What Is Cottolene?


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52 sunday dinners 20150323_095845After helping me clean out my parents’ house after my father died, my husband got the bug to clean out our house. He has never liked clutter. Although most of the clutter in our home is hidden in cupboards and drawers, it is there, and he hates it.

He started with the kitchen. I came home from a trip to Washington State earlier this month to find our dining room table covered with stuff I hadn’t seen in years—wedding presents never used, more coffee mugs than could fill a shelf, baby dishes I’m saving for grandchildren.

“I’m planning to give away everything on the table,” he told me. “But I’ll give you a week to pick out anything you want to keep.”

He was right. We need to get rid of most of the stuff. But I did salvage the baby dishes.

He had put a stack of cookbooks on the table. Most of them I had no interest in, including one called Fifty-Two Sunday Dinners. I don’t make old-fashioned heavy Sunday dinners for multitudes.

But the cookbook looked old. I wondered where it had come from. I opened it.

CRStrachan note 20150323_095901“This Cookbook belonged to Cecelia Ryan Strachan.” The note on the inside front cover was written in my grandmother’s handwriting. Cecelia was her mother, my great-grandmother. My mother must have given the book to me at some point, though I have no recollection of it.

That settled it—I was keeping this cookbook.

A day later over dinner I was thumbing through the cookbook, explaining to my husband why I had to keep it. Every recipe I saw had “Cottolene” as an ingredient. It was used in cakes and it was used to fry potatoes.

“What’s Cottolene?” I asked.

He had no idea.

We googled the word—a modern solution to a question about an old ingredient.

cottoleneTurns out, Cottolene was a brand of shortening, a competitor of Crisco, sold from 1868 until sometime in the mid-20th century. It was made from the waste products of two industries—beef tallow and cottonseed oil, and was the first commercially successful alternative to lard.

220px-Cottolene_adApparently, Cottolene had quite a marketing campaign. They advertised, created tins with their logo, and even commissioned cookbooks. Including the cookbook Fifty-Two Sunday Dinners, by Elizabeth O. Hiller, published in 1913, when my grandmother was five years old. I guess my great-grandmother fell prey to the marketing genius behind Cottolene.

For those of you who want to know some of the recipes in this cookbook, it has been reprinted in its entirety, including all the references to the now-defunct Cottolene.  It is also available on Google Books.

But you’ll have to find your own substitute for Cottolene. And your copy won’t have a note from my grandmother.

What old products do you wish were still on the market?

Sluicing and Beyond: The Gold Rush Develops from Entrepreneurial to Capitalist


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Placermine sluiceI’ve written about panning for gold and rockers and Long Toms. Inevitably, as the search for gold during the California Gold Rush, the miners developed more sophisticated methods of extracting gold. Sluicing was the next development after Long Toms.

While some consider Long Toms to be primitive sluices, the difference is one of scale. Sluicing could process much more dirt than the earlier methods of mining.

The sluices of the Gold Rush were usually long wood boxes with “riffles” in them to catch the gold. As with the rockers and Long Toms, the intent was to get water to do most of the work of separating gold from dirt and gravel. The sluice boxes were placed in water at a slight downhill tilt so that water flowed through them, with enough current to wash out sand and gravel, but not enough to wash out the gold.

The-Sluice-by-Henry-SandhamWhereas Long Toms were around six to twelve feet long, sluices could be hundreds of feet long. The sluice could be a whole series of connected boxes. Because so much effort was involved in building the sluices, the boxes were typically built on the mining claim frrom whatever wood was available.

Moreover, sometimes a whole stream was dammed and diverted to expose the riverbed, and the rich dirt that had been under water was shoveled into the sluices to extract the gold.

Obviously, even though sluicing was a labor-saving method of mining, it still took a lot of manual labor. After building the sluices, men had to shovel dirt into the sluice box. The men needed to shovel fast enough to process a lot of gravel, but not so fast that the riffles were overloaded. If the dirt ran over the tops of the riffles, then the riffles could not function to sort the dirt and catch the gold.

Once the heavier pieces had been caught in the riffles, they had to remove the larger rocks by hand. Leaving the larger rocks would let the current scour sand and silt (and maybe gold flakes) from around the rock. Particularly at the lower end of the sluice box, the gold might escape altogether.

In addition, the miners had to move the tailings from the end of the sluice box, so the water wouldn’t back up into the sluice.

Finally, and most importantly, the miners had to pan the remaining silt for gold flakes and nuggets. That’s the only way to make the sluicing productive—find and retain the gold that was trapped by the riffles.

It could take shoveling several hundred pounds of gravel to get a few ounces of gold. But these large sluices could process hundreds of cubic feet of dirt per day—far more than several men could pan by hand.

As the number of miners in California grew through 1849 and into the 1850s, individual miners were replaced by corporate operations. More complicated machinery using hydraulics and heavy earth-moving equipment became more common. Whole hillsides and mountains were moved, and ravines scored in the increasingly difficult search for gold. Increasingly, water was moved to the dirt in long aquaducts, rather than moving the dirt to the water.

More and more, only capitalists with money to invest could make a profit from mining.

What impresses you the most about the increasing mechanization during the Gold Rush?

The State of Washington Lied To Me When I Was in High School


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WA state flagSometime during my sophomore or junior year of high school, I was required to take the Washington Pre-College Test. This test was necessary to apply to universities in the state. I intended to apply to both Washington State University and the University of Washington, so I dutifully signed up for the test and spent a Saturday morning on the multiple choice exam.

I took the PSAT and the SAT and some AP tests as well, but the Washington Pre-College Test was unique among the standardized tests I took. It included an aptitude section, designed to point high-school students toward career fields in which they might excel.

Or, as a scholarly article put it:

“The program of academic prediction in Washington State is unique among college testing programs in that it is directed . . . at the decision-making needs of the average high school graduate. This typical student is visualized by the program as having to make one or more educational choices (selecting courses or a major) and having to make them against a background of aptitudes and training which may spell success for some choices and failure for others.” [from A RESEARCH REVIEW OF THE WASHINGTON PRE-COLLEGE TESTING PROGRAM, by CLIFFORD E. LUNNEBORG, University of Washington]

As I recall, the aptitude portion of the test required that I select which of two answers best suited me. For example, I could say I liked to (a) read books or (b) clean up blood.

Now that wasn’t precisely one of the questions, but I remember that there were several questions that mentioned blood and gore. This is relevant, because I deliberately chose the alternative that didn’t mention blood or gore at every opportunity I had.

And yet, the State of Washington decided that the best occupation for me would be nursing. When I got the results of the Washington Pre-College Test back, that’s what it said, in black and white.

Keep in mind that this was in the early 1970s. I realized immediately that there was a significant gender bias in the test. Why else would most of the boys have rated highly on forestry, while every girl I knew showed great aptitude for nursing?

And I’m not the only high school student to have experienced questionable results. I discovered another blogger (male) who was one of the boys directed toward forestry. He deliberately chose another career.

So when I saw my Washington Pre-College Test results I immediately discounted them. I wasn’t going to get any help from the state in selecting my career. Ultimately, I became a lawyer. Then a human resources professional. Then a mediator and writer.

In none of those fields have I ever had to deal with blood. I did manage a corporate medical department in one of my HR roles, but I stayed away from the blood.

At a later point in my life, I had to take another aptitude test. That test told me I was ideally suited to be an IRS examiner. I didn’t like that answer either. But at least that career wouldn’t have involved blood. And it was too late—I’d already chosen my own career. Or make that careers.

Have you ever disagreed with standardized test results?

Work for a Healthy Brain During Brain Awareness Week


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logo_homepageThis week, March 16-22, is Brain Awareness Week, a program launched by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives. This is the twentieth anniversary of Brain Awareness Week. Because Alzheimer’s and other brain issues have impacted my family, I thought the week was worthy of mention—it is an opportunity to recognize advances in brain science and think about how to keep our brains healthy.

Participants around the world this week are holding open days at neuroscience labs, exhibitions about the brain, lectures on brain-related topics, social media campaigns, displays at libraries and community centers, classroom workshops, and other activities designed to promote awareness of brain science and health.

One fun exercise would be to download the brain puzzles available at on the Dana Alliance website.

Nevertheless, my research indicates that not all organizations are on the same page when it comes to recognizing Brain Awareness Week. Although the National Parkinson’s Foundation celebrates this week, the Alzheimer’s Association recognizes June as Brain Awareness Month. The Alzheimer’s Association has a big fundraiser focused on “the longest day” on June 21, in recognition that Alzheimer’s Disease has been called “the long good-bye”.

And in the United Kingdom, Dementia Awareness Week is May 17-23 this year.

So around the world, there are many opportunities throughout the year to reflect on how important our brains are.

We often hear the mantra of body, mind, and spirit. All three components are important to making each of us the unique individuals we are. And we know how interconnected they are—the physical, the mental, and the spiritual together make up personality. Identical twins with the same physiques can have different personalities. Friends who look very different can be quite similar in their outlooks on life.

In addition to reflecting on the importance of our brain, we can work to keep our brains healthy. The National Parkinson’s Foundation website touts “8 Steps to a Healthy Brain”,  which are

1. Exercise

2. Eat healthy

3. Work your brain

4. Stay social

5. Manage stress

6. Get enough sleep

7. Keep track of medications and supplements

8. Avoid illicit drugs and excessive alcohol consumption

These are good recommendations for anyone wanting a healthy brain, and worth thinking about any week of the year. I need to work on getting more sleep and managing stress. All the travel I’ve been doing across time zones has wreaked havoc on my body, and thus my mind.

Which of the eight steps do you need to improve? What do you cherish most about your mind?


What Is Story (Redux)? . . . And a Sense of Urgency


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My first post on this blog went live in January 2012, but I didn’t start a regular posting schedule until March of that year, so I consider March my blog’s anniversary. This blog is now three years old.

I deliberately set the blog’s theme “Story and History” to be broad enough to let me write about almost anything I wanted. My first post was titled “What is Story?” and began:

This blog is about story and history — my story, the stories in my historical and contemporary writing, and the stories of the world as it was and is.

How am I doing on my plan to write about my story, the stories in my writing, and the stories of the world around me?

My posts deal much more with my family than I anticipated, and less about my writing and about the world as I see it (though I’ve covered a lot of Oregon Trail and Gold Rush history in my posts).

Perhaps I focus on family because of what I’ve had to deal with over the last three years—my mother’s decline due to Alzheimer’s, her death last summer, and my father’s sudden death in January. Perhaps I’ve focused on family because to tell my story necessitates that I write about the people who made me the way I am—which began with family. My story requires writing my own history.

Perhaps I don’t write about my writing, because the last few years have been a struggle to feel productive as a writer. I’ve been on too many boards and committees, and I’ve had too many family issues to spend the creative time writing that I want.

Nevertheless, I have accomplished certain goals in the last three years. When I began this blog, I had not yet published a novel. I accomplished that life goal in late 2013 (under a pseudonym).

Now my goal is to publish at least two more novels—the two on the Oregon Trail and California Gold Rush that I have drafted. I am confident I will meet this goal, though my timeline has been much slower than I had hoped.

MC900149882As I wrote on January 28 of this year, I am editing my first Oregon Trail novel again, hoping to whip it into publishable shape. I am proud to report that as of last week, I had edited about 60% of it for my critique group, and I’ve got it below 130,000 words. (I’d like to end up around 120,000 words, but I think it’s going to be 125,000 or so.)

My critique group has been through a little more than a third of the book. As soon as I finish my edit for them, I’ll go back to incorporate their comments into the novel. I still hope to have all that done by Labor Day.

The good news is that as I edit I still like the book. The bad news is I still have a lot of work to do.

I have a greater sense of urgency now than I did three years ago. As I said, my father died suddenly in January. My husband had a good friend who was in his early sixties who died later that month. Last week one of my critique group partners died after open-heart surgery.

We know not the hour.

And yet, we plan as if we have time. Life is a balance between striving for more and being ready.

In March 2012, I wrote about achieving our dreams by telling our stories. I haven’t achieved my dreams yet, but I will continue to tell my stories.

I wrote in another post in March 2012:

My challenge to you today is to ask yourself:

– What is your future story?

– What do you want your life to be in five or ten years?

I leave you with these same questions again today.

My Father’s Bookcase: A New Family Heirloom


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MTH & bookcaseWhen I was a very young, my father made a bookcase. It’s made of a pretty wood (maybe oak?), and it is solid. It has a curved lip on the front facing at the top of the bookcase. I thought that made it a fancy piece of furniture when I was a child. My father must have had access to decent woodworking equipment to make that curve, but I have no idea where or how he made it.

The bookcase sat in the living room in one of the houses we lived in when I was in preschool. Here I am standing in my party clothes in front of the bookcase—I think this was my third birthday, or maybe Easter of that year.

Later, when I was six and a half and we moved to a house where I had my own bedroom for the first time, the bookcase was in my room. Over the next several years it came to hold all my treasured volumes, books by Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder and Irene Hunt.

And I hid my Halloween and Easter candy behind the books on the bottom shelf.

On many occasions when removing a book from the top shelf, I scraped the back of my hand on the point of that curve my father sawed. It didn’t seem quite as fancy then, but I still was proud to have my own bookcase and my own books to fill it (and hide the candy from my brother).

The bookcase moved from house to house with my parents.

20150111_072934At some point it came to reside in my sister’s home. As I’ve been traveling back and forth to the Seattle area this year, I’ve spent several nights in her house. And there, in her guest room, is my old friend—the bookcase my father made.

It is full of well-read paperbacks. It is still solid and it still sports a curved front panel, and the wood finish is still polished. (But I haven’t found any candy behind the books.)

Now it doesn’t seem fancy at all. Now it seems utilitarian and plain, the curve on the front piece a meager attempt to add decoration.

Nevertheless, I’m glad it is still in the family. It brings back memories of a little girl in party clothes in simpler times, of the bedroom where she later read and dreamed, and of a handy father now deceased.

What homemade treasures does your family own?

A Reflection on Scrivener and on Organizing Writing and Life

A screen shot of my Scrivener file for this blog

A screen shot of my Scrivener file for this blog

Last September I posted about my first few weeks using Scrivener, a software program for writers. I said at the time I was using Scrivener to organize my blogs, novels, and short works. I use it mostly to plan my blogs.

When I began with Scrivener, I used it to draft the next blog posts I needed to write and to keep a list of future post ideas. I also developed a generic monthly plan so I could monitor and vary the topics of I write about. I also wanted to keep an archive of past posts.

So, after six months, how is it going?

I’ve come to really like Scrivener. I still don’t maneuver through the various Scrivener panes and views as easily as I would like. I have to remember to put my cursor in the view I want (outline view or writing view) before I select the post I want to work on. Otherwise, I lose visibility to the outline view where I track my status.

But Scrivener fulfills its promise in keeping track of where I am on each post—first draft, final draft, done!—and in maintaining a list of future topics. I can write a paragraph or two when an idea occurs to me and know that it won’t get lost in some long directory of Word files. All my work on the blog is in the same Scrivener file.

Scrivener reminds me of an outlining program I used to use as an attorney in the mid-1980s called ThinkTank by Symantec. It, too, could take blocks of text and easily move them around. I used it to organize and reorganize my thoughts, to plan legal briefs and deposition questions. ThinkTank was followed by another outlining program called Grandview, which was about my favorite software program of all time, second only to WordPerfect 5.1.

Unfortunately, Grandview died when Microsoft added an outline feature to Word, even though the Microsoft outliner remains far inferior to what Grandview could do in the late 1980s.

I find Scrivener’s full-screen editing mode is a huge help in avoiding distractions. I’m using the full-screen mode to draft this post, and I can’t see when a new email pops into my inbox or when the next to-do item on my schedule thinks it should start. So Scrivener helps my focus, particularly on the initial draft of a post, when I would otherwise be popping over to my web browser to research a point or find a link or image to add to the post. In the full-screen mode, I think only of the writing.

I like Scrivener’s label feature. I’ve modified the labels in my blog file to indicate the topic of each post—family, writing, history, etc. However, I don’t follow my monthly plan rotating through topics the way I thought I would when I set it up.

Of course, my life doesn’t follow my monthly plan either. Certainly the first months of this year have taken me in totally unexpected directions. Instead of serving on the board of a local non-profit for writers, I am managing my father’s estate and trying to sell a house half-way across the country. No wonder more of my posts relate to family than I anticipated.

I’m not as good at archiving the final version of posts as I would like. I tend to write a close-to-final draft in Scrivener, then upload it to WordPress, then make additional changes. Those last tweaks don’t usually make it back to Scrivener. This is only important if (as I keep saying I will) I want to publish some of my posts in another format—as an ebook or print on demand book, for example. Otherwise, my log of past posts in Scrivener is more than adequate to tell me if I am repeating a topic.

I would like to see a calendar or date feature in Scrivener. I organize my posts in Scrivener by date, and I have to do that manually. Dates are critical for organizing scenes in my novel, and I’ve added a date field to the metadata on the Scrivener file for my work in progress. If I use a consistent YYMMDD format in that field, I can then organize the scenes by date manually. But Grandview included a date field that sorted automatically thirty years ago.

Thirty years! I’ve been using computers to organize my work for thirty years.

I would also like to see Scrivener apps for mobile devices, so that I could work on my projects on all my devices, rather than just on my laptop. Evernote permits this flexibility, so if I want information available anywhere, I put it in Evernote.

Evernote has greater flexibility in formatting information than Scrivener, but it is less tailored to how writers work. As with any tool, the more particular a product is, the less flexibility it has. Scrivener has met my need for an organizational tool designed for writers. The next novel I write, I vow to outline in Scrivener from the very beginning!

What tools do you use to stay organized?

On Birthdays and Owls: Remembering My Mother


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Mother with owl pin

My mother wearing one of her owl pins

Today would have been my mother’s 82nd birthday. One of my most popular posts on this blog is the one I wrote to mark her 80th birthday. By that time, she was in assisted living because of her Alzheimer’s, and she could not really celebrate her birthday that year.

Last year—her 81st birthday—was even worse. She didn’t know that it was her birthday. I sent birthday cards, but my father had to read them to her. I called, but she didn’t do well speaking on the telephone. “Hello” and “Thank you” was about all she would say.

Still, this year, I miss making the effort to mark the day as hers. And I miss my father, even knowing that today would have been hard for him if he were alive, as last Christmas was hard for him without her. He had already marked March 4 as her birthday in his Day-Timer. He and I would have talked today and reminisced about my mother.

One thing I did recently to remember my mother was to take out her owl pins. My father gave them to me last summer after she died.

She had a thing about owls.

owlI don’t remember when or why she started collecting owls. It might have been because she liked the Owl character in Winnie the Pooh (who, though the wisest being in the One Hundred Acre Wood, spelled his name WOL). But my mother always considered herself more like Eeyore than like Owl. It might have been because owls are supposed to be smart, and she knew she was smart. It might have been because an old barn owl lived in the fields behind our house.

All I know is that her collection began before I went to college, because the first needlepoint project I made my freshman year in college was an owl for her.

Mother's owl pins

My mother’s owl pins

Anyway, she had two owl pins that she wore frequently through the years. One bird is gold-plated with green shiny eyes. The other is iridescent white like mother of pearl and intricately carved. The white pin was one of the last pieces of jewelry my mother wore (other than her engagement and wedding rings).

Neither pin is of a style I am likely to wear, but I like having them, because of the memories they bring to mind.

MTH owl pin

My owl pin

At some point during my professional life, I acquired my own owl pin. I’m pretty sure I bought it, but I don’t remember why or where. I think I bought the pin about the time I was thirty. That’s about when I realized how much my personality was like my mother’s—and as a daughter struggling for independence I finally accepted our similarities as well as our differences. I am an introvert, as she was an introvert. I am smart and disciplined, as she was smart and disciplined. I love to read, as she loved to read. I am a writer, as she wanted to be a writer (and ultimately she did let herself write, as I have let myself write).

I haven’t worn my owl pin much in the last fifteen years or so. But when I take out her pins, I take out mine as well. And I remember how much I am like my mother, and how most of the time now I am glad for our similarities.

How do you resemble the generations that came before you?

Family Ritual: Reading Aloud at Bedtime


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March is National Reading Awareness Month. I’ve written before about how important reading has been in our family, but my earlier post (here) focused on how my mother read to me when I was a child.

MH900446472My husband and I also read to our kids when they were small. We read to our son (our older child) regularly from the time he was an infant, and it was a nightly ritual by the time he was three. When we moved into our current house, he was two-and-a-half and had bunk beds in his room. The three of us sat on the floor with our backs against the lower bunk and read for about fifteen or twenty minutes.

We started with short books, but progressed to longer chapter books fairly quickly—as much for our adult interest levels as for our son’s. Hatchet by Gary Paulson was an early favorite, as were the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Narnia chronicles by C.S. Lewis. We read Tom Sawyer and Johnny Tremain and many other novels.

We ended our bedtime ritual with a sing-along. My husband taught us sea shanties, and I had a book of old folk songs (”Home on the Range” and “Oh Susanna”, for example). None of us have very good voices, but we did all right in harmonizing. Besides, who cared what we sounded like?

Our daughter came along shortly after our son turned three. For the first two years or so, she was not very interested in reading time. She wandered the room while one of the adults read and our son listened. What she liked most was that her bedtime was delayed while we read. In fact, she insisted that our son be tucked in first, so she could make sure he wasn’t getting any special treatment as the older child. Only after his bedroom light was turned off would she go to bed.

Some of our later books, like the Little House books, were designed to appeal more to our daughter. We started on Little Women, but I don’t think we ever made it all the way through.

Our reading times ended about the time our daughter started first grade and our son was in fourth grade. By then, there were too many other demands on our evening hours, like practicing the piano and sports teams.

Besides, both kids could read pretty well by then. In fact, our daughter preferred to read chapter books by herself, rather than parcel the book out one chapter per day—that took too long for her to find out the ending of the story.


Read Aloud Day is March 21 this year. Find a kid—or a kid at heart—and have yourself a read-a-thon. Fifteen minutes of reading out loud to a child each day makes a tremendous difference in a child’s ability to read.

Even if your child can’t read yet. It’s still important.

What bedtime rituals did you have with your children?

Use of Rockers and Long-Toms During the California Gold Rush


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Miner using a cradle

Miner using a cradle

As I wrote last month, the early California gold miners began with placer mining, simply picking the nuggets off the ground or from streams, with hands and pans and knives. Soon, however, they wanted to sift through more dirt faster to increase the profitability of their prospecting.

One of the earliest tools they employed to speed their collection of gold flakes and nuggets was the rocker—also called a cradle because it resembled a child’s cradle. The rocker was merely a way to pan for gold more quickly. The rocker moved more water and rock than the miners could by hand.

In essence, the rocker was a box into which the prospectors shoveled both dirt and water. The box had a handle that they pushed back and forth. Like the swishing motion of panning, this rocking caused heavier material to sink to the bottom of the device. The miner then panned the leftover sediment to find gold.

Colonel Richard Mason gave an excellent description of how a rocker worked in his July 1848 report, in which he wrote that most miners were employing “a rude machine known as the cradle.” Here is his description:

This [the cradle] is on rockers, six or eight feet long, open at the foot, and its head had a coarse grate, or sieve; the bottom is rounded, with small cleets nailed across. Four men are required to work this machine; one digs the ground in the bank close by the stream; another carries it to the cradle, and empties it on the grate; a third gives a violent rocking motion to the machine, whilst a fourth dashes on water from the stream itself. The sieve keeps the coarse stones from entering the cradle, the current of water washes off the earthy matter, and the gravel is gradually carried out at the foot of the machine, leaving the gold mixed with a heavy fine black sand above the first cleets. The sand and gold mixed together are then drawn off through auger holes into a pan below, are dried in the sun, and afterwards separated by blowing off the sand. A party of four men, thus employed at the Lower Mines, average 100 dollars a-day. The Indians, and those who have nothing but pans or willow baskets, gradually wash out the earth, and separate the gravel by hand, leaving nothing but the gold mixed with sand, which is separated in the manner before described.

As a later commentary said in describing the work required to operate a rocker,

The man who rocks a cradle learns to appreciate the fact, that the “golden sands” of California are not pure sand, but are often extremely tough clay, a hopperful of which must be shaken about for ten minutes before it will dissolve under a constant pouring of water. Many large stones are found in the pay-dirt. Such as give an unpleasant shock to the cradle, as they roll from side to side of the riddle-box, are pitched out by hand, and after a glance to see that no gold sticks to their sides, are thrown away; but the smaller ones are left until the hopperful has been washed, so that nothing but clean stones remain in the riddle, and then the cradler rises from his seat, lifts up his hopper, and with a jerk throws all the stones out.

See Getting Gold: A Gold-Mining Handbook for Practical Men, J. C. F. Johnson (1904), available through Project Gutenberg.

Miner using a long tom

Miners using long toms

The next development in the California gold fields was the use of the Long Tom, which looked like a long trough. These devices were used extensively by 1851. The box of a Long Tom was typically eight to twenty feet long, and it had riffles to catch the gold and heavier debris. A constant flow of water was needed to force the gravel along the trough. Miners shoveled gravel into the upstream end of the box. As with the rocker, the heavier gold sank to the bottom of the gravel, and could be panned from the gravel.

To get the necessary water, the prospectors either placed their Long Toms in streams or they diverted water through Long Toms near the water. Sometimes, the tom was connected to a paddlewheel that moved the water through the device.

The Long Toms had more capacity than rockers and didn’t require the work to rock the machine. Still, two or more men were required to work the device. If there were only two men available—one shoveling gravel into the tom, and the other keeping it clear of rock, they could wash about 6 cubic yards of loose gravel, or 3 to 4 cubic yards of cemented gravel, in a ten-hour day.

Usually, four men operated the Long Tom—two shoveling gravel into the top end of the device, and another to clear out larger rocks along the trough. A fourth man worked the lower end to get rid of smaller rocks (the tailings). More men made the job more efficient, so more gravel could be processed.

Even without the rocking action, manning a Long Tom was hard work. As Johnson wrote,

The dirt is thrown in at the head of the tom, and a man is constantly employed in moving the dirt with a shovel, throwing back such pieces of clay as are not dissolved, to the head of the tom, and throwing out stones. From two to four men can work with a tom; but the amount of dirt that can be washed is not half that of a sluice. The tom may be used to advantage in diggings where the amount of pay-dirt is small and the gold coarse.

No wonder sluices soon became popular in the California gold mines.

What labor-saving devices have you seen develop in your lifetime? What do you think the next technical innovations will be?


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