The Loop Newspaper - Tehachapi's Online Community News & Entertainment Guide

Gold Panning Contests

A Page of History


Marion Deaver, Bakersfield Californian reporter, has covered every event for the ten year history of Gold Panning days. Here she catches the action as Quartz Hill volunteer Fire Department wins the 1968 "High Wheel Fire Cart Race."

I found a program from the 11th Annual World Championship Gold Panning Contest held at Tropico Gold Mine in some of my things after I cleaned out my storage unit recently.

I thought I would look in my mother Marion Deaver's files to see if I could find some photos of the contest, and in the process found two more programs and a bunch of photos my mother took over the years of the event.

The programs included ones from 1968, 1970, and 1971. The event was started in 1960, and I remember going with my parents to attend them. The premise was to have eight gold nuggets the size of a pea placed in a 10 inch gold pan filled to the top with dirt.

The time limit was three minutes to remove all the dirt by panning the pan in a trough of water, and have the nuggets left. There was a penalty of ten seconds for each nugget lost.

The professionalism of the contestants was amazing and a ten second penalty could mean a loss because the times were so close.

There was a four minute time for the juniors, under 16. I remember one young man who decided he would pan for gold with a great amount of "flair." He was done and swung his pan up in the air to his left and then declared he was finished.

The only problem was there were only seven nuggets in the pan. The officials had placed a screen in the trough for just such emergencies – but the nugget was not in the screen either!

The contest was suspended while several of the judges and others combed the dirt in front of the trough until they managed to find the little nugget . . . they were not pleased and instructed the young man to "calm down."

The first woman to win the open world championship was Frankie Lawry from Cantil in 1963. The junior champion for five years, as of 1971, was Al Pauley of Mojave, who had mining in his blood.

In 1965 Al Pauley won by getting rid of the dirt and keeping all the nuggets with a time of 47 seconds. In 1969 Mrs. Micky Hirota, from Azusa, set the record for the women's division with a time of 42 seconds.

In 1967 Bob Chesmore of Greeley, CO won the open championship with a time of 34.8 seconds. The next year his wife Barbara beat him with a winning time of 33 seconds, setting another record.

The panning was very exciting, but there were many other events set to match the time period.

Area residents brought their antique vehicles and competed in several events. One required the driver to pull the vehicle up on a pad that was like a teeter totter. The driver had to balance the vehicle and not go down on either side. The one who could balance it won.

Another required the "lady" to sit on a bench and wait for her "gentleman" to pick her up. The driver had to drive up, get out grab his lady and take her to the passenger side and put her in and shut the door.

Some ladies were almost thrown into the car after they were drug by the gentleman to get to the car, since the best time won.

My mother was there for it all. I have included a photo of her that Glen and Doreen Settle, owners of Tropico Gold Mine and Camp, had put in the 1970 program. She is assuming the "stance" as we children called it. She owned a rolleiflex camera and one had to look down when taking a photo.

My mom would plant her feet about three feet apart and look down and shoot. Notice her outfit, and Justin's. When she first started doing the job in the '50s women did not wear pants to events. As all of us journalists know (who are women) you cannot stand in the middle of the highway in the wind and take accident photos in a dress.

Her first pair of pants was men's, because the dress shop did not sell pants! Later on, she was able to buy women's pants and go anywhere!


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