A Family Gold Dredging Trip to Virginia

We had purchased a Keene 3-inch dredge with air and attachments secondhand from a gentleman in California. When the tractor trailer truck arrived with the dredge on it, my wife Vickie helped the driver put the rather large crate in the back yard. That evening when I arrived home Vickie, Odin, my 12 year old son, and Dawn, my 10 year old daughter, helped me unpack it. What a wonderful sight! Then we set it up to see how it all hooked up. The dredge, in general, seemed to be in very good shape. We decided to take the motor and pump unit down to a small pond for a trial run.

When we got to the pond, we checked the oil and fuel levels and made sure they were topped off. I placed the motor and pump assembly at the side of the pond, and we all took our positions. Dawn handled the foot valve and primed it up, while Odin was holding the output end of the pump hose. On the second pull the motor roared and this baby was really running.

Odin, who thought he was ready, soon found he wasn’t. Once that water pressure hit the end of that short hose Odin went from standing to sitting, like right now! That stream of water (this little pump was unbelievable) must have shot out 50 feet or so. We all had a good laugh. We came away with a new respect for that little pump, and a great feeling that all the equipment was in good working order. The motor was ok and the pump seals didn’t leak.

gold dredging

We made plans to go on our first dredging trip with our new dredge in two weeks. That would give us time to get the rest of our equipment together and allow us to make a few repairs and additions to the dredge and gear.

Finally the time had come. The trailer was loaded with the dredge, prospecting equipment, and our camping gear. Unfortunately Vickie had to work, so our dredging team would consist of Odin, Dawn, and me.

We live in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Virginia was the first state in which gold was found in the United States by Thomas Jefferson in 1772. There was a lot of mining prior to the the Civil War, though not much since. This is another story in itself but it is what made it possible for us to get good information on where to go prospecting in Virginia. You see, all of this is documented very well, and is readily available to all. This really got us pretty excited.

We were headed northwest to Buckingham County. We have a friend who owns some property there who I met through a fellow member of our local Gem and Mineral Club. He had given us permission to dredge for gold and camp on his property. Our research showed that a small creek running through his property might contain gold.

Before I go any further let me stress a very important point. The land here in Virginia and in most East Coast States is privately owned. Getting permission is a must! You can get a stiff fine and up to 2 years in jail for trespassing. So get that permission in writing. don’t be afraid to offer the owners 10% of what you find and be sure to call ahead. you’ll find you may make some new friends, too. Our friend was pretty excited about the possibility of having gold on his property.

We left for Buckingham County at 5 p.m. Friday night. It took us about 4 hours to get there. It was a little tough setting up camp in the dark, and the children were really glad to get to bed. Saturday morning we were up by 6 a.m. We got a quick bite to eat and then started packing everything down to the creek. This was the part that Odin and Dawn didn’t care for. We were pretty lucky though, since we only had one small hill and a set of railroad tracks to cross and from there it was 300 yards to the creek. (I can assure you Dawn and Odin didn’t think we were so lucky.)

We had chosen a spot where we had found that the bedrock was only under 2 to 18 inches of overburden. The creek ran straight and then made a sharp “S” turn creating a 2 foot deep pool in which we set up our 3Ó dredge. By 8 AM we were starting the motor on the dredge. What a long awaited sight, to see the water flowing freely through the sluice box. We proceeded to suck up the bottom of the creek. Dawn was tending the sluice box, I was on the nozzle, and Odin was moving the larger rocks from in front of the nozzle and stacking them behind me. There is another member of our party that I neglected to mention, our dog Christina. she’s our “Gold Guard”. Her job is to guard the gold and take care of any claim jumpers.

After the first hour I asked Odin if he would like to try the suction nozzle for awhile. He got all excited and said “Yes”, so I started to show him how too operate it. Then he got his first plug up – what a doosie it was, too! I explained to him that he had to take it a little slower in the soft overburden. After that, he did really well. Next, it was dawn’s turn to try. Dawn liked working it, but didn’t like all the weight she had to wear to keep her down. After a short while, she decided she had enough of that. I have to say she did a great job tending the dredge. Any time the water would slow down, she would clear the sluice from the top side and if she couldn’t she would let me know right away. This saved a lot of time.

We had finally gotten down to the hardpack. This material was the stuff that you hear all our fellow dredgers talk about. They would give anything to get to work a “Virgin Streambed”.Ó Let me be the first to tell you this material is a real challenge. Working it is like working on old cement; it’s just a little softer than the bedrock. It was at this point that we found out why we brought the hammer and chisel. that’s what it took to break the hardpack. apart. We agreed that a slide hammer would have top priority on our dredgerÕs want list.

We did get to the bedrock and worked it for a short time. Our main goal at this point was to clear off the overburden and hardpack. to expose the bedrock. After about four hours we stopped and decided that we would clean up the concentrates from the sluice, to see if we had found the gold in the pan. It wasn’t ounces, but it was “GOLD”! What a pleasant sight. We decided to break for lunch.

During lunch we talked about how well the dredge was doing. Then Odin asked me, Dad, didn’t you say that gold would get stuck by log jams?Ó I said “Yes”. He pointed up stream about 100 yards. Sure enough, there was a log jam. We discussed it a bit and decided that after lunch we would try that spot.

It took a little bit to get up to the log jam since the creek was so shallow. In one spot it was only 4 to 5 inches deep. We started to dam up the creek because it was just too shallow. When we had enough water in our pool, we started dredging the fast water portion working our way toward the bench under the log jam. We found that when you work log jams, you have to constantly keep cleaning your foot valve screen. The leaves collected by a log jam are unreal. We worked this spot for about four more hours, than we emptied the concentrates from the sluice box and panned them out. Again, we had found gold, only not as much as we had in the first spot.

We decided to call it a day and put the dredge up on the sand bar, securing it with 3/8 inch line, to some nearby large trees. Then we headed back to camp for dinner.

Dinner went by very quickly because we all were very tired and wanted to go to bed to get some well-deserved sleep. Before going to sleep, we talked briefly about the days events. Everyone felt that it had been a successful day and that we would do better tomorrow.

Before we knew it, the morning was upon us. We were all a bit slow. I had found some sore muscles that I didn’t really need, either. We ate a quick breakfast and headed down to the creek.

It wasn’t long before we had the dredge in the water and running. We had decided to put the dredge back into the first place we had found. We had most of the overburden removed, and were working on the hardpack. Once the hardpack. was removed you could see the bedrock and all its crevices. Today, I was designated as the suction nozzle person.

I had the standard homemade crevice working tools for a dredger: the crevice pick made from a long flat-tip screwdriver with the tip bent 90 degrees, the crowbar, a long chisel, and the trusty ball-peen hammer. Yes, these may not be the most advanced tools to dredge with, but they made it possible to get us in the water.

Reading about working crevices and working them are two different things. I never did see any gold nuggets which were large enough that I could pick up off of the bottom. I was very careful to make sure that I cleaned out every crevice completely. The bedrock I was working was mostly slate and occasionally some quartz veins would wind through it. The slate stuck up from the bottom like files in a filing cabinet, which made for a lot of crevices to be worked. Though this was some rigorous work I was enjoying it, once I got the hang of it.

First, I would suck the bottom totally clean in a spot. Then I would take the crowbar and pry on the sheets of slate that were protruding from the bottom, some of which were fairly large. Next, I would suck the material that was stuck to the slate sheet and Odin would set them aside. Then, I suctioned out what ever was in the hole I had just made. We did this repetitively until about noon, which was the time we picked to stop and prepare to break camp.

Together we took the concentrates out of the sluice box. This time when we panned it out, we just knew that we would have more gold than the day before, and sure enough, we had some color in our pan. What was nice was that this gold was a cinch to see in the pan and could be picked out easily. The majority of the gold we recovered was very fine flour gold, so it made the small flakes of gold we had look like small nuggets in our pan. It told us one very important thing: that our dredge was doing its job.

We took the dredge and our equipment back to camp and proceeded to pack everything in the trailer to head home. On our way out we stopped off at the property owners house. They were very anxious to see how we had done.

When we showed them the two vials that held the gold from each day’s dredging, they laughed and asked, “Where are the big nuggets?” We told them that we were glad to find gold on our first trip no matter how little it was. They agreed with us and were quite pleased to find that they did have gold on their property. We gave them the vial from the first day. They were quite pleased and invited us to come back again. We said our good-byes and headed home.

On the long drive home, after Dawn and Odin had fallen asleep, I started to think about our next trip with the dredge, and about the gold we might find. But the thing that made me really feel great was seeing our family get just a little closer, doing things together. Gold dredging truly is a family affair.