Last week’s post was interrupted by a PNN (Pony News Network) report, which detailed the historic move of the Pony’s motor back out to the chassis. Since that dicey, but ultimately successful operation, my only tractor progress has been the coating of the inside of the fuel tank with an epoxy finish. The purpose of this is to seal off old corrosion and keep it from contaminating the fuel supply. Like almost every step I’ve taken on the Pony’s restoration, this one left me wondering whether I’d messed it up, or not. The instructions on the can indicated that the liquid should be swirled all around in the tank and then the excess thoroughly drained. I was not to allow any of the epoxy to pool anywhere. Well, the morning after I coated it I noticed some pooling. I was able to scrape some of it out, so I’m hoping I’m ok. Hoping, boy there’s a word that is equally applicable to the lottery and the Pony’s restoration.
Resetting the scene.
Almost 30 years ago, I’m lost in the Sierra Mountains of Northern California. I’ve been driving for hours. It’s late, it’s dark, it’s cold, and I’m tired and frustrated. I can’t find the idiotic brother and the rest of the gold dredging crew, and I’m getting madder by the minute. As I was leaving a small general store I spotted the name “Bruce” on a scrap of paper on a bulletin board on the porch. Hallelujah! From that whole bunch of idiots that had abandoned me, directions to a new campground. Back in the car, more scary driving on twisty, turny, dark-ass roads, but now finally with a destination in mind, and then the campground, and the RV and sure enough, the whole crew straggling out, bleary-eyed to greet me. The news headline the next morning might have read “Mass Murder at Campground,” but I had no gun. Instead there were hugs and handshakes and relief all around.
It was hard to get to sleep that night after all the excitement and then the silly chatter as we lay awake in the dark RV, but eventually sleep did come. Morning came way too soon, and as I came to grips with where I was, why did I feel like I’d wet the bed? They’d stuck me in an overhead sleeping area near the roof, “best bed in the joint” they’d said. I said, “Hey, everything’s wet up here,” and I heard, “Oh, Bruce…” and giggling. Then they finally admitted that this “luxury” RV they’d rented had a leak in the roof just above where I’d slept.
This was really going great; I thought, what next? But I’ve got to say, the rest of the expedition was a blast. Thank goodness I didn’t kill them all! The group had been on-site for several days when I got there, and unlike previous dredging trips there were smiles, as the river (South Branch of the Yuba) was yielding some of the precious yellow metal. So what does a gold dredge look like? Have a look below.
You’ll note the dredge is anchored in place by ropes. The current was hard and fast and the temperature was hoo boy! The operation often involved two guys underwater at a time and a third keeping track of things top side. Essentially what the two in wet suits do is vacuum the bottom of the river, sucking up anything and everything that will fit in the hoses. That stuff flows over a grate in the sluice box (silver part) that allows the heaviest stuff to fall through and the rest to flow back into the river. Several times a day the grate would be lifted and the gleanings examined for gold nuggets, pretty exciting each time that occurred. It’s incredibly hard work moving boulders and rocks all day to allow whatever is around and under them to move up into the sluice and over the grate. At least they said it was hard work; to a man they were all notorious liars, so take it with a grain of salt. I only donned the wet suit to look at rainbow trout and pretty rocks under water.
My gold search was limited to panning for the stuff on the edge of the river. After getting lessons in the finer points of the technique, I spent several gorgeous days with my bottom half in the river, completely numb from the cold. With panning, first you scoop up some river bottom, pick out the larger stuff, and then keep swirling it around until all you’re left with is “black sand” and hopefully some gold. When you get it to this point, if you’re lucky you pick out the tiny gold flecks with your tweezers and stow them in a small vial. Here’s a couple of shots of me demonstrating the process.
The shot below shows the crew doing a little panning. My uncle Ed, who’s passed on now, supervises. My cousin Ed, who we lost last year, is walking in the water, while my cousin, Bill, sits in the foreground.
On the second night, I grilled chicken I’d brought up in a cooler. I guess they HAD worked hard, because everyone loved that chicken. To this day, that chicken dinner is spoken of with reverence. Later in the evening the days nuggets would be weighed by lantern light. The shot below is a little dim, but I believe you can make out the hand scale being used.
The boys had a deal with the guy that owned the claim, that they could work the claim for a percentage of the gold, so it was important to keep track of everything, well almost everything. I don’t remember anymore what the total take was, but I know everybody went home with gold, some enough to make jewelry from it. For my part, I was happy to take home a small vial of water from the Yuba with a nice collection of gold flakes in the bottom. I’ve still got it, and here’s the proof.
After a few days I drove down out of the mountains alone. We’d found gold, and it was great, but it was the experience that was priceless.
We’d never be there again, we’d never be that age again, but the memories, ahhh, we’d have those forever.
Here’s my favorite picture. I wonder why.
Thanks for reading.