Chapter 3: Closing Day at Bonanza, pt 3
At tower number sixteen of the lower tram the cables began to rise at a much steeper rate. Then the distance between the towers began to increase. Just past tower thirteen was the first tension station. This was where the cable first crossed National Creek. The ground dropped precipitously some two hundred feet to the narrow canyon floor. W.A. avoided looking down. He was not particularly fond of heights. Above him the rock glacier seemed to just hang.
|Talk about being suspended in time. Where else in the world would one encounter something called a rock glacier except here? It’s so slow moving, we haven’t noted a change in it as far back as I can remember. It sure is magnificent. Fascinating country. I’ll really miss the spectacular scenery.|
The tram bucket reached the far side of the creek, passed through two more towers and then re-crossed National Creek. Then climb began to level off again as it reached the mid-point. This was the angle station at the 4,015 foot elevation.
At the angle station the tram changed directions from easterly to northerly, turning a full forty-nine degrees. One cable system ended, and another began. The buckets were shifted to overhead rails and then remounted onto the upper tram system for the final climb. The station sat on a gently-sloping meadow that was three hundred feet above the tree line. The steep ridge separating the Kennicott Glacier valley from McCarthy Creek rose sharply east of the station. The massiveness of the nearby ridge made the station within its shadow seem very small.
Only two men remained to tend the station. The other four had already headed back for the camp. Their work was over. They would be departing on the next train out. The last of the ore would slide on by late this afternoon. The two remaining tram-tenders would shut down the station tomorrow and take a final tram ride back to the mill. They would become the last men ever to ride the aerial tram.
“Good day, sir. At least, it would be if it were not for those clouds moving in on us. You’re the last man we have scheduled to travel up the tram, as you undoubtedly know. Everyone else will be returning from up the hill. You have the honor, sir. Will you be the last one coming down as well?”
“Good day to you. I’ll call you from the Bonanza and let you know what to expect. It certainly does look like a winter storm’s approaching. That may affect the schedule today.”
“Only if it gets too windy up there, sir. Hopefully not.”
Richelsen stepped onto the bucket at the upper end of the elevated angle station. The operator lifted the brake handle. W.A. ducked as the bucket passed through the entry. He was once again on his way.
The rise was gentle as the tram continued over the meadow toward the break-over on the southern rim of Bonanza Canyon. It was a 1,500 foot gap where the cable crossed the canyon at the far end of the break-over. The small creek was 300 to 400 feet below his bucket. It had become usually gusty over Bonanza canyon. Due to the length of the crossing in combination with the rising wind, an unnerving swing developed in this long stretch of cable.
He crossed the white-knuckle stretch uneventfully, meaning that he made it across without being dumped out of the bucket. Richelsen would try to recover his insides after he reached the Bonanza. The cable began yet another steep ascent as it passed through a series of heavily-reinforced towers. Full buckets of ore passed W.A. to his right, heading downward in a steep pitch toward the mill at the rate of five miles per hour.
To his left the 10,000-volt power line paralleled his ride up the tram towers all the way to Bonanza. They terminated at the Bonanza transformer station. The station would be shut down and dismantled in a matter of hours. The power lines from the station followed an underground route to the Mother Lode at the 800 cross-cut and the Jumbo at the 600 cross-cut tunnel. Power to those remote mines had already been shut off. Jumbo was alive only days before. Mother Lode had been dark since the first of August.
The tram bucket finally reached the top of the ridge separating the Bonanza from the Glacier Mine. At this high elevation, many of the towers were reinforced to counter-act the stress caused by the avalanches which were common-place at this altitude. A large number of towers have been replaced over the years, especially near the top of the tram. Sometimes this was simply to upgrade the load requirements. More often it was because avalanches had taken them out. Even this final year, with the end clearly in sight, towers number twenty-five and forty-three had to be replaced to ensure safe and uninterrupted operations.
Thank God, one last trip after this and I’m done with this young man’s dare-devil tram run for good.
The tram passed through a thin layer of low-lying fog. It did not look quite so ominous above the narrow ceiling, but the view below him disappeared. His mind began to drift back to the events at Mother Lode.
|Here I am still thinking about that dreadful, damnable thing, and I haven’t gotten off the tram yet to recover my insides.|
Richelsen caught himself again. He would have to be more careful. Though he was not superstitious, there was something about that event which seemed to haunt the mine sites. No one ever spoke of it. Not ever. But it was always in the back of the minds of those who had been here at the time.
The upper tram terminal was minutes away. It had taken a long forty-five minutes to reach the top end. The tram was gravity operated. The ore buckets were spaced at even intervals in both directions for balance. Ordinarily the tram would not move without the weight of all that ore--or some other heavy object coming down the line.
Lately, there had been plenty of that. Much of the load coming down the tram was heavy, salvaged mining equipment. Three of the four compressors at Bonanza had already arrived at the mill yard for shipment outside. The battery-powered locomotives and other remaining large pieces would come down today along with what little ore remained in the storage bins. There was a back-up electric motor at the Bonanza and at the angle station to run the tram without gravity if it became necessary. This feature was particularly useful during start-ups.
|I might be returning on electrical power this afternoon since there will be no ore weight on the tram line. That will be a different experience.|
It had been a very busy season. Richelsen had placed the miners and the mill crew on two shifts to complete the mining retreat plan by the scheduled date. Twenty-four hour operations had been unusual in the last ten years as production had slowed. But in the last few months the rush was on. Now the closing date had finally arrived.
Just a few days before, Richelsen oversaw the closing of the Jumbo tram. Just before that he had closed down the Erie Mine. The Erie crew moved first to the Jumbo and then to the Bonanza site. Everything was closed according to a carefully planned sequence of mine retreat to ensure that as much ore and equipment was removed as possible.
All the salvageable equipment from the Erie and Jumbo was moved to the head of the Jumbo incline shaft and was trammed out by the 18th. This consisted largely of pneumatic drilling rigs, the larger series of side-dump ore cars, and the telephones.
The battery-powered locomotive moved over to Mother Lode and was then trammed to the surface at Bonanza. The locomotive had been used as the hauler on the 1500 cross-cut to Erie ever since the cross-cut was completed in 1924. The single compressor at Erie was hauled down the Erie tram to the base at Root Glacier and then dragged on a wagon to the main camp. Richelsen supervised that operation as well. Ore production at Erie exceeded expectations to the point that production had delayed the shut-down schedule.
At the closing of the Jumbo, W.A. stood by to watch as the head electrician pulled the switches for the last time, sending the camp and all the northern tunnels into a state of permanent darkness. Then the electricians removed the large transformers in one final act of salvaging. W.A. followed one of those transformers in the last bucket to leave the Jumbo camp.
Now it was Bonanza’s turn.
His thoughts were interrupted as the ore bucket he was riding finally stopped at the upper terminal where a tram attendant helped the superintendent off at the landing. W.A. greeted everyone one final time at the Bonanza loading dock, then he headed toward the long, tracked inclined snow-shed leading up toward Bonanza building number two--the main barrack and mess hall. This was the largest barrack ever built anywhere at this elevation in Alaska. It was four stories high, not counting the attic area.
This barrack had served for twenty-one years as a company showpiece. Most official visitors to the mines had arrived at Bonanza first. Over the years, this would be the single most photographed building outside of the mill site. It was surely a magnificent appearing structure.
He had ordered the building repainted with a new coat of red with white trim shortly after the mines reopened during the early summer of 1935. But that was about the extent of the maintenance. The company did not want unwarranted sums spent on buildings which would soon be abandoned. It became routine to defer maintenance if at all possible. This practice was in contradiction to the policy which had existed until 1925. In those days the company seemed to operate on an almost unlimited budget.
Only one other mining camp building had the finished appearance the main Bonanza barracks boasted. Number four at the Jumbo was the newest one over there. It had been given a painted, finished look, because it had tongue-in-groove siding as opposed to shiplap covered with tar paper and lathe sticks. Number four was irretrievably damaged when the the edge of the receding rock glacier it stood on gave way, causing one end to shift fifteen degrees off of level.
Since then the large Jumbo barrack had shifted even farther--leaning about twenty degrees to the southwest. It now served mainly as an ominous reminder of the power of nature in its ongoing showdown against mankind. No one had been there to witness the damaging event. It occurred sometime during the first shutdown of 1932-35. The entire Jumbo camp finally stood empty. Two of the other barracks had also begun to lean as the rock glacier retreated far below. Each of the four barracks would be left to fall toward the ever-widening precipice in their own good time. No one would be there to stop the gradual demise of these two-story buildings which somehow appeared much taller than two stories.