Edmund E. Pugsley
THEY’RE mining pay dirt again at Emory Creek, British Columbia! Gravel from open channels is rattling into old-style sluice boxes. There’s a big open cut away up on the bank. There’s a tunnel driving into the hillside with the paystreak. And a shaft sinking down from a bench into bedrock.
Rockers. Gold pans by the dozen. Pipe line -1.500 feet of it. Dams. Flumes everywhere.
Tubs of precious concentrates from carefully lifted riffles. Amalgamations. Quicksilver. Chemicals. And gold! Real, shining, simon-pure gold, in little bottles, to make your eyes stand out.
Tents in long rows. A master cook tent. Log cabins. Men everywhere. Downybearded, nut brown, open-shirted, heavybooted men. Men with boy faces.
It’s all here again at Emory, even as it was in 1860, when 40,000 Californian stampeders mingled the crunch of their heavy boots with the eternal roar of the Fraser River.
The recovery in gold and commerce may be infinitely less than in those other “good old days,” but there is a recovery in the clean-up today at Emory that is not and cannot be measured in dollars per yard. It is the recovery of young men’s lives and souls from early decay, and indifferent society.
Pay dirt? The clean-up records to date show some 600 eager, throbbing, purposeful men recovered from a motley heap of puzzled, inefficient boys.
“The Best Show on Earth”
SWING ACROSS the bridge at Hope, 100 miles from Vancouver, make a few' easy turns on the old Cariboo Road, now straightened and smoothed into a speedway, and you’ll see the big sign across the railway: P.M.T. CAMP (Placer Mining Training). That’s Emory Creek, 1937 edition.
It was Sunday when we arrived, a day of rest from the training routine. The “diggings,” we expected, would be deserted. There was no church for miles in either direction, but at least the boys would be resting and lounging at ease.
We dipixxl down over the tree-lined bank to a neatly tented street. It was as deserted as a sawmill on Sunday. We went on to overlook the creek and sluice ground. And there, in little groups, were dozens of them. We stopped to watch three of them selecting gravel from a bench operation, and followed them to the stream to observe the panning. With the deft twirling of veteran prospectors, they soon eliminated the gravel. Two of them had only faint color in the bottom. But the third, with suppressed excitement, called to us to see his find. In his gold pan lay five smiling flakes of yellow gold, running, he said, about five cents each.
In a minute this was transferred to his tiny bottle, to keep company with probably half an ounce of previously found gold.
“It doesn’t look much,” he chirped, “but it’s real money. And if I was in town, I’d spend that much or more for a show.”
“Do you think this is better fun than a show?” I asked him.
“Sa-ay, mister, this is the best show on eartli ! There’s a bigger kick in seeing one of those little colors come up in the pan than there is in a dozen pictures.”
“Can you keep what you get this way for yourself?” I enquired.
“Sure! Anything we get on our own is ours. But when we’re all working together in the regular class, the clean-up is divided at the end of the term.”
They went back up the slope for more pay dirt. I looked about for a pan. There was something in the eyes of those brownfaced lads that stirred latent memories of stories told about “them thar hills.” I was still searching for a gold pan when Chief Instructor Ben Barlow appeared.
“You won’t find one,” he smiled. “We have fifty pans in camp, but there is never one idle after work.”
That’s P.M.T.! Match it. if you can. The student’s idea of recreation after a full day’s work, or on Sunday, is more of the same work.
We gazed around at the scene, dotted with sturdy figures going quietly but eagerly about this business of sifting pay dirt.
"It looks.” I opined, “as though you’ve got something here. Mister Barlow. Or is this just an unusually good class of boys?”
Again he smiled. “You should have been here the first week.” His face sobered and he paced the path with the fervor of that memory. “I thought I’d have to send about half those boys home again. You’ve no idea how helpless a boy can be, coming fresh from city life to this sort of thing. Dozens of them couldn’t swing an axe or point a shovel. They were bewildered, almost stupidly so. The desire was there, but that was about all. After a few feeble attempts with an axe, they’d drop it. T can’t do that.’ they’d say.
"And so we’d have to talk to them, insist that they could do it just as well as the others if they’d perseveie. We'd tell them not to be quitters. That usually got them. They’d grit their teeth and tie into it again. And finally they’d get the knack of it. and feel all right. That's when we start the real camp business, making up for lost time.”
Lost time? I pondered that as we sauntered around among those sturdy lads. It was hardly the word. That first bit of breaking in was probably the most valuable of the whole class term. The hoy who overcame that great handicap that lack of primitive self-defense—had found some-
tiring which could never be taken from him again. He had found the art of self-reliance. confidence. He had stepped out of childhood into manhood.
IT ISN’T something grabbed out of the wind—this P.M.T. project. It's not just a passing political dodge. It is the evolution of years of study and experiment by a few men of vision, courage and conviction, centring around the dynamic figure of Ben Barlow. It is tire culmination of a frank trial-and-error policy of the Mines Department under the earnest direction of Hon. George Pearson, Deputy Dr. F. Walker, and Chief Engineer P. B. Freeland.
Mr. Barlow would prefer to remain in the background of the P.M.T. picture. But after seeing and hearing this vigorous, spirited figure pace the dirt floor of his cabin with the burning conviction of a great job—after seeing the imprints of his ability and energy stamped on everything in and about Emory Camp, including the almost worshipful enthusiasm with which the boys mention his name—one cannot conceive of Ben Barlow being a part of anything but the foreground.
Thirty-three years of practical experience as miner and trapper gives him the first qualification. A close study of the country’s needs on the one hand, and potentialities on the other, completes his competence.
“That old theory that gold is where you find it has long been out of date,’’ he said. “It served its purpose very well for a time. But it also proved that gold is found through intelligent search by those properly trained to look for it.
“Now we need trained men in the field more than ever before.” Mr. Barlow went on. “Men with the knowledge of where to go, what to look for, how to look for it, and how to recognize it when they find it. In P.M.T. we have made a real start in this direction. And I'm sure the results to date amply justify the effort.”
TT WAS in 1935, after a sporadic effort -Iby mining men to stimulate prospecting by inducing hundreds of untrained unemployed men to scatter through the valleys and hills in a haphazard manner, that the Department of Mines accepted the responsibility of taking on a training experiment.
It wasn’t altogether an unknown experiment. Already a school in Vancouver had proved that the idea of training prospectors intelligently before they started out was only common sense. It was paying big dividends to its graduates. But its students were limited to those who could pay the small tuition. The vast army of unemployed could not enroll.
That school was under the direction of Ben Barlow. And so it was only natural that the Department turned to Ben when the idea of enlarging the plan was decided upon.
Up at Emory lay natural, proven gravel for practical training. It not only contained known gold values, but platinum also. The property was reserved. The plan was advertised. Applications were invited from bona fide boys between eighteen and twenty-five years of age, of sound health and needy circumstances.
The response was so general that the plan was enlarged that year to embrace four camps—one at Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, one at Quesnel in the famous Barkerville region, and one in the Okanagan, near Vernon. In each of these camps, twenty-live boys received training during the season of 1935.
The following year, as a matter of economy, the project was reduced to two camps, Emory and Nanaimo. At the latter, 100 men were trained during 1936, and half that number in 1937.
At Emorv, fifty men took the training in 1935, 100 in 1936, and 200 in 1937. Today
these men are scattered throughout the province, with indefinite data as to their success, but there are ample letters and information to justify the claim that P.M.T. has been a big success as a mining asset and a means of absorbing discouraged youth into a wholesome occupation. One ojierating mine in Atlin sets its quota for P.M.T. men at twenty per cent.
The boys start from scratch at Emory Camp. They arrive. 100 strong, with the first duty of setting up camp—the cook tent, their own tents and bunks, four boys to a tent, the general camp appliances. And, with the exception of a paid cook and assistant, they erect everything required until the day of their departure, six weeks later.
Six boys are told off for kitchen duty, working in relays until each boy has passed through the big tent during the term. 1 fi re he is not only a flunky, but learns the mysteries of open-lire cooking against the day when he will be hitting the trail on his own.
Theory and Practice
THE FIRST morning, the entire camp assembles for a lecture at which, as Chief Instructor Barlow smilingly explained, they “get a good heart-to-heart talk to set them straight at the outset.
“I explain first what it’s all about, and what they can get out of the project if they apply themselves and play the game;
1 show them what other boys have already accomplished from previous classes; and 1 insist on their complete co-operation. That done, with Bob Campbell, my able assistant, we get right down to the primary lectures.
“The lectures and practical course are as thorough and complete as the hours and days permit in the six weeks time allotted. They begin with mineralogy and the general apix*arance of rocks, and how to recognize them. This course takes about two days.
“Next comes the origin of placer gravels, consuming another two days. And after that we are ready for the practical demonstrations, in the probable order required on a prosj>ecting tour.
“At the outset we scrutinize for leaders, and about four of the most promising lads are chosen and given special coaching to lead and assist in instruction work. These are allowed an additional twenty-five cents per day.”
Gold panning is taught, rockers are built from raw material at hand and put into practical use by the lx>ys themselves. And then come the heavier actual oj>erations of a general placer claim.
It is here that the handicaps of tool use must be met and overcome. Axes, shovels, picks, hammers, and other tools. A pfixî line must be constructed from a dam a quarter of a mile up the creek and carried on a trestle of local timber to the scene of operations where it is divided three ways. Two bars are ground sluiced from open channels. A bench is prospected, and a tunnel is driven and timbered, the gravel tested, all by hand mining operations.
Nothing is overlooked in the possibilities of a prospector’s problems. Rock drilling and the handling of explosives for removing large stones and rocks, shaft sinking and timbering, compass use, packing food supplies and first aid. Practical field work including claim staking and laws.
Then comes the clean-up and recovery of fine gold. Amalgamations, quicksilver and chemical solutions are put into practical use to demonstrate how some sixty per cent of the fine gold once lost in tailing dumps by former crude methods, can now be saved.
And finally comes the examination in the thirty questions covering all points of the course, which must be answered correctly and intelligently before a P.M.T. certificate is granted, qualifying the student for employment as a prospec tor or miner.
The six weeks have passed. Camp breaks. Tents are folded and stowed away
for the next class to come, perhaps a week or so later.
But the boys are not through. They artonly starting on the real thrill of the training. For now they go out on their own to match their skill against the secrets and handicaps of the hills.
They are divided into parties of two and four with a definitely qualified leader in each. A three months grubstake is provided them and transportation to favorable areas where known gold-bearing gravels exist. Here a man locally familiar with the ground is delegated by the Department to locate the young prospectors on the most promising ground.
The Students Like It
THAT’S P.M.T., 1937 edition.
Regimentation? Well, hear what two boys had to say about this when I stopped them as they headed down the river trail, armed with gold pan, shovel and a healthy adornment of tan, and six weeks downy beard.
“Some of us had the wrong slant on this at first. We thought it was just another road job with a different name. We were wrong. This is not a job, mister. We work entirely for ourselves here. Right on our own. Anything we get from the cleanup is |xx)lt*d among us at the close of camp.
And when we go out on our own like this after working hours, we keep what we make. What’s more, when we’re through here we get a grubstake to go and work for ourselves. Yes, sir! P.M.T. is okay with us.”
“Fine,” I said, “as far as it goes. But after you’re all through, what then? Back to the city?”
They shook their grave young heads firmly. “We may have to go back for a while in the winter. But not to stay. We’ve got our eyes on a property up the river that looks good. That’s where we’ll be heading in the spring. This is the life, you bet !”
They went on down the river trail then —straight, eager, but unhurried.
I turned and rounded a bend in the trail to stumble on another boy, in the older age grade. 1 le dropped a book to stare at me, and nodded courteously.
“Going to follow the mining game, eh?” I suggested, glancing at the technical book.
“Not me,” he promptly retorted.
“Oh, so you don’t think much of the camp, eh?”
“Sure, I do. The camp’s all right. Fine thing, for those who want this sort of thing.” He waved a hand down across the gurgling creek. “Me, I’ll never make a miner, not in a thousand camps.”
I waited, framing the next query. 1 le beat me to it.
"Maybe you think I’m inconsistent. But I’m not cut out for this sort of life. 1 wouldn’t make my salt at it. But just the same, the camp has set me right. It got me thinking straight. It’s quite a few years since 1 left high school and 1 was beginning to drift, just getting the odd job. Getting sour. I knew what I wanted—a specialty course in agriculture— but it needed money. My dad didn’t have it. I’m going back now and get it. I don’t know how, but I'll raise it some way . . . It’s queer, isn’t it? A fellow seems to have to get away from home to think straight. Or maybe it’s this that does it." He waved a whimsical gesture down over the creek again where it bubbled into the murky waters of the river.
As I walked away I was reminded of some words of Chief Engineer Freeland.
“We feel that even if a boy does not continue in mining, he at least has acquired some background that puts him on a par with others. It’s a splendid thing, I think, to take these boys, mostly recent graduates from high schools, and give them some means of obtaining work and an interest in life, before they drift and are contaminated by the ideas of some who have been unemployed for many years.”