Rated: E · Short Story · Experience · #1733167
The hunt for gold in the south west.
Gold, I found gold, it wasn’t much but it was gold and I found it. I could just barely see it under the black earth as it swirled around in my pan amongst the water and rock debris. I had all I could do not scream and dance an Irish jig in the excitement of it all. Just like the old man that played in the movie “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”. He says to the other guys, “Were standing on it”, and danced. They dug a mine and pulled out a lot of gold but it all went back to the earth whence it came at the end of the movie. Gold is funny like that; you don’t own gold you just hold it for awhile. I couldn’t hold what I found in my hands for the tiny bits that flashed in the sun shine were so minuet that I didn’t have the equipment to sort it out from the black earth. Gold was heaver then the black earth so it stayed just below the blackness and would only show it’s self in the gentle swirl of the pan. In and out of sight it went in the pan as it swirled out from under the black earth and back again like the sun behind a cloud. You know its there, but you can’t see it. There was no finding gold with out the black earth; however you can find black earth with out finding gold.
It started innocently enough; I was sitting out side my trailer in a camp ground in Myrtle beach, South Carolina trying not to think about all the pain I was in due to rheumatoid arthritis. I couldn’t work at that time because the pain was so bad so I had a lot of time to think about things. I got a brain storm that I would buy a metal detector so I started off by going to the local super market and buying a magazine about finding treasure. After reading that magazine cover to cover I went out and bought a metal detector. My wife was not a happy camper that day when she came home from work and the look on her face told me she did not approved of my spending all that money on a whim.
The next day found me out on the beach hunting in the sand for gold or silver jewelry or coins. I found enough quarters to have lunch that day but that would be my best day for a long time. I hunted and hunted all over Myrtle Beach finding lots of trash like pop tops or aluminum foil. I got to really hate those pop tops they sounded just like a coin and made you dig it up only to find out that it was junk. I would put in my pocket so no other metal decteortist would go through the same thing. Yes I did fine many coins once I got good at hunting the right way in a good spot. Some beaches would be 20 to 30 pieces of junk to one good find but that find might be only a penny.
After some time we moved on traveling in our motor home and eventually ended up at the Grand Canyon in the camp ground for employees because we both took jobs in the eateries her line server and me a baker. This is where my gold hunting started in earnest I was reading anything I could get my hands on. Before we got there I had found a diamond ring with 21 diamonds in three rows in the sand on the way back to our motor home. I had read you should never shut off your detector until you’re off the sand. My wife was with me that day I found it and she was amazed at the find. She took it to a jewelry store to have it appraised she came out of the jewelers smiling and said it was worth a thousand dollars. I was dumb founded because I thought it was a fake we sat there looking at each other for some time.
I gave her the ring for it was near our 25th wedding anniversary and I had nothing to give her but the ring. When we came into a little money I bought a Gold Bug Two a $ 700.00 metal detector and it was delivered to the Grand Canyon. I couldn’t hunt the Canyon so I had to drive to places in Arizona to hunt. There were so many minerals in the ground I needed a detector that could cancel out the ground so I could hunt what was in the ground not the ground it’s self. There was plenty of gold in Arizona but not for me and I couldn’t understand why that was. I was getting good with my detector and could find all kinds of things; coins, metal of all sorts, brass buttons you name it, but not the elusive gold I was thirsting for.
The next trip took us through the gold country of California and we settled in a small town called Sonora. I hunted constantly to no avail I just couldn’t get my metal detector over the right spot. I would hear again and again from other people, “Gold is where you find”. Which means it could be anywhere and I was not in the right spot. My wife and I would go out once in awhile to a restaurant for dinner where we met a nice couple and started talking. I of course would talk about gold and it so happened that the man was a miner of sorts. His real job was as a blaster mostly for the county installing pipes and such where he would blast the rock for them. He had us out to his place to visit his mine on his property it was called the, Val paraso mine. It went straight down deep and had another entrance out below the ridge where there were tracks and an ore cart to dump the tailings. I asked him how much gold he had found from his mine his answer was more of a history lesson. He stated that, “It’s not a good idea to talk about what you have found because men will kill each other over gold”. He had been robbed himself of some gold in a break in at his home. It seemed crazy to me but the more he explained it the more I understood the logic in keeping your mouth shut when it came to gold. I learned a lot from him when we got together.
Some time later he introduced me to his neighbor Chester a spry old man of about 75 years old who had a 20 acre patented claim called the, “The Grand Turk”. It had been named after a ship that ported in San Francisco. The man Chester bought it from had won the claim in a card game. The claim was patented because some Mexican miners in 1949 had mined the ground which was rich with quartz and found enough gold to have it patented. Chester spent his life as a general contractor and on the weekends he mined. In his yard he had two trailers filled with construction stuff of all manner plus what was laying around in the yard.
Chester and I talked and he showed me around his property there was at least 20 holes dug in the ground some deep straight down and some on an angle not so deep. The more I looked around the more I wanted to dig in some of those holes find the vain and mine the gold. We struck up a bargain and if we were to work one of the holes he would give me a share of our finds. Now we had to pick a mine to work and the task was a decision that I could make on my own Chester wanted to dig in a certain spot that I thought was very dangerous. It was a mine the Mexicans started but stopped when the vain carrying the gold disappeared. Chester explained that he felt that the ground had shifted due to an earth quake and we could find that vain again and maybe the chance that the vain would go on for fifty feet or so. Chester also explained that veins like this one could hold what was called a kidney a pocket where the gold accumulated as it can up from the earth as a gas and it could hold a considerable amount of gold. I was down right scared of this hole because it was dug on an angle underneath an enormous rock held up with telephone poles which looked very menacing. Chester said that if it fell on one of us the rescue squad would just close up the mine and put a memorial plaque over it.
I picked what I thought was a safer hole to dig in Chester told me the guy who won the claim in the poker game worked this hole some time around 1936 and did find gold, however he didn’t know how much. Gold at today’s prices would bring around $300.00 an once and that money looked good to me. I went to work in the hole the next day digging while Chester went home to his ailing wife. I dug all that day and the next few days until I hit some timber which I didn’t know what to do so I stopped. Chester came back and saw that I was serious about continuing with the work so we went to work and built a platform from which we could set up our mining equipment.
We built a derrick out of two old car frames one a model “T” frame because it had a wide engine space to haul up the bucket through and the other just one older frame. They were put perpendicular to each other with a wheel at the top for the cable to pull up a bucket and some cables to hold it up. We built a platform to stand on and put the winch on. We painted everything and while we built it Chester taught me how to weld and cut with a torch he couldn’t do it because his hands shook too much. We started a couple fires with the torch and one was growing so big I got scared but we got it out. We had to build a trap door with rails so we could put an ore cart on it then I could push it out to the dump. I would climb down the hole and fill the bucket Chester would work the winch haul up the bucket far enough so he could drop down the trap door with the rails and dump the bucket in the cart. I had to come up and push the cart out and dump it. One time I pushed it to hard and the cart was so heavy it fell over. It was very heavy so our friend had to come over and pick up the cart with his tractor and put it back on the tracks. We built that whole set up from what Chester had on his property not once did we go to the hardware store for even a nail he had it all.
We dug and hauled all day and we would stop for coffee and sit down and talk and talk and some times we would not go back to work we just sat there. I would listen to his stories about his travels around the world hunting for diamonds if Africa, jade in South America and about his exploits in WWII. He had done some things men only dream of and I was one of them dreamers and I would ask him questions and he seemed happy to relate his stories to me. I could not pay for the amount of education he gave me about gold and other things. Chester did relate to me a tragic story one day about two of his sons it seems one of them was a bit slow but capable and the other a trouble maker. One day the two boys raped and murdered a neighborhood girl and were sentenced to life in prison I sensed he didn’t want to talk about it after that so I just left it alone. He never brought it up again. His wife was very ill and he took care of her with his other son’s help he was a lawyer and Chester was proud of him. We had many talks Chester and I on that little deck outside his little shack I just loved his stories they were so adventurous.
After a while we started to bring up some quartz and Chester said that the gold was on the out side of the quartz some thing he call fused gold. We paned some and that’s when I first saw it, the gold and I was hooked for sure. Chester said we had to build a stamp mill to crush the quartz and pan out the gold I was excited. We kept digging and digging 50 buckets 80 buckets I was loosing weight and gaining muscle and since I was taking something for the arthritis the pain was not too bad I could tolerate it.
One morning we walked up to the hole and it was full of water almost to the top of the hole. Chester said we must have hit an underground stream but not to worry we could pump it out as we go. I thought to myself, “Oh no, mud what a mess this is going to be”. We dug around in one of the trailers for a pump not just any old pump it was a bilge pump from an old barge that worked on DC current. We drug it out it was very heavy we got it up to the mine shaft some how and went back to the trailer to look for a AC to DC converter, some fire hose and extension cords. After all was hooked up, the pump was in the hole and the fire hose attached we were ready to pump some water. The pump started with a loud whirring sound then a loud sucking sound, the hose filled up and burst sending water over 50 feet in the air and spraying every thing in sight we tried another hose another gushier back to the trailer. We tried all the hoses Chester had until finally we found one that didn’t have holes in it. The pump started, the loud sucking sound began, the hose filled and before you could blink your eye the water shot way up in the air and the hole was empty and the hose held we were elated after all our hard work the hole was dry. The pump was still sucking but with a strange sound it was because it couldn’t pump any more water.
That night we got a phone call from a family member that one of our family was in trouble and we had to leave right away so we packed up and left. Chester was home at the time I tried calling but no answer. We went back east took care of business and then headed back to Sonora. As we got out side of Yuma, Arizona I spotted low oil pressure in the engine and before I could pull over I heard a great bang! We had blown something and limped into a camp ground and found us a spot and set in. On taking apart the engine in the next several days I could see that we needed to rebuild the engine. We stayed in Yuma for six months then had our motor home towed to San Diego and had the engine rebuilt.
I never went back to Sonora or the hole in the ground we named the Veteran mine. I don’t know what ever happened to Chester that loveable old man that could scamper up a steep incline like a monkey. I never had a chance like that again to look for gold and find it.