The Silas Mason Company of New York assembled the dredge on site mostly from parts hauled in by train to Mackay, then by truck to the claim. The pontoons that let the dredge float were manufactured in Boise, as was the superstructure.
The dredge weighs 988 tons and is 112 feet long by 54 feet wide by 64 feet high. Each of the 71 buckets that make up the mouth of the digging chain can hold 8 cubic feet and themselves weigh a little over a ton. Imagine a chainsaw with iron buckets linked together instead of a chain. That’s what bit into the creek bottom relentlessly driven by twin 350 hp diesel engines. The gravel fed into a conveyor system inside the dredge where the gold was sifted out. A swinging arm behind the machine spit out gravel in neat arcs producing rock hills in its wake, the ridges of which look like the backbone of a buried dragon.
The dredge worked the claim off and on until 1952. The J.R. Simplot Company bought the operation in 1949.
The dredge didn’t find $11 million in gold, only about $1.5 million. It cost about that to operate, so turning the creek upside down didn’t pay much of a dividend.
Still, the dredge is an interesting place to visit. Regular tours are conducted Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day. Google it for details.
The Forest Service is planning some ambitious restoration work in the valley, which is the best news the stream has had since 1952.
The photo of the dredge is courtesy of Mario Delisio.