That would nearly double the 1,029-ounce total that Schnabel’s team hauled in during the previous mining season, which was chronicled on “Gold Rush,” the Discovery Channel’s No. 1-rated show that’s watched by millions each Friday night. It was an impressive total for the young miner and his team — one that set a “Gold Rush” show record.
Schnabel grew up working his family’s gold mine in Alaska, under the tutelage of his grandfather. Now Schnabel is in his second year leading his own 11-man crew with his own company, Little Flake Mine, on a leased claim in the Yukon, a mine site that covers over two miles along Scribner Creek.
The bold 2,000-ounce goal means crew members — and the equipment — must be pushed hard, often working around the clock, during the condensed mining season. The harsh realities of winter in the Yukon result in a mining season that typically lasts about five months — roughly May through September — for Schnabel and his crew, so they know every day counts.
“It’s pretty tough up here, because the season’s so short. It’s trying to get a whole year’s worth of work and income in five months,” Schnabel says. “We’ve got to have good equipment up here, because downtime’s just too expensive. Every day that a piece of equipment isn’t running is a day that we’re losing money.”
Moving so much dirt on the mine site results in a lot of wear and tear on equipment, so the crew often has maintenance and repair needs on the heavy machinery and equipment that’s critical to the operation, such as bulldozers, excavators and the wash plant (the large machine that sorts the gold out of the pay dirt). Because the claim is nearly a two-hour drive on winding mountain roads from the nearest town of Dawson City, repair work that ideally would be completed in a shop has to be done on site to get the equipment back up and running as quickly as possible.
“There is no place out here to take your stuff to get it repaired, so we have to do everything in-house, and we do it right out here in the middle of nowhere,” says Mitch Blaschke, a mechanic on Schnabel’s team. “Time is money, and that’s what we’re out here to make.”
Reliability is No. 1
To make these frequent repairs on the mine site, the crew needs durable, reliable welding equipment that also is mobile enough to be hauled on a service truck or deck trailer to the point of repair.
Schnabel’s team relies on welding and cutting equipment from Miller Electric Mfg. Co., including a Big Blue® 800 Duo Air Pak and Trailblazer® 325 Diesel with Excel™ power, to repair their mining equipment and machinery on site while keeping downtime to a minimum.
“I would say reliability is number one when it comes to buying any equipment for us, especially stuff like welders,” Schnabel says. “One of the big differences between this season and last season is this season we’ve been running night shifts from day one. Our uptime is really good. The reason for that is the people we’ve got and the equipment we’ve got.”
The demand for fast turnaround in equipment maintenance and repair — along with the outdoor site conditions — means Schnabel’s crew does a lot of Stick welding, but they also perform Flux-Cored welding using Miller SuitCase® X-TREME™ VS wire feeders for larger projects.
Their day might include welding steel hydraulic lines, welding 1-inch steel plate, fabricating custom parts for the wash plant or carbon arc gouging cracks in an excavator bucket.
Schnabel, Blaschke and site foreman Gene Cheeseman had all used Miller welding equipment in the past, and they knew the durability and ease of use would be a good fit for the needs on the Scribner Creek mine site.
“Both the Big Blue 800 that we’ve got and the Trailblazer are just key units. It’s definitely been a big help to our season, that’s for sure,” Schnabel says. “As long as the guys know how to use them and take care of them, then they’re going to take care of us. The Miller stuff is just easy to work with and work on.”
Compressed air and power needs covered
In addition to the varied welding jobs on the mine site, the two machines also are used by Schnabel and his crew for power generation and compressed air needs. Both machines are engine-driven welder/generators, so the team uses them to power grinders, tools, lights and even heaters on chilly mornings.
“We don’t have plug-ins around the corner anywhere, so it’s our main power source for mechanical work,” says Mike Beaudry, a mechanic on Schnabel’s team.
The Big Blue 800 Duo Air Pak also includes an Ingersoll Rand industrial rotary screw air compressor with 30,000-hour life expectancy, which the team frequently uses for carbon arc gouging. They often need to gouge out old welds or a crack when repairing a bucket, for example.
“We use that every day,” Beaudry says. “Some of the biggest gouging projects we have is on the buckets, so you’re pushing through 3/4-inch steel. You need a lot of power to dig into it and blow it out. It’s a perfect gouging machine with a lot of power.”
The on-site repair jobs also require the team to do a lot of metal cutting, so they use the welder/generators to power their Miller acetylene combination cutting torch.
Having one machine like the Big Blue 800 that covers welding, power and compressed air needs reduces the need to have a separate air compressor on the site and gives the team more options and flexibility.
“It’s nice to have one machine to do it all,” Cheeseman says. “You’ve got to keep all this gear running.”
Multi-operator capabilities for all hands on deck
In addition to offering welding, power and air capabilities in one machine, the Big Blue 800 can be used by multiple operators at once to maximize the ability for Schnabel and his team to get equipment repaired and other work done as quickly as possible.
Two welding operators can use the machine at 400 amps each (the machine offers 800 amps for a single welding operator), or a team member can power a grinder or use the air compressor for carbon arc gouging while another operator is welding.
“We’re just trying to pound these things out, so that we can get the equipment back on its feet and back out in the field,” Schnabel says. “Being able to run two welders off of it is actually really nice, because there’s a lot of projects where it’s just all hands on deck, and that’s when it comes in a lot of use.”
That versatility is important on a mine site where maintenance and repair surprises can happen at any time, resulting in urgent projects both big and small. And having one machine to cover a variety of needs requires investing in fewer pieces of equipment to get the work done.
“Anything that we’re doing, we can use it for,” Schnabel says.
Mobility and efficiency
The Trailblazer 325 also offers generator power and easy mobility for taking it to equipment that needs repair around the mine site. Blaschke keeps the machine on his service truck and is impressed by the fuel efficiency the welder/generator offers.
“I use it almost every day, not only as a welder but as a source of power as well,” Blaschke says. “The biggest thing I’ve noticed with it is fuel consumption. It seems like I’m hardly ever putting fuel in it.”
The Excel power maximizes the machine’s performance and provides up to 2,400 watts of generator power to run tools such as lights and grinders at idle speed, to help improve fuel efficiency and extend runtimes.
The machine also has Miller-exclusive Auto-Speed™ technology, which automatically adjusts the engine speed to match the power load needed for the job.
“I’ve got around 100 hours on it, and I think I’ve maybe put fuel in it three times,” Blaschke says. “It’s just unbelievable.”
Blaschke has been a longtime Miller equipment user and he upgraded his service truck machine to the new Trailblazer 325 Diesel this season due to the larger mining equipment and increased welding and power needs on the Scribner Creek site.
“With this big mining equipment, you’ve got to run a little more heat,” Blaschke says. “Having this welder on the truck there, it’s everything you need, but it’s light enough that you’re not hindering your truck. We’re on rough roads, jarring the equipment around all day, and it just takes the abuse.”
Just as with the Big Blue 800, Schnabel’s crew uses the SuitCase X-TREME wire feeders with the Trailblazer for Flux-Cored welding, a process that can offer faster welds for larger-scale projects that require a lot of welding.
“The wire feeder will give us just a little bit cleaner, a little bit more precise weld that we need sometimes,” Blaschke says. “They have great adjustability. It’s real smooth, just the way you want it.”
The crew uses Hobart® filler metals for both Stick and Flux-Cored welding on the mine site, including Hobart 418 low hydrogen electrodes, and Excel-Arc™ 71 and Fabshield® XLR-8 wire.
“We’ve been running Hobart filler metals, and while this isn’t the best, cleanest environment out here, you don’t even notice it,” Blaschke says. “They’ll strike an arc right up and give you a good clean weld.”
Schnabel’s team gets the job done while wearing Arc Armor® protective gear from Miller, including welding jackets, gloves and helmets.
Blaschke has a Digital Elite™ Series helmet that offers a lighter weight, to help reduce neck strain. The crew also usesTitanium Series™ 9400i helmets, which feature a flip-up grinding shield.
“It’s one helmet for dual needs, and you can flip it up so quick and see what you’re doing and then flip it right back down and get back to welding,” Blaschke says.
Time is money
On the mine site, getting repair and maintenance work done quickly allows the team to get back to job No. 1: moving dirt in the search for gold. Having reliable and durable welding equipment is key, especially this season with the more aggressive 2,000-ounce goal.
“Our machines are getting way more hours on them than they have in the past, our plant’s putting through way more dirt than we have in the past and everything’s getting pushed a lot harder,” Schnabel says. “So this season is the first year that we’ve really had a huge need to be doing big welding and cutting projects out in the field. I really don’t like doing that kind of stuff in the field, but we have no choice. Because the timeline of things has really progressed, we’re wearing stuff out way faster than we otherwise would.”
“With these two welders and the people we’ve got, it’s really made a huge, huge difference,” Schnabel says.
The ability to have multiple operators welding, grinding or carbon arc gouging — all powered by one machine — has increased the versatility and efficiency for the crew on the site.
“It’s definitely given us more options,” Cheeseman says. “At the end of the day, I want to get the job done as quickly and efficiently as we can. You shouldn’t have to work on your tools, you know? Your tools should be there for you to use.”