Article as featured in the March/April 2016 issue of Gold Prospectors magazine
By Sarah Reijonen
He might not have a piece of paper that says he is a master of his craft, but he does have more than 35 years of on-the-job training.
“I didn’t have any formal education in prospecting or mining in any sense of the word, but I did get a bachelor’s degree in field experience. That helps a lot,” said Alan Trees, owner and founder of Gold Grabber Manufacturing in Riggins, Idaho.
Trees started prospecting in his early 20s.
“When I was growing up, my parents owned a gem shop. They didn’t do any mining ... and then when I got to be about 19 or 20 years old, my dad showed me how to make a sluice box. Then he taught me how to use a gold pan,” Trees said. “That’s about as far as he could take me. From then on, I learned out in the field.”
As he delved deeper into gold prospecting, Trees discovered that some of his gold recovery equipment could use a few personal touches, so he came up with the Gold Grabber.
“I’m always trying to change things or make things a little bit better—trying to improve on an idea. And, being a gold miner myself, I started taking what was out there and tweaking it and coming up with my own style,” said Trees, who is a featured speaker at this year’s Phoenix, Las Vegas, Portland and Boise GPAA Gold & Treasure Shows.
Being from Idaho, Trees was wholly aware of the need to be able to trap fine gold.
“Most gold dredges—I started doing gold dredges after the Gold Grabber—are designed pretty much for coarse gold, like California gold. But Idaho had really fine gold, which is what most other states have, so I had to design a dredge that could recover fine gold, so you would still be able to make a living at it, or at least be successful,” Trees said.
Trees’ field experience paid off once again when he went to manufacture his own dredges. Even Mother Nature played her part in drawing up the blueprint.
“My gold dredges are flared. In other words, they’re V-shaped instead of a straight box. A straight box causes about a 20 percent loss factor in fine gold, and if you flare the box where the water comes in, it slows down,” Trees said. “I got to looking at rivers and streams and I noticed that when the river’s narrow, the gold is running fast; then as soon as the river widens, the gold falls out, so that was the idea behind making he flared dredge.”
While he mimicked nature, Trees also used designs from the original Gold Rush.
“In the 1800s, the Chinese had a little short sluice box that was V-shaped, and the white man had a Long Tom that was 20 feet long,” Trees said. “The Chinese could recover the same amount of gold in a short box and use less water.”
Growth in the GPAA
Trees relationship with the Gold Prospectors Association of America began in 1979, before he started modifying and finally manufacturing his own dredges.
“I invented the Gold Grabber in 1979 and [GPAA founder] George Massie invited me to go to the Mesa Gold Show, which was one of the very early shows, so I brought my product down there and had fun. It was a success story from there on,” Trees said.
While he has provided a lot of insider knowledge at the gold shows, Trees has also gleaned wisdom and sparked new ideas from customers. Like a true prospector always filling in his holes, Trees saw a hole and moved to fill it.
“I came out with a line of gold dredges that require no motorized pumps or fuel—they’re hand operated. I started them five years ago, and I’m the only one in the industry that saw this coming,” Trees said. “Now you see this in California—no motorized equipment within 100 feet of any streams or rivers. You can take most of my equipment and run it in any river or stream or any piece of ground in any state where you can use a gold pan. But now you have a major piece of mining equipment with which to process your ore.”
Originally, he had one store in Riggins, but Trees added another in Ontario, Ore., where his gold pans and most of the plastics associated with his equipment are produced. He also has his prospecting products online, but when Trees is on the road with GPAA he said it’s all about providing information instead of product placement.
On stage, you’ll see Trees representing a variety of different brands and pieces of equipment.
Trees plan of attack at the Las Vegas, Phoenix, Portland, and Boise shows is to ease greenhorns into prospecting through elementary education.
“There’s people with all different mining abilities and I know more and more at these shows we’re starting to get newbies and beginners, and a lot of them are saying, ‘The metal detector guy, he’s way over our head. The guy that talks about dredges, it’s way too much.’ So, I’ve kind of come up with a presentation that brings people into it. If you just want to start out with a gold pan, that’s fine, too. Some people only want to go that far. So, we’ll get into how that works,” he said.
From panning methods, Trees will progress into the more lucrative prospecting methods that require a little more know-how and investment.
“Then we’ll take the next step and go into sluice boxes, something a little more aggressive, but not expensive. So we’ll discuss if that’s something we want to do or not and the reason why we do that. And then, if you want to take the big step, we’ll go to highbankers up to a gold dredge and metal detectors,” Trees said. “I thought I’d give people a cross-section of each one of those activities and then they can sign on to whatever they want to do.”
Ultimately, Trees wants to create a safe space for first-time prospectors.
“It’s going to be a basic, all-around gold mining class. I seem to get the best response from that,” Trees said. “If I just immediately jump into something more advanced, I start losing people’s interest, because they feel intimidated.”
Whether you are new to prospecting or an old-timer with a beard full of gold flakes, you will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Trees has gold fever—it’s a no-brainer for a man who has made prospecting his livelihood and chased it to the ends of the earth, from South America to the South Pacific.
“I would say that gold fever is alive and well,” Trees said. “I can remember seeing my first flake of gold when I was about 19. There’s a certain aura or something that it gives off that excites you. It’s the big challenge.”
Featured GPAA Gold & Treasure Show Speaker
• WHO: Alan Trees, owner of Gold Grabber Manufacturing
• WHAT: Get Trees insider knowledge on different forms of prospecting
• WHERE: Las Vegas, Nev.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Portland, Ore. and Boise, Idaho
• WHEN: Feb. 27-28; March 12-13; April 9-10 and June 11-12
• WHY: Learn how and where to find gold!
• HOW: Attend the GPAA Gold & Treasure Shows
• FACEBOOK: For more information about the GPAA Gold & Treasure Shows, go to www.facebook.com/GPAAGoldShows. Then, click on the Events tab near the top of the page, and don’t forget to invite your friends.
• GOLD GRABBER: Check out Trees products at http://golddredgebuilders.com
Sarah Reijonen is a freelance writer based in California. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org