Monday, June 30, 2014

Clean-Up On Eureka Creek

Right- fork, Eureka Creek, Yukon Territory
July 1982
 We had been sluicing pretty steady for a month, and had washed the gravels from an entire placer-gold claim through.

 We pushed the last of the material through last night, and it was time to lift the punch-plate, and wash the gold out of the mats, or in gold-miners parley,  a clean-up. This was our first cut of two to do this season, each cut as we called it would be one 500' (152.4m) claim.

 It had been no small feat to get to this point, the area had been stripped of brush and overburden with the D9 the previous season.
   The first of May we started in again, ripping the over-flow ice that forms over the Winter, and wasting no time exposing the permafrost gravels to the long Yukon Spring days. A drain was cut in downstream to remove water from the mining area, a settling pond was put in downstream as well.  Water would recycle from the sluice, down the lower drain, spend time in the settling pond so solids and silt drop out, then a pump would send it up a 1100' pipeline back to the sluice-box.

A D8 bulldozer fed the sluice at a rate of 80-100 yards an hour as near as we could figure, another machine pushed the washed tailings out of the way. Old school.

Of course, if anything can go wrong, it will.
    A small outfit, we got plenty done for a handy crew of 4, including Jeanine the cook. The season is short, but the days long, we sluiced 10 hours a day when we could, and monkey wrenched equipment the rest of the time it seemed. But the time all miners and their bankers look forward to had arrived, and we could hardly wait to get started.
  First step was to hammer out the wooden wedges holding down the large sections of punch-plate that allow finer material to slip through the holes and classify down in the coco-mat and riffles, larger material washes down the sluice line. The punch-plates are washed off and set aside, and the coco-mats underneath are rolled up and taken to the top of the box for cleaning out with water.
The fine gold sticks right on the coco-mat.
28 year old me, working down the sluice, cleaning the gold and scooping it into a gold-pan,
We would wash-out a section of mat with the hose and use whisk brooms to rinse and sweep the gold into piles. The sections of steel riffles down the sluice line are removed and washed in a tub to be taken back to camp where the gold was further cleaned, dried, screened, and had a magnet run through it to remove magnetite and metal fragments from the heavy equipment. 
Course gold, it would be melted down with rest, if it were jewelry quality nuggets it would be worth considerably more, some creeks are noted for it, Eureka was not.

On the bathroom scale.
That is concentrate, as clean as we can get it by hand, in there with the gold is still small amount of impurities to be removed by the smelting process.

So what do you do with a 65 pound bucket of gold?  
This portable propane fired smelting outfit allowed us the pour bars right on the spot.
The gold concentrate is mixed with a powdered flux and placed in a crucible then placed in  the gas fired furnace. In about a half hour Hal and I are ready to arm the big tongs to bring out the crucible with its molten, golden contents.
We steady the works on jack-stands, what you see pouring over is the molten flux carrying away the impurities, gold stays in the mold.
We dumped in another load of concentrate and flux then put it back in the furnace. After a cooling off period, the mold is turned upside down and rapped with a hammer to release the bar.
Rough bars, 700+oz

Pure gold does not exist naturally, there is always an amount of other stuff present, most notably, silver. The karat, or the fineness of the gold is tested using an age-old system of rubbing gold on a touch-stone, then using acid and a set of graduated fineness-needles to determine the amount of silver present.

So what do you do with a stack of gold bricks? 
Well, we kept them around for a few days until it was time to go to town, they were great conversation pieces on the kitchen table during mealtimes for sure. Miners are wise to keep quiet about when they are going to, have had, or are heading into town with a clean-up. It was not unheard of to transport the clean-up to town with an armed vehicle following. The gold bricks went to the smelter buying agent in Dawson City,  he did his own fineness test, allowing for the silver content and handling fees. He calculated it at that days gold price, $380 us oz., and silver at $6 us oz. That was down considerably from the $500-$600 oz. gold price from not too long before, or the nearly $1000 oz. high of a few seasons ago. Still, much better than a kick in the overalls, and was going to go a long ways towards expenses out there.

    As is tradition with Yukon miners taking their stake to town, we had a crew night out for dinner and cocktails before retiring to rooms at the Eldorado Hotel.
    However, attracted by the sounds of laughter, women's voices, and old time fiddle coming from Diamond Tooth Gerties, I gambled away a stack of hard earned chips later on at the blackjack tables. Hooting, stomping my boots on the floor and carrying on at the can-can dancers in true sourdough fashion, but stopped short of throwing nuggets up on stage then stumbled out with the cheerful closing time crowd at 2:00am.
    After a day or two of high-living in Dawson City, we were always ready to head back to the gold-fields. Jeanine and Hal picked up an order at the grocery store enough to last a few weeks, and another tanker truck of fuel was ordered.  I rounded up my dog at the helipad and made my way out of town, stopping by the Caterpillar dealer for a parts order.
We met back out at the remote mine site later that evening.
     The next day we were right back at it with a few repairs and moved the whole operation upstream to the next adjoining claim and start the whole process over again, washing another 15-20,000 sq. yards of what we hope will be rich pay-dirt down the sluice. Which if all went well, and we had no major breakdowns, and no one got eaten by a bear or something, would take us into mid September when we start getting frost in the box. The next month would be spent doing repairs and stripping ground up-stream for the next season.
The continuing low gold price shut down many operations after that summer of '82, and who would have guessed it was going to take 25 years for the price to recover. 
   Sitting down and writing about this period of my life at Eureka and over the hills in the Montana Ck. area where we did that exploration work, I've come to understand that at the time, despite the bugs, the difficult work and trying hours, I probably didn't fully appreciate just how much of a great time I was having.

More placer-mining posts...

Friday, June 27, 2014

Breakin' In The Pemberton Barn

    A week or two ago the village of Pemberton completed an impressive post and beam structure in a central location downtown for use as a farmer's market and a few other special functions now and again, and Mount Currie serves as the majestic backdrop for this great looking building.
Blackwater MC was invited out yesterday to provide a little ambient rock and roll for the Farmers Market..

Josh Fairbrother, Ross Edwards. We got asked to turn it down a couple times of course, we wouldn't be a real rock band if they didn't have to come and tell us to crank it down at least once, but all in all it was a good layed back gig, and the afternoon crowds are always fun. We've been invited back for a Friday night whoop-up soon too.

One thing that I always enjoy about playing the local market is the early hours, and coming home in the evenings while it is still light. Lillooett Lake is like glass in the evenings, and it is nice to pull over and chill for a bit.

 Alas, it was almost an incident free gig....I arrived in the yard and got out to find I aquired another flat on the old Safari tour bus. This has to be the 4th tire I've buggered on it this year, its those damn passenger car tires on it I'm sure.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Solstice Fly In

    Few people can attest to having an airport on their front yard, although I generally don't advertise or promote the fact, a plane now and again is fine, people I know kind of thing. Not much of an airstrip mind you, just an oversize lawn surrounded by tall trees. Just a big enough slot to approach through the trees, put it down and hard on the brakes to avoid plowing into the formidable log cabin located at the end of the lawn/airport.
Takes a certain type of pilot to side-slip in here in these tight quarters.
    Mark Sorensen is a Hotspring Lodge reader in Oregon, he has been planning a trip (his first) to Canada for some time in his pristine little Maule aircraft, looking to do a little bike riding and spend Summer solstice at the hot spring. He made his way up the coast and crossed the border into BC, clearing Canada customs and spending a day mountain biking up the backside of the Chief in Squamish . We had been communicating about the conditions and I had told him we were having some strong June winds that were lasting all day, they come up valley, creating a tailwind condition landing that pilots hate to execute, unless they have to. The sun had set in the valley here when I heard him go over that evening, the wind was still gusting from the south as he circled back down valley and set up his approach between the trees into the awfully small looking green spot. I'm sure if it were not for the attraction of the famous Hotspring Lodge and the hot spring tubs waiting below, he would have kept right on going.
 He greased it in on the second attempt, tail-wind and all. leaving great long skid marks on the airstrip and charging right up to the cabin, almost sending me running for cover for a moment. He swung it around and parked, cooled it off and shut down, with shaking knees he got out and came over to introduce himself. I had not met him before, but I was pretty sure his eyes were not always bulging open like that, and sure enough, after a bit they returned to their normal size. He spent quite a bit of time looking back at the slot he had just flown through, shaking his head and talking excitedly, as pilots often do after landing here the first time.
 People often ask why I don't have a plane, I tell them if I did, I would have to have a job.

 He set camp up right under his wing, and joined the campers down at the hot spring enjoying the longest day of the year. Sometime during the evening he chatted up a certain Tina and offered her a ride out the next day in his plane. I'm not so sure she may have fully believed him, until he rode his bike down the next morning to confirm. They quickly packed up their tent and half hour later, Tina and her friend Laurie pulled in the yard and she could hardly believe her good luck.
Lucky Tina, gets to fly to Sqaumish over snow capped  mountains on a beautiful sunny day, you can tell this is an every day occurrence for her.

Poor Laurie, not enough seats, anyways, someone had to drive the mini van back home. "It's all so surreal" she said, taking it all in.

Here is a take-off fly around and approach filmed under better conditions the next day.
Hang on to your seat.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Attack Of The Grizzly Mouse.

    Jeanne comes out several days a week and works with the first nation youth in the remote valley. During her mid-week stay she has utilized the guest cabin here, starting the day in a central location and saving herself upwards of 4 hours traveling time in and out of the territory each day.  The cozy atmosphere of the little cabin, the wifi and having a hot spring close by does not hurt either in the evenings. Earlier this Spring, during 'mouse season', she mentioned one day there was some sign of mouse activity in there, not that it bothered her too much.
"Probably just the cleaning staff eating poppy seed bagels." I suggested with a straight face.
"It seems those poppy seeds are scratching in the wall too." she said.
I offered her a $5 bounty on every one she could trap or stomp on with her bare feet, and said I would credit it towards the cabin rental.  I had been joking of course, I know every critter has its season, and set out traps and gave my highly trained cats marching orders re: mouse invasion, and cut down on their treats for an afternoon.
    The day of her visit the next week, I thought it might be really humorous to set out a little toy mouse in some spot in there she was sure to see it, getting a huge chuckle out of it I'm sure. Having guard-cats around here I have a selection of toy mice at hand for their relaxation and my entertainment, most have been cat chewed to near pieces, but there was one more or less intact, at least it still had both ears and a tail intact. It resembled a mouse for sure, although a somewhat comical, lopsided cartoon mouse, and certainly not one to be taken too seriously I wouldn't think. I wandered around in there giggling to myself while trying different locations, I wanted a good effect of course, but not too good. In my time I've known several youth worker types, and they didn't seem to be afraid of anything, so I figured I was pretty safe. In the end I chose the top of a wooden counter. I tried it myself several times, walking in like I'm going into the washroom, flick the light on and see this cartoonish mousie there, giggling to myself and thinking how funny Jeanne was going to think this was. Nothing like a silly little joke to lighten up the end of a long, hard day.
   Later that evening, I had gone on to other things, and had pretty much forgotten about my little mouse trap set to go off in the guest cabin. I had been watering the lawn out back and winding up the hose when Jeanne drove in, parked her pickup in behind and waved to me before taking her bags boxes and stuff and heads for the cabin.
I had just finished with the hose, when I hear a piercing scream, not unlike tires on asphalt. There was a series of loud thumps,  followed by furniture crashing and what sounded like someone killing something with the broom. Then complete silence.
It all came back to me right about then, and decided this may be a good time to go check the pelton-wheel generator, over there across the road, where no-one will look for me. I snuck back in the yard later under cover of darkness.
   Next day I recieved an email that started with, 'Har, har, har...'
Turns out my little mouse gag had spectacular results. She had staggered in with all her bags at the end of a long hard day and was looking forward to a little quiet time. Being in particular need of the washroom at the moment she placed her bags on the floor and stepped forward and flicked the light switch on.
I doubt anymore than half a second went by before I heard the first audible confirmation of Jeanne locking eyes with the grizzly mouse (mouses horribilis). It apparently growled and charged her, causing her to fall backwards over her luggage and groceries, which didn't help her state of mind at all as you can imagine. After hanging from the ceiling for a suitable period of time she dropped down to confront the beast, only to find he had made himself scarce and wasn't out back watering the grass any longer.
    Jeanne returned home that week and related the grizzly mouse story to her 4 year old daughter, whom rolled in fits of laughter at her Mom's story. She encouraged her Mom to take a little rubber bug she had and put it out to scare me back the next week. Fortunately, her Mom had warned me beforehand so no-one would get too scared. I sent a note for her Mom to read to her detailing the story of how the cleaning lady had gone out there and bumped into this huge bug in the sink and ran out screaming, and it took me all day to get her to come down out of the tree!
A truce has been called, and all stuffed mice and over sized bugs have been put away.
For now......