I am the world's greatest dredger.
No, really, I have a coffee cup which proves it. It has my picture on it and everything. My daughter gave it to me for my birthday a few years ago, and my daughter wouldn't lie about something like that.
I don't suppose during the dredging ban anyone has managed to become a better dredger than I. It might be because I'm one of only two known dredgers still left in the State. Well, maybe not so known to the Government.
Us undocumented dredgers tend to live in the shadows. I keep hoping some advocacy group will adopt us, but so far no luck.
There are some, maybe just a few, who may dispute my title to the world's greatest dredger. Some say since I haven't wrote a book on it I couldn't possibly be the world's greatest. But, how much is there really to
dredging where you would need to write a whole book? It goes something like this: find river with gold; put dredge in water; start dredge; suck up lots of gold.
I guess I could stretch that out to be four chapters if I put a lot of pictures in it.
Now I know some of you will want to get all technical on me and start talking about gradient, velocity and specific gravity. My buddy Flanagan spends way too much time trying to figure out gradient and velocity.
Me? I'm more the pull starter cord and suck up gold kind of guy.
The problem with trying to figure out where gold ought to be, is everybody who's read the book already went there and got the gold. As a really good dredger I know once said, "Gold doesn't read the books."
You and I are left looking for the gold which is where it shouldn't be. Which is damned near everywhere.
I've dredged a lot of rivers, creeks, ravines and mud puddles in the Sierras. I can't recall a single one where I didn't get some gold out of it. It may not have been a lot of gold, but it was gold. That's the nature of placer deposits.
Every now and then you get a nice pocket, on occasion you hit a streak, but most times you just get a little and you move on.
Back in the Gold Rush about 100,000 people with no mining experience descended on the rivers and turned them upside down. If you've spent any amount of time on the rivers then you've seen the piles of rock thrown up on the banks. Except for the
Chinese who neatly stacked them.
About 99,990 miners went home broke with nothing but crushed fingers to show for their rock chucking. The other 10 learned how to just patiently work the streaks and follow them wherever they went.
Being the world's greatest dredger I have a lot of advice to give on dredging. Curiously, there's not many who seem to seek out my sage advice. Flanagan included. But, every now and then some newbies will make their way to Murphy's Bar and start
asking Rocky Stone, the bartender, about where to find some gold.
You can tell the Newbies pretty easy, they're the ones with money in their pockets.
Those of us who've been chasing gold for a while have enough money for gas, maybe a spare part or two, and a few dollars for cheap beer.
So a couple of weeks ago Flanagan and I are sitting at the bar as Rocky laments the complete lack of paying custommers in the winters, when a couple of newbies walk in the door.
This was just after those big floods, and the local papers ran stories about a new Gold Rush. Of ccourse if you've been doing this awhile you know the floods were OK, but they weren't like the '97 flood or the '86 flood, so we old
dredgers don't tend to get too worked up about stories which say the nuggets are just lying around the banks waiting to be picked up.
So the newbies walk in, take a stool a few down from Flanagan and I and ask Rocky if he knows of anyplace they can go to find gold.
Now, I've always found that to be an interesting question. If I knew where to find gold one would think I'be be there picking it up - just saying.
I may have mentioned that I am the world's greatest dredger, and I've dredged up and down the state and I'm full of solid advice on this topic. This is a point Rocky is well aware of as he tries to move the newbies towards the other end of the bar
where he believes I won't be able to provide any advice on where to find gold.
Before Rocky can actually get them to move I say "So, you boys are looking for gold?
Newbies always seem to be a little surprised when an old dredger talks. I suppose not shaving for a couple of weeks at a time gives them a certain impression of untrustworthiness.
"Yeah, we read an article about the floods washing a lot of gold out of the hills and we thought we'd try our luck."
"Well, I've been mining these creeks for over thirty years and I pretty much know the country and I can't point you in the right direction." I tell them, not bothering to throw in that I am the world's greatest dredger. I figure that would just be obvious.
Flanagan looks over at Rocky who just rolls his eyes as he serves up some of his more expensive beer, to them, not us. By now Rocky knows professional undocumented dredgers don't maintain big bank accounts, and consequently we've never been able to establish a
line of credit with him.
As the only bar within 30 miles of our claims on Starvation Creek, Rocky has a virtual monopoly on cold beer, a point I've threatened to take to the California legislature for action. Rocky alway's responds we're free to drink warm beer down on the creek.
Flangan believes if we started doing that we'd have slipped over the edge from undocumented dredgers to crazy prospectors.
"Well, if I was young, like you guys are, I'd be down in Hard Luck Canyon. Some huge nuggets have been pulled out of there. It's a pretty tough hike so us old guys can't get into those sort of places. After the floods I'll bet there's nuggets just lying up on the bedrock."
"Never heard of the place." The newbie wearing tennis shoes says.
"Well, we kind of keep it a secret, because we don't want just anyone down in there. You just go back down the hill towards Downieville and it's the ravine a few miles up the road."
I put my beer down and grab Rocky's pen before he can protest and draw them a quick sketch map on the napkin.
"Gee thanks." The newbie wearing new boots says. "I didn't think we'd run into some experienced miners willing to help us out."
"I'm all about helping people find gold." I respond as I down the last of my glass of Old Tailings.
Flanagan, not being the type to acknowledge my status as the world's greatest dredger takes a look at my map. He's got that slight look of concern he gets sometimes when I'm giving advice. But, I'm a miner, not a psychologist so I don't spend a lot of time
wondering what's in his head.
I hand the sketch to the two newbies who pocket the map and finish their beer. They head out the door to their unscratched pickup and head back down the hill. You don't need to be a psychologist to see the look of lost revenue on Rocky's face as he watches them leave.
The door shuts and Flanagan turns to me and says, "What'd you do that for? Their just out looking for a little gold."
"Would you rather have them sniffing around Starvation Creek?" I ask.
Flanagan just does one of those drama sighs and says "You know Ruck a Chucky Chuck works Hard Luck Canyon."
"Does he? Well, I'm sure he wouldn't mind some company. Besides, I think he'd welcome two new members of the Ruck a Chucky mining district."
"The so-called district consists of just Ruck a Chucky Chuck. The last two people who went prospecting in Hard Luck Canyon resulted in Chuck spending 30 days in the Sierra County jail."
"That's why I am the world's greatest dredger." I reply. "It's not just about knowing where to look for gold, it's also a healthy dose of knowing where not to look for gold. That should always be the first lesson of prospecting."
"A lesson they're going to get I guess." Says Flanagan.
Rocky looks at Flanagan, then me, and says "From now on I'm charging you guys double for beer. It's one thing to drive off customers, it's completely different to ensure they'll never come back."
"Your prices are already double." I say. "C'mon Bob, what do you say we head down to Dead Dog Canyon and go pick up some nuggets."