Gold Fever
Nik Colyer

When I arrived, I notice a man laying in the shade, feet
dangling in the water, just above the cascading waterfall. I settled on the
white granite ledge in the shadow of a stately Madrone tree. The water was
cool and the day hot. Life in the Sierra's couldn't get much better. It
certainly made up for those long cold winters days last March.

An hour later the man got up, strolled over and greeted me. I returned
the gesture, but he continued to stand there looking expectant, so I took
the conversation to the logical next step.

"You live close by?"

"Yes," he said. "About ten miles to the east."

"What do you do up there?" It was an innocent question. I didn't expect much
of an answer, maybe, 'oh nothing much', or 'I work on my farm.' He looked
like a farmer or mechanic. To my astonishment, my simple question opened a
floodgate of verbiage. He launched into a one-hour monologue of a most
incredible story.

"I'm a gold miner," he started with a winsome, far off gaze.

In a careful, slow manner, as if not to scare me off, he told me about
the history of gold mining, and a storehouse of knowledge on the subject he
was. He overlaid the mining groundwork with how and where hardrock mines
were located, where gold was found in the mines and what the geology of
western Nevada County consisted of.

The entire time he was talking I got the feeling that there was
something he wasn't saying, like there was more to his story. I was relaxing
in the shade, I had no where to go, so I sat and listened, throwing in a
now and then to keep the ball rolling.

It took a while to tell the story. All the time he talked faster,
getting more animated and excited. "Most of my life I made good money as a
heavy equipment operator in Los Angeles," he said. "Ten years ago I got the
bug and chucked it all to move up here. I got myself a five inch dredge and
I'd been sluicing the rivers for nuggets ever since."

He had some stories about nuggets the size of. . . but then, like fish
stories, most locals have nugget stories.

Though his wizened fifty year old, sun bleached face was slightly
pinched, his smile, and he smiled often, was wide and cheerfully
expressive. Whenever the word gold was mentioned, and he broached the
subject often, his steel-blue eyes glazed, his bushy eyebrows leapt high on
his forehead and he got a far away, apologetic expression.

He was a tall, medium built man with large, hard working hands. The
tips of his fingers and nails looked dangerously worn.

"For years," he said, "while working the river and during my short
trips to town, I kept hearing stories about an old abandoned hardrock mine.
Everytime I heard the story and I heard it from many different people, it always
ended with two hidden ore cars filled with gold."

Yes, there it was. Maybe he finally revealed the hidden secret.

"It happened in 1942," he continued in a nervous, staccato delivery,
continually looking around as if someone was listening. "The federal
government came into the Sierras and closed down all gold mining
operations. The new federal law said that whatever gold was taken out of the
mines had to be sold to the government at the going rate. There was one
loophole; as long as the gold remained in the mine, it didn't have to be
turned in.

"As they left, the story goes, the operators of the mine in question,
blasted closed and hid every entrance with Egyptian pyramid efficiency. In
one of hundreds of mine shafts they left two one-ton ore cars packed full
of extremely high-grade gold. In 1942, the two tons of ore were estimated at
200,000 dollars. At today's market, the cars could easily be worth twenty

"Why," I asked, "would someone leave that much ore in an abandoned

"Who knows? Maybe they planned to return once the government relaxed
the restrictions. As the tale goes, no one has ever seen or heard of any of
them since."

"So, after all this time of dredging nuggets, you're no longer a gold
miner are you?"

"You're right," he said with a small Cheshire smile and gleam in his
eyes. "Now-days I'm hunting treasure!"

"And what a treasure it is," I said.

He nodded and continued. "Because there were so many stories, all
leading to those two ore cars, I made an exhaustive search at the library and
courthouse looking for some documentation on the mine. Though there were
volumes of information on every other mine in the county, I could only find
a single original document filed to open that mine back in the late 1800's.

"My curiosity got the best of me and one day we hiked back into the
forest to see for ourselves if it really existed. Though there were no
obvious open shafts, we did find rotting buildings and remnants of a mining

"The saga of the mine intrigued me," he said with another repentant
grimace. "No. . . I guess, well. . . it hooked me.

"A few years ago myself and three partners made a deal with the owner
of the property. The first day we arrived as the new operators, two men
happened to be walking around the property. Being a friendly sort, I started
talking to
them. They said they were planning on reopening the mine. I told them we'd
beat them to the deal. Though they were disappointed, they said that since
we were serious about working the mine then they had a gift for us.

"A few days later a package came in the mail. It was the original diary
of the mine operations from the first day of its opening. In the diary it
was clearly written how rich the mine really was. One entry, and there were
many, said a single pocket of fifty-fifty gold and ore was four feet by
eight feet by a hundred feet long. Usually rich pockets are at the most a
few feet in diameter."

We talked a while about the diary and its entries. I knew not to broach
any subject about how much gold he'd found so far. In general, miners would
just as soon go to their grave then reveal anything about their gold.
He did tell me how they approached this mysterious mine though.

"The only way we were able to find any hidden shaft entrances at all
was to search out old artifacts among the rock 'tailing' piles that had been
dumped out of the mine. It took some time, because they hid the entrances
so well, but we'd climb the mountain above the piles and search for any signs
of old openings. We found some. We're looking for others.

"Often, the entrances were sealed with a single huge stone slab, then
covered with dirt and planted. My partners and I have spent the last few
years mucking out one shaft after another looking for those two ore cars."   
"Hell man, are you making a living?" I asked.

"Oh sure, we've found some gold in the process and we found the Wells
Fargo safe."

He never said if the safe had anything in it.

"Some of the shafts are so old and dangerous that we started working
from above the mine through one of the air vents. They blew rock into and hid
the airshafts too. We're down to sixty feet on the one we've been working on.
We've had to pull every rock out one at a time. We're getting down there
though and were going to find those two ore cars. When we do, we'll split
that twenty million."

"Then are you going to Tahiti, or Hawaii and live in the lap of

There was that far away grin again. His eye twitched. He looked around
nervously and whispered, "No. I'll take my money and stake some other
mines, then do it again."

"I guess it's in your blood?" I asked as I was gathering my things to

His eyebrows lifted, eyes brightened. He gave me one last apologetic
smile and said, "I guess it is."

          Copyright 1999 by Nik C. Colyer.  All rights reserved.

Nik C. Colyer has been a novelist for seventeen years. He offers for free,
his third novel Maranther's Deception (a story about being lost in the
desert) in ten page installments once a week. Contact him at: nikbar@nccn.net