Gold! (Part One)

The year was 1982, now almost 30 years ago.  It was so dark that even with my “brights” on, it looked as if they weren’t.  After driving most of the afternoon and evening, I was now climbing narrow, twisting roads in absolute blackness, higher and higher into the Sierra Mountains.  Jim had sent directions to a campground where we were supposed to meet.  But I’d already been to the campground, found no trace of him and was now rather aimlessly driving the roads, asking for directions, and checking other campgrounds as it got later and later and I got more and more tired and frustrated.  No cell phones back then.  I started to fear that I’d have to spend the night in the car someplace, alone and, man, it was really getting cold outside.  The cold was more of an issue in that the airline had lost my bag.  I kept trying to see out further than the headlights would allow, seeking any bright spot along the road that might now simply give me a place to pull over safely and rest.  What a nightmare, and the day had started out so well.  

At that time I worked for Miles Laboratories and lived in Elkhart, IN.  Among other things, Miles had a great stable of household name, consumer products like Alka Selzter, One-A-Day Vitamins, SOS pads and Bactine.  Miles’ corporate headquarters were in Elkhart, but it was also the main plant for the manufacture of numerous products, one of them being Alka Seltzer.

The plant was union, and during a period during which relations between management and the union had become particularly fractious, the quality control department began finding bits of ground-up pencils in the Alka Seltzer.  Things eventually smoothed-out, but as Risk Manager I was left with a particularly nasty claim to pursue against our insurer for millions of dollars worth of damaged product.

When the claim reached the point where the insurance company couldn’t avoid it any longer, I went out to a sister company in Berkeley, CA to try to negotiate a settlement.  It was not easy.  In fact I remember my nerves being so shot at one point that I had to pick-up my coffee cup with two hands, so as not to tip-off the other side as to how nervous I was.  At the end of the day we settled for I thought an incredible sum at the time, $5 million.  In later years I would go on to bigger victories, but that was my first big pay-off.

The meeting over, and jacked-up by my success, I left Berkeley in a rental car  on an entirely different adventure.  Brother Jim and his wife Minnie who lived in Livermore, CA and my cousins Ed and Bill and others who floated in and out of the scene were camped high in the Sierra Mountains of Northern California on a gold dredging vacation.  I know just reading that you are thinking “what in the world,” but in the context of my family, almost all of my relatives, that fit right in.  They were and are all seekers.  All looking for something.  All eternally optimistic that surely they’ll find that something just around the next corner.  My brother seeks exotic cactus seeds on camping trips to Africa.  For years my uncle Carley hunted golf balls, then filled suitcases with them, and took them to Florida where my dad would sell them.  My aunt Gloria was an inveterate garage saler and passed this addiction on to her sons.  Cindy and I have haunted auctions and antique shops for years.  You probably remember my story of looking for rare coins in bags of pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters.  My dad bought a share in Mel Fisher’s company and ended up being paid in pieces of eight from the ship, Atocha.

So in that family it is not too hard to believe that probably the ultimate pursuit would be for GOLD.  And the leader of the gold dredging operation was the biggest dreamer of all the relatives, my cousin Ed.  Yes, the same cousin Ed that climbed down in a wishing well with me to dig pennies out of the muck at the bottom.  Now many of this cast of characters were supposedly squirreled away in some location unknown to me here in these dark, damn mountains.  Now I was the “seeker.”

Finally, a light up ahead, a small general store.  I walked in, happy to see light and asked about campgrounds in the area.  I got a few more leads, walked out the door and glancing to my left noticed a bulletin board full of notices, notes, etc.  Then, out of the maze of notes I saw my name “Bruce.”  Could that possibly be intended for me.

#######This is breaking news from PNN (Pony News Network)#######

We interrupt this story to bring you an important news story.  On Friday after spending the last year in Bruce’s garage, the Pony’s engine was moved back out to Gene’s to rejoin the tractor.  I had mentioned to Gene that it might be a good idea to move the engine while son Andy was visiting from New York.  He offered up his son, Joel, and add to this father son group mutual friend, George (with his pick-up) truck, we had the critical mass to potentially move a tractor engine.

I’m going to do a little picture show below ( all photos provided by Princess Photo), which tells the story, but while looking at the first picture, left to right you are seeing Joel, George, Gene, me and Andy.





What these photos don’t show are the two near catastrophes where the engine almost ended up on the ground.  One occurred when George and I took it upon ourselves to move the engine into the pick-up.  The board the engine was on tipped backwards at a certain point, and we almost dumped the engine on the garage floor.  Then out at Gene’s, when the move from the bed of the truck to the 2×4’s on the tractor took place, some of the boards slid off on one side and the engine hung precariously in George and Andy’s arms for about 30 seconds.

But all came out well in the end, which is reflected in the smiling faces of the Pony work crew in the final photo.  Thank you George, Joel, Gene and Andy for risking life and limb to put Humpty, I mean the Pony, back together again.

Stay tuned to future posts for mor breaking news, and thanks for reading.

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