08 February 2011

Chapter 37: "Emil's Paint Shop," Pt 2

Kennecott carpenter shop
Carpenter & paint shop, Company Store, Laundromat, Butcher Shop & West Bunkhouse, with Five-Plex
Apartments on the hill to the right.   --UAF Photo Archives
“Welcome back, guys.  We received your telegram, in time to make your room arrangements.  Frank
saw to it that you get room 205 once again.”
“It seems strange arriving here without Dad to greet us.”
“We all miss him.  We thought a great deal of him.  No one’s been in his paint shop since he
departed.  I was just down there today for the first time in months.  It’s still
the same, except I smelled some spilled or open paint down there.  Johnny, I’m
giving you your dad’s job of head painter. Emil’s shop is yours now.”
“I don’t know what to say, Mr. Jensen. Why me?”
“For one thing, there’s been no need for a paint foreman until now.  We need one for the mill
job.  You’ve learned the ropes. You know how we do our paint work.  You
certainly had enough experience on our big job last year. We’re short handed, as
usual, and here you are.  It’s yours.  Treat the job right.
“As I said, I noticed a heavy lead paint smell down there.  The old shop will need some
cleanup and airing out before you can use it.”

“I’m thrilled to have my dad’s shop, if even for a short time.  Let’s take a look at it.”
They crossed the train over the rear deck of the Pullman combine and headed for the paint
shop in the lower level of the old sawmill.
“We better open some windows and doors down here.  It sure smells strong.  We’ll start right on
“Go up there and get settled and get some lunch. You look like you can use it.  See you down
here after a while.”
Less than an hour later, the two returned to Emil’s shop.
“It may have smelled strongly of paint fumes, but it’s Dad’s place.  Now it’s ours as well,
Cap.  Look, Dad’s old  tools are neatly arranged and ready to go.”

Kennecott carpenter shop

Two early views
of the carpenter shop when it was a saw mill that also contained the
power plant   --AMHA

early carpenter shop

Johnny picked up one of the brushes hanging on the wall.  He ran his thumb through it. 
The bristles were soft and  pliable. 
“Nice.  Good old Dad.  Say, Cap, it seems awfully dark down here. I wonder if there are any
more lights working. What’s this?”
Johnny found the switch and flipped it.  The room turned bright.
“I thought so. 
There had to be more lights somewhere. Help me with this sliding door, Cap.”
The heavy old door resisted.  They pushed until it finally relented, letting in the afternoon
sun from the west.
“Now that’s more like it. We can get some air in this place finally. The spilled paint smell
in here is terrible.  Hey, Johnny, look at the wide deck out here.  It must have
been used for open storage at one time.”
“Good place to set the old paint cans.”
“Let’s find the open paint and clean it up, Sla’cheen.  Looks like there’s a lot
of old paint cans that can be just pitched out.”
“Since you’re the boss down here, where do I haul the bad cans, Johnny?”
“Out to the deck, where else?  Throw the empties onto the ground.  The yard crew can come
and get ‘em.”
“Look over here, Indian boss.”
“Cut it out, Cap. It’s just me. Remember?”
“I just want you to remember it’s just you. Don’t need the title going to your head,
Indian boss. I still have to work and live with you.”
Cap was staring at a large group of five-gallon paint cans along a back wall. 
“This must be it.  Yes, here it is. There’s red paint that’s flowed all over the floor back
here. It’s still wet. One of these cans near the wall must have split open
somehow really recently. Aren’t we  lucky ?  Nasty job ahead of us here, boss. 
Wouldn’t want to have to breathe this stuff very long. It’s already giving me a
“This is probably what killed Dad, Cap.  Can you believe this smell?  Imagine breathing
it for years.  How could anyone live with this? Now, I’m getting a
“We’ll leave the sliding door open and get back to this later, Cap.  Enough of this. Time to
get out of here.  I can use the fresh air.  Let’s check in with the office and
see Frank.”
The train was already being loaded with ore when the two crossed over one of the couplings
between two empty cars.  They followed the railroad trestle past the
electricians’ warehouse.  At the rear of the building was the beginning of the
sidewalk which passed the office on the way to National Creek dam.
“Dad said the office is the second oldest building on the property.  Only the sawmill where
our paint shop sits is older.  Look at that  log front face. Dad  said that
Stephen Birch himself helped built it.”
A familiar looking young man behind the glass handed the two their necessary paperwork.
“Bittner, right?  You’re John Bittner.  You’ve got the large cottage on the north end--the
one with the cat that sometimes watched us work.”
“That’s me. Good memory.  Great to see you guys again.  Frank’s expecting you.”
“That would be me.”

abandoned carpenter shop

A view of the Carpenter Shop, Company  Store & West Bunkhouse in abandoned Kennecott in 1955   --UAF Archives

Frank had slipped down the narrow L-shaped stairwell.  Johnny hugged Frank, taking him
completely  by surprise.  He was not aware that the practice was common among
Indians who know each other well.  Frank felt embarrassed, but he was also
touched by the show of affection.
“You’re almost one of us, Frank. You’ve always backed us up.  Always been there for us.  Good
to see you again.”      
Frank fought himself hard to not let his emotions show.  The young clerk Bittner was a little dumbfounded at first, but accepted it and went on with his paperwork.
“Don’t make me into something that I’m not.  But thanks.  Thank you so much.  What a great way
to end this day.  Look, I have to go now.”
All this was just a little too much for Frank.  He escaped upstairs to the map room. 
Fortunately, everyone else had already departed the office except the young
clerk John Bittner, who did not seem to think this was such a big deal.  

Does this mean I’m finally doing something right? 
Have I found my true home here at Kennecott?
The junior engineer turned back to his work.  He would be working late again tonight. Soon
he would be returning to his assignment at Jumbo.
Johnny and Cap approached the west barrack in silence. They reached the familiar room in the
attic area.  It had two bunks, but only the two of them were assigned to 205..
“This Kennecott, it is a very strange place, Johnny.  There are men here who would
just as soon kill us as look at us and then there are those who make us feel
like we’re home.  I think it’s growing on me, Sla’cheen.
“Look at Chris Jensen, for example.  He made you the paint foreman, giving you your Dad’s old
shop like it was nothing.  That old paint shop’s been untouched all this
time--almost like Jensen  was saving your Dad’s place just for you. I think he
wanted you and no one else to have it.  Just like our engineer friend up there.
He made sure we got our very same room back, with no room mates.  He
understands, yet he doesn’t know us.”
“It’s great, isn’t it. There’s some really nice people up here.  Even that Bittner fellow is
okay. I’d like to see this season go by well without serious problems.  It seems
like there’s always a dark lining to everything.  Speaking of that, what do you
suppose happened back at McCarthy?”
Shee-ya appeared in my dream.  In the very room where I was dreaming he showed up and
let me see the future of McCarthy.   I could sense something very strange there
even before my dream.  Or maybe it was a vision.
“It’s what I told you earlier, back in the billiards hall in Chitina.  This place--railroad,
white man towns, the mines, everything--is doomed.  It won’t even be that long. 
Nicolai came as a kay-yee-gay--a ghost--just like you saw him through the
window.  He told me that soon we will our land back.  But I’m not sure I want it
back in the way he showed it to me.  I just don’t know now.  I was so sure about
it before.  It was all so strange. Maybe it wasn’t him, but an evil spirit who
looked like him.  You saw that raven.  Not a good sign.  There was one other
thing.  He told me that we sla’cheen must stick together through whatever
is coming.  He said we would both perish if we did not.”

midnight sun
The midnight sun over
Kennecott's carpenter shop in the 1930s     --W.A.

No comments: