The following appears in the November issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
BY CHRIS COCOLES
As Dave Turin grew up in a suburb of Portland, Ore., he had plenty of interests, whether it was dominating on the football field or enjoying the Pacific Northwest’s spectacular hunting and fishing.
But little did he know that another love would eventually define who he is today: the passion to take on a challenge. That would morph into his place as one of the hard-nosed miners obsessed with striking it rich on Discovery Channel’s series, GoldRush.
Turin, who once starred in football at the junior college level and walked onto Oregon State’s team, would call the audible of a lifetime. He and his family started a successful paving and rock-quarrying company that would grow into a Pacific Northwest staples in the business.
But there was something about this stable career that had Turin restless. That brought the ups and downs of living the life of a miner, and it begs the proverbial question, “Do you sometimes ask yourself what you’ve gotten into?”
“Yes, I do; I ask myself that a lot. In our second year of gold mining (one of the early seasons of Gold Rush), Fred Hurt kind of took over our claim and we got bumped out of there,” says Turin, who early on was considered the brains of the operation when it came to mining, even if it hadn’t been for gold.
“So we go to the Yukon Territory and Todd (Hoffman) found some ground. I’ll never forget this: Todd and I walked out to this piece of ground; Todd looks around and says, ‘Here you go, Dave. Get started.’ I had never, never thought I’d been in over my head more than at that time.”
Turin, like most of the miners on his team, relies heavy on his faith. So he did what comes naturally and prayed. God, I have no idea how to do this and what I’ve gotten myself into. I’m going to be watched on TV and I have no idea what
“So yeah, there are a lot of times when I think to myself, ‘Why in the world am I
THE DISCOVERY CHANNELS OF the television world have always been fascinated by Alaska when it comes to programming. While many focus on Alaskans living off the grid and their perceived hardships, Discovery struck – uh – gold with character studies on the obsession men and women have with finding Au 79 (that’s the symbol and element number for goldfor those of us who struggled to get through high school chemistry). Hence, the ratings-friendly series Bering Sea Gold andGold Rush that are still going strong (Gold Rush’s seventh season premiered in mid-October and was cable TV’s top-rated show that night for most younger demographics).
The latter show’s breakout
star became Parker Schnabel, the Alaskan high school basketball player-turned teenage mining whiz kid (Alaska Sporting Journal, December 2014). But arguably the heart and soul of the franchise has been the Todd Hoffman-led Oregon crew that first mined Southeast Alaska’s Porcupine Creek in Season 1.
“We weren’t growing and I was doing the same job for 28 years. I was not being challenged,” Turin says. “And then Todd Hoffman entered
Turin knew and could relate to Hoffman, who also hailed from Turin’s same Oregon hometown and longed for a career change – Todd and his dad Jack were in the aviation business together – so it became fate they would reunite in the gold game.
“(Hoffman) told me I was going to go gold mining in Alaska, and I’ll never forget – he’s all set up and I was there on the day they left (Oregon); I helped them pack up and load up,” Turin says. “And my heart was longing and yearning to go to Alaska, which is kind of our last wilderness and our last frontier. Think of the allure: You’re going gold mining and you’re in Alaska, in the wilderness! I want to go
“And he left, and I went back to my job and didn’t think much of it. Then about three months later he calls me and said, ‘You need to come up here and help me set up my wash plant because I can’t get it going.’ And I said, ‘All right, I’ll go.’ That was the first time I went up there and it was pretty cool.”
The next year, Hoffman made a formal offer to his Oregon buddy to join the crew. Initially, Turin juggled mining with Hoffman and continuing to work the paving and rock quarry business with his brothers. But in year three, he became a full-time goldminer, Hoffman’s right-hand man and one of the staples of Gold Rush’s storylines.
“At first I didn’t understand Todd; he’s very ADD (attention deficit disorder) and I’m the guy who loves to plan and stick to a plan. But what Todd has taught me – I’ll be honest with you, he’s one of the best business negotiators I’ve ever met. And he taught me it always has to be win-win. A lot of what we do is, it has to be good for us but also for them. He doesn’t want to do a deal if it’s not good for the
Hoffman too has Christian values, so the duo has formed a strong partnership, professionally as well as spiritually. And they’ve ridden the good times and rough seas together.
As is the norm for an industry that’s the epitome of high risk, high reward, Turin has experienced a carnival ride of emotions, a rock-based Tilt-A-Whirl that’s seen his crew rack up 803 ounces of Klondike gold – worth a cool $1.28 million – in one season. But also a now-infamous and humiliating fourth-season trip to the jungles of Guyana, where the ill-fated experiment in South America unearthed all of 2 ounces and almost bankrupted Hoffman’s operation. But that’s what these guys signed up for. Gold
Turin’s also become something of a wily mentor to his fellow miners. It could be argued that no one had the background in geology, the business sense or the experience that Turin, 57, could list on his resume (he also has a civil engineering degree from Portland State).
“That’s one thing I enjoy about this job, teaching younger guys about a profession. I consider myself a professional miner; for whatever reason that’s how my life has gone,” he says. “And I want to instill in the young men that it’s a good job; do your job to the best of your ability. Take the ground and put it back into something useful. We need to extract the natural resources, but we also have the responsibility to put the ground back. And I love teaching the young men to not only be good operators and good miners, but to be good men.”
BEFORE THE FATEFUL MOMENT in 1969, when Jim Turin’s driveway needed paving and he put his young sons to work and triggered the idea for Jim Turin and Sons (now known as Mt. Hood Rock Company, mounthoodrock.com), the Turin patriarch was a teacher and high school football coach.
“My dad was a risk taker. He had six kids and he quit teaching and coaching, which is one of the most secure jobs that you can have,” Dave Turin says. “When my dad quit, my oldest brother was 13, so he’s got six kids ranging from 13 to about 4, and he quits the one job he went to college for. So that same thing was instilled in me; I’ve also always been a risk taker. It’s one of the reasons I gold mine, probably one of the riskiest things you can do. But in the end I love it because it’s so unpredictable.”
And in many ways, Turin is something of a coach on Team Hoffman, and thus his career has come full circle, though he’s already had a headstart on blowing whistles.
“I’ve inherited that trait. I coached my children in sports, and it’s funny that I enjoyed it so much I ended up coaching other people’s children when mine moved past that age and into high school – that’s when I’m like, ‘Let the guys who are good at it (coach them).’ And after I’d stopped coaching them in eighth grade, I enjoyed it so much. It’s not just to win games; it’s teaching kids life principles and I loved that part of it,” he says. “And I still find myself to this day teaching the people I work with.”
It could have been a much different life for Turin these days. He knows he probably wouldn’t be a pro football player or anything, but he could have remained in Oregon, spending all the family time he’s missed and living well as a partner in his family’s company.
“It was the best thing I ever did. I was able to work with my brothers and my mom and dad,” says Turin, who experienced some rocky times in the business world. The family had to borrow money to just make payroll, but Jim Turin had a profound effect on the boys. “The things our dad taught us were such good lessons; you pay your workers first. And the other thing that Dad taught us as a life lesson, if you take something from the ground or your community, you give something back. Be involved in civic things, and I’ve tried to do that, whether it’s church or help at local fundraisers. Give back.”
He grew up in Sandy, a tight-knit community in the shadows of Mount Hood about 25 miles southeast of Portland. It was a place where a young kid could really embrace
“I was always the guy that got my hands dirty. I loved hunting and fishing, and I loved rocks,” Turin says. “I studied engineering and geology and to this day, I’ll drive by a mountain or a unique rock formation and I’ll tell my wife, ‘Hey, look at that cool thing.’ She’ll look at me and say, ‘It looks like a pile of rocks to me.’”
The beauty of rural Oregon was “our playground,” Turin says. He remembers his mom ordering young Dave out of her kitchen and get outside and play. He and his brothers wouldn’t come back until dark, sometimes hiking nearby trails and camping out for the night. “A can of beans and some hot dogs; and we loved it,” says Dave, who hunted and fished whenever he had the opportunities.
He also excelled in sports.
“At one point I thought football was life,” Turin says. “I played two years of junior college football; I was – believe it or not – an all-conference linebacker. And there were eight or nine of us who walked onto Oregon State in 1981 (under coach Joe Avezzano, whose Beavers teams in the early ’80s struggled mightily). We were horrible and I didn’t make the team but walked on, gave it my best shot and realized I was a little bit over my head.”
It’s all worked out in the end. Turin found his calling as a gold miner and serving as a father figure for his colleagues. And despite the frustration of being away from his actual family for long periods of time (see sidebar below), Turin just knew his destiny was awaiting him in Alaska, South America or wherever those rocks were calling his name to explore and dig.
“I had always had envisioned our company expanding and growing. And that was part of the issue why I left the family business,” he says. “We bought our mother and father out and the four brothers became equal partners. We did all our decision-making on a consensus basis. But it stifled all our growth, and I was the guy who was always pushing to grow the business and try to open new quarries. I love and live for challenges.” ASJ
THE GOLD STANDARD
Dave Turin on all the reasons why he does what he does (and drives him crazy in the process):
“It’s funny; now that I’m on TV people think I’m smarter than I am. I get to speak a lot and I speak to doing the right things. Our show is kind of about taking chances, encouraging people to take chances and staying in this business; it’s a good business. Mining has taken some hits throughout the years, and it’s not the most popular profession. But I want to encourage people that is a good business, we need the natural resources and if we do it responsibly, it’s a great profession.”
“(But) gold mining is an extremely difficult business. And one of the things that makes it so difficult is anywhere you go to mine gold, it’s a difficult, harsh climate. We’ve been to Guyana, we’ve been to Chile and we’ve been to the Yukon Territory, where we were 300 miles south of the Arctic Circle. I’ve been to Alaska looking for claims.”
“It’s a very competitive business, because there’s not a lot of ground that has good gold on it. So the prices – what we pay for the fees to the landowner – those percentages are going up. So our percentages are going down and everything’s more and more difficult – the laws, the environmental restrictions are getting tougher and tougher.”
“What makes it difficult for us is the long hours we spend. We’re always away from our families, and that’s the most difficult thing for me. We go for six and sometimes seven months, and all you can do is talk to your family over the phone or by Facetime kinds of things. And that’s OK a couple times, but not for six or seven months.”
“I’ve always been a hunter and a fisherman, and now our season goes through the fall and I never have a chance to hunt or fish anymore, and that stinks.” ASJ