09 February 2011

Chapter 41: "Henry Takes the Plunge"

four ravens
The four ravens fly overhead . . .

  “This north wall took too long for the three of us to
paint, and this is  the easy wall. ”  Johnny voiced his frustration to
Cap and Charles as they sat on the upper level of the scaffold eating lunch. 
Since the painting began, Johnny decided it would save time to bring lunch to
work. The Indians always packed lunches which they took with them after a very
early breakfast in the mess hall.  

“But, at least it’s done, Soon-ga. It sure has a nice clean look, even if it took two
weeks.  It does look a little odd, though.  Everything else is red.”
“I failed to account for all the window trim work and all that outside bracing we had to work
around.  There’s a huge amount of it.  They should have sheathed it all in
before we ever started this job.  It would have saved a lot of work.  What an

1912 mill
North face of the Kennecott mill in 1912  --Anchorage Museum of History & Art

“There’s even more of it on the south side, Sla’cheen.”
“You didn’t have to remind me of that, Cap. 
“It took two coats of light gray to cover the dark red underneath. I didn’t figure that in,
either. This job is quite different in some ways than that power plant job from
last year.  But now that it has its second coating,  it sure looks good now.”
“I have to wash the paint out of my hair every night, Soon-ga. Good thing the store has
baby oil.”
“We use a lot of it, don’t we?  They must really wonder about us in there. I told them they’d
better order more of it.  The stuff does the job, though.  Gets all that oil
paint out. Makes the shower stalls messy, though.”
“The only way I could keep the peace was to agree that we wouldn’t use the area until everyone
else had. The others sure don’t like to clean up with our gray paint splashed
all over the place. Must keep the Japanese cleaning crew busy.”
“Good thing Roger Hyde and his bunch moved. What trouble makers.”
“Yes, Cap. It’s been a whole lot better since Henry moved them to the east barrack.  I was
turning into a real mess. Good old Henry.”
Johnny looked east, letting his eyes examine the entire length of the wall.

mill front drawing
Diagram of the west face
of the Kennecott mill as it appeared in 1980   
--Historic American Engineering Record

“Everything on the east end is done. We’ll start on the very top area today around the conveyor
head and the elevator cap.   We should have that and those three  cupolas east
of the conveyor head done in another three days.  Then we can move to the front
section we’ve been avoiding.”

“You really trust that rigging, Johnny?”
“It looks good.  Maybe Cap and I will take time to give it a dry run today.  I just need
you, Charles, and one other.  We could use Henry for that.”
“I’m relieved that those five Cordova men have been working away from us down by the
“Yes, Cap.  The farther away from us the better.   I still have a tough time sleeping at night. 
You never seem to have that problem.”
“The danger’s still out there.  We need to stay on alert.  I know it’s not easy to stay this
way for so long. On the other hand, it’s kept us out of trouble and we’ve stayed
together.   How’s it been for you, kid?”

“One thing about having an enemy so close is that we’ve been more together and more like
the Indians we were taught to be by grandfather.  I feel the danger out there
somewhere too.  Since this started we’ve hardly even talked to anyone else --
except Henry and the boss, Mr. Jensen.   I’ve felt more like a true Native out
here than I have since grandfather passed on.   It’s been worth it for me.  You
sla’cheen  have given me a good experience here.”
“I hope we can keep it that way.”
Cap looked up and noticed the lone Raven flying overhead.  Then another and another.  
“They’re starting to gather.  We need to stay ready and stay close together. Keep away
from those others down there as much as possible.  All of them.” 
Johnny and Charles both nodded, for they could read the signs

1955 mill

The mill in 1955: It had taken on this appearance in 1923 when the last of the additions to the
mill--the water flotation system--was completed.  --UAF Archives

The three were on the highest level painting when Johnny spotted Henry coming up the scaffold. 
Henry reached him at the top of the west face, right where the two rigs for
lowering and raising the thirty-foot-long platform were located.   The platform
was very basic. It consisted of two planks on the floor with double hand rails
all around it  The platform was hanging over the edge at the very top, having
been recently tested by the carpenters and then pulled back up to the loading
“Henry, you came at the right time.  We’re about ready to start working our way down this
west face wall on the new platform.  I want to test it.”
“That’s why I came up here.  When do you expect to start scraping and painting on this
“Two more days and we’ll be done up here on the roof.   Then we want to tackle this five-level
job, working from the top down. The building front is only 34 feet wide and
presents no obvious problems all the way down as long as the rigging works as
“I want to try the platform myself, Johnny, before you guys do.  Chris should be up here in a
moment with his new assistant carpenter, Ole Oleson.”

Chris Jensen personally oversaw the building of this contraption, and Ole helped build it.  So they want
to test it again with us.  I’ll do the first dry run.”
By this time, Charles had worked his way down to the rigging area from back of the roof near
the cupolas.  He was followed closely by Cap. 
“Ole Oleson. What kind of a name is that?”
“Some of those Scandinavian names sound kind of funny. I’m sure Ole’s gotten more than his
share of ribbing over that name, but he’s a good guy.   The carpenter shop has
always been Norwegian.  Management likes them there, just like they prefer the
Japanese for the cook and waiter jobs. Speaking of that, there they come now.”
“I’ll go down with you on the first run, Henry.  After all, there’ll be two of us on it when
we start using this thing,”  Johnny insisted.
“Are you sure?  I think we need to test it with the weight of just one man first.  Then we can
add the second.   We want to know it works right.  What if the line tangles up?
What if the platform’s too weak, or too heavy?”
Johnny thought about that for a moment.  “Henry, your argument makes sense.  But I’m still
going down with you.”
“If you insist.  Jensen and Oleson!  Good to see you way up here.  Thrilling place isn’t
it ?   Are you here to test this out with a real dummy on it?”
“You’re speaking for yourself, of course,” Jensen responded. 
“Sure, but we all know that.  Well now’s as good a time as any.”
Cap and Charles had been watching the men working at the new hospital addition where the framing
work was beginning to take shape.  The workers down there had begun looking up
in their direction toward toward the rigging.
“It looks like all you do is work this down a little at a time with these double pulleys.   Is
that all there is to it?”
“That’s all it takes.  Couldn’t be simpler,”  Ole replied.
Henry gingerly stepped aboard near the center.  The ropes tightened and the platform twisted
around a little, then stabilized.
“Man, a fellow could really get dizzy on this thing,” he said while smiling the whole time. 
Henry was probably the last man to get unnerved by any kind of physical danger
except perhaps for Cap or Johnny.
“Johnny, go ahead and climb on.  All of a sudden I don’t feel like I want to be on this
thing by myself.”  He was still smiling as he moved over to the south end of the
narrow platform, pointing Johnny to the north end.
Johnny stepped aboard. The four men in front of the elevator cap began lowering the platform in
stages.  It started out very smoothly, just as planned.  Cap and Charles were on
the southern pulley while Chris and Ole were on the northern one.  Then Cap
caught something out of the corner of his eye.  The five men at the hospital
addition seemed to be backing away.  Even from the great distance, he caught the
movement.  He yelled to the Norwegians.
“Up, up, pull the rig up!  Johnny, Henry, grab the ropes!”
As he yelled the word “grab,” there was a loud snap on his side as the rope went flying by
him, leaving him holding a useless rigging.  He ran toward the other rigging
held by the two Norwegians, trying to reach the rope.
Henry was directly below Cap and Charles when the double rope snapped and broke loose.  He
instinctively reached for the rope which was coming for him, and found himself
falling through the air still trying to grasp for the rope.  Johnny clutched the
rope on his side, just as the platform gave way under him, dumping his partner
off the rig.   The planking then broke loose heading straight for the roof
below, following Henry who was now free-flying toward the first mill roof, four
floors below.  Johnny grabbed the double rope tightly as it swung around.  
There was nothing below him, as the entire platform fell away, freeing itself
from the one remaining double rope still attached to the overhead rigging.  Just
above him the four men were working frantically to pull Johnny’s double rope
back up.  
Johnny looked down directly into Henry’s terrified eyes looking back into  his as Henry fell
rapidly away holding onto a useless rope which was no longer connected to
anything.  Then Henry struck  the top section of roof -- severely buckling the
corrugated iron roof.  His  body bounced wildly off the first steep level, then
he hit the second roof,  bouncing off it as well and  on down -- not stopping
until he hurled over the lowest roof -- gaining  speed on the rapid series of
plunging levels all the way to the ground.  Finally, Henry’s body catapulted off
the last roof which towered  high over track grade, his body twisting through 
the  twenty-five  remaining feet of  space before  landing in a bloody, mangled
mass  between the railroad tracks.  The large planking chased his plunging body
all the way down.   Both boards collided together then crashed on the ground
right over his badly mangled body.
Thirteen stories up the four men were completely engaged in saving Johnny.  They pulled
him as rapidly as humanly possible to the scaffold landing.  While the
Norwegians continued holding the rope, Cap and Charles grabbed Johnny and pulled
him over the top of the platform.  Cap stood up and looked down toward rail
bed.  Several men had already arrived way down there. They were pulling the
boards off the body.   But Cap could tell from thirteen floors up that Henry was
gone.   His serene spirit had departed. 
Cap glanced toward the hospital in time to see the five men heading quickly away from the
accident scene, passing the west barracks as they ran south down the tracks. 
Then Cap collapsed over Johnny and Charles -- mentally and physically exhausted.
The two Norwegians, likewise fell over themselves. The men on the roof were
completely drained.   Overhead the ravens were circling, three of them landing
on track grade near the remains of Henry, while the fourth landed on the roof
above the three Indians and the two Norwegians. 
Someone sent word to the tram operators, and both tram bucket lines stopped.  The tram
tenders ran down the paint platform heading toward the top of the roof at the
elevator cap where the five men lay in a state of shock.   Johnny was shaking
badly, as was his brother Charles.   Cap just lay there.  The Norwegians were
practically beside themselves.  All five were helped onto their feet  and led
one-by-one back down to planking to the tram terminal landing on the rear end of
the mill.  Someone sent for the superintendent’s truck, which one of the
engineers drove up the hill to retrieve the five men for a check-up at the
hospital.  Though no one on the roof had been injured, the doctor wanted to
check on every one of them.   There was nothing which could be done for Henry.
Superintendent Douglass ordered the mill temporarily shut down.  The five men from the roof top
were released from the hospital, but Dr. Gillespie ordered all of them to be
sent to their rooms. Chris Jensen lived in one of the new cottages on the south
end.  His wife was summoned to pick him up.  Ole Oleson had a room in the west
barrack, as did the three Indians.  The four men were to be carefully escorted
to their rooms.   Douglass assigned two of the yard crew men from Henry’s
original crew to keep a check on them.
Bill Douglass walked down to the hospital to meet with all the men before they were sent
home.  He found none of them to be particularly communicative, but Cap finally
looked straight at him and told him what he needed to hear.

pre-1925 hospital

The hospital prior to the addition in 1925    --Anchorage Museum of History & Art
“It was no accident.  Those four men you hired from Cordova, it was them. I saw them watch
us as we loaded Johnny and Henry on  the platform.  I was on the rig with
Johnny’s brother, and Chris and Ole were on the other rig.  When it gave way,
those Cordovans  ran off from the hospital annex where they were working.  The
ropes must have been cut on one side.  I think they  expected Johnny and me to
be the first ones on the platform.  Those men hate us Indians.”
“Thank you for telling me that Cap.  I’m sending the three of you back to your rooms for a rest
after this.  Are you in the all same room?”
Cap nodded.
“Good.  Greg Turner will escort you over there.  I’ll have him check on you.  If you need
anything let us know.  No, let me know.  I’m going back to the office now
to begin dealing with this.  I’m very sorry this happened, and we’re all shocked
about the loss of Henry, whom we considered one of our own.  He will be greatly
missed.  I guess I don’t need to tell you that.”
Johnny finally found the strength to talk.  “Is Frank around?”
“He’s up at Jumbo.   I’ll send for him.  I know you and Cap mean a lot to him.  He’ll be
over there at the barrack when he comes down off the hill.”  
Douglass grabbed each man’s hand, shaking with each of them, then turned and headed for
the office.
The stenographer was at her station waiting for Douglass when he walked in the door.
“Camille, we’ve had a very bad fatal accident.  Except I don’t think it was an accident. 
Send a telegraph down to McCarthy and see if you can locate the constable, would
you?  Tell him that the five men we hired last on the yard crew may be headed
that way and should be apprehended.  Get their names from personnel. Notify the
Marshall in Valdez as well.  I’ll be in my office.”
Douglass sat down at his large desk.   He tipped back his oak chair, then swung around to the
window which overlooked the tracks.   He reached over and picked up his private
phone, dialing up the head engineer at Jumbo.
“Vern?  Yes I’ve halted operations down here at the mill because of a very bad fatal
accident.  Except it may not be an accident.   A man fell most of the way down
the front face of the mill.  Yes, can you imagine that?  Horrible thought, isn’t
it?  Well, it really happened, right off the very front, from the elevator cap
all the way down.”
“You probably know him.  Yes, Henry Jackson, our yard man.   Find Frank Buckner and send him
down here, would you?  Yes, right to my office.  Run the tram long enough to get
him down here.  Come to think of it,  I want all you engineers down here.
We need to look at this carefully.”

new 1925 hospital
The Kennecott hospital afterthe addition, 1925        --Anchorage Museum of History & Art

Continue with Chapter 42: "The Indians Paint the Mill Gray"

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