Cleaning Your Gold

As appearing in The Gold Nugget, October 2006
by Lou Cope, Placer Engineer
Transcribed by Paul Nagy

A native of Houston, Texas, although he looks and sounds more like Brooklyn, Lou Cope joined the army in 1942. After the war, he took advantage of his GI Bill benefits and studied mining in college. By 1950 he had married and moved to Latin America, where they spent the next nine years. Both he and his wife found that they had the curiosity and adventurous spirit for remote foreign living. Assignments to Canada and north Africa were next on the itinerary. In muslim north Africa, Mrs. Cope made quite an impression with her uncovered head, automobile driving, and cigarette smoking. The impression was not necessarily good, at least among the men. For the women it may have been the first step in liberation.

In 1966, the Copes moved to Denver to afford their two young sons an American education. Lou hired on with Hack and Associates, consulting engineers who specialized in placer and gravel plant design. After four years he decided to become self employed. Although based in Denver, Lou still relished foreign assignments and gained a reputation as the one to call, sometimes in the middle of the night, for emergency trips to far off places. That remains true today.

Among his list of memorable places--perhaps to be avoided--is the legendary Timbuktu. Mr. Cope warns that every social pleasantry there must be regarded as part of a designed rip-off. The friendly camel ride into the desert turns out to be a one-way trip unless an extortionate return-fare is paid. Behind the former Iron Curtain, Lou found that the Eastern Bloc engineers, as advertised, had no profit motive. This was exemplified by antiquated equipment, extreme environmental degradation, and financial problems "solved" by simply printing more "money" on an old mimeograph machine. It reinforces the old joke of the communist government dictum: "You pretend to work and we pretend to pay you."

Lou found that placer miners world-wide are the most independent and single-minded of people. Each knows the "best way." (We might have guessed as much from our own experiences in gold panning.) They are not quick to accept advisement and are best approached obliquely. In southeast Asia, the gold pan equivalent is the "batea," a large wooden oblong bowl. Trying it for himself, he found its use perplexing but had to concede that these people must know what they were doing because, after all, they used it for their very existence, not just for weekend kicks.

A true man of the world, Lou Cope is not just admired throughout the mining community for his superior technical knowledge and wide experience, but for his quiet congeniality and good humor which he has brought to every continent. He truly deserves the title of Ambassador of Good Will!

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