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Sun, Dec. 15

Cottonwood man designs new cure for gold fever

Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.

Build a machine that simplifies the process of finding gold, and the world might just knock your door down.

At least that's what Cottonwood inventor Mike Owings is hoping will happen.

Owings, by day a salesman for Verde Valley Ford Lincoln Mercury, developed and recently patented the Gold Magnet. His invention combines aspects of several different types of prospecting techniques available to gold searching enthusiasts.

A veteran of 20 years in mining who grew up in the mining town of Bagdad and had done everything in that industry from heavy equipment operator to research and development, Owings admitted that he "never really was interested in prospecting" until the early 1990s.

"I was more interested in the historical aspect of mining," he said. "Then a friend took me prospecting. We found two ounces of gold in four hours and the gold bug kind of bit me."

While dealing with the after affects of his bite from the gold bug, Owings looked at the prospecting equipment available and thought "There has got to be an easier way to do this."

Available prospecting methods in the early '90s included dredging and high-banking, dry washing and using metal detectors. Owings combined aspects of all types in the Gold Magnet

The principal involved is that instead of sifting the gold and looking for it with the naked eye – like in panning, dredging operations and dry washing operations, the material is sifted through a screen and onto a detector area.

"Instead of passing a metal detector over the area, you bring the material to the detector," Owings said. The machine is capable of finding gold particles one quarter the size of a BB.

Developing the machine wasn't an overnight project.

Owings took his rudimentary drawings for his device to a patent attorney for a patent search and was stunend by what he learned next.

"It's a very logical idea but nobody had done it yet," Owings said. "It's surprising no one had figured it out yet."

After his visit to the patent attorney, Owings took his idea to WIN, a collaborative effort between Wal-Mart and the University of Missouri that helps inventors develop ideas with in-depth market research.

"They (representatives of WIN) warned me that 99 percent of the ideas won't work because of cost and competition," Mike Owings said.

The Cottonwood man kept faith, though, and six weeks after his initial contact, he received word his invention had received a top rating as far as potential for production and distribution.

From that point, it was off to the Small Business Development Center in Prescott where Bruce Solper got Owings and Bent River Machine of Clarkdale together to develop the prototype of the Gold Magnet.

Four different prototypes were developed and the final product was a combination of those.

Now comes the hard part – marketing the product.

With a projected introduction in October, Owings plans on using the Internet -- www.blackhillsminingcompany.com -- and a prospector specific magazine – Lost Treasure – as his primary ways of getting the message out to potential consumers.

"You have to have a presence on the Internet. We found that out at (Verde Valley Ford Lincoln Mercury)," Owings said. "The magazine will get us to the people who use this type of product."

The device is affordable for prospectors, he said, at a cost of $995 in a market where small dredgers can cost up to $700 with high quality metal detectors and dry washers in the same range.

Like many home-developed inventions, the first prototype was built on a kitchen table.

"Many nights I had the hacksaw out working on the project in the kitchen of this little two-bedroom place where we were living," Owings said.

And also, like many other homemade projects, the development of the Gold Magnet required a great deal of patience from his wife.

"Sometimes, he drives me nuts," said Owings' wife of 23 years, Candace.

Now that the project has reach this point, though, Candace Owings is pleased and sees a positive side to the invention.

"I'm hoping a big company buys us out and we can work on my ideas and projects," she said. "He said we would."

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