Abercrombie Rapids Landing: conclusion
Above and below: Constructing a
R. Van Cleve Collection
Now I was sensing the vibration of the approaching train. This always
preceded the metallic roar of the heavy iron wheels rumbling down the
steel rails. Then I heard the familiar sound of the whistle
warning of the train’s approach into this coaling and watering stop--the
first point where the railroad left the coastal river delta and entered
I had heard the same sound of the various locomotive steam whistles many times in the last few years. It had become a part of my life. The railroad brought the whole world to Chitina every time another engine chugged in from Cordova.
All of us at Chitina, Native and white alike, looked forward to its coming. The train had become a part of my being. It was undoubtedly the most thrilling
sound I knew because it always brought something new to our town.
the track were increasing in intensity. Then I picked up the first sound of
metal-to-metal and the steam sounds which would soon override the
loud roar of the Copper River passing over the rocks of Abercrombie
We had brought tea and rice with us from Chittyna. The thloo-ka had cooked
nicely on the wood fire, despite the constant winds which made it
difficult to start and keep a cooking fire going . As Charlie dished up
for both of us, the work train approached the long low trestle. We were
camped just at the end of it. The engine was almost on top of us as it
slowed down in anticipation of reaching its final destination for the
evening, which was a siding by the large cannery that had been built at
the landing to exploit all those salmon coming upstream.
I was very
concerned that the cannery would may take too many of our thloo-ka from
the river. It had already happened before when the huge fish-traps in
the Copper River delta kept salmon from coming up in the winter of 1899.
That was the year the whole village nearly starved. I hoped this would
never happen again, but I worried when I saw such a large cannery
building sitting there at the landing at the head of the narrow canyon.
The roar of the approaching train began to override that of the rapids
as it bore down on us from across the long trestle. The bright lights of
the forward lantern finally revealed our campsite to the engineer,
nearly blinding us. The sound continued to intensify, completely
drowning out our own voices as the enormous engine number 21 and its
complement of wooden box cars and flat cars screeched past us. The
brakes were already being applied as it approached its destination.
Soon all would be silent, except for the constant sound of the roaring
rapids and the howling of the winds which never stopped blowing through
the narrow canyon. Brother and I would sleep well tonight now that the
train had passed and all was back to normal. We finished our meal of
fresh fish and rice, had a last cup of Lipton’s tea, and turned in under
cover of our small tent, which I had secured under the trestle abutment
where it was protected from the wailing winds which would blow down through
the canyon that evening while we slept underneath the trestle in complete
peace and a sense of goodness in the wonderful world which was ours.
For us sla'cheen, tomorrow would be another adventure.