Dredging the American

Unexpected End to a Big Dredging Project

Dredging is always hit and miss


Working the creek with a 5"

Dredging is always ups and downs. Sometimes you can go weeks without hitting anything significant, but you're always looking for that one day you're going to hit it rich.

On year my partner, his brother and I decided to go for the gold. We believe there was a large deposit of gold at the bottom of a boulder pile which was flushed in the river by the 1964 Hell Hole Reservoir collapse. In the middle of the river there was a boulder the size of a bus. The guy who dredged this area before us was able to find some caverns under the boulder and pulled a large amount of gold from it. This area was known for big nuggets, and no fine gold.

The previous dredger had used a D-8 dozer with a huge winch and tried for months to pull the boulders from behind the bus boulder, but he failed. He just broke lots of chains and cables. The boulders we were interested in were directly behind the bus boulder. There were about five or six big ones which we thought held a lot of gold. To move these boulders we would have to string a 1 inch cable over the river to a rock face on the other side.

We drilled three 1.5" holes about 2' deep. We placed three pieces 1.5" rebar protruding about 16" above the bedrock. The rebar was anchors for a 1" cable we stretched across the river about 200' at a 20 degree downward angle. We clamped the end to a base of a huge tree. The cable was the only way we would be able to lift the huge boulders out of the area we wanted to get to.

After installing a trolley system we hooked up a 10,000lb might-lite gas winch with a sheave at the tree so the cable wouldn't be pulling directly at the operator but instead along the overhead cable. We then placed two 12" double sheaves on the trolley from the cable to the winch which fed down to the boulder we were going to move, then back up to the pulley, back down to the boulder and back to the pulley.

With this rig we had the capability to move up to 60,000 lbs. The main cable was on an angle so it drug the boulders towards the shore instead of having to do a dead lift. It would drag boulders until they hit something then the system would lift it until it cleared the obstacle and drug it out of our way.

We cleared several boulders and ran into a huge boulder we couldn't move. We then brought in a 300cfm diesel compressor and ran 300' of ABS 1" continuous tubing to a jack leg and drill, drilled about a dozen holes in that boulder and another boulder near it.

The air bubbles from the drill would raise the water level in a six foot circle where we were working about a foot. After drilling we placed pneumatic splitting wedges in each hold. The rocks split the way we wanted and we winched the remaining pieces out of the hole.

We had finally, after weeks of work, and a lot of money in equipment, reached the bottom and nuggets began showing up in the box from 2 to 12dwt and in the first cleanup we saw about 6 ounces of gold.

As we cleared our way down we continued to pick up some gold until we finally reached the bedrock under the bus boulder. Finally, the day we had worked for most of the summer.

There was nothing there but a single nugget the size of silver dollar but paper thin. That was a real bummer.

For every story you read where someone hit it big, there are a thousand stories like this one where we thought we'd hit it big, and it didn't work out. The gold should have been there, but it wasn't. That's just dredging, you work really hard in the hopes, but no guarantee, of a reward. At the end of the day you've got a lot of memories, if not a lot of gold.