There's gold in them thar hills
'Goldfinger Fontaine pans for gold in the Clyde River

© 2004 Gordon Alexander

Posted 06.25.04

DERBY, VT | "Us Vermont prospectors are as rare as the gold we're trying to find" says Gerard "Goldfinger" Fontaine, 51, of Greensboro Bend, Vermont.

"My friends call me "Goldfinger," Fontaine says with a grin realizing they are making fun of his seemingly fruitless hobby.

Fontaine, a table builder at Ethan Allen, has been prospecting or panning for gold in the rivers and streams of Vermont for over twenty-three years, with not much more to show for his time other than a small nugget about the size of a kernel of corn and some small vials of fine powdered gold, sifted out of the running water of various Vermont streams

" I really don't know how much it is worth -- not much, I guess." he said.

Fontaine, a member of the California-based Gold Prospectors Association of America, has all the equipment needed to find and identify the gold he is looking for.

He has a pan sifter, that he dips in the running water under some small rocks and sand, a portable sluice that he can put in a stream to catch water and moving sand in a stream, a Gold Hound sifting and separating device, and a Gold Spear that operates on land much like a metal detector you would spear into the ground to look for gold beneath the surface of the ground.

"California is the place to pan for gold" Fontaine says. "You can get in a day what it takes me a year to find in Vermont. It's just a hobby you can't expect to make a living doing this."

Fontaine says he sometimes takes a break from stream fishing to do a bit of panning.

Fontaine says he has to obtain a "Sluicing Permit" from the State Department of Environmental Conservation, Water Quality Division in Waterbury to pursue his hobby at a fee of $30 from August 1 to October 1. It is open house for prospectors from June 1 to August 1 -- the fee is waived.

The following information was taken from the Camp Plymouth State park brochure, published by the State of Vermont: GOLD, The cold stuff of reckless hopes and broken dreams, the 'pay dirt" of the distant West....not what you would expect to find in the quiet of the Plymouth hills. But by 1855, buffalo Brook was known as Gold Brook and Amos Pollard's farm was staked out all along its banks. At Plymouth Five-Corners, a mill and crusher were erected and hopeful prospectors flooded in.

The gold industry kept the town in agitation for over 30 years. At one point, seven companies were at work on Buffalo Brook. One of the more successful was Rooks mining Company, which claimed to have earned $13,000 in a six-month period in 1884. Such claims of profit, however, seldom accounted for the enormous investment of time and money put into mining. In the words of George H. Perkins, State Geologist from 1898 -1933, "It is entirely useless to throw away money, time, and labor seeking gold in Vermont."

The Rooks company soon went bankrupt and Henry Fox, the former mine superintendent, bought the mine. Fox lived as a hermit at the mine for thirty years. He searched for gold almost until the day he died in 1919 at the age of seventy.

Although small amounts of gold-bearing quartz have been found, most of Vermont's gold is "placer" gold, deposited by glaciers and usually found only in the gravel of stream beds.

Amateur prospectors continue to pan for gold along Buffalo Brook: occasionally small flakes are found. A few remains of foundations can still be seen in Plymouth testifying to the dreams of wealth over a century ago.

International treasure hunter Stan Grist writes " How many residents of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts have ever thought of their states as potential sources of gold? Yet gold has been obtained from Byron, Maine and elsewhere in that state, and at one time Vermont was the second largest gold-producing state in the Union. Gold has been washed from the sands of streams in Vermont in various places. Nuggets weighing several ounces were taken from a brook near Brattleboro and a nugget weighing more than eight ounces was found at Newfane."

For all you readers who would like something different to do this summer, here's how to get started. Since gold is nineteen times heavier than water, the gold stays on the bottom and gets caught in the sand in slow-moving areas around bends of the stream and along the shore. It also tends to get stuck in small crevices in rocks and wedged in pieces of wood. Try to find places like this along the stream.

Put about four handfuls of sand from the stream in your gold pan. Submerse the pan in the stream. While holding the pan under water, move the pan in a circular motion so that the lighter materials will be carried out of the gold pan.

Don't move it too rapidly or you may loose gold along with the rocks and sand. Keep doing this until about half of the material in the gold pan is gone. Lift the pan out of the water and begin swirling it around with it tipped slightly to the side where the riffles are.

When the water is gone dip the pan into the water again, bring it back out and start swirling again. Keep doing this until nearly all the material in the pan is gone.

Use a suction pipette to spray water into the pan and separate any (if you get lucky ) nuggets or flakes of gold from the sand at the bottom of the gold pan. The pipet is also useful to suck up small flakes of gold and deposit them into a display vial or other container.

If you didn't find any gold, don't worry keep trying. It is almost like fishing, but probably not quite as productive. Stealing from an old fisherman's saying " A bad day of prospecting is better than a good day at work."

Copyright © 2004 Gordon Alexander/Log Cabin Chronicles/06.04