SUTTER CREEK, Calif. – The gold miners who made California famous were the rugged loners trying to shake nuggets loose from streams or hillsides. The ones who made the state rich were those who worked for big mining companies that blasted gold from an underground world of dust and darkness.
The last of the state’s great mines closed because mining gold proved unprofitable after World War II. But with the price of the metal near historic highs, hovering around $1,700 an ounce (28 grams), the California Mother Lode’s first large-scale hard rock gold mining operation in a half-century is coming back to life.
Miners are digging again where their forebears once unearthed riches from eight historic mines that honeycomb Sutter Gold Mining Co.’s holdings about 50 miles (80 kilometres) southeast of Sacramento. Last week, mill superintendent Paul Skinner poured the first thin stream of glowing molten gold into a mould.
“Nothing quite like it,” murmured Skinner, who has been mining for 65 years. It was just four ounces (112 grams), culled from more than eight tons of ore, but it signalled the end of $20 million worth of construction and the pending start of production. The company announced the ceremonial first pour before financial markets opened Monday, marking the mine’s official reincarnation.