Off-the-wallBy Bob Spiwak

The latest contentious happening in the Methow Valley environs has to do with a company planning to drill for copper on claims it has rights to, having been purchased from another company — and there is a history of previous companies.

There are those in the valley who have been following this development because the 16 exploratory holes the company plans to drill are all in the area of Goat Peak and Flagg Mountain, beloved landmarks of the Mazama area. Among the followers are several who regard the recent news about seeking viable copper deposits as a scam. In other words, the promoters may be issuing statements promising earth-bound riches which will raise the price of the stock, with the intention of selling it off and abandoning the digs.

It was this sort of mentality that a friend and I utilized way back in the early 1960s to make a lot of money, all quite legal, with stock in a shale oil exploration in the Athabaska Tar Sands in western Canada.

A few words from the 1950s. I was among the many who were involved in the stock market in those days, and taught a class in economics at a high school. I got my degree with a lot of help from the Studebaker Corporation, a manufacturer of automobiles. The help came from selling the stock at the right time. I had read of the company’s plan to introduce a new small car called the Lark. I made enough money from buying and selling the stock to help with college tuition and other stuff.

My friend, a retired doctor, and I used to pore over Barron’s, a tabloid weekly version of The Wall Street Journal. We would take a page each and with pencil and paper (remember those?) jot down the names of companies that intrigued us and we came up with a list of varying companies listed on the over-the-counter market. We called it the under-the-counter market, because it was comprised largely of “penny stocks,” some selling literally for a few cents, as is the current Mazama mining outfit.

We were not especially scientific, Doc and I, and our perusing led to what we called “cripple-picking,” or listed stocks in companies we knew nothing about but were indeed selling for about a dime or less per share, with very good earnings. We would determine what kind of business they were in and narrow our choices as to which one we would, as a team, invest a few dollars in, up to $1,000, give or take.

We ended up with United Canso, which was selling for pennies yet proclaimed excellent earnings. And we invested, as I recall, $800.

We watched the stock climb and take a few tumbles, but it never fell back to the price at which we bought. Long story short, when the price appeared to level off in about a year, we sold what we purchased at 13 cents a share to somewhere in the 70- to 80-cent range per share. My cut was enough for a first-class United Airlines flight to and from New York to visit a buddy.

I retained 100 shares. The price had gone way down and I forgot about it until years later. I checked it and it was no longer listed. I asked a broker to check its history and that came to naught.

The moral here, if there is one, is that keeping a careful eye on the would-be drillers here might well be profitable for us all.

Now in the computer age, I am going to try to see who is the ultimate owner of United Canso, 55 years later. Who knows, I might be a millionaire.