Thursday, May 29, 2008

Friends and Rock Stars in Michigan

This is the final installation, for now, of the series on the Lost Dutchman Mining Association. The third "East of the Mississippi" outing was held at the camp in Athens (Near Battle Creek) Michigan. It's a beautiful property and a beautiful state. In these times of challenging economic news, Michiganders joked that "Our leading export right now is Michiganders." With the auto industry on hard times, there is widespread unemployment in the state. But if that is dampening the spirit of the people who live here, we didn't see, hear, or feel it. Members of the local chapter (LDMA) were enthusiastic, welcoming, generous and just plain interesting people.

Lots of the LDMA members are in it for the gold. But not all! Some were at the outing to search the woods on the 80 plus or minus acre property for morel mushrooms.

Kids were interested in lots of things, especially listening to the tales (tall and otherwise) as told by Will Wilcox, the Nugget Man.

The younger ones had a full program of games- like this balloon toss.

Bring your own tray and enjoy a pot luck supper at the end of the day. They're almost ready to serve.

Watermelon, anyone?

Some come for the raffles and door prizes. The tradition of the first draw is now alive and well in Michigan. Nice hat, John!

Above and below, the team running the Honcoop high banker at the outing did a great job and produced the lion's share of the fine gold that was recovered during the two days of operation. Nice people all, we especially enjoyed the company of Don and Balinda Dodson (the two of them are to the left of the photo below), a local mail carrier and dental hygienist. Everywhere we go we seem to hit it off with someone especially well. It's nice to be developing friendships all across the country. Listening and learning from people everywhere seems to broaden our understanding of what is really going on in the country. All politics may be local, but the overall picture is harder to get, and probably that much more important.

Shown panning out concentrates for "sharing" with the participants of the common "dig" is Michigan State GPAA Director Jamie Wright. Thanks to Jaimie's undaunting efforts, this Michigan property was able to acquire all of the necessary permits for operating a recreational mining program in Michigan- the first one in the state. And thanks to Jaimie's friendship and generosity we left the state with a couple meals of the local venison- an unexpected gift from another new friend. Through his efforts and those of some colleagues, the LDMA and the associated state agencies seem to all be on the same page. In this day and age, that is borderline miraculous and we salute him not only for his efforts, but for his successes.

Wearing his State of Alaska Official State Shirt, Ken Rucker, another of the movers and shakers of the LDMA and the GPAA, keeps a watchful eye over the proceedings of the first national outing the organization has ever held in Michigan. Some 400 people spent the week in the town of Athens. That's good for the local economy in more ways than one. Speaking of the community, they were openly invited onto the property to see what was going on, and they attended (and got involved) in large numbers. The very idea of a town and a mining operation working hand in hand is hard to fathom. But thanks to the "rock stars" of the LDMA, that is exactly what is happening here in Michigan. Guys like Ken and Jaimie just make good things happen. Neither is a big power figure. Both are just hard working guys with genuinely warm personalities and in depth knowledge that gets the job done. Meeting people like them makes life on the road the wonderful experience that it is.

In Georgia (a few posts back), Marilyn and I and our common operation team ran a Honcoop highbanker. It performed well and you can read that for yourself if you like. We were assigned to the same model machine in Michigan- but with a big plus. Designer, inventor, manufacturer Don Honcoop himself was on hand for instruction and to try out his new prototype trommel. Another Rock Star for Michigan! A great guy in his own right, he taught us a lot and we enjoyed his company. Don and Belinda, shown previously above, are now the proud owners of the latest Honcoop machine. It pays to advertise. It pays to get involved. It costs not to....

The new Honcoop trommel, set up and ready to go in the meadow at Athens, Michigan.

Above, the tumbler in the Honcoop trommel. Below, Don Honcoop, third from left in the dark shirt, grins big time as one after another of the outing participants falls in love with his new machine. I liked it too! But what I really liked was learning (what we should all know but tend to overlook) that machinery is not just a hunk of metal or some other material that performs a task. It is the creation, the dream, the years of experience of its inventor. Knowing the machine is good. But putting the face and the name of the guy and his years of wisdom that brought it to life together with the machine- that is, as they say, priceless!

The biggest of the Rock Stars- TV personality and host of Gold Fever, Tom Massie was there to sign just about anything you wanted him to sign. Lots of personalities sign autographs; it's expected. But Tom takes his time with everyone. Chat a bit. Write something personal. Draw a little picture. Recite a little poetry from the old West. A star with down home charm and character and a CEO who knows everyone in the company, everything about the company, and who takes it upon himself to share what he knows- that's my kind of leader, and spending time with him at the outing was well worth the price of admission.

Marilyn "hangs out" with a small crowd waiting for a chance to meet her "Rock Star," Tom Massie. In her hand is a copy of the Gold Prospector, March/April 2008 issue, the official magazine of the GPAA and LDMA. On page 61, in an article called "Mining The Internet" there is a picture of her sitting the the middle of Chicken Creek (Chicken, AK) running her sluice box, just a lookin' for the gold. Reading the magazine article one day and realizing it was she in the picture came as a real "hoot." What better article to have an autograph on ??? And Robert and Lynn, also pictured in the article, are friends we met in Chicken as well.

Waiting for the personalized autograph..., then the official photo op....

Below, Tom chats with Dutch Myers (blue shirt and camouflage hat) and a number of others. Dutch and his wife Marjie (gotta get a picture of Marjie!!!) were the very first LDMA members we ever met. They gave us the tour of the Loud Mine property in Georgia and their generous sharing of their time and their openly outgoing and friendly representation had a great deal to do with our first impression of the organization and our eventual decision to become members. Same photo, center, in the pink shirt is Athens property caretaker June; other half of the team, her husband Bill not shown. They were excellent hosts and are widely loved by people in the organization everywhere we have been so far.

But it's not all work at an outing. The Outdoor Channel, started by Tom's dad "Buzzard" was on hand to film for an upcoming episode of Gold Fever. Here they are getting ready to film the kid's activity- the pinata...a paper mache creation stuffed with candy.

Things started out with the smallest kids- pretty normal stuff...
Tom's kids were on hand to participate with the other kids. What a treat for everyone.

Hey, that's no kid! That's Tom with the baseball bat. Everybody run!

Duck..... Hit the ground. Hey, why's he chasing me???

Going for the gold? Nope! The candy!
Chilling after the games, Tom keeps them laughing and enjoying life- what we were all there for in the first place....
I guess you had to be there. A local chapter member brings Tom the fire ring....AFTER he built and lit the fire. Huh?

For the time being, prospecting goes on the back burner. A bit of a bummer after three weeks of non-stop fun and festivities. But that just means there is something to look forward to getting back to when we can. Back to the travel and the discoveries that come with it. For now, we add Michigan to our list of states visited. What a fabulous way to start to get to know the state and the people of Michigan. A few stops for getting ready and taking care of business. Then: New England, Here we come!

Oh, one more thing. The Michiganders kept saying something about "thinking we closed that border with Ohio," every time someone showed up at the outing wearing an Ohio T-shirt or sporting an Ohio license plate. They tell me it's a gridiron thing! What do you think?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

On The Trail of The Lost Dutchman

Having found (and joined) the LDMA, The Lost Dutchman Mining Association, in Dahlonega, GA, we set out on the trail of the Dutchman outings sponsored jointly with GPAA. To that end we traveled to Marion, NC for the next outing. There we met up with some of the members who had been at the Georgia outing and quite a number of new miners from that region of the country. What was a good time in Georgia was a great time in North Carolina. Claim caretakers John and Abbie, for whom I failed to get an adequate photograph to use here, were very welcoming, thoroughly organized and excited to welcome one and all to their camp.

Armed with a new piece of equipment- a highbanker/dredge combination, we set up at the creek right beside the coach and gav'er a try. Worked like a charm. Even found a little color, just like we were hoping to do.Then off to work on the "common dig" with the club. In Georgia I had worked the highbanker with Marilyn and a team you can see on the previous post. This time I signed up for the 4 inch dredge operation hoping to get some first hand knowledge on set up, tear down, and cleanup of that type of equipment. Marilyn signed up for one of the highbanker teams again, so we doubled the number of people we got to work with, got to know and learn from.

Team "crew" Randy and Gina were excellent at both running their equipment and teaching those of us who had never operated the dredge before. Once again, as in Georgia, the largest find of the dig came from the equipment I happened to be working on. I suppose, actually I know, there is some degree of luck involved in finding good gold. But experience, especially in the form of figuring out where to look is certainly important and our team leaders just plain had a good nose for that. The credit surely goes to them for finding gold larger than one normally expects to find on this claim and in this part of the country.
I really like being on the nozzle end of the dredge hose. It's halfway between diving, which I have always loved, and gold mining, which I have come to love. BUT! Being at the end of the sluice for cleanup and discovery of what got captured during the day's run is a real hoot too.

Because North Carolina gold is extremely fine, the club set up a beach gold recovery highbanker. This is the same kind of highbanker used on the beach in Nome to recover the very fine beach gold up there. If you have ever seen them working on the beach on the GOLD FEVER show, this is the machine they are running...You would never believe that gold so very tiny could possibly be caught in the sluice with water moving that swiftly down the slope, until you see it to be true with your own eyes.

But not all is work at the outings. Plenty of fun in a variety of forms is planned to provide entertainment for everyone. Assistant caretaker (and drill Sergeant) Harry, makes sure all his ducks are in a row- and that he knows who crossed the line first in case of a close race. We had duck races two days in a row. Same young man won two days in a row. Had this been a poker game... well you can just imagine the distrust in a gold camp that might have taken place!!!

Which brings me to the Nugget Man. Known to one and all of the Lost Dutchman, Nugget Man Will travels to all the outings. He can tell a story with the best on them and he is, as they say, a very colorful character. Like many of the old time miners and gold traders, he is a joy to be around and learn from. The collection of gold he travels with is sensational. It is from all over the world and in all sizes and shapes, including the two pound nugget which he will let you hold- if he likes you. Let's see. Two pounds. At 1000 an ounce- you do the math, baby!

When the common operation is shut down for the final day, the crew pans out the concentrates and separates the pickers and the nuggets from the fines. The remaining concentrates are dried a bit and divided equally among the operation participants. Nothing is held back. Whatever we find as a group we share equally- or as close as humanly possible. Whatever we find on our own in between shifts or before or after the operation is strictly for us to keep in its entirety.

If we need a break from the physical work we can usually find a workshop we'd like to attend- like this one on various types of sluice boxes and how to set them up for best results, run by Herb Kasold, whose company sells all types of mining equipment. At every session we learn something new and from nearly everyone we meet we learn something new. It might be about mining, it might be about camping, it might be about the region- but there is always something new to be learned.

I couldn't help myself! I had to take a picture of this member miner. Everyday a different get up. Note the camouflage on the 4-wheeler. It's the first camouflage job I ever saw that attracted more attention than it did anything resembling hiding its intended target. Having a sense of humor is a real asset with this crowd.

Field Operations Manager for GPAA/LDMA Ken Rucker displays the gold for the final "draw" at the end of the outing. That's 5K plus worth of gold nuggets in that pan. How sweet it is! Evidence that good things do come in small packages. Every participant gets at least one. Some are definitely bigger than others, so the lottery system is used for the draw.

We worked with Gary, below, here in Georgia on the highbanker and again here in NC on the dredge. He's a great guy, a hard worker, good at camp auctions and not too shabby at raffles either. We have already met many people like Gary we will surely look forward to seeing and working with again around the country. Oh, and did I mention that I entered my first competitive metal detecting contest at this outing. Gary was second at the one in Georgia and took a third here. I finished somewhere around 10th out of a large number of participants- not high enough to call it a win but not entirely out of the "money" either. Just wait til next time....

For now, the LDMA circuit will move to a new claim having its very first outing in Athens, Michigan. Since we missed the state of Michigan on the first leg of our big journey, this gives us the perfect excuse to add that state to our map and see yet another part of the country. And if we find a little gold along the way, well, what's wrong with that? Besides, this marks the first time we have been brave enough to totally depart from "the plan" and head off on a whim and a prayer. And that feels good!

And for a parting shot I leave you with the tale of our provisioning run to Marion, North Carolina, for groceries and a few items at the hardware store. We set the GPS for the Wynn Dixie Grocery Store about ten miles from camp. However, the GPS did not have any way of knowing that store had been closed down by the chain that runs it some time ago. So we asked if there was another grocery store in town and we were told, "Why, yes, of course."
Now keep in mind this is North Carolina. The thing to remember, however, is that North Carolina is part of the South, despite it's name. So in your best southern drawl, read what we were told: "Drive down the road and find you the Baalo."

Having asked to have that repeated more than once we figured we should just drive a bit further and see what we could see- as apparently we did not hear what we had heard- if you get my drift. Sure enough, a couple miles down the road was the BUY LOW (BILO) grocery store.

On the way back to camp, we stopped at Spencer"s Do IT Best Hardware Store. We needed a hose nozzle, a 1 1/4 inch washer, a can of liquid rubber handle grip coater, and a small funnel. Now Spencer's is a perfectly wonderful old fashioned hardware store and they greet all their customers at the door and offer the finest in service. So imagine the look on the clerk's face when he asked, "May I help you with something today?"
And Marilyn replied, with the straightest of faces, " Yes, please, we have never had a free ride in a police car...."
If you have no clue what on earth I am telling you took place, study the sign in the front window of the store in the photo below.
After a good laugh by all, we chatted a bit, collected what we needed and headed back to camp.
There is, evidently, no free lunch...and no free ride in the police car!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Finding The Lost Dutchman

We've been anticipating exploring the gold belt of the South East for some time now. The history of gold discovery and mining in this country has become one our more pronounced interests as we see what the country has to offer. Dahlonega , Georgia, is a quaint and wonderful little town. Shown below is the old court house which has now been changed into the area's Gold Museum. I got some excellent photos of the changing display in the museum but publication of photos is not permitted without written authority and it will take quite some time to get that, so I will probably not post those photos until the Fall when we expect to be back in the area for a more in depth exploration. But this much I will tell you about the court house which is also quite demonstrable about the area. If a flashlight is focused on the brick walls in a darkened room, the flour gold content of the clay used to make the bricks sparkles like glitter on the wall. And no, it's not mica! At one time there was gold darn near everywhere here, even in the clay used to make the bricks which built the town. There is still plenty of gold here, although the "easy" gold has been pretty much found.

Downtown Dahlonega is both quaint and current. The silhouettes of the living and those of the past blend in the southern light to produce a very nice, almost magical atmosphere.

In the general store, coffee sells for a nickel. No Starbucks here. It's self serve and honor system and as you might surmise the fact that the honor system is alive and well is exemplified by the seven jugs just sitting there full of change and paper money. Deposits only, no withdrawals.

Nearby we found the entrance to Crissan Mine. It is a working gold mine but like many a mine now that the big strikes have been worked out, this one "mines tourists" for a greater return than the mine could otherwise produce in mineral content alone. A tour is a couple bucks. Panning or running the trommel, a couple bucks. A bag of sand with gold concentrates, a couple bucks. Being a new age gold miner- priceless.

Crissan boasts the only operating "Stamper" in the state. If you are not familiar with the term "Stamper", it is a shaft driven machine for smashing, grinding, pulverizing quartz into sand. Because the gold at this mine is contained within the quartz, breaking it down into sand makes it possible to reclaim the gold as it is released from its host. Big rocks in- course sand out. About a quarter oz. of gold per tom of rock crushed. A most amazing process. Gold concentrates sold at the mine are produced in full (sand and gold) from the on site process of the mine.

There's plenty of the old equipment to see and it's in great shape. While we love seeing the types of machinery and equipment that was used in the earlier mining efforts, we always love to see present day equipment too and Crissan mine has a store that sells all types of modern day pieces for today's prospectors- pans, sluices, high bankers, dredges, and so on. We picked up and added a small highbanker/dredge combo to our on the road arsenal.

Almost every shop in town can sell you a gold miner's hat. Not a necessary piece for those seeking "placer" gold- that gold that has already been released from the earth by erosion of one type or another- but colorful and great fun for the kids.

We stopped by, but didn't have time for the tour, at the Consolidated Mine nearby as well. The operation here is more tour oriented and goes under ground, but they do have panning facilities and you can pick through their "seeded" bags of sand for gems and crystals as well as gold. We will take the under ground tour at some point, but for authenticity of operation, display, quality sales and actual on site operation- Crissan Mine is a much better way to spend some time.

The gem sluice table at Consolidated Mine is pictured below...

After a couple of days exploring Dahlonega from our base camp on the Etowa River, we drove an hour or so to Loud Mine, Cleveland, Georgia. This "gold claim" is the property of the Lost Dutchman Mining Association. Formerly a separate group but closely affiliated with GPAA which we have mentioned many times in the past, the LDMA and GPAA are now commonly owned by the enterprising son of Buzzard Massey, founder of the recreational gold prospecting activities as we know them today and also the creator of the Outdoor Channel, which most if not all of you are probably familiar. Tom Massey and his wife and family now run both operations, and we came to attend an LDMA common outing at the invitaion of the LDMA to GPAA members, which we have been for some time.

While GPAA owns, operates, and leases "gold claims" for use by its members, The LDMA takes the operation one step further and makes their claims available for members to prospect and camp. While the camps are "rustic" to "primitive", they each have their own distinct features and beauty and members are permitted to stay, even long term, to camp, prospect, and enjoy the area surrounding each camp. A few "hookup" sites are available at some of the camps but dry camping is more the order of the day. We found the Loud Mine property in Cleveland, GA to be just delightful. Sign us up!

Nearly 200 people attended this rally, with about 125 of us joining in a common operation. We split up into teams, each team running a highbanker. We learned to set them up correctly, make adjustments, and got a look at about 6 different makes and models. It was a good intro to help with making a selection for those of us who might like to acquire a piece of equipment for ourselves. Water for the highbankers, this is a "wet" operation as opposed to a "dry" operation that might be used on the desert, was supplied by a series of pumps run to the stream. Water from the process (which does create some silt) is released into settling ponds so that the silt is not returned in any significant amount whatsoever into the river. Members may use their own machines in the area of the settling ponds by recycling that water for their purpose. The whole operation seemd to be set up quite safely as it regards concern for the environment. Properly carried out, recreational mining is actually quite good for the environment. Dangerous chemicals used in the past are no longer necessary with today's methodologies, and sound digging and dredging techniques actually and significantly improve fish and other wildlife habitat. Good organizations "self police" their members. This one does!

For those who preferred not to engage in the common operation, there was plenty of places to get off by yourself or in a group to enjoy the outdoors and see what you might turn up in your pan.
Our highbanking team was made of of a dozen workers or so. We could not have been happier to be hooked up with any other of the teams. Nice people. Interesting people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Fascinating experiences and tales to tell. AND, they all worked harder and more effectively that I saw any other group working - hands down! While working efficiently is a matter of control, there is also no escaping the fact that moving material is the key to finding the gold you are after. Luck aside, it's pretty much a no pain, no gain story. So while other teams put dirt in the hopper and let the machine do the work, I would say we effectively quadrupled the amout of yardage we ran through our machine by making sure every team member had a job. We shoveled into buckets. We lugged buckets. We added water and slurried the material by hand befor feeding it through the highbanker. Georgia clay is think and tough and nasty- so it must be effectively broken up (make that down) in order to release its gold, and also to avoid a clump that could pick the gold back up and carry it off the end of the machine where it would most certainly be lost. We adjusted water supply. We pushed big rocks out of the way. We kept our drainage channel open. We truly worked as a team and that was a good feeling.

Now Georgia produces some pickers and some nuggets (although mostly "fines"), but because of how effectively we worked and how much material we processed, we manged to come up with the largest nugget found on the property in at least a couple years. That's what one of the crew members told me. However LDMA roving rep Ken Rucker told us he thought it might be the biggest one from this property in an even longer time frame than that. To be sure, landing that big one was a group effort, but it just did happen to be me who saw it in the sluice bed and picked it out to go show off to the team. Not your typical nugget, this looked like (and was quickly named) the "Flying Eagle" nugget. Word of its discovery spread through camp faster than the 49ers headed off to California!
Because it was a common operation, all of the gold was distributed by means of a lottery so the nugget did not wind up in the hands of any of our team liked I had hoped it would. But seeing it flash in the sluice, picking it out of the water and looking at it in wonder was worth the effort in ways I can't really explain. It was a moment, of which there all too few in this life, that I am sure will stick in my head til I draw my last breath. It was a moment I think is shared by most if not all of the members of that team. In the greater scheme of life it was a relatively small piece of gold- but oh what a moment!

But lest you think it is all work and no play at LDMA- think again. I got more tired trying to catch all the planned events than I did in working my assigned shifts. I think the constant laughter wore me down a bit as well. Interesting thing about the activity of prospecting- it brings together people of all ages, all backgrounds, and all physical abilities as well. No matter- everyone had something to do and found a way to get it done. And they found a way to have fun doing it. Those confined to scooters- on your mark, set, hey he's cheating, go!

Ah, camp. All the necessities. Antenna- it's for the Outdoor Channel, don't you know. Gotta have a couple crappers for those not self contained, right? A resident constable, who shows off that he was able to recover the plastic cup and Christmas light chandelier that had gone missing in the "whodunnit." Not to worry, that rascal was found guilty and sentenced in Miners' Court a short time later. Go get'um, Dave.
You want to know how far we went to recover all the gold in our team's material. We had our own "stamping" operation going full time on site. Any good looking piece of quartz that came our way got crushed to release whatever fines we could find...

Here's the team. I used to think the one thing "miners" had in common was that they liked "getting dirty." Apparently, the truth is that they like playing in dirt; I however, evidently really like getting dirty. Truth is, some of the tasks in the process require getting dirty, some getting wet, and some times you get a job that lets you stay clean- but who wants that job???

At the start of this contest, the "Detectives" must keep metal detectors up until the start command is given. A series of tokens are placed and/or buried and the winner is determined by who finds what in a given time period. A good time was had by all.

Can't you just tell the look on the face of someone who just found "sumpin good" ?
Pot luck suppers are a regular part of the rallies. There was some pretty good grub on that table.

And in the end, here's the gold that was split up among the participants in the common operation. Volunteer crew members, very necessary to the process, get a share of the loot as well. The "Flying Eagle" is in the vile in the center of the pan along with some of the other pickers that came out of the common operation.

"Hey, Greg!(No. Not me.) Nice hat!" A Loud Mine tradition that surely was imported from Alaska one way or another. But I ain't talkin'......