Friday, April 29, 2011

Yuba Dredges No. 17 and 21

I read with great interest of Andrew Alden's visit two weekends ago to the Yuba Goldfields, where he saw Yuba Gold Dredge No. 17 in operation.

Yuba Dredge No. 17 was built in 1917 and was rebuilt twice, in the 1930's and in 2006. During it's first operating period, it shut down in 1966; it came back into operation in 2008. (The dredge did nothing for the two years from 2006 to 2008, it took two years to rebuild it, or is one of the dates incorrect?) In 1936, Dredge No. 17 was listed here as the world's largest dredge.

The Yuba Goldfields on Google Earth
I visited the Yuba Goldfields back in 1981, when I went with a company engineer or oceanographer on evaluations of placer gold deposits and submittals. I was assigned this outreach project (outreach to another part of the company) by my boss, primarily because he thought it was a waste of time, because I was one of the most junior geologists around (going into my fourth year of exploration), and because it would give me a chance to learn something new (well, at least let's hope that last was one of his motivations!). I think we went to three prospects, and the Yuba Goldfields in the Hammonton mining district of Yuba County, CA, on the Yuba River, was probably our first stop. The property, a large one, was then being run by Yuba-Placer Gold Company. Gold was being recovered by reworking the extensive gravel fields, and sand and gravel products of various kinds were being produced.

Yuba Dredge No. 21 was in operation when I visited, despite several online histories stating that all dredges ceased operation in 1968. Dredging operations did end in '68, with Dredge No. 21 being the last dredge to shut down, but No. 21 was refurbished or reconstructed and placed back into operation sometime in 1981, where it was in operation at least through 1988. I don't know if it operated continuously from 1981, when the price of gold was going up, through 1988 and beyond into the early nineties when the parent company of Yuba-Placer Gold Company, Yuba Westgold Inc, filed for bankruptcy, but this article states that it shut down (the second time) in 1999. It sank in 2003.

While at the Yuba Goldfields in 1981, we were given a tour of Dredge No. 21. A tour of a dredge is basically a tour of a floating mill. The dredge was huge and loud, and it had low lighting except where daylight shone through openings in the outer frameworks.

There are several nice online views of the outside of a bucket-line dredges, including this QTVR at the Oakland Museum of California, and this YouTube video of Dredge No. 17, from Andrew's post. The YouTube video shows nice stills of No. 17, and toward the end has the sound of an operating dredge, a noisy ruckus that could reportedly be heard for 20 miles around.

The following video shows the interior workings of the Sumpter Valley (Oregon) Dredge on the Powder River, after an ad that can't be skipped.

Video about the Sumpter Valley (Oregon) Dredge from Grant's Getaways, KGW.com, NewsChannel 8, Portland. More pictures of the interior and exterior of the Sumpter Valley Dredge and story here.

I no longer have photos from my long-ago tour of Dredge No. 21, but found some interior photos of dredges scattered online here and there, listed below.

Photos of bucket-line dredges:

A Few More Links:
California - Gold, Geology & Prospecting California Gold: Hammonton (Yuba River) District, how much it produced through 1968.

Placer Gold Recovery Methods Pictures and descriptions of Dredge No. 21 on pages 23-25.

Yuba Dredges were built by Yuba Construction Company, later known as Yuba Manufacturing Company, later a subsidiary of Yuba Consolidated Goldfields. A little history of the company and its many dredges can be gleaned here through careful searching and scanning; see especially the Historical Note from pages 1-2. Numerous dredges are mentioned in the list of documents that follows.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting! Your Google Earth image reminded me of the dredge tailings I saw back in 1980 on the Klondike River at Dawson City, Yukon, when I was working as a summer student for a mining company. I was astonished by the miles of tailings all along the Klondike Highway east of Dawson. In fact, the Google Earth image of the Dawson dredge tailings looks very much like the Yuba image in its overall size and shape. The Dawson tailings area is centred around 64.040259 deg N, -139.308642 deg W.

Apparently the Klondike dredging was mostly done by "Dredge No. 4" which operated from 1913 to 1959, with several rebuilds. It was abandoned in 1960 along Bonanza Creek and later restored as a tourist attraction/National Historic Site by Parks Canada. You can see it on Google Earth at 63.943446 N, -139.334879 W. According to several internet pages I found, it was "the biggest wooden-hulled floating dredge in North America". There are a couple of pages worth reading:

http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/yt/klondike/natcul/natcul-dn4/natcul1.aspx

and

http://www.maritime.org/conf/conf-murphy.htm

The latter has a good history of Dredge No. 4 and describes the restoration project in detail.

There are various photos of Dredge No. 4 which you can see by Googling.

Cheers,
--Howard

Silver Fox said...

Thanks for the links, Howard. All these dredges are pretty interesting! I'd like to visit some one of the park dredges sometime, though I don't have any immediate plans.

ph said...

nice to find this. i'm in the process of giving one of the buckets to the city of oroville... i think the bucket came from #17, when the old superintendent (brophy?) gave it to my dad, who worked in the gold fields when he was young. i'm the great-grand-daughter of WP Hammon. and my dad's side of the family were hydraulic miners and his father was born in cherokee. really interesting stuff. thanks.
paula hendricks

Silver Fox said...

Interesting history, Paula, and neat that you are donating a bucket to Oroville, The name brophy sounds familiar to me, although I don't know why, maybe I heard it on the tour those many years ago.

Will the bucket be in an Oroville museum?

CRKFreelancer said...

Interested to find this site online. My Dad was sales mgr for Yuba for over 30 yrs. Have been doing research for a personal family documentary. He designed dredges then moved into sales.

Thanks for some "clues"... I plan to dig further...
Romie

CRKFreelancer said...

Paula... I just remembered. That superintendent's name was Cecil Brophy. Dad spoke of him often. Does it ring a bell?
Romie

Silver Fox said...

Glad you found some clues for your documentary, Romie. You can reach Paula, in case she's not listening here, by following her profile link to her webpage.

CRKFreelancer said...

Thanks, SF... PH's website goes in circles :-) Guess she has many irons in the fire so to speak! However, you were kind to follow up with the suggestion. Greatly appreciated.
"Romie" was my Dad's nickname used by friends in the industry...

John Haak said...

Thank you all for sharing some history. My father worked there from 1949 until they closed down ... maybe into 1970 based on my memory. He was Vince "Bud" Haak, a mining engineer in the three person office in Hammonton. The noisiest thing I ever heard, until a Jimi Hendrix concert, was that dredge! My father died in 2004 so I have lost his memories but maybe some notes can be found. If there still is a documentary being made, maybe I can find something in our memorabilia to add to it. I certainly would like to see it and get a copy for our family.

Silver Fox said...

John, not sure how to get a hold of CRK or "Romie", but she had a blog here: http://crkfreelancer.blogspot.com/ - it doesn't look very active.

John Haak said...

Thanks SF ... I will leave her message there and hope for the best.