17 February 2011

Chapter 59: "Rosalene Comes Home, " Pt 1


Chitina River
View of the Chitina River a few miles up the McCarthy Road near the top of Kotsina Hill
Below: Traveling through Strelna on an old CRNW Model-T speeder after the railroad shut down in
the 1940s    --W.A. Richelsen

          “Look at those old station buildings, Willard.  This must be Choskosna.”

          “Should we stop here, Rosalene?”

          “We can look at these on the way back from McCarthy. According to the map, we’re very close to the Gilahina River.  That’s where I want to stop for lunch, Willard.”

          “There it is!  Look at the length of that old bridge.  Imagine a large locomotive crossing over that trestle now! Stop the suburban, dear.  I want to take a closer look.”

          “I’m pulling off here, Rose. We can take the grandchildren up this path. Looks like it cuts back onto the old rail line.”

          The older couple and Rosalene’s two grandchildren left the new 1981 GMC suburban to follow the path.  As Willard had predicted, it led to the old track grade.  The stopped to examine the remains of a gas-powered speeder.

          “It’s not from the old railroad days.  Must an abandoned Road Commission speeder, Willard.”

          “Odd place to abandon one, Rose.  We’re miles from anywhere. Let’s walk ahead and look at the west approach to the Gilahina.”

          “Willard, look!  Someone tore this side apart.  There’s nothing holding it together!”

          “I’ll say.  Looks like it’s only a matter of time before this end falls like a series of dominoes--one trestle bent after another.  They must have been chopping away at it for firewood.  What a desecration of such a magnificent work.”
          “The rest of it is stunning, isn’t it Dear?  Look at the beautiful long curve.  It’s a work of art!”

Gilahina Trestle
East end of the Gilahina Trestle in the 1950s or 1960s  --AMHA
East end of the Gilahina Trestle with a 4th of July Special Train, circa 1916.   
--Skinner Foundation AK State Library

Gilahina Trestle Train
          Willard had already taken out his camera to begin taking shots of the old bridge standing tall among the trees which failed to come close to reaching the height of the trestle.   
          “Dad never brought me up this line, but it was only later that I regretted it.  He brought my younger brother Michael along on that last trip just before they shut down the mine.  Michael treasured that one experience probably more than anything else in his life.  You could see it in his eyes when he finally returned with Dad.  I wish he could be with us now to tell us about what it was like up here back then.”

          “But you must have many of your own memories of the old railroad.”

          “Yes, Will.  It was an important part of our lives. Everyone born in this century just seemed to just take it for granted.  My father was particularly taken by it.  The Copper River Railway was deeply intertwined in his life.”

          “You mean the CRNW Railway?”

          “Can’t Run and Never Will.  That’s what they used to call it.  But it ran well most of the time.

          “When I reflect back on it, I have to admit that it really was magnificent.  It’s hard to imagine that anything like it once ran through this country almost every day.  By the time I was aware of it, the train service had already dropped off considerably, but it was still there.
          “That must have been something.”

          “We had a true railroad town.  All the same engines and coaches which were with us from the start were still there when it was finally all over after twenty-seven years of running through our valley.  I was fourteen at that time.”

          “Whatever do you think happened to him?”

          “My dad?  Father and Mom grew apart early. Their relationship was never that good.  He left us in Chitina in 1927 because Mom said he was completely stressed by a mining disaster.  Mom said several people were killed and that Dad blamed himself.  It wasn’t the first time he saw death there.  He lost a co-worker during a painting job and his father died at Kennecott the year before that.”

          “Your grandfather?”

          “Emil Gadanski married my grandmother about eighty years ago.  He was a Polish immigrant.  Helen was the daughter of our greatest chief.”

          “You’ve talked about Nicolai many times.”

Native Encampment
Above: from the Julie Sweeney Collection, UAF AK & Polar Regions.  

Below: from the NPS files

Native Encampment view 2

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