Vignettes From My Mining Past (Part 1)
In this series of posts I'll be relating small vignettes from my small-scale mining career. If you, the reader, are open to them these little stories, lessons, or incidents may contain a few pearls of mining wisdom and information as well as a bit of my sardonic humor. So read on, listen, and perhaps learn.
A Piece of the Action
In 1979 an ounce of gold sold for around $284.00. This is the year I became interested in small-scale gold mining and began fumbling my way around this mining and prospecting thing. No big deal right? But by January of 1980 the spot price of a troy ounce of gold rose to $788.00. Those one-ounce Krugerrands and Maple Leafs in your safety deposit box nearly tripled in dollar value overnight and the rush was on. This rush I speak of included not only speculators and traders, but every single Tom, Dick, and Harriet interested in getting gold out of those washes, gullies, streams, and seams scattered throughout the American West and elsewhere. This was the birth of small-scale gold mining as we know it today, despite the fact that individual miners and small groups had continued on with the old mining traditions in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. It should come as no surprise that the brick and mortar purveyors of mining gear like gold pans, sluice boxes, dry washers, suction dredges, and highbankers were selling items like hotcakes. Nearly everyone wanted a piece of the action, even greenhorns like myself. As green as I was at the time however, I never expected to strike it rich which probably puts me at odds with most greenhorns who come into this small-scale mining and prospecting thing with piles of placer or lode gold dancing before their eyes like sugarplums on Christmas Eve. Anyway, the upshot of this time and situation meant old gold mining areas that hadn't even gotten a cursory glance in earlier decades were suddenly overrun with hopefuls at various levels of knowledge and expertise. Their aim? Get that gold.
The Old Breed
By the time the 1981-1982 time frame had rolled around some of the luster of that 1979-1980 mini-rush had diminished a bit. Gold had dropped to a little over $400.00 a troy ounce but the price of the yellow metal was still high enough to inspire and motivate many people, many of whom joined the new mining and prospecting clubs that seemed to sprout up overnight. I was one of those individuals, although my time in the club social thing didn't last all that long. A year maybe? I can't remember exactly but it wasn't all that long from a time progression standpoint. It wasn't long before I gained my journeyman miner's feet and moved on to "better" ground. I had help along the way, especially from a trio of REAL old timers who had been at this small-scale mining thing since the 1930s and early 1950s. To this day I consider their tutelage a privilege and an honor that all the money in the world couldn't buy. They shaped a damn decent gold miner out of a hard-headed, "do-it-my-own-way" greenhorn who balked at every turn, argued relentlessly with them, and reacted angrily to their no-so-gentle instruction at the time. These were good men, hard-working men, individuals who had come up the hard way in the worst of times. None ever struck it rich or became big names, but they were shining beacons of what's best about small-scale gold mining. They were the old breed. Each of these men was flawed, as we all are if we're perfectly honest with ourselves. They ran me through the wringer and kicked my ass figuratively speaking more than once. But they taught me well. These three men have all passed over the Great Divide but what they taught me I treasure more than any paystreak or pocket. And the biggest lesson they taught me was a love for all things mining. It's history, it's traditions, its equipment, and its methods. That was the most important thing I learned from them.
The price of gold has risen and fallen over the intervening decades but in 2008 it took a leap upwards that even the self-proclaimed experts didn't see coming. Coincidentally, that year is when Bedrock Dreams was born. Now here it is nearly a decade later and the beat goes on. People still search for natural gold but I sometimes wonder at their motivation for doing so. I've found that a good number of the e-mails and requests I've gotten over the past nine years are troubling at times. Why? Because there's been a certain subjective aura to them that underlies greed and not a love of mining. There's been a get-rich-quick mentality out there that disturbed me and a "give me a magic pill" attitude wherein the requester wanted some sort of instant path to success and piles of gold. This is human nature, of course. Perhaps not in its finest form, but human nature nonetheless. The saving grace as far as the rest of us are concerned is that these types of folks usually don't stick around small-scale gold mining very long. Once they realize the true nature of small-scale gold mining and the fact that much hard work must be expended to get small amounts of gold they drift off into whatever new Fantasy Land attracts them. The rest of us just keep on keeping on.
Get Out the Way
I don't have one iota of regret when it comes to my nearly 40 years of gold mining and prospecting experience. I wouldn't trade it for the world. I love this gig and most of you reading this do too. I never found a multi-ounce nugget nor a vast and incredibly rich paystreak. I've never made the news, been on TV, in prospecting mags or books (save for one article I wrote years ago). I'm no YouTube video "star" calling myself "Prospector Hank" or the "Gold Man" and I've never felt the need to take on some phony ass persona to validate myself as a miner or as a person. When TV production companies contacted me (and they have more than once) I made it perfectly clear to them that I wasn't good TV material for their staged antics nor would I mold myself to fit their venues. I'm a hard ass when it comes to small-scale gold mining and if you can't rise to the occasion you best move out the f'ing way!
Like my mentors, I'm flawed as a person but not as a miner. That's the way it should be for each and every one of you still reading this blog.
Keep the faith and carry on with your heads held high.
(c) Jim Rocha 2017
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org