Panning for Gold

Contrary to popular belief, the gold rush is still alive and well. That is, at least, with the help of one family who brings the unique ability to pan for gold to the Finger Lakes Region. This trio, made up of Mona Sage Cardinale, her son Toby, and daughter Jessica, have constructed an experience unusual to the 21st century.

While enjoying the Memorial Day festivities in Waterloo, my kids and I happened upon a wagon upon which sat an old-fashioned water pump sending water through a line of adjacent boxes. A sign that read “Pan For Gold” advertized to passers by. I was pleased when the stand owner engaged us and asked if the kids would like to give it a try, stating very reasonable prices. For either three or five dollars, the kids could pan for gold like in the olden days by dumping a bag of sand onto the screen in the trough and then searching for treasures within.

Mona, the proud owner of the operation, built her “sluice” 15 years ago from refurbished barn wood and an old farm wagon acquired in Naples. The trough is of a product called Trex, which is made from recycled plastic bags and removes the risk of wood splinters while the children are “panning.” To run the water through the trough, a cast-iron Pitcher Pump is connected to a pump powered by boat batteries and a garden hose, pulling water from a barrel hidden under the wagon.

Mona calls the whole operation a true labor of love, because in addition to transporting her own water in a 55-gallon drum and the booth set-up which takes about an hour, she, Toby, and Jessica hand mix the ingredients for the treasure bags. Bags may include fool's gold, shark's teeth, gemstones in various sizes, seashells, and in the five-dollar bags, a necklace charm.

In regards to her years of offering the unique experience of panning for gold with her wagon, Mona says, “I can't tell you how wonderful it feels to hear the kids squeal with delight and to have parents remark about how cool a booth we have.  We have had autistic children who rarely speak chatter endlessly about their treasures. The joy in their parents eyes can't be described! It really is a business that we are so proud of.”

While the trio takes their wagon to shows and festivals from Albion to Auburn during the warmer months, they also run Toby's Treasures & Jessie's Jewels, a year-round booth from which they sell quality sterling silver jewelry. To have a chance to pan for gold yourself, the wagon can be encountered at the following festivals this season:


Oswego Harbor Festival - July 29-30

Watkins Glen Italian Festival - August 12-13

Mt. Morris Italian Festival - August 19-20

Auburn Tomato Festival - September 9-10

Palmyra Canal Town Days - September 17-18

Naples Grape Festival - September 24-25


For more information or to book the wagon and/or jewelry booth at your own event, contact the trio at 585-797-3170, email, or find Toby's Treasures Jewelry on Facebook.

gabriellewheeler_profileStory and photo by Gabrielle L. Wheeler


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *