A Visit to the 16 - 1 Mine

After 9 days of dredging 8 hours a day at the Union Flats Campground, my body was complaining severely. I had arrived with a group of other prospectors and dredged for 2 days with my 4" dredge by myself. This was unusual enough exercise that my muscles, (or lack of), had been really began to stiffen up and make the start of each day harder.

Then Dave #1 came along.

A new, fresh, body anxious to unearth the golden nuggets hidden from us, came to visit me and that I would have to try to keep up with. He stayed and dredged with me for 2 days then had to leave. Then I had another day dredging by myself.

Then Dave #2 arrived.

Dave #2 was yet another fresh body to try to keep up with. It was a good thing that he hadn't dredged for a while and was anxious to spend more than his share of the time under the water on the nozzle thus allowing me some time to rest. After he had dredged with me for 4 days, he too was beginning to slow down. We decided that it was time to take a day off and do a little sight seeing.

Why Dave #1 and Dave#2? Try keeping Dave Nickerson and Dave Nicholson straight for names.

Sitting around the camp table with a couple of cool ones in hand and looking at the map, we discovered that the 16-1 mine was only about 20 miles from Downieville in Allegheny, California. I had seen their web site on the Internet and my mouth had watered over the pictures of the beautiful gold samples and their milk white quartz slabs filled with gold. We decided that checking it out would give us a valid excuse for not dredging for one day. The map showed several roads that we could take to get there. They all were rather distinguished looking lines on the map. As prospectors though, we all know that some times maps lie. What looks like 4-lane interstate on the map can in reality be almost passable in a 4-wheel drive truck. We discussed the road selection over a couple more cool one's and finally decided we would turn off of hiway 49 at Goodyear's bar and travel to Forrest City and then on to Allegheny, home of the famous 16-1mine.

We were to be a group of 3. Dave #2, Herbie, the Valley Prospectors Claim Campground Host, and myself. We had Dave#2's rental car and Herbie was going to bring up the rear in his truck. After the tour at the mine, Dave#2 and I were going to travel on down to Grass Valley and sight see at the Empire Mine State Park.

After a short detour on hiway 49 to check out another of Valley's claims, the Moriah, we left hiway 49 and crossed the North Fork of the Yuba River. We immediately stepped back in time. We drove through a small town composed of several houses, most of which looked old enough to have been built during gold rush days. The only sign of human habitation was a man cutting big blackberry vines away from the edge of the road leaving a barely passable path between the leftover vines. Leaving the town the pavement abruptly ended and the road narrowed even more. Soon we came to a fork in the road. No road signs were visible. Which way to go? Consulting the maps we discovered that they were no help either. Glancing both ways, we tried to guess which was the largest road. Not much help there either. They both looked to be about the same size. So, with a guess, we turned onto the right hand road and proceeded up the hill. The "Golden Optimist Luck" held out and that ended up being the correct one. If you take the same trip, when the road takes a sharp right and starts up the hill with the other fork going more or less straight up a small valley, turn right.

We were on a fairly narrow dirt road slightly wider than the car with a wider turnout area every so often. The road begin to climb rapidly and wind around among the large forest trees. Herbie was getting a mouthful of our dust as we traveled along. Soon we had climbed high up into the mountains and then began to drop off down the other side.

The dirt road changed back to blacktop and we came to a sign saying Forrest City, population 40. City??? Where??? Population 40??? Where??? Surely at one time when it was named it must have been larger. City now definitely was a large stretch of the imagination.

Once again we came to a fork in the road. Once again there was no sign. Once again there was no help from the map. Taking the left turn we spotted a few run down houses. They looked like they could have been there since before the original gold rush. I'm not one of those men that women say will never ask for directions so we began to look for any sign of life that we could interrogate. There was a pay phone booth sitting all by itself on main street but no sign of human movement. As Dave #2 drove on, I spotted a house with a dog chained up to the front porch. "Stop here", I said. "I'll knock on the door and ask directions". Dave#2 stopped and as I approached the house, the dog began to bark loudly. As I reached out to knock on the door, it flew open and a lady opened her mouth to yell at the dog. About that time she saw me standing there. I could tell that it startled her. I was dressed in my gold prospecting best, old dirty blue jeans held up by wide, blue suspenders, a tee shirt and I hadn't shaved in almost 2 weeks. Actually, looking back on the experience, I think that I probably was dressed and shaved pretty much appropriately for the rest of the town. The word "Bubba" comes to mind.

I asked her "Which way is it to Allegheny"? With hardly a glance in my direction, she replied "Up the hill to the end of the pavement and turn left". I turned around and looked at the road. It went up hill both to the left and the right. I asked, "Could you repeat that"? She did. "Up the hill to the end of the pavement and turn left" and then she turned around and went into the house slamming the door. Well, that was just ton's of help.

Returning to the car we decided to turn around and go back the way we had came into town. Traveling through the town again we saw no one else so we decided to Punt. (If you go, when the road dead ends at Forrest City, turn right to go to Allegheny. That is, if you can resist taking the grand tour of Forrest City). All 200 yards of it. If you stop at the house with the dog, tell her that the Golden Optimist sends his regards. As we left the city???, Dave #2 said. "You know, the only thing that was missing in the town was a young boy sitting on the front porch of the house with a banjo". Dumm, Da, Dumm, Dumm, Dumm. ( If you don't make any connection, think Burt Reynolds, Dueling Banjo's, and the movie Deliverance ). This was a comment that was made by many other people when I retold the story later. Traveling up the hill about a mile we came to a stop sign. This was the place we had been instructed to turn left. The problem with that was there were 2 left turns about 50 feet from one another. Once again no sign. Once again no help from the map. We parked the car, got out and walked up and down both roads. Not much help there either. We finally decided to take the furthest left turn. ( Once again, we were lucky. It was the correct one ).

As we drove in the sunshine along and on top of a mountain ridge we were amazed to turn a corner and see river gravel on the edge of a road cut. No water within many miles but here was evidence of an ancient stream bed. If we would have had any buckets we would have stopped and taken some samples. ( I've had a report back from another prospector. A little black sand and a speck or two of gold! ). Soon afterward we arrived in Allegheny. The only way you could tell that was you saw a couple of houses. There wasn't exactly a population boom going on here either. Our next problem was to find the mine. We were in the middle of a forest of trees with a house scattered around here and there beneath them. There definitely wasn't a great big neon sign pointing the way to the mine. Finally we turned the corner and along side of the road was a general store. And in the middle of the road was a chair with a man sitting in it and a lady giving him a haircut. Well, maybe not in the middle of the road but on the edge. Well, maybe not a lady either. She had tattoo's running up both arms. They both looked like they would be right at home on a couple of Harleys. There definitely must not be the traffic here like there is in Colorado. We stopped and once again I asked for directions. (It seems I'll never learn). "Which way do we turn to go to the 16-1 mine", I asked? "I don't know", she replied. "Maybe it's on the bottom road". Once again, we received nice, clear, concise, directions.  It must be tough living in a town with a population of 50 - 60 people and having someone always asking how to find one of the famous local spots. Then not knowing where they were.

Looking behind us, I noticed a road leading down the hill. "Lets try that", I told Dave. Turning around we headed down the hill. We passed a few larger unidentified buildings and finally we began to see mining equipment. Then the road ended in a gate with a No Trespassing sign. Well, at least we knew where the mine was, not that it did us any good. We turned around again and headed back up the hill. This time we noticed that one of the buildings had a few cars parked next to it. We pulled over and finally located a door. Knocking on it we anxiously waited. Nothing happened. No footsteps, no yelling, "Just a minute", nothing.

Knocking again we heard faint footsteps and finally the door opened. A lady asked us if she could help us. We explained that we were looking for the 16-1 mine and she said that this was the office. We told her that we would like to look around the museum and maybe buy some gold samples. She told us that the museum nor anything else was open that day. We explained that we were from Colorado and had come a long way and had really wanted to see some of their famous gold. She must have felt sorry for us as she said that maybe she could call the man who sold the ore samples. She did and he said he would come over in the next half hour or so. As we waited we looked around the office at mine pictures and news articles that were posted on the walls We asked the standard tourist questions like where did the mine get it's name. The ladies from the office very graciously answered them all.

Finally Jeff, the specimen salesman arrived. He escorted us through the back and up to the second floor of the building. In a small room was a display case. It was empty. "What kind of specimens are you interested in", he asked. We looked at one another and replied, "Something that's not too expensive". He probably had already guessed that from our Forrest City attire and look. The ladies must not have explained what we looked like or he wouldn't have bothered driving over the couple of blocks he must have traveled. ( No place in Allegheny is more than a couple of blocks away. It's kind of like a big Forrest City.) Jeff turned around and went into the next room. I walked over to the window in the wall between the two rooms and peered in. All around the sides of the room on benches was rock cutting and polishing equipment. This was their specimen cutting room. Jeff returned and said "Most of our inexpensive samples are still packed from a gold show we were at last weekend but here are a few". He spread out several plastic sample boxes on the counter. Displayed in front of us was some of the most beautiful specimens of crystalline gold I had ever seen. "This one's $100 dollars" he said pointing at a really nice size piece. Dave#2 was already reaching for his wallet and removing his MasterCard. Herbie picked up a smaller piece and asked " How much is this"? "That's $15. dollars Jeff replied." Herbie almost broke his arm pulling out the money. This happened several times more. I never got a chance to even speak. Well, almost never. The $500 dollar milk white quartz slabs shot full of gold veins that I had my eye on was a little over my budget. After he had shown us more samples and we had discussed them and gold in general for about 45 minutes Jeff said, "I see you guys really appreciate looking at the gold. I have something I'd like to show you". He left the room and went into the cutting room again. While he was gone we were looking at the remaining samples wondering how much more money we could spend. Jeff returned and said,"Here Dave, take this." Dave#2 turned around and Jeff handed him "The Whopper".

Dave #2 holding "The Whopper"

Dave #2 holding "The Whopper"

Our eyes bugged out and our hearts stopped! "The Whopper" is 140 ounces of crystalline gold with a little quartz rock left just for good measure. This was almost more than a armful. As we stood there with our mouths hanging open Dave#2 said "Take my picture". That brought me back to earth and I took his picture holding it. Then it was my turn.

The Golden Optimist holding "The Whopper"

My turn with "The Whopper"

Then it was Herbies. The look on our faces in the pictures tells it all. There's no way I can even begin to describe the feeling of standing there holding "The Whopper". It had been blasted out of the quartz rock face and the quartz was then dissolved using acid leaving pure gold left. What a beautiful vein in the rock face it must have came from. If you look closely at the rock you can see the hole in the gold the rock drill had made for the dynamite charge.

After an all too short a time we handed it back and it was returned to it's safe keeping spot. We were still walking about 3 feet off of the ground as we returned to the downstairs office and said our good-bye's to the ladies working there. As we left Herbie went around to all of the women and gave them a big hug and a kiss. I guess there are some advantages to becoming an "older" prospector. The woman become a little more tolerant to eccentric behavior.

Thanks again, 16-1 Mine, for a never-to-be-forgotten experience.

Visit the 16-1 mine's Web Site.They have gold for sale over the web. If you are going their way, be sure to check on their hours of operation. Tell them "The Golden Optimist" sent you.

Dueling Banjos theme courtesy of Don Carroll
Check out his midi site. He has lots more.

Return to the Downieville Index

Return to the Main Menu