In "Gold Rush: Freddy Dodge's Mine Rescue" the Masters Miners' Plans Pan Out

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Cover image for  article: In "Gold Rush: Freddy Dodge's Mine Rescue" the Masters Miners' Plans Pan Out

Mining for gold is hard work, and it goes way beyond shaking a pan to separate yellow flecks. What starts with grand dreams of riches, or at least financial independence, can devolve into nightmares of tossing your money down a bottomless pit. Nobody knows that better than Freddy Dodge (above right) and Juan Ibarra (above left) as they return to Discovery for a second season of Gold Rush: Freddy Dodge's Mine Rescue on April 1.

As successful restaurateurs walk into kitchens and know it's inefficient and the menu needs work, these experienced miners know when an operation's efficiency is lagging, and their equipment needs fine-tuning. Their expertise can help someone who has sunk his life savings into the ground, and all he's getting in return is frustration.

In the season opener, the men travel to Valdez, Alaska. Immediately, their rig becomes mired in the ground, but they can fix it because they know how to weld and repair just about anything mechanical. It's a stunning area with a deep fjord surrounded by mountains with cascading waterfalls. The episode explains how in the late 1890s, gold miners came through this area headed for the Klondike. In Valdez, they found more than 50,000 ounces of gold worth more than $90 million in today's money.

This region gets a lot of rain, swelling rivers and creeks; heavy rains could mean more gold, swept down in the waters from the motherlode. Gold, naturally, is the goal -- if only miners could get to it. Those featured in the series are often inexperienced.

"They haven't been to the amount of mines Juan or myself have gone to or had the backgrounds that Juan or myself have," Dodge said during an exclusive MediaVillage Zoom interview with the two men (Dodge from Colorado, Ibarra from Nevada).

"It's lack of experience, but then also getting improper information," Ibarra added. "A lot of times they read a hobby mining book or whatever else, and a lot of times that doesn't apply to their operations, and I think that's kind of a big problem."

Dodge has worked in oil fields, on ranches, farms, and gold mines. Ibarra, a plumber by trade, works as a drill doctor -- fixing underground pneumatic equipment. They met on Discovery's Gold Rush and have an easy rapport.

Once they arrive at a problematic set-up, they observe, evaluate, consult and repair.

"Really, we got to watch them run," Dodge said. "We have to evaluate what they have going on while they're running. We have to evaluate what kind of gold they have, what kind of ground they have. We have to evaluate their equipment when they run and go from there."

"There's only so much we can do by just assessing the plant and their operation just by looking at it without it running," Ibarra explained. "But once it runs, it's a completely different story. You know, their water flows, and everything else comes into play, so we actually have to watch it. But I bet you, within the first ten, fifteen minutes of watching a plant in their operation, we can come up with ideas."

In the season opener, viewers meet Clay Strickland, who works on the trans-Alaska pipeline but whose dream is to mine gold. He has a stake that's yielding very little. Strickland had promised his late wife that he would mine for gold and support their teenage daughter. He needs to extract two ounces of gold a day to make his operation profitable. Some of his high school friends, also inexperienced in gold mining, are happy to help him. But all of them need the duo's expertise.

Strickland extracts about a quarter of an ounce a day, less than a quarter of what he needs. After observing Strickland's operation, Dodge and Ibarra salvage parts other mines were trashing, and donate their labor. They attach finer mesh to the sluices and jerry-rig an outfit. While it may not be a sleek operation, it does the trick.

A four-hour test produces .61 ounces of gold, a 125 percent increase. Strickland is elated, and Dodge and Ibarra are happy with their work. They understand the profound pull of gold mining, the ancient draw to this malleable metal.

"Well, gold fever's real," Dodge declared. "That's been around for a long time. Gold's the only monetary system that's lasted the past 5,000 years. When they looked for the Americas, they were trying to find gold. There's been people with gold fever for thousands of years, the Mesopotamians, the Greeks, the Romans on down the line. They all wanted gold, so gold has always been of value."

It also offers a lure that many can't resist. If you do strike it rich, you can quit the daily grind.

"I think a lot of the motivation is financial freedom," Ibarra said. "They see an opportunity to be able to carve a living for themselves in their own hands, and I think that's what really appeals to people, being able to get out from someone else and do your own thing and make your own living, carve your own fortune out -- for you."

The men explained that they don't leave the land ravaged. After mining, Dodge said, they reclaim all the land, plant and make it more hospitable for fauna.

"One thing that we've always tried to stress is responsible mining is where you're not leaving scars, you're not leaving the ground completely damaged," Ibarra added. "You go back, and you can replant it, reseed it, just make it beautiful again. Then you end up having ponds for wildlife or for fish and birds."

Both agree that there aren't many motherlodes of gold waiting to be tapped. However, there are smaller deposits that can be extracted with the right equipment and know-how.

Dodge's best advice? "Do your homework and don't go in with gold fever," he said in closing. "Gold mining is just like if you start a restaurant -- it's location, location, location."

Gold Rush: Freddy Dodge's Mine Rescueis telecast on Fridays at 9 p.m. on Discovery.

In case you missed it ... you can read Jacqueline Cutler's October 2020 interview with miner Fred Lewis here.

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