“Winston, are you daydreaming again?” Dad’s voice called from somewhere beneath me. “I said to lower the cable some. We’re ready to take up the last timbers we’ll be needing.”
It had been almost nine months since our quest for the lost treasure of Dinosaur Mountain had begun, and we were moving to a new site about a half-mile down the canyon.
All sorts of things seemed to go wrong. We misplaced tools during the move. Equipment got damaged. A burro tossed me off its back, causing me to pull a muscle. Worst of all, the men had several heated disagreements. Dad and Uncle Jim didn’t like the site chosen for our new dig but couldn’t agree on another site.
Mr. Brently was so discouraged he didn’t care where we dug. Mr. Johnson was paying the bills, so his vote always won the day. Uncle Jim left in a huff and went back home. The rest of us continued in a cloud of gloom.
Dad and I worked by ourselves for several days. Mr. Brently didn’t help at all on the new site, and Uncle Jim was gone for good. Mr. Johnson was back in Phoenix tending to his business.
“We need to shoot a dozen or so holes, so send down the dynamite,” Dad ordered.
I sent the explosives down in a bucket and brought out the tools.
“I’m lighting the fuses now,” my father shouted up to me. I tensed, my hand on the lift lever of the power hoist that would bring Dad back up to safety. “OK,” I shouted back.
Blue smoke from the burning fuses clouded the bottom of the shaft with an acrid haze. I couldn’t see Dad, but I heard the spewing and sputtering of burning fuses, and his loud-voiced count as he started each round of explosives on its way to detonation.
Snipe could always tell when we were about to blast. He stood now on the platform that covered the shaft, peering through the square opening left for access. Then Dad’s voice rang out. “All rounds lit and going! Take me up!”
Snipe barked in excitement. I flipped the lift lever to full power.
The motor that drove the air compressor chose that moment to hesitate, sputter, and stop. Dad was still dangling within 10 feet of the bottom when the hoist lost power!
“Dad!” I screamed. “The motor stopped! Dad! Dad!” I sobbed at the top of my lungs.
“It’s all right!” came Dad’s quick answer. “I think I can climb the safety rope. Be ready to help me at the top.” He began climbing hand over hand, with fear adding strength.
I couldn’t remember how long the fuses were, but I was sure they were too short. Dad was now halfway up and out of the immediate blast area. But he wasn’t clear of the shock zone. The concussion would jar him loose from the rope. I saw him stop a moment and drop the carbide lamp he had been trying to bring up with him.
We looked into each other’s eyes, and he began climbing again. I was lying down now with my legs jammed under a timber that braced the hoist frame. My upper body and arms dangled down to help my father. Dad’s teeth were clenched, and his shirt had become soaked with perspiration. His half-closed eyes and labored gasping told me he was almost at the end of his endurance.
I grabbed his shirt front and pulled. He took hold of my shirt and clambered out of the shaft. Together we sprawled momentarily in a heap on the platform and felt the thud of the first dynamite round as it went off. We rolled and scrambled to safety as a few rocks managed to bounce most of the way up the shaft.
We lay exhausted on the ground for some time. The explosions were long silent and the smoke cleared before we arose weakly and walked back to camp without even looking into the hole.
Mr. Johnson returned in a few days, and we had his help, but camp morale was at an all-time low. Bickering flared into arguments.
Then everything fell apart.
One day after work Mr. Brently and Mr. Johnson had an argument, and accusations flew. The heated words seemed to be leading to physical violence. As we ate supper, an angry mood prevailed, and I was instructed to keep my eye on the Brentlys’ tent through a hole in ours.
“Dad!” I whispered hoarsely. “Mr. Brently’s coming. And he’s got a butcher knife in his hand!”
This news galvanized the men into action. Mr. Johnson jumped to his feet and then froze, his mouth and hands opening and closing soundlessly. Dad also jumped up and grabbed his rifle. I returned to my spy hole just as Dad slammed a shell into the chamber of the weapon. The sound jarred my senses. I felt numb all over.
At the sound Mr. Brently became a statue, almost as if he had already been shot. Fear momentarily crossed his face, and then he looked at his knife as if surprised at seeing it in his hand. He whacked it into a fencepost and raised his voice. “Don’t shoot! I just want to talk to you.”
Mr. Johnson stepped out to meet him while I watched with an oversized, hammer-pounding heart in an undersized throat. Dad glared through a slit, his rifle at the ready. The tension must have been high, for my memory of the next few hours is dim. All I recall is bewildered fear, hurried packing, and a conversation with my dad that night.
“Son, what were you thinking while all that went on?”
“I was scared, Dad. What’s going to happen?”
“I was scared, too, son, and I don’t know what’s happening next, except that we’re getting out of here in the morning.”
“I’m glad, Dad,” I said quickly. “What good would it do to get killed while getting rich?”
“Winston, you just said a mouthful. Not only that, but what good would all that gold do us on judgment day if we should be the ones who did the killing? All the wealth in the world isn’t worth taking a man’s life.”
“So whether we kill somebody or get killed, we lose, huh?” I raised my eyebrows in question.
“Son,” Dad said with a smile, “what you’ve learned in these mountains about death and life will be worth more to you than the gold we never found. We’ve had some strange experiences and heard some sober tales. Think about them from time to time, Winston, and they’ll serve you well throughout your life.”
This time Dad had said a mouthful. And as time went on, I discovered that he couldn’t have been more right.
Epilogue: After Winston and his father left the area, the United States government widened the boundaries of the White Sands Proving Grounds. When this happened, the area in which the treasure hunters had been working became the property of the government, putting an end to the treasure search.
Through the years Winston and his father searched for other lost mines and buried treasure, but never as intensely as they had at Dinosaur Mountain.
Winston said, “The greatest treasure I gained through these experiences was to base my belief on God’s Word and place my trust in Him rather than in the elusive wealth of the world.”
Two years after the Dinosaur Mountain experience, Winston returned to school, this time as a Seventh-day Adventist and “with a heart filled with the great treasure of God’s love.”