Heading for Sumpter, Oregon

( Thursday October 18, 2007)



Tim's name was drawn for the Oregon Elk hunt, so it was decided that we leave a day or so earlier and reserve the favorite camp site on the mountain near Sumpter. It's Thursday afternoon, and we're heading down Idaho Maryland Road. I had to take a picture of this stretch of the road. It's beautiful all season long, but the fall colors are special.

Reno's just ahead....and so is a traffic tie-up on the other side of town.

Hope no one was hurt. Lots of beer cans scattered on the road...testifying that it's not smart to drink and drive. The delay was at least half an hour.

Some nice Fall scenery on the way. We did have some trouble with the engine. Something on the turbo developed a small crack and we were losing power. With John's help we were lucky to find a place to get it fixed Saturday morning at Nampa, located in Idaho just over the Oregon border. We'd spent the night there so we could get in the shop early. They did a good job and we were soon on the road again. We reached Sumpter late that afternoon.

The main street through the quiet little town of Sumpter today....

...And historically. This view reminds me of Nevada city looking up Broad Street.

Not far from town we start of the mountain to the camp site. Looks like it's been snowing. There are a few flakes in the air today. It's much colder here than down town. We were with the family hunting here about five years ago. Mel and I don't hunt, but we do enjoy being part of the family adventure.

Our campsite has a couple of inches of snow covering it. Brrrrrrr....

It snowed a little more during the night. We decided no one would steal the campsite, so we hitched up the Bronco again and headed for town.

This is a beautiful place this time of the year.

Most of the interesting attractions are closed for the winter. We heard that the museum is a must to visit. The visitor's center is still open so we stop to visit, look at their books and look at the gold dredge in the little park behind the center. The entire valley has piles of gravel from the dredges turning the creek bedrock upside down. For a more comprehensive history visit http://www.historicsumpter.com/sumpter-oregon-dredge-park.html.

Building the Sumpter Valley dredge in 1935. Three dredges worked the valley from 1913 to 1954, after placer and lode mining had become unprofitable. This dredge (Sumpter No. 3) was built substantially from parts of the first dredge, which had been idle for 10 years. Between them, the dredges traveled more than 8 miles, extracting $10 to 12 million worth of gold. Still, it cost more to run than the cold could pay for. The last dredge closed in 1954, more than $100,000 in debt. In its lifetime this dredge made 4.5 million dollars at $35.00 per troy ounce. That's 128,571.43 troy ounces which, compared to a more recent value of $400.00 per ounce, would equal $51,428,572.00. There are some who feel that there was a lot more gold found which just wasn't reported.

Aerial view of the gravel tailings in the valley.


This dredge had 65 buckets, each holding nine cubic feet of earthen material which was dug at a rate of 21 buckets per minute (totaling an estimated 189 cubic feet or 7 yards per minute). Indeed, if the valley had never seen a monster before January 7, 1913, it certainly did that day.

As each bucket came over the top of the digging ladder, its material was dumped into a large hopper. From there, everything led into a cylindrical screen (6 feet across by 15 feet long) that continuously tumbled the material. High pressure water (3000 gallons a minute) rushed over the screen and its contents. Gravity and water forced the material down the length of the screen. The material, including gold, fell out into a catch pan below, while the larger rocks and gravel were carried to the rear of the dredge and dumped into tailing piles by the stacker.

Inside, water continued to wash the finer sands, pebbles and precious minerals from the catch pan through a series of sluice boxes. Just about the whole back of the dredge was covered with sluices. In each one there'd be a number of "riffles," kind of like a washboard. The sand and gravel were washed away while the heavier gold was trapped in the riffles.

As years passed, more efficient means of trapping the gold were developed. They added a box like contraption (called a jig) partly filled with round metal balls, like B-Bs. Sand escaping from the riffles would drop into the jigs where the balls would pulverize the material. Mercury added to both the riffles and the jigs would attach itself to gold in the fine sands. This method was far more efficient at removing gold.

Very few people had access to the gold, at least officially. Though there are tales of embezzlement, the security of the gold became tighter as the years went by. After separating the gold from the mercury, it was melted and poured into bricks for shipment to the US Treasury.

Yep...It's me.

Imagine the dredge winch-man in his position at the window (above), and his crew. (The noise must have been deafening). The lever room was both the brain and nerve center of this mechanical beast. He controlled everything with the pull or push of a lever attached to a winch just below deck. Raising and lowering the digging ladder, operating the screens and sluices and controlling the stacker...all this equipment was connected to the winches with stout steel cable.

The winch-man also controlled the forward and sideways movement of the dredge. Cable ran from both sides of the the dredge (front and rear) to a pulley system anchored on shore. The winch-man would move the dredge slowly forward, clearing a path in front more than 12 feet deep and 100 feet wide. Another lever operated the anchor-like "spud," located at the tail of the dredge. When lowered, the dredge would pivot from side to side around the spud, but couldn't move forward until the spud was raised. Each successive move took the dredge ahead about 10 feet. Two others joined the winch-man as dredge crew...a head oiler and a stern oiler. As the names suggest, they oiled the dredge's moving parts, and that's all they did. The dredge was run around the clock. Three eight hour shifts. The crews got tow days off a year....Christmas and July 4th.

On shore, 10 others worked to keep the dredge operating. Some cleared trees and other obstacles in the dredge's path. Others included electricians, surveyors, bookkeepers, mechanics and truck drivers.

And 'tis himself... Mel. There's some big fish in the water surrounding the dredge.

The center's bone yard with old mining machinery.

Lynn works at the center, but lives in Baker.

While we were looking at this miniature dredge, and checking out the reading material, the family rolled into town and spotted the Bronco parked by the main street....The kids found us at the center, and we headed back to main street.

This is the Narrow Gauge train depot museum and crossing ahead. They have a nice train ride during the tourist season.

Here's the bunch down town where we left the Bronco.

Just below the camp they unload the trailers.....

And maneuver their big rigs into the camp. Glad ours is small.

Margie, Tim, Amanda and Brent's RV is left from ours in the middle. Timmy, Guy and Vicky share the one to the right of us. This trip it's not dusty like the last time.

The guys gather firewood for the campfire.

The fire's wonderful.

How about a roasted marshmellow?

Warming the back-sides before bedtime. Tomorrow they'll sight their rifles.