15 November 2010

Ch 21, Pt 8: "Lunch at Bonanza"


ennecott Mines

        "Lunch at Bonanza," Chapter 21, "Legacy of the Chief," pt 8

ABOVE: The Stephen Birch house, falling in at the abandoned town of Kennecott in 1966.

Everyone of us knew this had to be
coming, but the words were still a shock. Our beloved mine was already
downgraded to a secondary position. We were to prepare plans for a
retreat. The end was in sight. But we were also caught up in the moment
of the obvious historic value of this occasion. The staff of engineers
stood up and applauded our own Great Man, Mr. Stephen Birch most

Then we sat down--most of us in a sort of stunned contemplation. We
looked around at each other and quietly resumed drinking the coffee
while we waited the lunch service. As Mr. Birch had noted, the head cook
for the entire camp, Mr. Sato himself, who had prepared the Chinese
dinner last night, was overseeing this preparation as well. Sato was a
choice find brought in by Bill Douglass. His culinary skills were well
known, and his demands on the cooking and waitering staff which he
headed were harsh, but the results were excellent. The meals at
Kennecott had become famous throughout the territory. Kennecott was
known as the mine with the best working conditions, of which food
service was a key part. Bill Douglass wanted to keep it that way.

I looked at Russell, seated to my right. He had been the junior engineer
until I arrived last year to take that dubious honor. I leaned in his
direction and quietly remarked, “I guess we better prove our value here
while we have the chance. Clearly there is no future in this place.
We’ll all be looking for careers elsewhere soon, I suspect.”

ABOVE:  Early mining crew at Jumbo, including the ever-present Japanese cook.  --Cordova Museum

BELOW: The Jumbo overlooking Kennicott Glacier 
--McCarthy-Kennicott Museum

Russell then leaned toward me. We typically would consult each other first before talking to any of the senior engineers. He had been enormously helpful in ensuring that I did not make any mistakes either professionally or socially which would make me look too foolish. He acted as both a sponsor and an older brother. As I would learn later, it was Bill Douglass who suggested to Russell that he act as a kind of unofficial sponsor to me since I was so young and relatively new to the business. I have to say that all the staff had seemed to go out of their way to take care of me and point me in the proper direction. They did it unobtrusively, but there was always someone prepared to give me some sort of hint if I appeared to be headed in the wrong direction.

“Not to worry. We know we are looking at several more years of operation
here, with the ore that is now in sight and the projected reserves. We won’t be closing along with the Beatson Mine, either. They’ll be done well ahead of us. It would be good to begin looking elsewhere for work in the next year or so, since this will soon become a dead-end spot. That should be obvious from the tone just set by our esteemed leader.” 

Russell said that somewhat facetiously, but so that only I could hear it. He was a maverick--not one to be readily impressed by trappings of power, wealth or other forms of prestige. I think Russell had no real interest in a career with Kennecott. He was not much of a company man at heart, but he knew how to appear to fit in. His work was always good, though seldom great.

“You actually have an opportunity here, Frank. I heard Birch mention the Marvelous vein. No one really wants to oversee that operation. You could probably have a chance of being in charge over there as a project engineer if you want the assignment.”

                                                    The Mother Lode upper camp

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