Neither Johnny nor Cap had ridden on this type of tram before. The tram
operator emphasized the need to duck on approaching the support towers
“. . . so as to keep your head from being whacked off.”
The aerial tram had a deadly reputation. The trams would kill or injure
considerably more men than was ever the case within the underground
workings. The tram operator went on with his brief safety lecture.
“People have fallen off or lost their heads or been otherwise mangled so
frequently that there were times when management banned the use of the
trams by us miners. But this tram and the one at Bonanza are the only
practical way to get back and forth. So be very careful out there--and
don’t look down. Always look up and foreword, especially near the tram
He ushered them aboard, one at a time. Johnny was the first one on. Frank
was the last. The operator separated the empty buckets by only one
hundred feet. When the buckets left the 1,800 tunnel, the tram line
immediately passed through a long, heavily reinforced timber breakover.
Once the riders were free of the break-over, they had a brief glimpse of
the three main barracks lined up in a crooked row as they overlooked the
Jumbo rock glacier. The cables inclined slightly as they passed over
the rock glacier, thus allowing this brief view.
Johnny sunk down low into his bucket, pulling his heavy woolen Hudson Bay
blanket around himself. It was very brisk out in the open. Then he
realized it was bright white everywhere. The snow which fell over the
Jumbo mine site three weeks ago was still there. He looked back,
noticing the row of three narrow, two-story frame structures. They
appeared to be leaning slightly in the direction of the glacier. There
were several smaller structures on the slopes above them. He turned
completely around. There was Castle Rock, lightly capped in bright white
snow a thousand feet above the camp. The skies were turning gray, and
the wind was picking up. His steel bucket began swinging as it was hit
by a series of heavy gusts, giving him a sudden case of nervousness.
One-hundred feet back he saw Cap’s bucket emerge from the break-over.
Cap waved and smiled. Johnny felt better.
Then the tram took a sudden, heart-stopping dip into a very sharp decline as
it began a rapid descent through a narrow opening between two peaks on
its way toward the Junction Station, about 8,000 feet down the line from
Jumbo. Johnny felt his stomach drop out of himself as his bucket took
that quick plunge.
Knowing he shouldn’t, he closed his eyes. Fearing sudden death more than the
heights, Johnny opened his eyes in time to see that his bucket was on
the path of an enormously steep drop-off heading through a series of
wooden towers. He didn’t feel so brave today. Below him the snow cover
had given way to bare rock.
The men would leave the small ore buckets at the mid-point of station no. 3,
then take another set of buckets for the remainder of the ride to the
mill base. The Glacier tram intersected the Jumbo tram at the station.
During most of the 1920s, low-grade ore came down the Glacier tram from
the Glacier surface mine during the summertime. The Glacier Mine was an
open-pit operation. William Douglass decided to run a Bagley scraper
during the three warm months to remove ore which had eroded from the
high-grade Bonanza outcropping a thousand feet above the rock glacier.
The ore had fallen away from its exposed southern end, which was
revealed within the high wall of an old glacial cirque. The copper was
mixed with broken host-rock limestone and the ice of a rapidly melting
mountain glacier hundreds of feet below. It was this exposed ore which
Smith and Warner first discovered a quarter century before, naming it
Altogether it was a forty-five minute ride to the tram base at the top
of the mill. The party arrived one-by-one on the large loading dock
near the top of the mill on the twelfth level. The Chitina Indians had
never been through the mill. They stood waiting on the landing until
Frank’s bucket arrived. He led them toward the front end of the mill
where the steep stairway followed a winding route to the Hancock Jig
floor, six levels below. This was the center-point of the mill. The
Hancock Jig extended out of the long south-face of the mill as an
annex. It had a double-door exit with a machine hoist and an exterior
stairway leading straight down to the office. The sidewalk continued
past the office to the hospital. Frank watched as the two Indians
continued on to the hospital.
Seeing no reason to follow the two into the hospital, Frank returned to the
office. He told John Bittner to begin filling out the paperwork
discharging the two men. He heard the phone ring in the next office.
The young receptionist came out to Bittner’s window near the main door.
“Frank, you better head down there to the hospital to help. Emil has already
passed away. Doctor Gillespie tells me that Johnny is beside himself.”
Frank sat down for a few moments to fully catch his breath. It had been a
record-breaking trip from Erie to the office. Frank looked at his
watch. They had made the trip all the way from Erie in barely more than
an hour, but they had arrived too late. Now it was left to Frank to
somehow comfort Johnny.
“Why me ? I’m an engineer.”
“You’re their sponsor. You’ve been their friend from the beginning. You took on
the responsibility yourself. Now, you’re the one who has to see this
It was Bill Douglass’s voice.
“Son, I know you’ve been through this before as an officer. You can manage it.
Go down there and see what needs to be done. You’ll do the right thing.
You’ll do fine.”
Russell had slipped quietly down the narrow stairwell from the map room above.
“I don’t envy you, Frank. Sorry you had to rush back under these
circumstances. Good luck down there.”
“Thanks, Russell. When is the Chitina Local leaving?”
Bill Douglass spoke up.
“We won’t make it today, even though Chris Jensen already has a casket made
up. Their Dad’s room at west barrack is available for them. We’ll have
to put them up there until tomorrow’s train.”
“I’ll walk over there with them, boss.”
“Did they bring back their belongings from camp?”
“Yes sir. All they have is their bedrolls. They’re Hudson Bay blankets. I
think that’s all they brought to Kennecott when they first got here.”
Frank stepped outside and noticed that Old Glory was whipping around angrily.
It had turned from mildly windy to dark gray and gusty. A movement
caught his eye. He looked up above the roof line of the hospital. Four
very large ravens were circling high above the hospital, riding the
first cold winds of a rapidly approaching winter.