No trip to Dawson City is complete without seeing the Amazing Dredge NO.4. This massive gold digging machine is huge even by today’s standards of big equipment. I was so impressed with this bit of our history and in particular the dredges of the Yukon. I am featuring it totally in this blog. Some of you will know the history behind it but perhaps others may not so here is my best attempt at describing the amazing Dredge NO.4 and my images of this historical machine. Thank you to Parks Canada for the input in salvaging this part of our history and the work already gone into restoring this monster machine, worth every penny of our tax dollars for sure.
As early as 1870 prospectors were drifting into the Yukon in search of gold, but the discovery of Skookum Jim (Keish), Dawson Charlie (Kaa Goox), and George Carmack in the Bonanza Creek area then known as Rabbit Creek changed everything. It sparked a gold rush that would see over 40,000 hopeful gold seekers from the “outside world” rush into the Yukon making Dawson City boom and put the Yukon on the map. What started by thousands with picks and shovels would last only a few short years and by 1899 prospectors were chasing new dreams in Alaska and machines were replacing the men with pick and shovel.
By 1905 regulations changed from individual claims to allowing larger corporate claims to dominate the Bonanza Creek and other areas and large dredges were becoming the prevalent method for mining the gold. The huge pieces required to build these machine were brought by railway and steamship and were assembled on site. It amazed me to find out these dredges were electric powered, something that would make “Justin” very happy and huge amounts of electricity came from miles away from a plant built on the north fork of the Yukon River. The demand for water was also enormous and the Yukon Ditch, a system of flumes and trenches, provided water from nearly 70 miles away. The engineering and manpower to pull this off is amazing even today.
Now for the feature presentation the amazing Dredge NO.4 it is two thirds the size of a football field in length and is eight stories high. This vessel, as it was a floating machine, inched along year after year in a pond of its own making and was the largest wooden-hull bucket dredge in North America. It dug gold bearing gravel at a rate of 22 buckets per minute. It operated 24 hours a day for approximately 200 days per season. This machine would only move half a mile per season leaving behind a massive pile of rocks forever changing the landscape of the area. Over 46 years it unearthed nine tons of gold, grossing 8.6 million dollars.
Once in thawed ground an anchor (the spud) would be lowered to act as a pivot point. Cables attached to buried logs in the surrounding hillsides were able to control the dredge movements in the pond with winching systems on the dredge. The huge buckets on the bow dug up the gravel and deposited it into a hopper which fed the gravel to the trommel. The trommel was a constantly rotating tube with various sizes of holes along its length of 50 feet. Water was sprayed inside the trommel to wash the gravel and the gold would settle into the sluice boxes for collection. The waste gravel and rocks would exit along the stacker belt to the rear leaving tailing piles in a scalloped pattern still seen today. When it had dug to its maximum depth the anchor would be raised and the dredge move ahead approx. 10 feet filling the pond with water creating its own pond on which to float.
The amazing Dredge NO.4 was operated by only a crew of 4 and the shifts were 8 hours a day, 24 hours a day. The Winchmen controlled the digging and movement of the dredge. The Oiler apprenticed under the winchman and made rounds oiling the moving machinery. He was also responsible for the crew’s hot lunch. The Sterndecker was stationed at the end of the trommel and kept an eye out for blockages to the stacker belt. The Bowdecker was the rookie, standing on the bow with a shovel ensuring all dirt scooped up by the buckets was inside the buckets and not hanging out. Others were the shore crew the bullgang crew of 5 who worked outside usually in mud manoeuvring the electrical and winch cables. The Dredgemaster managed the fleet of dredges and keep all records along with the overseeing of the maintenance. In a season the dredging companies would employ approximately 750 men, in 1912 there were 13 dredges operating in the Klondike.
The Amazing Dredge NO. 4 ceased operations in Nov 1959, after sinking where it sits today. In 1991-92 Parks Canada began extensive restoration of the dredge, freeing it from 18 feet of ice, silt and mud after a dam had broken. It was refloated and now sits in its present location.
This is my brief report on our visit and tour of the NO.4 Dredge just outside of Dawson City, hope it kind of explains a bit along with the photos well worth our trip to the Yukon definitely a must see.
My next blog, a few more of our discoveries we found along the Yukon Highway (Klondike Highway to be exact). Trying hard to keep our family and friends updated on our travels but travel keeps getting in the way so I am running a little behind but have taken a week to sit still and hopefully catch up. We backtracked on our way to visit some special people and the great city of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. Thanks to those who recently subscribed to be informed of future posts by email I hope you enjoy the images and a few details of our trip. Our truck camper has been a great home and the good old Ford F350 just keeps on going…thanks and we hope to see you down the road.
Gerry and Charlotte (editor in chief).