Described as one of the nicest guys on Bering Sea Gold, Hank Schimschat was a popular regular for the 3rd and 4th seasons. He and his excavator barge, AU Grabber, were the first ones to really give Mr. Gold, Shawn Pomrenke, a run for his money. When the 5th season came out, Hank and the AU Grabber were nowhere to be found, leaving many fans wondering what happened to their favorite miner?
There was even an online petition with close to 1100 signatures with hundreds of comments to bring Hank Schimschat back because without him, the show lacked the serious but nice guy energy he brought.
Hank was nice enough to sit down with me in Nome this July for an interview and even answered a few follow up questions over the phone for this article a month later.
When we first met Hank in the summer of 2013 he was an overly prepared rookie miner who had hired Scott Meisterheim to help him get on the gold. That alone was enough to demonstrate how incredibly new to Nome and gold mining he was. Scott Meisterheim was the type of person no one wanted to work with but nice guy Hank gave him a chance and then a few more during the season before finally firing him.
That wasn’t to say that Hank didn’t come with a unique skill set that transferred over well into mining. He had been in construction for years and knew how to move dirt, along with welding and engineering, the biggest thing he had to learn was how to find the gold.
“I’ve been on the ocean all my life, been on barges all my life, been working construction all my life and I know dirt. I move a lot of dirt. Pads and dirt are my deal but to get the gold out of the dirt, that’s another thing, I had to learn it and it’s a lot of work.” Hank told us.
Much to the annoyance of Mr. Gold himself, Hank quickly learned how to find gold by literally following around the reigning king at the top of the gold count. Like Mary’s little lamb, wherever the Christine Rose was, the AU Grabber was sure to follow.
It created a friendly rivalry between the two that was refreshing to see on the show and cemented a friendship that continues to this day.
“I love the shit out of Shawn, great guy.” Hank said, “Cody’s been a great friend, I’ve been elk hunting with him before. He lives pretty close to where I am.”
While making some classic rookie mistakes in the first season, viewers couldn’t help but root for the guy. It was easy, he was very likable even if his crew didn’t agree. The professionalism he showed was more than some crew members could handle, especially Meisterheim who didn’t even last the full season on the AU Grabber.
At the end of his first season Hank and Shawn Pomrenke held a competition to see who could get the most gold in the final days. They waged an ounce of the shiny G to the winner.
“We just happened to get on some really good gold and it was like a 4 day competition. We got like 98oz and he got like 78oz. Shawn’s face was like (does a shocked face) when we did the weigh-in. It was pretty funny.” recalled Hank, talking about that infamous contest where the Rookie beat Mr. Gold and earned the respect of the Pomrenke crew.
He came back swinging in the 4th season of Bering sea Gold, beating the Christine Rose to the crowded Tomcod claim.
In his sophomore year of mining, he still made some rookie mistakes but viewers appreciated the no nonsense, hard worker who avoided the drama that other crews had. Hank was single-minded in finding gold and running an efficient gold dredge. He was on the gold but equipment breakdowns more so than rookie mistakes were keeping him from getting it in the box.
He found a great spot on the Tomcod and in a surprise reversal from the year before, Shawn Pomrenke was following Hank, trying to get in on his spot.
This led to one of the best scenes in Bering Sea Gold history, the Battle of the Tomcod. It started off with Shawn and the Kelly’s then Vern decided to get involved thinking Shawn was being a bully. What started off as potato guns and water hoses quickly escalated until Vern got too close to the Christine Rose and got a hole in his hull. The entire time that all happened right next to Hank who kept mining away, not getting involved.
After Vern limped off, Shawn came in closer to the AU Grabber and that started an epic excavator battle with each dredge trying to dig from the same hole faster. Shawn nudged Hank off the spot and Hank retaliated and gave the Christine Rose a nudge back. FInally, Shawn felt like he made his point and left. Leaving a very annoyed Hank alone for the day.
“I get asked a lot if the show is fake and I can say on my dredge, it was all real. The only thing that was kind of staged was when Shawn and I had the excavator battle. It was my idea, we played it up more but had a lot of fun.” Hank told me over the phone after he left Nome this summer.
He still finished the season with a respectable 493oz but that was the last time we saw Hank on the show as a regular. He popped up again a couple years later in the first episode of Season 8 when he met with Emily to give her and Zeke access to his claims on Sledge Island. That was the last time we saw Hank, still being a nice guy, helping other miners out.
It’s a trait that has continued even though he isn’t mining anymore. When we asked why Hank was in Nome he told us he was up there helping out on a barge that he sold to a miner we all know well and his new partner.
“It’s called the Mistress. They pulled the AU Grabber out two years ago and they bent it. Didn’t support the boat with the airbags in the back, kinked the boat in half.” Hank explained, “They brought another barge up and wanted to take all my stuff and put it on it. I said you’re not doing that until you sign this other barge over to my contract. So now all the stuff from the AU Grabber is on the Mistress. That’s the story with that, I own the Mistress. I sold it to these guys but I own the contract. They’re good guys, Kris Kelly’s involved in that purchase and mining operation so I think they’ll be fine.”
Over the phone he elaborated a bit more with me about his role with the Mistress. “I’ve been helping Kevin [Kris Kelly’s partner] and Kris out, showing them what I’ve learned. Kevin is a great guy but doesn’t know how to mine. Gold mining with an excavator is a lot different than a suction dredge.”
He also mentioned that they did film him while he was in Nome this summer and last summer, does that mean we might see the return of Hank Schimschat, even as a guest spot? Hank wouldn’t confirm if we’ll be seeing him on our screens again but did admit he was filmed helping out the crew on the Mistress.
When asked why he wasn’t on Bering Sea Gold after season 4, he explained, “They weren’t paying me enough money. They were paying me $100,000 and I was already [close to] a million in. They were paying me 10% of my value and I can’t stop mining, I can’t make ends meet, I need to mine.”
While we didn’t see him on our screens, Hank mined full time in Nome for 6 years before finally retiring. He bought 43 acres of land where he’s building a house and has a buffalo and pheasant farm. He’s enjoying his time, fishing, hunting and keeping busy but still has ties to Nome and comes back about once a year.
Asked if he would ever come back to gold mining for himself he stated, “I’m retired but I’ll probably come back up to Nome, help these guys out, maybe do some mining. I still do a little bit of prospecting with my son, he’s kind of involved in mining. But I’ll never give up gold mining. We gold mine, it’s fun. And that’s what it is, more of a hobby than a business now.”
“I miss the fans.” he told me during our phone conversation, “I try to talk to the ones that reach out to me on social media but I’m so busy, I”m retired but still busy all the time! The Bering Sea Gold fans are the best. I appreciate them all and everyone that takes the time to reach out or follow me on social media. It was a great ride and they made it worth it, the support I’ve gotten has been great.”
He shared some advice for anyone wanting to come to Nome to mine for gold.
“There’s gold up here, there’s a lot of gold that hasn’t been touched but bring money, bring some more money and then bring some more money. That’s what it takes. If you come to Nome, be ready, money, money, money, and bring lots of gear. The gold is not easy to get. I’m telling you, I’m warning you!”
And for his friends still up in Nome looking for the motherlode, “Good luck to all the guys out there, stay with it, stay focused, stay out of the bars. Have a few beers but go home and go to work.”