ALASKA TRIP AUGUST 2021 – Part II
Still working on catching up #4
After returning our Motorhome we were dropped off at our hotel in Anchorage for an overnight stay before catching a late morning flight to Nome where they too have been having an extremely wet year. In fact, on the shuttle bus to the Airport we spoke with a gentleman headed home to Sacramento. He inquired where we were headed and upon hearing we were hoping to spend some time in Council he said that he had spent the last week there fishing… and, that the water in the Niukluk River was the highest it has been in many years and that it had rained the entire week he was there…. OH, BOY!!! more challenges!
After getting settled in Nome we ended up at Cussy Kauer’s chatting with her for a while. Cussy is the daughter of Chuck Reader, the orchestrator of the first Rescue of A-313 in 1969.
The next day we managed to get out and meet up with several folks I had met on the last trip to Nome including fellow Seabee Stan Anderson. I had sent a text to Stan the day before letting him know that we were in town. The next morning Stan called and said that his twin brother Steff, another Seabee, was coming to town from Council to catch a flight to Anchorage for a Dr.’s appointment, and he would like the four of us (Stan, Steff, Norm and me) to get together for a few minutes… he had something for us… so we waited… finally Stan called. Steff was running late and had to get to the Airport, but had left a bag for us… “Can we meet at the VFW in 15 minutes?” Needless to say, the answer was “YES!”… so, off to the VFW… That is a whole separate story unto itself which I will cover in the next segment… stay tuned…
Later that day we spent some time at the Carrie McLain Museum and the Nome Library, which are housed together. For those who don’t know, Carrie McLain was the first Historian and collector of photos and artifacts of early Nome. The first Museum was her home… she was also Cussy Kauer’s Grandmother.
It was difficult to schedule time in the Archives since they were just beginning to reopen from Covid, not open on weekends and trying to get ready for the beginning of the School year… luck wasn’t with us there. We managed to catch up with Carl Emmons for a couple of hours to discuss the old railbed of the Wild Goose heading towards Shelton. Much of the first few days was spent trying to communicate with folks in Council to try to make arrangements for a couple of days out there… phone service is non-existent, and text or email is very sporadic, and it is a two-plus hour drive out there… and when you get there, you need a way to get across the river.
Our Videographer, Donnie Rosie, flew in on Sunday… it was still overcast and rainy… so, not a great opportunity for scenic shots, but after getting Donnie oriented to Nome, we managed to do a couple of interviews. Monday morning we were headed to Council but still hadn’t made much contact out there. Just before leaving town we stopped at the Snowmobile Shop to see if they had heard from a fellow Seabee from Council, Doug Doyle, and just as we pulled up so did Doug in his baby-blue (Seabee shoulder stripes, E-1,2 & 3 are Baby Blue) military 5-ton truck. After introductions, we headed towards Council and would wait for Doug to catch up with us at the River.
Doug showed up a couple of hours after we arrived and soon enough we were across the River and in Council… Doug arranged for us to stay in his sister Linda Conley’s cabin. Soon we were off on foot exploring the area, making it down to the location where the Wild Goose tracks originated along the cliffs at the river’s edge. After exploring the area we stopped and introduced ourselves to Dan Stang who has been coming to his cabin in Council for decades. Dan gave us some good perspective on the local history. Time to head back to our cabin and catch a late dinner and a bit of conversation with Doug when he stopped by, before a good night’s sleep.
Day two started with us walking the same road when a 4-wheeler came up with someone shouting out “That looks like a Seabee!” and there we met Steff Anderson, a fellow Vietnam Era Seabee. Steff and his twin brother Stan have been coming to Council beginning with their parents in the 1940’s. A short chat and he was off to check on his boat. Still heading down the road… we were on our way to meet with another local, Wes Perkins, and to tape an interview with him…
His Father was the last Schoolteacher in Council when people still lived there year-round… the original log cabin schoolhouse is next to Wes’ cabin. Wes had been the Fire Chief and an EMT in Nome. Wes was also mauled by a Grizzly Bear while hunting in 2011… what an inspiring guy! Through the efforts of Dan Stang and one of Dan’s sons, who were hunting with Wes at the time, and a whole extraordinary series of events, his life was saved…. what a story! Wes’ connection to the local history is amazing… his Uncle had worked on the Dredges in Ophir.
From there we stopped back at Dan Stang’s cabin and interviewed Dan sitting on the doorsteps of his son’s cabin… to this year, Dan has been involved in 144 Bear kills… OMG!!! He loves Council, the local history and, of course, hunting. After the interview Dan offered to drive us in his side-by-side out towards Ophir… the other end of the tracks that A-313 ran on. Off we went, not going over the mountain along the tracks but around the base of the mountain, on a one-lane trail, following the Niukluk River and then Ophir Creek northeast towards Ophir.
Seeing first-hand the miles of tailings across the width of the valley gives one a good sense of why there were 5 dredges working this area which proved to be the most lucrative of all the gold strikes in Alaska. No wonder Charles Lane established and purchased claims up the Creek and then put in his own Railroad from Council to Ophir to move his machinery, parts and people to the remote location of the gold digs. Some of this area is still being periodically mined, but on a much smaller scale. Most of the old Dredges have collapsed and haven’t been used in over 70 years.
It was getting late in the afternoon… we were still a mile or so from Ophir, but what an experience. Hopefully we are able to get back up to Council in the future and continue the exploration. Turning around we headed back towards Council. The top of the mountain on our left is about 4 miles away but you can make out a diagonal treeline coming down from the saddle of the bald top of the mountain where the rail line is located… that line visually disappears behind the front edge and onto a sloped plateau area which the tracks descend onto and continue to Ophir. The lower mountain and the Plateau contains a Pine Boreal Forest. Several times Donnie deployed his drone to get a better view and to shoot some footage of the area.
On the way back to Council we passed several places we had stopped at on the way out… several old mostly-collapsed mining building housing a water activated Pelton Wheel for electrical generation, maintenance buildings, crew residence buildings and camp kitchen… a still standing and mostly complete old bucket dredge last used in the 50’s …. a group of rusting and shot-up vintage trucks (30’s to 50’s)… an area covered with parts of a dryland bucket dredge with locomotive style rail propulsion… and other areas strewn with tons of gears, iron and remnants of years gone by. Dan’s dog lead the way out and back for nearly all of the 20 plus miles, just loving the freedom to run.
Not long after we arrived back at our cabin Steff Anderson came by and invited us over to his cabin, along with Doug Doyle, for dinner with him and his wife Patty…. what a treat… a great dinner and more stories and interviews about Council from both of my fellow Seabees, but we never took a photo of the three of us together… Darn!! That night the whole community was active with more vehicles showing up on the other side of the Niukluk River… the next morning was the beginning of Moose season… and EVERYONE was getting prepared for the hunt.
Being our last night, we took a walk down to Dan Stang’s and met one of his sons…. had a great conversation with them both and said our goodbyes… then did a little bit more exploring and found some interesting items we hadn’t seen previously… Stay tuned on that in the distant future. After we got back to the cabin we packed up in preparation for leaving in the morning.
In the morning we begged Dan’s neighbor for a ride back across the river and by 9:00am we were on our way back to Nome. We stopped at “The Last Train to Nowhere” for some photos, and we also stopped at the Swanberg Dredge, a Dredge now owned and maintained as a tourist site by the City of Nome. From there we were returning some borrowed equipment to Cussy Kauer and ended up taping an interview with Cussy and her Sister Ginny Emmons… The sun was out and it wasn’t raining so we went and checked out several of the Dredges around Nome as well as heading up to the top of Anvil Mountain and to Anvil Rock for Donnie to get some footage overlooking the whole coastal area of Nome. We had Donnie at the Airport by 4:30pm and at 6:00 his flight northwest to Kotzebue and then back south to Anchorage was in the air, as he began a series of flights heading home to Corry.