Another Northwest miner joins ‘Gold Rush,’ looking for gold in Oregon – OregonLive

Another Northwest miner joins ‘Gold Rush,’ looking for gold in Oregon  OregonLive

Regular viewers of the popular Discovery Channel series, “Gold Rush,” know that the show has long featured cast members with Oregon roots. In Season 1, which premiered in 2010, novice miner Todd Hoffman, who lived in Sandy, Oregon, led a crew of workers looking to make some money during an economic downturn.

Hoffman, whose ups and downs and optimistic predictions — sometimes way too optimistic — about finding ever-increasing amounts of gold made fans either love him or hate him, left “Gold Rush” at the end of Season 8, in 2018. Others with local ties have stayed on the show, and the new season brings another Northwesterner into the mix.

In Season 11, which started last Friday, Fred Lewis becomes the newest mine boss. Lewis, who lives in the Tri-Cities area in Southeast Washington, may be a greenhorn as a mine boss, but he worked with “Gold Rush” veteran Parker Schnabel in the Yukon, and in the spinoff series, “Gold Rush: Parker’s Trail.”

His experience with “Gold Rush” made Lewis eager to rejoin Schnabel’s crew, he says in a recent phone interview. “My bags were packed, and I was ready to go join Parker this season,” says the 42-year-old Lewis. “But the border was closed.”

The coronavirus pandemic made traveling across the border from the U.S. to Canada very difficult, which put Lewis in a holding pattern. The longer he waited for the border to open, the more he thought about trying to pursue gold mining on his own, and that, Lewis says, is how he became the newest mine boss on Season 11 of “Gold Rush.”

Lewis was a Special Forces medic for the Army until a combat injury suffered while serving in Afghanistan forced him to retire for medical reasons. Since then, he’s dealt with effects of the injury, including neck pain, migraines and seizures. He’s done some teaching and coaching, in addition to trying out for “American Ninja Warrior.”

“I’ve been watching since the first season,” Lewis says of “Gold Rush.” For his first season as a mine boss, Lewis chose fellow military veterans to be on his crew. They went to work looking for gold near Sumpter, Oregon, a historic gold mining town in Baker County.

"Gold Rush"

Fred Lewis and a crew member at work in Oregon in “Gold Rush.” (Photo: Discovery Channel)Discovery Channel

TV fans may recall the Syfy series, “Ghost Mine,” which also filmed in the Sumpter area, playing off the region’s reputation for being haunted. The series, which premiered in 2013, ran for two seasons.

“We’ve been cleaning up after them since we got here,” Lewis says of “Ghost Mine.” Some locals, he says, “felt a little burned” by the show, and criticized it for being “not respectful” of the area.

“We’re trying to build a good relationship,” says Lewis, who arrived in the area in late July. The fact that he’s from the region, and that his crew consists of veterans, has helped them make connections with locals, Lewis says.

"Gold Rush"

Fred Lewis in “Gold Rush” Season 11. (Photo: Discovery Channel)Discovery Channel

“Gold Rush” viewers may also remember that Hoffman tried to find gold in Baker County in Season 7, without success. Hoffman eventually moved his operation to a mine in Colorado.

Lewis didn’t speak with Hoffman about that miserable mining experience in Baker County. “I don’t know Todd, I’ve never met him,” Lewis says. “I did two or three weeks of historical research on this area before I looked for claims here. I came to this town like three times, just to talk to people.” That background work, Lewis says, helped him find a mining location he thought was promising.

To film, Lewis says, “We all had to go through quarantine, we all get tested, and if we come to town, we have to wear masks.” While the coronavirus safety protocols reflect the current moment, living conditions are, he says, a throwback to another time.

"Gold Rush"

Members of Fred Lewis’ crew team up to raise a flag pole at their Oregon location in “Gold Rush” Season 11. (Photo; Discovery Channel)Discovery Channel

“We’re off the grid,” Lewis says, living in an old log cabin built in the 1800s. “It’s haunted, but it’s not scary.”

Of his experience so far, Lewis says, “I guess it’s a gift to be around the best miners ever, and I’m a sponge. It’s my third year mining, and I’m learning every day. I feel pretty confident at this point. I know there’s still a lot to learn.”

His goal, Lewis says, is to help train his crew, who may be military veterans, but are greenhorns when it comes to mining. “It’s about setting up a foundation” to build on, Lewis says. “I wanted to focus on people that kind of deserved a second chance, and that have been through a lot. Everybody on my team has proven that they deserve a shot like this.”

“Gold Rush” continues Season 11 at 8 p.m. Fridays on the Discovery Channel.

— Kristi Turnquist

kturnquist@oregonian.com 503-221-8227 @Kristiturnquist