Frank walked down the hall of the old building. It was one of the two oldest
on the site and was primitive, dark and drafty. The engineers and
foremen maintained offices and rooms there. Several years ago the
company moved most of the men in the much newer and larger Barracks No.
4. The management and support staff remained in the oldest building.
Frank walked down the narrow hallway with the creaking floor to the
office in a front corner looking toward the aerial tram. Bill Morris
was seated at his large desk examining one of Frank’s engineering
“Frank. I was just looking at these. It sure doesn’t look like much
after what we’re used to here at Jumbo, does it?”
“No. There’s not really much out there, Bill. I’ll probably want your men to
run some prospect tunnels into each one of them, starting with this
third one. It looks like the most promising of the four.
“Bill, I got a phone call from the office. I need the battery locomotive
ready. Could you call down there and have it waiting for me at the
landing? I’m heading to the incline now. Have to go over to the Erie
side and bring back the Indians.”
“Looks like it to me, Bill. I’m escorting them back to camp. Emil’s probably
not going to make it.”
It took ten minutes for Frank to reach the 1,500 level of the Jumbo incline.
The operator stood ready with the new rechargeable Westinghouse
locomotive pulling five large, empty ore cars. It took another twelve
minutes to reach the Erie incline close to the main portal of the camp.
Johnny and Cap were working down the new incline near the 300 level where one
of the tunnels led to an adit at the surface on a high cliff above Root
Glacier. The tunnel opening kept the area well ventilated.
Like the other inclines, this one had a stairwell compartment paralleling a
set of thirty-inch skip tracks. It proved to be quite a long run down
the stairs to the working level at its base. Eldon Johnson was near the
landing, supervising the incline extension work crew.
“Frank, what a surprise to see you here. Thought you’d be working up on the
main level in the new prospect area. Is there a problem?”
“Actually, Eldon, there is. I need to have you release Johnny Gadanski
and Cap Goodlataw for me. I’ve come to notify him that his father is
very ill. We don’t expect him to last. I imagine both he and Cap will
be leaving the job for the season under these circumstances. I’ll be
escorting them out of here.”
“Sorry about Emil. I’ve heard many good things about him, though I don’t
personally know the man. I regret even more that we’ll probably lose
two of my best men. Oh well, these things happen. I’ll summon them for
you and let you tell them.”
Eldon turned and headed farther into the darkness of the shaft. Somewhere out
of Frank’s sight he could hear Eldon yell out for the two. Like the
other miners and muckers, these men were dressed in heavy work clothing
and rubber boots suitable for the deep mining environment with its
below-freezing temperatures and constant winds running throughout the
tunnels. With the helmets they were wearing and the light-colored grime
covering them, they were indistinguishable from anyone else in the
“Hello, guys. I’m sorry to be the one to have to tell you this, Johnny, but
your father has turned gravely ill. Doctor Gillespie does not expect
him to last much longer. The suddenness of it is a surprise to all of
us. He’s having extreme trouble breathing. We don’t think he’ll leave
the hospital alive.”
Johnny stared at Frank, his mouth slowly opening, then he darted straight for
the incline shaft, not waiting for Frank. Cap followed. As he brushed
past the engineer, he yelled back.
“Bastards, you should have told me sooner.”
Eldon emerged from the darkness.
“We’ll take care of the paperwork at the office. I’m quite sure they won’t be
back. I’ve got a long run back up those stairs to catch up with them.
They don’t know how to get back to camp the fast way.”
Frank rushed back up the incline stairs. Somewhere far ahead he could hear
Johnny and Cap running up the thirty-degree shaft toward the main
level. It was a long exhausting trek up the new stairwell. Frank
sprinted all the way up. By the time the engineer reached the top, he
found the two out of breath at the 100 level landing.
“Look, Johnny, no one realized how ill your father is. He was still working a
few days ago. Then he told us he needed to take some time off. It never
occurred to anyone to have him checked. When someone finally found him
in his room we rushed him over to the hospital.”
Cap, standing behind Johnny, looked toward Frank and signaled with a silent
Johnny looks very depressed. He seems to have lost his
energy. As usual, the two balance each other well. Johnny is far more
subject to stress than Cap, I would guess. Cap seems to serve as a
buffer to Johnny. Similarly, I’ve seen Johnny hold Cap back from
engaging in an unnecessary confrontation with some of the loudmouths we
occasionally have working here.
“Look, you guys, leaving the mining outfits in the changing room, then get
your gear together. I’ll return with you to camp. The fastest way
back is not the way you arrived here over the glacier trail. I’ve
already got a mine locomotive standing by at the Erie portal. Those
iron rails your sitting on that head into the darkness away from Erie
extend all the way to the Jumbo incline and beyond. We’ll ride them
and hoist to the surface and then ride the aerial tram back down to
Cap looked puzzled. He had never heard of underground locomotives. No one
on the present crew had ever seen it. The battery-powered engine would
soon begin making regular runs once the Erie incline began sending ore
to the 100 level. But Cap nodded and followed Johnny toward the
barracks rooms. Frank followed. Up ahead, as the tunnel veered left,
the line of five cars stood by. The operator had turned the locomotive
around and had moved it to the front, so he could use the headlamp for
the return trip. Cap and Johnny both stopped long enough to look at the
curiosity, then they rushed off to the barrack.
The two Indians showed up at Eldon’s office, where Frank patiently waited. They
still had light-colored mine dust grime on their faces. Johnny came in
and slumped down into the chair. Cap moved in place behind him.
“I’m sorry, Frank. I didn’t mean to swear at you like that. I’m sure you
can understand. We have our potlatch blankets, which is all we brought
with us, and now we need to get back to camp by the fastest way we
can. Did you say something to Cap about using the underground
“That’s the one you just passed. It’s there just for us, so we can make a fast
run to the Jumbo inline, which leads to the surface where an aerial tram
will bring us back to camp.”
“Then, let’s go.”
The two were out the second story door and down the stairs in a flash. They
rushed down the covered, elevated board walk for the portal. Inside
they passed through a winding corridor, cut very unevenly because it was
originally just a prospect hole. The first several hundred feet ran a
very crooked line around winzes, raises and prospect drifts before
reaching the main haulage tunnel.
The operator waved them aboard. He started to pull out as they boarded,
gaining speed until it was silently racing down the long quiet tunnels.
The company still had not finished installing the overhead lighting on
the Erie end of the new cross-cut. The tunnel was illuminated entirely
by the large front-facing lamp as it whirred toward the Jumbo incline
1500 level landing.
Frank Buckner had been involved in shooting the line for the new cross-cut
connection from the Erie 100 level side on the extreme northwest. The
tunnel would have been shot in a straight line except for the presence
of the Amazon Gulch rock glacier somewhere overhead. To avoid any
problems with the natural grinding glacier action, the engineers veered
the tunnel north outside the preferred path. This caused the tunnel to
temporarily leave the desired level near the contact zone. Finally the
tunnel swung back into place. Somewhere directly ahead in the darkness
was the Jumbo incline.
The top speed of the battery vehicle was just over ten miles per hour. The
group arrived at their destination in ten minutes, even though the
tunnel seemed to go on and on.
“How much farther does it go, Frank?”
“This tunnel ? When we’re done with it, Cap, this tunnel will end on the far
side of the ridge. It’ll be over four miles long, coming out somewhere
above McCarthy Creek in a place known as Independence Gulch. It’ll be
the longest tunnel in Alaska. Frank, like Johnny and Cap, found himself
wanting to get out of the mines as quickly as possible.
The Jumbo had a very large incline which dwarfed the one being built at
Erie. It was double-tracked so it could hoist in balance. This was
necessary due to the projected length of the incline, which was expected
to continue down another thousand vertical feet, making it the longest
of the incline shafts at over a mile in rail distance. That would be an
impossibly long run for a single-track system. Even down to the 1,500 level,
the run was considered a long one, as it was over half a mile long.
With the hoist-in-balance system, one set of loaded ore buckets moved toward
the surface while the other set returned to the ore stopes, which was
the working area. The special man-skips were in place when the three
men arrived. An attendant was on hand to see them aboard.
He signaled the hoist operator 1,550 feet above. It took another ten
minutes to reach the surface, which was the 180 level tunnel. The was
the new main adit level, where a large conveyor transported the ore from
the end of the skip dump to the ore bins at the back end of the top of
the aerial tram. The tram terminus had been moved underground in 1919
to protect the men from the heavy winds and extreme cold temperatures at
the surface and to otherwise speed up the tram-bucket loading
The men off-loaded from the personnel skip at the upper level and followed the
ore conveyor belt to a point near the surface where the top of the Jumbo
tram was set to haul ore to the mill. Loaded ore buckets were already
on the line ahead of them, moving out in two-hundred-foot intervals. It
is the weight of those loads which caused the tram to move down at the
proper speed of about five miles per hour. An operator waited at the
platform to help them on board.