Of the Baker City Herald

The famous flea market is the biggest event in Sumpter over Memorial Day weekend, but it's not the biggest thing.

That would be the Sumpter dredge.

All 2,500,000 pounds of it.

A weight worthy of a building, no doubt, but the dredge was no stationary structure.

It moved.

Not fast, certainly, but with perceptible progress.

During its career from 1913 to 1954, the dredge churned through hundreds of acres of Sumpter Valley soil, searching for gold.

Only the machine's decibel volume rivaled its bulk.

The dredge's cacophony was so consistent, it was said, that if one of its rare shutdowns happened at night, the sudden silence awakened some Sumpter residents as effectively as if someone had kicked down their front door.

Almost half a century has passed since the dredge last roared, and during most of that period the behemoth skulked in the last pond it ever dug, sagging and dilapidated and untouched.

But for the past few years the dredge's Douglas-fir deck timbers have again thudded with the passing of many feet.

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, which made the dredge the centerpiece of a state park, coordinated the mining machine's renovation and now allows visitors to stroll through its shadowy first level.

Flea market bargain-hunters can easily add a tour to their itinerary: The dredge will be open to visitors from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through Memorial Day, Park Ranger Karen Spencer said.

andquot;We have a lot of people come through,andquot; Spencer said. andquot;It's busy all day long.andquot;

Busy enough that you shouldn't expect to find a parking spot in the state park's lot unless you arrive very early, she said.

You'll act as your own tour guide, unless you call ahead and request a guided visit, Spencer said.

The park's phone number is 541/894-2486.

Workers started renovating the dredge in 1995.

They used huge bottle jacks to lift the machine, then pumped in sand to form a solid pedestal on which the structure now rests.

Crews also replaced rotted sections of the wooden deck and hull.

Not as many as they might have expected, though.

Despite the dredge's age, most of the hull was solid because it had been submerged all those years in the 40-degree water of Cracker Creek. The chilly water preserved the wood.

However, when workers jacked up the hull, a one- to two-foot-tall section was exposed to the air, and those pieces crumbled fast.

The Parks and Recreation Department wants to renovate the second floor and open it to visitors, but no money is available for the work now, Spencer said.

In addition to the dredge, the park includes a one-mile gravel trail that leads to Cracker Creek.

A gift shop, run by the non-profit Friends of the Dredge, is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Spencer said.

The park's newest attraction actually is a couple blocks north of the dredge.

It is the 1899 Victorian home where the dredge master used to live, Spencer said.

The Parks and Recreation Department bought the two-story home last year, and although it's not yet open to visitors, anyone is welcome to tour the property, 271 S. Mill St. (one block north of Austin Street, and just south of the new Sumpter city museum).

Behind the home is a barn that once served as the dredge repair shop, Spencer said.

The Parks and Recreation Department hopes to restore both the home and barn and open both to visitors, she said.