COOK – Sam Tenhoff whips up breakfast for his family crew on the gold dredge Synergy. BOSS— Ken Hughes at his gold mine office with his “security” Dixie and Tucker.TRUE PATRIOT— Retired Marine Veteran Henry Brosnaham stands in front of his large dredge as he is preparing for the gold mining season in the dry docks, at the Port of Nome.

Gold mining season kicks off in Nome

By Colin A. Warren
Not long after the shorefast ice dissipated and ice floes drifted out to sea, gold dredges of all shapes took to the waters in front of Nome; engines are rattling away and smoke twirling towards the blue horizon. With the price of an ounce of gold up over $400, or 20 percent, higher than this time last year, the mining season is kicking off with a frenzied start.
The Department of Natural Resources reports that there are 56 active Applications for Permits to Mine in Alaska for suction and mechanical mining operations between Cape Nome and the outlet of the Sinuk River; and there are 42 active APMAs for upland placer gold mining on a mix of state, federal and private lands. Although DNR notes that, “While the price of gold is high, the Division of Mining, Land, and Water has not seen an influx of new operators or increased interest in placer gold mining on the Seward Peninsula that we have seen in other parts of the state.” 

At 8:30 am last Saturday, the three Tenhoff brothers – Zeke, Sam, and Gabe – pushed clutter around their table in the pilothouse of their dredge, Synergy, to make room for breakfast that Sam was cooking. They just came back from their first three days of dredging this season to repair a winch that operates their gantry. The brothers, who spent the first years of their life growing up at Anvil Mountain, were quick with light insults to one another as they talked food, gold and laid out the day’s plans.
“S@#* talking is our love language,” Gabe, the youngest, said with a grin.

Filming for the reality television show that the Tenhoff brothers star in is set to start in another week or so. They also hope to add a fourth person to their operation so they can dredge in pairs, 24 hours a day.
“That’s the goal, at least,” said Zeke.

When asked if their income was more from the TV show or from dredging, they became understandably coy, but Zeke eventually shared that all the money he made from the show went directly back into mining equipment. Sam likened the money from the show to the way other mining outfits think about investors, saying, “It allows us to take risks.”
Even though they were one of the first dredges in the water this year, they still had a raft of fixes and improvements to make on Synergy before they launched, including some aluminum welding for their sluice box and the daunting project of rewiring the controls in the pilothouse, which they had deemed “a spaghetti monster.”
“We brought our friend, Ian, to tackle that; it was a disaster. Sparks would fly when you looked at it wrong,” Sam said.
As they passed food around and made jokes, one could witness the cool comfortability they shared, as only brothers can. When the recent IPOP mining permit approval was discussed, Zeke said he didn’t know anyone in Nome who was in favor of it. Then they chatted about “gold-stress dreams”, in which the pressures of the job visited them in their slumbering subconscious. Sam’s dreams involve imagining waking up way late on a perfectly calm day, only to see every dredge but his out on the water working, making money when he should be, too. Gabe said he often dreams of the ice returning, making them unable to get to work. “This job consumes us, even in our sleep,” he said.

Across the harbor, on the west side, a Marine Veteran of the Vietnam War and long-time dredge miner, Henry Brosnaham was preparing his vessel, aptly named The Patriot. He had just rebuilt his proprietary suction pump for his diverless operation. He discussed how well his mining technique had served him when he used it in Venezuela, French Guiana and Bolivia. Brosnaham said his operation here was still in its infancy, but he seemed confident in his progress.
On The Patriot with Brosnaham was author Henning Kuersten, of Munich, Germany. Kuersten was there to learn the finer points of the dredging trade from Brosnaham, from plasma cutting to welding, and much more. Kuersten, who published “The Dyatlov Pass Mystery: NOT A Cold Case” in 2021, saw gold mining in Alaska as his next adventure. He hopes to further his journey for riches and thrills by getting his own dredge next year. “I’ve caught gold fever,” Kuersten said.

Across the boat yard from The Patriot, one could see a very large dredge, The Mistress, preparing to launch immediately with two excavators working in tandem and several giant airbags being inflated under the haul. When located, the owners of The Mistress declined an interview, mumbling something about a television show.

Way across town, half a mile down the road to Council, at Swanberg Mine, Ken Hughes III, took a reluctant break to chat in front of his mine office. Hughes, although raised in Galkona, Alaska, was born here in Nome, as his parents were teachers in Teller at the time. He’s been mining here since 1981.
Hughes said so far this year they’ve mostly be de-watering ponds and working on the many pieces of equipment that it takes to run his operation. And that also a lot of his time is taken up by an “honest faith effort to stay ahead of paperwork and regulation.”
When Hughes isn’t actively managing the mine site, he acts as the director of northwest operations at General Refining Corporation, according to Linkedin. He is one of several gold buyers around Nome. He speculated that both inflation and a “fear-premium” or, in other words, tumultuous geo-politics around the world, has driven up the value of gold. As of press time, the spot price for an ounce of gold was $2,329.30.
“High prices works out for me,” he said.

Just then, Ian McCullough, who was attributed with fixing the “spaghetti monster” on Synergy, walked up and asked Hughes where to find a fuse. McCullough shared that, he came up to Nome with the Tenhoff brothers, but he had started working for Hughes now. He explained that, although his expertise is in marine electrical, he was excited for the opportunity to expand his knowledge by working for and learning from Hughes, who McCullough described as “a guy that obviously digs learning and figuring stuff out.”

With McCullough back to work, Hughes explained the inland mining process a bit more. “Various parts of the property are in various stages to accommodate the delivery of the pay dirt at an anticipated date. It’s Tetris,” he said.
Hughes pointed out a pad they had just leveled to put down shipping containers, and explained that the recently arrived barge had materials to build a roof between them to create more dry work space. Although Hughes was affable enough, it was obvious he was itching to get back to work and make the most of the short mining season.
“Well, I could be here all day talking about gold, but I’ve got a loader and a crew waiting for me,” he said.


The Nome Nugget

PO Box 610
Nome, Alaska 99762

Phone: (907) 443-5235
Fax: (907) 443-5112

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