My hands trembled as I very carefully removed the large plastic bottles filled with gold from their home hidden deep within the protective floor safe. 1 - 2 - 3 - 4. Each bottle was over half full of gold. Gold which had been classified and sorted to specific sizes. Each bottle held increasingly larger sized pieces of gold all the way from sugar grain size to gold nuggets almost 1/4 inch in size. Then I removed the plastic packets one-by-one. Each one contained an even larger nugget than what the bottles had. Next I removed the gold jewelry. A large nugget necklace and then a nugget pendant. Nugget earrings. I had never seen this much gold in one place except at gold shows and there I hadn't been allowed to handle it.
I was visiting a relative and knowing that I was an amateur gold prospector he had asked me if I would like to see his gold collection. I had heard past rumors that he had some gold but I had never seen it. As I removed it from the safe, seeing it for the first time was far beyond my wildest imagination.
Earlier that evening he had told me stories of his prospecting trips in Alaska many years ago. This was big time prospecting. Not one man and a dredge or highbanker but several men working as a team on a remote claim. He had told me of hauling the equipment and diesel oil 70 miles in the dead of winter using caterpillar tractors and sleds as where they were going there were no roads. About always running their engines day and night to prevent them from freezing and being extremely difficult to start. Stories of the tractors slipping off of the snow packed road broken by the lead tractor and becoming buried in the snow. Stories of tractors breaking through the river ice, sinking in the freezing water and having to be pulled out by the other tractors. Stories of people getting wet and the urgency with which they had to be dried and warmed up or else freeze to death in the bitter cold.
Not only were there the stories, there were photographic slides to back up the stories. Old slides. Not like the 35 mm kind that you and I are used to seeing. These were metal framed and 2-1/2" square. Slides showing a huge sluice box over 100 feet long. Slides showing the wild country with no sign of any other human habitation. Slides showing the primitive miners shack they had lived in during their stay at the claim while they were working it. Slides showing the gold remaining in the box at cleanup time. Slides showing water-bucket size gold ingots that were left after the mercury and gold amalgam had been heated to vaporize off the mercury leaving only the gold. Huge ingots of gold. Gold that you could see from over a hundred yards away. Gold pieces looking like gigantic, monstrous, golden versions of the candy Dots that you bought at the movies. Quantities of gold beyond my wildest imagination.
As I returned the slides to their protective box, Kenny removed a balance scale and weights from a nearby cabinet.
"Go ahead and take some of the gold out and weigh it," he said.I had never before weighed any gold. The tiny amount that I had found would not even make the most sensitive scale move. I gently placed the scales on the table and then removed the weight set from the protective wooden case. I then placed the gold-filled bottles next to it. Picking up a plastic bottle that was half full of small gold flakes and pieces I carefully removed it's lid. Inside the lid, lying on top of the gold was a small, folded, piece of paper. As I removed it from the bottle, gold spilled from within its folds. Rice sized pieces of gold. Gold pieces large enough that whenever I had found any that size I had felt that it had been a very good day. I began to carefully brush it into a pile so that I could return it to the bottle.
"Don't worry about picking up that tiny bit" Kenny said.
"Tiny bit. That's more gold than I have found in many of my one day outings" I replied, as I picked up the individual pieces with a pair of tweezers and returned them to the bottle.
I then carefully poured all of the gold from the bottle onto the balance's weighing pan. Picking up a weight and looking at the number stamped into it's top, 2, I placed it onto the scales other weighing pan. Two ounces and the scale hadn't even moved. Removing another weight I placed it on the scale beside the 2 ounce weight. Three ounces of weight and still there had been no movement. It took 2 more 1/2 ounce weights to balance the scale. Four ounces of gold. Even at $300 dollars an ounce there was $1,200 dollars of gold sitting on the scales. Unfolding the piece of paper I saw written on it in pencil "4 oz."
Placing a small funnel into the top of the empty bottle I slowly returned the gold to its place in the bottle. I then placed the folded paper on top of the gold and moved the bottle to the back of the table far from the edge so it could not be accidentally knocked off of the table onto the carpet. Removing one of the nuggets from it's plastic wrapper I placed it on the scales and added smaller weights until it also balanced. Fifteen pennyweights. 3/4's of an ounce. What a beautiful nugget.
"Keep it if you like" Kenny said.
Oh how I would have loved to have had it but I replied:
"No thanks. I know how hard it is to find something like this."
Really I didn't as I have never found anything larger than 3/4th's of a pennyweight and boy, did I have a celebration when I found it. Next I placed the nugget necklace on the scales. Twelve nuggets were on the necklace and they totaled one ounce. Any one of the individual nuggets would have made a great days find. The other individual bottles all contained several ounces of gold each. Gold! Gold! Gold! And even more gold. Handling all of that gold produced euphoria I had never before felt. What a high. A natural high. A golden high. A probably never to be repeated high. "But," who knows. Under that next rock, in that next crevice, or in that next shovel full???????
This story is dedicated to Kenny. He passed away due to complications after a knee operation 6 months later. He may be gone but I will never forget that evening.
Like to see more pictures? Visit Kenny's Gold Photo Album