14 November 2010

Ch 20, Pt 3, "Formal Dinner at the Birch House"

Legacy of the Chief, 
Chapter 20: "
Formal Dinner at the Birch House-1924" pt 3

National Creek flood

National Creek flood of
1936. On the left: Assay office with hospital (white) in
background. Behind that is the Stephen Birch house. On the right
is the National Creek barrack, site of the private mess, with
the taller East Barrack in the rear.

The nine engineers approached the front steps which led to the wide
front porch. They were immediately let in by a very young looking
Japanese waiter, entering by reverse order of rank. Frank was the first,
followed by Russell. The small lead glass window panes allowed natural
light into the small vestibule. Beyond that was the large reception area
and living room. An ornate L-shaped stairway on the north wall led to
the four bedrooms upstairs. Straight ahead on the main floor was another
large guest room. To the right along the west-facing wall was an open
doorway leading into a private office and library. It looked onto the
wide veranda and beyond toward the glacier and Fireweed Mountain.

The reception room featured the stunning copper ore fireplace which was
well-known, but seldom seen. Few had an opportunity to visit the Birch
house. A large dining table had settings for eighteen. These included
Bert Neiding and his wife, Bill Douglass and his wife, W.A. Richelsen
and his wife, the eight other engineers, and the four visitors.

A three-foot Regulator clock hung to one side of the fireplace mantle. A
player piano stood near the entry into the office. There were numerous
framed hand-tinted panoramic photos around the large room of the Jumbo
and Bonananza mine sites, Kennecott itself and Cordova. In the office,
there was a panoramic of what downtown Seattle and another of the
Motherlode. Heavy leather couches and overstuffed leather chairs
dominated the living room. The furniture was of dark hardwood. The room
had cherry wood wainscoting with light cream colored walls
above--typical of most of the Kennecott residences including the staff
house. The copperplate ceiling was not typical.

An ornate chandelier hung over the dinner table. The living room had
three overhead brass light fixtures and two reading lamps. The place was
obviously designed for high-level entertaining. The large group jovially
worked their way through a pleasant multi-course Chinese dinner prepared
by the head chef, Mr. Sato. Birch remained largely quiet, but Dan
Jackling talked about his experiences at Utah Copper, for which he was
best known. Mrs. Nieding carefully oversaw her two waiters. After the
two Japanese attendants had cleared the table, the three ladies excused
themselves and left the guest house to have their own private tea at the
Douglass residence. The men adjourned to the parlor where they enjoyed a
good view overlooking the glacier.

Stephen Birch / Guest House / Managers'
    --Simpson files

Russell pulled Frank aside before he had a chance to sit down.

“Vern Smith told me that we junior engineers will excuse ourselves
early, leaving the senior staff with Birch and Jackling. All of us will
join in a cigar and some brandy. Then Vern will speak for the lower
ranking engineers, excusing ourselves early for tomorrow’s activities.”

“Frank, I looked over your report with Bill Douglass and Bert Nieding. I
don’t see much optimism in your conclusions.”

“Mr. Birch, I wanted to be able to write that we had discovered major
ore veins, but I could find nothing to justify that view.”

“I carefully studied the engineering data which accompanies your report.
Your conclusions are correct, son. All the evidence shows that these can
only be minor veins.”

“That is a very large area. Most of it remains unexplored. We could have
missed something very significant in the two miles between Jumbo and

“I realize that, Bill, but we will aggressively prospect the ground with
diamond drilling. If necessary we can run more prospect tunnels. I have
to agree with Frank, however. If there had been a large vein out there,
we should have intersected it. Nothing in those reports looks like we
found anything which will alter our plans for phasing out the mines.”

There was a moment of stunned silence.

“Phasing them out? Are we that close?”

“Yes, Russell. Our conclusion is only tentative, but it surely is
looking that way. I’m sending up Alan Bateman from Yale to take another
look at it next year. We expect his report to mirror our conclusions.
Then we’ll work on what we have.”

“Gentlemen, a toast to the prosperity of our great company.”

I was right. Birch even agreed with me. We have found nothing which will
stop the company from closing the mine. I knew it. That’s why they came.
They want to be sure, even though it appears they have made up their
minds already.

Before the group departed Bill Douglass announced that everyone would be
heading up the Bonanza tram the next day for a working lunch. Birch and
Jackling wanted to personally inspect the 1252 stope of the Motherlode
and then head over to Jumbo to travel the new crosscut tunnel and
inspect the recently discovered veins.
Far below the veranda Frank watched another large
ore consist being loaded for the next day. The mill was still running at
full capacity. No one could imagine what was coming. The future had
arrived in the person of Stephen Birch, a figure from the past.

upper staff row view 2

1916 view of upper staff row: Birch
House above East Barrack, Superintendent's Residence on left.

--McCarthy-Kennicott Museum

The future was not a pleasing one, but the unthinkable was now becoming
the inevitable. The great interior mine system had become a candidate
for early closure. The only question was when. Could they stretch it
out? Birch appeared to be in a particular hurry to abandon everything.
Jackling seemed more reserved. He backed Douglass’s more cautious

“You made a good impression on Mr. Birch tonight, Frank. I’m not so sure
that Douglass was too happy about your report, but he’ll have to live
with it now.”

“I had to go with what I had, Russell.”

“They’ve made up their minds anyway. It really doesn’t matter.”

The evening shadows had overtaken staff row hill. Frank noticed the cold
breeze coming down the glacier.

“I don’t remember the glacial wind being so cool this time of year.”

“Neither do I. Every evening in the last few days it’s been like this.
It’s so hot in the daytime, but so cold when that breeze hits in the
early evening. Strange.”

As the two engineers passed the Douglass residence, Frank saw Mabel
Douglass’s flowers in the boxes along the windows move in easy harmony
with the cool, but gentle breezes. Then it turned gusty. The large flag
just south of the office became noisy as it flapped angrily in response
to much heavier winds. Mabel’s clothesline behind the large house
followed suit as the laundry seemed to want to rip away from the
clothespins on the line. He heard the eerie rush of air moving through
the brush and trees. The winds began to whistle and then howl.

“Enough of this, Russell. I’m making a run for it. Look up there.”

It was a massive, dark thundercloud. The heavy rains were poised to hit
the town any moment. By the time Frank reached the covered staff house
porch with Russell on his heels, the sky opened up.

“We’ll be playing poker in the back room tonight, Frank. The big bosses
are having their fun up in the Birch house. At least, they should be.
We’ll have ours down here. You might as well join us. We need to talk
about all this, anyway. I have the booze. Vern won’t mind under these
circumstances. He set it up.”

“I won’t miss it, Russell. See you down there.”


Abandoned site

Abandoned Staff Row, 1955
--Anchorage Museum of History & Art, B00.26.3

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