After nine days of dredging at Union Flats, near Downieville, my friend Dave, with whom I had been dredging for gold, had to return to Denver. I was lucky, as I still had two weeks of vacation left, but I was planning on spending them in Oregon. That meant it was time to pack up to leave the following day. We hauled the dredge out of the large hole that it had produced during the previous two weeks and turned over possession of the hole, along with our recommendations of how to proceed, to a Valley Prospectors Club member. We had found three pennyweight of gold in three hours that morning so the dredge hole was far from being played out.
After all the work we had done, we weren't sad about leaving. In fact, my body was rejoicing. Dredging is hard work and to do it every day for a couple of weeks begins to take the fun out of it. We adjourned to the campsite and popped the top off of a couple of cool ones and negotiated the following ground rules for our gold split.
1. The dredge owner gets first pick. After losing to Dave #1 by flipping a coin for the nicest small nugget when I dredged with him for three days, I wasn't going to take any chances this time. (If you get the chance to dredge with me using my equipment, this rule will be carefully explained to you long before you ever touch the nozzle.)
2. We would then alternate picks of the gold that was large enough to be considered pickers or until we got tired of selecting the pieces individually. If the first pick was substantially larger than the second pick, two or more second picks might be agreed upon.
3. Then we would split the remaining gold evenly by weight using my small portable scale.
We had separated the gold from the black sand each day by panning and eliminating the black sand before we quit. This allowed us to wind down after the day's dredging and had left us clean gold with mercury on some of the pieces. We placed the gold in a small container, sampled the wind direction, and with Dave standing way upwind, I carefully burned the mercury off by heating it using my camp stove. This left the gold free of the mercury but slightly tarnished. This we could clean up later. We then carefully poured the gold into one of the weight pans on the scale and slowly added weights to the other side. It balanced out at 27 pennyweight. Neither of us had ever found that much gold on a single outing. Carefully pouring the gold from the weight pan onto a small plate we spread it out so we could see all of the individual pieces. We took turns moving it around, turning it over, and admiring the large gold flakes and small nuggets. There was no flour gold. There were very few pieces smaller than a small match head. My dredge catches flour gold very well so I can only assume that the floodwaters were swift enough that the flour gold was carried further down stream. I had already selected the piece that I wanted the day that we found it. It weighed 18 grains and there was another that was almost that large. That made the first and second picks close enough in weight that we then began the alternate selection of the nice pieces.
After about Dave's thirtieth pick, we were getting down to the smaller stuff. I happened to glance over at the scale. There was a nice sized small nugget still sitting there. I told Dave, "Look, there's a nugget left in the scale and guess what! It's my pick! I think that I'll take it!"
Little did I know at that time that I would hear a repeat of this statement along with the whole story at every outing we have gone to since then. The only response that I've been able to give is a denial that it was done intentionally. Then I usually give a rendition of the time that Dave dropped by for a couple of hours when I was dredging at the Gold Prospector's of Colorado's "Lets Go Gold Panning Days" last year with his wetsuit in hand. He then proceeded to suit up, work the dredge for a while, broke the dredge's starter rope, then left. (Actually, he had been invited to stop by to dredge for a while but the story sounds better when I leave that part out.)
Finally, we had all of the gold separated and residing in two individual containers without any serious fighting occurring. Now it was time to celebrate. Loading up into the car, we went to Downieville for pizza and a couple more cool ones. While sitting on the patio overlooking the Yuba River, we were already beginning to plan next year's trip.
If you make it to Union Flats in the summer in July, look for an old beat up Ford Ranger pickup with plum-colored primer on the front, blue and rust colored on the rear, and parked near a blue and white tent. If it's late in the afternoon, there will probably be a baldheaded tall guy standing around with a cool one in his hand and a great big smile on his unshaven face. Come on over and introduce yourself. I'll bet an extra cool one can be found in the ice chest.
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