12 February 2011

Chapter 47: Reopening the Mother Lode

Bonanza Camp
Bonanza Camp in the 1920s    --Ralph MacKay, AK & Polar Regions Archives

Head engineer Walter Richelson sat at
the Bonanza dining table with Frank Buckner and Eldon Johnson, the Erie foreman
now assigned to the Marvelous project.
“It won’t be long now, Frank, before we get our first close look at your new
assignment.  It might be snowed-in over there, but we can dig it out.”
“I’m excited to be starting this project, Walter.”
“I’d wish I could share your enthusiasm, Frank, but I’d rather we never
re-opened that camp.  If it wasn’t for Gladys, I’d never let you take the
assignment. I’d do it myself, because this one is going to be a particularly
tough one.  It’s not one I’d wish on you or even on Russell.”
“I’m used to being in the heavy snows of the mountains, Walter.  I don’t
see any real difference between Wyoming and here.”
“I certainly hope you’re right, Frank.”

They were being
served breakfast by a seventeen year old Japanese waiter they knew as Tanaka.  
He was quick and appeared to be eager to please.  None of the officials
knew that Jim Tanaka was a year underage.  He had come up with several
other Japanese men who joined the mess crew only months before.  Tanaka, 
because he was lowest on the list, had been assigned to the Mother Lode upper
camp crew as the waiter and bull cook.  His boss, Sato, was the senior cook
for all the camps and was normally assigned to the Bonanza.  Sato had
volunteered for the ML, since he was looking for something different, but Tanaka
had to be picked, as none of the younger Japanese wanted the job at a camp which
some considered hexed. If nothing else, it was certainly isolated.
The crew of eighteen miners included foreman Johnson and a group of men he had
specially selected.  Among these were Cap Goodlataw and Johnny Gakona. 
They were carried on the roles as Americans, but treated as a distinct
nationality, just like the Japanese.  The rest of the miners were either
white Americans or Norwegian nationals.
Eldon sat at the other end of the table with Johnny and Cap.  He needed two
miners to accompany the group on this trip.  He selected the Indians as
being most suited for this particular job.  The five men--the two
engineers, the foreman and his two miners--were about to take a preliminary
inspection of the camp and the jig-back tram system which connected the ML 
to the Pittsburg adit.
“Eldon picked two of our finest men for this first dry run.  They’d get us
through just about anything.”
“Of that, Frank, I have little doubt.”  
In a way, Frank had staked his reputation on these two by consistently backing
them from the very beginning, starting with the power plant job three years ago.
He  remained the young men’s most consistent and fervent ally ever since. 
However, few men besides the small engineering staff and a handful of the mine
foremen were aware of Frank’s role. The young engineer preferred it that way. 
The Chitina Indians likewise preferred to remain as inconspicuous as was
possible while working at Kennecott.
“We have reached the big moment, Frank.  I’m about to give you your first
independent project assignment.  If all of you are ready, we will head on

Bonanza-ML workings
1926 map showing relationship of Bonanza workings to Mother Lode (ML) workings. Major tunnels,
crosscuts and the two inclines are marked, as are the locations of the two mining camps.
Walter stood up and the others set down their coffee and rose to leave. 
They headed to a stairwell leading downstairs into the drying room.  All
the outer clothing, helmets and lighting equipment were kept there, near the
showers and washroom.   The men checked their working gear, 
climbed into the heavy outer wear and rubber boots,  and exited the long
room by the rear door.  
The rear exit was directly below the kitchen. Just outside a snowshed covered
the entry into the 1,503 adit.   This is the main entry into the
Bonanza.  Eldon pushed the heavy wood door in and held it open while the
others quietly entered.  They were immediately hit  by a wind which
ran continuously through the tunnels, but which is more pronounced in some areas
than in others.  The walls at the adit level were icy due to relatively
heavy moisture content  on the upper levels. The seven by seven tunnel led
into a wider area after about 100 feet.  It was very noisy, due to the
proximity of the compressors, which were located in a wide area just off the
Tunnel 1,503 merged into 1,501, which was the ore-haulage tunnel. This tunnel
led to the top of the thirty-three degree incline. The men entered the skips and
began the dark descent to the 800 level.   By pre-arrangement, the
skip stopped at that level so the men could exit. Eldon signaled the operator
above by activating the bell alarm. The skip then continued downward into the
The 800 level crosscut struck north-north-east in the direction of the Mother
Lode boundary.   The party encountered a heavy door at the boundary,
which Eldon held open.  The wind blowing through that area was even more
pronounced, as the tunnel led directly into some enormous man-made cavities, and
to the deep vertical shaft. These features helped accentuate a mini-underground
weather system.


Main haulage tunnel 
--Curvin Metzler

 tunnel & door near the
Mother Lode 1600 adit --Curvin Metzler

Johnny and Cap looked at each other grimly.  This  crosscut had an
ominous feel to it which seemed to strengthen in the direction they were
heading.   They passed a wide area which surrounded the vertical
shaft. Then the men had entered the Rhodes tunnel  which headed east and
then south, exiting at the ML camp. It became quieter through this area. 
No work had occurred there in several years.  Most all the recent
development had occurred several hundred feet below. This area was barren of

The meager carbide lights coming off the hard hats provided all the illumination
in this final section. The lights on this end were not working.  Richelson
made a mental note to have the electrician turn on the lights on this end.  
Now they were finally approaching the doors which led outside into Mother Lode
Eldon pulled the door.  All of the outer doors opened inward in order to
prevent snow drifts or ice build-up from  blocking them shut on the
outside.   The men walked into a wooden snowshed which led another
forty feet to the outer door.  It was noisy in the snowshed.  Winds
worked their way through the wood, along with snow crystals, which struck the
faces of the men. When Eldon pulled at this final door, snow immediately filled
the area. He was immediately partly buried in it.  Frank, Eldon, Johnny and
Cap grabbed the tools which had been left inside the shed just for this purpose
and immediately set about freeing Walter.  He was quickly freed.  The
men then set about digging their way toward the dark hulk of a barrack, visible
in the distance.  Snow had completely enveloped the snowshed adit. It took
considerable work to break through it and work their way out into the open. 

ML adit
The 800-level adit, also known as the Rhodes adit, was the main access from the upper Mother Lode map
which tied it directly into the Bonanza Mine system.       --UW Special Collections
“I hope this is not a sign of things to come over here,” Frank yelled to Walter.
The wind was so noisy that he had to shout in order to be heard.
Once they were out in the open, the men found themselves looking at the dark
north face of the upper camp.   It was a dim and distant hulk before. 
Now it  sat there as a large black shadow towering high above them, but
with the lower levels largely buried in snow.  From this side, the
buildings appeared to be intact. Snow had drifted over the roof of the boiler
house, which was a single-story structure between the tram terminal building and
the barrack complex.  It appeared best to dig toward the boiler room to
gain access to the  main camp.  The area between the main building and
the snowshed was heavily drifted and even compacted.  It took fifteen
minutes to reach the boiler room and removed the snow from the back door so they
could enter.  
Eldon lit a lantern in the boiler room.  It appeared considerably more
friendly in there than one would have guessed. The place had a very secure
feeling.   The constant whistling and pounding sound of the wind
gusting around the building was very unnerving, but at least there was no more
wind chill.  The air inside the boiler plant was completely still, in sharp
contrast to the tunnel system by which the five men had arrived. 
Walter had Eldon hold the lantern while he looked for a large lever he knew had
to be in this room somewhere.  Sure enough, there it was.  He pulled
it and lights turned on everywhere.  The men were greatly relieved at the
ease by which this happened. The engineer had not expected the system to still
work, but when he thought about it, he realized that nothing at the ML had ever
been disconnected.
“There must be a switch on this side for the Rhodes tunnel.  Since this
master camp switch works, so should that one.  I’ll look for the drawings
in the office over there to see if I can’t find the electrical wiring plan for
this camp.”
Walter and Frank headed for the office which was just beyond the boiler room. 
There was a phone connection over to Bonanza in the office.  Walter tried
it, and found it working as well.   He called over to inform Bill
Douglass in the main camp that this crew had arrived safely and that the power
was now on. 
He turned to Frank.
“Here it is.  This is your very own private office.  You can direct
the Marvelous operation from here .  I see that all the glass around here
is still intact as I don’t feel any breezes and nothing appears to have blown
around.  That’s good.  Not at all what I expected.”
“Chilly in here, though.  Not very comfortable. Where’d the others go?”
“Eldon and his crew have probably gone to the dining hall where there’s a coal
stove they can light for warmth.  We should have an adequate supply of coal
here for now.   When we shut Mother Lode  down, we left the camp
complete, knowing we might need to return one day.  This is somewhat sooner
later than we had expected.
I always figured we’d
have cleared out the whole area by now.  On the other hand, everything I’ve
seen so far seems to be in excellent working order here.”
“Let’s go up to the dining room and find some coffee.  I can certainly use
a cup before we continue going through the campsite.”
 Walter flicked the office light switch off, and the two engineers headed up
hill in the  direction of the barrack and mess hall.  The bunkhouse
was L-shaped.  The up-hill end housed the mess hall.  The middle
section contained several sleeping rooms, and the lower end was a recreation
room with a billiards table.  The ML was twice the capacity of the Erie
barracks with a capacity for seventy-five men.  Below the rec hall were the
three buildings clustered together.  These were the office, the boiler
room, and an old blacksmith shop.  They were attached to the barrack uphill
by a raised, open walkway. At the lowest level down the hill was the large tram
terminal which also served as the warehouse for provisions brought up the
McCarthy Creek tram.
The engineers followed the raised walkway, finding themselves blasted by the
gusts and blowing snow.  They entered the lowest end of the L-shaped
building, passing through the  billiards room.  Then they entered a
hallway separating the several small  bed rooms on each side. At the far
end of the hallway the men could see the kitchen lights beyond a door which was
slightly ajar.  Cap had already lit the coal stove.  It was already
beginning to heat up the mess hall.  The men decided they would wait in the
kitchen, warm up and have some coffee before inspecting anything else.

ML upper camp

south face of the Mother Lode upper camp
Frank looked around at all the windows.  The north ones facing the cliff
were buried in snow, and most of the up-hill ones toward the west were likewise
buried.   Because the snow is so dry and powdery, it had not pushed
the glass panes through.  None were broken.  Toward the south wall the
windows revealed the first light of the late morning. 
The rustic, deserted camp reminded Frank of his days when he visited the some of
the gold mines in the mountains of  Wyoming and Colorado.  They all
had a similar, primitive  look, though this one seemed to be a larger than
normal0-sized camp. The mess hall somehow felt remarkably secure and comfortable
despite the possibility of avalanches.
Continuous winds threatening to blow shut the trench which the men had just dug
out between the adit snowshed and the boiler room.  The men would have to
leave soon.
Frank walked over to the south facing windows and noticed four large ravens
flying out there, apparently riding the waves of wind gusts. 

Why would they be out here now in these blasting, very cold winds?  There’s
not even any garbage here to attract them.

“Johnny, come over here to the window. What do you make of those birds, riding
the winds out there?  Doesn’t that seem a bit odd?”
Johnny looked out the window and returned a worried glance toward Frank. 
Johnny motioned Cap over, who showed a look of genuine alarm upon seeing the
large birds out there.
“Engii, Sla’cheen. Saghani ggaay!”
“What’d he just say?”
“You don’t want to know, Frank.  Cap thinks it’s time to go.  We
should not stay here.”
Johnny looked up a westerly facing window where he could see the outline of the
tops of the cliffs in the emerging daylight.  What he saw alarmed him, for
the snow was stacked heavily and leaning away from the cliff tops suspended
practically in mid-air.  There was an enormous amount of heavy snow up
there formed in a large, discontinuous cornice, probably 600 or more feet nearly
directly above the camp.   The light snow powder could be seen blowing
off the surface of the snow accumulations -- reminiscent of the glacial dust
storms which tore up and down the Copper River valley.
Johnny practically froze in place, catching Cap’s eye.  Cap gently pushed
Johnny aside and gazed out of the same window.  He was looking up the long,
wildly swinging jig-back tram.  Above it the madly blowing snow was coming off
the top of successive layers of very tightly packed accumulations from earlier
Eldon walked over and looked through another window. He motioned Walter.
“Oh my God!  This doesn’t look good at all, ” Walter uttered so that
everyone heard. 
“If it will help, we see this sort of thing over at Erie often enough, ” Eldon
volunteered.  Though I have to admit that this looks more ominous. 
But Erie is still there, you know, at least it was last time I checked,”  
he joked.
The others responded with a kind of nervous laugh.  Cap remained silent and
glum.  This was not where he wanted to be right now.  He particularly
did not like seeing those four ravens circling around overhead.

Saghanni ggaay.  Nicolai C’eyuuni! Engii! It is the devil-spirit himself.
Shee-ya warned us.  They have come to take us all. Engii!
The behavior was so uncharacteristic of Cap that first Johnny and then the
others decided it was time to heed his warning. 
Cap grabbed Johnny by the shoulder and swung him around to face him directly to
emphasize his point.
Sla’cheen, we can stay here no longer! It will take us all if it can! We must go now!”

 4 ravens

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