Animal Planet

Sarajane and her four daughters walk the streets of Nome, Alaska. A show that chronicles their efforts to re-open the mines that their family inherited nearby premiers on Animal Planet on Thursday. (Kyle Safieh / September 24, 2012)

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One Newport Beach family knows quite well the drive to strike it rich that was common during the California Gold Rush.

Sarajane Bartholomae, 67, and her four daughters — Kamme Hodge, 45, Korre Hartling, 43, Krista Hartling, 42, and Tori Hartling, 37 traded five weeks of Southern California sunshine for five weeks of harsh Alaskan cold last fall to reopen the family's gold mines.

Their adventure is the focus of "Alaska Gold Diggers," a six-episode series on Animal Planet premiering at 8 p.m. Thursday.

"Come on, you can't [make up] stuff like this," said Jenny Daly, president of the production company T Group and an executive producer on the show.

A family friend, hearing about the idea from them, pitched the story to producers.

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Following in family footsteps

Beyond the prospect of financial wealth, the five women sought to reconnect with their family's mining history.

Sarajane's father, William Bartholomae, worked his way west across the United States from New York.

A man of adventure, he paused his travels to California when World War I began. He enlisted and served as a pilot in the war, she said.

Only later did he strike it rich.

Using money made in the oil business, Sarajane's father bought property in Nome and Fairbanks, Alaska.

Sarajane said he operated mines there until World War II, when the price to continue running them was no longer worth the effort.

The Bartholomae women decided to reopen them when the price of gold hit $1,800 per ounce.

"It gave Mom that fuel and that excitement," Kamme said. "It was like, we've got to do this now."

The daughters, who all share the middle name Bartholomae, decided everyone should travel to Alaska in a full-on family gold mining effort.

Korre had just re-married. She and Kamme both had young kids they needed to care for. But the adventure and sense of family obligation trumped everything, they said. After all, no one wanted to be left behind.

The women drew on William's drive to become a self-made man as an example for their future.

"We're gamers, we're ready for a challenge" Krista said.

They shared an excitement to follow in the footsteps of their grandfather, whom they nicknamed "Popper" but never met.