Going for Gold
Going for Gold
Going for Gold

Anyone who’s ever tuned into “Gold Rush” knows that the entrepreneurial spirit runs strong in Parker Schnabel’s blood.

The 21-year-old miner-turned-reality-TV-star and his family are no strangers to working hard and chasing their dreams. Since the tender age of eight, Schnabel has been following the path of his grandfather, John Schnabel, a now-retired gold miner at Big Nugget Mine in Haines, Alaska.

Today, he’s a beloved regular featured on Discovery Channel’s “Gold Rush,” now in its sixth season on air. Since his early beginnings as an inexperienced rookie at Big Nugget, Schnabel has matured into a professional miner and crew leader, one who has proved his prowess at experimenting with equipment, taking risks and scoring record amounts of gold in the process.

This season, Schnabel took his mining operation at Scribner Creek to new levels by investing in a completely new spread of equipment, including a SuperStacker® Telescoping Stacker, radial stacker and feeder, all from KPI-JCI and Astec Mobile Screens. Through his investment, Schnabel was able to reduce operational costs by 15 percent and downtime by 25 percent by eliminating the use of trucks and amount of manpower necessary to transport the pay dirt to the wash plant.

“We’ve always set up our wash plant on a high pad and let our tailings fall off a ledge to keep the site clean,” Schnabel said. “The problem with that is that you have to truck all of your pay dirt up adverse grades to get it up to the wash plant.”

“We had about the same size crew as we did last year, so my thought was, ‘OK, we know how to move dirt, we know how to mine gold, we’ve proved that, but we need to start cutting our costs and getting more out of the equipment and the people that we have.’ By conveying the material to the wash plant, we were able to eliminate the need to truck the material, which was costly and time-consuming.”

GOING FOR GOLD

Before leaping into a new equipment set-up, Schnabel spent months scouting new ground and traveling around to other sites around the Yukon, researching what new technologies other miners were using and how they were cutting costs in their operations.

“My day-to-day job does not always take place right at the operation,” Schnabel said. “That’s part of my life that the show doesn’t see. I don’t have my boots on the ground every day, so I rely on good people, and luckily I have very good people on site.”

While Schnabel says gold mining is “fairly simple” in theory, in practice the real challenges lie in achieving high throughput and avoiding time-consuming mistakes. This season, with a crew of 14 miners, Schnabel’s operation moved more than a million yards of material. Their goal? Three thousand ounces of gold – 500 ounces more than last year – worth nearly $3.5 million.

“In the Yukon, our season is very short,” he explained. “We have about four months to make all of our money; we don’t have much more time than that. It creates a pretty demanding timeline, one that doesn’t allow for many mistakes. You really have to plan things out and execute well.”

Although his and the crew’s relative lack of experience can create challenges on site, Schnabel said there have also been real advantages to managing a team of young miners.

“The average age of our crew is about 25, so we’re all pretty young and inexperienced,” he said. “That said, we’re willing to try new things and we don’t have a real preconceived notion of how things have to happen.”

“This season, I look at our operation’s greatest success at making that transition from the traditional set-up that requires hauling pay dirt to a wash plant on a hill, to utilizing the SuperStacker and radial stacker and figuring out how to reduce our costs as much as we can,” he added. “That’s the name of the game – squeezing as much from every person and every gallon of fuel as you can.”

We had about the same size crew as we did last year, so my thought was, ‘OK, we know how to move dirt, we know how to mine gold, we’ve proved that, but we need to start cutting our costs and getting more out of the equipment and the people that we have.’ By conveying the material to the wash plant, we were able to eliminate the need to truck the material, which was costly and time-consuming.

CONVEYING CAPABILITIES

With the goal of reduced downtime and increased efficiency in mind, Schnabel moved forward with integrating the SuperStacker and radial stacker into his operation. The SuperStacker is a telescopic radial stacker that allows producers to achieve up to 30 percent more stockpile capacity. Its patented Wizard Touch™ automation system builds custom-desegregated stockpiles with increased capacity.

Schnabel’s attraction to the SuperStacker stems from its telescoping capabilities, which allowed him to avoid the limitations of fixed-length conveyors. With the transformed set-up on site and the addition of a new wash plant – known as “Goldzilla” to fans of the show – Schnabel said he wasn’t certain where material should be fed into the plant, which turned the telescoping capabilities of the SuperStacker into a huge advantage.

“In a normal situation where you have all fixed-length conveyors, you’re stuck to where you set up,” he said. “If you want the material dropping into the pre-wash five feet further forward or back, you’re either moving the whole wash plant or moving the whole feeder and conveyor. With the SuperStacker, we have so much more flexibility. While we didn’t use it as a true telescoping stacker in the sense that it was designed for, it still suited our situation perfectly by giving us the flexibility we needed.”

One of the greatest challenges Schnabel foresaw with implementing a new material handling system was the nature of the material being fed to the wash plant – big, jagged bedrock that he worried would plug up the new equipment.

“We’re running some pretty nasty stuff that almost no normal equipment would see,” Schnabel said. “Some of it’s real slabby bedrock that comes in two-feet long, five-inch thick slabs that can slide right through the grizzly bars on the feeder and then it has to go up through the feeder, through the wash plant, the SuperStacker and the radial stacker.”

“I really thought this would be a big issue for us, and it really wasn’t an issue at all. I can’t remember a time when it shut us down because of this big material plugging up in the conveyors, and I was really impressed with the performance of the SuperStacker in that sense.”

DEPENDABLE SUPPORT

An important consideration for any remote operation is not just investing in the technology to achieve its goals, but having dependable parts and support to keep downtime to a minimum, Schnabel said.

“Once we introduce equipment into our operation, we’re depending on them to make us money,” he said. “They have to be operational. And when you’re as remote as we are, it can be an issue getting parts up here. Fortunately, everybody at KPI-JCI and Astec Mobile Screens has been very good to work with and very accommodating to us. They’ve helped us minimize our downtime and have been very responsive in getting us parts and service.”

“As someone stuck in a remote location, the most appealing thing about all of the products that we have from KPI-JCI and Astec Mobile Screens is that they’re all low-maintenance,” he continued. “They don’t require a lot of maintenance, and the maintenance they do require is simple.”

“We wouldn’t have had nearly as good of a season without the help and partnership of KPI-JCI and Astec Mobile Screens,” he added. “Thanks to the expertise we received at the beginning of the process when we first began considering a new set-up, to the support we received throughout the season, we were able to really simplify our process, improve our profits and finish the season strong.”