16 October 2010

First Trip to the Kondike, Pt 1

In 1978 I made my first trip to Dawson City in the Yukon Territory. In those days I had no particular interest in trains, but the area I visited, as it turned out, was rich in railroad history.  I am fortunate to have visited the Klondike region when I did, which involved a series of both winter and summer trips over the next fifteen years. During that time I was particularly fascinated with the Bonanza and Eldorado Creek areas which include the original claim that sparked the world-famous Klondike Gold Rush.

Bonanza Creek enters the Klondike River just upstream from the Klondike's confluence with the Yukon River. That area consists mainly of massive gold dredge tailings intertwined with remnants of hydraulic mining operations on some of the upper hills, including one called "Gold Hill."  Although the original claims were all small placer operations, some of which rewarded the miners with unbelievably rich placer, it was not long before the really rich claims played out. At that point the only economic way to mine these areas was either by dredging the creek bottoms or using massive hyraulic giants to take down the hillsides. This meant large companies with impressive financial means had to enter the scene, buy up the many small claims, and then invest in the expensive machinery and manpower required to continue mining the area.

It was apparent even as late as I first saw this area that some kind of railroad had once run through here. I couid see the kind of heavy rockwork alongside some of the hills on the north side of the Bonanza and Eldorado Creek valleys that obviously was put there to handle some kind of heavy load.

Of course, there was also the obvious clue within the town of Dawson itself. Outside the old administration building which now serves as a museum sat four derelict locomtives, numbered one through four.  In those days they were simply parked there the way they were found when they were moved from their original sites. They were unprotected and showed no signs of restoration on any of these engines. But there were four of them, big as life. 

This is a 1978 polaroid shot of me on "The Dome," which is the hill above Dawson City. In the background  you can clearly see Bonanza Creek and the hydraulic activities of Gold Hill. 

I made my last visit to Dawson City in 1995--the same year I began putting together my  first large-scale model railroad--the beginnings of the Chitina Local Branch of the Copper River & Northwestern Railway which ran between Cordova on the coast to Kennecott along the southern slopes of the Wrangell Range well within the interior. The CRNW was a standard gauge railroad completed in 1911. It's construction was overseen by Erastus Cornelius Hawkins. He was the same engineer who was in charge of the White Pass construction project--a narrow gauge railroad. And it was E.C.Hawkins, as it would turn out, who put together the intial design for the narrow gauge Klondike Mines Railroad with terminals in Dawson CIty and Klondike City, across the Klondike River from Dawson. 

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