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Sumpter Valley Dredge

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

View of the dredge from the overlook, Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area (bobcat)
Inside the dredge, showing an amalgam bucket on the left (bobcat)


In 1913, the Sumpter Valley Dredging Company of Portland, Oregon, moved in the first of its three industrial dredges that completely transformed an eight-mile section of the Powder River valley. The dredge that you see today was constructed from the remains of the first dredge, and operated for 20 years until 1954; the 24-hour clank and rattle of the dredge buckets were just normal background music for Sumpter residents in the first half of the 20th century. When the company retired the dredge, it was in debt, but over the years this third dredge produced about 4 ½ million dollars in gold, worth about $160,000,000 at 2017 prices!

You can explore the ground floor of the dredge on your own although a free guided tour will tell you much more. Machinery inside the dredge was all made in the United States, including the Bingham water pumps from Portland. The electricity-powered motors were serviced by a 19-mile cable. Conventional sluices were used to separate out the heavy metals, which were then dumped in amalgam barrels which had paddles lined with mercury to bond with the gold. You can also view the 1,240-ton dredge from a railed overlook above the dredge pond. From here, you can admire the bucket line of 72 one-ton buckets on the bow and the covered processed gravel conveyor in the stern.

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