Rebuilt at a cost of $1.5 million, the Walter Johnson Dredge, which resumed operations on Clear Creek June 27, is both a dream come
true and a first for Canada. The dredge's owners, Queenstake Resources, a Vancouver-based mining company, began the major renovation project on the 1930s dredge last
year and had it back in operation on a trial run Sept. 5.
Project manager Jeff Lerner indicated there was much advance planning to rehabilitate the dredge, with its 3½-cubic-foot buckets: 150 tons of
steel were purchased to make the parts no longer obtainable, and the entire dredge was stripped down and each part measured for repair and replacement. The dredge was
in poor condition when purchased. It was sitting high and dry, but vandals had left garbage all over the place and broken its windows. It was brought north in the
mid-1930s from California and worked by Clear Creek Placers until 1955. Queenstake bought it in 1979.
Former dredge employees of the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation were contacted to assist in the remodelling and actual work of the dredge. George
Ball, a consultant who specialized in repair and reworking of dredges, and Greg Hoggan, former superintendent of Pato Consolidated (a large dredging company in Columbia)
were hired, and the work in rounding up the parts, measuring, etc., began. Drawings for some sections were located in San Francisco. The repair work was completed by the
end of August 1980, and because the dredge was sitting high and dry, they had to build a dike behind the dredge to refloat it and test its pontoons. It was floated
upstream 90 degrees, and the bucket line put on.
The old Vivian 600-rpm diesel generator, weighing 12 tons, was replaced by a new three-ton, 1,800-rpm, 320 h.p. Cummins (same as a Kenworth truck). Last
fall, Queenstake ran the dredge on one four-hour and two 10-hour shifts of three men each: winchman, sterndecker (who watches the trommel and the stacker to make sure
nothing goes wrong) and an oiler (who makes two trips per shift oiling the many parts. Its 72 buckets send an eery sound across the valley when they are in motion digging
into the gravel.
For Lerner, it was a dream come true. He said very few people would ever have the opportunity to assist in getting a Yukon gold dredge working again.
Dredging stopped in the Yukon in 1966, making this one the only one operating in Canada at present.
Queenstake Resources, owned 28 percent by Canada Tungsten, plan on doing land reclamation at their Clear Creek site. They propose to contour or flatten
the tailings piles, mixing back the finer materials so that vegetation begins immediately. The resulting ground will remain thawed, and it is hoped that deciduous trees
will grow back in. With 1981 being their first full season of operation, Queenstake look forward to 10 years of potental gold dredging operations at this central Yukon
gold production area.
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