What Mañana?

The Banjo Pan almost died In Denver Colorado!  In the Gold Cube Denver shop we have this industrial size pallet rack. It’s the special place where ideas get “shelved” or placed into perpetual mañana. This special word does not mean tomorrow, it means whenever or..  it’s get ignored until they die.  Most inventors know an idea is not an invention and you can’t patent an idea. But there is another part to this; identify the problem, test and solve the problem, then find people that have the problem and sell it to them. The acid test is: Does it work?  Many inventors know the feeling of watching an invention slowly die, it’s the cruel part of the process. Mabe you created the problem but no one else has it.  Mabe it’s so simple that no one sees the value.  There must be 1,000 ways for an invention to die.  So here is how the Banjo Pan ended up in the dreaded mañana land.

The Problem:

During one of our many phone conversations that Mike and I have, he mentions that we have a large inventory of Vortex Mat sitting at the Oklahoma shop that are scraps and end pieces. Vortex Matting is used in the Gold Cube and is not cheap! These pieces are small but as Mike says, “Lets figure out a way to use them” and turn expensive scraps into something profitable.  We decided we could make a small sluice box out of aluminum or plastic and have a portable “Back Pack” type mini sluice.  This is nothing new and you can see many of these mini sluices at the GPAA shows however most do not have vortex matting in them. The Problem is solved…so I thought.

The Problem Creates a Problem

After the 2014 Gold and Treasure show I stopped by the Cube Shack and picked up several hundred pounds of scrap vortex matting and brought it all back to Colorado.  I will make a 3″ by 10″ mini sluice out of aluminum and glue a piece of vortex into it and off we go!  Now it’s time to test, modify if needed and test again, repeat as necessary.  Oh ya,  and it also has to be Red proof because I can screw up almost anything or break it.   My plan is to run some salted material down the sluice and measure the results. The material I used was black sand mixed with some blondes and fine gold and I would rig up a recirculating water system to recreate a real world water supply in a creek or stream.  Wow, the results really sucked!   I could not believe how much gold I could lose in such a short amount of space and time.  After trying the obvious changes like angle and water flow I remembered back while working on the Gold Cube that Vortex Matting only works if the angle is around 15 Degrees. This severe angle is what creates the Vortex spin that drive the gold into the mat.  This fact alone makes this little sluice impractical in most creeks and streams. Could I figure out a way to maintain the angle?  Clear Creek is a block away from the shop so.. off to the creek!

Inventors Blues

I remember walking back to the shop wet and feeling pretty stupid that I just donated a couple of  grams of gold to Clear Creek.  My plan to call Mike and tell him was postponed and even the call went into mañana land.  I put the mini sluice on the shelf with the boxes of vortex matting scraps and walked off.  “Lesson Learned” I thought as days turned into weeks.  The mini sluice was like a crown on top of the pyramid of vortex like a monument to all dreams that fail and die a slow death. Then months went by..I finally called Mike.

The Problem (revisited)

One of my many silly slogans to Mike is, “Don’t believe everything you think” and I am guilty of doing just that!  This is why I’m glad he’s my partner because the problem was inventory, not invention!  The problem of the vortex matting building up at an alarming rate in the Oklahoma shop really had nothing to do with inventing a way to use it.  After realizing the real problem, My head drive was cleared and the death dust settled, piles of vortex mat started to resemble ingredients for something new then,  there it was, a really dirty, smelly and mangled idea! The mini sluice box had been moved around to make way for other dying ideas and ended up piled on top of a small black gold pan full of black sand. Years of being a traveling musician playing in smoky cowboy joints and sleeping in the “Hungry Rat Motels” finally paid off as my brain transformed this mess to resemble…a Banjo.


The music was ringing in my head and I chuckled thinking about I was going to present this to anyone else so I kept it to myself. I could immediately see my days of “Gorilla Panning” enhanced by running my cons through a little sluice without having to stop.  I could even  see it in my head but trying to make would be a little more difficult.  I stayed late at the shop and started cutting wood to make a mold and I wanted a bowl but  only managed something that looked like Darth Vaders tennis racket.  “It’s ok I thought because Mike works with wood and he can make the bowl” so I moved on and incorporated the 15 degree ramp in the pan so the vortex would work as it should. Everything was falling into place as I cut wood like a wild man with no stopping or taking a step back.  The prototype would be created by building a custom thermo chamber and then off to my oven at home.  After months of nothing happening suddenly in one night the first prototype Banjo Pan was born.  The next day I did a video.

The Birth of the Banjo Pan

If you watch the video you will see how funky the design is and also how important sleep is.. however,  I gave it to Don Finley to try out during his Gold Strike Adventures and he got very excited.  Mike was excited and wanted a nugget trap and a removable mat and the ideas start flying around while the prototypes continue to evolve to a point where we can go no farther with vacuum forming  and a final decision needs to be made.  Before we moved on to a final version we decide to run a Beta Test and invite prospectors from all over the country to help us do real field testing.  We produced about 30 vacuum prototypes and put the word out.  This was one of the best things we could have done, imagine having 30 field tests going on at once and believe me,  there are some very inventive prospectors out there. Soon we were flooded with ideas and videos not only suggesting design ideas but applications we didn’t think of and I believe by doing this we moved the project ahead by months.

It’s been a two year journey and the Banjo Pan is becoming quite a sensation since it’s showing in Las Vegas 2015. Most people know the Banjo Pan is a Gold Cube product but very few know it’s humble beginning and how a “Happy Accident” may have never happened.