16 February 2011

Chapter 57: "The Last Train Ride," Pt 3

store keeper's cottage 1914
The distinctive store keeper's cottage in north Kennecott, circa 1914   --UAF Archives
The same cottage in 1960   --Jerry Cleworth   This building has largely collapsed.

store keeper's cottage 1960
          The cottage was at the head of a steep row of stairs. It was warm and pleasant, in contrast to the cold, empty west barrack. All the furnishings, including the bedding, were still there, like someone still lived in the place.  Johnny reached over to try the light switch.  It still worked. He lit the stove, using a pile of wood which was stacked outside the porch  at the bottom of the steps. Then he lit the more intimate kerosene lamp and shut off the overhead electric light.

          “Just like home, Dad, but no drunks on the floor.”

          “Sounds like something Cap once said about living here.”

           What a comfortable place.  We’ve got food here and everything else to live comfortably for weeks. If Rose could only be here now.  I have my son here. That’s a blessing. It’s more than I thought I’d ever deserve in this life.

typical cottage kitchen
A kitchen in one of Kennecott's north cottages  --UAF Archives

     The dog curled up by the fire and watched the two humans, completely fascinated by their every move. Johnny had many stories of his adventures as a young man. Tonight he would tell Michael about the good times he and Cap and his younger brother Charles enjoyed in this camp many years before when they set about painting the mill gray. Outside it had cleared off again and the Northern Lights were out in their full glory.

          All these years I felt like I lived just on the outside of the big events.  Tonight I feel like I’m very much a part of everything here.  This is my home--and the home of my people.  It’s almost like Cap and Charles were still here.

          Johnny’s son had fallen off to sleep on the narrow couch.  He picked Michael up and carried him to one of the two bedrooms, covered him up, then returned to the living room.

          He’s probably a little big to carry like that, but it’s something I missed as a father who wasn’t there.  I know I owe it to my children to be more of a father than I have been.  Looks like I’ve been given the chance to be one if I want.   I don’t know.  Cathy has her own life now.  I don’t have any life up here at all.  My place is  elsewhere.   Probably grandfather would disapprove, but this is who I have become.  Tonight I need to reflect on who I was.  I’ve come to the right place to do that.   Maybe I’ll take the super up on his offer for work. I think I’d like to hang around here with my son, even though he’s supposed to be in school.  This is more important than his schooling, anyway.  

          The dog had curled up at his feet. Tikaani had the same thick shaggy fur which distinguished Kay-yew-nee, but this Siberian mutt was still not fully grown.

1924 power plant
Kennecott power plant in 1924 just after it was rebuilt    --Anchorage Museum of History & Art

He stood up and walked to the door. Tikaani followed him. When he opened it, the sharpness of the frigid air hit him fully. It took his breath away. The full moon shone brightly over the glacier, illuminating a landscape that was very familiar.  The power plant was just across the tracks. It was dimly lit up on the north side where the four boilers sat. Smoke left just one of the stacks.  Down the tracks the dark outline of the mill profile stood out like a crouching monster--silent and waiting for the right moment to reveal itself The machine shop and the huge water flotation shop just beyond were likewise dark and quiet. 

          South of the dark mill loading dock, the only lights seemed to come from  the electricians’ warehouse  and from some power pole lights which paralleled the tracks. The box cars were backed up all the way to the end of the north track, blocking the path from the cottage to the power plant just in front of him.  Johnny could hear engine 74 humming contentedly away down the tracks near the mill. 


          Must be thirty below out here. Maybe it’s even colder than that. It was irresponsible of me to come out here with my son without knowing if we had a place to stay.  I was lucky this time.  We would never have been able to camp out here in these frigid temperatures.

          He turned around upon hearing his son shift in his bed.

          Guess I better get back inside and watch the stove and keep Tikaani company.

          Johnny almost immediately dozed off on the narrow couch with the dog still at his feet. He finally felt at peace with himself and slept easily.  But he awakened with a jolt when he heard the hollow train whistle reverberating up the valley.  

          That’s too far away. Can’t be the train outside.  Where’s that sound coming from? Sounds like the one we heard from our McCarthy campsite years ago. It must be the same whistle I heard last night in Chitina--No. 71. Naw, can’t be, unless it’s a ghost train.  Boiler on that one blew up years ago. Love it here, spirits and all. Wish I never had to leave . . .

Last Train Out
The Last Train Out, November 10, 1938   --McCarthy-Kennicott Museum

Continue with
Chapter 58, "The Ravens at National Creek"

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