(Beware the blowhard.)
Not all of the people you come into contact with in your gold prospecting and mining forays are the likable (if sometimes eccentric) characters like "Taylor" or "Crazy Ben." Like life in general, in small-scale mining you'll run into the occasional blowhard, flaming a-hole, and general n'er-do-well. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly, because this post is about just such a person.
An Essential Weakness
Back in the old days when I was a stumbling, bumbling novice (yep, greener than the greenest green) I joined a small but very active Southern California gold prospecting club whose name shall remain undisclosed for any number of reasons. As most of you already know, I'm not much of a joiner. But back in my early mining days I was in need of direct support by folks with more expertise and knowledge than myself. You see, I was a cherry back then, a FNG and I pretty much didn't know my ass from a hole in the ground when it came to gold. That's how yours truly ended up in a prospecting club.
The gentleman (and he was that) who founded the club was a local businessman who was doing quite well for himself and had the time and money to splurge on his real loves, the great outdoors and small-scale gold mining. He was a no-BS kind of guy when it came to all things business but he tended to let his heart, not his mind, lead when it came to mining. Therein lay his essential weakness when it came to character judgment.
Smoke and Mirrors
How this seemingly fine gent and the doggie turd I'll call the "Mouth" formed their relationship remains a mystery to me to this very day. Where the club founder was quiet and thoughtful, the "Mouth" was crude and loud. Where the gentleman was gracious and patient, the "Mouth" was caustic and derogatory. Finally, where the businessman was modest and highly competent, the "Mouth" was a strutting braggart whose mining credentials were highly suspect as I came to learn over time. In other words, he was a miserable excuse for a human being.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, the founder of the club designated the "Mouth" as his right-hand man (and I use that term loosely here). How could a shrewd businessman allow this? I don't really know but I suspect it was partly because the "Mouth" was a hustler of sorts. He knew how to run a game on the weak, the ill informed, and those who hate confrontation or conflict. Now the club founder was no pansy ass, but the "Mouth" had obviously convinced him that he (the "Mouth") was the best thing that had come down the mining pike since the proverbial gold pan. You know, there ARE those people who get through this life using a combination of smoke and mirrors and verbal intimidation. The "Mouth" was one of those.
Anyway, I pretty much avoided the "Mouth" during the monthly club outings. Not because I feared him...not by a long shot. But because other members of that club could teach me a thing or two and I needed their knowledge and instruction at that time. It's a character flaw of my own, but historically I have an extremely low tolerance for blowhards, BSers, con artists, and those who constantly try to bully the weak or passive among us. In fact, it doesn't take much for one of these types to hit the right button and send me from zero to sixty and into full combat mode in a heartbeat. Trust me, I back down from no one and for no one. But I had too much to lose (i.e., my teaching job for one) by getting physical with this jerk of jerks. So I took the high ground and held my mud.
Opening the Floodgates
On one club prospecting trip to California's Kern River the "Mouth" broke out a new suction dredge that the businessman had helped him buy. Strutting about on his own self-constructed ego stage and proclaiming his dredging greatness to any and all within earshot, the "Mouth" was having a field day. That is until it came time to put the finishing touches on that fancy new dredge and actually operate it. Right about then the "Mouth" starting fidgeting, hemming and hawing, and complaining bitterly about the "piece of shit" dredge that he himself had picked out and paid for using the club founder's folding green. Eventually, someone with real dredging experience patiently showed this loud-mouthed clown the basics of operating a dredge. Can you believe it? Without missing a beat the "Mouth" boasted how much gold he was going to suck up from Kern River bedrock. Meanwhile, the rest of us poor fools should pay close attention...we might learn something.
Well, I'm happy to say good things DO happen to those who wait. The very next day the water management guys up at Isabella Lake Dam decided to cut loose with some of the lake's water as they did quite frequently back in those days, warning everyone downstream via the use of a very loud and shrill warning siren. When the dam floodgates were opened, the Kern River rose dramatically in just a few minutes time, sweeping everything in its path, a point not missed by the majority of the placer miners working downstream. That is, except one.
Back to Whence it Came
When the dam floodgate warning siren went off I had already packed my gear and was contemplating the long drive back home. I stood there with a small cluster of other newbies watching and listening as the "Mouth" pointed out the pan of gold concentrates resting on his dredge and expounding upon his own virtuosity as a suction dredger, all-around gold miner, and just plain great guy. That's about the time the Kern's waters began to rise, slowly at first and then faster, and even faster still. The rest of us in the club's peasant class began backing up toward higher ground as the "Mouth" shot us a quizzical look.
By the time the "Mouth's" head whipped around the Kern had already started dragging his brand-new suction dredge and gold concentrates downstream in lazy spirals that grew ever more severe by the second. "Goddamit!" he screamed in frustration. "Somebody help me!" But there was nothing to be done since this idiot hadn't even thought of tying off his beached dredge and not one of us standing there was willing to risk life and limb to save this prick's kit or his gold. The former ended up about a half mile downstream battered and definitely in need of repair while the latter was unceremoniously dumped back into the river from whence it came. While all this was going down I swear I saw more than a few smiles on the faces of other club members, my own included.
Like they say, "Payback's a bitch." It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2014
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Postscript: About six months after this highly satisfying incident I parted ways with the club. By that point I'd teamed up with a trio of old-timer mentors who pretty much made the club irrelevant for me. Additionally, I couldn't say with absolute certainty how I would conduct myself down the road if I had to see or listen to much more of the "Mouth's" crapola.
I learned later that the businessman who founded the club took their relationship further and actually helped fund a retail gold prospecting and mining supply shop for the "Mouth." I'm sure its few customers were regaled with various tidbits of accumulated mining wisdom and then driven to suicidal boredom by tale after tale of outdoor daring do. The success of this ill-conceived business venture was doomed from the get go, crippled by the "Mouth's" idiotic behavior and haughty arrogance, not to mention his paucity of real mining experience and lack of interpersonal skills. So it was that the "Mouth's" gold prospecting shop went belly up a few months later.
Afterward, there were rumors flying around local mining circles that dirty pool contributed to the demise of the business. There may have been some rips offs and missing money thrown into the mix as well, but I really can't speak to the validity of that assertion.
As you can see, mining is never a bowl of cherries.)