Tony Beets of Gold Rush fame, has made a name for himself by reviving historic dredges to mine his claims. Today, these massive multi-story mining machines are relatively rare. Back in the day, however, they were the giants of the industry.
Gold dredges were all-in-one placer mining assembly lines: a belt of buckets picked up gold bearing material and dumped it onto a sluice box while oversized tailings would be discarded behind the dredge. These machines could process yards of gold bearing sand, gravel, and dirt in minutes. Dredge No. 4 near Dawson City, Yukon could process 18,000 cubic yards of material in a single day. Unlike pick and shovel wielding miners, a dredge could operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
These dredges represent an era of gold mining with big steaks, high risks, and huge profits. Companies would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for a dredge—an investment that could sink the endeavor if the land was was not as rich or accessible as anticipated. (Also, the dredge could literally sink.) Yet, a successful dredge could extract hundreds of ounces of gold in a day. The Dredge No. 4 extracted up to 800 ounces in a day. But The story of most gold dredges would conclude with that day that the profitability of the dredge became less than the cost of operating it.
Visiting Historic Dredges
Yet, many dredges remain in historic parks where anyone can now visit them. The Sumpter Valley Gold Dredge is preserved by the state of Oregon in the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area.