Photo: Discovery Channel
Todd Hoffman was in the wrong business when the markets crashed in the fall of 2008.He leased hangar space at an airstrip outside Portland, Oregon, mostly to corporations.
But travel was one of the first items to get cut once everyone’s earnings got squeezed, he says.
Hoffman was hit head-on.
“I started seeing everything go to hell in a hand basket,” he told Business Insider in an interview. “It turned out to be desperation. Seeing everything fold around you, companies that never go away start going away.”
But while his personal finances were swamped, he saw opportunity based on what he was happening in Washington: As the government agreed to flood markets with cash, the price of gold would go up.
“I’m no rocket scientist, but when you start printing money, start doing the things we’re currently doing, …you can’t debase gold, it’s common sense.”
He’d grown up visiting a gold mine in Fairbanks, Alaska with his father Jack, and while they hadn’t experienced overwhelming hauls, he reckoned this was the family’s best chance to save their finances.
“We just kicked it into high gear,” he says. “Just tried to kick some arse.”
Rearends, consider yourselves defeated.
Hoffman is now the star of Discovery Channel’s “Gold Rush,” the highest-rated Friday program on television. The show follows Hoffman and several other mining camps groups as they race through Alaska’s fall gold mining season in search of “hitting paydirt,” as the show’s narrator famously intones.
Meanwhile, the price of gold has doubled since Lehman.
Photo: Discovery Channel
We recently spoke with Hoffman, a 43-year-old father of three, from his home in Sandy, Oregon to get his take on what it’s like to mine gold for a living, and where he thinks the economy is going.Hoffman admits he’s been fortunate. Mining is inherently dangerous — it requires huge earthmoving machines that can prove unreliable, especially if you’ve tried to build them yourself, as Hoffman did in the earliest days when he barely had enough money for fuel.
“We’ve had several things almost fall on us, several things almost run us over… perfect safety record,” he says with a laugh.
The remote Kodiak locations where the mining takes place can also pose a threat. Hoffman says his daughter at one point experienced a severe seizure — he thinks because of an allergic reaction to bug spray — and had to be airlifted to a hospital.
Fortune is only part of Hoffman’s story. Not everyone can email a London production company with a pitch for a TV show and in the next 12 months become the star of one of the highest-rated shows on cable.
It helped that the production company, Raw, was looking for a new reality show.
But Hoffman’s charisma carried the project from glimmer to product.
“Todd is an intriguing, entertaining guy,” Christo Doyle, the executive producer from Discovery Channel in charge of the show, told us.
Raw headed out to Alaska, filmed enough footage to put together a “sizzle reel,” or show prospectus, and sent it to Discovery.
Greenlighting it was a no-brainer, Doyle says.
“We fell in love with it right away.”
Since the show first aired in 2010, Hoffman has become an inspirational figure. He says he receives messages from other blue-collar Americans looking to turn their lives around like he has.
“I try to encourage people to go out and try it again,” he says, adding, “I’ve had a hard marriage, we’re still together but wasn’t easy.So when you realise…when i get those letters, shame on me for wanting to not do it anymore.”
He also says faith has played an important role in his perseverance
“Most of us on our team are Christians, not that we’re poster boys for the faith,” he says. “But we do encourage a lot of people in our faith…They’re watching me, and if i can encourage them by going after it, we might be able to join together and maybe change this economy.”
Photo: Discovery Channel
Talking to Hoffman about the economy reveals a man still shellshocked by the crash.”Our economy is not stable,” he says, adding semi-seriously that he’s been telling people to stock up on “beans and bullets.”
In addition to gold, of course.
“I’m no financial advisor, but I’m getting it, I’m big in it. And I don’t sell it.”
While gold prices have been slumping lately, he believes they’ve already hit bottom. “I still think $3,000 an ounce is not out of line.”
But whatever glamor he may now have given the mining business, he does not recommend others follow his path.
“Obviously the odds are bad,” he says.
Still, nothing can compare to the sensation of discovering gold after a day’s work.
“I don’t care what you are, if you shorted stock or bought this biomedical firm, there is nothing more pure and sweet than digging gold out of the ground.
“Because that is something that is real. We’ve been doing it for thousands and thousands of years, and I’m telling you you can’t get any closer to pure asskicking than that.”
“Gold Rush” airs Fridays at 9 p.m. EST on Discovery.
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