05 November 2010

Ch 12, Pt 1: "Mary & Stephen Birch Arrive at Childs Glacier

Chapter 12, Pt 1: "Mary and Stephen
Birch Arrive at Childs Glacier"

click on picture for
larger image: these pictures are the one which appear in the book for
this chapter.

Downtown Cordova circa
1930  --Laurie Nyman Collection

Locomotive no. 74 was the fifth and last of the series of great
engines of the Mikado class type purchased to upgrade Stephen’s ore
train fleet. The CRNW had no 100-ton crane at the wharf, which was the
minimum capacity needed to off-load the 95-ton locomotive. Tidal
fluctuations at Cordova allowed an alternative means to deal with so
large a piece of rolling stock cargo.

The ship was kept in position until the tide lowered the reinforced deck
to the same level as the dock. While the ocean level at the dock dropped
the necessary twenty-two feet, the men installed rails from the engine
to the edge of the ship on top of heavy planking. The engine was already
sitting on rails bolted to planking. It had been loaded into place at
Seattle using a large crane, which made the setting of the engine into
place an unusually difficult feat.

Yet there it sat, still heavily tied
into place, still sitting comfortably on those seventy-five pound rails
just as it had when it was so carefully dropped into place.
The men ran temporary rails to the point on the dock where they would
meet with the ship, running past the dock’s edge eight feet so that
there would be no joint between the ship and the dock. The railroad
workers joined the temporary rails at the critical moment when the tide
level was perfect for the transfer.
CRNW engines #70 thru 74 were
the same series and were used primarily as ore-haulers

By then, the tie-downs were removed and the engineer had the locomotive
steamed up and ready to move. He stayed with the engine to ensure that
the steam pressure and water levels remained just right for moving the
massive locomotive under its own power. When the moment came, the men
performed a final alignment of the rails and bolted them together. The
foreman signaled the engineer and Dusty pull the reverse handle,
allowing the engine to creep forward. The engine had been loaded so that
it would point toward the dock, given the most likely way the ship would
approach the wharf. The extremely heavy, self-powered load departed the
ship with considerable creaking through the rails, the ship and the
dock. The stevedores ensured that the ship could not dip because they
had temporarily secured it tightly against the dock. It was imperative
that the engine not tip at all. It left the ship smoothly.

Stephen Birch and his party watched the entire procedure. He had asked
the company to alert him when the tide was in the right position. His
party arrived in a horse-drawn carriage owned by the hotel.

The engine rolled onto the dock without a hitch to a loud round of
applause. The loud whistle reverberated as the engine moved off to the
eleven-bay roundhouse for a final check.

Mogul No. 102 was the back-up assigned to Stephen’s private train. At
eighty tons, it was considerably smaller than the Mikado which had just
arrived. With its six large drive wheels, the engine could pull a small
consist in excess of sixty miles per hour over most of the line. The
mogul was ideal for Stephen’s private train, but it would not be used.
Stephen wanted to use the newest and proudest, if an inanimate object
could be described that way, of the great CRNW engines. He left no doubt
to Superintendent Hansen that he wanted his private train headed by the
mammoth No. 74. So it would be.

Cordova Roundhouse
roundhouse at Cordova,circa 1915 --Cordova Museum

Cordova Roundhouse 1943
Cordova roundhouse during  its last
days in 1943 when the U.S. Army was using the facility--Cordova

On the day the engine was ready, Stephen was at the turntable to watch
No. 74 pull out of the bay onto the turntable. A worker started the
powerful electric motor which swung the huge engine around until it was
lined up with the exit rail. No. 74 blasted its whistle and rumbled off
the wooden turntable deck.

The crew linked a combination baggage and passenger car behind the
tender and then added “The Kennecott” to the rear. All was ready for the
train trip into the great interior over the “Route of the Marvelous
Scenic Wonders.”

In 1916 the CRNW was still the only standard gauge railroad entering
interior Alaska, though the new Alaska Railroad would soon be operating
a much larger line out of Seward to Ship Creek and beyond. The first
passenger cars would travel the line from Seward to the new town of
Anchorage in October. The government-built railroad would ultimately
reach Fairbanks in mid-July, 1923--seven years after the Birch honeymoon
trip. The choice of the government to build the railroad out of Seward
instead of purchasing the existing CRNW and using the Cordova terminal
guaranteed the end of the CRNW when the mining engineers declared
Kennecott’s interior copper mines to be exhausted in 1938.

Yet in the summer of 1916 it appeared that the CRNW was a permanent
railroad which would last almost forever. In the few years since the
railroad first opened its line to the Bonanza Mine the CRNW had filled
in many of the long trestles which crossed the expansive Copper River
delta with tens of thousands of cubic yards of gravel fill. Permanent
steel bridges existed at CRNW mile 27, 34, 49 and 144. The railroad met
high engineering standards and was considered a first-class system at
least as far as CRNW mile 131, which was the Chitina depot.

The consist left Cordova after five days instead of the two which
Stephen had planned because Mary claimed to be too ill to travel. By the
time Mary decided she was ready to travel, she was becoming quite
unpopular with the rest of the party.

Excursion train leaves the wharf

The excursion train leaves the Cordova wharf  
--Cordova Museum

with Ch 12, part 2,  "Mary and Stephen Birch Arrive at Childs Glacier"

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