13 February 2011

Chapter 49:"Blast and Avalanche at Mother Lode," Pt 1

ML landscape
The Marvelous Gulch
landscape, including the upper Mother Lode camp at an elevation of 5,200
feet, a Scarborough panorama.   --UAF Alaska & Polar Regions Archives    
             “Are the men about set to go?"

          “Everyone’s ready, Eldon.  I’ll take some men and go back through the boiler area and see about clearing a path over to the adit snow shed.  I wonder why they never extended the snow shed right to the camp?  It sure would have saved some problems,”  He said to no one in particular.

          Eldon walked back to one of the west-facing windows and glanced up.  If he recalled, the top of the bluff was at about the same altitude as the Bonanza adit.  It was out of sight.  He was quite sure that there were 200 to 300 feet of steep talus slide between the camp and the cliff wall.  That in itself was quite a substantial slide area.  It was heavy with snow just waiting for a trigger to begin an avalanche.

          At the base, between the north wall and the edge of the slide, the snow was accumulating in drifts. They were working their way up the steep hill from the direction of the creek, a long way below.   As the snow worked its way up the long slide which is Mother Lode Gulch,  it reached a large drop off which interrupted the otherwise uniform flow of the slide zone.  At this cliff-face,  the winds would hit the vertical wall and rush straight up, thrusting snow high into the air just below the camp, causing a wild and awesome effect, not to mention a very frightening one.   Above the rocky drop-off, the drifts began forming, turning amazingly large as they approached the tram terminal end of the camp.

          Eldon could determine no clearly discernable wind direction.  The winds appeared to come from all directions.  The slide zone immediately south of the camp, which was a natural deep trough running parallel to the buildings, had such a build-up of snow in it,  that it had become nearly even with the camp itself.  This placed the camp inside widened avalanche zone.  Any large amount of snow rushing from the west cirque wall would likely widen out to envelop the camp itself.  From the mess hall the advancing drifts could be seen working their way past the barrack toward the cirque at the top end of the gulch.  Mother Lode Gulch ended at a sheer cliff wall.  This was by far the most snow anyone could remember seeing in the area. Furthermore, the storm was showing no signs of abating.

          Scott brought in his shoveling crew. The entire crew was assembled in the mess hall enjoying a hearty midnight breakfast.  Once the men finished, they would head for the tram terminal warehouse to dress in the heavy outer wear needed for mining work.

          Mother Lode had no special drying room as was the case at Bonanza, but the  loading dock in the  tram terminal on the downhill end was steam heated and worked well as a staging area to assemble because it was the best place to dry the miners’ clothing.   

          The tram station platform doors were blocked shut to keep the cold and snow out.  Except for the special fuel run up the old McCarthy Creek road to start up the camp,  the motorized aerial tram to the old camp at the base of McCarthy Creek had not been used.  Once the fuel haul was completed, the men boarded the open tram area shut.   Inside the tram warehouse sat many barrels of bunker oil and sacks of coal that had all been hauled up in the dead of winter to be used to feed the boiler and stoves.  It was next to the bunker oil that the men hung their gear to dry.  They routinely returned from the mine wet and dirty.  It made for a very uncomfortable mess.  The showers had become essential. The engineers arranged for a water line to be run through the 800-level.  It ran from a pump submerged in a reservoir deep within the mine. The presence of running water, especially hot water coming from the boiler, was one of the small engineering miracles that made life bearable at the Mother Lode.

ML upper camp

The Mother Lode in its cliff-side setting in the early 1920s
The other amenities were the normally excessive heat coming from the boilers, the small, two-man rooms that allowed a measure of privacy, and the ranch-style, home-cooked meals expertly prepared by Sato.  With the diversions of card games and billiards, magazines and books, and access to hot coffee and extra between-meal snacks, life at ML was at least tolerable.  For the Indians, it was another exciting and wondrous adventure.

          Billiards was the favorite activity of the Chitina Natives. The two Butte Montana miners had been giving them a run for their money on the table. Billiards competition had kept life at camp interesting.   Neither Jeff nor Darrell were particularly friendly toward the  Natives.   Jeff kept making loud references to the “reservation Indians”  and  the “siwashes.”   When Jeff challenged Johnny to a fight,  he  quickly found that the half-breed’s left-hook was deadly. 
           Cap was ready to put a quick end to Darrell, who was much larger than he, should he try to intervene in the altercation between Johnny and Jeff, but Darrell backed off. Neither Ahtna Indian had any intention of being run out of camp by what they considered “stupid white-men who don’t belong here anyway.” They would leave camp only when they were “damned good and ready.”  Not before.  Eldon found out about the confrontation.  He pulled the Montana men aside, leaving the Indians to Frank.

          “Bet you guys think you’re pretty smart.”

          “Smarter than any damn half-breed siwash.”

          “Then, if I were you, I would stay clear of the Indians.  I can’t save you from being wiped all over the floor by those two if they ever get mad.  I guess you don’t know, but the bigger one is a champion boxer.  He wiped out five men single-handedly right here at camp.”

          “Not the half-breed that knocked me down?”

          “Oh, I wouldn’t mess with him, either. But the other one is just plain deadly. He eats bullets for dinner. Leave them alone, boys.  I can’t save you if you start anything.”

          Frank stopped in the billiards room after the others had left.

          “You guys are determined you’re going to embarrass me.”

          “What do you mean, Frank. Jeff asked for it.”

          “It doesn’t matter. You know how management is.  We know about the fight at the rec hall, the railroad station and at Erie. It seems to follow you around.”

          “Has it ever occurred to you, Frank, that some of the men around here just don’t like Indians?  We live close together.  Things happen. We’ve never started anything. How’d you know about the station and Erie?”

          “We always know about everything that goes on here.”

          “Then you know we don’t want to fight.  We’d rather beat these guys at pool than fight.”

          “I see I’m not getting anywhere with you two.”

          “What did you expect, Frank?”  

          “Nothing. I wasn’t expecting anything, Johnny. Not from you two.”

          Frank left the room in frustration.  Like most of the engineers, Frank was quiet and generally steered clear of the working men.  As a matter of long-established practice, engineers did not associate with the miners.   In the relatively confined and isolated quarters of the Mother Lode, this  rule was relaxed.   Frank sometimes played billiards with the others, and was even up to a game of poker on occasion.  He wanted the men to know who he was. 

          Now he sat at his usual position at the head of the mess hall table.  His back was to a window looking directly into the gulch.  Cap and Johnny were sitting with him having some of Sato’s coffee when Eldon Johnson entered.  Johnny saw Eldon coming, elbowed Cap, and the two exused themselves and headed for table where the huge coffee samovar sat.  

          Eldon sat next to Frank.

          “It looks like hell out there.  All I could see was a lot of blowing and drifting snow. I had hoped it would taper off.  Evidently not.  We’ll avoid using the jig back today in favor of the Rhodes adit.  Scott’s team has cleared a path to the adit snowshed.  You engineers should have connected it directly with the boiler room.  It would have been much easier than fighting all that blowing and drifting snow.”

          “Eldon, I’ve had Sato and Jim make up lunch boxes for the men.  Under these circumstances, there’s no point in making a long trip back to camp for lunch, especially for those of you working the upper levels tonight.   Once the path is cleared to the shed, have the rest of them grab their lunches.”

ML underground dining

Underground dining hall inside the Mother Lode mine at the 1250 level  -W.A. Richelsen

          Eldon looked at his team of six--the two Montanans, the Norwegians and the Indians.   He had more confidence in the Indians than the rest because he knew that neither would run in the face of adversity.  He was not so sure about the others.

          “Hmm, that is odd isn’t it. We call the whites like Jeff Boyd and Darrell Everitt  Americans, but we don’t call the Indians Americans except when there’s a war.  Then we draft them.  We can draft them for war but we can’t let them have alcohol.  We talk in front of them sometimes like they’re not even there.  They must think we’re incredibly arrogant.”

          “There’s little doubt about that, Eldon.  Cap isn’t impressed with us at all. Johnny keeps him reined in.  Yet the half-breed has also expressed considerable resentment about some of our practices.   He’s right, you know.  No way around it. His people were here long before any of us.  It’s really too bad that Johnny feels the need to constantly prove himself as equal or better than anyone here.

          “As for that fight, if it were anyone but Johnny, I would have sent the man down the road for striking Jeff Boyd.  I probably should have terminated Jeff, however, whom I don’t care for anyway.  On the other hand, we really need to get this job done.  I can’t spare anyone.”

          “Cap doesn’t say much at all, though you can tell by the look in his eyes where he stands. He’s got a fearsome look. No one wants to challenge him, and he always backs up Johnny, which is probably why there have been so few fights around them.  There’s another side to Cap that whites don’t seem to see.  I hunted with him, and I can tell you that he is not exactly what he appears to be.  You’d think he hates us. What he really dislikes is arrogance and stupidity.  He just wants to be left alone to pursue his own life without being told where he can or cannot go on land he believes he was meant to walk on because his ancestors walked on it.  But I don’t think Cap hates anyone.  Anyone fortunate enough to become a friend of Cap’s would probably discover what true friendship is.  He’s a very deep and spiritual man.”

          “I think you’re getting carried away with this Native-stuff, Frank.  But it’s appealing, I guess. I don’t know. Those guys work hard and they’re reliable. To me, that’s all that matters. I don’t want to even try to understand them. It’s all beyond me.”

          Eldon watched Scott lead his assembled crew down the hall toward through the barracks towards the boiler room.  He signalled the others to follow that group.  
          “Are you ready, Frank? This is your big day. Didn’t you say you were going to discover another Mother Lode today?”

          “Eldon, enough of that. Let’s get on with it. Sato, I’ll be looking for some hot coffee and a hot sandwich when I return.”

Japanese Cook
Kennecott Japanese cook  --Cordova Museum
          Sato was a large man, who was also very quiet and mature looking . He nodded and then bowed.  He turned to Jim Tanaka and said something in Japanese. Then the two returned to their work in the kitchen. 
          The snowshed over the main portal had a heavy door which opened in the direction of the boiler plant.  The longer part of the snowshed led downhill toward an old waste ore dump, wich was a tracked ramp extending well above the rapidly sloping hill.  On a good day, the elevated wooden ramp had a clear view of the lower camp, a mile away in tram-line distance and about 2,600 feet straight down.

          The old wood structure was a relic which was built in 1914.   Waste ore was no longer dumped on the McCarthy Creek side of Bonanza Ridge, because there had been  no mining development at the 800 level since 1918 when Kennecott took over the site.    Frank and the eighteen men assembled in the wide area just inside the main door. Frank, with the help of Eldon, pushed the heavy door shut.  They were moving against the force of the wind and the ever-advancing snowdrifts. Eldon turned, leaned against the door he had helped close, then spoke to the group.

Bonanza-ML workings
Map of the main workings of the Bonanza-Mother Lode mines (looking down) On the left is
the high end of the workings, including the head tram for the Bonanza and the Bonanza adit at the 6,000-ft level. At the center dividing line between the mines the level is approximately 1,250 ft, which was 1,100 feet in elevation lower than the Bonanza 150-level adit on the left. Where the Mother Lode surface camp is shown is the 800 level--650 feet lower than the Bonanza, but still well above the Mother Lode workings beneath it. The map shows two incline shafts. These were the main access tunnels. The 30 degree Bonanza incline begins at the 150 level (Bonanza Camp level) and terminates at the 1250 level where a level cross cut connects the Bonanza workings to the top of the Mother Lode 26 degree
incline shaft. From the top of the Mother Lode 26 degree incline the shaft continues all the way down to the 2,800 level at the top of this map. 

          “Since both teams will be blasting, we’ll keep in constant contact.  No blasting if you don’t know where everyone is.  Scott will take most of you back to the 400 level.  I am taking the rest all the way up.  Each of the six of you with me will trade off running the wire spool all the way up.   Jeff or Darrell can do the splicing, since they’ve done this before.  Once we’re at the 100 level, we’ll set up the telephone base.  Then we’ll get on with the business of mining.”

          The group began the relatively long trek to the main vertical shaft.   Then Eldon’s team  took the double compartment elevator to the Pittsburg level.  From the Pittsburg 600 level, the team began a long series of climbs through narrow vertical shafts with ladders to the 400, and then the 200, and finally 100 level.  All the way up one of them was unreeling the new telephone cable. At each level, a new man took the spool.  It was exhausting work just getting up there. 
          Scott’s team of ten resumed work on the 400 level, where a cut-and-fill operation was in progress.  It was  a cleanup of old workings in a search for unknown ore extensions. 

          The smaller group finally reached the very highest level, not far from the top of the ridge itself.  This was the most intriguing area as far as Frank was concerned. It had never been well explored, though Frank had already crawled through the area with W.A. a few months before. None of the engineers considered this area as worth the effort to examine since it was a thousand feet above the known ore beds.

          Frank realized that it would take longer than he originally estimated before he made it back to camp.   That was fine with him.  Even though everyone else had brought lunch, Frank was planning on heading toward the main Mother Lode lunchroom deep underground at the end of the 1257 cross-cut once he had completed his work in this very high area.  All he had to do was take the vertical shaft elevator from the Pittsburg level down 550 feet to the top of the Mother Lode incline  at the end of crosscut 1257.   The men who ordinarily ate there would be  working stope 1252 and other stopes  at the 1000 and 1400 levels.  This was the center of the main Mother Lode workings.  The crew of nearly forty was under senior engineer Melvin Smith and foreman Jack Morris.  All of them worked out of the Bonanza main barracks.  

          When the small crew finally worked its way nearly to the top of the complex Marvelous stope and had set up the telephone communication,  Eldon pointed out the area he thought should be considered for prospect tunneling.  Frank examined it, but saw little in the way of encouraging copper stains.   This area was almost at the very top of the dolomite limestones at the point  where the McCarthy shales begin. This was a contact zone rarely seen by anyone.  It was not an area likely to contain any copper ores.

          “This is almost like blind prospecting, ”  he told Eldon.  “There is very little here worth pursuing.”   He looked around and spotted a small tunnel leading north. 

ML tunnel
The 1500 level cross cut tunnel near where it intersects with the Mother Lode incline.  
--Curvin Metzler
          “Let’s head that way.  If I don’t find anything through there, we’ll just close out this area.”  

          The group of seven followed Frank, who was looking intently for any sign of copper staining along the walls.   There was ice everywhere, but there was also water that had accumulated along the floor.  Because the walls were frosted, it was particularly  difficult to see anything.    But near the far north end of level 50, Frank found what he thought he was seeking. It was an exposure of copper nearly two feet wide.

          “Wow! Not much by Jumbo standards, but there wasn’t much to see at the surface of Jumbo, either.  I wonder why they didn’t pursue this one.  This is better than anything I’ve seen in the lower levels.  If it leads to anywhere at all we might be on to something.  We’ll just have to find out.”

carbonate stains
Carbonate stains of Azurite & Malachite underground in the Mother Lode     --Curvin Metzler


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