Equipment & Planning Checklist for Prospecting this Summer
Most of us can’t wait to get out in the field for another season of prospecting, especially after spending so much time at home for the past year. But before you head out it may be wise to do some maintenance tune-ups and a little research for the prospecting days ahead.
Even the most basic equipment deserves a quick check before heading out for the first time. This is especially true for equipment that has been stored over the winter in a garage or shed, subject to freezing and thawing, exhaust fumes from vehicles, and the gradual deterioration of petroleum-based products from gas to oil to rubber hoses, gaskets and fittings.
We also tend to simply unpack and store equipment at the end of a season without thinking too much about next year. Sometimes we hope that we might squeeze in one more trip. At other times we do the basics like pouring Stabil into gas tanks, but how often do we do a detailed examination of equipment and assume it’ll work just fine after months of sitting idle? If you have more advanced prospecting equipment, now’s the time to make sure it’s ready to run at its best. Here’s a checklist of what to look at across a range of prospecting equipment:
o Inspect for cracks, warping and any accumulation of dirt or film from engine exhaust or damage from freezing and thawing. It’s best to store gold pans in a large plastic bag over the winter, but how many of us really do that?
o Repair, replace or recondition. Gold pans are inexpensive and they’re the first and primary tool used at any location. They’re also easy to recondition.
o Recondition by rubbing with detergent (DAWN), sand or gravel. Rub and rough up, rinse and dry.
o Pull the mats and rinse or replace if torn or worn.
o Rinse the hardware.
o Make sure all hardware, nuts, bolts, etc.. are tight.
o Try to capture any sand or gravel you rinse and pan it later. You’ll find gold.
o Burn and pan any worn or torn mats, moss or carpets you replace. They’re still holding gold too.
o Check hardware fittings and tighten or replace. A sluice, highbanker or trommel is subject to a lot of vibration.
o Clean or replace the air filter on the water pump. Highbanking is surrounded by a lot of dust. A clogged air filter will affect engine function and the life of the engine.
o Check the spark plug and replace if corroded.
o Change your oil. Highbankers often run all day and the standard recommendation is to change the oil every 25 hours. If you didn’t change the oil after last season (and few of us do) now’s the time.
o Drain and replace the gas. Most of us put a fuel additive like Stabil in our gas tanks over the winter. Even then, drain any old gas and refill the gas tank.
o Always keep the gas tank full at all times to avoid condensation. Condensation leads to fuel line, carburetor and engine problems.
o Start the engine and see how it’s running. It’s a lot easier to mess around with an engine that won’t start or run steady in your garage rather than on the side of a river or creek.
o Check the hopper. Hoppers take a beating. Make sure the bottom and side walls are still sturdy and pound out any severe dents.
o Check for rust, and paint or treat to prevent further rusting.
o Check the grizzly. Replace or straighten any bent bars.
o Check the damper. Dampers take a beating in the crash box so make sure it still has the flexibility to let material and water under pressure pass while spreading it out evenly as it enters the sluice.
o Check the water hoses. Flex them and look for cracks or bends especially if they have been exposed to periods of freezing and thawing in a garage or shed. Repair or replace. If you can, run some water through them and check for leaks or weak points.
o Check gaskets and fittings. Water hose connections keep the water pressure constant and any leaks or old gaskets require replacement.
o Check the carpet and the moss. Replace any torn or damaged carpet and miner’s moss. Burn the old carpet and moss, and pan the ashes.
o Remove the engine and set aside.
o Rinse the whole trommel apparatus with a hose while closely checking any gears that spin the trommel.
o Check the sluice as above.
o Change the oil on the water pump, inspect the spark plug, drain old gas and refill with fresh gas.
o Make sure the motor powering the trommel is operating properly and check any belts connecting the motor to the trommel.
o Do a wet run. Run water through the hoses and/or pipes and check for leaks, cracks and splits.
o Do the same maintenance on the water pump engine, hoses and sluice as above.
o Check the floats for abrasion or damage and make sure hardware and attachments to the sled are firm.
o Do a test cycle with some water from a 55-gallon drum or kid’s swimming pool.
General 12-volt equipment maintenance
o Check the water levels in the batteries and refill if needed.
o Check the acid concentration and adjust if necessary.
o Clean the terminals with a mix of baking soda and water, and polish with a terminal brush.
o Check any cables for corrosion and clean.
o Top off the battery with a full charge and make sure the load valve is functioning properly.
o Replace the batteries and clean the terminals if needed. (You should always remove the batteries when storing it).
o Double check cables, connections and coils and lightly clean up.
o Do a test hike with various metals, and adjust frequencies and check sensitivity.
Precision tools double-check
√ Snuffer bottle
√ Gold bottles and containers
√ Trowel, pick and shovel
√ Crevice tools
√ Spoons and scoops
√ Safety equipment
Think of this as a strategy for the season. Where have you gone before, where have you heard about and where do think you may go over the season? A little research and planning can make every trip a success without some of the surprises or disappointments of the past, especially if you encounter any changes to rules, regulations, property rights and claims.
You can start with the GPAA Claims book if you’re a GPAA member and then move onto the Internet. There are many resources listed below that can give you quick answers to some good questions. Here’s your planning checklist:
• List your possible destinations for the season
• Double-check routes to make sure roads and bridges are still open and that nothing has changed from last year. Many of us travel to remote areas. Don’t assume the old road is still there.
o Google Maps: www.google.com/maps
o USGS Geological Maps: www.usgs.gov/products/maps/geologic-maps
• Check for changes on property rights. Property changes hands.
o Plat Maps: www.acrevalue.com
• Check for changes in rules and regulations at any site.
o This varies by state. It’s best to do a search on the Internet for “Gold Prospecting Rules and Regulations” and the name of your state or province. Some GPAA State Chapters have websites where they identify state rules and regulations for prospecting. Go to the GPAA Chapters tab on the GPAA home page and see if your state has a local website.
• Check for changes on claims.
o GPAA Local Chapters: goldprospectors.org/Community.
o The Bureau of Land Management (BLM): www.BLM.gov (Search for “Mining Claims.”)
o Make sure to read Kevin Hoagland’s articles on the new BLM-MLRS system that has replaced the LR2000.
• Investigate new possibilities
o GPAA: www.goldprospectors.org/Properties
• Network with fellow prospectors who may have additional insights on destinations and conditions
Taking the time to do some basic maintenance and planning can actually be fun. It should only take a weekend or two at most and will give you a chance to anticipate the adventures ahead in a new and, hopefully, much better season.
GPAA Member Steve Nubie has been writing professionally for 45 years and resides in the North Midwest. He fondly remembers gold panning on family vacations with his dad in Colorado.