Dave Turin talks about growing up in the family aggregate business and finding fame with the Discovery Channel’s Gold Rush.
by Michelle Cwach
Just five years ago, Dave Turin was living a quiet, comfortable life in Sandy, Ore., serving as vice president and quarry manager of his family’s aggregate business, Mt. Hood Rock. Flash forward a couple of years, and suddenly Turin is one of the most beloved reality TV stars on Discovery Channel’s smash hit series, Gold Rush, watched by millions around the world every Friday night.
TTo understand how Turin made the leap from sand and gravel to stardom is to understand Turin himself. Fiercely devoted to his profession, family, friends and faith, Turin isn’t the kind of man to turn anyone away. So when fellow church congregation member — and Gold Rush visionary — Todd Hoffman asked him for a second opinion on a homemade gold recovery plant, Turin gladly assisted in any way he could, even though his expertise didn’t involve gold mining.
“I went to look at it, and I thought it was poorly done. So I started to help him learn about mining,” Turin says. “I just kind of put my arm around Todd and was helping him out so that he could know a little bit more about moving rocks and screens and all of that.”
At that point, all Hoffman had was a vision — that he would produce a TV series that would focus on down-on-their-luck men exploring the Yukon wilderness to discover gold. It was a dream that would save Hoffman from financial ruin, after his small sewer/excavation business in Sandy, Ore., started to deteriorate in 2008. But in the beginning, it was just that — a dream.
“In the process of helping him, Todd told me, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m going to do a TV show.’” Turin says. “And when he told me that, I thought, ‘This guy is crazy! He really thinks he’s going to do a TV show?’”
At the time, it seemed funny to Turin, who describes himself as a realist, because Hoffman was unshakably certain of his dream. Politely noncommittal, Turin wasn’t as confident, imagining an intern with a smart phone taping the crew’s adventures.
“As this progressed, I kept helping Todd out — our company gave him some wiring, a pump, we tested the pump, we were helping him with some of his water flows, we wired up his first generator for that plant — and I was doing all this just to help a brother out,” he says. “And then they headed up to Alaska, and I thought, ‘OK, I won’t see him for a while,’ and then he calls me at the end of June in that first season and said he needed some help setting up the plant because they couldn’t get it going.”
Turin headed up to the Yukon on his own dime, determined to help where he could, never expecting that his collaboration would reward him with a life-changing opportunity.
“When I get there, I get off the airplane and I’m approached by guys with real cameras — and they’re big cameras — and a real sound guy and director,” Turin recalls. “And that was the first time I realized that this was going to be on TV, and Todd was really going to do a TV show, and I was really, really surprised.”
Going for gold
By season two, Hoffman had officially asked Turin to join the crew, but it was a decision Turin made cautiously through prayer and with his wife’s blessing.
“To me, it was a dangerous decision to make, because there are some enticements that most of the world looks at, and I had to be careful that I wasn’t doing it for the wrong reasons,” he says. “You know, the pursuit of gold, TV, power…I had to guard myself to make sure that I was doing it with my wife for the right reasons.”
But after careful consideration, Turin knew he couldn’t pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When the crew had embarked on this adventure during season one, Turin felt a twinge of sadness knowing he wasn’t going to be part of it.
“When they left, I was sad, because I thought, ‘Gosh, I’d really like to be a part of that,’” he says. “It was a frontier, a new challenge for me. So when I visited them the first season, I really, thoroughly, enjoyed it. It was hard work and rough conditions, but I just loved it. I liked the pursuit of the gold. I liked digging the ground up and taking my knowledge and putting it to a different way of mining, a different process. It stimulated the creative part of my brain.”
Now stationed in Canadian Yukon territory with his wife during the mining season, Turin worked to organize and train the crew. Turin knew that if they were to be successful, they had to become a team.
“My wife and I decided that if I was to go on this adventure, the crew had to work together and become organized,” he says. “So we decided that we would feed the guys breakfast in the morning, and share a meal, and do a Bible study. So we would pray together and read the Bible together, and through that process of the morning meetings, we became more organized so we could talk through the issues.
“When you live with someone that much, there’s friction and discontent,” he continues. “But when you meet together, and you pray together, and you work through it, the team becomes stronger. We felt like there was a greater calling to this show than just digging up the ground and getting gold out of it.”
Back home in Oregon, Mt. Hood Rock continued without Turin’s daily supervision, but it was a difficult adjustment for the business and the family. With 25 percent of the management team now focused on another project deep in the Yukon wilderness, Turin’s brothers had to do what was best for the business without their vice president and quarry manager.
“During season two, I was splitting the time 50-50,” he said. “In season three, I came home twice — once to help them get through a big highway job. And now, there are a lot of other commitments and speaking opportunities to promote the show. So it’s very difficult on the family business and on family relationships, but they are starting to get used to it. Change is part of life.”
Despite the reorganization of Team Turin-Hoffman, Turin and Hoffman faced significant challenges. After working all summer in Season 2, the crew came up with fewer than 100 ounces of gold, which was barely enough to cover expenses, much less turn a profit. Turin found that despite his experience as a quarry manager, he struggled with moving the permafrost that blocked him from the gold and gold-bearing material at the bottom.
“It was a painful process, learning those things about moving dirt and moving rock,” he says. “The screening, the conveying, the washing — that’s pretty elementary for anyone who is in the rock business. But I had to learn how to move the permafrost and move that dirt, which was the difficult part. In Oregon, we’re just moving rock. There’s no frozen ground. We drill and shoot and blast, and in the Klondike, we move it with trucks and excavators and dozers.”
In order to deliver a profitable season, Turin and Hoffman knew that they had to scrap Hoffman’s homemade “Little Blue” plant and invest in high-quality equipment. Hoffman publicly announced that in season three, they would pull in 1,000 ounces of gold — worth well over a million dollars.
But the men disagreed about how to run the gold mining operation for season three. Hoffman, ever the dreamer and risk-taker, wanted to invest in a trommel screen. A trommel screen is essentially a rotating drum that lifts and drops material until the under-sized material is screened through the mesh openings. Although they are not uncommon for sluice mining, they do rely more on mechanical energy instead of gravity, which can make them more costly to run and maintain.
Turin, whose family owned several pieces of equipment manufactured by KPI-JCI, wanted to use equipment that he already knew and trusted, and believed that the trommel screen would be unsuccessful in the harsh Yukon conditions. The differing approaches resulted in two mining claims with a friendly competition between Turin and Hoffman.
“We had to make a decision on how we were going to continue, and I said, ‘I’m not going to work with the trommel, I don’t believe in it,” Turin says. “I’ve been around this a long time, and there were too many things that didn’t make sense. Not only did it have a very, very small sluice box, but it just didn’t seem to be built very sturdy. If you take a piece of equipment like that into the Klondike, into rough conditions, and feed it the rock that we were feeding it — basically about an 8-inch-minus river rock — I just didn’t think it would hold up. I didn’t like it from the get-go. Todd and I disagreed on it, and ultimately Todd said, ‘Nope, I’m getting it,’ and it was his decision, he’s the boss, so I just told him I don’t like it and I don’t think it’s going to work.
“And that’s when we decided to break into two operations, which then allowed me the opportunity to work with KPI-JCI,” he adds.
A competition gone awry
As a civil engineer, Turin understood the design process enough to collaborate with Freddy Dodge, who built the sluice box, and the engineers at Johnson Crushers International, Inc. (KPI-JCI), who built the Cascade Screen that was used as the primary wash plant on the Indian River claim.
Turin’s family business, Mt. Hood Rock, already owned a KPI-JCI Cascade incline vibrating screen, and he knew that the equipment could process glacial rock like that found in the Klondike. He also chose KPI-JCI because it was an American manufacturer that had a factory in Oregon close to home.
Turin worked extensively with Jeff Schwarz, general manager of KPI-JCI authorized dealer Astec AggReCon West, to custom engineer the features on the Cascade Screen. What started off as drawings on bar napkins soon came to life with the help of Freddy Dodge and KPI-JCI, Turin says.
“I sat down with Jeff Schwarz, and he said, ‘This will work. We can make this happen,’ and what was amazing to me — and not many people in our business get this opportunity — I was able to take it from a dream, a design, and then visit the JCI factory to actually see it being built and come to life, and then come full circle, I actually got to run the plant,” he notes.
Turin’s Cascade screen is a two-deck vibrating incline screen, equipped with a water spray system and urethane screen media, that rinses the stone and separates it from the gold-bearing sand, which along with the water is discharged through the bottom of the screen as a slurry to the sluice box. KPI-JCI Cascade incline screens are typically used in applications separating crushed and/or natural materials for the aggregate, mining, or recycling industries, and can be installed in mobile or stationary systems and built in many different sizes. The screens can also be configured for either wet or dry processing and can be fitted with a wide array of screening media.
But Turin knows — and appreciates — that it was a risky move for KPI-JCI to align itself with Hoffman’s crew on Gold Rush. In season one and season two, the old equipment was not properly maintained and as a result suffered numerous breakdowns.
“It was a risk for KPI-JCI to go with us, to portray and show its product line on television in front of millions of people,” Turin says. “Jeff Schwarz took a chance, and trusted Todd and I to portray his equipment — JCI’s equipment — in a positive light. There are a lot of people who wouldn’t do that. Our history was not that great. In seasons one and two, we did not look like we were smart miners. And that’s what I liked about KPI-JCI and Jeff Schwarz — they took a chance, just like we took a chance to go up to the Klondike and start new careers. JCI stepped up and puts its equipment on the line in front of millions of people, and they had enough faith in us and in their product to put it on TV and show it.”
While not everything flowed perfectly on the show — in the season three premiere, Turin made a costly mistake by using the wrong GPS coordinates to find the correct claim and drilling test plots in the wrong spot — Turin’s crew on Indian River quickly found a rhythm that enabled them to get more gold in just a few weeks than the entire past two seasons combined. But as much fun as Turin’s crew was having pulling in gold at Indian River, it was difficult for him to watch Hoffman’s crew battle the so-called “Turbo Trommel,” which struggled from the beginning of the season and produced very little gold.
At the time, Turin found it hard to be unable to help his friend out. But it became worse after the mining season ended and season three of Gold Rush began. Each week, as viewers tuned in to watch the latest episode, they watched as Hoffman struggled with the consequences of investing in the trommel.
“Things were rolling out pretty good at Indian Creek, and I’m a lot more organized, I understand moving rocks and dirt and all of that,” Turin says. “Todd doesn’t have as much experience, so I think Todd got portrayed as not real smart, and that is not the case. Todd is brilliant. He’s a very smart guy. He’s brilliant and smart in other ways than just moving dirt and mining. He’s a visionary, and he’s very creative, and so it’s sad that he took the brunt of it. And viewers did see a lot of breakdowns, but in this business, breakdowns are inevitable.
“Any time you run rock on steel, things break,” he adds. “But when you’re on TV, they like to emphasize the breakdowns and the mistakes we make, and Todd got the brunt of it. And I think he was portrayed sometimes as unintelligent and pushy, and he’s not that way.”
Eventually, Hoffman abandoned the trommel screen and the two camps united using the KPI-JCI Cascade screen on the Indian River claim. While the crews fell just shy of their goal — hitting 803 ounces in the short Alaskan mining season — they viewed it a major success, particularly considering that they initially planned to use two claims and two screens to meet their goal.
While audiences didn’t get to see the reclamation process, Turin says he’s incredibly proud of the crew’s work in restoring the land.
“We had a reclamationist in Canada, and he would check on us, and in fact the regulatory agencies in Canada gave us a harder time because we have a national audience,” Turin says. “We realized that and embraced it, and at the end of the season our reclamationist gave us an A+ rating and wrote us a glowing letter of recommendation. I wish they would have shown our reclamation, because I’m proud of it.
“I am a professional miner,” he adds. “I have chosen that as my career, and I believe we can mine, we can extract the natural resource, and we can put the ground back, and that’s what a responsible miner does.”
A bigger purpose
While Turin’s proud of what the team has accomplished (“as a team, we could go anywhere in the world and be successful,” he says), he’s even more enthusiastic about the impact Gold Rush is having on viewers at home.
“We have an opportunity to help move and motivate men in our country, which we need to do,” Turin says. “Our message that we’re getting out there is, if a group of guys from Sandy, Ore., can get out and do something extraordinary — we’re just ordinary guys, but what we’re doing is extraordinary — then I believe we have an opportunity and also a responsibility to help men do the same thing. I believe they need to get off the couch, get off unemployment, go do something and take a chance. If you’re unemployed, get retrained. Go do something. And that’s part of the bigger purpose. Hopefully, because the show is so popular, it is helping our country and we’re going to get people back to work.”
With the completion of season three of Gold Rush under their belts, Hoffman and Turin are now taking their gold mining to an international level by journeying to South America. Although details remain confidential, Turin is looking forward to his new adventure.
“I really enjoy a challenge,” Turin says. “I get bored just doing the same thing over and over again. I like to take my talents and my knowledge and apply them. I like to lead guys, and, as a team, accomplish something that’s bigger and greater than just digging up the ground and getting gold out of it.”
Michelle Cwach manages the communications and media relations at KPI-JCI and Astec Mobile Screens. She can be reached at 605-668-2606 or email@example.com.