Most people believe that gold mining in the Yukon and Alaska was
primarily done with gold pans, or possibly sluice boxes. In fact, those methods were only used
for testing streams, and in the early stages of mining in some areas such as the Klondike.
Relatively little gold was recovered, and it wasn't until the arrival of huge dredges that
gold production soared.
With buckets that gouged out several cubic yards of gravel on each pass,
enormous amounts of material could be processed by a dredge, so even fairly poor ground could be
The bucket-line dredges that changed the character of gold mining in
Alaska and the Yukon were invented in New Zealand. Many changes and additions were made to
make them suitable for working frozen ground, but the technology changed little for the 80 years
they were in use. Although they look complex, the basic concept is very simple - the buckets
scoop up the gravel and dump it into sluice boxes inside the dredge, water is pumped in to
separate the gold from the gravel, and the worthless gravel is then dumped out the back.
Preserving machinery the size of a gold dredge can present enormous
technical problems. In 1996, Dredge No. 4, which is owned by Parks Canada, was found to have
structural damage which required extensive emergency repairs to save the gantry structure. There
is a comprehensive paper on-line describing the process (see the Links page).
Several private attempts are being made in Alaska to develop
tourist-based operations with a gold dredge as the centrepiece. One such dredge, the Sixtymile
Dredge, was moved in September 1999 from the Sixtymile gold district near Dawson to Skagway.
Dredge #8 is also open for tours in Fairbanks, and the Pedro Dredge in Chicken is being readied
The use of huge dredges such as the ones in the Klondike and at Nome
is limited to Siberia now. In North America, it may well be impossible today to get an
environmental clearance to conduct such large-scale stripping of valleys. The Walter Johnson
Dredge, which operated on Clear Creek in the central Yukon in 1981, did some reclamation of the
tailings area. Visitors, however, often make negative comments about the huge barren tailings
piles along the Klondike Highway south of Dawson City.
Most modern dredges are much smaller, and use suction to bring up the
gold-bearing gravel from river bottoms. Many are used by "recreational" miners due to their
relatively low cost and ease of use.
The largest and most famous of the dredges were manufactured by
Yuba or Marion, but many other companies built dredges of various sizes.
Photos of Gold Dredges
in the North
Alaska Mines Corporation
The company ran 2 dredges near Nome from 1908-1916. This photo is of their power plant.
Cowden ("Lost Chicken") Dredge
An illustrated feature showing it as it looked in 1999.
Cowden and Pedro Dredges
A photojournal from a trip to Chicken has commentary about, and many photos of, both dredges.
Dredge No. 4
Now stabilized at its last working location in the Klondike gold fields near Dawson City.
Dredge No. 4
This paper looks at the issues involved in restoration of the bow gantry, focusing on the rigging.
Dredge No. 11
The story of its destruction, from the Klondike Sun, followed by a short history.
Dredge No. 8
Now a tourist attraction north of Fairbanks.
The Jack Wade Dredge
Several photos of the dredge as it was in 1999 and 2000, and some of its parts at an interpretive site in Chicken.
Pedro Gold Dredge
Originally operated by the Fairbanks Exploration Company, this Yuba dredge now rests at an
RV park at Chicken, Alaska.
Sievertsen-Johnson Mining and Dredging Company
The company worked a Risdon Iron Works dredge on the Solomon River, near Nome, in 1911.
Another view of the dredge in operation on the Solomon River.
An illustrated feature showing it being moved from Big Gold Creek, Yukon to Skagway, Alaska in 1999.
Three Friends Mining Company
Installed in 1905, the company's dredge No.1 was the first truly successful gold dredge on Alaska's Seward Peninsula.
Walter Johnson Dredge
A newspaper article from 1981 - "Clear Creek: Canada's only working dredge."
Wills' Cigarette Card - 'Dredging for Gold'
An historic trading card showing a California-style bucket-line dredge at work.
Photos of Gold Dredges
in Other Regions
The Advance Gold Dredging Company
A 1900 stock certificate for this company, which was apparently operating a steam-powered dredge in California.
Dredging the Sacramento River
This postacrd shows a simple flume dredge working near Marysville, California in about 1908.
Gold Dredge in California
A postcard of a gold dredging operation in California in about 1909.
When the monster machines ruled the creeks
An article by Michael Gates from his "History Hunter" series in the Yukon News.
An excellent presentaion by the Oakland Museum of California.
The simple start to testing possible gold-bearing ground.
The Klondike Gold Rush
A major resource for study of the Gold Rush.
Alexandra, New Zealand
A brief comment about dredging that began in 1863.