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The Placer Gold Miner Ornament

• CATEGORIES: Features • TAGS: .

NOTE: This post was formerly part of the JEEP-HERDERS MOVIE and EL DORADO JEEPHERDERS post, but I’ve split that post into three, each updated with some new info and/or pics.

hood-ornament-miner3-lores

Over the last decade, I occasionally saw vintage jeeps with bronze casted placer gold miners on the hood. For years I’ve wondered about where these originated. They turn out to have an interesting history. Moreover, different castings over the years has led to slightly different designs.

It was a member of the El Dorado Jeepherders who first began selling them. From Ken Hower on Pirate 4×4:

Gold Miner Hood Ornament History:
In 1970, Mike Arnold opens Arnolds For Awards in Shingle Springs, CA (Acrylic Awards | Crystal Awards | Glass Awards | Corporate Plaques).

– In 1970, Mike Arnold goes to Alaska to a Gold Rush Event, since the history of gold mining in California looking for a tie in for his business. At the event, Mike finds an artist who has cast these Gold Miner statues. Mike buys a handful and returns to California.

– 1971, Mike installs the Gold Miner on his hood for the Jeepers Jamboree. Mike is a member of the El Dorado Jeepherders, the first organized 4-wheel drive club in the United States. He brings a few statues on the Jamboree to sell, and a few are bought.

– El Dorado Jeepherders adopt the statue for their club and nearly every member of the club, now has a Gold Miner statue hood ornament.

– Ken Collins is the owner of Placerville Jeep. He is also, one of the founders of the Jeepers Jamboree, along with Mark Smith. Ken buys statues from Arnolds Awards and begins giving them away to customers who buy a jeep.

– Chuck Walker. Yes, the Walker behind the famous Walker Hill on the Rubicon, is a sales man at Placerville Jeep. He is there, when Ken Collins is giving them away. Chuck decides to split from Placerville, and open his own dealership in Sacramento, Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep. He also begins buying the statues and giving to his customers, this is why you see them on Dodge and Jeep around Sacramento.

Back in the day, the retail cost of the statue was $20. It costs far more than that now, simply to make them.

Merlin Scott (a Rock Award winner for lifetime achievement of service on the Rubicon Trail had his Dodge truck stolen a long time ago. They recovered the vehicle. The only damage, his Gold miner was ripped off the hood of his truck.

I want to thank Kevin Arnold and Mike Arnold of Arnolds Awards for telling the story this morning. I want to thank Merlin Scott for telling me who to call. So many of the old timers that pioneered wheeling are passing away, so I think it’s important to preserve that history and those stories. Also thank John Arenz, President of RTF for filling in the names that were forgotten.

I put the link already, but Rubicon Trail Foundation has taken it upon ourselves to be the custodian of that history. Spend some time and go to the website and read through the history of the Rubicon Trail.

VARIATIONS:

After posting this original post a couple days ago, I began looking more closely at the photos of miners I had. Moreover, Mike shared a photo of his miner that includes “Placerville Hardware” on the rear. That got me thinking: given the miners have been produced and sold over the past 50 years, there could be several variations. Then, I found a reference from Jim Allen that some special promo miners had been produced. Here’s what I found among the miners I have documented:

  1. These photos appear to have come from this site (thanks Chad), which has miners for sale (I downloaded them in 2014 and thought they were from eBay). The following markings are ones that vary among different miners: 1) the distinctive ‘sun’ markings on the base, 2) the dimpled back, 3) the short beard, 4) the smooth, empty pan.
    hood-ornament-miner8-lores
    hood-ornament-miner6-lores hood-ornament-miner7-lores
  2. This one I photographed on a CJ-5 at the National Automobile Museum in Reno. It looks very similar to the one in the pictures above. This is the only pic I got. The light wasn’t very good.
    miner-reno-museum
  3. This one I photographed back in 2009 on a CJ-3B in Utah:
    cj3b_wanship_miner
  4. This one is on Mike’s jeep. These are available for sale (more about that at the bottom of the post). As you can see, it has several differences: 1) longer beard, 2) has a pipe, 3) back is smooth, 4) different base, 5) Placerville Hardware stamped in the base, 6) has more debris in the pan.
    mike-miner1 mike-miner2
  5. This one was for sale at the Gold Miner Prospector website for $29.95 plus shipping (I might have purchased the last one). I see now that it has a 1) a rocky base, 2) scallops on the back rather than dimples, 3) a longer beard and 4) a pan with some debris in it.
    gold-prospector-business-miner

I plan to better document these miners as I run across them. If you have one, I’d appreciate getting some pics (d@ewillys.com).

Finally, according to Mike, “Placerville Hardware, said to be the oldest operating hardware store west of the Mississippi has contracted with a local artist and is casting a new version. They are 59.00 and last time I was there they had 2 remaining. They said they would continue to order them and keep a few in stock. I have attached a photo of mine on my Willys. They are a bit more detailed than the others and have placerville hardware cast in the back. They are plated bronze.”

That’s all I have for now!

 

 

9 Comments on “The Placer Gold Miner Ornament

  1. Joe in Mesa

    Great post and info, Dave!

    Of course now I’m thinking I NEED one of these… this poly-resin one looks amazing, and at a fair price… almost wish they left the brass electroplate shiny (or shine-able) rather that add the patina at the end of the process… but I digress.

    THANKS Dave 😀

  2. Mindy

    Hi,
    I found your sight and wanted to share with you my gold miner. I aquired it in 1992 from a boyfriend that was a crew chief in the Airforce stationed at Tyndall Airforce base in Panama City, Florida, my home town. He was an avid Jeep junkie going back to his time stationed in Sacramento, Ca during the 80’s. Where he purchased it there specifically for the hood of his C-J7. After he left Sacramento he was sent to the Airforce base in England, and so was the Jeep with the old miner, that describing a little extra oxidation.

    Once in Florida he begrudgingly sold the Jeep ….. but not the old miner.

    He and I chat once in a blue moon and he will definitely enjoy the story of this old guy, if he isn’t already aware.

    I will attach images…. I’m going to email them to the
    d@will.com
    Bye,
    Mindy

  3. David Eilers Post author

    Hi Mindy,

    Thanks for sharing the photos of your gold miner. I am glad you found the miner’s history useful. Hopefully, more info can be added to it over the coming years.

    – Dave

  4. Tom Copus

    Hi Dave,
    I just found your post and it brought a smile to my face. I am Chuck Walker’s grandson and I have the goldminer off of his Jeep, it is on my 2015 Wrangler. I remember going Jeeping with Chuck when I was a kid and many of the other Jeepers had gold miners on their Jeeps. The Jeep club was the Sierra Treasure Hunters and they gave out the ornaments for member’s jeeps and they were also used on awards that the club gave out. My aunt (Chuck’s daughter) has one of the awards that the club gave Chuck. I will send a few pictures to your email address, feel free to share them if you want.
    Tom Copus

  5. David Eilers Post author

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks for the comment. I’d enjoy seeing some pics. I’m just doing my best to keep this history alive!
    You can email pics to d@ewillys.com. I’d welcome any additional stories or history, too.

    Thanks,
    – Dave

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