On Oct. 6, Mike Corbley and his mining partners Andy Herndon, Curtis Dorr and Sam Price, dug up two extraordinary pieces of gold from a patch of ground in the Swauk mining district near the town of Liberty that for 140 years, among the miners of the area, has been affectionately referred to as the potato patch.
While metal detecting a newly exposed area of bedrock under the ancient river channel that once flowed through the district, Andy, having already picked out a half ounce and a quarter ounce nugget, suddenly got an “odd” signal from his detector. “It’s a low high” he said, referring to the sound in his earphones.
Normally the detector he was using would sound off with a definitive high to low tone when passed over a piece of gold, distinguishing the gold from the many high iron content “hot rocks” around the gold. But this one was different. It was a very strong signal, but it was different. “I don’t know how a big chunk of steel got into virgin ground but that’s what it sounds like,” said Andy bending over to scrape away a little more dirt and gravel from over his target. If there was any doubt in Andy’s mind or the minds of any of us who were watching, that doubt vanished as we witnessed the bulging of Andy’s eyes, the dropping of his jaw, and the dancing jig that followed.
The potato-sized chunk of dirty, iron stained gold that had lain hidden from the light of day in a shallow bedrock depression, under 20 feet of overburden, for the last million and a half years, was suddenly in the grip of Andy’s hand and he was a happy man!
Apparently that 16 1/4-ounce “spud” was just too big to give off a “normal” signal to Andy’s detector.
After much excitement and high fives all around, over to the panning tub we all went to watch Mike clean that baby up.
On a bright clear autumn day, it was truly a sight to behold as the mud and iron stain was gently scrubbed away, and a massive piece of that element called gold, which has captivated the eyes of man since the beginning of time, slowly but surely, and ever so boldly, began to shine like the sun as if to say, “Here I am boys.”
Soon we were back over to the excavation site. The excavator was fired up. The rest of the bedrock was cleared of it’s river rock covering, and Andy was detecting again. After about 10 minutes of no hits, Andy got that look on his face, reached down, picked up, and held out for all to see another very large ... rock. Then started laughing. After being called a “wise guy” and several other choice superlatives, he went chuckling back to detecting.
A few minutes later only a few feet from where the 16-ouncer was found, he was heard to say, “It’s a low high again.” The look on his face seemed genuine, but we weren’t falling for that again. We needed convincing and he was forced to exclaim, “I’m not kidding!” And he wasn’t. In his hand was a second 13-ounce “potato” of a nugget.
Mike Corbley is the owner of the potato patch mine. He has been persistently working it for many years. Andy and Curtis partnered up with him about six years ago. Sam came onto the scene just this last year. They are a fine group of hard working, fun loving men of integrity.
Over the years, Mike has found lots of very respectable one- to four-ounce pieces of gold. In 1994 he found a 5 3/4-ouncer. But never anything quite like these two. “Thirty-five years I’ve been looking for one of these”, says Mike, “And we find two in one day. Wow!”
Mike is admittedly “Getting up there” in years, slowing down a bit, and unsure how much more mining the future holds for him. His partners and his friends could not be more pleased to be able to witness and be a part of this kind of a find for Mike Corbley. He has earned it.
To attempt to describe how a man feels when he finally finds something he has searched so long and so hard for is an exercise in futility. It cannot be done. It is a feeling few men truly understand.
Late that Sunday night after the excitement of the day was wearing down and everyone else had gone home, Mike and I sat down for a game of cribbage. I knew I was going to lose that game. But I didn’t care. This was his day. As we were discussing the day’s events, I said, “It’s really not the gold, is it Mike?” Knowing exactly what I meant, he looked at me and calmly replied, “I don’t give a damn about the gold. It’s the finding of the gold that matters. And finding the gold in the company of friends you like and respect is as good as it gets. I just wish Billy could have been here.”
Well, if Billy could have been here he would probably have simply said in his modest way, “Nice job boys.” But it would have been quickly followed with, “Where you wanna dig next?”
I am in agreement with Billy. Nice job, boys. Nice job.
Rob Repin is a gold miner with a claim on Blewett Pass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org