Assistant athletic director Rich Remsburg ’67 spends part of his summer on the set of the new reality series “Gold Rush: Alaska.”
Here’s the pitch: Six unemployed Oregonians pool their savings and risk everything to embark on a five-month, go-for-broke adventure to dig for gold in the Alaskan wilderness, with a camera crew filming every step of the way. That’s the scenario of the Discovery Channel’s latest reality show “Gold Rush: Alaska,” which premiered Dec. 3 — and Warner Pacific’s assistant athletic director Rich Remsburg ’67 was part of the action.
Remsburg’s son, Greg, is one of the central characters on the show. He asked his dad to fly up and build a small cabin on the set near Haines, Alaska for Greg and his family of five to occupy during the lengthy shoot. Remsburg brought along close friend Chris Doumitt and the two of them built a cabin with 1,000 square feet of floor space, including a sleeping loft, in three weeks. They used lumber from spruce logs harvested from the mining site and cut at a nearby mill.
“We would have finished sooner but the guy [at the mill] didn’t always have the lumber for us,” said Remsburg. “Some days he’d cut, some days he wouldn’t. You’re working on Alaska time.”
The mining operation and subsequent show was the brainchild of Greg’s closest friend, Todd Hoffman, and his dad, Jack. They operate a small airport in Sandy, Ore., near where Remsburg lives. Back in the 1980s, Jack Hoffman mined for gold in Alaska and always wanted to go back. The 2010 mining operation was part economic opportunity and part family dream. Todd Hoffman pitched the idea to the British film company Raw TV, which eventually sold the show to the Discovery Channel.
The team traveled with five semi-truck loads of heavy equipment by barge from Seattle, Wash. to Haines and then drove the final 34 miles to the mining site. The film crew included as many as 15 camera operators, producers, sound technicians, and guards solely there to protect the site from bears.
Remsburg says one of the biggest challenges of the show was striking a balance between the miners getting their work done and the film crews capturing the footage and interviews they needed. All the principal characters wore wireless microphones while a number of camera teams canvassed the work site, often asking the miners to repeat actions for the camera.
“You just get used to it after a while,” said Remsburg. “They almost all were British guys and you really develop friendships with them.”
The mining site had no plumbing and required electricity from diesel-powered generators. The Oregon team turned a semi-truck into a portable kitchen, complete with two freezers, a refrigerator, and propane stove.
“Living off the grid is a different experience,” Remsburg said. “It’s kind of neat. We would go get drinking water every three or four days.”
Remsburg says he is curious to see how well the series represents the openly Christian faith of the Oregon miners. Todd Hoffman made it clear to the network that he and his guys didn’t want that lost in the edit.
“The real desire of Greg and Todd is that through all of this, their testimony could be shown, be part of the story,” Remsburg said. “Discovery knows and they said ‘OK.’ How it’s edited, it will be interesting to see.”
“Gold Rush: Alaska” can be seen Fridays at 10 p.m. on the Discovery Channel.