On Dry Washers, Desert Gold, and Working Dry Ground (Part 5)

 (Electrostatic dry washers are good at recovering fine gold like this.)

OK my friends, I want to thank you all again for your kindness and good wishes but enough of the accident drama. It's time to move forward again. In this post I'll be speaking to a few questions you've had and finish up on what electrical wizard Thomas Edison experienced trying to run a large-scale electrostatic gold recovery plant in the Ortiz Mountains of New Mexico.

Fundamental Principle

My buddy, Idaho gold prospector and miner, "Muskrat," wondered how gold could be attracted through electromagnetism since the noble metal isn't magnetic. That's a good question and I hope to answer it here and now. Unless I'm totally off the beam (and that's always a likely prospect), the first point to remember here is that electrostaticity is more related to what we commonly call static electricity than it is pure magnetism. Moreover, the electrostatic process primarily involves separating small metal or mineral particles based on their physical differences instead of their similarities. These physical differences include specific gravity and size, as well as how certain metals behave when they're artificially "charged."

There are numerous ways to create this artificial charge, and the electrostatic dry washer is one of those methods. Certain metal particles will be repelled this way (once again, depending on their atomic structure and natural characteristics) and others can be attracted. Heat and dryness (low humidity) are very effective in creating electrostatic charges and this is the fundamental principle behind the blower-type dry washing machines we've already touched on. The important thing to note here is that this electrostatic process is most effective in attracting very small particles of placer gold. Coarse pieces of desert gold, as well as those nuggets and "chunkers," will be recovered anyway because of their size, weight, and density.

(An electrostatic machine in use.)

Again, this is my interpretation and not the hard-core scientific version. I don't hold a PhD in physics but I do have a "reality" degree in gold prospecting and mining, so I'm trying to get this point across as clear and succinctly as I can without throwing in long-winded and boring-ass excerpts from some dreary PhD dissertation on electrostaticity that I dug out of the musty stacks of a university library. If you want to learn more on the subject I suggest you do a bit of research leg work and then you can school this broken-down old timer on the fine points.

Edison Was Onto Something

Now I'd like to shift gears and get back to Thomas Alva Edison's electrostatic gold venture in the Old Placers District of New Mexico's Ortiz Mountains (you can read the introductory post here). After leasing over 50,000 acres of the Ortiz in 1898, Tom Edison is said to have spent over $500,000 USD setting up a lab and milling machinery in the Old Placers with the intent of recovering all those small particles of dry placer gold still remaining in the washes and arroyos after the 1828 gold rush in the region. It goes without saying that this was a huge sum of money for the day.

As I know only too well from working the Old Placers myself off and on for nearly twelve years, Edison soon found out that the gold-bearing ground in the Ortiz Mountains is damp once you dig down a bit (sometimes only a few inches, as a matter of fact). This threw a big monkey wrench into Edison's works since any gold-bearing material would have to be dried prior to running it through his electrostatic mill. I'm not trying to be a smart ass here in relation to the great man, but any desert miner who's used a dry washer could've told Edison this and saved him a great deal of time, money, and heartache. This fact, combined with machinery breakdowns, unreliable workers, and the weather factor finally forced Edison to give up the ghost on his Ortiz project in 1903.

It's an interesting story about Thomas Alva Edison that most people aren't familiar with. You have to give him credit for his brilliance and the fact he gave it his best shot. He was onto something, that's for sure. Now, over 100 years later, I can look out the window of my computer room as I write this and see the metamorphic crags of the Ortiz Mountains just 14 miles away. Sometimes I just stare at them and the good placer gold they still contain and I wonder...about the rush of 1828, Edison, and all the good times I had prowling and mining that beautiful area before they were placed off limits. It saddens me, truth be told.

Such is the world we live in these days brothers and sisters...

(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2013

Questions? E-mail me at jr872vt90@yahoo.com


  1. Jim, WELCOME BACK!!! Thanks!! This makes sense, but I'm still not sure I understand why. Why are your mountains closed to prospecting? Getting so a fella can't have any fun at all anymore. Gary

  2. Gary, try to think of very small pieces of gold as pieces of lint or even tiny shreds of paper. When you induce a static charge on your clothing, what happens? Those tiny pieces of lint or paper stick to to it. They are attracted by the electrostatic charge...not magnetism. Does this help? Best, J.R.

  3. Yes it does. I never knew Edison was into this. I bet if he was around now with all the electronic gadgets and gizmos we have now, he could really come up with a gold getter!! I bet even he would be surprised with the things we have now. Anyhow, thanks again. I'm glad you are feeling better. Gary

  4. Gary, I failed to answer your question about why the Old Placers are off limits. Except for one small historical area set aside for "nature walks" (now under the auspices of Santa Fe County I believe), the rest of the area is private property (20 and 40-acre home lots) or claimed up by a private company. Neither the State of New Mexico nor the county had the wisdom to set aside a small area of the Ortiz for small-scale mining and there is no public land there under the BLM. It's too bad, because the washes, arroyos, and terraces there still contain good placer gold values including small nuggets and coarse pieces that run about .917 fine. Sucks. Best, J.R.

  5. WOW! Sounds like somebody should be digging a "basement"!! Gary

  6. My lasting dream was to have a piece of ground up there. Wasn't meant to be...Best, J.R.

  7. "Wasn't meant to be....???"
    God just told you...."YOUR NOT DONE YET"....so let's get that straight I believe your dreams gonna happen....and you'll get an unexpected "chance" to own that little piece of "heaven" there in Old Placers!! But be patient. When it happens....Call Gary Muskrat, and myself....and we'll dig that basement together.

    Great post...learned more facts about Edison...and electrostatic properties....always worth it! Stay safe out there!

  8. Well, I'll keep the faith in terms of the Old Placers. Glad you learned something new here and thanks for your good words and support. J.R.


Post a Comment