Our Vision and Mission
To bring together persons interested in the history of the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge; to promote further interests in the heritage of the area; to gather information, objects and materials relative to its history and development; to carry on educational programs concerning the region; to restore and preserve the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge.
Forest Service to the Rescue
From 1953 until 1966, the dredge sat, lonely and abandoned. Passing vandals had a heyday removing any loose objects aboard and breaking windows still intact. One enterprising thief removed all the copper control lines, presumably to sell; but why anyone would remove the side cables to the stacker still remains a mystery. Once, when a mistaken report circulated that a quantity of drugs were hidden aboard the dredge, the traffic aboard grew to epic proportions.
It is almost ludicrous that help for saving the dredge from complete destruction came from its once mortal enemy, the United States Forest Service. The Forest Service’s job is to know and understand the area it serves, so it was among the first to perceive the towns of Bonanza and Custer, as well as the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge, had passed from the field of mining to the realm of history. Tuff McGowan and his wife Edna were operating a small but excellent museum at the Custer location, and in 1966 relinquished control of it to the Forest Service. The same year, the dredge was donated as a museum by Mr. J.R. Simplot. The Forest Service made the needed repairs to stay the deterioration of the dredge, but there was no manpower available to open it to the public.
The museum at Custer was open, and the history of the area was being documented by Director Bart Nordling, but his dream of opening the dredge to the public was still beyond the Forest Service’s means. In 1977 Bart invited all the known ex-dredgemen and their families to a reunion, hoping to record stories of when the dredge was in operation. The reunion was a grand success. The newspapers mistakenly reported that the dredge would be open to the public for a few hours. This was not so, but when the dredge reunion adjourned to visit the dredge there were 122 people standing in line expecting a tour. The old time dredgemen immediately assumed the role of tour guides and a good time was had by all.
In 1979 Bart Nordling again instigated a reunion. This time the ex-dredgemen knew more what to expect. Arriving several days early, some clean-up was done and the weekend tour was much better organized. The Yankee Fork Gold Dredge Association was formed, with Ken McKenzie as chairman and Art Browning as president. The express purpose of the Association is to help the Forest Service preserve the dredge and open it for public tours.
Through the Association, with the full cooperation of the Forest Service, the cleanup of years of neglect and vandalism began. Tours have been established, donation money collected, new windows installed and painting begun. Plans for rebuilding the stairs and recovering the roof have been made and there are thoughts of starting one engine just to hear it run.
In recent years many upgrades have happened. It was wired for electric lights which made a world of difference in being able to appreciate the workings of the dredge. More lights have been added to enhance the visit. Rerouting of the tours so that the resistor room could be seen also made the tour flow better. Signage throughout the dredge describing each station. Increased safety features to make the tour safer for children and adults alike. A new metal roof installed to preserve the dredge for many more years and to eliminate the constant patching jobs. Relocation of the gift shop which is now light and bright. The old gift shop was converted into a picture gallery. All the above projects were done with the cooperation of the Forest Service, State Parks and the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge Association.