While a number of technological advancements in metal detector design have been introduced over the last 15 years, mining equipment has remained virtually unchanged since the 1950s. Despite some enhancements to existing designs such as the addition of air compressors and the use of miners moss or carpeting in place of burlap in the sluice box, recreational dredges have remained as bulky and cumbersome as when they were first introduced years ago until now. Howard Schmidt, a miner and inventor from Florida, has shattered the belief that there is nothing new in the area of mining equipment by designing a revolutionary new dredge. Called the Schmidt Gold Trap, it has the potential to be the start of a new gold rush!
Howard is 71 years old and has been interested in mining most of his life. Over the years he often felt that there had to be an easier and more efficient way to recover gold than with one of the commercially made dredges. He based this observation on the number of times he had gone out and not found the quantity of gold that he knew was present in the area.
About six years ago he began experimenting and installed a small 1-inch prototype of the Schmidt in the suction hose of his large dredge. After spending several hours in a stream near Dablonega, Georgia, he found more gold in the small test chamber than he did in the entire sluice box of the dredge. Realizing that his design had promise, he spent the next six years building over 100 different variations and testing them in the gold fields of Georgia, California, and Alaska.
As a matter of fact, he even built a simulated stream in the back yard of his home in Florida which allowed him to actually run sand, gravel, and gold through the various designs without traveling. He named his final design the Schmidt Gold Trap and currently, there are three models available; a 3-inch, a 4-inch, and a 5-inch version. Over the last two years, miners that have tried the unit have given it the nickname Bazooka, saying that it blows away any conventional dredge.
The most unique feature of the Schmidt Gold Trap is its design. Constructed nearly entirely of PVC plastic, the unit is both extremely durable and lightweight. The Schmidt is less than five feet in length and its diameter is the same as its size-rating; i.e., 3-inch, 4-inch, etc. The first point that immediately becomes evident is that unlike conventional dredges, the Schmidt lacks a sluice box, riffle tray, and bulky suction hose. Looking inside the suction end of the unit, one will see a grizzly or metal separator that is designed to prevent any large rocks from entering the gold collection chamber located beneath the main tube. Continuing on through the tube, two venturi inlets are visible just down stream of the collection chamber. These, along with the third venturi which will be discussed later, create the vacuum which moves the material through the Schmidt.
The venturi nozzles step down from a one-inch inlet to a 1/2-inch outlet and produce suction sufficient to move rocks weighing up to several pounds through the unit with ease. An important feature in the Schmidts design is that the turbulence created by the venturis is developed downstream of the collection chamber. This allows gold, particularly flake and flour-size, to settle out into the collection chamber more efficiently than on a conventional dredge which produces the turbulence in the hose and header box causing some fine gold to be lost. The material that passes the venturis has had the gold removed and is simply dumped out the end onto the tailing pile.
Two lengths of small, clear tubing tie into the venturis discussed above and go into the collection chamber. There are a number of small holes in this tubing inside the chamber that serve to keep everything that is captured in suspension. This action allows the gold to settle to the bottom of the chamber due to its high specific gravity. A third venturi, located in the collection chamber, serves two functions. First, it helps increase the available suction produced at the inlet of the unit and second, it continually blows out the lighter material suspended in the collection chamber which greatly reduces the amount of material left at the end of the day simplifying the clean-up process.
The collection chamber is constructed of seven layers of fiberglass to ensure that the Schmidt will provide years of trouble-free operation. There are two clean-out plugs located on the bottom of the chamber. To clean up at the end of the day, simply loosen the nuts holding the plugs in place and dump the concentrates into a large gold pan or tub for final processing. The entire process takes less than 10 minutes as compared to 30 minutes or longer with a conventional dredge.
Water is supplied to the venturis from the pump/motor assembly through 3 one-inch clear plastic hoses, each 15 feet in length. Longer lengths are available from the manufacturer for a nominal charge if needed. The hoses are connected to a specially designed manifold that is mounted on the pumps discharge.
The 3 and 4-inch models use a 3 HP engine coupled to a 140 gpm pump with the pump/motor combination weighing less than 40 pounds. A 5 HP motor can be used in the event you want to dive with it and need additional power for extra suction and running an air compressor. The 5-inch model uses a 5 HP motor; however, a 3 HP can be used with no noticeable drop in performance if weight is a critical factor and you do not plan on diving with it. The 5-inch model has a 4th venturi called a deep water jet. If one is planning on using the unit in 20 to 30 feet of water, a second 3 HP motor and pump combination can be hooked up and fed into the 4th nozzle to provide more suction as needed. The deep-water jet is left capped when not in use. The pump and motor can either be placed on the shore or mounted on the floatation system supplied by the manufacturer.
Another positive design feature of the Schmidt is that it is virtually impossible to lose any gold once it has been trapped in the collection chamber. With a conventional dredge, a large rock striking the sluice box can jar gold free or remain in the sluice box creating eddy currents which can wash gold from sections of the riffle tray. Most dredges also lose efficiency if the sluice box is not perfectly level; however, the Schmidt can be twisted from side to side without worrying about losing even the finest of gold flakes.
While larger flakes and nuggets are seldom lost from a sluice box once they have been trapped, effective recovery of fine gold is directly dependent on the riffle action and the ability of the gold to be caught by the carpet below the riffles. On conventional dredges, gravel and black sand begin to cover the riffles and carpeting after the first few minutes of operation which gradually allows more and more fine gold to be washed straight through the sluice.
Howard proved this during the development phase by using the Schmidt to check the tailings of prospectors using conventional dredges. In each case, he was able to recover a significant amount of fine gold usually more than the dredger himself had recovered. The concentrates are trapped in the collection chamber and kept in suspension which, by design, does not allow ANY gold to be washed away once it has dropped into the chamber.
An interesting feature of the 4 inch model is that it is actually 2 dredges-in-one. It comes with an interchangeable intake nozzle section which allows it to be converted quickly from a 4 inch to a 3 inch dredge. This feature is useful in certain areas that do not allow any dredges larger than those with a 3-inch intake to be used. Rather than being limited to a 3-inch dredge, the Schmidt will allow you to use either size depending on what regulations may exist in the area. Also, some commercial areas charge dredgers a fee based on the intake size of their dredge. This feature would allow you to test an area with the smaller nozzle BEFORE switching over to the larger one and paying a higher fee.
Recently I received a call from Brian Devan, the owner of a commercial gold mine in the north Georgia mountains, who told me about the Schmidt. Needless to say, I was more than a little skeptical when he told me that the unit weighed less than 60 pounds, could be carried by one person, and was as efficient as any commercially-made dredge on the market. He was planning on having several people come by and try the various models out on his property the following weekend and invited my wife and I up to see it firsthand. Always interested in seeing new treasure hunting-related equipment, we made plans on spending the day investigating the Schmidt.
Arriving at the mine, we saw several people already dredging in one of the pits on the property. Howard Schmidt and Brian were talking to a small group of people looking at the Schmidt Gold Traps on display. My first impression was one of complete disbelief that a device as simple as the Schmidt could actually work anywhere near as efficiently as the larger dredges I was used to using. After spending 30 minutes discussing the units design and operation with Howard, I walked over to talk with a miner that had just spent the last hour using the 4-inch Schmidt in the pit.
Mark Phelps, a local miner who has tried conventional dredges ranging from 3-inch to 6 inch models, said that Schmidt was the easiest piece of equipment to operate that he had ever used. One of the most noticeable aspects of the unit according to Mark was the total lack of rock jams that usually caused him considerable down-time on a standard dredge. As we talked, he ran his concentrates through a gold wheel to see if he had recovered any gold. Swirling contents of the small pan around in the sunlight, a nice trail of fine flour gold began to sparkle. In addition to the fine gold, a small nugget lay in the bottom of the pan partially covered by black sand. Mark was truly surprised at his success and said that he would have a Schmidt of his own the next time he hit one of the surrounding creeks.
Watching several other people using the dredges in the pit, I was amazed at how simple it appeared to be to operate as compared to what I was used to fighting a heavy suction hose filled with mud, rocks, and water. Most of the dredgers simply sat on the bottom and rested the Schmidt on their legs, allowing it to feed itself and dig into the bottom.
Maintaining the proper mixture of material and clear water no longer seemed to play a role in the recovery of fine gold, and one individual who had never dredged before was literally jamming the nozzle into the bottom. While he did manage to jam a few rocks in the tube, all that was required to free them was to shake the unit slightly from side to side. As mentioned previously, the design of the collection chamber will not allow any gold to be lost even when this is done.
James Willis, a seasoned prospector from Kite, Georgia, found another unique feature of the Schmidt. Working towards a gravel bar covered by sand in the center of the pit, he stood up and placed the Schmidt on his shoulder with the discharge end pointing towards the bar. By directing the water flowing through the venturis onto the sand, James quickly uncovered the pay-layer in the gravel. Turning the unit around, he continued dredging without wasting the time a conventional dredge would have needed to remove the worthless overburden.
After watching several people try the Schmidt and seeing the gold they were recovering, I put on a pair of hip-waders and tried using the 4-inch model. Placing my fingers in front of the intake nozzle, I was impressed at the amount of suction created by the venturis. As I began to feed material through the unit I was equally impressed to see large rocks being picked up and carried through the tube. After 20 minutes, I came out of the pit and walked over to my wife, Rosanne. While she enjoys going along with me when I dredge, she has never actually tried it due to the weight of the equipment and effort required to keep the material moving through the sluice. Much to my surprise, Rosanne said that she wanted to try it and headed down into the water. She used it for 15 minutes, and after getting out, said that she would not mind using the Schmidt as it required so little effort to operate. Just think how many dredgers have tried to get their wives interested in mining with them well, the Schmidt might just be the answer.
When one of the units was shutdown, we walked over to watch the clean-up process. Once the motor was shutdown, the clear hose which feeds the venturi inside of the collection chamber was disconnected and the two plugs on the bottom of the chamber removed. The engine was then re-started and the loose hose used to wash the concentrates out into a small tub. The entire process took less than 5 minutes. The total amount of concentrates resulting from 3 hours of use did not even fill a 12 inch gold pan. Considering Ive spent up to 30 minutes in the past just getting all of the concentrates out of my dredge and then winding up with half of a 5-gallon bucket filled with material requiring additional processing, the Schmidts benefits were quickly becoming obvious.
Another person I spoke with was Joe Ford from Cumming, Georgia who had brought his son along to see the Schmidt demonstration. He had not intended to actually use it; however, after seeing the success others were having, the two of them went into the muddy water wearing their street clothes. His reaction was simply that he could believe how easy it was to operate and that it had only taken 10 to 15 minutes to get the hang of it. Despite never having used a dredge before, they recovered an impressive amount of fine gold from their concentrates after about two hours of operation.
The Schmidts size and weight make it extremely portable allowing it to be packed into remote areas that may never have been worked properly. Even if someone had brought in a conventional backpack dredge, the Schmidt could move more material in one hour than the backpack unit could in a full day of operation with a higher percentage of gold recovery. Its also ideal for being packed in by horse or flown in by bush plane if weight is a critical factor. With the reduced weight, more fuel could be carried allowing for a longer and more profitable stay. Also, if the area is fairly inaccessible, it may not have been worth packing in a large dredge in the past if time was limited (i.e., a weekend). Now prospectors can hike in and be dredging within 30 minutes of reaching their destination.
A conventional 4-inch dredge mounted on floats has a foot print of about 6 feet by 4 feet and weighs nearly 150 pounds. These dimensions make it unwieldy and do not allow it to be transported easily. A 4 inch Schmidt weighs about 1/3 as much and can be easily carried by one person.
Many people that may have wanted a dredge capable of processing a high volume of material have not purchased one due to a lack of storage space (i.e., living in an apartment or small condominium) or not having a vehicle with which to transport it. An entire 5-inch dredge can now be stored in a hall closet and carried to the field in the trunk of a compact car.
The cost savings realized with a Schmidt is another consideration. As an example, the 4 inch model will save the buyer around $400 over the cost of a conventional unit, and the 5-inch can save buyers as much as $1000. Families can now buy a bigger dredge or even two dredges resulting in more gold recovery without breaking the family budget.
The setup and cleanup time is also considerably less than with a conventional dredge. Requiring less than 15 minutes to set it up and 10 minutes to clean up, people can now go out dredging for a few hours rather than having to spend all day in the stream due to the time required for setup and cleanup. A conventional 5-inch dredge requires 2 people to operate unless you can drive right to the water. With the Schmidt, one person can carry a 5-inch dredge a mile or more from the nearest road and still be operating in less time than it would take to setup a standard dredge in an easily accessible area.
The amount of concentrates obtained with a Schmidt is a fraction of what you would get from a conventional dredge after a days dredging with a higher percentage of fine gold being recovered. This results in quicker recovery of your gold at the end of the day. It also makes it much easier to cheek the amount of gold you are recovering on a periodic basis to decide if it is worth staying in the area.
Howard Schmidt and Brian Devan have developed a piece of equipment that will more than likely revolutionize recreational mining over the next few years. Many areas that have never been dredged due to their inaccessibility can now be easily and profitably worked by professional and weekend miners alike. For more information or to order this exciting new piece of equipment, call Brian Devan at (800) 942-4436 or write to Gold & Gem Grubbin, Rt. 3, Box 3040, Cleveland, GA 30528 and be sure to mention that you read about it in Lost Treasure.