operation deep in the canyon below the camp that I got to know Boo Coo better.
I thought it was odd that my dad would invite somebody to come to our operation because he had never done it before, and the gold we were getting was pretty go so it was kind of kept secret.
When the fateful morning came, I was thinking I might get the opportunity to make the mile-long hike down the canyon without a backpack. The Buzzard rigged up the five gallons of gas that I would normally have on my back for Boo Coo, but that morning he had a special backpack for me. It seemed as though everywhere I went I always had a backpack carrying something for the Buzzard. That morning, my special burden was a 55-gallon drum. It wasn’t full, but he still left five gallons of gas in it just to make it the right weight.
The gas would slosh around inside the drum and knock me off balance from time to time. It was a difficult hike. When we arrived at the operation, we were dredging in a deep hole where a waterfall had once been.
This was the hole where later on that year me and the Buzzard, would reach the bottom and pull out more than 800 ounces of gold.
That particular morning was about a month before the strike. We were hauling large boulders out of the hole with 55-gallon drums. We would sink the drum down, put rock webbing around the boulders, fill the 55-gallon drums with air and lift the boulders up and out of the hole, and then release them in the main part of the river.
This day, we had one particularly large boulder. I called it “the Volkswagen.” The plan was for the Buzzard and Boo Coo to go down first, and I would tend the dredge. They geared up in their wetsuits and went down to work on the Volkswagen boulder. After hooking up three drums, they soon realized they would require a fourth drum to lift this behemoth boulder. The empty drums were like a bunch of balloons in a group.
My job as the tender was to make sure the sluice box stayed clear and to keep an eye on the divers. I would see their air bubbles coming up and try to look down through 35 feet of water, which was pretty deep for that particular river.
Boo Coo was under the water working with the Buzzard to lift the boulder. He had made a mistake by pulling his regulator out of his mouth, trying to unwind it from the rock webbing and the boulder. At that moment, the boulder lifted towards the surface pulling his regulator away from him. Now he was on the bottom with no air!
The Buzzard was busy manhandling the Volkswagen-size boulder they had attached to the four drums.
Boo Coo panicked. He swam for the surface but with a heavy weight-belt on it was difficult to get up for air. I saw him poke his head above water. He mumbled something and went back down. I knew something wasn’t right, so I stood up and walked over to where I saw him surface, and looked down into the water. I could see Boo Coo down below, and that there were no bubbles and no air coming up from his location. I saw him struggle to reach the surface a second time, only this time he didn’t make it. He was about five feet short of reaching it. I could see him in the water struggling and this was the time for action. I dove into the water, and swam down 20 feet to Boo Coo. He was on the verge of passing out and sucking in water. He had lost it!
The simple mistake that Boo Coo made was that he had forgotten to pop his weight-belt. There is a quick disconnect mechanism that you just pull and your weight-belt falls off. Normally, you would float to the surface like a cork, but in his panic he forgot to pull his weight-belt. He almost drowned!
I brought Boo Coo to the surface, and dragged him up onto the bedrock. By this time, the Buzzard had seen what was going on, and came to assist me in the rescue.
We turned Boo Coo on his side and he coughed up some water. He looked up at the sky, and then uttered a few cuss words followed by a few words of prayer.
That was the first day I met Boo Coo, and I can honestly say it would have been Boo Coo’s last day on Earth if I hadn’t been there to save him.
I have enjoyed reading Boo Coo’s column, As the Dredge Sucks, over the years. His last column ran in the January-February 2017 edition of Gold Prospectors magazine. Sadly, Boo Coo passed away in mid-December and will be greatly missed by everyone in the GPAA and LDMA organizations.
Tom Massie is the youngest son of Gold Prospectors Association of America founder George “Buzzard” Massie, and the host of the TV series Gold Fever.