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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow A gleam in the dark, dreary mines

A gleam in the dark, dreary mines

Travis Gray portrays a miner with words of warning for victims of the Gold Fever. (Baker City Herald/Kathy Orr).
Travis Gray portrays a miner with words of warning for victims of the Gold Fever. (Baker City Herald/Kathy Orr).

By LISA BRITTON

Of the Baker City Herald

Beware of the wily miner hocking his claim.

"They'll say, ‘The rock is moderately promising.' Don't believe a word of it.

"They'll blow it out of proportion — using strong adjectives and frothing at the mouth," says actor Travis Gray.

Gray brings the California gold rush to life as he offers tips and suggestions during "In the Diggins'," a program at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.

"Welcome to California. Now, be honest: you all think you're gonna hit pay dirt, don't cha?" he says, shaking his head.

Mining isn't quite what he expected, he confides, crouching down on his heels to demonstrate the proper technique to pan for gold.

"You dig a hole out, hunker down in about a foot or two of water, and stop every once in a while and pan a little to see if you're getting close," he says, swirling a metal pan in the air before him.

The circular motion should settle the desired gold flakes — rarely nuggets — to the bottom of the pan while the useless sand sloshes over the edge.

"You have to keep the gold from washing over with the sand," Gray says.

An acceptable quota is 50 pans per day.

"The only way to get there is by diggin'," he says.

There's always the mines

If slouching in knee-deep water all day doesn't appeal to newcomers, there's always the mines.

"You're gonna be working in a hole of semi-darkness," Gray says.

This gold-seeking endeavor is a bit different from panning — now someone else is the boss.

Newcomers usually try their hand at independently panning for gold before joining up with a mine, Gray says.

But this underground alternative does have a downside.

The danger of mines is the chance of collapse and suffocation, so a miner's best defense is the sense of smell.

One should especially pay attention to the scent of wood smoke, he advises.

"We all know the mines are held up by timbers," Gray says.

It's a hard life, but there's one thing that helps dull the disappointment that comes with mining, he says.

"Spirits," he exclaims, hoisting a bottle in the air, "make outlandish dreams and hopes seem feasible."

Travis Gray will perform "In the Diggins'" on Friday at 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

 
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