John Schnabel owns the Big Nugget Mine in Porcupine Creek, Alaska, which is featured in Discovery's "Gold Rush" television series. He is the mentor and grandfather of Parker Schnabel, who is also a member of the show. Parker Schnabel pursued mining when John Schnabel was diagnosed with cancer, of which he is in remission, as of 2015.
Schnabel spent his youth near Klamath Falls, Oregon, where he made money as a newspaper delivery boy and used bottle seller during Prohibition. He saved up money from these jobs and purchased his first car, a Ford Model T, for $2 in 1935. Schnabel served as a Navy airplane mechanic during World War II, and after the war, he opened the Haines Lumber Company with his father in Alaska.
Schnabel was present with his family in Anchorage, Alaska, for the state's inauguration in 1959, during which he was the mayor of Haines. He has a passion for bluegrass and country music, and he even dropped out of Gonzaga College in Spokane, Washington, because he was prevented from playing the music he wanted to play with his guitar. Schnabel initially took an interest in mining because his doctors advised him after a triple bypass heart surgery that he needed to maintain an active lifestyle.