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The Pedro Gold Dredge
Chicken, Alaska

by Mike Busby

    A trip through the Fortymile Country of Alaska and the Yukon will provide anyone with an interest in mining or the history of the region an opportunity to view several old bucket line or ladder gold dredges up close. The Fortymile has seen about a dozen different dredges since the their introduction early last century. Fairly new to the roadside landscape is the dredge at Chicken, which has been called Dredge No. 4, the Chicken Dredge and the Pedro Dredge (as it will be referred to here).

A porcupine visits the Pedro Gold Dredge!     Until 1998, the Pedro Dredge was hardly visible, resting on upper Chicken Creek where it had been parked in 1967. In the fall of 1998, the dredge was moved a mile to it's present location in the center of Chicken by it's new owner, Bernie Karl, and the owner of the mining claims, Mike Busby. The million-pound artifact was moved in one piece, and took less than two weeks of preparation and two weeks of actual moving, during which 120 tires were used to support it.

    The Pedro Dredge was owned by the Fairbanks Exploration Company (FE Co.), a subsidiary of the United States Smelting Refining & Mining Co. (USSR&M). It spent less than a 1/3 of its operating life on Chicken Creek. The 3-cubic-foot dredge (measurement of the bucket capacity), the smallest in the FE Co.'s dredge fleet, was originally built to mine the fairly shallow gravels of Pedro Creek, north of Fairbanks.

The Pedro Gold Dredge gets moved - click to enlarge it.     The Pedro dredge, originally driven by steam, was built by the Yuba Manufacturing Company in California, and was shipped from Oakland on the S.S. Point San Pablo on April 1, 1938. It was assembled on Pedro Creek and began operating on July 11th. The Dredge operated on Pedro Creek, with the exception of the war years, until October 1958. Having completed its available ground there, it was decided to move it to Chicken Creek, as the Cowden Dredge, also belonging to the company, had suffered from years of neglect. It still rests in the Mosquito Fork of the Fortymile River, and can be seen from a lookout at the end of a good hiking trail. Click here for more information and several photos.

    The Pedro Dredge was disassembled on Pedro Creek and trucked to Chicken beginning in June 1959. The move and reconstruction were completed by September at a cost of $148,095. During the re-construction, the dredge was updated to diesel-electric, adding two Cat 375 engines for power. The dredge commenced operations on lower Chicken Creek in September and worked approximately five months every year thereafter until October 1967, when it produced its final cleanup.

    There were many hazards related to dredging in a northern riverbottom. In the spring of 1961, the Pedro Dredge was flooded by an early spring thaw that flooded the dredge pond before the dredge could be thawed loose from the still-frozen pond. Stuck in the ice, the dredge was unable to float on top of the flood as would normally happen.

The Pedro Gold Dredge gets moved - click to enlarge it.     During its production years on Chicken Creek, the dredge washed about 2,500 cubic yards of gravel each day (29 buckets per minute) at a cost of around 30 cents per cubic yard. Between 0.30 and 0.80 ounces of gold were recovered from each cubic yard of gravel. There were normally 16-20 men employed in the operation, with 10-12 involved directly with the dredging and the remainder mostly associated with thawing ground ahead of the dredge. The dredge mined over 55,000 ounces of gold in the eight years on Chicken Creek.

    The Pedro Dredge can now be viewed at The Original Chicken Gold Camp, a campground built upon the site of the original FE Co. camp. In June 2006, years of work was rewarded when the dredge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Geologic Map of Chicken, Alaska

A Guide to Chicken, Alaska

Gold Dredges in the North

Alaska Mining