Couple find ‘gold’ far from city skyscrapers

An overview of the Porcupine Creek mining claim in Alaska. (Photos submitted)

An overview of the Porcupine Creek mining claim in Alaska. (Photos submitted)

Bellows head north to visit Dakota Boys’ claim in Alaska

 

Dan and Lisa Bellows in Sitka as they are about to board cousin Kenny Bellows’ plane for an air tour of the Alaskan wilderness.

Dan and Lisa Bellows in Sitka as they are about to board cousin Kenny Bellows’ plane for an air tour of the Alaskan wilderness.

Cliff Buchan
Staff Writer

On most days, Dan Bellows can be found working on electrical projects on skyscrapers in New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles. Such is the life of the building controls engineer and co-owner of Integrated Information Systems of Forest Lake.

But for a month last summer, Bellows, 50, and his wife, Lisa, were in the wilds of Alaska mining for gold and helping a reality television star improve efficiency in his mining operation. It was far from a paying job like most that Integrated Information System might take on.

It was more like a vacation for the natives of Waterloo, Iowa. Dan and Lisa had come to know the Dakota Boys – Fred Hurt, 71, and his son, Dustin – through the Discovery Channel’s “Gold Rush” series. It was a friendship cultivated through Facebook over two years and a relationship cemented with a trip north for Dan and Lisa last July.

The Discovery Channel series, now in its fourth season, quickly caught the eye of the Forest Lake couple, who watched it regularly. They came to identify with the miners who originally made Minot, N.D., their home.

The reality show series follows the trials and tribulations of three mining operations. One of them pulled stakes in Alaska and journeyed to Guyana in South America in search of diamonds. That left the Dakota Boys at the Porcupine Creek claim 45 minutes from Haines, Alaska, and the Schnabel claim 400 miles west of Porcupine Creek in the Yukon Territory of Canada.

Unlike some reality shows that feature competitions, “Gold Rush” is a series that follows the victories and defeats of the miners who battle the elements and deadlines and experience the headaches and heartaches of trying to make a mining operation successful.

Fan reaches out

Bellows began communicating with Fred Hurt through Facebook about three years ago. He was miffed at the start of the second season when the show incorrectly portrayed the Hurts as claim-jumpers. It proved costly to the Hurts for a time because commercial sponsors, which are key to a mining operation’s success, began jumping ship. It was then that Bellows offered to do what he could to help, even if he was 3,000 miles away.

As their friendship grew over Facebook posts, Bellows began to think about what he could do to help Hurt.

“We had talked for more than a year,” Bellows said. “He knew what I did for a living.”

By last spring, Dan and Lisa made plans to trek north. It was a chance to help a friend, meet up with a cousin and see a new part of the world.

In July, the couple caught a commercial flight to Edmonton, Alberta. They rented a car, packed it with 24 10-pound batteries purchased in Canada and spent the next three days driving to Prince Rupert. From there, they went by water, hauling the car and cargo on three boats over the Alaska Marine Highway with stops in Sitka and Juneau.

From Juneau, the couple drove to the claim and found a cabin to rent in Haines.

At the mine, they spent several days working with the Dakota Boys as the Discovery Channel cameras filmed 24 hours a day. Their work was off camera for the most part, but there is a chance they could appear as walk-ons in one of the episodes yet to air this winter.

Dan Bellows, left, and Fred Hurt look at plans that involve improving the off-grid power system at Porcupine Creek.

Dan Bellows, left, and Fred Hurt look at plans that involve improving the off-grid power system at Porcupine Creek.

Their task was twofold. The batteries transported from Edmonton were assembled and used to help bolster the off-grid power system to improve the efficiency of the three generators used to power the mine headquarters. Efficiency is essential, Bellows said, as the operation needed to do all it could to be more profitable.

The second major task for the visitors was to improve the mine’s outside communications. Bellows spent hours tweaking the mine’s satellite phone and Internet systems.

“We just want him to succeed,” Bellows said of Hurt. “We want to see the operation be a success.”

A great trip

The visit to Porcupine Creek was just one of the highlights for the couple.

“It’s very beautiful country,” Lisa Bellows said, commenting on the land the couple saw for the first time.

The trip also afforded a family reunion. At Sitka, the couple spent several days with a cousin, Kenny Bellows, a bush pilot and resort owner. Dan Bellows had never flown with his cousin, and the trip provided that opportunity.

From Sitka, the pilot provided the Forest Lake couple with spectacular trips over the remote regions of Alaska.

FL as a base

Dan and Lisa Bellows moved to Forest Lake in 1999 after living for a time in Kentucky. Their home serves as an office base and a separate lab for Integrated Information Systems. Contract and consulting work with the University of Minnesota led to the move here.

Forest Lake was a perfect location, Dan Bellows said.

“I’m a farm boy,” he said. “I like a little space between me and my neighbors.”

After Dan Bellows earned his degree as a building controls engineer from Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, he launched his business. The husband and wife, who met through working at an A&W Root Beer stand while growing up in Waterloo, have been a team throughout the years and have traveled and lived coast to coast.

“Any place where there are tall buildings,” he said.

The company’s emphasis is on installing and maintaining fire protection systems, metering systems for climate-control equipment and building security systems.

He has worked on projects in the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in Chicago. Living in New York City in the 1990s, the couple worked on projects in the World Trade Center complex. Dan Bellows lost friends who were killed during the terrorist attacks of 2001.

The move to Forest Lake has given the company a base from which to grow. Dan and Lisa’s two children, Amy and Lucas, are Forest Lake High School graduates, both attending the University of Minnesota: Amy is at the Duluth campus and Lucas is at the Twin Cities campus.

Dan and Lisa Bellows in Alaska with Dakota Fred, the head of the mining operation at Porcupine Creek claim in Alaska.

Dan and Lisa Bellows in Alaska with Dakota Fred, the head of the mining operation at Porcupine Creek claim in Alaska.

A second visit

The Bellows are contemplating a second visit to Porcupine Creek sometime this year. It will serve as another vacation and perhaps offer some camping opportunities for the couple. There will be a chance to tinker on new projects to help the Dakota Boys.

The visit last summer should prove helpful to the company as a resume builder, Bellows said.

“You want to be associated with projects like this,” Dan Bellows said. “It’s another feather in your cap.”

The friends will meet again the first week in March in Las Vegas at a convention where the Dakota Boys will appear.

Fans of “Gold Rush” can learn more about the Forest Lake company through links to the show at www.facebook.com/DakotaFred. Information about the Discovery Channel series is available at www.discovery.com.

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