My First Common Dig

The Chapters Corner

Author: AJ MuroskyFriday, December 22, 2017

My First Common Dig

Categories: From Gold Prospectors magazine, News Release

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“Excuse me, what did he say ... a common dig? What the heck is that?”

I was attending the GPAA’s Gold Fever of the West Valley monthly meeting in Phoenix, Ariz., when I first heard the term. 

I wasn’t sure what it meant, but a lot of my friends were signing up so I thought I would too. I mean it’s all about the gold, right? So I might as well get involved and go have some fun!

Stanton, Ariz., would be hosting the last LDMA National Outing of the year. This five-day event would end up being the largest in almost 20 years as 182 people from 20 states had signed up.

I arrived about 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday and walked up to the registration booth to get signed in. Lisa Tucker, one of the LDMA outing coordinators with her husband, Jack, signed me in and then explained that I was actually late so I had to hurry to get with the afternoon shift by 1 p.m. Not really knowing what that meant, I found a campsite, parked my trailer, and went to work. I walked up with my shovel and an empty bucket ready to do something, but I did not expect to see about 100 people buzzing around! I saw two huge piles of pay-dirt, a row of drywashers, a bunch of recirculating highbankers posted around a muddy pond and a panning station. I was amazed to see so much activity going on.

I jumped in to help fill buckets at the pay-dirt pile. The buckets kept coming and we kept filling them so they could go to the drywashers. In between shovelfuls, I met some cool people who, like me, had never seen anything like this. More than 60 percent of the folks at the event were also first-timers. This made me feel more comfortable as I wasn’t the only one brand new to this. Also, trained volunteers were in place to teach us newbies the various chores. All of a sudden, it was 4 p.m. and the shift ended. Wow, that was a fast 3 hours! 

My fellow GFWV members helped me set up my camp. That evening, as I sat at my table and ate some stew, I wondered what the next day would bring. 

The next morning was perfect! I made my way to the mandatory 8 a.m. meeting where more than 180 of us were standing around chatting, telling stories and meeting new friends. Jack led the morning meetings where we recited the Pledge of Allegiance, heard about the previous day’s work, saw some standout workers get some recognition, saw a gold pan with the previous day’s gold and there was a daily auction. The auction was for a bottle of black sand, and whoever won it — depending on how much they paid — got a vial of gold poured in to it. One special morning there was 1 ounce of gold given away, but the group voted to have four lucky quarter-ounce winners instead of just one big winner.

Dominic Ricci of the LDMA handled the gold and made it fun each day. But the crowd hollered for “Bob” a lot. I wondered who the heck was Bob and why are they calling for him? Well, Dominic’s daughter puts one of her dolls in his suitcase for each outing and this particular time it was Bob the Minion of the “Despicable Me” movies. Who would have a full-sized adult Bob costume at a ghost town? Evidently someone did as Dominic raced out one morning dressed as him to everyone’s amazement!

     

We headed over to the drywashers for my first time. It was interesting to see the equipment and watch how it worked. It was pretty loud as the dirt got dumped in and shaken down through the riffles. I was taught how to watch the material bounce evenly down the riffles, seeing the larger stones on the outside and the finer silt toward the middle. Hopefully we were catching gold down under there somewhere! Then it was my turn to scoop the dirt into the hopper. Not too much, just a little and let it go in evenly. 

After our shift ended, six of us went out on a claim. We went down into a promising wash and crossed it to see where we could set up two drywashers. We didn’t realize that only five of us had crossed the little wash when we heard Jerry hollering, “Someone look at my head!” as he was walking back toward the vehicles. He had gone downstream and tripped and smashed his head into a boulder. He was only about 30 yards away from us, but no one realized that he had gone a different way. I felt horrible, as I had ridden over with him and I didn’t even see him go the other way. He had a terrible gash over his eye, his glasses were messed up and his finger was cut terribly, too. Jeff ended up taking Jerry to the hospital, where he got 16 stitches in his head and his finger. Being a tough former Marine helped him, though, as he would be back in camp that night. The remaining four of our group set up the drywashers and dug some dirt, and I found my first ever picker! It still amazes me how you just can’t see the gold in the dirt, but when you work the material, you just might have something cool in there!

Friday morning was gorgeous, too! I bought breakfast from the volunteers in the kitchen. These eight godsends prepared 14 meals over their time in camp. There’s a lot of work to prep, cook, serve and do all the cleanup over five days! They were always smiling, and they, too, participated in the many events around the camp. There were giveaways, duck races, games, seminars, a metal-detecting treasure hunt and a panning contest. Actually, there was so much training going on during the week that I even heard that Lisa may be teaching a parasailing class from the top of Rich Hill next year!

This morning shift had me learning a little about highbankers. There was a variety of different equipment surrounding the pond. It was very loud and everyone’s boots were encrusted with mud. I was then called over to the spot where the first 30 tons of pay-dirt had been laid; we were going to vacuum it up. I had never seen this done before so it was kind of surreal to be leaning over and vacuuming up dirt ... from the dirt! But, this pay-dirt had gold in it and we had to get it.

As I worked, I felt very strange. I was having a diabetic episode. Many folks came to my aid. They sat me down, got some water in me, and found my diabetes kit in my truck. My blood sugar was high and I felt awful. While I sat there trying to recover, at least 12 people saw me and asked me how I was doing. I was so grateful that so many folks cared. As I sat, there was a splash in the pond behind me. Wade, a volunteer, had jumped into the muddy pond to clean out the under-tailings that had jammed a foot valve. I am still not sure what a foot valve is, but Wade was fearless as he mucked around in the dark brown water. I thought about how he might find plenty of gold when he washed out his beard! 

Lunchtime had me visiting the vendors who were set up in camp. There were sluices, pans, matting, buckets, kilns, boots, knives, gear of all sorts, and even gold to buy! The local Make-a-Wish Foundation was also there raffling off a couple of beautiful nuggets. There was a general feeling of camaraderie around the camp as Val and Clark, the Stanton caretakers, were keeping an eye on everything to make sure all things were running well. 

When I finally got back to my camp, I was feeling that tiredness that makes you just want to sit down. It had been a busy couple of days, but it was still only midafternoon. So I told my friend John that I was going to go dig some dirt in the closest wash. But, as I looked for the color, time was getting away from me and it was starting to get dark. As I headed back, a search party was coming out to look for me to make sure I was safe. I grinned and joked it off, but I was again very grateful for friends caring about me.

Saturday morning broke with the sound of coyotes howling close by. Maybe they realized that this would be a special day. Both the morning and afternoon crews were going to work 1.5-hour shifts in the morning to finish off the 90 tons of pay-dirt. The morning meeting started as usual with the pledge and auction, but it was interesting to find out that about 40 percent of the 182 participants were GPAA-only members and 14 had joined the LDMA that week. And about 40 percent of the participants were women! 

But during the meeting, Dominic asked Brad Luis to come forward. Brad is a proud veteran and Brad wanted to give a special piece of gold to each vet who was participating in the common dig. When he asked, at least 80 veterans came forward to a mighty round of applause. There were tears, hugs, and thank you’s as Brad gave out his gifts. And then Dominic and Jack gave each vet a special LDMA $5 poker chip as well. It really was a beautiful moment and I am thankful that I was there to feel the warmth from this awesome show of love and respect. 

After the emotional morning and the final shifts, it was nice to just relax. Our GFWV crew had 19 participants in the common dig and many family and friends had come up. So we got a group picture, had some fun and told some stories. At 6:30 a big bonfire was lit and the evening meeting began. There were a couple hundred folks gathered around as prizes were given away, the winners of the contests were announced and everyone got their T-shirts, which we would wear for the group picture in the morning. 

With the official festivities done, most folks went back to their camps. I couldn’t blame them as it had been a long and tiring week. But a huge fire was rolling and the coolness of the night air was upon us as about 45 folks still hung around. There was a glow in the crystal-clear sky as the stars were starting to twinkle overhead. A magnificent full moon rose up over Rich Hill. And then from the shadows came a slight guitar strum. Two old friends from Washington, who hadn’t seen each other in a long time, had brought their instruments to the bonfire. They got in tune, and proceeded to play and sing for a couple of hours. It had been many years since I had that kind of experience and I truly felt how the many sleeping prospectors were missing out on a very special evening. There was a warmth around that bonfire that was not from the raging fire, but from the very experience itself. 

Sunday morning was cold with a north wind blowing in as I put on my special new T-shirt and went up for breakfast. Folks were hugging, chatting, telling stories, and asking when they would see each other again. We posed for the group picture but it was hard for more than 180 people to be seen in it. There was an auction of a ton of donated items and these, as well as many of the other auctions, had all the proceeds going to the Stanton Camp. One generous prospector even donated $1,000 to the camp with it earmarked toward buying a washer and dryer

With everything finished, it was finally time to divvy up the gold that we had found! We all got in line as Val and Clark held a bucket so each person could grab a numbered poker chip. 

There were some special numbers, though — numbers 1, 2 and 3 got extra gold — and 14 other numbered chips that were designated by the new LDMA members. If you grabbed one of those chips, you also got something extra. So, it was kind of thrilling to see if you grabbed a special chip or not — and to see what our portion of the take was from this “common dig”! When I pulled my chip, I got a regular number. My take was a vial with 3 small gold nuggets and a bag of black sand. When my friend John and I got back out in the sun, though, we could see the gold glistening in the sand. Looks like I would get some practice panning now, too!

I said a bunch of “goodbyes” and “see ya laters” and then made my way back to my camp. 

Thankfully, my neighbor John helped me hitch up my trailer. And then my neighbor Gene 

luckily had an air compressor as one of my tires was extremely low. What should have taken about an hour to pack up took me almost three hours with all of the talking that was going on! I then leisurely made my way down the dusty road home, but with a happy smile on my face.

So, was it really all about the gold? I mean, I am a prospector, right? Well, as a first-timer to a “common dig,” that is what my expectations were. But after the fact, I would have to say no. I mean sure, the shiny stuff is spectacular and I did learn about it and different ways to find it. But, I experienced so much more! I made new friends and strengthened relationships with old friends. I experienced a warmth and camaraderie with fellow prospectors from around the country. And, I had a lot of fun doing it! I am sure that each camp is quite unique, but if you get the opportunity to participate in a common dig...

I would recommend that you get involved and go have some fun!

AJ Murosky

Gold Fever of the West Valley

Phoenix, AZ

 

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