06 February 2011

Chapter 30: "The Erie Job"

Erie View 7
Erie Mine area,
photo taken in May, 2001 by George Johnston
“Look up the slope, Johnny.  It’s way up there.”
“You’re right, Cap.  The snow looks like it’s still a long way up there.
I don’t see any of it down here.”
“It was blowing all over the place this morning.  Couldn’t see a darn thing
over at Jumbo.”
“Whoa ! Didn’t hear you come up behind us.  You gave me a start !”
“Name’s Morris.  Bill Morris.  I watched you guys come up the tram. 
Heard you were coming.  Wanted to meet you for myself.”
“Bill Morris?  I’m Johnny Gadanski.  This is my cousin, Cap Goodlataw.”
“How’d you hear of us?”
“Let’s just say that your reputation precedes you. I’m sure you two want to eat
something before getting started.  Let me show you in.”
“The older man took the lead down the narrow, covered walkway to the north
“We enter here. This door leads directly into  the recreation area.”
The three men entered a room which was dominated by a billiards table.
“To the right is the stairway up to the barracks rooms while the hallway
straight ahead leads into the mess hall.  Come on in.”
The room was well-lit due to the large number of windows facing the glacier.
It contained four tables.  A man of about the same age as Morris was
seated alone in the mess hall looking over some engineering drawings. 
As they entered the room he looked at the three and stood up.
“Bill.  Didn’t know you were in the area.  I see you’ve brought me my
new crew.”
“Ran into them on the walkway, Eldon.  Figured I’d show ‘em in.”
“I’ve been expecting you two.  Welcome to Erie--the smallest and, I hope, 
friendliest camp of the Kennecott group.  My name is Eldon Johnson, and
I’m both camp manager and mine foreman here. The man who led you in is
our general mine manager, Bill Morris.”

Google Earth image
Google-Earth view
of the Kennecott mines, including the tram lines. Inset is a
historic colorized panorama photo of Kennecott.
“You didn’t tell us who you were.  You’re not one of the mine workers, then?”
“Oh no.  I work directly under the engineers.  But I came up through the
ranks like most everyone here, including Eldon.
“I’m Johnny Gadanski and this is Cap Goodlataw.”
“Yes, I’ve heard plenty about you two.”
“That’s what Mr. Morris said.”
“Yes.  Well, the head carpenter is gone.  There hasn’t been one here since
July,  so you are the entire crew.  All that remains to be done
here involves adding the tar paper to the exterior walls and roof.   We
just have a tarp over the roof. We need that replaced first.  Due to the
heavy gusts up here, you’ll want to exercise some care up there.  Check
for winds first before going up the ladder. Long ways down, you know. 
Once the roof’s done you’ll be rolling tar paper over the new walls all
the way around.  I’m told you can handle that yourselves.”
“You mean there’s no foreman to oversee us?”
“Just me, Johnny.  It’s simple enough work.  Most men dont’ want to work up
there, though.”
“We’ve done this kind of work before.  Nothing to it.  Just point us in the
right direction and we’ll have the job done and be on our way out of
here. ”
“Very well, I’ll leave it to you, then.   The scaffolds are still out there in
place where the last crew left them.  When you’ve finished the work,
you’ll need to disassemble them and leave the lumber in the large
storage shed.  You’ll notice that we’re not building this structure to
be anything more than a temporary barrack.”
“Sounds fine to us, but can we at least eat first before getting
“Oh, yes, Cap, sorry to make you wait.   I believe the cook has already set
aside some lunch for you.   I’ll go back into the kitchen and check. 
Dinner is only a couple hours away, however.”
“Thanks, we’re ready to eat now. It’s been a long day without lunch.
We’re used to eating on a late schedule, anyway, right Sla’cheen?”
“We always ate after everyone else at Green Butte.  They were okay over
there, but we prefer to stick to ourselves.  We’ll respect them if they
respect us.”
The cook set out the two meals for the Indians while the four men sipped
coffee at the table.  Eldon gave a brief background of Erie Mine as they
“We opened this mine in 1916, running a very limited tonnage of ore through
the tram and hauling it over that rough wagon road to the mill. We found
that arrangement very unsatisfactory after three years of small
production.  It was only the opening of the 12,000 foot haulage tunnel
to the Jumbo incline shaft which will finally make  this a real mine.”
Bill Morris continued the explanation.
“Until now the Erie’s  been more of a prospect hole. The difference between a
prospect and a mine is that a mine produces.   Now we’re finally
beginning to develop this end because we can move large amounts of ore
down our new haulage tunnel to the Jumbo incline where we can hoist it
to the surface.  In the process of drilling out the cross-cut tunnel, we
developed four new ore bodies on the main level.  The cross-cut is also
the main level for Erie, though it’s the 1,500 foot level of Jumbo.
“Quite a difference in elevation, isn’t it?  Jumbo upper camp is 1,500 feet
higher than this camp.  It’s sitting in the white stuff over there.
Snowed heavily last night.

Erie View 9
Erie overlooking
Root & Kennicott Glaciers   --Anchorage Museum of
History &  Art
“Now we’re driving an incline tunnel on this end to follow the contact zone
where we ordinarily find the ore.  It’s a thirty-degree incline, like
the ones at Jumbo and Bonanza. So far we’ve made it to the 300 level of
Erie.  There’s definitely some rich ore down there.   This is why we had
to enlarge this Erie barracks to a size which can support a mine force
of about thirty men.  Douglass wants to turn this into a full-fledged
mining operation now that the larger ones are almost played out.”
Eldon took up the narrative.
“Our schedule was altered by the big fire.  We only reopened a few days ago. 
This mine has no priority because it is considered only of secondary
value,  but you can see for  yourselves that we  are nearly done with
the facility.   We have finished laying the track down the new crosscut,
so we’re ready to deliver ore once we start developing some of the veins
we’ve located.   A new battery-powered locomotive is set to run the two
miles over to the Jumbo where the ore can be trammed to the surface and
then sent down the Jumbo aerial tram to the mill for processing.
“Actually, I can use more miners than I’ve got on hand.  If you want to
make yourselves available after finishing your carpenter work here, I
can sure use you.  I’m told you did stope drilling at Green Butte.”
Cap’s ordinarily expressionless face showed considerable surprise.  Johnny’s
jaw dropped open.
“Well, sir, actually we were planning on leaving when the power plant job was
done.  This offer of yours is a complete surprise. We’d already been
told yesterday that we were being laid off.   Then someone extended our
time at Kennecott long enough to finish this last piece of unfinished
barracks work.
“Now you’ve presented us with an offer for work which we tried to get when we
first arrived here, but we’ve already made plans for returning home to
Chitina.   We’ll give your offer some thought. Thanks for asking us.”
“Do you usually speak for both of you, Johnny?”
Cap responded to the question.
“We’ve been a team since our railroad days back in 1916, working off and on
first for the railroad, then as guides and back to working maintenance
on  the railroad before going on to Green Butte.  We finally arrived
here in mid-August  because Kennecott needed more help to build their
new power plant.  We worked as a team from the beginning. We came as a
team and we’ll leave as one.  It’s worked out well for us this way.
Johnny usually speaks for both of us.”
“That’s fine with me, as long as you agree, Cap.  I want you two to
seriously consider my offer.  We’re critically short of labor up here.”
Cap asked the question which had never been honestly answered.
“Isn’t there a policy against hiring Indians for the mines?”
“Don’t know about that. No one ever told me anything about a no-Indian policy,
but it doesn’t concern me. I just want to get the job done here.  If
you’re willing, I want you here.  That’s my attitude.  I don’t care much
what the main office or anyone else thinks as long as I meet their
production expectations.”
Bill Morris sat listening to Eldon’s reply.  He nodded in silent agreement
and then watched in amusement at the apparent surprise of the two
Indians.  The two Indians finished eating in silence.
“Since it’s still early, we’ll head on outside now and survey the scaffolding
and see about getting our work underway.  Are those the new-addition
drawings you have there?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact.  It’s all here--the main floor, second floor where
the bunk rooms are located and the basement, which houses the heat
plant.  You can compare this 1924 drawing with the original 1916 plan I
have upstairs if you like.  In fact, I’ll show you.  Have some more
coffee and I’ll be right back with that older drawing.”
While he was away, Bill continued to sit at the table, sipping coffee.
“So you head all of the mines?”
“That’s right, son.  I’m considered part of management.  Now I have
something to tell both of you.  Listen carefully.
“I know about the fight. That was fine.  I understand why it happened.  It
better not happen here. The superintendent gave you a chance, but I
won’t.  Watch yourselves up here.  I’m not as nice as Douglass or
Buckner or any of those engineers. I have to go now.”
The large man stood up, turned and left without looking back.

Erie View 11
The Erie Mine,
showing the distinctive coloration that separates the Nicolai
Greenstone (dark) from the Chitistone Limestone formations,
otherwise known as the Contact Zone.   --UAF Archives

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