Livengood Placers and its vagabond gold dredge
|Warehouse at Livengood constructed by Livengood Placer, Inc as it looks today
The building depicted in the drawing is an old warehouse near Livengood. Of heavy timber-frame construction, it has ship-lap siding (except for the gable ends which are board-and-batten), a metal roof and is painted blue. About 40-feet-wide and 80-feet-long, there are offices/workshops located on one end, a large parts room in the middle and an even larger storage area at the far end.
The warehouse is in remarkable condition considering how long it has sat vacant. It is one of the last remnants of Livengood Placer’s two-decade-long struggle to develop and operate a gold-dredging operation just north of Livengood.
Clark Spence’s book, The Northern Gold Fleet, states that in 1924, a Livengood mining engineer tried to interest the Fairbanks Exploration Company (FE Co.), which was bringing dredges to the Fairbanks area, into expanding its operations to Livengood. Those talks never came to fruition.
Not until 1934 did Outside interests pay attention to Livengood and conduct tests that showed the potential for profitable gold-dredging. In 1936, Goldfield Mines of Reno acquired an interest in Livengood claims, formed Livengood Placers, Inc., and began construction of a dam on Hess Creek northeast of Livengood to provide water for a dredging operation. It also began excavating a 3,200-foot tunnel from Hess Creek to the head of Livengood Creek. Later that year the Interstate-Callahan Company acquired a 75 percent interest in Livengood Placers and advanced funds to continue work on the dam and tunnel, as well as build support facilities such as the warehouse.
Unfortunately, unsteady economic conditions during the 1930s brought little investment in, and work on the fledgling project ground to a halt. In 1939, Livengood Placers finally received a $1,050,000 loan from the federal government’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) and resumed work on the project.
While work was being completed on the water supply, along with ground thawing and stripping, a diesel-powered Yuba gold dredge, with six-cubic-foot buckets, was trucked in and assembled. It began operations in October 1940 and operated through 1941 with less-than-anticipated yields. The company was forced to borrow additional funds to cover construction costs, and ended up owing the RFC $1,500,000.00.
Unfortunately, in 1942 the federal government shut down all gold-mining activities across the nation for the duration of World War II. According to Audrey Parker’s book, Livengood, the Last Stampede, the dredge did not start up again until 1946.
Livengood Placers operated the dredge through the summer of 1954, but was never able to dig itself out of debt.
Even before the dredge resumed operations after World War II the RFC had urged the FE Co. to take over Livengood Placers, but FE Co. officials declined. According to Spence’s book the RFC threatened foreclosure, and in late 1954 followed through on that threat.
The RFC put Livengood Placer’s assets up for sale, and the FE Co. bought the dredge and extra parts, thawing and stripping equipment, and machine shop equipment for $150,000. The FE Co. wasn’t interested in the Livengood claims.
The dredge, with its on-board diesel power plant, was designed for remote operations. According to John Boswell’s history of the FE Co., the dredge was disassembled and trucked to Fairbanks where its pontoons were re-assembled in the Chena River to use as a barge.
Laden with supplies, the pontoon/barge was then pushed 750 miles down the Chena, Tanana and Yukon Rivers; and up the Koyukuk River to the Hogatza “Hog” River. At Hog Landing it was disassembled, and everything trucked 26 miles to Bear Creek. After reassembly, it started dredging in 1957. After successfully operating for many years, it now sits amidst Bear Creek’s dredge tailings.
The Livengood warehouse is on private property. Before exploring the area please check out land status and get permission from land owners.
- Conversation with Karl Hanneman, Fairbanks resident with experience mining in Livengood area
- History of Operations of United States Smelting, Refining and Mining Company. John Boswell. Mineral Industries Research Laboratory, University of Alaska. 1979
- Livengood, the Last Stampede. Audrey Parker. Hats Off Books. 2003
- The Northern Gold Fleet, Twentieth-Century Gold Dredging in Alaska. Clark Spence. University of Illinois Press 1996