Like many ideas conceived on the back of napkin, the hottest new mineral exploration innovation sweeping exploration camps in Yukon Territory this field season might have languished for years in a desk drawer, if not for the innate talent and tenacity of a young entrepreneur who came to Canada’s North country from Ontario eight years ago and stayed on to make his home in the Yukon.
The innovation, called “Geoprobe,” is a small, track-mounted hydraulic drill designed to take soil and rock-chip samples from the soil-bedrock interface on an exploration property, essentially doing the same work as a trench sampling program but without the significant scarring of the surface that occurs with the use of an excavator.
Tao Henderson, 36, developed the Geoprobe in his spare time during the past two years and this year, watched the neat, little machine take the exploration community in the Yukon’s White Gold district by storm.
Developing the GeoprobeAfter tossing around the idea with Yukon gold prospector Shawn Ryan over the past few years, Henderson got to work and perfected the technology over the course of two years.
“We had a prototype last year that worked pretty well, but we wanted to have low impact on the environment, while capturing bedrock samples,” Henderson told Mining News in a recent interview.
Doing extensive research, Henderson pulled together the components of the Geoprobe from several separate pieces of equipment. He chose to mount the drilling unit on tracks so it can be navigated easily through the dense brush typically found on the steep mountain slopes of the Klondike and White Gold districts south of Dawson.
Drawing on his extensive experience as a remote-controlled aircraft enthusiast, Henderson also developed a RC wireless communication system for the Geoprobe to eliminate the need for an operator to sit on the unit, and he designed full hydraulics for the system.
“Knowing the ins and outs of RC wireless helped,” he said. “I fly my own personal RC aircraft.”
It took about six months to design the device on the computer and to assemble all of its parts.
“It took a little trial and error, but we made it strong, light, versatile and very efficient,” Henderson said.
Offered along with other early-stage mineral exploration services by Dawson City –based Groundtruth Exploration Ltd., the improved Geoprobe attracted a steady stream of customers throughout the 2013 field season.
“It hit the field and it’s been out all summer. It came back once for routine maintenance,” Henderson said.
The Geoprobe is capable of drilling 2.5-meter holes and collecting up to 30 samples a day at five-meter spacing. It is also heli-portable in two sling loads.
“It’s extremely low impact with less than one (pound-per-square-inch) ground pressure, and it’s enabled us to capture samples of the bedrock interface. We’ve gotten fantastic samples, and we can hardly tell where we’ve drilled,” he enthused.
Honing innate talentHenderson sees the Geoprobe as a natural progression of his own creative development.
“I’m self-taught. I didn’t go to school for this. I’ve got a background in building things, and it comes naturally to me,” he explained.
Henderson grew up a farm in southern Ontario and worked for the family business, learning from his grandfather and uncle. Still, his talent was evident, almost from the beginning.
“I’m told that when I was two years ago, I was playing in my mother’s bedroom when she woke up and found that I had taken her alarm clock apart,” Henderson recalled. “After that, she would go to the Salvation Army and buy toasters and other small appliances, cut the cords off and give them to me. I’d take them apart until I was about six years old, when one day I put something back together, and we plugged it in and it worked.”
After coming to the Yukon in search of a lifestyle change that would bring him closer to the Canadian wilderness in 2005, Henderson said the intensely outdoor-oriented atmosphere he found suited him perfectly.
After meeting Ryan and Ryan’s wife, Cathy Wood, Henderson went to work for the couple and soon was applying his talent with all things mechanical to various pursuits.
“This enabled me to fine-tune my skills and do creative things,” he said.
In 2011, Henderson formed his own company, Talus Exploration Ltd., in partnership with Wood. Talus offered excavator trenching services to mining companies at the height of the recent modern gold rush to central Yukon in cooperation with Ryan’s Groundtruth Exploration, which offered the same mining companies its soil sampling services.
Recently, Talus was merged with Groundtruth, and the resulting company is now jointly owned by Isaac Fage, a former soil sampler, and Henderson.
Called “The Doctor” in the bush by his employees, Henderson says his “guys like to have me in the field because I can make things work with basically nothing.”
Still, the Geoprobe’s success in the field is at least partly due to the outstanding crew that operates the machinery, he said.
Looking to the futureWe’ve gotten a return on our investment,” he said. “We’re gaining traction and looking at building a second Geoprobe this winter. We’d like to keep the technology in house. It takes lots of time to develop and to put into action. But without a doubt, it’s definitely paying for itself.
“Right now, we’re focusing on building a package of services” that will include The Drone, an aerial system for creating digital elevation photographs that Henderson and Ryan jointly developed, hand-soil sampling, induced polarization surveys and the Geoprobe, he said.
Henderson envisions building two or three more of the Geoprobe units and believes their development will go quickly. Also, “we would be interested in replicating our business outside the Yukon but nothing has been put into motion,” he added.