They call Tony Beets “the Viking,” and as his nickname suggests, the veteran gold miner is a tough, determined character for whom failure is not an option. Beets expects a lot from his people and his equipment.
A willingness to work hard has led to decades of success for Beets, who has been mining in Canada’s Yukon Territory since 1984 after relocating from his family’s farm in the Netherlands in search of better work opportunities.
“People always said you can make more money in the north than anywhere else,” Beets says. “We liked it so much, we never turned around and went back.”
For the past several seasons, Beets has been a popular fixture on “Gold Rush,” the Discovery Channel’s No. 1-rated reality show about gold mining, which is watched by millions each Friday night at 9 p.m. Eastern. A recent season of the show chronicled the efforts of Beets and his crew to disassemble, move and then reassemble a 75-year-old gold dredge that hadn’t run since the 1980s.
Beets purchased the dredge for $1 million, believing a return to the old-school dredge method of mining could help him sluice more dirt — and find more gold — at a lower cost per ounce.
Relocating and then reassembling the massive piece of machinery — and keeping it running on a demanding 24/7 dredging schedule once it was on-site at his Eureka Creek claim — durable and versatile equipment. Beets and his crew installed a Big Blue 800 Duo Air Pak engine-driven welder/generator from Miller Electric Mfg. Co. on the front of the dredge. The machine helps them meet their welding, compressed air and power generation needs on the floating structure.
“Everything that we want to do around the mine site, anything that we want to do on that dredge, that Big Blue 800 is more than capable of doing it,” Beets says. “You have to have a machine that you know will do the job in order to make things work. You’ve got your air, you’ve got your power, you’ve got your welder — you’re pretty well guaranteed that whatever you want to do, you’re going to be capable of doing.”
A rebuilding project
It was a massive undertaking for Beets and his crew, including several of his family members, to take the old dredge apart and then reassemble it at a new site. But Beets is not a man who backs down from a challenge.
He thought the Eureka Creek site was a perfect spot for dredge mining. His crew had tried working the claim a few times with the heavy equipment used in modern placer mining — bulldozers, excavators, rock trucks and wash plants — but there wasn’t enough gold there to make that kind of operation profitable. But gold dredges are a different method of mining that can be more economical to run.
“In the Yukon over a hundred years all the ground has been pretty well mined, so the ground that is left is kind of lean,” Beets says. “So when the opportunity came, I thought, ‘Hey, I’ve always wanted to try a dredge. Let’s give that a try.’”
Where working the Eureka Creek claim with heavy machinery might cost $1,000 per ounce of gold mined, Beets expects that using the gold dredge, his crew can pull the same amount of gold out of the ground at a much lower cost of $300 to $400 per ounce.
Even though the dredge was built in 1938 — and had sat dormant since the 1980s — it was still in decent shape. It was just a matter of the crew taking it apart piece by piece, moving it more than 100 miles to a new site and putting it back together.
The months-long project required a lot of welding, metal cutting, carbon arc gouging and other tasks that Beets and his crew handled with Miller engine-driven welder/generators and other equipment.
“We’ve always had Miller welders. We must have 10 or 11 of them things,” Beets says. “When you take something apart, you have to put it back together, and that’s where the Miller welders come in. Putting it back together, there were a lot of things that didn’t fit right so we’d have to arc a part or clean it up.”
The daunting relocation project was not without some challenges, but it was ultimately successful. Beets ran the gold dredge for several months during the most recent mining season.
“Now we have it running, in 2015, and the steel and everything is still as good as the day it came out of the factory, believe it or not,” Beets says. “This year was trial and error and it did very well, so we have most of the bugs out.”
A versatile solution for many needs
While the dredge is successfully up and running at its new site, the crew encounters maintenance and repair needs on an almost daily basis. That’s just part of life when mining with large equipment on a demanding 24/7 schedule to take advantage of the short mining season in the Yukon.
To help the crew complete the varied repair and maintenance needs, Beets mounted a Big Blue 800 engine-driven welder/generator on the dredge. Because the dredge is floating on water, it’s difficult 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 requirements reduces the need to have a separate air compressor or generator on the dredge and gives the team flexibility.
Two welding operators can use the machine at 400 amps each (the machine offers 800 amps for a single welding operator), or a crew member can power grinders or use the air compressor for carbon arc gouging while another operator is welding.
“The biggest advantage is the combination of air and welding — having that in one machine — and the amount of power that it’s got,” Beets says. “That’s the only machine on deck. The Big Blue is going to do all the work on that dredge.”
Beets and his crew do some stick welding but mostly perform flux-cored welding using Miller SuitCase® X-TREME™ wire feeders.
“We use the SuitCase wire feeders a lot,” Beets says. “Stick welding is nice, but those days are pretty well over. We use the self-shielded flux-cored welding so we don’t have to worry about shielding gas in the wind.”
They often run two leads off the Big Blue 800 so multiple operators can weld at one time.
“If there’s only two of them on board and something happens at night, then both of them can weld,” Beets says. “It’s never faltered. It hasn’t given us one problem of any kind.”
The Big Blue 800 Duo Air Pak also includes an Ingersoll Rand industrial rotary screw air compressor with 30,000-hour life expectancy, which Beets and his team frequently use for air tools and carbon arc gouging where they might run up to 5/8-inch carbons.
“It’s just handy to have two in one. That machine puts out way more power than we’d ever need. It has no troubles handling whatever you stick to it,” Beets says. “The welder is doing his thing, and it doesn’t take air away from anything else, like when you air arc or blow off the deck. With that Big Blue, you’ve got all the possibilities.”
The welder/generator also provides up to 27,000 watts of generator power, so the crew can power lights and tools such as grinders or a submersible pump on the dredge.
Reliable and easy to use
To keep the 24/7 mining schedule, the dredge typically runs with a two- or three-person crew that work 12-hour shifts. Every crew member needs to be able to weld, gouge and perform the tasks that are necessary — whenever a repair or maintenance need occurs. Having a machine that is easy to use and maintain is critical in this type of operation.
“There’s really no mystery there. You put a pair of leads on it, you start it up, you set the dial and off you go,” Beets says. “The Big Blue is pretty simple to fire up and get it going.”
Beets also uses Miller welders and equipment on his large Paradise Hill claim — about 12 miles of ground where his crew runs heavy equipment and machinery for placer mining. His crews also use Arc Armor® protective gear, including helmets, jackets and welding gloves. They like that the helmets are sturdy, with auto-darkening lenses that change quickly whenever the arc is struck. Crew members also like the soft welding gloves, which provide them protection and comfort.
“It made the boys pretty happy to see all of that gear,” Beets says. “They like everything, and it didn’t take them long to snatch it all up.”
Beets likes the durability of the equipment and safety gear, and has been a Miller user for decades.
“The engines are proven, and the welders are proven,” Beets says. “I’ve had them things for 30 years and you know what, they never gave me any troubles.”
Critical to success
With the gold dredge running on its new site, Beets has big plans for ramping up the mining season with the dredge — and for adding more dredges to his fleet. He expects the dredge method will allow him to extend the mining season by several months, despite the challenging winter conditions in the Yukon.
“That dredge has worked better than expected. I never thought it would fail — that was never an option to me — but it does more yardage than I thought it would at a lot less cost than I thought it would,” Beets says.
A critical part of his success is choosing the right equipment to keep his multiple mining operations up and running. Downtime for repairs costs time and money — and the operation can’t afford the lost time it would take to send equipment off-site for fixes.
“The reliability of the machine is always a comfortable feeling, to know you have a machine you can rely on,” Beets says. “If that thing would quit halfway through the season, that’s a lot of time, a lot of headaches, a lot of hardships. It’s very important that you have the right equipment that you know is going to do the job.”
Gold Rush airs Fridays at 9 p.m. Eastern on the Discovery Channel.