Digging for gold didn’t make us rich

By Bob Huber: PNT Columnist

When I was a kid, schools shut down each June to give enterprising students a chance to get rich. Taking into account the prevailing economy at the time — a nickel bought a Coke which included a two-cent rebate for the bottle, if you could find a nickel — whenever I hear someone talk about those good old days, I get the galloping glurks.

Amidst these economic foibles, a few enterprising grownups temporarily panned gold on the banks of the creek that ran through my Colorado hometown. Jobs were nonexistent, but a willing entrepreneur could make $l5 a week by cashing in his gold dust at Tierney’s Jewelry.

Toss into this economic mayhem half a dozen enterprising guys turned loose for the summer without advice from their depression weary parents and you were likely to hear someone say, “Hey, let’s pan gold in Clear Creek and strike it rich.”

(Milling around in our youthful minds were smatterings of Saturday matinee movies where someone was always yelling, “Gold! Gold! Drinks for everyone!”)

The upshot was, on a hot day in June we dragged a homemade sluice box, shovels, and a couple dishpans down to Clear Creek and staked out a claim on a sandbar below the WPA Bridge. We called our venture the Colorado Mining and Pirate Brigade, and we ran up a skull and crossbones banner on a tall willow to ward off snoopy sisters.

The first day two guys shoveled, two sluiced, and two panned, but by the second day only my friend Smooth Heine and I remained on the claim. Everyone else recalled prior commitments like piano lessons or lawns that needed mowing.

By the end of the week, Smooth and I had blistered hands and aching backs. But we also had a test tube full of gold dust. (“Gold! Gold! Drinks for everyone!”)

That evening we weighed our cache on my mother’s baby chick scale, cheering when the needle hit the one-ounce mark. We pictured ourselves on the front page of the local paper under the headline: “BOYS BUY BANK.”

So Smooth and I took our test tube into Tierney’s Jewelry Store where the ancient proprietor looked over his glasses and said, “Sell me what?” We handed over our gold dust, and without a word he poured the contents into a tiny pan and covered it with a small amount of mercury. “How long you boys been working down there?” he asked.

“A whole week,” we sighed, rubbing our backs. Mr. Tierney stroked his chin.

We pointed at the gold. “How much is it worth?”
“When I pour off the mercury, we’ll find out,” he said. A moment later he said, “Looks like about a dollar’s worth.”
“Is that all?” we cried.

“Well, I could maybe go five cents more,” Mr. Tierney said. “Not much value to gold since Mr. Roosevelt took over.”
As we walked gloomily out of the store with the $1.05 in our pockets, I glanced back in time to see the old man brush the remnants of our gold into the trash and shake his head, a smile on his lips. His wife wagged a finger at him, but he just kept grinning.

On that long ago summer day I calculated that Mr. Tierney was a member of a secret fraternity whose fellows pledged to provide soda pop funds for young guys of sterling character. So taking his cue, we rounded up our fair-weather friends and, with a flourish reminiscent of Douglas Fairbanks, shouted, “Gold! Gold! Drinks for everyone.”

I don’t recall how we spent the spare change. Whatever, we didn’t buy the bank.

Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales. Some of his stories are mostly true. Contact him at 356-3674 or by e-mail:
mlh@zianet.com