Dredging with Murphy
by Kameron Mitchell
I thought you might get a chuckle from this as well as relate to it in part. You can be sure that there is more to the story and that it was worse than it sounds!
My first dredging trip was anticipated with much excitement. After weeks of combing the laws to determine the necessary permits, filling out the forms, hours of talking to bureaucrats to ensure I didn't miss anything, and finally waiting for the permits to arrive, I was ready to go! I made my lists of what to take and began packing my truck. I was all set, and then the predicted rain came. I wimped out. So I downloaded the pickup and waited for the next weekend.
Thursday, I repacked the pickup, and I was all set once again. Friday brought more rain. I decided to stay only one night in the weather and left Saturday morning. I was getting excited. Three hours of driving through rain showers and another looking for "just the right spot," and I was there!
I quickly set up my camp, and that was when I first discovered Murphy was a stowaway. He took out my box of camping essentials: butane starter, matches, tent stakes, mosquito candle, camp broom, coffee pot, etc. and made himself at home in its place. I brought steaks, canned goods, and so on for meals, but it looked like I was going to be having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the next five meals. I only had ten pieces of bread, so I would have to ration even that.
As I took apart my new 4 inches, "one man" dredge and toted the parts down the steep embankment, it began to dawn on me why I should have a partner in this endeavor. But what was a little extra work?! As I started putting together the dredge again, I found I had forgotten where all the braces went. I got it together, but Murphy helped, so it wasn't right. Although I tried, he wouldn't let me get the braces in the correct order. Now for the hoses. I had pre-assembled the hoses at home and marked them appropriately with letters, so I knew these would go on right. Murphy was so busy he didn't notice this and neglected to rub off the markings. Things were looking up!
I trudged up the incline once again (eighth time?) for my wet suit. Camping on the shoulder with the tent up and the truck parked close by providing me with a two-sided privy screen, so I hurriedly stripped down. Right at the most inconvenient time, Murphy called his sister to approach my camp from the open end of the screen. I pulled on those trousers in warp speed and sat down to rest and catch my breath while reflecting on the close call. Once recovered, I realized that Murphy's sister was a clever ploy to get me to put on the pants front to back. How devious!
I finally got suited up and headed back down to the river. But hey, don't you need a headcover? Where is that thing? Oh yeah, in the truck. So I hurried back up to the truck. It was locked, of course, and where was the key? Back down the incline at the river safely tucked away! How many trips up and down that hill am I going to have to make? Murphy only knows. Already now, so get the regulator on. What in the world are all these loooong straps? This thing must have been made for Murph's 700# brother! But wrap it around enough, and it'll stay on. Now the mask. The strap was so small it could have been set up for that hunter with the shrunken head the movie Betelgeuse. I lengthened it and pulled it on and ... snap!!! The sucker came apart! What next! I found all the pieces and got them back together. Now I was ready.
Pull the cord, and let's start sucking gold! Pull the cord; pull the cord; pull the cord... Well, you got it, the #$%&! The thing would not start. Then I noticed that while I leaned on the back of the dredge, it ran a bit longer. Sure enough, it worked with a weight on the back. I've worked up quite a sweat after 30 minutes of yanking on that cord, but it was finally running. But wait! Why isn't any water running through it? It's a self-priming pump, isn't it? Not having any instructions on the thing, I tried numerous ways to get water up the foot valve into the pump. All worked but temporarily. I finally hit on pulling the valve upstream with quick jerks three or four times, and the water finally reached the pump, and it took off, literally. It was pushing so much water through the dredge that I could have skied behind it! And then pop! I had the pump hose flopping around like an unattended fire hose. I hated to do it, but I shut off the engine pronto. I re-tightened that clamp as hard as I could.
I restarted the engine. Yeah! But Murphy would have none of this success. He had to make the main suction hose come off. Can you believe it? Anything else going to go wrong? You know what Murphy was saying. I re-tightened that hose and sliced my fingers on the clamp end, and knew he was right. Blood was everywhere. I sure hope no one put any piranhas in this river! I stanched the flow of blood with electrician's tape and then checked all the other hoses just to make sure. They were as tight as I could get them.
I'm in the water!! Don't get too excited. While you were yanking that cord and wrestling with the hoses, Murphy was behind your back, loosening your air hose connected to the harness. Untie all that crap and get it screwed back on! Okay. So now you can start. Ah, the power of the dredge! It just about took my hand off up the hose! Talk about hurt! You better slow the engine down a bit. Much better. Now what? Where did the suction go? You got it. One minute into the operation and you've got a jam. Don't you have a cleaning rod? No? What are you going to use? There's a long branch, try it. Not strong enough to do anything but put a hole in the palm of your hand. More blood.
Try the shovel handle. Where's the shovel? In the truck? Noooo, not again. Take off the harness, trudge up the hill, get the shovel, and ... it's too short! What about your 6' pry bar? But it's upstream where you were going to dredge. You'll have to get it. Of course, the rocks in the river are like walking on the pavement. Not! Talk about slimy. I've used motor oil with less lubrication than these things have got. And jeez, this thing is heavy. I could do a weight Mr. Universe workout with this bar. But it works to clear out the jam! And now I can do what I came here to do. It took over four hours, but isn't this fun?
As all the material starts moving away, and a hole begins to become apparent, I recall reading the advice to always dredge with a partner for safety's sake. A boulder falling on you and pinning you under the water could ruin your whole day. I'm very cautious but now become somewhat worried because of the grief I've experienced so far. I continue working with that thought in mind and also thinking about the partner I've had all day.
After a few hours, the engine stops, out of gas. It's eight o'clock, and I figure it's time to stop anyway. I clean up the sluice, hoping to see some color, but it's not to be. I reclassify the material to less than 1/8" and find a picker! I didn't get much gold, but I at least got one piece that I can talk about. I beached the dredge and climbed back up the hill to dine on Pee Bee 'n' Jay. But first I've got to get this wet suit off. I'm sure Murphy enjoyed watching this comical divestment. Those things are hard to pull off one's shoulders with help from a friend, but alone it was next to impossible. I rubbed up against a tree, tried to pull from the back, tried to step on it, and stand up, and it one-sixteenth-of-an inched it way off. I was beginning to think I would have to sleep in the thing when I finally got my arm out. In fear of understatement, I'll say that after "dinner," I collapsed into a painful, tortured sleep (with help from 3 ibuprofen).
A dredging partner for safety is very important, but I'm thinking also it sure would be nice to have some help running errands, someone to check out my gear, someone to clear the jams, someone who knows engines, someone to pull off your wetsuit, and someone to cook!!!! Yes, you can run a 4" dredge operation on your own, and yes, you can do it safely if you use caution. Should you? Unequivocally, NO! I will never again go it alone. It's supposed to be fun, and fun is best shared with someone other than Murphy!