you. He talked about starting with a goal or desired outcome–a standard at which you would work. If you’re satisfied with a pennyweight a day, or an ounce–the choice is yours.

After establishing a goal, you need to develop a plan and keep to the plan. You need proper equipment and tools to accomplish your goal. You may need to change your plan of attack, your methods, or even your location, but not your goal.

It’s okay to establish new or different goals based on your values, but not your feelings. It’s easy to just give up after several days or even weeks of hard, backbreaking work when you’re not finding anything. Re-evaluate the reasons why you’re not finding anything, again based on facts, not feelings.

That afternoon we went into the field, putting the theory and concepts into real, practical usage. How to read the river, and most important, how to sample. He reviewed the proper method of panning with the group and have anyone additional help if needed. We found several locations with good deposits. Dave took his time answering any questions, and he went out of his way to transform the classroom into real world usage.

Sunday morning was the real test; we started to work our holes. Then, slowly, for each of us (Terry, Fred, Jerry and myself), the light bulb began to come on. Dave would repeatedly advise us to work our hole for awhile, and then sample. Always asking, did the gold run out? Are you too deep? Are you working in the right direction, or did the gold go the other way? ALWAYS SAMPLING! Is the amount of gold you’re finding going to meet your goal, or do you need to move to a different location? That was one of our main problems, we were working hard, but really didn’t know if we were working in the right place! We did not know, because we weren’t sampling.

Everything Dave said in the classroom was making sense. We needed to make our decisions based on facts, not feelings. In the past we’d worked an area because it looked good (feelings), not based on how much gold was in the area (facts).

After several hours of filling buckets we returned to headquarters. Dave showed us how to clean and separate our gold from the black sand. Again, another great lesson. We enjoyed it so much we wanted to return later in the summer, and we wanted to arrange for our sons to take Dave’s class.

I’ll let you know how the summer goes; but, until then, remember to keep a smile on your face, your back to the wind, and watch out for that bug!