The following appears in the February issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
BY CHRIS COCOLES
The Dakota Boys are back in Alaska.
Never mind that Fred Hurt and his son Dustin both have connections to the oilfields and offshore drilling waters of Texas and Louisiana, fans of the Discovery Channel series Gold Rush got to know Fred based on his time as a miner in Minot, North Dakota. But the Last Frontier has become a second home, and after an on-screen hiatus from Gold Rush the Hurts have staked a claim along the rushing waters of the Panhandle’s McKinley Creek as part of a spin-off series, Gold Rush: White Water.
“A lot of it, of course, involves the scenery and the remoteness of where we were,” the 72-year-old Hurt says of the appeal of his return to mining and the new series that premiered last month. “That’s going to be a big part of this show. And it was quite the physical endurance for this old man. I’m working with a bunch of young bucks.”
This time it’s Dustin Hurt’s claim that papa Fred is helping to mine, which if the premiere episode from January suggests, should make for some entertaining back and forth between two stubborn miners.
“Fred likes to think he’s in charge,” Dustin says of his dad during the premiere episode. “He’s got his way of talking down to me and I don’t think he means it. But when he does it, it’s enough to set you off. But he’s my dad. I love him.
And Fred can be convincing, as he helped negotiate an investment from his former boss, veteran Gold Rush poobah Todd Hoffman, who fronted the Dakota Boys $50,000 to get their operation off the ground (Hoffman negotiated for 15 percent off the gold profits, much to Dustin’s chagrin before accepting those terms).
“Todd and I have gotten along just fine. He is an excellent promoter,” Fred Hurt says of Hoffman. “Todd knows me as an older guy from the days when a handshake made your word as good as gold. ‘Nuf said.”
We spent some time chatting with the likeable Fred Hurt, who didn’t fail to disappoint.
Chris Cocoles McKinley Creek looks like a pretty intense environment for gold mining. How was that for you and the crew in person?
Fred Hurt It is quite an adventure. You know that Alaska is on the bucket list for about 20 million people. And the reason is it’s not just because of the resources and everything, but it’s because of the scenery. And I’m going to tell you what? We are absolutely working right smack in the middle of some of the best scenery that you can ever imagine in Alaska. And it’s breathtaking.
CC That’s true. And your Facebook page (facebook.com/DakotaFred) has a lot of great photos of wildlife and others. What’s the overall Alaska experience been like you and does anything stand out for you?
FH We’ve had some bear encounters, and we had one, a grizzly bear and a couple of cubs, that didn’t get recorded. I was sitting on the other side (of the creek), and some of the fellas on the other side were there with no armaments or nothing. And they startled a mama bear. It really scared them beyond belief. And it charged them twice – bluff-charged them twice. They were screaming and yelling, and from across the canyon – about 400 and something feet away, I could hear them just as plain as day, screaming their lungs out. And that mama bear had two small cubs that they didn’t even see. But we had a lot of wildlife adventures. Bears were our biggest thing.
CC What I do want to compliment you on is I hope I have your energy level when I’m your age.
FH Thank you. Hey, it’s not always there, but I’m trying to make an example for a bunch of the old guys. I’m not trying to discourage them from watching any of Gold Rush: White Water. But they need to get off the couch and go do something – when the show is not on, of course [laughs].
CC Is that drive to be active in your DNA?
FH Yes. For me personally, when we first started, I’ve said on camera that I’m out of shape; I need to get back into shape. And let me tell you: It’s the most out of shape that I’ve ever been in my life. I’d always done construction work and I was a commercial diver in my younger days out in the Gulf of Mexico – oilfield diving and things of that nature. And I had my own construction business, and that kept me in very good shape for pile driving and dock building and all that type of stuff. But when I retired out of that when I was 60 years old and went to Alaska, it was like stepping from one profession that prepared me for gold mining.
CC The people I’ve interviewed for some of these (Alaska-based) shows like Bering Sea Gold and Gold Rush, they’ve talked about their obsession with gold. Is that how it has been for you and Dustin?
FH I guess if I had to rate it – you’d call it the gold fever or any kind of obsession with the gold – I’d rate it about a two. I’ve been going gold mining for now 15 years in Alaska. And I’ve never gotten rich at it, but I’ve always been fascinated by the scenery, the people who I’ve met – man, did I meet some characters. [Laughs.] We always met characters in Alaska, and this is what keeps bringing me back. But getting gold is fascinating. Every time you see that yellow stuff in the sluice box or in your pan, let me tell you, it’s a thrill. I think it’s the pioneer spirit. We’re reliving that stuff in 2017 or 2018!
CC What’s McKinley Creek like in terms of the terrain? There were miners 100 years ago who were mining in that same creek and it looks so treacherous.
FH Those old-time guys were tough. I don’t care how tough anybody is this these days. Not a one of them is tougher than some of those old gold miners were. And you get a sense of that today when you go up there and see what they did. We saw relics of old (mining) stuff that they had built up at the McKinley Creek site. And these are canyon walls that are not sloping walls down 45 degrees. These are vertical walls that go 200 feet straight down. [Laughs.] They’re treacherous and narrow. The canyons that McKinley and Porcupine (Creeks) carve are very narrow, particularly in McKinley Creek, which is extremely narrow in some places. In fact, we were working in a very narrow area, which presented its own problems. And we had to do a lot of hiking just to get those points; blazing a trail onto the edge of the creek was quite a task.
CC In that first episode you had guys rappelling on ropes and ziplining between the canyon walls. That’s pretty intense.
FH Like I’ve said before, it’s so intense some people will just cringe about what we’ve been doing. Now, I know that sometimes the camera will make it a little more dangerous than it really is, but in this case, it pretty much is the real deal. And the film crew ate with us and slept with us, hiked the canyons with us. They did quite a job, and not just the camera guys but the support guys and the security guys too. I have high hopes that people will want to watch this.
CC Does your diving background help in terms of the underwater mining on the creek?
FH I did some of the nicest diving you could ever do but also a lot of the dirtiest diving you can ever do. I did it all: demolitions, salvaging, pipelines. Dig ’em up, locate them, bury them, blow them up – all that good stuff. [Laughs.] When it came to doing this, it’s something like riding a bicycle; you don’t forget, no matter what kind of age you’ve got on you. You still remember all that. So it helped me prepare and set up the diving stations. A lot of it was Dustin and I didn’t agree on a lot of stuff. [Laughs.]
CC That conflict was pretty evident in the first episode.
FH He was kind of wanting to exert his authority. But we are working on his claims. And this is one of the big differences (from the Dakota Boys’ previous mining ventures). He wanted to show some leadership there, and of course he’s going to get some feedback from the old man. [Laughs.] Sometimes you don’t want to hear it.
CC Are you and Dustin both kind of alpha personalities?
FH We are both strong-headed people who have our own opinions. Of course, mine are always better than his, as I’ve got the experience. [Laughs.] Not always better, but more experienced in it.
CC Has it been a good experience to work with your son like you have?
FH Dustin had some rough teenage years; I won’t go into the details, but before he went to college he quit school and didn’t want to go. So I put him to work on my own crew and we worked for four years together doing some really hard construction waterfront work like pile driving and dock building. And he got a lot of experience. But after that, we didn’t work together for like 30 years. He was a forest firefighter in California and I convinced him to come work with me for the first summer that I was in Alaska. And we butted heads even then. But we’d come to agreements, and this is something that fathers and sons and mothers and daughters and brothers and sisters, they will all understand these family dynamics.
CC You’re from Texas and Louisiana originally. Are you any kind of an outdoorsman and fisherman/hunter?
FH I was an avid fisherman from grade school on. I’m going to reveal something that only you know: I was No. 1 or No. 2 in my class always … from the bottom! [Laughs]. And I’ll tell you why: because I loved to fish. I used to go fish and wouldn’t do my homework. And finally something in high school got me clicked. But I still went fishing a tremendous amount. And then I got into sport diving, mostly off the coast of Corpus Christi, Texas, off Padre Island. But I also did a lot of spearfishing and was a spearfishing championship winner. Mostly I wanted to go into marine biology when I was younger. But I found out later that they don’t get paid very much. [Laughs]. But I also had a great interest in geology, which I took a little bit of in college. And I should have pursued geology. But I also did a lot of quail and dove hunting down in south Texas. I wasn’t really a deer hunter; it just wasn’t my thing. But I was a big bird hunter.
CC At your age now, is retiring anytime soon on your calendar?
FH Retiring! Are you kidding? When I’m 6 feet under, I’m retiring. [Laughs]. Or if I can’t do it and sitting in a rocking chair or wheelchair, I’m still going to be doing something. I hope I’m an inspiration to some of these older guys. They might think, “Oh, hell; life’s over and I’m just meh.” But I’m still talking I want to inspire. That’s my attitude. ASJ
Editor’s note: New episodes of Gold Rush: White Water can be seen on Friday nights on the Discovery Channel, including tonight). Check out discovery.com/tv-shows/gold-