Gold was discovered in Sumpter, Oregon, in 1862, and between 1912 and 1934, 3 gold dredges operated in the valley district. The dredges weren’t overly sophisticated machines, but that didn’t make them safe. Two people were killed working on the dredges—though neither of them were “Joe Bush.” In 1918, an oiler named Christopher Rowe was greasing winch gears, when the gears started turning and Rowe was sucked in. When that dredge was dismantled to build the new No. 3, the gears were moved—and some say Rowe’s ghost moved with them. But reports of haunting didn’t pick up steam until the 1940s, when workers claimed that “Joe” would move tools and eat forgotten lunches. Some also report the ghost causes lights to flicker and doors to open and close. “Joe” is even said to leave wet footprints on the deck of the dredge.
A gold dredge works by having large buckets that pull the gold-bearing earth up into its machinery to be processed, keeping the gold and spewing the waste (known as “tailings”) out the back by way of a stacker. Built on a shallow hull, these dredges did not need a lot of water to operate, as they moved their pond of water with them.
The internal mechanics were not very sophisticated—they duplicated, on a larger scale, many of the devices used by placer mining throughout the gold rush, such as the gold pan and the sluice box. In essence, the dirt that was dug by the large electrically powered buckets was sifted and sorted, and the remainder was washed over a series of riffles allowing the gold to settle and be trapped. The primary advantages that made the dredge more efficient than other methods were the volume of earth it could process and having its own water supply. The dredge that was built in Sumpter Valley could dig over 20 buckets per minute, consuming more than seven yards of earth each minute.
The Sumpter Valley Gold Dredge required a three-man crew to operate the machinery and 17 more workers to complete the crew for maintenance, bookkeeping, surveying, truck driving, managing and a few other roles. The dredge operated 363 days a year; most of the men were given the Fourth of July and Christmas day off from work. One or two men had to stay on board to watch over the machine during the evenings. Dredge workers often reported hearing the ghost of Joe Bush “Haunting” the dredge when the dredge was not operating due to closure or repair. Maybe his ghost does still linger around.