Hillbilly John and I made our usual trek northward to the Western Mountains of Maine on the first week of September which has been customary for us for over the past several years. This year Hillbilly John’s daughter Melissa and her boyfriend Mike accompanied us. It was their first time out dredging for gold. It was also their first time visiting Maine. The weather was nice, it was warm and humid and it looked like we were going to have some nice weather for the labor day weekend. We arrived in the later part of the afternoon, we set up camp, jumped on the quads and headed out to the spot we planned to dredge in to look it over and put together a solid plan for the following day. We had a location picked out that we have dredged before that we had gotten some nice gold out of. We had been driven out of the spot before by the weather. We get to the trail and there is this sign posted on a tree that reads no all terrain vehicles beyond this point. What a bummer now we have to make a new plan. I had another location in mind, something that was relatively simple to get to. This place was down river on the East Branch of the Swift River. The first spot we looked at was reasonable. The following day we got up had some breakfast, packed up the 2 and a half inch dredge/ high banker combo and hit the trail, it was time to test the location out. We got there set up the equipment and we were Prospecting.
Hillbilly John and his daughter Melissa tending the sluice and Mike on the nozzle.
The weather was with us, some clouds passed over but over all it was a sunny day, we dredged until late afternoon, it was time for a clean up. We shut the dredge down and started washing the concentrates into a container, I looked down at the ribbed matting and I saw gold, so far so good. We cleaned all the concentrates out of the sluice and then we panned it down, we found numerous flecks of gold in each pan. The spot looked really good. We went back to camp had some dinner and then started getting the gear ready for the following day, we started assembling the 4″ dredge by putting the pontoons on the frame. We loaded up the trailer and prepared for an early start in the morning. Before turning in for the night it started to sprinkle and then it stopped. We turned in and before I fell asleep it started sprinkling again and I could hear thunder, and then came lightning. I could see it’s flash through the ceiling of the tent, which I find to be very peaceful and calming. I drifted off to sleep later to be awakened by the sound of pouring rain and thunder right over head. It must have been raining for a while at this point because when I went out of the tent to use the bathroom I stepped into ankle deep water just outside the door. I went back in to sleep, but just lay there for a while thinking so much for the weather being with us, after all this is the first week of September in Maine. The next thing you know I am opening my eyes and it is starting to get light and the good news is I don’t hear rain on the roof of the tent. I got up and got dressed and went outside, it was foggy but at least it wasn’t raining. Hillbilly John was up and Melissa and Mike were still in their tent. I got some coffee on and started to fry up some bacon. It wasn’t long after that that Melissa was up and out of her tent. The eggs were done and breakfast was now ready and Mike finally joined us. If you are going to be dredging you need a good solid breakfast, you need lots of energy to move rocks and boulders. We saddle up and headed out with Hillbilly John leading the way towing the trailer with his quad, Melissa and Mike were in the middle in the Jeep and I was in the rear making sure we didn’t lose anything. We had about a 3 mile commute to the parking area where we would have to leave the trailer and the Jeep and we would have to make several trips to get all of our equipment in on a narrow trail. Once we got every thing in we had a rather small ledge that we had to lower everything down to the river. Hillbilly John and I finished assembling the 4″ dredge and then I assembled the 2 1/2″ dredge for Melissa and Mike to use. After getting the equipment set up we donned our wet suits and we were ready to go. We worked together as a team, I was on the 4″ nozzle while Mike was on the 2 1/2″. Melissa tended the sluice for Mike and Hillbilly John was tending for me and moving rocks and boulders. We were working around a good size boulder. I worked the left and the down river side while Mike worked the right side. I could tell by the material that this location had been dredged before, the question was how deep and how far was it to bedrock or the clay layer. After about 1 1/2 to 2 feet I started to hit hard pack which was a good sign to me. I was excited and working like a mad man trying to get the rocks out of the way. I was throwing the rocks to my left, my peripheral vision is impaired due to my mask and I didn’t see Hillbilly John walking into my line of fire, I threw this rock about the size of a base ball and hit him right square in the bread basket. It’s a good thing he had on his wet suit it gave him some protection. Mike and Melissa were doing great for their first time out; they made a good team. The weather wasn’t to bad, there were scattered showers throughout the day with some patches of sun and it was fairly warm. We prayed that the weather would be with us, if it just rained at night I would be happy. We worked at a frantic pace all day, it was getting late and it was time for a clean up. We were quite eager to see what we had in the box, we ran the dredge for a few minutes clean just to wash the material a little better, just to get rid of some of the junk. We then throttled down on the dredge, Hillbilly John got in position with the plastic bus pan to catch our concentrates, I raised the rubber mat at the top of the sluice box and removed the first set of riffles. To my surprise I saw the most gold I had ever seen come across the ribbed matting. Man you got to see this I said to every one else, look at this we got gold!!!! We got us a good spot. We picked all the gold off that we saw with tweezers and continued our clean up, grabbing up every bit of gold we could before it hit the end of the sluice. We finished the clean up and panned down the concentrates. We found gold in just about every pan, the gold was small but we had a lot. If we are getting this on the surface just imagine what we will get as we get deeper. We had spent about 14 hours on the river that day and then the clouds rolled in. It was nearly dark by the time we got back to the camp sight. We ate dinner and then we relaxed by the campfire, it started to rain. We took cover in our tents and went to sleep. I awoke several times throughout the night to the sound of pouring rain. Day light came and it was still raining. We were huddled under the canopy hoping for the rain to stop but it wasn’t letting up so we decided to go into town and get breakfast, we would at least be dry for a little while and get a good hot breakfast. Before going into town we went to Coos Canyon Rock and Gift, Hillbilly John wanted to get a spiral pan to help us in our clean out efforts, hand panning is very labor intensive. We got out of the car and we could hear the river raging through the canyon. We had gone in to see Rosey, she was out of new spiral pans but she had a used one out back. Hillbilly John said he was interested in seeing it, She went and got it brought it out, it was an older model but in very good shape the battery was dead so Hillbilly John said that we will come back later and if it works he would buy it. We went into town and went to a local diner, breakfast was great we were dry and warm and I didn’t have to cook. Afterwards we went to Wal – Mart I wanted to get a rain suit so I did, Hillbilly John got a battery charger, he figured he would need it for the spiral wheel. We got back to Byron, still raining, we could hear the river raging from our camp site Hillbilly John thought that we should go and check on our equipment I agreed an put on my new rain suit . We took the quads, the rain was pouring down I could barely see with the rain hitting me in the face but at least the rain suit was working that was $14.00 well spent. I was worried the whole way there wondering what we were going to find or not find. Fortunately the day before we had pulled the 4″ dredge up onto dry land and securely tied it off because the weather was looking pretty ominous. The other dredge was not tied and the motor was in a plastic Rubbermaid bin on the bank of the river. We got there and I was very hesitant about looking. Hillbilly John was the first on the scene and I had to ask how did it look, looks like everything is there he replied so I then looked for myself. The river was up on the bank and it had washed the 4″ out into the river and thank GOD we tied it off or else we probably would never had found it. The river was just inches from the Rubbermaid bin. We hauled the 4″ back in to land and drug it farter up the bank and re-tied it. Everything else we moved farther up on the bank. We were lucky again, it seems to be the same old story here, we are usually short on time, every day that we have really counts, when we lose a day or two it really puts a damper on our plans. But this is all part of the adventure and we are gluttons for punishment we will be back for more! Later on that day we went back to Rosey’s and Hillbilly John purchased the spiral wheel. We went back to the campground and it was virtually empty the rain had driven everyone out, we were talking with the owner of the campground and he told us that a couple of prospectors had lost their dredges and they hadn’t been found.
The following day the sun came out, the river had receded enough and were back to dredging. Our hole had been loaded up again with rock and gravel, but it wasn’t to long before I was in the hard pack again. Even though the sun was out it had cooled off a lot. We could see a couple of prospectors down river heading our way, when they got close enough I could see that it was Harry and Waynette Bragdon, my wife’s cousin. I had been looking for them and they for us but on this day they were just out prospecting and found us by accident. They had their sluice box with them and set up near us. As I said it was a lot cooler so I took many breaks to get warm and we took turns on the nozzle, I would take a turn, then Hillbilly John and then Mike. We kept the material flowing through the dredge all day long.
Hillbilly John takes the nozzle
Mike gets ready to take his turn on the nozzle.
Melissa is trying to stay dry for a change.
Hillbilly John getting warm on the rocks.
It was a great day on the river, we got some nice gold, we ran the concentrates through the spiral wheel and it worked good but we were tired of being cold and wet. The following day we packed up the equipment and decided to try something different.