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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Baker City's Gold Pan Clan

Baker City's Gold Pan Clan

Ken Martin, right, grandson Austin Harmon, center, and son Joe practice for the upcoming panning championships at the Miners' Jubilee. Competition runs tough within the family. Austin's amateur division time last year beat the pros, including Grandpa.Ken Martin, right, grandson Austin Harmon, center, and son Joe practice for the upcoming panning championships at the Miners' Jubilee. Competition runs tough within the family. Austin's amateur division time last year beat the pros, including Grandpa. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).
Ken Martin, right, grandson Austin Harmon, center, and son Joe practice for the upcoming panning championships at the Miners' Jubilee. Competition runs tough within the family. Austin's amateur division time last year beat the pros, including Grandpa.Ken Martin, right, grandson Austin Harmon, center, and son Joe practice for the upcoming panning championships at the Miners' Jubilee. Competition runs tough within the family. Austin's amateur division time last year beat the pros, including Grandpa. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).

By LISA BRITTON

Of the Baker City Herald

The secret to panning gold is all in your attitude.

"It's yellow scrap metal — you can't lose what you never had," says Ken Martin of Baker City, last year's champion of the Miners Jubilee gold panning contest.

Ken's son, Joe, panned into first place the year before.

"We're just trading first place back and forth," Joe says.

Now there's a younger up-and-coming competitor in the family — Ken's grandson, Austin Harmon, won both the children's and amateur titles last year.

Harmon panned out the three nuggets in 37 seconds.

Ken's winning time was 43 seconds.

This year, Harmon, 12, will enter the professional and amateur divisions.

"He'll probably beat us," Ken laughs.

And Ken is the one who taught Harmon, Joe and the rest of his family the art of panning gold.

"I've taught all my kids how to pan gold and now I'm working on my grandkids," he says.

The gold panning championship is based on time and precision.

"As soon as you grab that pan they start the watch," Ken says.

Each contestant pans out the dirt until they reach the prized fake gold nuggets.

The one who is quickest to uncover the three nuggets is declared the winner.

The three family competitors practiced this week to prepare for the contest.

"I fill a wheelbarrow full of water and get some good gravel and dirt," Ken says.

Add a stopwatch, a pan of sand and No. 6 birdshot to imitate gold nuggets and you're ready.

"If you can recover (birdshot), you can recover gold," he says.

Ken was introduced to gold panning in the late 1960s when he ran across an old miner during Bohemian Mining Days at Cottage Grove.

"We saw an old prospector along the creek digging gold. He showed us how to pan," Ken says.

After a few tries, he was hooked.

"That started it. I bought a gold pan at a secondhand store for $1," he says.

Now his counters and cupboards are stacked with used pans and plastic jars with a few gold flakes settled at the bottom.

He pans whenever he gets the chance — or the urge — since he moved to Baker City in 1970.

But he's never caught the dreaded "gold fever," he says.

"If you're trying to make a lot, you'll get into trouble. It takes a lot of silver to get a little gold."

The average take for an entire day of panning is six grains, Ken says.

That would now yield about $3.30, or 55 cents a grain, said Terry Karp, owner of Baker Gold and Silver.

In the 1800s the miners received about 5 to 7 cents per grain, Karp said.

"You stop and think that those old-timers were taking out this much gold every day," Ken says, shaking a small vial of gold flakes.

"You don't read about all those who starved to death trying (to get rich)."

Though you might not find every pan chock full of gold, Ken encourages everyone to try recreational panning.

All you need is a shovel, a pick, a pan and a stream.

"Go out and just have fun," he says. "When I'm out digging by myself, almost every pan has a little gold in it."

He's had a few exceptions, of course.

"One time I had a pan of clay, worked on it for two hours and then threw it out," he laughs.

"People call it hard work, but it's a labor of love," he says.

 
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