Prospecting & Detecting
Twenty Minutes on a Five-inch Dredge
September 2013 by Gary C. EarleAs the owner of a small mining shop in Oregon, I see a lot of equipment. Dredges come and dredges go. Sometimes they go to great places like Nome, Alaska or even overseas. People come back and tell of their great finds or failures, all of which are fascinating to an avid prospector stuck behind the counter instead of out mining every weekend. Don’t get me wrong—being a father to my five-year-old son makes me feel retired at the age of 41, even if my bank account assures me I am not! My mining trips might be a lot shorter these days, but it doesn’t take long to have a great time as I recently found out on the South Umpqua in Myrtle Creek.
As luck would have it, I consigned a beautiful five-inch, twin-engine Proline dredge from a great family of miners getting on in years. Because of age and new legislation they recently decided to spend their golden years fishing before that sport is banned also. I guess I can’t blame them.
I have to admit, I was shocked and grateful when they dropped off their last piece of equipment at the store. This machine was beautiful. Next came the hard part—selling a dredge when people are dumping equipment for cheap. I did have a good price on it so I remained optimistic . I put it on dollies and rolled it in and out of our store every day for a month. Then I got the best call ever. Two customers who became friends were on the gold big time, and a three-inch dredge just wasn’t cutting it. They asked if they could try it before they buy it. At this point I really thought the sale was over; however, I said I would ask.
After talking it over with my wife, we decided that as long as I stayed with the dredge it wasn’t an unreasonable request. I shot a call to the to the owner with the request to take the dredge to the buyer and stay there. To my total surprise he said yes.
“If they run that thing, they will buy it!” he said. And he was right!
Of course the next call was great. They agreed to pick me up that day, pay for my camping and bring me back if they liked the dredge. I was going mining!
We arrived in Myrtle Creek that evening, tired from our drive from Salem, but excited. I was met with the “oohs” and “ahs” one would expect from miners using three-inch dredges. Let me just say when it comes to moving dirt, 2 threes does not add up to six! Or even five!
The next morning we were at the hole. I was impressed at the amount of work done in two weeks of mining, but it was clear they had a long way to go. We employed the help of some fellow miners and got the “green goblin,” as they called it, into the water. Both Hondas fired on the first pull. It was awesome, and that thing came alive! Our diver gave the thumbs up and disappeared for two hours. I will never forget the amount of material coming over the sluice. I have worked a lot of four-inch and smaller equipment—this was much different.
When our diver finally came up, he looked at me and said, “You just sold a dredge. Want to try it out?”
Well, I did want to try it out. Since the water was warm, I stuck the mask on my face, donned the weight belt, grabbed that nozzle and sank out of sight. The first thing I realized was this was not a toy—this thing had power and I needed to really pay attention. I got into position, took a deep breath, and pushed that monster into the hard pack. Before I even got close, massive amounts of rock and gravel were headed my way, and fast!
I could feel slight panic as football-sized rocks glided smoothly into the hose, as did my hand suddenly. Pulling free, I sucked the regulator out of my mask and had to surface. It was time to regroup. Back down I went and I was ready. I got into a nice, even, back and forth motion, and finally relaxed. I relaxed enough to get my hand smashed, sucked in, and lost my regulator again. After a refreshing gulp of South Umpqua water, I went back for the final beating. I was getting better, but I was tired.
The third loss of my regulator was too much and I came up. I was only down for twenty minutes and I was totally beat. We were finished for the day and went back to camp.
The portion of the South Umpqua we were on does not have much overburden. Gold was found on top of a hard pack layer (false bedrock), with additional gold and larger pieces on the bedrock. Jim and Kevin have been averaging between one-quarter and one-half ounce per day with the 5-inch dredge, with a few days of over a half-ounce mixed in.
Dredging is hard work, and I’ll be back there shortly to take them up on their offer to pay for my camping and give me a 20% cut in exchange for labor.
Myrtle Creek had a great summer festival that night; I highly recommend checking it out. The RV park was clean and the camp hosts were great people. I want to thank everyone in the community for a great time. The best part is that I get to go back for another week!
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