How the ore car found its new home

A story by John Gaumer

Many years ago, my grandfather owned a gold mine in Dry Creek Canyon in Butte County, CA. He named it the New Era Mine, to signify the new mining technology he was going to bring to the land. He brought in a big compressor and jackhammers, rails and ore cars. All of these were novel for the time. After 25 years of active mining, my grandfather’s left arm was badly broken when a cable broke loose from one of the ore cars on the incline. He knew it was time to retire, so he sold the mine and the land.

In 1994, my son Bill and I knew we wanted to fulfill our dream of creating a large museum expansion inside our family store. We wanted to display a diorama of my grandfather’s mining equipment, and gold specimens. We had collected his forge, anvil, bars, gads, and drills. However, we knew the diorama would not be complete without an ore car from my grandfather’s mine.

Ore car at New Era mine near Pentz, Butte County, California. The ore car still sat on the rails laid by my grandfather, John O. Gaumer.
Ore car at New Era mine near Pentz, Butte County, California. The ore car still sat on the rails laid by my grandfather, John O. Gaumer.

The land was now owned by a doctor from Chico. He happily gave us permission to enter the land in search for a car. The mine was no longer active and it was flooded. Luckily, there was one ore car some distance away from the mine entrance. It had been laid to rest along the tracks through a gulch and was not submerged. A cottonwood tree had grown up and entrapped the rim of the car. We were going to need a chainsaw and a way to hoist the heavy car out of the gulch. I talked to my brother Jim, who was working at the time for Baldwin Contracting in Chico. He said he’d bring a boom truck with a winch.

We organized a crew of three generations of the Gaumer family. My wife, Terry, my two brothers, Jim and Tom, my two sons, Bill and Scott, and my grandson, Mac, all gathered at the mine to secure the car. It was a miserably cold and drizzly day, and we had to get the boom truck up to the ridge above the gulch where the ore car sat, clearing brush and small trees along the way. Scott was young, strong, and courageous, and just a wee bit dumb as are all young men. So we got him to climb up the dead 16-18 inch cottonwood tree with the chainsaw. He cut the tree into chunks, freeing the car. To this day, you can still see a semi-circular blond mark on the car where the tree had protected the iron from the elements for all those years.

We snaked a cable down and hooked it to the car and used the winch to drag the car up the steep grade. It was a wet, slippery mess of tangled blackberry vines and manzanita, but we got the car up from the gulch and onto the trailer. It wasn’t until we got it home that we discovered the car comes apart in two pieces – the bucket just rests on the wheels. We had been carrying the car as a whole, but each piece is much lighter – oh well!

Circa 1994, having recovered the ore car from the New Era mine near Pentz, Butte County, California, Bill, Tom, Scott and John (driving the tractor) unload the ore car at its temporary resting place in Red Bluff.
Bill, Tom, Scott and John (driving the tractor) unload the ore car at its temporary resting place in Red Bluff.

We drove back to Red Bluff and unloaded the ore car in front of the house using the tractor. There it sat for a couple years waiting for our Mineral and Mining museum to be finished.

Bill found rails that would fit the wheels, and we built a spot in the museum for the ore car. We got fir timbers and hand adzed them to build the adit (the entrance to the mine). We did our best to reconstruct the entrance just as it was at the real mine. We laid down the rails to make a bit of track. There the ore car now sits, filled with good pyrite ore and quartz, and flanked by the diorama of other mining equipment. We painted the corner beyond the adit flat black, so it looks dark like a real mine entrance. It’s a lot of fun for the kids.

We are very proud of our family’s history, and are proud to showcase the ore car and mining equipment in our museum. Stop by in person to get a closer look.