The Mining Equipment Chain
by Tom Massie
I often see people getting excited about finding gold…catch the fever if you will. They watch a television show or someone shows them a big ol’ gnarly nugget. Then they want to find some for themselves. They wind up buying a highbanker or sluicebox, heading down to the stream, digging in an old sandbar (where there isn’t any gold) all day long, end up with blisters on their hands, a sore back and no gold in the box; then think these miners are a bunch of liars.
If you’re starting out in prospecting, start out small. Start with a gold pan. If you can find gold with a gold pan then by all means move up the equipment chain. The gold pan is a basic tool. They use it in large scale mining and it’s also used for sampling here and there. From a gold pan you move up to a sluicebox, which is one of my favorite ways of getting gold. Sluiceboxes don’t require any gasoline, and a light-weight one can be back packed into some remote locations. All you need to complete a nice package for prospecting is a five-gallon bucket, shovel and a snuffer bottle. It is also inexpensive.
From the Sluicebox you move on up to a highbanker, which is just a glorified sluice box that you can move right next to your diggings. Typically, you pump water from a river or a pond straight to your sluicebox and shovel into it. Grizzling off the larger rocks is important because this increases your recovery. If you have large rocks they can displace a small piece of gold. By taking those large rocks off, it’s easier for the gold to get trapped inside your sluicebox.
After a highbanker you move on up to a gold dredge. They come in varying sizes from a one and a half inch all the way up to 12” and larger. A lot of people ask me what size of dredge they should get. I tell most people they don’t want to go any smaller than a four-inch, there is a lot of rocks that won’t fit through a four-inch hose out there.
Where smaller backpacker type dredges come in handy, is places like Arizona where there isn’t much water to start with. Seasonal creeks and streams that flow just a little bit of water, but contain a goodly amount of gold, is where a backpacker dredge can do you some good.
If you’re going to be working a dredge larger than a five inch you’re most likely going to need a partner.
After a gold dredge things pretty much move into the commercial range with a backhoe, a loader, and varying sizes of screening plants that can run many yards an hour. So before you start buying D9 dosers and Cat excavators make sure you can find gold with a gold pan first.
I’ve seen a few prospectors sink too much money in the equipment, not find enough gold and get disenchanted.
If you can find enough gold to pay for your gold pan, then buy a sluicebox. Paying for a gold pan isn’t much. Paying for a sluicebox is a little more. Make your gold prospecting pay for itself as you go along. That’s a good rule of thumb.
Another helpful hint is to make hay while the sun shines. I often see too many people that when they first start out, clean up too often. That gold will stick inside your sluice box. You just got to trust it. If you stop and clean up every 30-minutes you’ll spend more time cleaning up than diggin’. The point is to go home with the most amount of gold for the trip. You have to resist the temptation to clean up…keep diggin’. Some people say that miners are greedy – they want to rip the gold out of the ground, but I can tell you that’s just not true. It doesn’t take too long with a number two shovel, digging in the dirt, for that greed to leave ya. But I do have the fever! So, I gotta grab my pan, my sluice box, my bucket and my shovel and head out. ‘Til next time, I hope the bottom of your pan turns yellow with gold. Good luck!