14 February 2011

Chapter 50: "Avalanche Aftermath," Pt 1

destroyed ML tram station
The recovery crew at the Mother Lode tram terminal searching for bodies:  I found this
photograph at the McCarthy-Kennicott museum. No one knew what it was, but Loy Green, who was in charge of the museum at that time, though it was a Bonanza structure. Wrong. I recognized what it was almost instantly.            --McCarthy-Kennicott Museum

          The eleventh explosion reverberated loudly throughout the Marvelous workings.
The sound of rock crashing down from somewhere high above was confusing.  The men at the 400 level had been warned of the blast sequence and had patiently waited through the eleventh. But where was the sound of the twelfth blast?  Had it gone off through the noise of all that rock crashing down?  The men looked at Scott Wilson, waiting for instructions.  Some started to get back up out of cover, but Wilson waved them back down.  His inner senses had been finely tuned from years of working at mines like this one, and Scott knew that something was not right.  It was a long minute as the sounds of the blast began to die off, then the anticipated twelfth blast rocked the Marvelous workings all the way down to the 400 level and beyond.  Somewhere high above the roaring noise told Scott that an unintended chain reaction was occurring.

          Scott immediately reached for the mine phone and rang for Eldon Johnson up at the 100 level.  To his relief, Eldon answered.   

          “What’s going on up there, Eldon?   That last delayed blast seemed to set something else off.  It sounds much louder down here than it should.  What’s going on?”

          “Don’t know yet.  The dust is still heavy. Two of our men headed into
the direction of the blast zone before I gave the all-clear.   We’ll have to search for them.  Better leave your work and send your men up.  No. wait. Hold on while I ring down to the engineer first.”

          The line went dead.  About a minute later the phone rang.

          “Strange.  I don’t seem to be able to raise anyone down there.  Line must somehow gone out in those gusts.  I’m concerned that we might have set off a much larger chain reaction than Frank expected.  It sounded like it caved from the very top to a point somewhere below us.  There’s a portal on your level which should be right over the camp.  Head over there and look up in our direction and down toward the camp as well, would you?  I’ll be near here by the phone.  We’re still waiting for the rock dust to settle so we can search for those two Montana fools.

          “Send up four of your men through the raises to the 100 level to help us before you take off.  They need to take care, though.  I’m certain part of our workings have collapsed downward.  We’re right at the top of the final raise. That’s a long way up.”

telephone signals
List of telephone call  signals still in place in the Kennecott Mine system somewhere in the
Jumbo Mine sector.  

Below: Ice crystals
forming in the Mother Lode.  Both photos courtesy of Curvin Metzler

ice crystals

          “I’ll dispatch four of them right away, Eldon.   The rest of us will head toward the portal shed.  There should be a phone there.  We’ll try to reach you  from it.”  
          It was foggy through the 400  level. The walls were covered with layers of ice crystals.  Water had pooled on the floors. The men worked through the fog in the direction they believed was right.

          Ten minutes later Eldon got his call.

          “My God, my God, Eldon, we lost the entire camp.  There’s no barracks, no dining hall, no trams, only a buried stack and what appears to be the remains of the tram head.  Even that one building is badly mangled.”

          “Scottie, that can’t be.  Tell me that’s not right.  Don’t tell me what you just said.  No camp?  We’ve got the engineer down there!  At least, I think we do.  We left Sato and his helper back there.”

          “No camp, nothing.  It’s all gone.  I doubt if Sato and the bull-cook lived through that one.  Don’t know about Frank.  He might have been elsewhere.  Hell, Eldon, I can’t even see the Rhodes portal.  It’s completely buried.  Probably crushed. No obvious way to reach the camp from here at all.  What do we do?”

          The line stayed silent for a time.  Eldon sat back stunned, at first unable to react as the magnitude of the catastrophe began to sink in.   Finally he took in a breath and responded.
          “I’ll have to call Bonanza for help.  Any way of working down the jig-back?”

          “The tram line is dangling.  Someone with rock climbing skills could probably make it down.  I’ll see if anyone here thinks they can negotiate it.  It’s a long drop and it’s icy and still blowing out there.”

          The phone rang back after a few moments.

          “Eldon, no one wants to try it.  Shall I bring my group down to start digging out the adit portal?  Maybe the men at camp escaped into the snowshed before the avalanche.”

Google Earth view 2
Google-Earth view of upper Marvelous Gulch. The top of the ridge overlooking the ML camp from the north (click image for larger view) was 1000 to 1200 feet  higher than the camp, which was at an elevation of 5,200 feet.

          “Scott, go ahead and start digging out down there.  The Indians are on the way down. I couldn’t hold them back.  One of them was the one who pushed the plunger.   They seem to have a strong connection to Frank Buckner.  Anyway, they’re coming.  They both insisted that  they can  negotiate the jig-back line.  Take your men down to the main level and start digging.  Leave two of your men at the Pittsburg portal to help Cap and Johnny when they get down there.   I’m still waiting for the four men you sent up here to arrive.  They’re not here yet.”

          Eldon rang the foreman at Bonanza. 

          “Jack, we have a catastrophe over here and need immediate help.”

          “Eldon, what on earth is going on?  You sound frantic.”

          “I am frantic.  We set off a blast up here near the 50 level which may have taken two of our men right on the spot.  But that’s not the half of it.  
          “Our blast seems to have set off an avalanche which just took out the entire Mother Lode camp.  We don’t know if the engineer was there, but the two Japanese certainly were.  Don’t know if they made it to safety in the tunnels or not.  Not likely they did.”

          “Oh no, Eldon. Are you sure?  You mean it, don’t you?  Not good.  Not good.  We have a catastrophe on our hands.  What about the others? How many survivors?”

          “All the miners were underground. I think we lost two in the blast.  Only Frank and the two Japanese are missing.”

          “I’ll bring every spare man over right away. The power is out over here.  Our lines are down and we have no communication with Kennecott.  We can’t use any of the incline hoists or the vertical shaft elevator.   We’ll come down through the 800 level.  Do you know if the Mother Lode portal is blocked?”

Kennecott Mines
Google-Earth Image showing the mountainous landscape and relative positions of the Mother Lode,
Bonanza, Jumbo and Erie mining camps. Click image for a close-up view.

          “It’s buried and probably crushed.   I’ve sent most of the crew under Scott Wilson to begin digging out.  You better look  for Frank in the mine.  I know he intended to head down to the 1250 level.  Maybe he’s still in there somewhere.”

          “Okay, Eldon, I’ll send a search party through the upper Mother Lode area and we’ll check the location of the elevator cage as well, just in case he’s there.  Shouldn’t be. There’s no lights down there. With luck, the cage will be either at the 1250 or the 800 level. Do you need any help on your level?”

          “Jack, I have four more men coming up from Scott’s crew.  They should be here shortly.  I’m going down to the main adit at Mother Lode to join the crew already there.  There was so much rock dust all the way down to this level that those two miners probably literally bit the dust.”

          “Who were they?”

          “Jeff Boyd and Darrell Everitt.  They came in from the Butte at Montana.  They’re  new to this operation. Probably not known  by anyone over there.”

          “Okay, Eldon. I’ll phone Mel Smith over at Jumbo.  He’s the senior man in the mines.  He’ll know what to do.  Maybe he can reach the super.  Douglass needs to know about this as soon as possible.”

Jumbo Mine
The Jumbo Mine   --McCarthy-Kennicott Museum
Jumbo Mine front view  --Candy Waugaman Collection

Jumbo Mine view 2

           “That’s fine, I guess.  Jack, I’m going to head down to the 400 level adit to look at what happened for myself.   Then I’m going down to the main level to see what I can do.”

          The two large camps went into high gear as the  men were alerted of the emergency.  Erie was not involved. It sat silent, dark and empty. Erie had been temporarily closed due to lack of available man power.   Search and rescue parties from both major camps were quickly mobilized according to a plan laid out years before by the most safety conscience of all the engineers, Warren Richelsen.  
          Melvin Smith received the bad news from Jack within half a minute after Eldon Johnson hung up.   He sat back in his office in the old Jumbo barrack stunned.  Finally he reached over to the phone in a vain attempt to reach the camp below.  Then he tried the junction station.  He did not know the men there at all.

          “Jumbo Station Three.”

          “Three? This is Mel Smith, senior engineer at the mines today.  I can’t get through to the main office from here.  Is the lower tram operational?”

          “It is. We are blown in up here , but the tram is still up. No phone, however.”

          “Good enough.  Send one of your men down the tram to Kennecott.  We have a disaster up here.”

          “Disaster?  Did we lose a camp?”

          “We lost Mother Lode.  Send a messenger to Richelsen and Douglass.”


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