The drive on the back country road was long and tedious. Dust found every small crack and crevice, layering itself upon everything in the car.
The ad had said “Gold mine for sale, 40 acres, good producer, must see to appreciate”. It noted that the price was negotiable. Now that sounded interesting. Where was this mountain I was looking for? The land around was fairly flat, with only a few small hills, valleys and dry washes.
It was nearing noon time and just ahead was an outcropping. Was this the mountain? It looked more like a rugged hill in the middle of no where. I pulled up to a gate which was closed but unlocked, opened it and headed towards the only thing I could see for miles that looked like what I was supposed to inspect. As I pulled into the main area, I could see an old 1800’s style stamping machine, it used to run on steam but now an old Ford tractor had been mounted so that the rear axle ran the 6 inch wide belt to drive the stamp. His home was a battered old Airstream trailer, an outhouse was about 60 yards away, I could see a windmill and well, an old homemade grizzly was off to the side. The mine opening was near the center of the “mountain” and the entrance looked dark and foreboding, the shoring was colored and aged.
The year was 1985, gold was at an average of $320 an ounce and hardly anyone was interested in buying gold mines. They were a lot of work to obtain less than on oz per ton of material, and even then most wanted easy jobs in local factories where a steady paycheck was almost guaranteed. I worked in a factory for one year before enlisting in the Army in 1968, that was not how I wanted to live my life. I had recently returned from a year overseas learning the gold business, 6 months in Peruvian gold fields and 6 months in South Africa. Text books are nice but nothing beats hands on application for really learning something.
I drove up to the battered trailer and an old gentleman of about 80 came out. It turned out he as actually 87 years old, walked with a cane, slightly hunched over but his eyes when I got to him were bright and twinkling. I could see this was a one man operation and knew he would want to just chat a bit before we got down to business, so we sat at a table made from an old wire spool, two rickety chairs were available and he went inside just before setting and came out with a bottle of Jack Daniels and two glasses.
We talked for little more than an hour during which I learned he used to be a college History Professor, but grew tired of the day to day grind, he longed for solitude, peace and quiet, work for himself away from the “city” life. He had bought the mine over 30 years ago, started his one man operation, added equipment as time went by, purchased with profit for what he had mined himself. He had not made a fortune, but has managed to put enough away he could live his final years in comfort. Time had caught up with him and his body was wearing down from the labor of his life.
The time had arrived to look at what he had, I retrieved my hard hat and light from my car and we headed to the mine. The old man was coy, the poor looking entrance was on purpose, just inside the shoring had been replaced within the last few years and continued into the mine. The mine was all tunnels, no shafts but he had marked on the walls where every major deposit had been found and also on a rough map of the tunnels. The end of the last tunnel was already drilled and ready for placing charges, which he said he set up to show any interested buyers a fresh blast and what he was finding. He was still using dynamite and an old 1800’s charging unit for the caps..I had stepped back in time over 100 years.
I helped him set the charges, run the wire back outside and he hooked everything up. He asked if I was ready and then pushed the plunger down. I could feel the vibration on the soles of my feet, heard a muffled blast, the dust started drifting out the entrance. He said the dust would settle in about 30 minutes so we sat back down at the table and talked some more. He had never married, came close but as he stated “it just did not take” and had been a bachelor all his life. After nearly an hour we went back into the mine, pushing the ore cart down the rails, I helped him load it up and then took it outside so we could see what we had. Gold could be seen on the various chunks of ore that we had loaded, not a lot but visible in the sunlight. He told me he pulled about 1/2 oz per ton, there was about 200 lbs of ore in the cart and it looked about the right amount for what we had loaded.
He told me it took about 3 days to process a ton of ore from start to finish nowadays and it just was not worth the effort and strain for him. He started up the old tractor and the stamp so I could see that it all worked. I noticed that the stamp was not very effective now and asked him where he put what he tossed out. He showed me a depression on the side of the hill, about 40 feet across and maybe 8 feet deep. I went down and saw that there was gold in the material and noted it to him, he just said it was not worth the trouble to stamp down and pan it out. The depression had me curious, it reminded me of a collapsed cavern I had seen in Missouri once.
We spent another hour or so walking around, looking the hill over, all his processing equipment and the time had come to start talking about the property and price.
He brought out the paperwork to show it was a patented mine, his original survey (this would have to be done again) his last IMSAH inspection (required by every state) and his past year of proceeds from the mine. He was making just over $20,000 a year, but I noted that it appeared by the ore he was throwing into the pile that he was losing about 30% due to the old methods he was using. Still for a one man operation it was not a bad income and he had all the peace and quiet he wanted and did not seem to be deprived of anything he wanted or needed.
So how much did he want? Was he going to base the price on a 5 year payout? Was the mine at the end of it’s worth and was on the downside of production? Questions ran rapidly through my mind. The only thing to do was ask him what he needed. The bottom line without getting into a long discussion about anything.
I was stunned by the answer. He immediately reminded me the price was negotiable if we needed to talk about it. I was shocked not by how much he was asking, but how little. $25,000.
There was at least half that amount in the pile I had looked at an hour earlier in the depression.
Only using his outdated equipment I could recover my investment in one year or less, not what I expected. I even told him I had expected a higher price, but he said he only wanted to move on and he was only asking what he needed. Needless to say I told him I would take it, but only if he would remain in contact by mail with me so we could remain in touch and let me know how he was doing. I told him I would do the same.
I purchased an ore crusher during the waiting period for all the paperwork to go through, a shaker table (sometimes called a Miller table) and the day after possession I began on his ore pile. The crusher was able to process 1 ton an hour and turn the material into a fine flour, which then went into the hopper for the table…5 months later I had recovered nearly $40,000 in gold and still had a large pile to work with. The old man wrote every week and I answered and told him what I had recovered, he just said good for me and hoped I was enjoying myself. One day two weeks went by without a letter from him, then I received a letter from the trailer court he was living at stating that he had passed away peacefully and they wondered if I knew of any relatives to notify as only my letters were in his new trailer. I left the same day and drove all night to reach the trailer court. I told them I did not know of any living relatives nor any friends that he had ever mentioned. They told me not to worry about it as the State would bury him. A Potter’s grave for a man who had worked all his life on a dream that I had shared was not going to be tossed into the ground with hardly a marker while I was alive and kicking. The man had actually put money in my pocket with the sale so I made all the arrangements and he was buried in the local cemetery. I had the following placed on his headstone...”A man who lived his dream and shared it with the world”
The mine still produces today, shafts were dug and more tunnels far below the mountain, but that is another story for another time.
“Don’t just chase your dream, catch it and make it real”