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Exclusive: Juan Ibarra on Freddy Dodge’s Mine Rescue return, and other Gold Rush stars

Gold Rush fans love master mechanic Juan Ibarra (L), who is Freddy Dodge’s (R) right-hand man on Freddy Dodge’s Mine Rescue for Discovery. Pic credit: Discovery

If you watch Gold Rush, you know Juan Ibarra. The master mechanic began his Discovery journey in Season 5, hired by Todd Hoffman to keep washplant Monster Red working and fix other significant pieces of equipment. 

Then Ibarra became the go-to mechanical guru, and Tony Beets scooped him up for a spell until a fortuitous friendship with another Gold Rusher, Freddy Dodge, changed the course of his life.

Now the father of four is breaking out with Dodge in Season 2 of the popular Gold Rush spinoff, Freddy Dodge’s Mine Rescue, where the collective wisdom of the two men is put to the test as they consult, analyze, and fix poorly performing mines, allowing people to make a living.

A native of Reno, Nevada, Juan is an experienced mechanic. He hitched up with the colorful Beets crew in season nine after turning in three seasons with the now returning Hoffmans [Hoffman Family Gold]. 

Ibarra and his wife Andrea welcomed their fourth child, Freddy Travis Ibarra, in 2021. They named the child after Gold Rush miner Freddy Dodge and Juan’s brother-in-law Travis.

This spinoff will see Ibarra and Dodge head to Montana, Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon, Oregon, and Colorado. Their combined 40+ years of experience is a wealth bank for inventive solutions and expertly rendered analytics crucial to plant flow and clever bush hacks that will change the lives of people who need them.

Juan Ibarra took time out of his busy life to speak with Monsters and Critics about how he and Freddy have developed the series to help people have a gold mine but lack the background, tools, or experience to be profitable. 

And with many of these folks on the brink of bankruptcy, Freddy and Juan do their best to solve immediate problems, educate these novice miners and offer precious advice.

Exclusive interview with Juan Ibarra

The two men hit it off working for Todd Hoffman back in season five. Pic credit: Discovery

Monsters & Critics: It was season five, and thanks to a relative who urged you to apply for a position, was that really how you got on Gold Rush?

Juan Ibarra: Yes. It wasn’t even me that applied for the job. My brother-in-law, Aaron Pena, is a massive fan of Gold Rush. And, so he called me and told me, ‘Hey, they have a job opening with Todd Hoffman to be one of his mechanics.’ 

Honestly, I didn’t want to apply for the job just because of the simple fact I thought that there would be thousands of people applying for the job. And, I thought, what are the chances? He bugged me for about two weeks. 

Finally, I told him, ‘Hey, you can apply for me if you want to apply. ‘ And, he took the initiative with my wife and my other brother-in-law, and they updated my resume and sent it out, which started the whole process.

M&C: What was that interview like with Todd Hoffman, out of curiosity?

Juan Ibarra: It was kind of weird. He calls me up, he’s like, ‘Hey Juan, this is Todd Hoffman.’ I knew who it was from his voice. And, he just wanted to know my experience, what I was about, he was really big into the family, which I think is a great thing. 

And, I told him, ‘Hey, I’m a family, man. I have a kid on the way.’ At the time, we only had my daughter, and my wife was still pregnant. We have four kids now, so we’ve grown the fold quite a bit. 

But it was kind of cool to talk to him, touch base with him, and see what he was about. He wanted to know what I was about my experience, and it was still kind of new to me. 

I didn’t know anybody on the crew. I didn’t know Todd. I didn’t know anybody. So going up there was a learning experience for me, and I wasn’t sure what it would be like around cameras, to work with these guys, and everything else. 

It was a learning curve. And to this day, it’s still a learning curve. I leave my business six months out of the year to go on the road. And even now, like when I get back in front of the camera, it’s still a shock for me at times.

M&C: How did you cross paths with Freddy Dodge?

Juan Ibarra: When I first got hired with the Hoffmans, Freddy worked there with the Hoffmans. He was helping them set up the wash plant. And we immediately started working together because we were working on putting a new plant or Monster Redback together. 

And we’d spend days in days out working with each other, putting this plant together, and we hit it off. Freddy loves to joke, and I’m the same way. I make up stupid jokes throughout the day to keep ourselves entertained. And we just hit it off really from the get-go.

M&C: How did you conceptualize this spinoff of Gold Rush with Freddy? How did that go down?

Juan Ibarra: It was Freddy that came to me. He had already talked to the network about it, and Freddy said, ‘Hey, we have this idea. We want to do this spinoff. We want to do mine rescues. 

We travel the country to help people with struggling mines. He wanted to know if I was interested. I immediately was interested, and at the time, I was working for Tony Beets, a great guy to work for, but I saw the opportunity to go out with Freddy and travel the country and help people. But also learn from Freddy. So for me, I’m like, ‘Yeah. I’m in,’ when he told me about it. I was absolutely a hundred percent. You tell me what you need me to do. And, and I’m in, I would love to do that.

M&C: Where does the road take you in season two, as they say?

Juan Ibarra: Well, this year, we overlap our first season. We were in the Western United States, a few episodes in Alaska. We did all our episodes here in the Western United States. 

And we did one episode in Alaska, a flying operation in Nome. This next year, it’s going to be a little more diverse. We still do quite a few episodes here in the states in the lower 48. We do a couple in Alaska. And we do a few in the Yukon and, then, in British Columbia. 

So we’re a little more traveled this year. Our first year, because of COVID restrictions, trying to film during a pandemic was difficult. 

That was one of the reasons we were all only able to get out six episodes this year. However, we could do a handful more, just because it was a little more lenient still. 

We still have restrictions, but we were able to travel. It opened up a lot more for us to be able to do. We take on mom-and-pop operations and some bigger size operations as well. So it just makes a little more sense this year.

M&C: Are all of these mines looking for gold, or are there other gems or precious or rare metals they’re looking to find?

Juan Ibarra: No-we deal with just gold. So everyone that we’ve helped this year was a gold mine.

M&C: In the course of filming, from when you started in season five to now, what’s the most significant piece of gold you’ve seen anyone pull out of the ground in front of you?

Juan Ibarra: I think the biggest nugget that I’ve ever seen personally pull out was about an ounce and a half. I have seen some bigger specimens, but the biggest one I’ve ever seen personally come out of the pay dirt was about an ounce and a half.

M&C: You’ve worked with some colorful people. Todd Hoffman, first of all, were you surprised to see that Todd returned to the Gold Rush fold?

Juan Ibarra: I wasn’t surprised one bit. I think Todd’s been working on this and wanted to go back mining, and I believe now was just the opportunity that he and his family had to get back out. 

I wasn’t surprised one bit. I know Todd has that dream, and he wants to pursue it for his family. So honestly, I was kind of excited to see him back in action

M&C: You and Freddy interact with Jim Thurber, also part of the Hoffman Family Gold crew?

Juan Ibarra: Yes. We went and helped him. Jim called us last year and said that he had an operation that he was partnered up with, and he wanted to see if we would be able to help him. 

Unfortunately, in our first year, we couldn’t do it. But in our second year, we made time. We went out and saw Jim and were able to help him in his operation. 

And it was good to see Jim. Jim’s always been a great guy, a great friend, and we were pleased to see him and stop and spend some time and help him out.

M&C: How has the show changed your life in ways that you weren’t expecting? Any strange fan encounters or fun moments?

Juan Ibarra: I wouldn’t say strange interactions, just a lot more interactions with people. It makes even just an everyday task, like going to the grocery store or Walmart, different. It doesn’t matter. 

The reality is the fans are what make the show, people that watch it and they love what we do. That’s what keeps us going. So it’s kind of nice to hear from them and talk to them. 

I try. If a fan wants to come out and talk to me, I’ll give them a few minutes and talk and entertain them because the truth is that fan interest is what makes the show, and we appreciate that. 

So it is a fun thing. It’s one of those things, though. You must make sure that you’re always on your A-game because you’re in the public eye now.

M&C: How has your skillset as a master mechanic changed since you’ve been on the show, and has your expertise changed?

Juan Ibarra: It has changed tremendously because now it’s not just working on heavy equipment, it’s working on wash plants, it’s learning how to maximize the gold recovery. 

So it’s changed a lot. And Freddy’s taught me just so much over the last few years. This knowledge is stuff that I had a basic understanding of, but now we’ve honed that ability. 

I have even changed my toolset and what I carry on my truck, which differs from what I brought my first year on Gold Rush. 

We’re carrying things to use when we’re having to fabricate on the fly, looking at operations, coming up with creative solutions, and sometimes working with nothing. 

So it’s changed a lot. My trucks are now packed to the brim. As much as I can get in the trucks and be legal, that’s what we do, and one of the things with a commercial truck is you have to be underweight. 

You must meet a certain weight to be able to cross state lines and everything else. So we try planning for what we’re doing. I can’t take everything, but we try to take as much as possible. So we have to do a lot more planning now.

M&C: Especially in the remote areas that you guys go to work. No supply stores!

Juan Ibarra: Absolutely. We have another truck that doesn’t get much recognition, but we have a second truck and a third truck that runs with us. 

And it is a rolling steel shop or a rolling steel supply house because it has to carry as much steel as we can get on it and still be legal.

M&C: Lightning round. Please react and give me your thoughts about how you would describe them to someone unfamiliar with the show or who wants to know your feelings. Let us start with Freddy Dodge because you named your last child after him.

Juan Ibarra: I absolutely did! Freddy Dodge, with Freddy, there are a few words that describe him. As successful as he is, he’s probably one of the most humble persons I know.

He’s just tremendously humble, incredibly as accomplished as he is. He is generous, caring, and down-to-earth. it’s funny because people are like, ‘oh yeah, you guys got a bromance…’ 

Oh, no. It’s not that. It’s respect. I’ve worked with many very talented and arrogant people in my life. And honestly, that doesn’t impress me at all. 

If you’re talented and you’re well off, and you’re arrogant? That means nothing; it’s just like every other butthole out there. But Freddy, he’s very talented, accomplished, and yet very humble. So one word to sum him up would be humility.

M&C: Tony Beets?

Juan Ibarra: Teddy bear!

M&C: Rick Ness?

Juan Ibarra: I don’t know Rick all that well, but if I had to describe one aspect or trait of Rick Ness, he is a nice guy.

M&C: Todd Hoffman?

Juan Ibarra: Calculating. He’s a very calculating guy. People may underestimate Todd, but Todd is a very sharp guy. He’s a very calculating guy.

M&C: Parker Schnabel?

Juan Ibarra: One thing about Parker, the truth is that you’ve got to give credit where credit is due, and that kid works hard. He does work hard.

Freddy Dodge’s Mine Rescue premieres Friday, April 1 at 9/8c on Discovery after a new episode of Hoffman Family Gold. It will be available to stream the same day on discovery+.

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