Monday, June 8, 2009

Dredging Sounds So Much Easier

So I’ve seen the pictures of the Klondike Goldrush stampeders, and it really doesn’t look like fun. It looks cold and muddy, and I know I’d never make it. (I think it is good to know your own limits, and I’m pretty sure mine fall well short of trekking hundreds of miles in 50 below temperatures hauling a year’s supply of food on the chance that I might strike it rich. I’m more suited to playing the lottery or aiming to marry well.)

What I didn’t know was that gold mining quickly became industrialized. Goodbye Jack London shivering in a log cabin. Hello giant machinery. (Log cabins lack structurally integrity anyway – who thought it was a good idea to build a straight wall by stacking round things on round things.)

As soon as the completion of the railroad made the transportation of these behemoths feasible, they arrived on the scene. A team of up to 120 workers would steam the permafrost in advance of the dredge so that it could scoop out the muck and the rocks, sort out the gold, and spit out tailings in its wake. Dredges transformed the landscape into snaking piles of large rocks. I’m sure in a thousand years archeologists will speculate what caused men to make such strange mounds.

There are dredges scattered about the area – Dawson City, Chicken, Fairbanks, Skagway. They all seem to be in a slow state of decline. Some have passed through multiple owners who now can’t tell you how they operate. And just about everyone is reluctant to let you inside. What are they afraid of – that we might learn something?

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