From Rocks to Gold



By Mark S. Kuhar

Dave Turin of Discovery Channel’s “Gold Rush” television series will be the keynote speaker at the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association’s Young Leaders Luncheon, sponsored by Rock Products and Superior Industries, at this year’s AGG1 Academy and Expo in Baltimore. Turin will discuss the importance of attracting and retaining talented young leaders in the aggregates and mining industries.22-INT-DTURIN-300

A former high school and college football star, Turin earned a civil engineering degree before joining the family aggregates business, Mt. Hood Rock, in Brightwood, Ore. Turin has managed the quarry and asphalt operation with his father and three brothers for more than two decades.

In 2010, hometown friends brought him in as an outside consultant at their Porcupine Creek, Alaska, gold prospecting claim. He helped the rookie miners get their Alaskan operation running and was inspired by their dream of mining for gold. Turin was offered the chance to join the team full time and has regularly appeared on “Gold Rush” since its second season.

Rock Products had the opportunity to interview Turin about his family’s history in the construction materials business, and to get his thoughts on the aggregates industry.

How long has your family been in the aggregates business; how and why did they get started crushing rocks for a living?

My dad was a high school teacher and football coach, and he had four sons that he wanted to keep out of trouble, so he started a paving business. We started out paving driveways and progressed to specialty paving like tennis courts and running tracks, which required flat high quality workmanship. Then in the ‘80s the tennis craze went away, there was a downturn in the economy and we bought our first asphalt plant while I was in college. Dad allowed the four boys to buy into the company and that was the beginning of Mt. Hood Asphalt. We had to buy our rock from the quarry operator and we soon discovered that that was not a good idea, the operator did not have the same quality requirements that we wanted. Dad instilled in us, that if you’re going to do a job do it to the best of your ability, with the highest degree of quality and workmanship. Soon the quarry operator went bankrupt and we bought the quarry from the bankruptcy court. That was in 1988, the same year I graduated from Portland State University with a degree in civil engineering. With my degree in civil engineering, I went to look for work throughout the western states; the economy was down and I couldn’t find the job I was looking for. Dad approached my brothers and me and said that we had an opportunity to buy the quarry. I told them that if we bought it, I would manage the quarry and asphalt production. I did not know a thing about rock crushers and quarry management, but you have to learn fast when your whole family is counting on you.

How did you personally get started in the aggregates business? What jobs did you perform in your family’s quarry operation, and what was your favorite job?

When we first bought the quarry I was the guy who had to figure it out. We were strapped for money and had a very short crew; consequently, I learned to run every piece of equipment in the quarry. Dad taught us to manage with a hands-on approach. He taught me don’t tell an employee to do a job that you’re not willing to do yourself. That approach required me to know how to operate all the pieces of equipment and also know the dangers of running the various pieces of equipment. My favorite thing to run is probably the big dozers. In our quarry we are basically mining a mountain so there is a 600-ft. elevation change from the top cut to the bottom floor. I love being at the top of the quarry looking out, seeing for miles and watching the rock go tumbling down to the bottom. It’s pretty fun to drive your dozer down the slope of rock you pushed that day.

What did you learn from working in a family aggregates operation; how did that experience inform your future?

It is important to be a risk taker, but you have to be smart about it. Owning your own business is a gamble and you need to minimize and be smart about the risks you take. I learned to be an educated risk taker, which ultimately landed me on the “Gold Rush” crew. Joining the Hoffman crew was a huge risk that I was willing to take, because I saw the opportunity to learn a new type of mining and put some gold in my pocket. I also learned that I like to be in control of my own destiny, and owning your own business is a great way to do that.

24-INT-DTURIN-225Why is the aggregates business special? What makes this industry unique and important?

I love the aggregate business because it is a good honest way to provide for your family. The jobs that are provided by the aggregates industry are family wage jobs that require highly motivated and skilled workers. In this business if you are motivated you can make a great living and you don’t have to be college educated. Most of the people that I deal with in the rock business are salt of the earth, hardworking, honest people, where a handshake is as good as a contract. What we do is special, we get to work in the beautiful outdoors and we get to shape the environment. When we do it right there is an amazing sense of accomplishment and pride. We extract a valuable natural resource that God put there and then we get to return the land back to something usable. Reclamation requires creativity and I love to create something with the land when we are done that is better than when we started.

What is it about operating a huge piece of construction machinery that you find compelling?

When I am in the Yukon gold mining I often think about all of the men that came up there before me and how hard it was to extract the gold by hand. I sit in this huge piece of equipment with all that horsepower and I feel a sense of gratitude and responsibility to the gold miners that went before me. Gratitude for them pioneering the way, and finding the gold. I feel a sense of responsibility to those pioneers that I too get the gold and then honor those guys by mining responsibly and to the best of my ability. I am so fortunate to be able to dig up gold with good comfortable equipment where so many men have paid a much higher price than me.

What made you go into engineering as a career? Why is education important?

I went into engineering because I like to see ideas turn into reality. We need engineers to tell the idea guys or the creative people whether or not their ideas can actually be made into reality. I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to take an idea from a napkin to a CAD program to manufacturing and then put it together and watch it work. I love that whole process. I think education is important, and I’m not just talking about a college education, we need to constantly be learning. In this industry I don’t think that everyone needs a college education, but it is helpful to keep improving which might be learning a new trade or how to operate a different type of equipment. There is always the opportunity to improve and learn.

Would you encourage young people to go into this business as a career? Why? What are the opportunities?

Yes, I do encourage young people to go into the aggregate industry. The pay is good and you can be successful with or without a college degree. In this business there is such a wide range of jobs – from manufacturing to production, from operating equipment to repairing it. There is always room to move within a company and learn a new trade or job if you get bored. I think one of the problems with America today is that people jump from job to job too quickly. Too many people think the grass is greener on the other side. In this industry if you work hard and are loyal then you can be fulfilled professionally and provide a good living for your family. We should be proud to work in this industry and provide a vital product for our country’s success.

You have worked in aggregates and gold mining, what do you like about gold mining as opposed to aggregates?

One of the greatest thrills is the enjoyment of looking in a sluicebox and seeing yellow everywhere. That’s the moment that you know all your hard work is going to pay off. We strip for months to get to the paydirt, so we never know how good the ground is until we run it through the plant and weigh it. Another advantage of gold mining is being able to sell every bit of gold that we dig up. In the summer with 24 hours of daylight we can work as long as we want knowing that we can sell our product. I like the risk and the jeopardy that goes along with gold mining, we put all this hard work and resources into it and it can be like a roll of the dice whether or not the ground is as good as you think. When we produce our aggregate we know the price we will get, we know the quarry, and how much to produce, it’s pretty predictable.

Because of the show, you have become a marquee advocate for the importance of mining and natural resource exploration. Explain why you are passionate about it.

In order for our economy to move forward we need to utilize the natural resources that God has given us in our own land. By utilizing our own natural resources we put Americans to work in good family wage jobs, and in turn this stimulates our economy. We can extract our natural resources and do it in such a way that it does not hurt the environment. We live in what I feel is the best country in the world. We have the best environmental laws and record in the world. The USA is the leader in environmental laws and regulations. If we don’t utilize and extract our own natural resources locally then aren’t we just shifting the environmental concerns to another part of the world where there is not the same concern for the environment? I have traveled to other areas of the world and witnessed firsthand bad mining practices. Here in America we have the knowledge and educated people to teach the rest of the world how to mine responsibly to minimize the effects of mining on the environment. We need to be a leader in responsible mining and share our knowledge of reclamation with the rest of the world.

What do you see for the future? How do you see our industry evolving to meet the future needs of our country?25-INT-DAVET-300

If our industry can continue to secure bright young people coming out of school then our future looks amazing. However, if we cannot turn around the negative impression of the environmental effects of mining then our future does not look good. If our industry becomes proactive in turning America’s negative impression of mining around, we will attract and retain the brightest folks in the next generation. Our show “Gold Rush” has helped portray a positive attitude toward mining. Many parents share that their children are out in the backyard digging and sluicing because of what they observe on “Gold Rush.” I think we will improve as an industry as we develop and implement creative solutions toward reclamation. We have the opportunity to extract a valuable natural resource and then put the land back to something useful and thriving. As we share with the country our success stories in doing this our future as an industry will be golden. 

Gold Rush airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on the Discovery Channel.

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