08 February 2011

Chapter 38: "The Great Paint Job Begins"

Kennecott mill 1955

The 14-story mill as it appeared in 1955:   --Harry Hughes Collection, UAF Archives

Chris Jensen, Johnny, and Cap surveyed the paint job ahead of them.  They stood 
on the walkway behind the electricians’ warehouse just downhill from the office,  close to the
base of the high-grade ore chute which looked like a long, open stairwell coming
from near the top of the mill and ending above the loading dock at track grade. 
From the proximity of the wooden sidewalk the heigth of the mill building
reminded Jensen of a Seattle skyscraper. The mill and tram terminal building was
relatively narrow from level seven to the top, but it extended back about 200
feet. The three of them  were most interested in the top seven stories which the
superintendent wanted scraped and repainted. 
“This job will require more workers than just the two of us, Mr. Jensen.”
“I’m no one special. Call me Chris. I have to agree with you, Johnny.  We’re looking at a
lot of work up there.”
“You have anyone available from the yard crew? I’ll need several of them for the prep
work. That’s mostly scraping.  Anyone can do that.  No skill required there,
just plenty of work. It would also be nice to have at least one more painter,
since there’s so much surface to cover. Cap and I can handle all the tall parts
and use a third man to help with the longer stretches from the terminal level on
“I’ll have to get Henry’s yard crew in on this.  It’s quite obvious, now that I’m looking at
it with you, that this job will need another half dozen men. I already asked
Henry about that. He told me that the yard crew isn’t large enough for this job
and the other work they normally do as well.
“I’ll get some of them released, anyway. I can get a few more out of Cordova, but the labor
supply remains short.  You know of any good laborers out there?”
Cap jumped on the opportunity.
“Johnny’s brother, Charles is a very good worker.  He’s been on the same maintenance crew
as both of us. He’s twenty-two now, and all he’s doing is helping Johnny’s
mother and sister with their fish wheels.  I’m sure they can find someone else
to do that this summer.”
“Cap, I’d forgotten you’d talked with him about this job. He really is a good
worker.  In the last three seasons he’s worked the railroad line crews with us.
He’d probably be delighted to have this chance.”
Sla’cheen, he asked for a chance.  Here it is, I think.”
“The only thing is, well, you know.”
“Yes, there is that Indian matter, isn’t there? Tell you what I think. We need the labor.
You’re both workers, and I believe your word is good. I’ll stake my own
reputation on it and recommend Charles for hire. Charles Gadanski, right?”
“Yes, he’s Dad’s youngest son.”
“All the better.  Douglass will probably like that. I’ll give it a try. Two or three
months at most and we can have this job wrapped up. I understand you two plan to
be out of here by hunting season this year. Wish I could do that, but I have a
family. Have to work here full time.”

“We plan to do some guiding this fall. There’s more money in that than working here. Then
there’s the moose hunting.”
Chris Jensen turned around and started to walk off, then turned back to the men and waved.
“Watch me maybe make a fool of myself. All they can do in there is say no.”  He headed for the
“Let’s go over to that boxcar and take a look at that load of paint Chris told us about,”
Johnny suggested. The two headed up the tracks to the very north end where an
old wooden boxcar was blocked into place. It took both of them pulling at the
door to open it. Like the barn door in the paint shop, this one resisted at
first, finally relenting with a loud metallic squeal. The old car was stacked
high with 5-gallon cans.  “Open one of them, Cap.  Let’s see what new red paint
looks like. All we’ve seen so far is the old, spilled kind.”
Cap took a large screw driver off his tool belt. The lid gave way,  revealing a clear oil
which had moved to the top.
“I sure don’t see any red in here, Johnny.”
“Stir it up.  You know how this paint settles in these large cans.”
“I’m telling you, I don’t see a hint of red.  It looks gray to me.”  He took the large
screwdriver and stirred the top.  Gray rose to the surface.  “It’s gray all
right.”  Cap got up and looked at the other labels. “Johnny, we seem to have a
boxcar load of gray paint here.  No one said anything about gray paint.  I don’t
know anyplace here on the mill site that has gray paint on it.”
“Most of the floors have gray paint,” Johnny suggested. 
“You don’t suppose . . .”
“I think they ordered red and got gray. That’s what I think, Sla’cheen.  It’s gray. 
All of it is gray.  A whole carload of it.  Enough for the mill job.  They must
have gotten an order mixed up, wherever this stuff comes from.”
“Seal it back up, Cap.  We better get back to Jensen and see what he knows about this. I have
a feeling we’re looking at a major mistake here.”

View of Track Grade
View of track grade including box cars in front of the Carpenter Shop and the Company Store. 
Most materials used at the mill site would have been unloaded here.   
--Candy Waugaman

The buckets of paint would have been loaded into box cars such as these. This scene was the Cordova
wharf.    --Cordova Museum

box cars
Jensen could hardly contain himself after talking with the superintendent.
“Do you know that Douglass said go ahead and send for your brother Charles?  No hesitation.
Nothing. Just go ahead, he said.  What’s going on up here?  Ever since you guys
first came here last year this place has changed. I don’t understand. But it’s a
good change. Yes, a good change.”
Cap couldn’t help but smile at this. A small victory, but a good one. One that really
mattered. He was almost beside himself, but he was determined not to show it.
Johnny looked at Cap and read his mind. 
“Jensen, you’re incredible. Charles will be thrilled to work with us up here.  I sure look
forward to having my little brother here. How can I ever thank you?”
“Get the work done on time. No. Get it done ahead of time. Make me look good for what I just
did. I put myself out on this one. So did Douglass, actually.  And you should
know that Frank was right there pushing it as well. Frank seems to have the old
man’s ear. That’s good. Did you get a chance to talk to Henry?  Never mind. I
“He and his crew are now officially part of this project. I’m sending for six more men,
including your brother, to try to get this thing done on time and get it done
right. That’s including the hospital addition. I think that’s what really got
Douglass’s attention. He wants that hospital addition, but then, he does
have a lot of kids.
“Everything’s looking good. I guess we can start hauling all that red paint up to the tram
terminal level of the mill.”
“It’s not red paint. We checked it.”
“What do you mean, it’s not red paint? It has to be red paint. That’s what I ordered.
You opened one of the cans and stirred it?”
“We did.  It’s gray paint. Not red.  Gray. A whole boxcar full of gray paint.  Enough to do the
mill, as long as it’s gray.”
“You sure? Maybe it was just one can. Did you open any others?”
“Cap opened one. Just one. But when he stirred it, the pigment came up gray.  No red. 
None.  All the cans we could see had the same label.”
The paint may have been gray, but Jensen turned red. He excused himself and rushed off to his
shop, mumbling something about having to check his orders against his waybills.
“Just when Jensen thought everything was going well. It started out well enough.  I guess
this really is a major mistake.  It will be interesting to see how this one
works out.  I think they’re probably stuck with it. We better head back to the
shop and start cleaning out Dad’s shop area.”
Our shop area, Sla’cheen.  It’s ours now.”
Cap found the thinner and the two of them began cleaning as much of the paint off the floor as
they could.  “This looks ugly.  Maybe we should paint it gray.” 
Johnny gave Cap a nasty look and threw a paintbrush at him for saying that. They were finishing
the worst of it when Jensen emerged from upstairs.  
“I checked my paperwork and I really did order red. Someone at purchasing in Seattle must have
goofed.  I’ve already alerted the super so he can decide what he wants to do
about it. 
“I never saw him that mad before. He started to blame me, but I had my paperwork to show him,
fortunately. He mumbled something I wouldn’t repeat and sent me away. We’ll
probably have his answer tomorrow. I guess I should have checked those cans
myself, since we’ve had that car sitting back there for over a week, but who
would have imagined this happening?
“You guys take off.  It’s getting near dinnertime and you’ve done enough down here.  No one
thought to check this shop out either. This mess was our fault. I should have
had those old cans moved into a separate storage area or I should have just
disposed of them. I must be slipping.”
“You’re too young to be slipping, boss.  Besides, you said you put in the right order.
Someone else goofed.”
“How do we dispose of the old paint cans?  We’re going to toss out almost all of it. Not
much was any good. We opened several cans that had already gone bad.”
“Really? That means I’ll need to order some trim paint. Only problem is I no longer know what
the primary paint color of the mill will be. Just leave the cans on the deck out
there and alert Henry at the yard crew. They’ll pick them up and haul them to
the dump.”
“You mean you just dump these paint cans, chemicals and all, in the garbage dump?” Cap asked.
“Sure.  We’ve always done it that way. What else would we do with them?”
“Doesn’t that stuff seep into the ground and into the glacier ice?”
“Oh, I don’t know.  Never gave it a thought. You guys have a good evening.”  He disappeared
back up the narrow stairs. 
Cap felt frustrated.
“I don’t care much for that, Johnny. You smelled those chemicals. I don’t’ know what it is,
but I sure wouldn’t want it leaking all over the ground and seeping down into
the ice and water.”
“Not a pleasant thought, is it Cap?  It’s bad stuff, no doubt about that.  But I have no idea
what else we’d do with it.  Just let the yard crew have it like Jensen
suggested.  Nothing else we can do.”
“I still don’t like it.  Enough of this.  Let’s get out of here.  I’m tired of smelling this
lead paint.  Phew!”  Johnny slid the large door shut, sliding it back along its
upper rail.  Then Cap and he headed up the stairs and back into the fresh air at
track grade.
“How do you think Charles will react to the news?”
“Cap, he won’t be able to contain himself. He’s always followed me around.  And he looks to you
as another big brother.  He told me about your conversation in the caboose. I
never imagined it would actually happen.
“We’re becoming like that Irish crew at Cascade. They knew how to stick together. There’s
something to be said for that. They had the right idea, even if it worked
against the rest of us.”
“You mean the rest of us Indians.”
The two jaunted up the wide stairs in front of the barracks.  Both were feeling a supreme sense
of well-being as they entered the dining hall. There was Henry standing in the
chow line just ahead of them.
“Friendly Henry, how’s it going?”
Henry’s eyes widened when he saw the two approach. He extended his large hand to greet them
“Hey, guys, I see we’ll once again be working together. Jensen is going to order me five more
men. There’s a sixth one coming for the paint crew.”
“Oh, that’s my brother Charles. The boy’s finally going to see the place the hard way.  He gets
to work here, like the rest of us.”
“Great, I look forward to meeting him. So do we start tomorrow by moving the paint out of the
boxcar and up the hill?”
“Not yet. There might be a problem with the paint. Can’t say for sure. I’ll let you know as soon
as I find out. Speaking of paint cans, we have several of them we need you to
pick up from the deck on the lower end of the paint shop.  Can you do that
“That’s us. Cleanup and garbage. Odd, now that I think of it, I don’t believe I’ve ever
handled old paint cans before.  Well, we’ll do it.  Let me know when you’re
ready to unload that boxcar. I’m surprised it’s still standing out there.  It’s
unusual for a car to stay up here that long in the summer. Usually they’re
unloaded and sent right back to Cordova.”
Johnny and Cap left for their room. They planned to play some billiards later, but they wanted
to be alone to contemplate the day’s events.
“You know, Cap, I think all those paint cans in the shop were stacked up there for a reason. 
Dad probably didn’t know what to do with them. It’s not like him to have a messy
shop area. He was always neat to a fault.  He was  tough on me when I stayed
with him. He demanded neatness and cleanliness. Not to mention a lot of hard
work. But my point is that I suspect Dad did not want to send those cans to the
dump.  He must have had his own concerns.  Maybe he wanted them to dry out
first.  That would probably have been safer.  I still think those paint fumes
killed him. ”
“We’ll never know now. At least we have the extra bed to give Charles in our own room so he
doesn’t have to stay with any of those strange white guys.”
“They’re not all strange, Cap.”
“They’re all white, Sla’cheen. They don’t understand us. Don’t want to, either. We
have to stick together.”
“You keep saying that, Cap. Time to go downstairs and take over the billiards table.”
“You’re on, Johnny, you take it from one of the white guys, and I’ll take it away from you.”
“I doubt that, but you can always try. If you think you’re that good, put up your money, Cap.”

West End of Kennecott Mill
View of the north side of
the mill taken from the west on the glacier moraine in 1955.  


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