Goodbye, John Schnabel

One of my current favorite reality TV shows is the Friday night Discovery Channel program Gold Rush, in which teams of miners brave the harsh weather of the Yukon to mine for gold.  The show followed the adventures of the Hoffman crew – the bearded Todd Hoffman and his family and friends, whose adventures either leaned towards lots of gold or no gold at all.  The show also featured prospecting legend Tony Beets, who in the past two seasons has tried to resurrect an old mining dredge to once again produce gold.

But probably the most fascinating segment of Gold Rush are the adventures of Parker Schnabel, a mining boss barely in his 20’s, who works to try to get every single nugget out of the ground on his claim.  He battles with the claim owner Tony Beets (mentioned him earlier) to pay a percentage of this take, he has trouble keeping his workers due to his brusque attitude, and there are moments in the show in which I think he’ll lose everything on the wrong decision.

And then his grandfather comes to visit.  John Schanbel, a mining legend who operated the Big Nugget Mine for decades, would come and impart wisdom and guidance to Parker during the gold mining season.  And in those moments, Parker Schnabel would immediately understand that being a miner isn’t just getting the gold out of the ground – it’s a partnership with the workers, the machinery, the land, the weather and the symbiosis between it all.

In each episode, you could see the influence John Schnabel had on young Parker.  And this year, when Parker mined over 3,300 ounces of gold this season, his grandfather was there to celebrate with him and his team.

John Schnabel was an integral character in this documentary-like series.

John Schnabel passed away last night, at the tender age of 96.

According to this story in the Alaska Dispatch, John Schnabel was more than just a gold miner.  He was an integral part of the growth of the town of Haines, Alaska – he operated a sawmill, was elected mayor several times, and helped build the town’s Main Street.  And at every step of his life, John Schnabel accepted a challenge and worked through whatever it took to accept – succeed – and then surpass that challenge.

As television viewers here in the lower 48, we only knew John Schnabel for a short period of time.  But we could see his influence on young Parker Schnabel each week on Gold Rush.  And with each episode, we knew what a great and dedicated person John Schnabel was.  Even in his final years, when he battled cancer and underwent chemotherapy, he stuck around for one more day, one more moment, one more pearl of wisdom like a Harvey Penick of the Aurician guild.

There is an old Boy Scout adage that you leave the campsite cleaner than when you found it.

You can extend that to the world – during your time on this spinning rock of water and grass and mountains and ice, you get one shot to leave this world a better place than when you found it.

Certainly John Schnabel did that.

God bless you and rest in peace.