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Terry Franklin is starting to get strange looks around town. This might be due to his long beard, but chances are people are recognizing the Baraboo man from “Gold Rush.”

Franklin is part of a crew of Wisconsinites mining gold in the Yukon territory during the ninth season of the Discovery Channel’s top-rated series. That beard, which he is contractually obligated to keep for a year, is getting noticed by some of the show’s 4 million viewers. “I’m just starting to get weird looks in public,” he said.

An east-side resident for two years, Franklin started watching “Gold Rush” when he realized Rick Ness, an old friend from their Milwaukee days, was one of its stars. They struck up a correspondence, and a few years ago Franklin tried unsuccessfully to get on the show.

This spring he got a call from Ness, who was looking to leave Parker Schnabel’s crew and start one of his own. Franklin left his construction job, his wife and two sons to spend six months mining in northwestern Canada. He’s the only one, other than Ness, who came in with mining experience.

“He wanted some people he knew he could trust from his circle of friends,” Franklin said. “I helped the other guys and helped them get their feet planted.”

His wife, Amy Rusch-Franklin, encouraged him to go, even though doing so posed a financial risk and added to her parental burden.

“He had to go. If he didn’t, it could be one of those life regrets,” she said. “If he didn’t think I could handle it, he wouldn’t have left.”

About the show

“Gold Rush” chronicles the efforts of three factions of miners seeking fortune. The Schnabel crew’s former foreman, Ness, broke off this season and struck out on his own with a crew of greenhorns. Ness cashed in $250,000 in savings to spend on mining a 126-acre Klondike claim.

“He put a lot on the line,” Franklin said. “He gave me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The season’s first three episodes saw Ness’ crew struggle to find machinery capable of scraping through the Yukon permafrost to reach paydirt. Meanwhile, Schnabel has been embroiled in disputes with legendary miner Tony Beets.

Franklin said he considers the experience a success, because the crew returned home safely and had a productive summer. But he couldn’t say much about how the season ends.

“Everybody really needs to watch to see if we attained the goal we set for ourselves,” he said.

Miners wore microphones throughout their 12-15 hour work days. Two camera crews followed the workers, as did drones flying above. “They’re just praying and hoping something goes wrong and you blow something up,” Franklin said with a laugh.

Sudden fame

Franklin returned to Baraboo two weeks ago. Temperatures had dipped to 10 degrees in the Yukon. “Mother Nature will tell you when it’s time to leave,” he said.

He didn’t see a sunset until fall, as that part of the world sees almost around-the-clock daylight during summer. “It’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth, but also one of the most relentless and unforgiving,” Franklin said.

Now he enjoys watching the show on Friday nights with his wife and their sons Talon, 7; and Tristan, 5. Friends invite them over for watch parties. Franklin’s family, which visited for five days, appears in the season premiere. “They think it’s just mind-blowing,” he said.

Each episode’s content is a surprise even for the guy who was there. “Whatever they put on there is a complete mystery,” Franklin said. “They’re probably going to embarrass me a few times.”

Even after the beard goes, the memories will remain. “It was a dream of mine to go out there and do this,” Franklin said. “It was a huge sacrifice and huge gamble.”

His wife added, “You can always say you did it.”

Follow Ben Bromley on Twitter @ben_bromley or call him at 745-3507.

Baraboo News Republic Senior Reporter