Good Equipment vs. Bad Equipment (Part 1)
Mike W. in New York suggested I write a post from my point of view outlining good small-scale mining equipment versus bad equipment. There's a popular saying about opinions, but despite that fact I'll give it my best shot. I may end up approaching the true issue here in a roundabout way but I'll get there eventually. So bear with me, will you?
A Simple Premise
First of all, let me say that I've never been much of an equipment fanatic when it comes to my mining endeavors. Even back during the height of my powered gear mining days in the very late 1970s and all through the 1980s (until the early 1990s when I moved to New Mexico) I stuck with a few pieces of equipment that proved themselves over time. My mode was to travel, prospect, and mine as light as I possibly could and still get the job done. I still operate from that simple premise and unless you're going at things from strictly a money making standpoint I suggest you do the same. Mining was never my main source of income and it still isn't as I approach the winter of my life as well as my mining career (such that it was). As most of you already know, making a reasonable living from small-scale gold mining is an uphill battle that few individuals are able to win over time. It's the nature of the beast and you newcomers (greenhorns) will learn that fact quite quickly...if you haven't already.
(So does small-scale mining if you can pull it off.)
The Name of the Game
When I first started out in small-scale gold prospecting and mining the only gear I owned was a couple of gold pans, a quarter-inch classifier, a few digging and crevicing tools, and a couple of venerable five-gallon buckets. I was so green back then that I was hard pressed to be effective even with these simple items. But as I grew more knowledgeable and experienced (thanks in main to some "tough love" mining mentors) I realized that if I wanted to recover more gold I needed to move more material. After all, that's truly the name of the game isn't it? Anyway, I was spending the bulk of my time back in those days in desert terrain working dry placers so my first piece of motorized gear was a wooden "puffer" dry washer designed and built for me by Sam Radding...one hell of a treasure hunter, gold miner, and yes...wood worker. Actually that last descriptor is not fair to Sam. He was an artisan with wood and his custom guitars and Appalachian dulcimers were truly works of art. For quite a few years now Sam has been doing the underwater gold sniping thing up in the Northern California Motherlode Region and he's now an acknowledged expert on pulling gold from bedrock cracks and crevices underwater. In fact, he's co-written a great book on the subject.
(Sam Radding with one of his "GO" guitar creations.)
Simple and Tough
The puffer that Sam made for me was a little gem. It was powered by a Briggs & Stratton lawn mower engine mounted atop a metal stand and used a pulley and drive belt set up to power the canvas bellows that puffed bursts of air air up through the removable wooden riffle tray backed by linen cloth. It was a simple and tough design that took all the punishment the desert (and I) could throw at it. I used it to good effect all through the 1980s into the early 1990s when I would work dry placers during the colder wet placer months. I finally retired it a couple of years after moving to New Mexico in 1991. Why? I was struggling to start a new career in unfamiliar terrain and had a new-born child and wife to support. My mining and prospecting activities took a back seat during this period...we (the family) were in survival mode back then and I had little, if any time, for "frivolous" pursuits. I'll end this train of thought simply by telling you those were very tough times and I had little in the way of time for doing the things I loved. I was also heading toward the inevitable conclusion (and end) of my addiction to alcohol and certain drugs. I've been clean and sober for 23 years now. Enough said on that.
(A "puffer" very similar to the one I used for many years.)
The Early Days
During my early mining years I began working wet placers in the warmer months (those desert placers I worked with my puffer in cooler months would boil your brains in the summertime!) My first piece of wet placer gear was a wooden sluice box that I made myself out of pine. It was five-feet in length, ten inches wide, and about six inches high. It had removable wooden riffles and was lined with dark green indoor/outdoor carpet. I was still pretty much a newbie back then so I just winged it with this box. It wasn't much on portability but I have to say with a certain measure of pride that it worked like a champ. But then, the basics of a sluice box are not rocket science, right? Around this same time a buddy of mine was into making rocker boxes (i.e., "miner's cradles") and he built one for me. The sized-down version rocker box I used only occasionally in wet placers where water was in short supply or not flowing strongly enough to run a sluice efficiently. I'll tell you this...a rocker box works just fine but the process of feeding it and running material through it is just too laborious for my tastes. For the old timers working richer ground it was certainly viable. Not so much for me. These were my earliest, non-motorized pieces of wet placer mining gear.
(Too laborious a process for my tastes.)
Stick to the Basics
By now I hope you're starting to get the drift that high-priced, motorized gear or gadgets are not always necessary to get the gold. I'll talk about a few of my "store-bought" pieces of equipment and give you my direct thoughts about good vs. bad items next time. I'll also try to find some old photos (if I can locate the album containing them) to illustrate some of my early efforts and gear. However, before I end this post one thing you should keep in mind is that buying a better "mousetrap" is not necessary, nor even needed in most instances. Like I said before, stick to the basics and you can't go wrong from a small-scale mining standpoint. In the long run whatever works is "good" and what doesn't is "bad." And I don't care how much it's hyped online or in YouTube videos. If it can't cut the mustard any better than the old school gear why shell out boo-coo bucks for it?
A reasonable question, don't you think?
(c) Jim Rocha 2018
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org