Murphy's Bar

Slow Days at Murphy's Bar

End of the road for new prospectors

bar sign

Murphy's Bar is located in the small town of Hardrock, California. A town made famous for its extensive placer deposits, but complete lack of quartz mines.

Some years ago the town leaders thought changing the name from the original Hardluck to Hardrock meant they could save a few bucks on re-painting signs. No one bothered to ask whether there were any hardrock mines in the area, mining is mining.

That's the way it is in Hardrock. Almost is considered good enouh. Few buildings have square corners, they are almost square, but not quite.

Hardrock is perched atop the Sierras and can get some spectacular snowfall, sometimes, but not consistently enough to warrant a ski resort, almost, but not quite.

Murphy's bar is a ramshackle bar built on the edge of an old hydraulic pit, it's only a few more hard rains from becoming part of the pit.

Bedrock is a good 100' below the floor of the bar so there is little holding the bar to the earth, save gravity. It's now sat on the edge of the pit for nearly 100 years, although the pit has crept closer to the back door than the original builders considered. The presence of the pit makes for a convenient place to dump the garbage. It does little to stabilize the slope but every previous owner of Murphy's Bar has been just passing through so the long term wasn't really on their agenda. The bar is almost on solid ground, but not quite.

The current owner, Rocky Stone, bought the bar on EBay a few years back and hasn't been able to get rid of it. At the time it seemed like a good deal being described as the only bar in town and for a 30 mile radius. To Rocky it seemed like a smart thing to do at the time, notwithstanding the frequent ownership changes.

Rocky had no experience in running a bar, or anything really. The best we can get out of him is he was some kind of a mechanic, or at least he says he fixed things for people. Him being from New York, and me not, I may be missing some of the nuance. Running a bar in a town with 20 people turned out to be something of a setback for him, especially in the winter when the road is closed a good portion of the time and the Lake People aren't dragging their RVs out to the campground. In winter Hardrock is at the end of a dead end road and save for Bob Flanagan and I there are few customers to be found.

You would think this fact would establish a generous line of credit at Murphy's Bar, but Rocky lacks the experience of a really good bartender who would realize some day, when Bob and I hit the big paystreak, we'd be able to pay down a sizeable bar bill, but to date Rocky has rebuffed our requests for credit and demanded cash today versus gold tomorrow.

We haven't hit the paystreak yet, almost, but not quite, and Rocky hasn't extended the credit we feel we're due as loyal customers.

This seems to bother me more than Bob, who likes to remind me the odds of pulling out a lot of gold from Starvation Creek aren't very good and seems to take Rocky's position when I tell him to pick up the bar bill and I'll pay him back tomorrow.

In general I'd say Murphy's Bar seems to be defined by a certain lack of trust. Which is ironic since Rocky bought it site unseen from EBay and it takes a whole lot of trust to look out the back door at the encroaching hydraulic pit and believe your bar will be there come spring.

If you're a dredger, this time of year you're either thinking about dredging next season, or looking for new claims. Rocky has previously told me there is a ban on dredging in California, but as I've not been personally served this information I take little notice of it. Rocky seems to shy away from drawing law enforcement to the neighborhood but I figure the Fish and Game cops have better things to do than track down an old guy in a remote canyon running a dredge.

Bob does better at total gold recovered, but I've always thought that's a poor way to measure success. He spends a lot more hours dredging than I do so when you look at gold recovery per hour I look a lot better.

Still, Bob won't quit talking about finding new claims this winter and this seems to be the topic of conversation everytime we stop in for a beer at the bar. Bob stops for a beer, I'm just curious to see if its slid into the pit yet.

So we're sitting at the bar, the only customers, and Bob's going on about the advantages of the Feather River, which I'm trying to tune out, when two twenty-ish types walk in the front door and order a couple of IPAs.

Now, when Bob and I order an IPA Rocky serves up Old Tailings, a local beer which the label says is almost brewed entirely with pure spring water. When these new guys order an IPA he slides two Shock Tops across the bar. You know the beer? You have to put some fruit in it to make it taste right. Not sure who came up with that idea.

The advantage of Old Tailings is no amount of fruit will make it taste right.

These two look a little out of place in Murphy's Bar, but it could be because no one would actually look "in place" at the bar. Well, except for Bob and I. Rocky has said before we're the ones out of place but in the winer we're his only customers so he tends to play this line of thought down some.

The one kid squeezes the slice of lemon into the glass takes a sip and says to Rocky, "We're prospectors out looking for gold."

Rocky gets that deer in the headlights look as he nervously glances at Bob and I hoping we didn't hear it, but neither of us is deaf.

Bob looks up from something unidentified in his Old Tailings, which was likely not a lemon slice, and says, "Really? We're prospectors too."

The first kid, whose name turned out to be Phil something or another, reaches into his pocket and pulls out a folded hand drawn map of a mining claim.

"We just bought this claim and we're trying to find the road in."

Bob takes the map, puts on his reading glasses, and studies it. "South Fork of the Feather."

I roll my eyes and wonder how many times that claims been sold. Rocky shoots me a hard look.

"Yeah, we're looking for that road drawn on the map."

"So you bought a claim in one of the steepest canyons in the state, downstream from a dam which prevents gold replenishment and a guy draws a road on the map and you think it's there?" Bob says. I think to myself I need to speak to him about tact, but it could be pointless.

"The guy said you could drive right to the claim." Shock Top replies.

"Did he drive to the claim?"

"I don't know. He said he hasn't gotten around to working it yet, but he said the South Fork has good gold."

"If it had good gold one would think he'd be working it."

"So you don't think there's a road."

"No road."

"How do you get there?"

"You take the road up to the old Cloverleaf mine, park your truck and take boots the rest of the way which a mile and half walk down a 1,500 foot drop. That may not sound like much sitting here drinking a beer, but it's double that coming back out."

Rocky at this point is doing some mental math on revenue from these kids versus revenue from Bob and I and comes to the quick conclusion these guys drinking specialty beer with a local claim would be better than Bob and I drinking Old Tailins and jumps into the conversation.

"I heard there's an old logging road which goes through there." He says trying to keep hope alive, something Bob and I aren't really skilled at. "Steve Corkman said you could drive an ATV all the way in."

I look at Rocky, "Isn't he the guy who died when his ATV flipped and he fell off the cliff?"

"The investigation said he was driving too fast for conditions." Rocky replied a little too hastily considering Corkman was a regular at the bar and some speculate spent a good deal of time at the bar the day of the unfortunate accident.

The kids to Bob's left are looking a little more nervous than when they walked in the door. It seems to me they may be coming to the realization they just lost their money, or it could be Bob has a way of just sucking the Christmas spirit right out of the air.

"If you take your ATV you can probably get within a half mile of the river, but you'll still have to walk down a 1,000 foot drop to get the claim." Bob tells them.

"So you're saying there's no way to get to this claim?"

Bob smiles, takes a long swig of Old Tailings and says, "You can almost get there, but not quite. Now, let me show you where a really good claim is on Suicide Ravine."