Prospector’s Full Life Examined on Discovery Channel’s ‘Gold Rush’

By a Front Row Features Staff Reporter

John Schnabel

John Schnabel passed away at 96 after a full life, which is the subject of a special GOLD RUSH on Discovery Channel. Photo: Julia Wagman

The life and legacy of “Grandpa” John Schnabel is revealed on a special edition of Discovery Channel’s “Gold Rush,” airing Friday, April 1 at 9 PM ET/PT.

Born in 1920, Schnabel was the son of a Kansas wheat farmer. His father brewed bootleg alcohol during prohibition and the family had to leave the farm when the US Marshals came looking for him. At 19, Schnabel packed up his possessions and took a steamer north to Haines, Alaska, where he joined his father, who had set up a sawmill.

The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, John volunteered to join the U.S. Navy, but was placed in the Air Corps. After the war he returned to Haines and in 1946, he bought Porcupine Mill, which, after he renovated it, produced up to 10,000 feet of board wood per day. Schnabel went on to open a local hardware store and was later elected mayor of Haines.

At 68, Schnabel suffered heart problems and underwent a triple bypass operation. His doctor recommended that he keep active so he bought the Big Nugget mine and started gold mining. He taught his grandsons Payson and Parker how to prospect, pan and operate equipment and passed on to them his passion for gold mining.

On March 18, Schnabel passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 96. A statement from the Schnabel family read, “We couldn’t have asked for a better father, grandfather and overall family man. He was a true legend and we appreciate all of your love and support as we celebrate his wonderful life.”