Sumpter Valley Gold Dredge
Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area map
Sumpter Valley Map

I visited Sumpter Valley, Oregon, a historic mining and timber area, on September 14, 1996. This was shortly after restoration of the dredge had begun in 1995. Dredge operations stopped in 1954, and the dredge fell into disrepair during the following 41 years. It was not yet open to the public. Tours are now available. Visit the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area website for current information.

72 - 1 ton, 9 cubic feet ore buckets
72 - 1 ton, 9 cubic feet ore buckets

The Sumpter Valley Gold Dredge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Between 1992-1993, the gold dredge, tailings and nearby property were purchased by Oregon State Parks from the Trust for Public Land and private individuals. The dredge master’s house and a large barn was purchased in 2001. Additional property was acquired for a park office and a new park entrance in late 1999 and 2003.

The privately non-profit owned Sumpter Valley Railroad offers six mile rides between the Sumpter Depot in the park and McEwen. Pictures of my visit to the railroad here.

Sumpter Gold Dredge - 1996
Sumpter Valley Gold Dredge - 1996

96 foot long stacker on Sumpter Gold Dredge - 1996
96 foot long stacker on Sumpter Gold Dredge - 1996

The Sumpter Valley Dredge is nestled at the base of the majestic granite peaks of the Elkhorn Mountain Range. The Powder River is born deep within the range and picks up speed as it spills down the Sumpter Valley, traveling through the park before reaching Phillips Reservoir.

This waterway was the vein of life during the boom days of the gold rush. The landscape still bears the scars. Miles of tailings line the banks of the river, a remembrance from the prosperous days of mining.

The Sumpter Valley Dredge left much of the rocky footprint that can be seen along Highway 7. The dredge is an important link to Oregon's pioneering past and development. The dredge in the park is the last of three built on the Powder River. It is one of the largest and most accessible gold dredges in the U.S.

It began operating in 1935, employing 23, dredging 24 hours daily except July 4th and Christmas. It ran until 1954 and dug up more than four million dollars worth of gold by a simple, but dramatic method. A half a century after the last dripping bucket load was lifted, the dredge stands silent. If you listen carefully, you can almost hear whispers of the hope, sweat and dreams of the people who worked on it.

The boat hull is 52 feet wide, 120 feet long and 11 feet tall. Sticking out from the dredge's hull is a massive boom bearing 72 9 cubic foot buckets, each weighing 1-ton. The buckets, moving like the chain of a chainsaw, would bore into the riverbank and carry the loose rock back into the dredge interior.

They dumped 25 buckets/minute for an average production of 280,00 cubic yards per month. Driven by a 250hp bucket line motor powered by a 12 mile 23000 volt electric line from a portable substaion

Once inside, the rock would pass through a series of steel cylinders to separate the material by size, sending the smaller material deeper into the dredge. Using water and sluices, the gold would be separated from the sediment. 3000 gallons per minute of water was supplied by two 10 inch and one 6 inch pumps. Six 24 inch American jigs & sluice boxes recovered the gold. The spoils from this process and larger rock pass through the back of the dredge and are deposited behind it via another boom.

Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area

Sumpter Valley Railroad and Dredge

Pictures taken when I visited in 1996 plus some pictures downloaded in 2013.

See also Sumpter Valley Dredge - Wikipedia