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Progress, Regress, and Continuation.

When last our band of ne’er-do-well’s touched down, we had ventured into the town of Red Feathers to gather supplies, acquire the parts to repair the heretofore broken dredge, and to lose the afternoon to pool and beer at the local potbelly lodge.  I’m happy to report that we had great success, there were many parts and numerous games of pool.

Indeed the following day proved significantly productive. Dave was up early. Before breakfast he had cut the offending length of split open dredge hose away from the suction head, and had reattached the shorter but not leaking hose with the collection of metal hose clamps we’d picked up in Red Feather. We fired up the dredge and were disappointed by poor performance. The dredge nozzle has two functions, suck, and blow. It either uses water to vacuum up loose rock and sediment, or it blasts pressurized water out to help unbury rocks and blast apart compacted sediment. It could do neither. We shut her down, morale took a palpable hit. Without a functional dredge we were out of luck. I pulled the head of the dredge off the connecting tubes. We hunted for clogs. We jammed sticks down every tube we could, hoping to knock loose a giant lump of clogging dry clay. I worked the nozzle lever which switches between blast and vacuum, with the hope that a clog would come free, and finally, I used a small flathead screwdriver to clear a copious amount of clay and small stones from the dredge nozzle. Doing everything we could without actually soaking the dredge overnight in some sort of dissolvent, we plugged her back in.

Houston and Erik fired up the pump and we were back in Business! Our haphazard repairs had functioned, and we were blasting and sucking at full power.

Our good luck lasted for about seven minutes. I twisted the dredge head at the wrong angle and promptly ruptured the pump line, Again!

Dave, with a sigh, pulled on his engineer hat, and repaired the dredge hose, again.
Removing me safely from the head of the dredge, we worked for the rest of the day without incident. We burned through two tanks of gas in the dredge pump that day. The hole which we’re working was over four feet deep and nearly six in diameter.

The following day, we performed the same. Dave had to make a run to town, and while Houston, Erik, and I were waiting for our Crisco/Vaseline mixture to cool, we gathered up shovels and headed into the muck. Using good old fashion manpower, we doubled the footprint of the hole. We stirred up a large amount of (hopefully) diamond retaining material. In addition, we worked on our tans. Now, the hills of Colorado might be a curious place to work on a tan, but when your work crew is one of significantly white men, a little bit of dappled light and clouds are a good start.

It must be noted that we went overboard, and all of us now bare interesting sunburns in the patterns which we cannot reach on our backs. Supposedly mine is in the form of North America, with Greenland on the wrong side. It would, be simple I suppose, to have slathered each other’s backs in suntan lotion. Since we’ve never seemed to have a camera at hand, there was no way to record ourselves spreading lotion on each other. This means there was no point really, so we each spent a good amount of the day awkwardly bending our arms in an attempt to spread sunscreen on our own backs. We are not pros.

Other than our attempts at sunscreen, this weekend has been one of productivity and success. We’ve moved a lot of material and now have a large number of possible diamonds.
The only hiccup came yesterday, on what will heretofore be known as Aren’s bad day. It was a day filled with work. The dredge worked, there was a great lunch, and a happy mid-afternoon buzz generated by “full-throttle whiskey sours”. That buzz did not translate to much hard work on my part after lunch, but we did make plenty of headway. I have come to gauge my sense of time on how long it takes the dredge pump to run through a tank of gas. We completed another tank of dredging, or rather, Dave, Erick and Houston completed the hour, and I spent the time wearing my environmentalist hat, creating a dam which would block the silt runoff from reentering the lake. It was a success though, it didn’t add much positive work to the effort.

After our work day, it was decided that we’d head back into Red Feathers and find a shower. It had been a week since any of us had bathed and it was high time to wash away the grime. Bright eyed and bushy tailed we loaded clean clothes and our smelly bodies into the truck. We made it to the general store and were happy to find out there was a restaurant nearby which offered showers. We stepped out of the general store into torrential downpour and an amazingly loud thunderstorm. I suppose, had we been really desperate we could have stripped down and run around Main Street in Red Feathers. It was raining hard enough. But we decided to have a warm shower, find a nice meal, and maybe meet a waitress to name our dredge after.

In these things we were successful, almost. The side by side shower stalls in the Western Ridge Restaurant proved fickle. While Erik received a shower hot enough to scald, I was on the nozzle end of a shower with water cold enough that i swear it had frozen to hail by the time it hit the floor of the stall. To top it off, when either of us adjusted the temperature it had the opposite effect on the other. Erik’s options were hot and scalding, mine were freezing and luke warm trickle. I may as well have showered in Main Street back at Red Feathers.

Admittedly the rest of our desires were a success, we indeed found a cute waitress, though we were somewhat snubbed after describing who we were and what we were up too. Dinner was tasty and filling. But my desert was a little less than desirous. I ordered a milk shake. It was followed by a curious desire to see what the combination of porter and milkshake tasted like. I took a swig of milkshake and drained the dregs of my porter, only to discover that Dave had used the bottle as a depository for chewing tobacco…. yuck. It had at least three out of the four of us laughing extraordinarily hard. Dinner over, we headed back to camp.

Unfortunately upon returning, we found that the enormous thunderstorm which had ripped over Red Feathers had also hit our camp. It had flipped mine and Houston’s tent onto its head, which had tangled our cots and piled our bedding. Houston’s books were damp, as were mine. The poles of our tent had multiple cracks. I addition, my cot and bedding had ended up on top, and as a result, were absolutely soaked. From a bit too drunk to work productively, through someone else’s chewing tobacco, to a soaked pile of bedding, the jokes about Aren’s bad day abounded.

Really though, I can’t complain. It is the kind of ordeal that is pretty easily survivable, and might literally be a good story. We relocated the tent into a spot in which the sun may not wake me with blasting heat, and we were able to name our dredge. Target of Opportunity will suck again!

-Aren

Erik Brains a Chipmunk

The day starts like any other.  We wake up, sloth through breakfast, kick a ball around, throw a stick for the dog, and make our way to the pit to suck up some diamonds through the dredge.

Mud has begun to love the pit.  Toss a rock in and he jumps into the six foot, opaque abyss and starts diving for the stone making silly sounds while barking/wimpering under the water.  This routine is what takes place while I coat the dredge with the grease for the day and the others prime the pump.  When the dredge starts up we begin sucking up the blue, rich clay that is the trademark of weathered kimberlite.

Deeper, we hit pockets of bright blue sand that iridesces with mica.  Some of the coolest, most beautiful looking soil I have ever seen.  It looks as though it should be pungent with bitumen but it just smells like dirt.

My diamond tester has begun to go on the fritz and Aren sent a message to his brother Lars and Lars’ girlfriend Echo to grab us a new one on his way out to meet us at our gypsy camp (by gypsy, I mean “white trash mess of a camp”; we are disgusting).  My trailer (the Honey Badger) is ghetto enough as it is, but when covered with a torn green tarp with the bed of my truck as a makeshift kitchen and Dave’s Jeep acting as a contact point keeping the tarp suspended it looks pretty shabby.  Add to this the empty beer bottles, and coke cans spilling out of recycling bins and strewn about the camp, the torn apart dog toys, the camping chairs that are usually blown over by the regular thunderstorms that make us cold and wet; we appear to be the slobbiest of refugees.  The forest rangers avoid us… For we are “The Undesirables”.

By the the late afternoon, after Erik, Dave, Aren, and I call it quits in the pit we begin our afternoon routine of farting and telling jokes when Erik spots his nemesis: a chipmunk he keeps calling a “squirrel”.  Erik asks Dave, “if I kill this squirrel will you gut it?”

Dave: “You bet.”

Erik: “I’ll be back in a minute without a squirrel.”

A few seconds pass and Erik shouts, “Holy shit. I just got it!”  None of us really believe him, but his excitement got me curious,  Sure enough there is a chipmunk on its back going through the last few twitches of life with serious head trauma.  Erik has become the first man to brain a chipmunk with a rock in probably 150,000 years.  Erik is now closer to our ancestors than any of us ever will be.

Dave is a squelcher.  He refuses to clean the carcass so Erik and Aren begin the task with Erik doing the dirty work and Aren giving him directions using the knowledge he gained from doing the same with pigs when he was 13.  Erik saws off the head using a steak knife.  It does not go smoothly.  The chipmunk does that dance those lipstick-clad models do in that Robert Palmer music video; rhythmically turning side to side while being very slowly decapitated.

The steak knife will not do.  Erik goes back to our mining camp and retrieves the box cutter we purchased to cut away the bad sections of the pressure hose on the dredge.  Next, utilizing the new sharp tool, Aren tells Erik to cut off the pelt and gut the sucker.  Erik is the protégé, Aren the master.  I over hear important tidbits of advice like, “now cut along the inside of each arm and peel it back.  There you go!” And, “No, no. Cutaround the butthole!” When it is all done Erik puts the little bugger in a plastic bag and invents a marinade to soak it in.

This is when Lars and Echo arrive with two new shovels (we keep breaking them) and a Presidium diamond tester, just as Dave and Erik are burying the unused remains of the Chipmunk (the head and guts).    The story gets recounted to our new gypsies.  I liken the deceased to one of the effete chipmunks from those old Looney Tunes cartoons where they always talked about furniture and decor.  I think one of them is named “Clarence”.  Everyone concludes that Erik has killed Clarence.

The presidium says that everything we have found is not diamonds.  Uh oh.  I don’t believe it.  I think the presidium needs faceted stones (cut stones, not rough like what we have) to get an accurate reading.  I will get conclusive data when I am able to polish a “window” into several of the tones when I return to Seattle.

We kicked the ball around for a while, and when it got dark we built a fire.  Then Erik grilled the Clarence to well-done and it was passed around.  Not much meat on chipmunks, but Erik’s marinade was delicious!  Everyone had a piece and strangely I bet we all wished there was more to go around.  I can now say that I have eaten a chipmunk killed with a rock at 20 feet.  We have become mountain men at last!

The next day (today) we awake and the wind is wild, the sky is full of lenticular clouds (the ones that look like spaceships) and we sloth through until the afternoon to begin work on the pit.  The dredge (recently renamed “The Target of Opportunity) isn’t having much suction.  We look at the engine, add oil, and things get a little better but not like the “old days”.  Ideas are thrown about: the intake is clogged, the hoses are clogged, the depth of the pit is making it too hard to get good water flow back up the eight feet to the sluice box…  I finally conclude that the impeller in the water pump is shot and we probably need to rebuild it.  Thus, sucking sucks.

We should be moving six thousand pounds of Earth an hour.  Instead, we are moving dozens of pounds and hour.  That might be it for diamond mining on the trip as the impeller will need to be rebuilt and that will take a couple of days to find the parts and/or a shop to do the work.  The afternoon thundershower moved through, Lars and Echo made delicious chili and we moved on to the Pot Belly for billiards, drinks, fried pickles and the Internet to make this post.

Tomorrow we’ll clean up the mine site and try to return it to it’s natural state as best we can.  Then it will be time to bid adieu to the mountains of Colorado and push north to the Black Hills for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.  Our adventure is far from complete and further debauchery is assured!