Monday, June 30, 2014

Clean-Up On Eureka Creek

Right- fork, Eureka Creek, Yukon Territory
July 1982
 We had been sluicing pretty steady for a month, and had washed the gravels from an entire placer-gold claim through.

 We pushed the last of the material through last night, and it was time to lift the punch-plate, and wash the gold out of the mats, or in gold-miners parley,  a clean-up. This was our first cut of two to do this season, each cut as we called it would be one 500' (152.4m) claim.

 It had been no small feat to get to this point, the area had been stripped of brush and overburden with the D9 the previous season.
   The first of May we started in again, ripping the over-flow ice that forms over the Winter, and wasting no time exposing the permafrost gravels to the long Yukon Spring days. A drain was cut in downstream to remove water from the mining area, a settling pond was put in downstream as well.  Water would recycle from the sluice, down the lower drain, spend time in the settling pond so solids and silt drop out, then a pump would send it up a 1100' pipeline back to the sluice-box.

A D8 bulldozer fed the sluice at a rate of 80-100 yards an hour as near as we could figure, another machine pushed the washed tailings out of the way. Old school.

Of course, if anything can go wrong, it will.
    A small outfit, we got plenty done for a handy crew of 4, including Jeanine the cook. The season is short, but the days long, we sluiced 10 hours a day when we could, and monkey wrenched equipment the rest of the time it seemed. But the time all miners and their bankers look forward to had arrived, and we could hardly wait to get started.
  First step was to hammer out the wooden wedges holding down the large sections of punch-plate that allow finer material to slip through the holes and classify down in the coco-mat and riffles, larger material washes down the sluice line. The punch-plates are washed off and set aside, and the coco-mats underneath are rolled up and taken to the top of the box for cleaning out with water.
The fine gold sticks right on the coco-mat.
28 year old me, working down the sluice, cleaning the gold and scooping it into a gold-pan,
We would wash-out a section of mat with the hose and use whisk brooms to rinse and sweep the gold into piles. The sections of steel riffles down the sluice line are removed and washed in a tub to be taken back to camp where the gold was further cleaned, dried, screened, and had a magnet run through it to remove magnetite and metal fragments from the heavy equipment. 
Course gold, it would be melted down with rest, if it were jewelry quality nuggets it would be worth considerably more, some creeks are noted for it, Eureka was not.

On the bathroom scale.
That is concentrate, as clean as we can get it by hand, in there with the gold is still small amount of impurities to be removed by the smelting process.

So what do you do with a 65 pound bucket of gold?  
This portable propane fired smelting outfit allowed us the pour bars right on the spot.
The gold concentrate is mixed with a powdered flux and placed in a crucible then placed in  the gas fired furnace. In about a half hour Hal and I are ready to arm the big tongs to bring out the crucible with its molten, golden contents.
We steady the works on jack-stands, what you see pouring over is the molten flux carrying away the impurities, gold stays in the mold.
We dumped in another load of concentrate and flux then put it back in the furnace. After a cooling off period, the mold is turned upside down and rapped with a hammer to release the bar.
Rough bars, 700+oz

Pure gold does not exist naturally, there is always an amount of other stuff present, most notably, silver. The karat, or the fineness of the gold is tested using an age-old system of rubbing gold on a touch-stone, then using acid and a set of graduated fineness-needles to determine the amount of silver present.

So what do you do with a stack of gold bricks? 
Well, we kept them around for a few days until it was time to go to town, they were great conversation pieces on the kitchen table during mealtimes for sure. Miners are wise to keep quiet about when they are going to, have had, or are heading into town with a clean-up. It was not unheard of to transport the clean-up to town with an armed vehicle following. The gold bricks went to the smelter buying agent in Dawson City,  he did his own fineness test, allowing for the silver content and handling fees. He calculated it at that days gold price, $380 us oz., and silver at $6 us oz. That was down considerably from the $500-$600 oz. gold price from not too long before, or the nearly $1000 oz. high of a few seasons ago. Still, much better than a kick in the overalls, and was going to go a long ways towards expenses out there.

    As is tradition with Yukon miners taking their stake to town, we had a crew night out for dinner and cocktails before retiring to rooms at the Eldorado Hotel.
    However, attracted by the sounds of laughter, women's voices, and old time fiddle coming from Diamond Tooth Gerties, I gambled away a stack of hard earned chips later on at the blackjack tables. Hooting, stomping my boots on the floor and carrying on at the can-can dancers in true sourdough fashion, but stopped short of throwing nuggets up on stage then stumbled out with the cheerful closing time crowd at 2:00am.
    After a day or two of high-living in Dawson City, we were always ready to head back to the gold-fields. Jeanine and Hal picked up an order at the grocery store enough to last a few weeks, and another tanker truck of fuel was ordered.  I rounded up my dog at the helipad and made my way out of town, stopping by the Caterpillar dealer for a parts order.
We met back out at the remote mine site later that evening.
     The next day we were right back at it with a few repairs and moved the whole operation upstream to the next adjoining claim and start the whole process over again, washing another 15-20,000 sq. yards of what we hope will be rich pay-dirt down the sluice. Which if all went well, and we had no major breakdowns, and no one got eaten by a bear or something, would take us into mid September when we start getting frost in the box. The next month would be spent doing repairs and stripping ground up-stream for the next season.
The continuing low gold price shut down many operations after that summer of '82, and who would have guessed it was going to take 25 years for the price to recover. 
   Sitting down and writing about this period of my life at Eureka and over the hills in the Montana Ck. area where we did that exploration work, I've come to understand that at the time, despite the bugs, the difficult work and trying hours, I probably didn't fully appreciate just how much of a great time I was having.

More placer-mining posts...


  1. A unique storyteller, with a wealth of experiences to draw from.
    Thank you for letting us in.

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  3. Love the mustache Robin! The stories too.