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Mike Leahy's Diary

Day 10: Automated Panning

Challenge boxThe first programme had been extremely hard work for me. I think that the others (especially Kate) thought that I was a right whinger, but I was suffering with a cold, regular asthma attacks and with my broken tooth could neither eat or speak properly.

As usual, I wake up for the first day of filming well before dawn but can soon tell that it is cold and dry outside. This means that we will probably have a dry sunny day.

It doesn't all go smoothly at the beginning of the day because Steve (the boss) took me aside to tell me that while we were being filmed ‘being natural' during the evenings I had messed up some takes by swearing a lot. I hadn't even realised that I had been doing it. Bummer! Time to try harder.

Today is to become a vintage Rough Science day. Together with Jonathan and Kathy I am to try to construct an automated gold panning system in the hope that we can get hold of alluvial gold more efficiently than in the first programme. Our target is 0.55g, which should be easy enough, but making the equipment will be very labour intensive involving lots of banging, sawing and construction work. Thank goodness we have three of us on the case. Like the others I know very little about gold or gold panning, so common sense and some idea of what gold panning devices we have seen in the past is all we have to work on, and of course science.

Back to the challenge
Mike and Ellen constructing gold panning systemThe design of our automated panner is based on a device, which was used in the nineteenth century and is called a cradle because it rocks See diagram in diary. We have a sketchy idea of what it looks like, and use it because it's quite easy to automate although I think it's fair to say that we all have our doubts about how much of an improvement it will be over a simple sluice. In addition to rocking the cradle we really need to move water. Water is the single most important component in obtaining alluvial gold. Without water the gold sticks to rocks and pebbles and there would be no way of separating them. In fact some gold mines are pretty much made up of a cliff face and a hosepipe. For now making a water wheel and constructing the cradle is enough work, so we leave the pump until day 2.

By late afternoon we are getting somewhere. The cradle looks beautiful and just needs riffles and some sacking put in to catch the gold See diagram in diary. J's water wheel is up and running and all that is left to do is work out a good way to connect it to the cradle and the (yet to be constructed) water pump. The weather is brilliant. As I gaze over to the moon climbing above snow-covered mountains on the horizon I'm happy.

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Photo: Mike Leahy
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