The Coronation of Priday Royalty

A story by John Gaumer

Over the years, our family made many trips to the Priday ranch near Madras, Jefferson County, Oregon. The ranch was known for its thundereggs, which could contain prized plume agate material. The mine owner, Glen Fulton, charged a small fee to allow visitors to dig on his property.

In the early years (top), we dug at the base of the slope where the overburden was shallow. In later years (bottom), the cliff of overburden rose high above the diggings.
In the early years (top), we dug at the base of the slope where the overburden was shallow. In later years (bottom), the cliff of overburden rose high above the diggings.

The thundereggs were located beneath a layer of overburden near the surface of the bedrock. In the early mining years, the overburden wasn’t very deep and we could easily dig to reach the thundereggs. However, the mine site was located on a sloping hill. Over time, the overburden became deeper and deeper as miners worked the land. Eventually, a wall of rock towered over the diggers as they searched for their thunderegg treasures.

At this point, the only way to get to the thundereggs was to tunnel into the cliff face. Mr. Fulton worried about the safety of the miners as they attempted to remove the unwanted rock and decided to remove the overburden himself. Every evening, he came to the cliff face and planted dynamite along the wall. The next morning, after the evening blasts, the miners could safely dig through the fresh rubble and continue mining into the new sections of exposed bedrock.

One day, my father, Al, was working an area that had been passed over by other miners. He was tapping on the bedrock with a short steel bar, listening for pockets that might contain thundereggs. He hit a promising spot that had a hollow ring. We drilled around that area and planted dynamite charges there. Mr. Fulton agreed to detonate our charges that evening, and we headed back to camp.

The next morning, we awoke to rain and had to pack up camp before heading out to the dig. Other miners had already gone before us, and they crossed right over the area we had blasted the previous evening. We arrived in a light rain and looked into the newly exposed pit that the light dynamite charge had opened up. Lying face up, washed by the rain, was a large thunderegg that had been cleaved in two by the blast. Intent on reaching the main dig site, the other miners had walked right past it without noticing.

Priday Queen Plume agate thunderegg

That thunderegg would later be named the Priday Queen. It was so spectacular that it graced the cover of the Lapidary Journal in 1967. Not only did we find the Queen in that pocket, but we also found her mate, the Priday King. The Priday King was as pretty as the Queen and a bit larger. We sold the center slice of the King to Harvard University’s Mineralogical Museum for their collection. Both halves of the Queen and slices from the King are on display in Gaumer’s mineral and mining museum in Red Bluff, California. Come visit them in person for a closer look.