My Great Adventures…..A Journal

This site follows my happy trails.

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Myself and several friends decided to do some recreational gold mining while living in California. The history of the placer mines and geology of the mining districts around Nevada City was a favorite subject of mine. It was always interesting to read the histories before hiking and visiting the various mining districts and old mines. A trip to a liquidating company in Sacramento provided me with enough stainless steel to build a four foot sluice with an attached classifier. We gathered up three inch plastic pipe to feed water by gravity to the classifier and sluice. We made several weekend trips to find a location where we might get into some nuggets.Our first mining trip was to an area on Grizzly Creek north of Nevada City. The site was downstream from some good gold producing areas of the past. The creek had washed it’s way down to solid bedrock in the steep sided canyon. Our target was a bowl shaped cavity in the granite about twenty feet in diameter. The bowl was full of alluvium washed down by the creek and had a twelve inch tree growing out of it. The size of the tree indicated it had been growing there for many years. During the high run off from snow melting and rains the bowl would act like a trap for gold being washed down the creek. A series of small waterfalls upstream provided enough rise for our gravity feed water system to function properly.

Our crew consisted of four men and two sons in grade school. We were on the road early Saturday morning, packed everything in, got set up, and started digging. By evening we were less than half excavated in the hole. Everybody was pleased with our progress and we were getting enough very small flakes of gold to keep it interesting. Our homemade sluice was doing fine. We were back early Sunday morning. The digging was hard due to the large rocks near the bottom of the hole and the frequent tree roots we had to relocate. We didn’t have any nuggets, but every time we cleaned the sluice we had colors in it. It was hard work all day with digging, rolling large rocks out of the hole, and bailing trapped water out of the hole as we went down. The washed granite bedrock was extremely slippery on the sides of the big bowl. We were doing our best not to injure the tree roots as we dug down. We rinsed as many large rocks as possible in case small nuggets were stuck to them.We were closing in on the bottom and our bowl kept getting smaller. Everybody was feeling the effect of the two day excavation in the hole, but nobody was going anywhere until we hit bottom. We were undermining the large tree roots and carefully removing the gravels near bottom. We barred out a couple large rocks and nested them on the side of the bowl.We were almost there. Somebody hollered they saw something in the bottom. We carefully bailed out the water and slowly worked down to where we anticipated our nuggets would be. When we were all clean except for a small area we found a Budweiser beer can standing straight up and supported by some carefully placed rocks. It had been left as a message from the last people to clean the bowl.

The Bubweiser  beer can is still there………waiting for the next gold seeker to leave his mark.


Sad Sample

Mining the tunnels at Gold Run in the California foothills of the famous mother lode country was a great experience. There is nothing more beautiful than one of mother natures large gold nuggets retrieved from your mining operations. The golden flow of fine gold flakes across a concentrating table during milling and recovery of the gold is a sight to behold. The small mill at Gold Run recovered a considerable amount of gold on a daily basis.

One of the important parts of mineral mining is the collection of ore samples to provide engineering and data for future mining operations. If sampling was located where it would interfere with the mining operations it wasn’t uncommon for a couple of us to go out on a Saturday morning to obtain the samples. We frequently took “cut samples” at regular intervals from the side of the tunnels. The sample is obtained by cutting a twelve inch wide slot, from top to bottom, down the side of the tunnel with a thirty pound spader. A spader is a small version of a pavement breaker. The rock is collected in buckets or burlap bags and tagged for pertinent information. At Gold Run we would work out of the bucket of a mucking machine to get the samples.

Myself and Mike Janzeski were discussing some Saturday sampling at Gates & Fox’s home office. One of the engineer estimators who worked full time in the office asked if he could join us to see the mine. We picked him up on our way to the mine on Saturday. After observing several samples the engineer asked if he could spade out a section of a sample. He had never operated a spader before, but was young and in good physical shape. The three of us were in the eight foot wide mucker bucket a few feet off the ground. We demonstrated proper handling and methods before letting him work with the spader. He was doing pretty well until he lost control of the spader. The spader has a “D” style handle with the air trigger inside of it. The engineer lost grip with one hand and the spader point glanced off the rock. Being out of balance the engineer was holding the spader with his hand on the trigger. As luck would have it, the point went into his foot about two inches behind the steel toe of his boot. The point of the spader went completely through his boot and was bouncing on the bottom of the mucker bucket. He was holding the trigger down and couldn’t let go of the spader. The spader created a deafening noise in the confined tunnel as it rattled on the bottom of the steel bucket with his foot vibrating up and down on the one inch steel point. Mike and I crimped off the air hose to the spader and pulled it out of his foot. The entire incident didn’t last over a minute, but the harm was done. The engineer never came back to the mine. He fully recovered from the foot damage.

The little thirty pound spader kicked the engineers butt…………and he took it like man.

Gates & Fox at Gold Run

In 1980 my employer Gates & Fox transferred us to their home office in Loomis, Ca. Loomis is on the edge of the famed Mother Lode mining districts of the California gold rush days. Kirk Fox, founder of Gates & Fox, was actively seeking gold properties to lease or purchase for mining gold. Gates & Fox had a contract to do the mining for a Chinese funded group on a placer gold property called Gold Run. Gold Run has a rest stop on eastbound Interstate 80 about 50 miles east of Sacramento adjacent to old gravel banks mined hydraulically during the gold rush days. We were mining underground a half mile south of Interstate 80 in an area of cemented tertiary gravels. The gold was deposited with the gravels by ancient rivers. The highest concentrations of gold were right on top of the bedrock under the old river channels.Our tunnels were mined with two feet of bedrock in the bottom and eight feet of cemented tertiary gravels above the bedrock. We widened the original old access tunnels to ten feet to accommodate modern drills and equipment. The low profile mucking machines used to remove the ore were eight feet wide, very long, and powered by twelve cylinder diesel engines. A processing plant to get the gold out of the gravel was built adjacent to the mining area. My crew at Gold Run included Ray and Timmy Atkinson, Randy Gilmet, Nick Walker, and Eddie Van from our hometown area of New York.

When working in a drill and blast tunnel one of the most menial jobs is cleaning the loose muck away from the face of the tunnel prior to drilling the bottom holes. A lot of miners will go out of their way to avoid hand mucking for these lifter holes prior to the start of drilling. This all changes when you’re mining for gold. Most of the crew is right on their knees, gently raking the muck back, to look for nuggets. The entire bottom of the face is spotless. You will never know if they find anything.

I had a friends son-in-law operating a mucking machine on my shift. He was very slow. One night on graveyard shift my patience ran out. I met him at the portal of the access tunnel and stopped him. I told him he was either going to get the job done faster or get fired. I reached across the floor of the open operators cab, lifted his foot, and slammed a twenty pound rock on top of the accelerator pedal. I told him if he removed the rock he was fired. You could hear the machine bouncing and banging off the tunnel walls as he ran in and out with his eyes as big as baseballs. All I heard the rest of the night was “What in hell did you do to light a fire under his butt”.  From then on he did his job efficiently.

Sometimes simple works……….even if it’s a rock sending the message.


Idaho, Bad News, & Big Bucks

From Yellowstone Park we traveled west to Missoula, MT. A very interesting stop was made at Three Forks, MT where the Jefferson, Gallatin, and Madison Rivers form the confluence of the Missouri River. The Missouri is the longest River in the United States flowing from Three Forks to St. Louis, MO. It was explored and followed by the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804 through 1806 as they were seeking a viable transportation route to the Pacific Coast.

From Missoula our route took us through Lolo, MT To Lewiston, ID. The trip is a little over two hundred miles with some spectacular wilderness scenery. It’s downhill all the way, but not the very steep descents encountered on other routes. The highway crosses Lolo Pass and the Continental Divide at the Montana/Idaho border. The Continental Divide is the point where water flowing to the east (Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico) is separated from water flows going west (Pacific Ocean or Sea of Cortez). The highway followed the Lochsa, Selway, and Clearwater Rivers on it’s way through Kamiah, Orofino, and terminates at Lewiston where the the Clearwater and Snake Rivers converge.

Uncle Bob and Aunt Ida had just returned to the Lewiston area from a project in Michigan. Their sons Tommy and David along with daughter Nancy lived in the area. They had never met my wife Linda or our children. It was a nice reunion. Just after we arrived Linda’s younger sister Patti Ann was badly injured in a car accident in our hometown of Lyon Mt. New York. It was a very trying time for Linda. She was all the way across the country with two small children, staying with relatives she just met, Linda’s family didn’t feel it was necessary for us to return home as Patti Ann’s injuries were defined and treated, but it was day by day for a couple of weeks as Patti Ann improved in the hospital. Aunt Ida was a lot of comfort to Linda.

While looking for work I joined Uncle Bob, Rich Wyman, and Rich’s son on a deer and elk hunt near the hamlet of Headquarters, Idaho about thirty five miles east of Orofino. We camped in Rich’s pick-up camper and used Uncle Bob’s jeep wagoneer for daily transportation. We saw plenty of elk from a distance, but never got into them up close. Rich’s son shot his first deer the second day. While Bob and Rich schooled the 12 year old on dressing his deer, I stood out of the way holding Rich’s rifle. Looking up the ridge my eyes spotted a big mule deer buck looking down on us. I pulled Rich upright by the tail of his wool shirt and slowly motioned towards the buck while handing him his rifle. He dropped the buck in one shot. Two deer in ten minutes by a father and a son. The buck was big, it scored 188 when rated by the Boone and Crockett Club.

Rich couldn’t believe the size of his deer…….and Uncle Bob couldn’t believe I had handed him his rifle to shoot it.

Yellowstone: Passing Thru

Linda and I looked forward to visiting Yellowstone National Park on our way from New Hampshire to Idaho. All Jamie and Dori wanted was out of the car. With nearly two thousand miles behind them they were ready to stop anytime. We spent a little while in Cody, Wyoming and looked over Buffalo Bill Dam on the way to the east entrance of the park. The winds were up and blowing hard down the east slopes of the Rockies as we stood on the overlook at the dam. The winds subsided as we entered the park and descended to the shores of Yellowstone Lake. We were quite a ways into the park before we encountered our first bear begging on the side of the road. He was an old timer and consumed every snack we flipped through the partially opened window. The kids were delighted watching the bear.We spent a considerable amount of time at Old Faithful. The kids enjoyed walking the elevated board sidewalks through the areas of hot mud pots, hot springs, steam vents, and geysers. It doesn’t matter your age or how often you have seen Old Faithful erupt in it’s surge of steam and water, it’s always impressive. You have to be standing near when the geyser erupts to feel the vibrations of good old mother earth trembling under your feet as she builds enough pressure for the timely eruptions. Not far from Old Faithful the scenery is breath taking as the river winds downstream through the alpine meadows with lush vegetation and occasional hot springs. Deer, elk, buffalo, and moose are in abundance.

Yellowstone Falls is also a very scenic and picturesque site to see. The mists and thunderous noise keep you from getting too close. It’s amazing to think you would ever find a place where high waterfalls, a huge beautiful lake, and numerous geysers were so close together. Mammoth Hot Springs are between the falls and the north gate. There is a large hotel adjacent to the springs. The springs trickle up through a huge mound of mineral deposits created from the cooling water as it hits the surface of the earth. There were numerous walkways and scenic paths in the area. The smell of sulfur permeates the area around the hot springs. You soon learn to pay attention to which way the breeze is blowing so you don’t get caught downwind of the springs.As the highway winds from Mammoth Hot Springs down to Gardiner, Montana there were several high rock ledges adjacent to the road. Bighorn sheep on the ledges could be observed up close from your car if you watched for them and utilized the turnouts for parking. From Gardiner the highway followed the Yellowstone River north about forty miles to intersect with Interstate 94 at Livingston, MT. The wind blows forever along the river canyon and at Livingston. The interstate highway had airport style windsocks to show trucks, trailers, etc the wind speed and direction. The interstate was littered with debris from tipped trucks and trailers.

If I could fulfill a wish everybody in the USA would get to visit Yellowstone National Park……..even the politicians.

Gently Thru the Door

Johnny Blair worked on my crew at Bear Swamp. Johnny was probably the oldest and best liked laborer on the job. He was a great worker. You never saw him without a smile. Johnny’s health started fading and he died of a heart attack unexpectedly. The wake was held at his home near Pittsfield,MA about forty five minutes from the job and close to two hours from my home in Hinsdale, NH. Several members of our crew car pooled to work on the day of Johnny’s wake. We would go directly from work to the wake after showering and changing clothes at the dryhouse on the job.

There were about sixty people from the job headed to Johnny’s wake. We all congregated at a local bar near Pittsfield for something to eat and a few drinks before the wake. After attending the wake we all congregated back at the bar for a few more drinks. Soon it was midnight and Johnny had been well mourned. He would have been proud of us. Pat McCoy was a good friend of mine and we were riding with two others from Greenfield. Pat wasn’t a big drinker and was pretty unstable as we loaded him up for the ride home. Soon he was passed out in the back seat. By the time we got to Pat’s house he was beyond wakening.

As we approached his house we shut off the engine and coasted to a stop at the curb. We quietly stood him up and headed for the front door. Ann Marie and the kids were all asleep in the dark house. Our first intention was to ring the doorbell and face the music. We knew Ann Marie wouldn’t be happy. Luck was with us. The door was unlocked. We gently and quietly got Pat inside the entry far enough to close the door, put him down on the hardwood floor, and quietly made our escape.

We were a sad looking crew when we showed up for work the next morning. Pat was the only one who didn’t make it. It was late morning before I could get to a phone and call Pat to see if everything was all right. He sounded half dead when he answered the phone. He didn’t know we left him on the floor. During the night he woke up without a clue of where he was. He found his way onto a couch in a small sitting room off the entry way. Nobody knew he was there as they went about their normal daily routines. Fifteen minutes before my call one of the kids discovered him still sleeping. I never said a word about how he got in the house.

Johnnie Blair had a big wake………we were thankful Pat didn’t need one too.

New Guys and 360’s

My assignment in Okinawa ended in February of 1966 after two years outside of the continental United States. The travels and duties had been a great experience for a young man. I would miss the crew in Okinawa, but had some memories to recall the rest of my life.

With Vietnam going wide open the bases in Okinawa were maxed out on personnel and support activities. We frequently received new people right out of basic training stateside. Most of the new guys were teenagers just out of high school. They would arrive on base, go through a part day indoctrination, and be transported to their units by the base shuttle bus. Being in a small world, we always knew when they were coming. We gave them an unforgettable greeting upon arrival at the crash crew. There was about a hundred feet from where the new guys got off the shuttle bus to the door of the crash crew building. When we knew they were on the bus, five or six of us would hide behind the end of the building. When they covered half the distance carrying everything they owned, we would run at them and grab them. We screamed “He’s Mine, He’s Mine” as we tugged them back and forth between us. “You’re my replacement, You’re my replacement” we chanted at the new guys we yanked back and forth. Needless to say, the poor new guys had no idea what to hell was going on with these screaming idiots. They always ended up laughing it off as we introduced ourselves and welcomed them aboard.

I considered myself a pretty good driver. A city boy from Los Angeles who couldn’t even drive taught me a great trick with a car. Okinawa was full of little Datsun cars called skoshi cabs. They were everywhere. They were cheap. They were pretty fast if you could find an open road to wind them up. The drivers always hurried so they could deliver you and find another fare. We would catch a skoshi cab late in the evening when the traffic was light. We’d coax the driver to go fast. We would hit a stretch of road going fast with no oncoming traffic. The person in the front passenger seat would reach down between the little seats and yank the emergency brake on. The little skoshi cab would do several three hundred and sixty degree circles with the rear wheels locked before stopping. The driver would throw us out, we would pay him, and flag down the next skoshi cab to come down the road. We never hurt anyone, but we sure terrified some cab drivers.

My journey stateside took me to Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa, to Yokota Air Force Base, forty five miles north of Tokyo, to March Air Force Base in Riverside, California. I reported to El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Santa Ana, California. After my thirty days home leave I reported back to the crash crew at El Toro.

The Marine Corps was serious business…………….but there was always time for a little fun.

Brook Cider

Our family rented a house in Louisville, NY. It was a good central location for Dad to get to work during the construction of the St Lawrence Seaway. We lived close to the Grass River. There was plenty of good hunting, fishing, and trapping within walking distance. Older children attended school in Massena, NY. Due to the large number of construction families in the area my sister Sharon and myself attended half day classes. This was a young teenagers dream. We caught our bus at 11:30 AM  for the afternoon session. This gave us from daybreak until almost mid day to pursue all kinds of activities.

Several of us teenagers in Louisville renovated an old building in the woods about a mile out of Louisville. It was our camp/clubhouse. People gave us old lumber, furniture, utensils , etc. for the camp. Nothing fancy, but the roof didn’t leak and the floor was solid. We had a small wood stove and used lanterns for light. In the fall we would have our own hard cider.

Apples dropped off trees or not good enough to sell for eating would be used by local people with apple trees or orchards to make cider. The apple season and cider making started after several good frosts in the fall. We would buy the cider at roadside stands or in local stores. It was reasonably priced. We had a great place in a cold brook for cider. The water was about four inches deep and fast moving. The sun hit the water in this location most of the day and the surrounding area got a good frost every night. We would set our gallon jugs in the water, loosen the cap, and leave it for several days. Good old mother nature, cold nights, sunny days, and cold water allowed the cider to ferment into hard cider. This wasn’t whiskey type, sour, hard cider that half poisoned you. This was slightly tart, barely sweet, hard cider suitable to drink. Nothing scientific, just give it the right conditions and let mother nature do her thing.We shared many meals of fresh cooked fish, fresh wild game, in season vegetables, and hard cider in that old building.

Most kids today wouldn’t consider a camp where you had to walk a mile……….and there Mom’s would never tolerate half day schools.

Neah Bay Swells

Our family took a vacation to visit the Olympic Peninsula at the NW corner of Washington State. We were going to visit Olympic National Park and Dad wanted to try salmon fishing if the weather was good. We traveled from Spokane to Seattle, caught a ferry across Puget Sound, and drove north through Port Angeles. It had been a long ride and all of us kids were wound up like eight day clocks.

Mom and Dad rented a beachfront cabin south of Neah Bay on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Neah Bay is the small northernmost town on the Olympic Peninsula. It had a sheltered harbor with access to the Strait of Juan de Fuca which is 12 miles wide between Vancouver Island, British Columbia and the Olympic Peninsula.  You would never convince us kids we weren’t on the ocean. We had a sandy beach, waves rolling in, and could see an occasional whale if you took the time to watch. It was fairly cool weather and the water was real cold, but that didn’t stop us from having a great time. Dad inquired and received directions to a marina in Neah Bay that had rental boats.

Dad had me up at four in the morning and we headed to Neah Bay. The operator at the marina assured Dad he would have no problem navigating the breakwater at the mouth of the harbor if he was proficient in operating an outboard motor boat. Just keep nosed into the swells as you navigate between the buoys into the strait. We got our gear into the seventeen foot aluminum boat, checked and warmed up the motor, and waited for the sun. Several boats went out ahead of us. Dad wanted to keep them in sight so we could fish close to them.

The ride across the harbor wasn’t bad. As we got closer to the harbor entrance we could only see the other boats once in a while. The swells started getting increasingly higher. It was like we were on a roller coaster. The motor could barely push us to the top then we would sail like a rocket to the bottom. You could see landmarks on top, but only the swell in front and behind the boat when inside the trough. The swells were exceeding twenty feet. When we broke over at the top the outboard motor propeller would come completely out of the water. Dad negotiated a U turn in a large trough and we returned the rental boat. Our adventure was over.

We didn’t get to salmon fish…………but we sure got a wild lesson about breakwater and swells.

90 Degree Turns

We always made the best of winter when living in Spokane. The weather was cold enough to get good snowfall, but warm enough to allow children to play outside most of the time. Every few weeks during the winter Spokane would get what was called chinook winds from the south and west. These warm winds would last a couple days and melt a lot of the snow. They were a welcome respite from the cold winter weather. Sometimes the chinook was followed by clear cold weather. Any snow or water remaining from the chinook would be transformed into thick hard crusts or ice. One of these cold snaps created a great adventure for the kids in our neighborhood, including our family.

Our street was fairly new and not paved. Directly behind our house was open and undeveloped for about two blocks. Beyond that was a steep drop down to the Spokane River. There were no homes within a couple blocks of the river for quite a distance upstream and down. At the end of each city block on our street was a small unimproved road from our street to the unimproved street which followed the river. Several blocks south of our house the unimproved streets going towards the river became increasingly sloped towards the river.

We didn’t have any good sliding places in our neighborhood. We were always pulling each other or the little kids on the sleds. One of the warm chinooks passed through and was followed by cold freezing temperatures. The sidewalks and streets were covered with ice and hard frozen snow. All the unimproved streets which didn’t get traffic were glare ice. It didn’t take long before all the kids in the neighborhood were gathered on one of these streets with their sleds. We would slide down the slope and make a ninety degree turn onto the unimproved road which followed the river. We all headed home late in the afternoon for supper. What a great day we had sliding.

We were still excited about our great day of sliding when Dad got home from work. He wasn’t familiar with where we had been sliding and asked me to show him the street. We parked at the top of the slope and walked to where the intersection at the bottom was in view. I had just spent the whole day sliding on this street. It didn’t appear dangerous when we were playing. Standing beside Dad looking down, the most prominent feature was the Spokane River, fifty feet past and below the intersection, where we had made ninety degree turns all day.

We probably deserved the spankings before supper……..but the loss of our sliding area hurt a lot more than the belt.