SWIFT CREEK MINE
Alaska Gold Mining - Metal Detecting - Prospecting
Newspaper articles and published story's about gold from Ruby Alaska
Three pound Long Creek nugget - Anchorage Daily News May 30, 2006
Stolen Nuggets - Goldstream Magazine June 2006
|Museum displays 3-pound
Long Creek nugget
TOP 20: Rock found on claim near Ruby is worth as much as $1,000 an ounce.
By PETER PORCO
Published: May 30, 2006
The nugget, an oblong chunk big enough to fill a man's palm, was found in the summer of 1963 on Long Creek, south of the Yukon River village of Ruby, on a claim owned by Albert Kangas and Asher Richardson.
It lay obscured when Kangas caught a glint of it in the afternoon sun as he bulldozed through a pile of gravel tailings, according to Alan Richardson of Kailua, Hawaii, son of Kangas' partner.
The story goes that, as he and Richardson sat down to dinner that evening, Kangas surprised his partner by plopping the nugget onto his plate.
The partners sold the nugget, which passed through other owners until it worked its way to a bank in Helena, Mont., where, apart from its origins in Alaska, little was known of its history.
It might have remained there for who knows how long.
But Wells Fargo bought the Montana bank in the late 1980s, acquiring its "huge collection" of gold nuggets, said Artemis BonaDea, curator of the Alaska Heritage Museum.
In 2000, Wells Fargo purchased National Bank of Alaska and its Heritage Museum, where bank officials decided the nugget should be displayed.
Come Friday, when it's locked within a glass case in the museum, it will apparently become the largest single piece of gold in the state to go on public display.
BonaDea came to know the nugget's history accidentally, from a friend of her father who also had been a friend of the Richardsons.
The nugget's troy weight, the measure used for precious metals, is 46 ounces, according to BonaDea. Placed on an ordinary supermarket scale the nugget would weigh a bit over 3 pounds, 2 ounces.
Either way, it's worth a pile of money. But it's worth a lot more if kept as it is than if the gold were separated from its other minerals.
"A nugget is more rare than diamonds, so it doesn't really follow the gold price," said Kim Tanner of Oxford Assaying and Refining Corp. in Anchorage.
Miner Steve Herschbach, co-founder of Alaska Mining and Diving Supply in Anchorage, said, "Gold nuggets are gemstones."
He's seen and examined the Long Creek nugget and found it "really neat-looking." He said it might be 15 percent silver with a few ounces of ordinary rock.
"If you smelt it, you literally destroy the value," Herschbach said. "By the time you're done, maybe there's only 35 ounces of pure bullion gold."
Gold right now is selling for about $650 a troy ounce, a high enough price that gold mining has picked up worldwide. So 35 ounces of bullion would bring in about $23,000.
Kept intact, however, the nugget would have a value of at least $1,000 an ounce, Herschbach said.
"So you start at $46,000," he said, "but you adjust up and down on how it looks and, secondarily, its history."
This one, he said, would be "very valuable, because it's solid gold ... an exceptional piece."
The Long Creek nugget is about 5 inches long and, viewed from one side, about the size and shape of a toddler's foot. Viewed from another angle, it resembles a male lion at rest, in some people's eyes, said BonaDea.
The nugget's deep gold color is at first astonishing, said Kathleen Hynes-Bouska, the museum's educator.
"It's so vividly gold, it almost looks fake," she said.
Nuggets have pretty much disappeared -- melted down, their gold circulating endlessly -- through most of human history, according to Herschbach. It was roughly the 1960s when their value as intact hunks of gold first came to be recognized, and now they're treated essentially like works of art.
Herschbach keeps a Web site devoted to gold mining. One page lists what he says are the 20 largest gold nuggets found to date in Alaska.
The Long Creek nugget is No. 19.
The whereabouts of most of the 20 nuggets is unknown, and they're believed to have been melted down, Herschbach said.
No. 1, a 294-troy-ounce hulk known as the Alaska Centennial Nugget, was found eight years ago, also near Ruby and also by a man operating a bulldozer, according to the Alaska Mining and Diving Web site.
The site lists its current location as "unknown."
No. 20, the 42-ounce Silverado Nugget, was found 12 years ago near Wiseman. Herschbach said it's beautiful. It was sold for $50,000 and today rests on a mantle in a castle in Spain.
"The larger the nugget, the harder it is to sell," he said, "because who's got the money for a $50,000 paperweight?"
Published in Goldstream magazine June 2006
This story was originally told by Barry Clay and is embellished here by Walt Larson
(Names of the bad guys have been changed)
Steve and Gary had been best friends since high school. After graduation both had trained as heavy equipment operators. They had come to Alaska looking for adventure and the big money to be made working on construction of the Trans Alaska Oil Pipeline
The hours were long but the pay was excellent. They worked hard in miserable conditions. There were biting bugs in the summer and biting cold in winter. When they got some time off they headed for Fairbanks.
With past Alaska gold rush booms those who mined the miners were never far behind and so it was with the pipeline boom. The influx of men with money in their pocket brought out the con men, drug dealers and women of ill repute.
Their time off was usually spent in bars or strip clubs spending money on women, drugs and booze. It wasn’t uncommon for a man to cash his several thousand-dollar paycheck in a bar and wake up the next morning with nothing left but a hangover.
As the pipeline construction was completed the men were laid off. Neither had saved much money. Gary returned to the lower 48 to look for work. Steve found a job working on some short-term construction projects and eventually was hired by a mining company with claims in the Ruby District near the Yukon River. When the mining outfit needed another heavy equiment operator Steve recommended Gary and the two friends were reunited at a gold mine in the Alaska wilderness.
This was a big mining operation recovering hundreds of ounces of gold including many large nuggets. The mining went on twenty-four hours a day during the short Alaska summer. Three different shifts were able to work around the clock with the continuous daylight.
A D-9 dozer operator would push the pay dirt into a pile near the trommel. A front end loader was used to scoop the dirt from the pile, raise it up and feed it into the trommel. A drag line would pull away the tailings from the outlet of the twenty-foot long sluice box. A fourth man would monitor the trommel. Checking its rotation speed and water flow as well as watching the sluice box for buildups that would disrupt the flow.
The town of Ruby was some fifty miles to the north by a narrow, winding, rutted dirt road. It was rare that the men would go into town as the mine had it’s own airstrip. A large amount of fuel was barged up the Yukon and trucked to the mine from Ruby at the beginning of the season. Then supplies were flown in from Fairbanks every two weeks. Men taking time off would be flown out on the return flight. Before they boarded the plane their gear was thoroughly searched to keep anyone from getting sticky fingered with the gold nuggets; a condition they agreed to when taking the job.
Now it turns out that Gary and Steve had sticky fingers. When either worked the trommel, watching the sluice box, they would occasionally grab a nugget from the riffles and slip it into a pocket when no one was looking. They had accumulated a large pickle jar full of stolen nuggets that they kept hidden in the brush behind the cook tent.
They had no idea out how they would get the booty out of the mine. Then luck smiled on them. Lightning caused forest fires had been burning in the Yukon River region putting large clouds of smoke into the air. The supply planes could not fly because of the reduced visibility.
It had been almost four weeks since supplies had come in. Fuel for the equipment was almost exhausted and food was running out. The Forman decided that to keep the operation going they would have to get some fuel and food from Ruby. By chance Gary and Steve were selected to take the company truck into town. As Steve loaded empty 55 gallon drums onto the back of the flatbed Gary slipped away and retrieved the jar full of nuggets.
On the road to Ruby near the intersection to the Midnight Creek Mine turnoff Steve stopped the truck. They hurriedly grabbed the heavy jar and a shovel. At the base of a tree near the side of the road a hole was dug. The jar placed in it and covered up. Gary rolled a large rock over the hole while Steve used his pocketknife to scribe a mark on the tree that would help them locate the exact spot when they returned for the gold.
The season ended with the two men riding an airplane back to Fairbanks while thinking about their gold hidden along the Ruby Poorman road. They were going outside for the winter; returning home to Southern California to visit friends and family.
Over the winter Gary was killed in an auto accident. Steve got a good job, met a girl, was married and they started a family. With his newfound responsibilities it would be two years before Steve could return to Ruby to retrieve the hidden gold.
As he drove a rented 4X4 south from Ruby he couldn’t help but notice that the road had been improved. What had been little more than a trail was now a graveled road with culverts instead of creek crossings. When he reached his destination he was shocked! Not only had the state workers upgraded the road surface they had pushed back the vegetation to create wide shoulders. His marked tree was gone!
He searched the area for hours before reluctantly giving up empty handed. Fate had played a mean trick.
In the bar at the Fairbanks airport, on his way back to California, Steve encountered an old friend. He and Barry Clay had worked on the same construction job. Barry would later claim fame by finding the largest gold nugget ever discovered in Alaska, 294 ounces, in 1998. At this point in time though he was just a gold miner on his way home to Ruby.
As Steve had given up on ever finding the hidden cache himself he revealed the reason for his trip north and gave Barry details about the jar full of gold nuggets. The two talked until the boarding announcement came for Steve’s flight and they parted company.
No one in the North has heard from Steve for many years. Barry still mines his Swift Creek claims every summer. If you ever happen to meet Barry Clay you’ll want to ask him about hidden gold at the Midnight Creek turnoff.
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