5 Historic Gold Dredges You Can Go Visit

Gold mining in the United States is just a shadow of what it used to be. Ever since the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in California, men have been using a variety of methods to extract gold from the ground.

One of the most fascinating inventions that has ever been used to mine for gold is the bucket line dredge. These massive floating dredges were used all throughout the western United States, Canada, and Alaska. They would crisscross river drainages and churn up the ground, processing the gravels and extracting the gold. Steel buckets were used on a continuous circular line at the front end of a gold dredge, and the material that is stored in the buckets are soon sorted out and sifted with water.

Bucket line dredges are true feats of engineering. Due to their environmental impact they are not used for placer mining today, but many of them are still intact and sitting in the same place that they stopped working decades ago. Most of them are long gone, having been salvaged for wood and metal, burned up, or just fallen apart due to the hands of time.

However, the remnants of a few of them are still around today that you can still go and visit. Here are 5 that still exist and you should go check them out.

1) Gold Dredge #8

Having its best years in operation from 1928 to 1959, Gold Dredge #8 extracted millions of ounces of gold from the grounds of Fairbanks, Alaska. After being shut down for economic reasons in 1959, Gold Dredge #8 has since been used as a mining monument to honor the hard working people that built Fairbanks.

Tours of this dredge began in 1984, and 2 hour tours specifically for gold mining began in 1994. These tours feature a train ride on the Tanana Valley Railroad where there will be a narration of the dredge's history, and a pit stop at the Trans Alaskan Pipeline, which makes up 15% of domestic oil production in the United States.

2) Yankee Fork Gold Dredge

The Yankee Fork Gold Dredge is located in the central mountains of Idaho on the Yankee Fork tributary of the Salmon River, with the nearest town being Stanley, which is about 22 miles away. The New York-based Silas Mason Company settled in the Yankee Fork Valley after surveying the land in 1939. The dredge would be built by Silas Mason and Bucyrus Erie in Boise and would then be sent to Yankee Fork.

The time of its construction spanned from April 1 to August 24, 1940 and the dredge ran until 1952. The dredge temporarily stopped operations from 1942 to 1946 because of World War II, but then resumed operation in 1947 under the Snake River Company.

Realizing there weren't enough profits being made, the Snake River Company sold the dredge to J.T. Simplot and Fred Baumhoff for $75,000, and the two gentlemen worked with the 5.5 mile claim beginning in 1950. They soon leased part of the claim from the Morrison family, shut down the dredge and walked away. In 1953 Simplot and Baumhoff were ordered to either remove the dredge from the Morrisons' land or pay rent, and they chose to move the dredge to dig into the spot where it sits today.

Daily tours of this dredge are from 10:00 AM to 4:30 PM during the tourist season.

Read More about the Yankee Fork Gold Rush

3) Sumpter Valley Gold Dredge

In late 1912 the first Yuba-style dredge in Sumpter Valley would be assembled just south of Sumpter, Oregon. The original dredge was 100 feet long and 45 feet wide and made up entirely of wood. This dredge also featured 65 buckets that could gather as much as 9 cubic feet of materials. A second dredge of the same size would be made on January 7, 1913 which featured flat steel siding and buckets that could only gather 7 cubic feet of materials. This dredge would venture through water streams such as McCully's Fork and Cracker Creek near the town of Bourne, but it would be shut down in 1923 and the first dredge would be shut down on July 23, 1924.

The third dredge was assembled on April 16, 1935 by the Powder River Gold Dredging Company and it would 125 feet long and 52 feet wide, containing 72 buckets that could gather 10 cubic feet of materials. This dredge ceased operations in 1954 and a restoration process for it was initiated in 1995.

When visiting this dredge, you can go to a gift store and go through a museum, and you can also listen to interviews with dredge workers. This dredge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in Baker County on October 26, 1971.

More about mining in Eastern Oregon's Blue Mountains

4) Reiling Gold Dredge

Built in 1908, the Reiling Gold Dredge was the 8th dredge used in the area of a small Colorado town of Breckenridge. This dredge moved up and down French Creek extracting gold from the bedrock until it accidentally sunk in a small pond in the French Gulch in 1922.

A management plan for the future of this site has been developed with the help of the State Historical Fund of the Colorado Historical Society.

Tourists can see the remains of this dredge but it is strongly advised that no one gets too close to it as it is in a weak and unstable condition. The dredge is in very poor condition and just a remnant of what it once was. Still it is remains one of the few existing dredges left in Colorado.

Evidence of Historic Mining

Historic Gold Mining Areas

Hydraulic Gold Mining

5) Tuolumne Gold Dredge

This dredge is located southwest of LaGrange, California. Several massive buckets of this dredge are on display in LaGrange. Massive winches, stairs and mooring cables still remain in the dredge's 4-story front end. This dredge is a Walter Johnson #52 Model and it is stationed near a pond that is larger than a football field. Weighing over 2,500 tons, the estimated cost of assembling this dredge amounted to an estimated $543,000. Operating from June 15, 1938 to July 1951, this dredge had 4,000 pound buckets that would scoop down 70 feet down into the pond to dig out gravel and collect gold.

Revolving around a spud anchor at its stern, the dredge worked in a semi-circle. The spud would be lifted after the dredging of the full available radius, and then the spud would be dropped again. The dredge suffered an unfortunate accident in 1939 when it flipped on its side in the pond. There are no organized tours of this dredge but people are free to check it out for themselves.