Big Dredge, Big Gold

Running an 8" on the Rivers

A Professional Dredger's Story


Above. Working the dredge summer 2009

I have been mining since I was a kid. I met an old miner who told me stories which sparked an everlasting interest in gold. The miner's name was Charlie Brwere. When I met him he was already in his 80's and he knew more about gold mining than anyone I ever met and that still holds true today.

In 1961 my family moved to Pollock Pines. I was 13, my dad was a building contractor and I was his protege. Everywhere he went, I went and that included the building sites. I naturally took to working with my hands and my dad wanted me to learn, and learn I did.

I wasn't the best student in school. I quickly became bored unless something interested me. In classes which interested me I was a quick learner. Between my dad teaching me building, and school teaching me the technical portion I learned quickly. By the time I was 17 I could build a house from the foundation up without any help and that includes reading the blueprints. This leads to the rest of the story.

My friends and I used to stop by Charlie Brewer's house all the time and listen to the stories he had, some of which were unbelievable. He told us for money he used to be a bootlegger and run money from Oakland to Weaverville to a resort which was a hangout for Pretty Boy Floyd. On one of his runs a quart jar of money disappeared. Charlie said he didn't know what happened to it but both he and his friends found themselves tied up and thrown in the trunk of their own car. They were driven to Oakland and left in a train yard. After a few days, and being close to death, someone finally heard them and let them out.

I had doubts about this story until my dad and I were on a gold trip near Weaverville. Charlie was with us and trying to find an old hydraulic mine but had gotten himself lost on the backroads. We were heading down a logging road when we stopped a vehicle coming from the other direction. My dad rolled the window down and asked the guy directions when the guy leaned out the window and said, "Charlie Brewer is that you? You SOB you just about got us killed."

The guy was the other guy tied up in the trunk of Charlie's car 35 years prior. He verified word for word Charlie's story. That made me a believer of everything the old man had to say.

In 1967 I ended up going to Vietnam and spending a portion of my life fighting for our country. It was 1987 before I finally accumulated enough money from my contracting business in Ohio to think again about gold mining. I moved back to California after 15 years in the midwest. The first thing I did was build an 8" dredge.

As I was finishing the dredge I ran into a person I later became partners with who had some private property on one of the big rivers. He also had an 8" dredge. We began dredging his property and were producing 2 lbs a day between the two dredges. It was a dream come true, but as with all dreams the end came after the first week; our take dropped to about 2 ounces per day. Still good, but not the bonanza we started with.

After spending three months in that location we moved to another river which turned out to be a loser, so we bought a claim on yet another river. We now only operated one dredge but this claim turned out to be another bonanza. It started off really good, then just got better. The water was only four feet deep and the bedrock was about two feet down. While trenching we ran into a spot where the bedrock dropped off and we found a glory hole.

There was a face which sloped like a cliff and every foot we went down there was an ounce of gold on the face. Gold was in every crack, both nuggets and small gold. There was nothing in the overburden, not even any color, but the bedrock was loaded.


Above. This bedrock formation held tons of gold

With the water only being 4' and the bedrock dropping sharply, our tailings quickly became a problem. We ended up working two dredges: one to move the tailings away from the dredge area.

After a month of recovering this kind of gold, and still going down we found a large timber embedded in some sandy clay. My partner and I were both on the bottom working, about 20' below the surface. My partner was on the nozzle, I was moving rocks. Suddenly he grabbed me and crossed both arms and starting shaking back and forth. I thought he broke his arm or something. I grabbed his arm and he shook his head no, then gave me the signal he was into gold.

I went down behind him and thought "oh, my god," there was a spot on the bottom which was solid yellow and 12" wide and at least 24" long. It was just solid nuggets and fines. I can't tell you how much we got that day, but it was a lot.

In 1994 the California Department of Fish and Wildlife issued new regulations which pretty much put us commercial dredgers out of business. Between restrictions on seasons, the size of the nozzle and special permitting we couldn't keep running our dredges.

My partner and I then started a successful manufacturing business and we operated it for seven years until the economy tanked. We closed the doors and went our separate ways.

A few years later I got the itch again to start mining. I met another accomplished dredger who told me about a spot on private property which was 60' deep, but loaded with gold. I love dredging deep water and this really got my interest up. I talked this guy into partnering with me. He only had a six inch dredge and that wasn't going to cut it. We reached a deal with the property owner and started dredging. The water wasn't as deep as we thought but the gold was good and getting better the further up river we went. The first season we did really well, the second season even better. Then we ran out of property.

So we went to the neighbor and struck a deal for for 2/3, which is high, but we figured this claim was worth it. We started dredging again and the gold was just lighting up the box every day. We worked from the first of June until August and the gold just kept getting better every day. This was going to be our retirement!

The day the dredging moratorium took effect, and our last day of dredging we were pulling three ounces an hour.

We haven't been back in there since 2009, but when we reopen dreding that gold is still there on the bottom. There is an unbelievable amount of gold in there and were certain there's at least 300' of pay material left.


There were days when the sluice just turned yellow

About My Dredge

Often people will ask me about my custom dredge, so here's all the information on it.

This is a custom built dredge I did myself. It's an eight inch super dredge which has an all aluminum frame that's powder coated. The remote engine speed control is attached at the regulator and the dredge has a complete canopy to keep the summer sun off you.

Overview of the Dredge

This is my fourth generation design. I own an aluminum fabricating company and I've designed many dredges for different applications. This is the top of the line dredge. Easy disassembly for helicopter insertion. The dredge frame is all aluminum and weights considerably less than conventional dredges. The frame requires no maintenance, it's strong and can handle a lot of abuse. All total this dredge is probably worth $30,000 but the gold recovery has more than paid for the cost.


Topside tending the sluice

The dredge has an attachable aluminum ladder with side grips. The front dive ladder and platform is preferred when in fast of deep water and the diving platform is at water level for easy access, just follow the suction hose to the surface and step onto the dive platform.

The dredge is carpeted so you don't slip and has a captain's swivel chair for the comfort of the top guy. There are two winch mounts on the front. It has a plug in charging system for the floating boulder lift or just charging additional batteries. It floats on four polypropolene pontoons, and two custom aluminum pontoons. The overall length is 17'.

The platform is really stable and can hold up to four people with no problems. The trailer was specifically designed for this dredge and has a mountable front swivel wheel for lowering over steep embankments to the river with a truck winch. If you decide to helicopter in you can use the custom lift eyes and sling system designed to carry the dredge.

The Sluice

The first riffle has a screened sump that transfers contents to the side box by a venturi, the same as the main box. The first riffle catches about 65% of the gold, and is great for doing daily cleanups. The daily cleanup takes just minutes and saves hours in final cleanup.


Side sluice is great for catching the gold

The sluice has a drop rear concentrate collector that diverts all gravels from the sluice box to a five gallong hanging bucket for final cleanup. Riffles are all on a swivel lift, just fold them forward and it makes it easy to remove your mats. We normally clean up the back section once a month, the front section once a week. We just screen it and run it through the bottom collector to the side box which separates the gold from the heavy's and returns it to the bottom section of riffles. You never lose anything even if some gold escaped the side box. It makes cleanups a breeze which takes about an hour for a weeks worth of concentrates.

Diver Support System

The dredge has hot water for divers heated by a custom heat exchanger integrated with the engine colling system and the engine radiator is enclosed in a container where fresh river water circulates around the radiator then to the accumulator for heat adjustment.

Air is supplied by a HD Gast compressor which is capable of handling two divers at 50'. There is plenty of reserve air in the custom engine sub-frame which holds about three minutes of air for two divers.


The engine is a 3 cyclinder Geo engine which has been converted to operate without all the computer stuff. We replaced the carburator with a VW pic30 carburator after modifying the intake manifold. We replaced the distributor with a vacuum advance after more modifications and we also replaced the original exhaust with a custom unit which also has a warming plate for heating your food.


Now that's an engine

The engine runs like a clock and never fails to start. It only uses about a gallon of fuel an hour depending on the depth of dredging. The custom aluminum 10 gallon gas tank with gauge sits directly over the header box for easy filling.

Pump and Suction

The pump is a 1200 gpm precision pump. It has an additional pulley for adding another 300 gpm pedestal centrifugal unit for deep water, if needed. It will move as much gravel as any dredge on the market. They say 35yds an hour, which would be true if you were only moving sorted gravel, but if you're dredging for gold that number changes drastically - downward. The hose will such as hard as you want, or as gentle as you want. The power train is set up to be moved in one piece to a bench or put on a trailer for pumping or running a trommel. It has a cover platform over the engine assembly for setting tools, lunch or whatever.

The vacuum prime system works off the engine vacuum. It has one 4" aluminum ball valve shut off at the main pump to the venturi jets. It leaves air and water on so that it can be regulated which is great for working without the main box flow and wonderful for doing a complete clean up. It works great if you have a clog which shuts down suction but leaves you with air and hot water. It has 50' of one inch rubber blaster hose and 50' of 8" suction hose with a SS swivel nozzle and suction release flap and can be extended longer if necessary.

This dredge has just been awesome. The gold we've recovered with it has been incredible. Right now this dredge is in storage waiting on legal dredging again. When that day comes I'm confident we'll just fire it back up and be back on the gold.