25 October 2010

In Pursuit of the Ghost Train of Tsedi-na, Part 5

In Pursuit of the Ghost Train of Tsedi-na, Part 5:
One More Time Around: Franklin Bluffs and Pump Station Six


One of the signs marking a northern pipeline construction camp along what is now known as the Dalton Highway. Prospect  is gone, almost without a trace, as are all the other construction-era camps.
I have already written that the advent of the pipeline was a life-changing experience for me and most everyone else who was involved. It was so massive in its scope that it is impossible to image the Alyeska Pipeline construction not changing anyone who was even remotely involved. I can remember at the time that we had the sense that somehow this project would last forever. Funny thing about that. When it was over, it was really over--the economy immediately began going into a tailspin. Suddenly 20,000 people would be out of work and almost all that specialized construction equipment would begin a massive exodus out of the state.
But in the summer of 1976 many of the early problems had been worked out and construction was humming along smoothly and rapidly. Activity was everywhere and we all loved it. Business had not seen anything like this probably even during the various gold rushes which had marked the early days of the territory.  It was a time of great optimism for all of us.  One could lose a job in one sector and within a day or two pick up another job somewhere else along the pipeline. For me it took a little longer because I did not understand the system, but after a few months of being out of work I was dispatched as a sewage treatment plant operator to Franklin Bluffs.
Of all the construction camps along the line, I was sent back to one I knew quite well. Things were different by then. Local management had nearly completely changed over, and I was now entering the scene in a different capacity.

Franklin Bluffs in the summer with the airstrip in the background: click for larger image.

I made a lot of money as a treatment plant operator and had a good time with the experience in the process. I stayed there for quite some time and was in the camp when July 4, 1976 rolled around--the 200th anniversary of the birth of our nation. We had quite a celebration in camp. It was probably much like the events I have seen photographed of 4th of July celebrations in the gold rush days when everyone participated. It was great to be a part of it all--something which has become a very historic event as time has moved along.

A typical two-man room in one of the construction camps. Mine was similar to this one. Click for larger image.
After spending several months at that camp I had enough. I had made it to head operator and enjoyed my position, but winter was approaching and I did not relish the thought of going through another winter that far north. I trained another operator for my position and notified my employer that I was terminating. But this was not quite the end of my time in the camps. In a short time I was back in the union hall seeking another dispatch. Funny how life has a way of repeating itself. This time I was dispatched back to Pump Station Six.

Pump Station 6 as it nears completion. Click for larger image.

When I returned to P.S. 6 the remaining Irish national (not American citizens) laborers who had been there when I was forced out quit departed. It was a different company in  charge and this time things worked out very well. My last few months working on the line would be good ones. I would leave the project with some very positive experiences that would go with me for life.  I stayed for the first part of the winter before leaving the construction scene for good. Were I given the opportunity to do it again as a young man, I certainly would.
Now I was heading back to Fairbanks where I would start a new life as a small businessman. Eventually that would lead me back to the Copper Valley where I would find my connections to an old mine and its railroad that somehow  I always knew had to exist. I just had no idea how closely I was really associated with something that had occurred generations before. It would still take many years to get there, but it is really true that it was the pipeline that made it possible--in more ways than one.
Even to this day the pipeline plays a major role in my ever-evolving project which has now become the farthest north garden railroad in North America.

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