John Schnabel makes occasional appearances on the popular Gold Rush series and is affectionately known by fans as “America’s Grandpa.” As the Schnabel family patriarch turns 96 years old on February 11, viewers have come to love Parker Schnabel’s wise and charming grandfather. As John Schnabel mentors and advises his grandson on a wide variety of issues, it is obvious that the two Schnabel men share a deep bond of mutual respect and admiration.
Although Gold Rush primarily follows Parker, John Schnabel has an equally impressive story of his own. Broadway World shared that John Schnabel was born in 1920 and grew up on a wheat farm in Kansas. Schnabel described his early years as extremely difficult. The family was so poverty-stricken that it was hard to afford even a loaf of bread.
According to Discovery’s Gold Rush page on John Schnabel, his father headed to Alaska after losing the family farm. John Schnabel’s father was brewing bootleg alcohol during prohibition and when the U.S. Marshals came looking, the family had to pack up and leave. At 19 years old, John Schnabel decided to join his father and took a steamer north to Haines, Alaska. He felt free in Alaska and saw it as a place where he could be successful in life.
John Schnabel volunteered to join the U.S. Navy the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, but served instead in the Air Corps. He returned to Haines after the war, and bought Porcupine Mill in 1946. After improving and renovating the mill, it could produce an impressive 10,000 feet of board wood per day.
On August 20, 1950, John Schnabel married Erma Dire and they have been married for 65 years. John and Erma’s son, Roger Schnabel, sometimes appears on Gold Rush along with his wife Nancy and Parker’s younger brother, Payson.
Over the years, John went on to own a hardware store and was later elected the mayor of Haines. When he was 68, John Schnabel suffered a heart attack and underwent a triple bypass. At his doctor’s recommendation to become more active, John decided to buy the Big Nugget mine and started mining gold to help him keep in shape. Schnabel also saw this as a place where the family could spend time together.
When Parker was small he kept begging to come up to the mine, and John told him he had to be out of diapers before that could happen. The very next day Parker showed up and announced he was no longer wearing diapers. Since then, he spent every free moment he could up at the mine with his Grandpa John, learning how to prospect and pan for gold, which included learning how to run the big equipment. Eventually, Payson joined in, and John Schnabel passed on to his grandsons his passion and love for mining gold.
When Parker turned 17, John Schnabel handed the Big Nugget mine over to the high school student. This became a real turning point for Parker, and he began to set his sights higher as he looked toward the future. After heading to the Yukon, he worked hard, exceeding all expectations and making his grandfather proud. During his first season he found over 1,000 ounces of gold that was worth approximately $1.5 million. Every year since then, he’s been working to increase that amount. All the while, whenever he has a problem or just needs someone to talk to, Grandpa John is always there.
Despite various health issues, including a battle with cancer, John Schnabel still manages to make it out to visit his grandson and offer what advice and encouragement he can. To his credit, Parker always listens to him and when he follows that advice, it almost always helps.
Are you a fan of “Grandpa John” and the Schnabel family? Leave your comments, thoughts, and opinions below. Gold Rush airs on Fridays at 9 p.m. ET after Gold Rush – The Dirt on Discovery.
[Image via Gold Rush/Facebook]