by Linda C Butler
Told by Charlie Vance
Snow Lake was a gold mining town in the 1950s, and one day I asked the foreman of the mill, Russ Stewart, if I could watch the gold bricks being poured and he was agreeable. The furnace was heated with the gold and its surrounding rock, and when molten, the drum of the furnace was tipped and the mixture poured into cones. The gold being heavier, settled to the bottom. When the gold and slag mixture cooled, the men dumped it onto the cement floor and broke off the slag, a glass-like substance. The gold buttons on the bottom were reheated in the furnace and then poured into a brick mould, which rested inside a cone on a steel dolly.
When the men turned the handle on the furnace, the gold ran out to fill the brick form. If the gold ran over the edge of the mould, it would end up at the bottom of the cone and form another button which would be re-melted for the next brick. If slag settled to the top of the gold brick it would be chipped off after it had cooled.
After cooling, the gold brick was wrapped twice with a light-weight white canvas and then sewn shut. Burlap was wrapped around the brick. The foreman usually shipped five bricks together and when he was ready, he phoned the transport company to pick up the gold and take the bricks to the post office for shipment by registered mail.
One day when the transport man arrived at the post office he only had four bricks instead of five. One gold brick was missing! The driver was in a panic and drove back, planning to go to the mill, but found the missing gold brick lying on the roadway where it had bounced off the truck and went unnoticed.
The postmaster told me that when he had the five gold bricks overnight he did not sleep well as he did not have a safe large enough to hold the gold and had to leave it unsecured in the post office. The bricks weighed 22 pounds each and there are 12 troy ounces to a pound, or 264 troy oz in each brick. At that time the price of gold was $35.00 a troy oz. Each brick was worth $9,240 and the total shipment $46,200, a phenomenal amount of money in the 1950s. The gold was sent from the post office by truck to the railway where it went through the postal system to the refinery in Ottawa. It would probably have been easy to steal the gold when it was in transit but there never were any problems.
There were many stories about the miners who worked in the mill as they would clean the floor after a pouring and sweep all the dirt and debris out the back door. When the gold was poured, it would sometimes splatter onto the concrete floor and settle in the cracks. Sometimes bits of gold stuck to the slag. All of the debris would be swept out the door and nobody was particular about what was discarded. The miners returned at night to scoop up the dirt and debris and took it home to recover the lost gold.
The price of gold today, Feb 19, 2014, is $1,319 a troy oz. In today’s money, each brick of 264 troy oz would be worth $348,216 and the five bricks worth $1,741,080. Gold, this very precious metal, has gained much in value over the years.