("I can't think of a finer man or more experienced desert rat than Jim Straight. His books and advice on dry washing and nugget hunting are priceless. Jim's one of the true greats when it comes to small-scale mining and prospecting in the United States. What more can I say?" J.R.)
Well it's that time of the year again. Time to uncover or unpack that trusty little dry washer of yours, give it a test run or two, and then head out to those desert or dry placer gold areas you've been working. You "desert rats" in southeastern California and parts of Arizona and Nevada are probably already out there, just as I used to be when working many of the same areas you're dry washing now.
I know I've mentioned this before, but I miss dry washing. When I was still living in my home state of California I used to dry wash various claims in the previously mentioned areas (minus Nevada) all through the fall, most of the winter, and into early spring each year, with occasional dry washing forays into Baja California and Old Mexico proper. However, since moving to the beautiful state of New Mexico some 24 years ago I've dry washed only a few times and in the last ten or so years, I haven't done any dry washing at all. That saddens me some when I think about it (but eventually I'll take care of that business). You see, I always loved dry washing, no matter how hostile the environments I worked, how much dirt and grit I ate shoveling material, or how many nasty little critters were out and about, including scorpions and rattlesnakes. I'll take the broken record route again here and state that my dry washer of choice was the simple motorized puffer, but I have used other dry washers in my career to greater or lesser effect. Of all the brand-name or manufactured dry washers, I was always a bit partial to those manufactured by Keene Engineering. Now that THAT particular cat is out of the bag I don't want you thinking this post is a promo piece for Keene and that I'm either in cahoots with them or getting paid to mention them or write about their dry washers. The simple truth is an emphatic "No!" to both of those suppositions. Just like it says in the right sidebar of Bedrock Dreams, this site is free to readers (yes, I know I'm crazy) and unsupported by advertising or promotional dollars. In fact, I'm completely at the tender mercies of those of you out there who are generous enough to donate money to thank me for my efforts (and the most generous of you know who you are). Without these generous supporters, I'd pretty much be shit-out-of-luck in terms of payment for the value I give here. But I digress, as I am wont to do...
( I can't help it...I'm partial to Keene products.)
Anyhoo, Keene is a damn good company that makes excellent mining gear. I still own and use the Keene portable sluice box that my wife gave me as a birthday present back in the early 1980s and I've used, on occasion, their hand-cranked puffer and electrostatic dry washer models as well. For some time Keene has been making and selling a battery-powered, puffer machine too, but I can't speak directly to it since I've not employed that model in the field. Still, if that battery-powered version is anything like their other dry washers, it's probably a real go-getter. Wayyyyyyyyyyyy back in the old days when I first started my small-scale gold mining career, I believe Keene used to manufacture a lanyard-pull version dry washer too, since I saw one in use at the Potholes District in southeastern California near the old "Three C Mine." But my memory is not what it once was and I could be in error about the manufacturer of that machine. Again, I'm not here to tout Keene Engineering products and the main dry washer I used for most of my dry washing career was a simple wooden, motorized puffer machine that was built to perfection by Sam Radding (a California craftsman and miner who's gained exceptional recognition as an underwater gold sniper in recent years). So there are plenty of dry washers out there and very good ones to boot. It's all a matter of perspective and mining need for the most part. But I'm here today to talk mainly about Keene models.
1) DW2 Hand Cranked "Mini" Dry Washer
I threw in the second photo with the guy hand cranking this unit so that you'd get a sense of scale for the Keene DW2. Otherwise I feared that you'd hear the term "mini" and think that this machine was the size of a cigarette pack or something similar! As you can see, the DW2 is big enough to handle decent amounts of dry material and most importantly it can be folded up and backpacked into any location you want to sample or work. This is the simplest form of puffer dry washer and the hand-cranked action harkens back to the old-timer days when hand-powered machines were the only game in town. Aside from its portability, one of the main assets of the DW2 is its over-sized, Marlex hopper. Marlex is a very high-density polypropylene and polyethylene mixture that is very durable and can take a lot of punishment. The advantage to having a slightly over-sized hopper with adjustable flow should be obvious to one and all but if that's not the case you're probably still green behind the ears so hit me up via e-mail and I'll 'splain things to you. Now here's the deal with hand-cranked dry washers, the DW2 included. If you're working this unit alone (as you would with most dry washers) things can get a bit tedious. You shovel material directly onto the hopper or screen it first (I recommend screening your material), but either way you're gonna have to stop shoveling or feeding the unit while you crank away like a madman (actually, slow and steady is better!) to get that puffer bellows working to "puff" the lighter material down the riffle tray. It's a stop/start, start/stop sort of mining experience as opposed to a motorized puffer or electrostatic where that little engine keeps things moving for you minue-by-minute. That said, however, there's no gasoline, oil, or motor parts or components to contend with and if you happen to be working on the sly somewhere there's no noise to give away your position...if you get my drift. These sorts of situations DO come up in small-scale mining, ya know? (But don't ask me how I know!) OK, you may be surprised to learn that the DW2 is also a pretty decent gold catcher, even with the fine stuff. It has a dual-riffle configuration and the riffle frame can be unsnapped, lifted up, and the riffle tray removed quite easily. What more could a crusty, old desert rat want? Oh, I know! The DW2 runs around $650.00 USD (retail price).
Forget the million dollar thing...you'd just blow it all on liquor, women, and more mining gear anyway. Female miners, on the other hand, are more pragmatic, so they'd put a good part of that dough away for safekeeping.
There's more to come on Keene dry washers and dry washing in general so don't go missing in action.
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2015
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org