They call Tony Beets “the Viking,” and as his nickname suggests, the veteran gold miner is a tough, determined character for whom failure is not an option. Beets expects a lot from his people and his equipment.
A willingness to work hard has led to decades of success for Beets, who has been mining in Canada’s Yukon Territory since 1984 after relocating from his family’s farm in the Netherlands in search of better work opportunities. Beets now runs Tamarack Inc., a company that controls some of the largest mining claims in the Klondike region.
“People always said you can make more money in the north than anywhere else,” Beets says. “We liked it so much we never turned around and went back.”
For the past several seasons, Beets has been a popular fixture on “Gold Rush,” the Discovery Channel’s No. 1-rated reality show about gold mining, which is watched by millions each Friday night. A recent season of the show chronicled the efforts of Beets and his crew to disassemble, move, and then reassemble a 75-year-old gold dredge that hadn’t run since the 1980s.
Beets purchased the dredge for $1 million, believing a return to the old-school dredge method of mining could help him sluice more dirt—and find more gold—at a lower cost per ounce.
Relocating and then reassembling the massive piece of machinery—and keeping it running on a demanding 24/7 dredging schedule once it was on-site at his Eureka Creek claim—meant having durable and versatile equipment. Beets and his crew installed a Big Blue 800 Duo Air Pak engine-driven welder/generator from Miller Electric Mfg. Co. on the front of the dredge. The machine helps them meet their welding, compressed air, and power generation needs on the floating structure.
“Everything that we want to do around the mine site, anything that we want to do on that dredge, that Big Blue 800 is more than capable of doing it,” Beets says. “You have to have a machine that you know will do the job in order to make things work. You’ve got your air, you’ve got your power, you’ve got your welder—you’re pretty well guaranteed that whatever you want to do, you’re going to be capable of doing.”
A REBUILDING PROJECT
It was a massive undertaking for Beets and his crew, including several of his family members, to take the old dredge apart and then reassemble it at a new site. But Beets is not a man who backs down from a challenge.
He thought the Eureka Creek site was a perfect spot for dredge mining. His crew had tried working the claim a few times with the heavy equipment used in modern placer mining—bulldozers, excavators, rock trucks, and wash plants—but there wasn’t enough gold there to make that kind of operation profitable. But gold dredges are a different method of mining that can be more economical to run.
“In the Yukon over a hundred years all the ground has been pretty well mined, so the ground that is left is kind of lean,” Beets says. “So when the opportunity came, I thought, ‘Hey, I’ve always wanted to try a dredge. Let’s give that a try.’”
Where working the Eureka Creek claim with heavy machinery might cost $1,000 per ounce of gold mined, Beets expects that using the gold dredge, his crew can pull the same amount of gold out of the ground at a much lower cost of $300 to $400 per ounce.
Even though the dredge was built in 1938—and had sat dormant since the 1980s—it was still in decent shape. It was just a matter of the crew taking it apart piece by piece, moving it more than 100 miles to a new site and putting it back together.
The months-long project required a lot of welding, metal cutting, carbon arc gouging, and other tasks that Beets and his crew handled with Miller engine-driven welder/generators and other equipment.
“We’ve always had Miller welders. We must have 10 or 11 of them things,” Beets says. “When you take something apart, you have to put it back together, and that’s where the Miller welders come in. Putting it back together, there were a lot of things that didn’t fit right so we’d have to arc a part or clean it up.”
The daunting relocation project was not without some challenges, but it was ultimately successful. Beets ran the gold dredge for several months during the most recent mining season.
“Now we have it running, in 2015, and the steel and everything is still as good as the day it came out of the factory, believe it or not,” Beets says. “This year was trial and error and it did very well, so we have most of the bugs out.” ■
Gold Rush airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on the Discovery Channel. Look for part two of this article in the next issue of MCS.
For More Information: For more information about Miller® products to assist you in your projects, visit www.millerwelds.com.
Modern Contractor Solutions – May 2016
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