From Gold Prospectors magazine January/February 2015 issue
By Brad Jones
GPAA Managing Editor
Seasoned gold prospector Kevin Hoagland was just nine years old when his mom gave him his first metal detector kit back in the summer of 1970. Today, he is the host of Gold Trails, a new TV series set to debut Saturday, Jan. 3 on local TV stations in California, Arizona and Oregon.
The series, produced by the Gold Prospectors Association of America, will focus on basic gold prospecting and will follow Hoagland as he winds his way across the country on his gold trails, exploring the methods, the machinery and the men who moil for gold.
The GPAA is the world’s largest gold prospecting organization, and has produced several TV series, dating back to GPAA founder George ‘Buzzard’ Massie, who had his own TV show, Gold Prospecting in the mid-’80s. Later, his eldest son, Perry, launched Prospecting America and his youngest son, Tom, continues to host Gold Fever on Outdoor Channel, which George Massie also created.
Take it from the top
Gold Trails has been three years in the making, but is worth every minute of the wait, said GPAA President and Executive Producer Brandon Johnson. He’s confident viewers will feel the same by the time they’ve watched all seven weekly half-hour episodes of this first season.
Though Johnson, who is Tom Massie’s stepson, is carrying on the family business, he has stepped outside of the Massie family for the first time with the choice of Hoagland as the on-camera personality and the public persona of the GPAA. But, Hoagland is first and foremost a gold prospector with solid roots in the small-scale mining industry as well as the GPAA and Lost Dutchman’s Mining Association, so he’s a natural fit.
Although Johnson is a gold prospector and miner, he admits he never grew up immersed neck-deep in mining the same way as Tom and Perry Massie did. Still, he has spent countless hours at mining camps with Tom, his mother, Cindy and his siblings and he’s grown to love the mining community and GPAA family.
“My grandfather was a miner. What drives me is not necessarily the mining as much as that mining community my grandfather created,” he said.“It was always important to me. To me it’s a great pleasure.”
It takes a certain kind of person to be on-camera and, Johnson by his very nature ducks and dodges the limelight, preferring instead a behind-the-scenes management approach. He has taken a back seat and let Hoagland and Producer Greg Miller do most of the driving, though he hasn’t ruled out appearing on the show from time to time.
“I wouldn’t be opposed to it, if it makes sense for the episode,” he said, quipping, “I can give a tour of the office.”
Humbly, he said, that the miners who are out in the field, rolling up their sleeves and getting down to the nitty-gritty can better reflect what gold prospecting is all about to viewers than he can as a company president, which carries with it the burden of financial and managerial responsibilities.
“They have so much more to say than I do ... but I have no problem jumping in there,” he said.
Johnson is convinced Hoagland is the right person for the job of Gold Trails host.
“This is a show that we’ve been passionate about producing for a few years, but the chemistry really needed to be right. My grandfather was a baseball player, and so he built a baseball field. We’ve had the opportunity with the baseball field for a long time, but we’ve been looking for the right players and the right coach. Now, I think we’ve got that,” Johnson said. “To me, it’s important. I can probably play baseball, but I’m not a baseball player; Kevin is. So, with his ability and how similar our passion is — as far as his passion to get the information out there and to help people and the joy he gets from it — I’ve got a baseball player. I can continue to be the athletic director, while Kevin is taking on the responsibility from a television, media standpoint ... and I’m a big supporter of it.”
He compares Gold Trails to Alaskan, another GPAA TV series that focused on mining in Alaska. While there was some hesitation from the Massie family to produce a show without a family member as the host, the series was well received and ran two full seasons.
“When they saw the series, they loved it.” Johnson said. “And, he expects the same positive reaction from Gold Trails.”
In many ways, you can’t go wrong with a subject as good as gold — but Johnson isn’t taking any chances.
“Much like Tom has found gold, and has his collections from different places, Kevin is doing the same thing,” Johnson said.
While Gold Trails started out much like Gold Fever episodes, the formula was changed to make it more educational with a little less of the antics that are Tom Massie’s trademark.
Although Hoagland had been visible in the mining industry, Johnson was especially impressed with him at a GPAA Gold & Treasure Show, where Hoagland had led a popular seminar on metal detecting. It was apparent then — and still is — that Hoagland’s passion for prospecting floweth over the proverbial cup. And, he has the knowledge and experience to back it up.
Listening to the story of how Hoagland got his first metal detector and then set out to create a better one, and then explore metals and geology, Johnson was impressed with Hoagland’s inquisitive nature, gumption and gusto.
“I think that says a lot about how Kevin’s mind works ... He wanted to understand how the Earth works. He is very knowledgeable,” Johnson said. “We had a similar focus. I’ve met hundreds of people over the years at gold shows, but Kevin really stood out — his voice and his presence and his knowledge of prospecting.”
Gold Trails is really an introduction for the general public to basic prospecting — to a lot of people who haven’t experienced it,” Johnson said.
“My grandfather, George, had a show, and it was available to pretty much anyone with rabbit ears ... We’re putting this show out in local markets for a handful of reasons. One is that anyone and everyone can watch it. It’s available in far more homes, and in large markets. We’re also able to work with local advertisers who may want to sponsor the show. We’re also able to work with or partner with local businesses who want to advertise.”
Rather than having six minutes of commercial time for big national advertiser on Outdoor Channel, Johnson hopes Gold Trails will expand from three to 20 different local markets, which means plenty of advertising spots for local mining equipment and prospecting shops.
“Gold Trails to me is about starting that gold rush everyone expected to happen. I think a lot of people have a fascination with gold when the price fluctuates. People get excited about prospecting for gold, but I don’t think many of them know how to get started, ” Johnson said. “We’re giving people the next step. The prospecting and mining industry, really doesn’t have a show like this.”
And, no other gold prospecting TV series can offer viewers a chance to join a national membership-based organization and go out prospect on mining claims across the United States. The GPAA also has publications, such as Gold Prospectors magazine, the Pick & Shovel Gazette, and a network of local chapters that Gold Trails viewers can join for free to become part of the small-scale mining community and learn more about the industry.
When it comes to mining rights, Johnson said the GPAA has consistently been a strong voice for keeping public lands open to prospecting, mining and other outdoor uses, such as hunting, fishing, hiking and biking, for example.
“For the last few generations, mining in this country has become something you read about in history, but that doesn’t mean in today’s word that it has gone away,” Johnson said. “It’s still done in other countries very efficiently and it’s a huge part of their economies. And, the way I see it, there will come a time when it will be part of our economy again. It has to. Grandpa said, ‘If you can’t grow it and you can’t mine it, it doesn’t exist.’ ”
And, Massie couldn’t have been more right — computers, smart phones, vehicles and the fuel that goes in them, plastics, electrical wires — virtually everything including the kitchen sink comes from some type of mining.
Historically, during periods of high unemployment or a depressed economies, many Americans looked to prospecting and mining on public lands to earn to living.
“We don’t want to lose that access to public lands. I think people need to experience it. It’s great to be able to go out there casually without the need to support your family ... When you go out there and experience it, I think a lot of people get a sense of how important it actually is. You can’t care about public lands unless you’ve had a mining claim and you have that right that right is being taken away from you,” he said. “You are much more passionate about it when you’ve got a vested interest. So, this show is really about getting back to basics and encouraging people to understand prospecting and to feel more connected to public lands and to their rights and what they may be losing if they lose access.”
Modern image of miners
Many of today’s reality TV shows set the stage for human conflict and drama wrapped around a gold mining theme. The upside is that these shows put mining back on the map in the minds of the mainstream public, but the downside is a negative image of miners and mining.
“I don’t want people to think of mining stereotyped with a lot of drama or that it’s old guys with beards that fight each other all the time,” Johnson said. “We need mining much like carpentry, masonry, mechanics or anything else.”
In stark contrast to stereotypes, GPAA members are often mild-mannered stewards of the land with a great respect for nature as well as natural resources.
“They are ‘salt-of-the-Earth’ people, the most accepting people in the world, which really speaks to the purity of what some of us are doing” Johnson said.
His hope for Gold Trails is that it gives viewers a much more realistic view of what prospecting and small-scale mining are all about.
“When you get out and actually prospect, it’s fun. It’s a family activity,” he said. “Gold fever is something that is so natural, you connect with it. Most people will, and they need to be properly introduced to it — and that’s what our show is about.”
While Johnson admits he’s got high expectations and a unique vision for what Gold Trails is all about, he applauds Hoagland and the GPAA TV production crew.
“I think they’ve done a phenomenal job,” he said. “Right now we have three local markets, but I see us getting to 20,” he said.
“Our members are our best resources,” said Johnson, adding that they’re often the mining experts in any given area. They know the terrain and the right equipment to use — not to mention the manufacturers who make it. Hoagland and the production crew will feature not only the equipment, but the inventors of many different mining innovations on the show.
The old man and the desert
Hoagland’s first recollection of gold prospecting is not unlike that of many other miners, but what’s different is the way he tells the story:
“Gold is eternal,” he said, and after a long, emotional pause, he continued. “And, finding gold is like touching eternity,” he said.
He told of how he, his brother and mom took a trip from San Diego to the Sonoran Desert.
“I remember wandering around in one spot in the desert and there was this old prospector out there with an old puffer drywasher ... He would look over and smile every once in while. There was this calm about him. I will never forget that,” Hoagland said.
Before long, the old prospector shut down the drywasher to do a cleanup.
“He showed me gold. He showed me what gold looked like and that was it. I was hooked. I just felt something. This was really cool, really neat; it was something I wanted to do. I learned what gold was that day,” Hoagland said. “When I say gold is eternal, I didn’t come up with that. That’s what this old prospector said and it stuck with me. This was the beginning of the world and to me that was just unbelievable. I didn’t understand it, but it sounded really profound and I started mining and later I began to study gold geology,” he said.
Hoagland is not a certified geologist; he is first and foremost and gold prospector and miner.
“I got my very first metal detector when I was just nine years old because it just fascinated me. My mother asked me what I wanted for my birthday, and I told her I wanted a metal detector,” Hoagland said. “My mom was always challenging me ... so what she did was buy me a kit and I had to build my very own metal detector.”
Anyone who knows anything about gold fever, knows that ‘It’s not about having the gold; it’s about finding the gold,’ and while Hoagland holds true to this credo, he takes it a step further. To him, it’s about finding more gold. The same principle applies to metal detecting. He was never satisfied to simply have a metal detector; he wanted to take it apart, rebuild it and understand how it worked, so he could improve it.
I thought, ‘It could be better. Yes, it could better,’ so I started learning about electronics and conductivity and about different kinds of metal. It went beyond gold and silver ... and led me to learning about the Earth. And, to me, the best way to do that is go out prospecting.”
Meeting the Massies
Hoagland, who had grown up metal detecting and prospecting, and then later watching GPAA founder, George ‘Buzzard’ Massie on TV, decided gold prospecting was the life for him. He was even more inspired when he met George Massie and his sons at Italian-Bar LDMA Camp.
“I met the Buzzard in the late ’70s down at the Stanislaus River at Italian Bar LDMA Camp. I met Tom and Perry, too. And, I remember meeting him and some of the things he said, like ‘Gold is where you find it,’ Hoagland said. “I ended up taking geology classes in school and in the back of mind, I kept hearing, ‘Gold is where you find it.’ ”
And so, his fate was set in stone — or rather gold!
Since then, Hoagland keeps challenging himself. He has done everything from wandering in the desert swingin’ a metal detector to hard rock mining, at one point purchasing his own gold mine in Arizona.
“I had a hard rock mining project in Arizona that was pretty much destined to fail from the very beginning,” he said with a hearty laugh. “It was an old mine and I was trying to reopen some veins. But, I did it and found gold.”
Prospecting is a symbol of freedom
As a host, Hoagland also hopes to instill in the viewers the message that mining has been as much as part of North American culture as land itself — and the whole reason the West was won. In as much as the Gold Rush created America, America created the Gold Rush — or at least set the stage that made the Gold Rush possible. The main prop for that stage was, of course, freedom and property rights in the form of mining claims.
“I hope I have the opportunity to say, ‘You darn well better take a moment to shake the hand of a farmer or shake the hand of a miner, because you wouldn’t have any of this if it wasn’t mined or grown — unless you are sitting naked on a rock in a cave,” he said. “I believe in the grassroots fight for land rights; I always have.”
Choking up, Hoagland said he is honored to pick up the GPAA flag and march forward to carry on the Massie family’s living legacy to preserve and protect the hands-on heritage of the North American prospector.
“It’s an absolute honor,” Hoagland said.
“The whole idea of Gold Trails is to promote the prospecting lifestyle and show people what prospecting really is,” Hoagland said.
Echoing Johnson’s sentiments, he agrees that before anyone can truly appreciate the need to keep public lands open, they have to know something about mining history and experience prospecting for themselves, he said.
“If I tell someone this is a lot of fun, go grab a gold pan, and if they go out and join the GPAA and find a little gold, then they’ll understand what it’s all about and will rally to support the cause,” Hoagland said.
Pursuing his passion
Without a doubt Hoagland’s most redeemable quality is his deep, unabashed passion for toiling in the soil.
“I love to share my pursuit of gold with people and I love to share that feeling with other people and what searching for gold had done for me over the last four decades. It fuels my passion to be able to help others find more gold and to be out there and available to more people,” Hoagland said.
For him, the prospecting lifestyle has had its share of blood, sweat and tears — from broken fingers and bones, hard work in the field to the sight of gold in his pan.
“You’ve got the tears of joy in your eyes when you are sitting there holding a nugget in your hands. You can’t help it sometimes. It’s just cool,” Hoagland said.
“The theme of the show is really about getting out on the trail and doing all things prospecting,” he said. “Gold Trails is about getting out of the house, getting out in the field and finding gold. It’s about experiencing what it’s like to go gold prospecting. Some of the other shows are so unreachable for most people Gold Trails isn’t. Our show is tangible — sometimes just getting out a gold pan, a pick and No. 2 shovel. I’ve been doing this for so long, and it’s still my greatest thrill. I’ve found a lot of gold over the years. That’s the bottom line.”
These days, Hoagland enjoys helping others find the elusive, yellow metal.
“When they find their very first gold. That, to me, is the payoff. I love seeing people find the first color in their pan,” he said.
On the road and in the studio
Meanwhile, back at the production studio at GPAA headquarters in Temecula, Calif., Creative Director and Producer Greg Miller was reluctant to break out the champagne to celebrate the Gold Trails debut announcement while there’s still work to be done. As recently as mid-December, Miller was immersed in the editing bay to put the finishing touches on the last of episode of the season.
“It’s been a long, long road, but on a deeper level, what Gold Trails means to me is a sense of accomplishment. I started this project and kinda went away from it for about a year, so now that it’s finally got its legs and going to see the light of day I will feel relief on Jan. 3 when it airs,” Miller said.
When he set out to produce the new TV show, there were a several experiments conducted to alter the formula and find the right chemistry for the show, he said.
“Gold Trails has come a long way in the three years we’ve been working on the show. It started off a lot like Gold Fever,” in the sense it is a hosted show — Kevin the host talking to the camera and taking people on his adventure. The show has evolved over the years to more of an interview-style or documentary style, more like Alaskan,” Miller said.
“Kevin is the glue. He is the consistency in the show. It’s still his gold trails, but we wanted to really understand the prospector mindset ... which is why we’re doing the sit-down interviews with everybody to really get their take on what it is to be a prospector.”
He credits freelance cameraman Beau Ryan for coining the phrase actuality TV, as opposed to so-called reality TV.
The pilot episode
In the premiere episode, Hoagland arrives at the Alabama Gold Camp near Cragford, Ala. to run dozens of yards of paydirt though Goldzilla, a monster wash plant.
“It’s massive — maybe 40 yards long with a huge hopper,” Miller said. “The process washed all the material down to a couple pans of concentrates.”
Later, in the same 30-minute episode, Hoagland, Miller and Ryan, headed to Tennessee to meet up with members of the GPAA’s Coker Creek chapter, where Hoagland showcases low-budget, home-made mining equipment, with a few tricks of his own up his sleeve.
Dare to dream
“The point of the show is to get people excited about prospecting,” Miller said. “Prospectors, from what I’ve seen, are chasing a dream, but everyone gets wrapped up in their daily lifestyle — the grind — working 9 to 5 or whatever it is. Being able to get back to your roots by taking a step back and playing in the dirt just like you did when you were a kid gives people hope. They are searching for something they may never find, but allowing the dream to take over for a day or week or an hour by getting out prospecting, and being able to dream big dreams of striking it rich is what keeps people going ... The shows we produce are pushing them to get outdoors, get active and meet people they would have never met if they hadn’t gotten into prospecting.”
While you won’t need a treasure map to find Gold Trails, its probably a good idea to set your DVR, so you won’t miss the first episode. But, in the off chance you do miss an episode, Miller reminds viewers they can catch a rerun of the series that will begin the Saturday morning following the seventh episode.
— Article as featured in Gold Prospectors magazine, January/February 2015 edition
Tune in or set your DVR
The premiere episode of Gold Trails will air Saturday, Jan. 3 on the following local TV stations:
- KDOC TV — Los Angeles, 8 a.m (LA 56 — Verizon Fios HD is 506)
- AZTV — Phoenix, Ariz. — 11 a.m.
- KWVT — Salem, Ore., 10:30 a.m. (available to viewers in Portland)
Gold Trails Online
Brad Jones is the Managing Editor/Communications Director for the Gold Prospectors Association of America and the Lost Dutchman’s Mining Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.