Prior to our Rescue Team’s 4-day Work Session in Palmer, Alaska a year ago, in 2020, it was impossible to compile an accurate part’s list, although I had put together one based upon photographs, books and lengthy conversations with Grady Smith. It was probably 95%+ complete and accurate. Even more important, we had no way of compiling an accurate list of what parts might be missing or had been misplaced, either while Keith was still alive, or since his passing. Keith was the only one who knew where everything was and unfortunately he didn’t write it all down. Keith had parts stored in various locations… his home, his storage trailer, several storage lockers filled with boxes of goodies and a log-cabin with several storage containers located about 65 miles away from his home. Following Keith’s death, his son Erik was faced with having to move all of the Climax parts from the storage trailer and the house by pickup truck into a storage container located about 25 miles away… and all of this while still working on the North Slope in three-week stretches. Erik’s concern wasn’t to sort parts at that time, but to secure it as best he could.
When we first visited Erik to view the parts and pieces and were able to climb Inside of the Container, we were literally walking and crawling on top of a three-foot deep pile of pipes and parts. There were some boxes so heavy we couldn’t move them, let alone even get to see what was in them… We just had to get a general sense of what was there based upon our familiarization with photos and books, some of which we had with us. We took lots of photos in the 2 1/2 days we had in Alaska and covered a lot of territory. So, when we went to recover the Locomotive parts last year we had to remove virtually everything from the container in order switch the container to another trailer, since the trailer it was on for the previous six years had not been inspected, maintained or licensed in that time. It was not roadworthy to move the container to the Port.
In the process of removing all of the parts we attempted to log them in against our previously produced parts and inventory lists. Additionally, we had to spend many hours in the several storage lockers and the containers at the log cabin retrieving items we had previously seen, and combing through boxes, shelves and piles of random materials, a lot of personal items, household goods, work related items, tools, and many items accumulated by Keith over his lifetime. At this point we didn’t know what all we were even looking for… other than “Parts for our Climax”… and sometimes the parts are obscure enough to not be readily identifiable as such.
Tom V. and I arrived 5 days earlier than the rest of the Team in order to get all of the logistics in place before the rest of the guys showed up (lifts, rooms, vehicle, tools, packing, a motorhome for a lunchroom, generator, lights, wood and crates for packing). The timing worked perfectly and at the end of the 5th day we picked up everyone at the airport and the next day began four concentrated and long days of unpacking and repacking. We were aided by another dozen “Team Members”, some from Pennsylvania, some transplanted from Pennsylvania and some Alaskans, without whom we could not have accomplished what we did. Each Rescue 313 Team Member received specially prepared Tee-shirts and ball caps in recognition and appreciation of their help in our endeavor.
Through the experience of Grady Smith, Steve Niederriter and Pat Durand, at the very end of the third day, and as we were nearly finished with re-packing the container, we had been able to compile a list of about 25 parts which we were pretty sure that we did not have, and knowing that all of them had been with the Climax when Keith purchased it. All of them would fit into a wooden box no larger than 12x12x24 inches and would weigh no more than 75 lbs. The next morning we finished packing and tying down and securing everything in the Container. The Container needed to be at Lynden Transport’s yard on that day, or its shipping would be delayed a week, and we wouldn’t be there to sign for it since we were leaving that night. It was raining as we finished packing and I was in the Motorhome working with Erik, and on the phone, completing our closing paperwork for our attorneys and initiating the transfer of payments. We still needed to return all of the borrowed equipment, check out or our rooms, follow the container to Anchorage, ship some excess baggage by UPS and return vehicles before our 9:30 PM flights home. We had no time to go back and do anymore searching for parts in the storage units before heading home. That would have to happen at a later date to be worked out between Erik and us. Actually we had just enough time for the seven of us to have a wonderful dinner at Gwennie’s Restaurant on our way to Steven’s Airport… and even had an extra hour or so to just kick back at our table in their back dining room and enjoy a much deserved desert. That’s the re-hash of the Rescue.
At that point we were already planning for a return trip to Alaska in search of the parts we were still missing. As with each previous trip it would have to be scheduled around Erik’s availability. Before Covid, our plans had been to add some time after the Rescue for Tom V. and I to do some more research at the University Archives in Fairbanks, to visit the Tanana RR Museum in Fairbanks in order to view and photograph some Climax artifacts which they have. We also had planned to go to Nome and Council to do video interviews with people we had met there the previous year who had connections to our Climax. All of this effort was for adding historical information and footage for our upcoming Documentary about Climax A-313 and the Wild Goose RR.
Included in this part of the journey was some time to get out to Council and Ophir for a couple of days, where A-313 plied its 8 miles of rail over 100 years ago. We wanted to see the terrain and experience the geography and desolation of the area which attracted 20,000 miners to travel 60 miles up-stream from the Bering Sea in search of their fortune in 1898… and at that time, 75 miles to the west, Nome’s population was only about 250, and mostly Alaskan Natives. Because of Covid, this part of our trip had to be postponed in 2020. So, along with finding some important parts which we would need to finish the assembly of our Locomotive, there were other equally important reasons for our future return to Alaska… The Winter of 2020-2021, that Spring and early Summer were spent trying to put this trip together… It proved to be more difficult than all of the planning which has gone into our first three trips all together. More dreams to come.