Cap was the first to awaken. In a matter of a few weeks, it had become very
cool in the mornings. Steam heat was now running from the new power
plant throughout the facility. He pulled his heavy potlatch blanket off
and stepped onto the cool wooden floor. Walking over to the window in
his bare feet he could detect a new coldness beginning to permeate the
building. Winter was no longer a distant possibility. He looked out
the window, expecting to see the usual fog. Instead it was perfectly
clear. The four tall stacks were quietly puffing away. Only yesterday
the crew removed the last of the scaffolding around stack number two.
The others had been removed as Cap or Johnny finished painting each
one. Today this last piece of platform would come down, the remaining
tarps and other debris would be cleaned up around the plant, and the job
would be complete.
The sun was not out, but it was light out. Lighter than normal, it seemed
for this early time of the morning. Then he realized why. The top
thousand feet of the ridge was white. It had snowed all the way down to
about 6,000 feet, which was the adit level for the Bonanza and Jumbo.
It was difficult to tell from here, but it appeared that Jumbo camp
might be under the snow as well. The storm had come in the night and
vanished before the first light of morning. It would be a clear, but
cool day today.
“Johnny, get up. It snowed out there. Time to finish our job and get
ready to head home.”
He bounded up.
“It feels cooler in this room. Looks like woolen underwear today.”
“No, it’ll warm up by late morning. You’ll be sweating by the afternoon,
Sla’cheen. We’ll need the wool soon enough. Besides, we didn’t
pack any. Have to get new ones at the store.”
“Wow ! It really hit the upper ridge, Cap. Looks beautiful out there,
doesn’t it? No fog either. Sure sign summer’s over. Let’s check on
Dad and go to breakfast. Lots of cleanup work ahead.”
The train sat loaded with ore ready to run. There were only ore cars.
Nothing else. Number 72 was steaming away with Art Holt standing by for
the ten-hour ore run into Cordova.
“Don’t see that engine up here too often. Usually it’s 71 or 74. One of them
must be down.”
“The ground is hard, Sla’cheen.
“You’re right, Cap. It frosted hard out here. There’s our job. Look at
that work. That’s us, Cap. The carpenters built it, but it’s the paint
that makes it.”
“We did this. Now that’s what I call good work, partner.”
“Well, at least we painted most of it. No one else wanted the job, especially
on the second and third levels. And who did they turn to for the
blackening job on those eighty-foot stacks, Sla’cheen?”
“Who else? Are we an unbeatable team or what?”
Henry was right there looking over the work remaining to be done. He was
wearing his customary smile. Henry seemed to completely lack in
prejudice. He tended to view everyone was part of the same family and
the world was a great place to live. That was simply all there was to
it. Because of his perpetual optimism and child-like belief in the
underlying good of humanity, he was immensely well liked.
“Henry, I guess you’re the boss today, since we’re done painting. We
have a good day of clean-up here.”
“No you don’t. I have something else for you. Just got the word from the
big boss, of all people.”
“Which one is that?”
“Bill Douglass. He called me in early this morning.”
“What’s going on, Henry?”
“Look, you guys, we have an unfinished job up at Erie. That barracks was
supposed to be completely rebuilt this summer. It almost was, but this
emergency matter of rebuilding the plant here just got in the way. They
even had to close Erie completely due to the lack of power.
“Anyway, the super thought maybe you’d consider staying long enough to
finish the work up there. It’s not a very tall building. Tall enough,
I suppose, but it’s practically right over a high cliff. They call it
the “eagle’s nest,” because it’s perched on the edge of a nearly sheer
drop-off, ending at the Root Glacier.
“They want us to finish it?”
“We all know how you guys are. I have to say that you put most everyone else
to shame when it comes to raw physical courage, not to mention the
really outstanding work you two do.”
“Henry, you’re buttering us up.”
“Maybe. But you’re the superintendent’s first pick. He wants you to
finish the work. Someone in the office finally realized they can’t go
through the winter, even with Erie closed, without finishing up the
barrack. The temporary tarp covering the roof is sure to blow off. The
walls aren’t sealed either.”
“But us ? We thought we were leaving. We were planning on moving my Dad on
out of here. He’s been getting seriously ill, you know. He has bad
spells where he has breathing problems.”
“I suspect there’s something more to it than that. My guess is Frank was
in there arguing to keep you two longer than this first lay-off. Then
it hit them that they really do need you. No one else wants that job.”
“We’ve heard that one before. Seems that if it’s really tough, only the
Indians can do the job.”
“I could do the job, Johnny. But I’ve got too much to do as yard boss.
They need me here more than up there, or I’d go myself. I don’t mind at
all. Not much anyway. Frank came down to my room early this morning to
consult me on this. When I got to the office, Chris Jensen was already
there. The four of us talked about the problem. Chris told them that
the work had to be done, or the building could be damaged or even lost.
“We discussed our options, but they always seemed to come down to you two.
We could probably find someone else, but Chris said one of them would
have to be him, and he’d rather not.”
“Sound all right to you Cap?”
Cap nodded back to Johnny.
“Henry, if this is a short job and you really need us, we’re your
Henry gave him a puzzled look. The phrase threw him.
“Great ! You’re on. Don’t bother with the clean up work here. I’ve got
plenty of help who can finish this job. Get back to the barracks and
grab your gear. Expect my wagon to be coming by to pick you up very
shortly. You’ll have to move to Erie for a few days.”
“How many days, Henry?”
“Chris says ten days should be all you need, if all goes well. We take a
five-mile wagon road to the Erie tram base. You’ll appreciate the ride.
We follow right next to the glacier. Up there you’ll see more raw ice.
You know--white and blue ice. Not so much of the gravel and boulders.
Say hello to Emil for me. Don’t worry. We’ll take care of him until
you get back.”
“What do you suppose really went on in that office, Sla’cheen ? Frank
just told us we were being laid off.”
“Don’t understand what goes on up there among those engineers. They’re a
different bunch--different breed from the workers here. They’re not
much like us. They’re sure not like most of the other men we’ve met here
either. Though some of them seem awfully icy.”
“Do you think Frank was serious about the sheep hunting?”
“I believe he really meant it, Cap, but he’ll probably never find the
time. They seem to keep him very busy here, ”
The steam whistle sent out a series of blasts. Number 72 began pulling out.
The loaded flatcars began creaking and groaning in protest over the
heavy loads. The conductor jumped aboard the rear platform of the
caboose, turned and waved at the two.”
“When it’s that close, it’s one huge machine. That thing is tall.”
“The engine, you mean? Yes, Cap. Those 70-series engines they use now are
“I still wonder how they were able to figure out how to drag No. 74 out of
that ice-filled river so they could place it back on the tracks and
drag it back to Cordova.”
“That was some job positioning the boat so we could hook onto it. It seemed
like more trouble than it was worth, though I sure wouldn’t like the
thought of having that huge piece of steel forever blocking our river
“That must have been quite an embarrassment for the railroad. Imagine having
a big, new engine like that crash through a trestle because someone
forgot to check the bridge for damage.
“Never seen a hundred-ton crane before. Between that crane and the smaller
one, and all that block-and-tackling, they must have used every bit of
knowledge and resources they had to get that engine out of those
“It’s amazing to me that they’re still running it, Sla’cheen. You’d
never know from looking at it now how badly it was damaged.”
The train pulled away from them and out of sight as they walked on toward
the barracks and headed up the stairwell just inside the glass enclosed
porch way. Emil was in his room. He was not feeling too well. But as
the two approached, they realized that he was not alone. Johnny started
to quickly back out of the room when he saw the visitor, but Emil waved
him back in.
“Come in both of you. I want you to meet someone. Mr. Douglass, this is
Johnny Gadanski, my son and his friend and very loyal co-worker, Cap
Goodlataw, who is from a very prominent family in Chitina. He’s just
like another son to me. Boys, this is the superintendent himself, Mr.
The two had never encountered Douglass before. They were surprised to find
him to appear to be a very open and friendly man. Bill immediately
extended his hand and greeted them.
“I want you to know that I’m very impressed with your work. You have done
credit to your people, and I know your dad here is very proud.
I wish we could find more like you.”
“But it was Frank who got us here.”
“It was. Frank stood up to everybody, including me, to get you in here. He
turned out to be right. If it wasn’t for Frank and Emil, you two would
not be here. I just wanted you to know that.”
“Mr. Douglass has convinced me that it is time for me to retire out of here.
Not that it took all that much convincing. There’s no such thing as
retirement if you’re a working man here, but the company has generously
offered me a severance bonus. I’ll remain on the job here until you
two finish up at Erie, then we’ll all return to Chitina. I’ll have more
than enough saved up to buy that cabin I want and get on with my life as
a retired man.”
“So you don’t mind if we take a few weeks to finish the Erie job?
“You guys go on and do the work. You came up here to prove a point. I know
that. Well, you just keep on doing it. I’ll be here ready to leave
when you get back. Go on now, get yourselves ready. I’ll see you when
The two Indians returned to their room in the attic.
“This was a nice room. Wonder what the next one will be like.”
“We’re going right up to meet the winter, Sla’cheen. You saw it this
morning. Sounds more like Green Butte again to me.”
“Small and primitive, you mean. I guess so. What a surprise, meeting Mr.
Douglass here, of all places. I’ve heard some good things about the
man, and now I think I can understand why,”
“Don’t get too taken in, Sla’cheen. We all know that your dad is dying
and he that probably got ill having to working with all that paint. We
worked with it, too. You know how bad those fumes are. I think they’re
giving him a bonus because they feel guilty and want to get rid of him.
“You may be right, Cap, but this was Dad’s life. He really seems to like it
here. If it’s all right with him, I say, let’ em do it. I’d like to
see him leave here happy.”
Cap grimaced back at Johnny.
“Don’t forget that these are the same people who disturbed our graves.”
“Shee’ya told us that we had to make the best of the world which has
been given us, and this is it, Cap.”
“You guys ready yet?”
“Henry ! That was fast.”
“We have to get going. It’s a long wagon trip up there. I want to get back
Outside they encountered a wagon pulled by two large horses.
“Jump on board, guys. I managed to hijack this here rig, and now we’re off on
a scenic cruise.”
|Root Glacier view from the Erie Mine |
bunkhouse area. --Anchorage Museum of History & Art