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Striking gold

Jun 16, 2013 : 21:37 IST
After two successful runs, the third season of ‘Gold Rush’ is back. Juanita Kakoty talks to 67-year-old miner Dakota Fred Hurt from Alaska, whose crew will be showcasedthis season.

Gold fever strikes again, as the reality TV series Gold Rush returns with Season 3 this month, every night at 10 pm, on Discovery Channel. After two years of equipment breakdowns, infighting and battling Mother Nature, in Season 3, four competing gold mining crews have finally made it to the big league.

Sixty-seven-year-old Dakota Fred Hurt, who runs the Porcupine Creek mine in Season 3, shares his experiences about the incredible journey. “I retired when I was 60 years old, 10 years ago, and I went into gold mining immediately. Money was the last thing on my mind when I went into mining.

And I had a son-in-law who wanted to get into gold mining as well, and I said ‘sure, let’s go’.” Dakota Fred confesses that he basically went for the adventure “to do something I wanted to do in life, and also because I had been in construction work all my life.”

Dakota Fred began his construction career in the late sixties, working as a commercial diver in the Gulf of Mexico, where he learned underwater construction, demolition and salvage — skills which went on to be of immense help in gold mining.

A late success

He went through a few unsuccessful seasons of mining at Porcupine and Caribou Creek, Nevada, Wyoming and Montana. In 2008, he returned to Alaska — this time to the frozen wastes of the Arctic Circle — to a claim at Little Squaw Lake, where he helped design, build and operate a gold processing plant. He struck gold when in one short season, his five-man team managed to extract over 600 ounces of gold from the frozen ground.

This is what he has to say about the challenges faced then — “They had a record snowfall in the Haines area where we were mining, right there in Alaska, and normally, when you drive up after it has rained, there is, maybe, a little bit of snow here and there on the side of the road. But when we drove up, there was over four feet of snow still, everywhere, level, and it’s much, much higher. So we had quite a surprise when we showed up.”

The show takes one back to the age of the gold rushes that happened in the 19th century in Australia, Brazil, Canada, South Africa, and the United States, as feverish
migration of workers took place to areas for the dramatic discovery of gold deposits.

Although gold mining did not turn profitable for most diggers and mine owners, yet there were a few who made large fortunes. There is a huge body of literature available, where historians have written extensively about the migration, trade, colonisation, and environmental history associated with gold rushes. Hollywood has produced many classics on this theme as well.

So gold mining has always had a charm and dreams of becoming wealthy instantly attached. It might sound quite interesting and make many enthusiastic about the prospects, but there are plenty of hurdles on the way.

“Mining is not easy,” Dakota Fred says. “I mean it is a heavy duty construction job. I’ve been in the construction business all my life. I worked hard, kept myself in good shape, and I liked that aspect of work. Everybody says, ‘well Fred, you could take it easy, and do a lot easier job’. But I find this work quite satisfying, to get out there and work a good 10-12 hours a day, and have the satisfaction of finding a little treasure at the end of the day.”

On collaboration

On his association with the Discovery reality TV series, Dakota Fred says that the Gold Rush film crew was researching for survival stories for another documentary and posted its topic on an online message board. “We just responded to this post and told them we were starting a gold mine in Alaska. They called us and the rest is history.”

He continues, “Well, in Season 3, we came across a structure; we worked into the hole that we’ve been working in, we moved over toward the creek a little further and up the creek, and we were absolutely stunned. We did well this year, we did very well. I think all the other crews did well, but we did particularly well. I went out there to have a lot more fun this year. We’re going to try to bring in more people, some more equipment. And hopefully, we won’t have quite as many breakdowns as we did last year. This year we did have breakdowns. But I think anything we break, we fix pretty quick.”

The competition might be tough, but the happily married Dakota Fred with four kids, six grandkids and five great grandkids signs off by saying that the competitors have always helped each other — “Well, the crew in Dawson is absolutely isolated from us; it’s about 350 miles away. But Parker, the Schnabel mine, is right across the creek from us, and we do favours for each other back and forth.”

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