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Golden dreams in a bleak time - recalling "Bacon and Beans from a Gold Pan"

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Posted: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 12:00 am

Our page one story today on a mini-gold rush in the Sierra foothills reminded me of a fine journalist and a classic book he wrote years ago.

The journalist was the late George Hoeper, long-time Mother Lode bureau chief for The Record.

George was a dogged reporter, a talented writer and a man who loved the life and lore of the foothills. He was a miner himself as well as a consummate fisherman.

He wrote “Bacon and Beans from a Gold Pan,” with Jesse Coffey.

As a newlywed, Coffey had settled into the foothills to eke out a living searching for gold with his wife, Dot. This took place in 1935, in the middle of the Great Depression.

But somehow Jesse and Dot did extract a living from their claims, first along Aqua Fria Creek in Mariposa County and then on the North Yuba River near Downieville.

The book recounts their mining adventures, the characters they encountered, the good times they had despite the hard times they faced.

Jesse provided the gist of the book, but George wrote it in a wonderfully warm, clean, conversational style.

For me, it was strongly evocative of Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row.”

George once shared with me that some Hollywood folk were interested in making a movie based on the book, but it never came together.

Perhaps it is not too late: “Bacon and Beans from a Gold Pan” is a story carrying universal themes of self-reliance, hard work, compassion and humor.

Everyone I have shared the book with has read it cover to cover without stopping.

It is that good and that quick.

The book is still available online.