18 October 2010

Klondike Mines RR, Pt 2, Background

The Klondike in the early 1900s

I have a couple of views of the Bonanza Creek area probably about 1904--when the KMR was still being organized.  The big gold strikes were over, claims were being consolidated and bigger companies were moving in with larger operations.  But it was still right out of the rough and tumble Old West.

Here you see an early view of part of Grand Forks which was completely surrounded by on-going mining activity. When this photo was taken the railroad had not yet arrived. You may click either image for a larger view.

The investors in the KMR had failed to take into account how quickly a boom can turn into a bust. There was really no way that a railroad could have been built in time to take advantage of the initial gold rush when 30,000 people invaded the Klondike, bringing with them a potentially huge demand for transporation of goods, machinery,  and people.  But that was a state of affairs that would quickly end. Once the initial rush even showed signs of being over, many of these people began filtering out. The lifespan of the main stop on the KMR route--Grand Forks--would prove to be particularly short. However, even Grand Forks would outlast the KMR.  The massive and near-immediate railroad profits that were enthusiastically and confidently predicated in the KMR prospectus would prove elusive. No, worse than that: non-existent.

The great Klondike gold rush was a boom, alright, just like the gold rush at Forty Mile down river had been ten years before and the gold rushes at Nome and Fairbanks, Iditarod, Livengood and all the rest would be within the next few years--boom and BUST. First the news of a strike would spread.  There would be that massive onslaught of people, the construction of a huge tent city, then the many semi-permant business store fronts-- and all those unbelievable profits.

But it would never last long. In a similar fashion,  the greatest Alaskan construction project of all time--the Alyeska Pipeline--would bring an unparalleled boom that would rock the state of Alaska and catapult the Alaskan people into an entirely new era--almost rudely awakening it out of its old territorial, frontier-like state and right into the modern world of the 20th century. Then the boom would falter.  The need for a massive work force would suddenly be over. And I do mean suddenly. One week there would be 20,000 people employed with huge paychecks. Then, a month later, not even a quarter of that still there in the work camps with the numbers falling rapidly. 

The money would quickly dry up as people lost their high-paying jobs--or in the case of the Klondike--had worked out their rich claims--cleaning out all the easily-obtainable gold. All those people who had come to be a part of the big boom  would begin a mass exodus. Businesses would try to sell out, but all would almost inevitably fold. Their owners would find themselves ultimately just giving up and abandoning their stores, their hotels, their bars, their restaurants. 

It would reach the point where all that once-valuable real estate could not be sold at any cut-rate price because there were no takers.  Even the ladies of the night would pack their bags for greener fields and simply slip away--off to the next big rush wherever that would be.

The KMR was a victim of the Klondike bust.  It was almost like a self-inflicted gunshot wound to one of the knees.  The railroad would never have a change. It would come into being only to begin an immediate slow death.  As the railroad was laying line in one direction, people were heading out en-masse the other way. By the time the track-laying had begun the boom was already over--something that should have been obvious to the investors. . But the railroad show would go on anyway. Because there was still a need--they hoped. After all, those massive dredges and the huge hyraulic operations were moving in--and they needed to be fed. The KMR would find that its greatest purpose in its short railrod life  would not be hauling goods and people or even much machinery. It would become . . .

a firewood hauler.

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