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The Sixtymile Gold Dredge

by Murray Lundberg


Dateline: September 12, 1999

Washington Iron Works plaque on the winch of the Sixtymile Dredge     Scattered through the gold fields of the North are an astounding number of artifacts that could help tell of both the hardships and the pleasures of mining for gold in the wilderness. Slowly but surely, the pans, shovels, cabins and even huge pieces of mechanized equipment are disappearing, either into the hands of private collectors, or succumbing to old age. For one gold dredge on Big Gold Creek, though, 1999 marks not the end, but a new beginning.

    In 1946, Yukon Explorations Ltd. brought this diesel-powered bucket-line dredge to the Yukon from Oregon, where it had apparently been working. The following year, they rebuilt it near the confluence of Glacier and Big Gold Creeks, in the Sixtymile district about 50 miles west of Dawson. The dredge, built by Washington Iron Works, has 70 buckets, each 3½ cubic feet, on an endless chain.

    Yukon Explorations held a total of 133 placer claims, and 62 miles of prospecting leases in the district, and on August 31, 1947, the dredge starting working ground that had been thawed by a crew of about 30 men. Among them was Jimmy Lynch, who now, 52 years later, still lives on the property (which he now owns) beside the dredge. During the 2 days I spent at the dredge camp last week, I had the pleasure of spending an evening with Jimmy, talking about his life mining on Glacier and Big Gold, starting in 1937.

    Ingenuity is an important trait for mine managers to possess - in 1948, when a shortage of bulldozer parts caused a delay in stripping the overburden from the gold-bearing gravel, the creek was dammed to divert the flow of water and wash away the muck. This was Yukon Exploration's last year of operations, however, as they declared bankruptcy that winter.

    The property and dredge were taken over by the Yukon Placer Mining Company, and they operated until 1954 with uneven sucess. The gold values for the most part were not high enough to be profitable, and in 1954, with only 1,528 ounces of gold recovered that season, the dredge was shut down for the last time.

Cutting the bolts that held the gold dredge's digging ladder on.     Taking apart a 60-year old dredge is certainly not a job for amateurs; even men experienced in this sort of work can run into trouble. On September 9th, one of the crew members fell off a steel beam, badly breaking his ankle. He was taken to Dawson by truck, to the airport by ambulance, and then by medevac aircraft to Whitehorse and later Vancouver.

    Each morning that I was there, work on the high sections of the dredge had to be delayed until the frost had melted and the water evaporated from the steel.

    The new home for the Sixtymile Dredge will be Skagway, Alaska, where it will be rebuilt as a private interpretive centre. It will be located on the banks of the Skagway River, right across from the huge shops of the White Pass & Yukon Route railway. Although the first truckload arrived in Skagway yesterday, it will be a while before any but the most experienced eye will recognize the various chunks of steel as a gold dredge!

The Sixtymile Dredge as it was being disassembled, September 11, 1999 The Sixtymile Dredge as it was being disassembled, September 11, 1999. The digging ladder is to the right, and the spud, which is dropped as an anchor to hold the dredge in position as it digs, is sticking up at left centre.

    Historic purists will note that there were never any dredges on the Skagway River. The reason was simple - there was no gold there. However, for a commercial tour operator, the location provides access to large numbers of people (particularly those on the cruise ships), and with proper design of the dredge's surroundings and the tours through it, will be able to provide a good introduction to the gold mining history of the Yukon and Alaska. Another possible benefit of the location across from the railway shops is the opportunity to increase awareness of the value of industrial artifacts in understanding our history. Coordinating tours with the railway could have benefits for everybody concerned. Update: The "Klondike Gold Dredge" tour operation is now open - see their Web site at http://www.klondikegolddredge.com

    There are, however, other opinions - should historic artifacts be removed from the Yukon, or taken out of context like this? It's a subject that needs to be discussed, as similar situations will almost certainly arise again in the future.






Click the photos below to enlarge them...

The main road out of the Sixtymile gold district

The main road out of the Sixtymile gold district in September. These amazing colours attract photographers from around the world each autumn.

Jimmy Lynch's cabin on Big Gold Creek, beside the dredge. Sixtymile gold district, Yukon Territory

Jimmy Lynch's cabin on Big Gold Creek, beside the dredge.

Working on the gold dredge's tailings stacker, getting it ready to load onto a flatbed truck

Working on the 86-foot long tailings stacker, disassembling it just enough so it will fit on a couple of low-bed trailers.

A medevac aircraft removing an injured dredge worker to hospital

A medevac aircraft removing an injured dredge worker to hospital.

The dredge camp area on Big Gold Creek - the gold dredge is barely visible right in the centre of the photo.

The dredge camp area on Big Gold Creek - the gold dredge is barely visible right in the centre of the photo.

Rebuilding the dredge along the Skagway River in March 2000.

Rebuilding the dredge along the Skagway River in March 2000.

The photographs are all by Murray Lundberg

To Gold Dredges of the North



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