10 February 2011

Chapter 42: "The Indians Paint the Mill Gray"

Kennecott view 1
A view of Kennecott before the 1925 repainting of the Kennecott mill: In the foreground is the carpenter/paint shop with box cars in front, including a load of lumber and two outside-braced box cars of the type which would have brought the many buckets of gray paint for the 1925 paint job.    --William Taylor Coll, UAF Archives

 Deputy Marshal Paddy McMahon stood on the high point of the
scaffold, just above the mill elevator cap, with Bill Douglass and Walter Richelsen.
“It certainly was quite a fall from way up here.”  McMahon peered
over the west wall to see for himself, then shuddered.
“I see you’ve already examined the pulley system here, and
you’ve concluded the cut is a deliberate one.”
“Yes, I was the first to inspect this pulley system.   No doubt
in my mind that the cut is purposeful.”

“Unfortunately, Mr. Douglass, that’s not good enough.  It could
be deliberate, then maybe not.  You or one of your men could have just as well
have done this.  Even if it is what you say it is, there is no way to tie it to
the  suspects.  I’ve already interviewed the men who were up here at the time. 
No one was ever threatened verbally or otherwise.  Nothing was seen which ties
any of your suspects to this rope break.   And I have no admissions from any one
of the five suspects. I’ll have to let them go.  I’m officially concluding that
this incident was an accident.  I’ll mail you my report from the Valdez office.”
Douglass and Walter Richelsen looked at the deputy marshal in
disbelief.  There was little doubt in any one’s mind that this was no accident. 
The impression both men got was that McMahon was only too eager to close the
case.  The deputy marshal, who also served as the coroner,  walked down the
scaffold ramp, leaving the engineers behind, as he headed back to his speeder.  
An hour later the five men were released from their cell in Cordova.

 Kennecott view 3
The new look of the mill
after the 1925 paint job would have been a startling contrast to what
existed before.   --AK Hst Soc, UAF Archives

“Well, that’s that,” concluded Bill Douglass.
“It’s time to resume this paint work.  There is nothing more
which can be done here.   Now I’ll have to report this as an accident to the
main office.  They won’t be to happy about that.  Then there’s the matter of all
those men who feel wronged by the death of Henry Jackson, including the two
Chitina Indians who seem to think that they were the intended targets.   I’m
wondering if I shouldn’t just send them back to Chitina.”
“Let me assess the situation, Bill.  That may not be a good
enough reason to remove those two.”

“Three.   One of them is a younger brother.”
“All the more reason to proceed with caution.  Let me talk with
them first and see how they’re going to handle this.   Now that the
investigation is over, they may just want to leave anyway.”
“It’s all yours, Walter.  Take Frank with you when you visit
them.  He knows the two older ones quite well, and has already been down there
to visit them.  He can give you the best idea as to the state of mind of the
three of them.”
Walter found Frank up in the map room with Russell Belvedere
working on some new drawings.  The map room was Frank’s favorite place.
“Frank, I need to talk with you about whether to retain the
three men we hired for the mill painting crew.   Douglass is considering letting
them go to prevent problems.”
“Why, what happened?”
“The deputy marshal just left. He concluded there is no evidence
linking those five scoundrels, uh, suspects that is,  who ran off the site when
the accident occurred.  He even implied that one of us might have altered the
evidence.  The deputy marshal said he’ll release them for lack of evidence.”
Frank shook his head in disbelief.
“They were all shocked, of course and are completely convinced
that the collapse of the platform was a deliberate act aimed at them.  
However,  the two older ones are determined not to let this incident set them
back.  They want to continue with this job until it is done.  Only the mill
job.  Nothing more.  I heard nothing which indicated they blamed anyone else but
those five Cordova men. You could talk with them yourself, if you like.  But
these men work hard and have done quality work.  Chris made one of the foreman,
and he’s driven the crew hard, running unusually long hours and taking lunch
right on the job site. The third one learned quickly and keeps up with the
others. Chris told me they require almost no supervision since they started
repainting the mill. I think we owe it to them to let them remain through this
“You show a great deal of confidence in them, Frank.  I want to
talk with them personally just to see for myself.  Where would they be now?
“They’ve been working in the paint shop since the accident,
cleaning up everything down there and making improvements to the place, waiting
for us to decide when to resume the mill-painting work.”
“Good, they should be alone then out of earshot of anyone else
if they’re down there.  Let’s go check on them, Frank.”
Chris and Ole were on the main level of the shop when the two
engineers entered.
“Chris, how are you doing?  The investigation’s over. The
coroner has left. Are you ready to resume work up there on the scaffold?”
“This is the most horrible accident I’ve ever seen.  I was right
there, too.  But we have accidents here and life goes on.  I’m ready to
continue. So is Ole and the others.   We’re quite sure we didn’t cause it. The
failure had to be deliberate. We’ll just have to satisfy ourselves with that,
“The coroner says otherwise.”
“You mean he’s calling it an accident?  I examined the pulley
and ropes myself, just to make sure it wasn’t us.  That rope was deliberately
cut.  No doubt in my mind about that.”
“I agree, but the case is officially closed. We want to get the
job finished, of course, but we’re not going to use a platform like the last
one.   Our engineering  staff will  draw up plans for a scaffold that will
extend all the way up the front west face of the mill.  As soon as we have the
plans drawn up, we’ll get them to you. 
Right now we want to interview the three Native painters. 
What’s your assessment of them, Chris?   Are all three of them  prepared to
continue without causing us problems?”

Kennecott view 4
The gray-painted mill
above the General Office, the Staff House and the Superintendent's
Residence.    --Candy Waugaman Collection

“Those men were never a problem.  The only incident I’m aware of
was started by Roger Hyde when he deliberately pushed Charles Gadanski, who is
Johnny’s younger brother, off the coach platform.”
“I never heard about that incident. Anything more come of it? 
Any altercation?”
“Uh, no Mr. Richelsen, nothing came of it.  Nothing at all.
There was nothing after that or before it which came to my attention.  Those
boys are  here to do a job. I believe they want to prove the point that they can
do at least as good a job as anyone here, if not better.  That doesn’t spell
trouble to me.”
“Thanks, Chris.  How about you Ole?  Do you have anything to
“I don’t know the men well.  I’ve just observed them at work. 
They even take their lunches to the job to save time and get more work done. 
None of them is an expert painter, but you’d never know. Johnny must have picked
up some tricks from his father Emil when Johnny worked  here last year. I say
keep them on.”
Walter and Frank headed over to the open hatch leading into the
basement level.  Down below Charles watched as the two stepped down the creaking
wooden steps.
“Johnny,  Frank is here.”
Johnny stepped forward from a dark, remote area of the large
basement.  He and Cap were near the far end looking over some paint tools which
they had just discovered.
“Frank, good to see you.”
“Johnny, this is Walter Richelsen, our chief engineer.  He is
here to ask you some questions.”
They shook hands.
“I want to see Cap as well, could you call him forward?”
“I’m here.”
Cap stepped out of the darkness.
“First, you should know that the deputy marshal determined that
there is not enough evidence to hold the five suspects in the death of Henry
Jackson.  We’re not happy with that, but this brings the case to an end
He watched for the reactions.  The three Indians heard exactly
what they expected.  The news was no surprise. They revealed no readable
expressions.  Johnny spoke for the three of them.
“This is just what we expected.  We’ve long ago learned that
your justice is not ours.  None of us hold it against any of you personally.  We
understand. If any of those men were guilty, they will pay anyway, without the
law or any of us stepping in.  If we weren’t part of the crew, someone would
probably have paid for Henry’s death.  But once we Indians are mixed in, the law
turns strange.  It always has. As I said, we don’t blame you for that.  It just
“I know why you came here.  You think that now we might
be a problem for the company.  Probably someone higher up wants to send us home.
Maybe even you. We’re not here to make trouble for Kennecott.  Even after what
has happened we still like it here.   We came here to do one job, which is to
paint the mill.  We want to finish that job and then go back to our hunting this
fall.  We work together.  We quit together.   We have discussed this among
ourselves at length and I speak for us all.” 
Cap and Charles nodded, revealing no emotion at all. 
“Frank, I’m satisfied.  Unless Bill Douglass says otherwise, you
will all remain on the job until it is done.  Are you all quite sure none of you
will have problems working those heights after all of this?”
“It won’t be easy for any of us.  I nearly died up there.
Charles never cared for heights from the start.   But we need to finish this and
we will.”
“I can accept that.  I am ordering one change, however.  We
won’t be using a hanging platform.   We’ll design a  scaffold for the west face
that will cover all the levels.   That would have been the proper thing to do in
the first place.  We’ll have a design for the carpenters shortly. 
“If Douglass gives the go ahead, you’ll probably be able to
assist the carpenters in building the new structure, so the mill face can be
safely painted.  Besides, now we have some extensive roof repair up there, so
the carpenters will be up there anyway.”

Kennecott view 2
gray-painted mill in 1925 from track-grade       
--Candy Waugaman Collection
Walter looked at  each of them and at Frank. 
“Are there any more questions or observations?” 
Nothing was said.  
“Very good then.  I’m going back to the office to start a design
for the scaffold.  Thank you men.  You’ve done well through all of this.   I
know it has not been easy. You’re doing better than most would under the
Charles decided he needed to add a few words.
“That’s because we stick together and depend on each other.  It
makes us stronger.  We are proud to be Indian and proud to be here doing this. 
We know that we can finish the job. We will do it well.  Then we will leave.”
Frank smiled at Charles and silently waved at them as he turned
and , followed  Walter back up the stairs..  The three stood there in the paint
shop in silence for some time facing each other in a circle.
“I really thought they’d drop us after all that.  I still held
out hope that the law would do something about Hyde and the others.   The spirit
of Henry Jackson will not rest well now.”
“But the danger has passed, Sla’cheen.  We were the
targets, but the evil spirit of death found someone else.  We must give thanks
to Henry’s spirit tonight.  It is certain that at least one of us would have
died had not Henry been there to take our place.”        
The men returned to their work in the shop.  Tomorrow they would
go back to the mill and complete the job they had started.  Less than a month
later the mill would have a brand-new look as a light gray building with dark
green trim from the eighth level to the fourteenth.  
For the next five years, until a new superintendent finally
replaced the great Bill Douglass, the mill would remain gray, in sharp contrast
to the red buildings around it.  The light gray would serve as a reminder to all
who had been there of the unfortunate and unnecessary death of a well-loved yard
crew foreman--the unintended victim of a criminal act.   In the early 1930s a
new manager looked at the mill and decided it appeared distinctly out of place
with its light gray color.   The new manager, would not last long. He was a
victim of suicide a few months after he left camp, but this unnamed man’s single
obvious accomplishment was restoring the mill to its original color, and erasing
with it the memories of what had happened there only a few years before. 
In 1937, the last full year of its operation,  the mill was
repainted one last time, in startlingly sharp red with bright white trim, much
as a corpse gets a fresh make-over before the coffin lid is closed. 
For all those who were there at the time, the memory of the days
when the mill was painted light gray would remain as one of the most fascinating
and endearing of times of old Kennecott.  For the gray-painted mill was the
distinctive work of three proud and unforgettable Ahtna Indians. These were the
only Natives who would ever work at historic Kennecott--three young men whose
lives and spiritual beings were forever intertwined with Kennecott Copper and
its Copper River and Northwestern Railway.

Kennecott view 5

The mill was repainted red early in the 1930s. Here it is in all its impressive glory in 1955.

Continue with Chapter 43: "Johnny to Frank"

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