Beets and Schnabel teams rely on Miller
Gold mining is a numbers game, and it’s all about pulling the most gold from the ground. This requires running equipment as much as possible to move as much dirt as possible. More yardage equals more gold.
For the mining crews featured on the Discovery Channel’s hit show “Gold Rush,” mining is often a 24/7 operation during the short mining season — with millions of dollars on the line.
A broken piece of equipment can mean the difference between a 5-ounce day and a 50-ounce day — which equates to a $5,000 day versus a $50,000 day — for claim bosses Tony Beets and Parker Schnabel. Time is money, and downtime is the enemy.
“In the last three seasons, we've recovered over 10,000 ounces of gold. With today’s prices, that’s just short of $13 million bucks,” says Mitch Blaschke, lead mechanic for the Schnabel mining crew. “If you want to do those kinds of numbers you need equipment that you can count on, and you have to prevent downtime.”
Life in the Yukon
“Gold Rush,” the Discovery Channel’s highest-rated show watched by millions each Friday, is now in its eighth season of chronicling the struggles and successes of mining crews in the Klondike region of the Yukon Territory. Schnabel and his team mined a season-record 4,311 ounces of gold during season seven.
Pulling in that amount of gold is not an easy task. Mining in the Yukon hills presents a variety of challenges. Equipment may need to rip through permafrost and frozen ground as hard as concrete. Gold is heavy and settles deep in the gravel bed, requiring crews to dig through feet of rugged Yukon rocks, gravel and dirt to the rich bedrock layer. The weather can be brutal, resulting in a mining season that lasts only five or six months each year. The remote location adds to the challenge. The Beets and Schnabel claims are both about a 90-minute drive from Dawson City, Yukon — and more than a half day’s drive from Whitehorse, Yukon, and Fairbanks, Alaska. And even in those places, supplies can be limited.
It may take days or weeks to get supplies or replacement parts. When equipment breaks, which in gold mining is guaranteed, it usually requires a “bush fix” — quickly repairing the part or piece of equipment well enough to keep it running.
“Every time the sluice plants and dredge aren’t running it costs money, but you’re not getting any revenue,” says Minnie Beets, who runs the books and makes many of the purchasing decisions for the Beets operation. “It’s really important for things to get fixed as soon as possible.”
The Beets and Schnabel mining operations cover hundreds of acres and require massive wash plants and dozens of pieces of large equipment — from excavators and bulldozers to rock trucks. For Beets, the mining operation also includes traditional mining dredges that are decades old and a wash plant run by Monica Beets, Tony and Minnie’s daughter. The traditional mining dredge floats in a body of water and excavates sand, gravel and dirt using continuously moving steel buckets on a circular bucket line. The dredges can move much more dirt compared to a regular wash plant, which sluices the gravel and dirt that is dumped into the plant by an excavator.
This massive equipment often runs 24/7 during the mining season. The tough nature of the work and the sometimes-harsh conditions means frequent maintenance and repairs.
“When you talk about the amount of machinery we have out here and the fact that most of them are running 24 hours a day, maintenance and breakdowns is a daily occurrence,” says Rick Ness, head foreman on the Schnabel claim.
Weld it up, make it work
Constant breakdowns and repairs make welding a necessity on the claims, where the motto is often “gouge it out, weld it up, make it work.” Both crews rely on welding and cutting products from Miller Electric Mfg. LLC to get jobs done and keep equipment running.
“There is always something worn out, there is always something that needs to be fixed, there is always something else you need to build,” says mine boss Tony Beets, who has spent decades mining in the Yukon. “You cannot put a price on downtime. If you buy a good, reliable product that saves you downtime, in the long run it saves you money.”
Common repairs around the claims might include replacing steel grizzly bars that keep large rocks out of the sluice box on the wash plant, repairing teeth on the excavator bucket, or replacing tracks on a dozer.
At the start of the most recent mining season, Blaschke and his crew built a new pre-wash system for the Big Red wash plant. They used a Trailblazer® 325 welder/generator, a Big Blue® 400 Pro welder/generator and a Spectrum® X-TREME™ plasma cutter for the project, which took several days.
“We used to have problems with jam-ups in the pre-wash,” Blaschke says. “We made huge improvements with that project. It saved us hours of downtime and our gold recovery has been better than ever.”
Since there’s always welding to be done on the mine claims, it’s important to have versatile and durable welding equipment that’s up to the task. Repairs or improvement projects on the claims often require the mechanics to fabricate their own parts using what they have available. They can’t wait to resolve issues with equipment, since downtime is money, so they have to get creative in finding solutions.
“We’ve got to make it happen now with what we have,” says Kevin Beets, foreman on the Beets claim. “What I like about Miller is I go, I fire it up, I don’t worry. They work.”
Versatile welders to meet many needs
The wide range of repairs on a claim — and the many thicknesses and conditions of the metal that needs welding — requires versatile equipment that can perform on ¼-inch steel or 2-inch steel.
The Beets and Schnabel crews use welding power sources from Miller, including XMT® 350 FieldPro™ multiprocess welders with ArcReach® technology, as well as several engine-driven welder/generators. The mining crews rely on all-in-one Big Blue welder/generators that they use for welding, powering jobsite tools and providing air for carbon arc gouging and other needs.
“Our wash plants are set up in remote locations, so we use our engine drives on a daily basis,” Blaschke says.
A Big Blue® 800 Duo Air Pak™ welder/generator sits on the deck of the mining dredge on the Beets claim. The dredge floats on water, making it nearly impossible to run lines across the pond for machines such as welders and air compressors. Having one machine that covers welding, power generation and compressed air reduces the need to have a separate air compressor or generator on the dredge and gives the team flexibility. In addition to welding, they use it to power sump pumps, lights, drills, impact wrenches and other tools.
“The time that saves and as convenient as that machine is, it’s the only way to go,” Tony Beets says. “It’s an all-in-one machine that can do anything we need.”
The Beets crew also has a service truck with a Big Blue® 600 Air Pak™ welder/generator, which they use for welding, carbon arc gouging, auxiliary power, or running an air compressor to perform repairs and maintenance around the claim. Just like the XMT multiprocess welders, this machine also includes ArcReach technology.
With ArcReach technology, welding operators have complete control of welding parameters at the weld joint using a wire feeder or stick/TIG remote. This eliminates the need to walk back to the power source to make changes — saving significant time and improving productivity and safety. This remote capability is a time saver on the expansive mine claims, where operators may be repairing or maintaining massive pieces of equipment — working 10 or 20 feet off the ground.
“To not have to walk 40 feet every time. I can have the controller right where I’m welding,” Kevin Beets says. “At the end of the day, it saves you time and money.”
Some repairs around the claims require stick welding, while it makes sense to use MIG or flux-cored welding for bigger projects that take more time. ArcReach technology works with stick, TIG and wire welding processes — providing maximum flexibility.
“I would much rather weld with stick but our projects are usually long projects, and running the wire feed is super quick and super slick and smooth,” says Chad Paullus, a welding operator on Schnabel’s crew. “That’s definitely a game-changer for us. It’s way quicker, with less downtime. It’s huge.”
Investing in new solutions
While much of the work in gold mining is done the same way things have been done for decades, there are new technologies that help the crews get work done faster and move more dirt. Changing old habits and investing in new technologies can help reduce downtime and improve productivity.
“You have to keep changing and finding a better, faster way. Our Miller welders are no different. You have to be comfortable with evolving, otherwise you won’t be out here making money,” Blaschke says. “If you can save five minutes here or there, get a better weld and a better cut, it all prevents downtime and it's the difference at the end of the day.”
Some things are still done the traditional way. Bulldozer operators must be able to tell by feel that their blade is flat, for example. But when technologies help save time and money, they’re worth the investment.
“There are some plus sides to new stuff and new technology. If it cuts time and makes things get fixed faster, I'm happy,” says Monica Beets, a foreman on the Beets crew.
Pursuit of more gold demands productivity
With ambitious gold targets and demanding round-the-clock schedules, the Beets and Schnabel crews require durable, dependable equipment that helps minimize downtime and maximize productivity.
“When we choose our welding equipment, we choose something that is proven and reliable. I've been in the mining business for the last 35 years, and we've always had Miller welders,” Tony Beet says. “I have them on the dredges. I've got them at all the sluice plants. I've got them on the welding trucks. There is nothing that you can't set it for that it wouldn't do.”
The pursuit of higher gold totals each season requires new and more efficient technologies to help the crews maximize productivity — so they can pull more gold from the ground.
“Each year we’re looking for new things to make mining easier and help us get more gold. We wouldn't be able to keep upping our season goals if it wasn't for the technology and the products that we use,” Blaschke says. “The Yukon isn’t easy on anybody or anything — it tears apart this equipment. We use our Miller products to put everything back together. I wouldn’t trust anything else out here.”