Legacy of the Chief,
Chapter 20: "Formal Dinner at the Birch House-1924"
No. 73 quietly slipped into Kennecott at the small telegraph station at
the National Creek trestle. Compared to the typical large train consists
of thirty-five steel flatcars with numerous boxcars and a passenger
combine in front, this one appeared odd with a very large locomotive
pulling only an observation car, with nothing else--not even a caboose.
The train arrived in a midsummer late afternoon day that was stunning.
The Chugach Range in the distant background to the south stood out
starkly, appearing larger than usual, the irregular ridge tops
highlighted by the deep blue hues in absolutely cloudless skies.
It had been a pleasant July day without becoming too hot, because of the
modifying effects of Kennicott Glacier with the light breezes which
helped keep the relatively narrow valley cooler than the Nizina Valley
riverbanks and adjacent lowlands to the south. Evening approached as the
train arrived, bringing long shadows from Fireweed Mountain directly to
the west across the four-mile-wide glacier.
The entire office staff, headed by manager Bert Nieding and
Superintendent Bill Douglass, stood on the railroad platform to greet
the special guests. Not only were distinguished visitors becoming
increasingly rare, but Stephen had not appeared at Kennecott in nearly a
decade. The other director was almost as well-known. Every mining
engineer had heard of the legendary Dan Jackling, but none but Bill
Douglass had ever met him. Jackling, like Birch, was a very
impressive-looking man who could fit as well in a high corporate office
on Broadway Street in New York as he did in remote mine sites like this
The train party of four moved on to a brief meeting at the private mess
in the old National Creek barracks, just uphill from the small station
and telegraph building. It was an informal get-together, enabling all
the parties to meet and relax in advance of the more serious business
meetings which would begin tomorrow.
Frank Buckner, the junior engineer, was among them. He frequently found
himself with the assignments no one else wanted. After lunch at the
Staff Annex, he and the other engineers watched as Birch, Jackling,
Nieding and Douglass briskly walked up the long wooden walkway toward
the Birch guest house towering over National Creek at the top of the
hill. The two corporate aides followed at a respectful distance. The
housekeeping staff had already prepared the Birch guest house right down
to the setting out of cigars and brandy in the well appointed reception
The rest of the engineers were now done for the day. The bachelors
headed for the staff house. Buchner was among them. His companion was
“You know, Russell, I’ve never been up there.”
“You may have your chance to see it tomorrow, Frank. Expect to see
dinner invitations issued to the entire engineering staff.”
“Really? I never heard anything about this.”
“Hey, Frank, you know be by now. I always know what’s going on before it
happens. Actually, I talked to the boss’s stenographer. She knows before
anyone else what’s going on around here since she makes up the schedule
for the old man.”
“You mean Douglass?”
“Yes, the super, who else?”
“Probably. You better have yourself ready, just in case. We have a full
day ahead of us working on those reports the superintendent assigned us
while the big-shots are in meetings all day. After that, I expect we’ll
be getting together.”
Kennecott at track grade, circa 1915.
--Lulu Fairbanks, #68-69-1326N, UAF AK & Polar Regions Photo Archives
"Formal Dinner at the Birch House," pt 2