ALASKA TRIP AUGUST 2021 – Part III
Still working on catching up #5
Now this is one of the highlights of the trip…. one of many, some of which we aren’t talking about yet.. since we are still researching and making connections. BUT, this is what we could say is the “Crown Jewel” of the trip… it made it all worth the effort.
Let’s go back a few years…. January of 2018, right after we were first able to make contact with Erik, to see if there was a way we could bring this locomotive home… after 5 months of attempts… and shortly after we began talking about exactly what was there and where it was stored… what kind of condition… and some photos taken by Keith of parts… Erik made mention that the one thing that his dad did not have was the Builder Plate for A-313.
Beginning in the mid 1890’s, Climax began using the round Climax Builder Plate we are all used to seeing attached to each side of the boiler on the Class B, and later also on the Class C units. On the Class “A” locomotives they only used one Builder Plate, and it was bolted with 4 bolts to the front Running Number Standoff on the Smokebox door on the front of the Boiler. The Builder Plate for this engine had been removed by someone as a trophy well before Chuck Reader hauled Climax A-313 into Nome in the late Fall or early Winter of 1969.
In follow-up conversations with Erik, he thought he recalled his father, Keith, mentioning sometime that the Builder Plate might be on the wall of one of the Bars on Front Street in Nome. Erik had also been to Nome previously, and he thought he recalled that the Bar was the Polaris Hotel & Bar…. located near the end of the Iditerod Dog Sled Race on Front St.
Not long after I had heard this, early in 2018, I discovered that in October of 2017 a fire had destroyed the Polaris with one person perishing… it wasn’t completely burned to the ground, but it was a total loss. My mind raced as I wondered at that time… “Could the Plate have survived?… did someone rescue it?” Bronze can withstand 1700 degrees. Not long after that I found a front-page story in the Nome Nugget, probably published in December… the City Council had voted to knock down the building so that no one could potentially get hurt… the owner was in South Korea receiving medical attention and not available. On the front page was a photo of… Charlie Reader in his Q-Trucking Co. excavator knocking the remains of the building down… how ironic, I thought… here is Charlie Reader, son of Chuck Reader the man who dragged A-313 into town and at onetime an owner of the Polaris Bar, tearing down the building which might have the Builder Plate on the wall… Is that wild???
Well… I would have to wait to see how this plays out… if we can pull this acquisition off… and if I can get to Nome… to see if we can locate the Builder Plate.
Jump forward to the Fall of 2019…. during the Summer we had reached an agreement with Erik and we were planning on being in Anchorage packing up the locomotive parts in August or September. Well, a whole lot of circumstances happened in August which didn’t allow our trip to happen… there were a lot of pieces of the puzzle which had to all align… So, we made the decision to put the Rescue Trip off until June or July of 2020. In the meantime we needed to figure out all of our transportation angles and that was difficult to do here in Corry, PA. At the last minute Tom V. and I made the decision to fly to Anchorage to begin locating equipment and tools we would need for re-packing and to see if we could arrange for the container to be transported to Seattle. Through an introduction made by Pat Durand of the 557 Project, we had dinner shortly after we landed in Anchorage with Jim and Vicki Jansen (another fellow Vietnam Seabee) and Pat Durand. Following dinner and after showing Jim and Vicki photos and info about our Project, Jim offered to transport our container to Seattle on one of his Lynden Transport Barges… OH, My!! We were elated, to say the least. Thank you Jim and Vicki, we are grateful for your generosity… and Pat… for the introductions and all the help along the way.
As part of my planning over the previous year, I had been looking on Facebook to see if there were any Seabees I could make friends with in Nome… I had found that there were a couple… but one in particular just seemed to be the right guy… so I Friended Toby Schield… I had tapped into Toby to see what info there was up there having to do with the old Railroads in general and also the Climax locomotives which had been in Nome during the early 1900’s, all of which were built here in Corry, PA by Climax Manufacturing Co. Although not familiar with that part of Nome’s history, Toby was able to find some good information for me over several months. Toby had been running the Water Dept for a bunch of years and was due to retire in January of 2020, when he would be moving to Nevada, so if we wanted to have Toby’s knowledge available, we needed to make it happen right now, while he and his wife Trish were still in Nome. We really wanted to get up to Nome to see what we could find and see some of the territory where the Wild Goose Railroad operated… and I wanted to meet some of the family of Chuck Reader, who had brought the engine from Ophir and Council to Nome where it sat behind the Q-Trucking building for 10 years before Keith Christenson purchased it. And… oh, yeh!!… then there was always that tantalizing question of “What happened to the Builder’s Plate? … and could we find it.”
A few days before we flew up to Alaska, I called Toby and filled him in on just what Tom V. and I were up to, and that we wanted to come up to Nome for maybe three days to see the town and meet some of the people. A big-hearted Seabee… Toby & Trish offered us a couple of beds at their home… “Come on up!” That was all it took for us to say “Heck, yes!” So, after a wonderful dinner with Pat, Jim and Vicki, we caught a good night’s sleep at out hotel and the next day caught the 11:00am flight to Nome.
On October 16th, 2019, we landed in Nome and Toby was there to greet us and help collect our luggage… and then he introduced us to his wife Trish as she was the Alaska Airlines Ground Crew… the same one who was unloading the baggage and would also be the one refueling the plane for its return flight to Anchorage… It was a very quick “Hello”, “How was the flight”… “Hey, gotta run… see you for dinner!”…. and she was off… what a package of dyn-o-mite! That’s Trish.
We had arrived in Anchorage Tuesday afternoon… then arrived in Nome on Wednesday about noon… were in Nome Thursday, Friday and Saturday… and then flew back to Anchorage with Toby on Sunday. Toby had an annual State Water Board meeting to attend for a few days. In those 4 days in Nome, we covered a lot of territory and met a lot of interesting people… even met Jeff and Peggy Darling who were both from Frewsburg, NY, only 25 miles from Corry… It truly is a small world. I’m going to skip a lot here… suffice to say that we met some great folks… saw and photographed literally tons of stuff we never thought we would ever see and laid the ground work for getting back to Nome in the future. On Friday and Saturday there was an accumulation of about 11″ of snow, the first one of the year, and after an overcast Wednesday and a beautiful, clear and sunny Thursday. Mind you, the temperature never got over 37F.
So, fast forward to Friday morning… Toby, Tom and I hit the road… first stop was Q Trucking to see if Charlie Reader was in… he was not… not surprising, the man gets stuff done!!! …but the word was that we needed to show up about 5pm for the “Weekly Safety Meeting”… and OBTW,, BYOB!!! nothing else needed to be said… we would be there. We made a few more stops around town and then stopped by Hanson’s and grabbed some donuts… and we were off headed out to meet Ron Engstrom… Ron comes from a Pioneer Gold Mining Family and lives out on the Shelton Highway at Basin Creek. The closer we got to Ron’s the lighter the snowfall had been… being only about a one to two inch dusting at Ron’s house. What an incredibly enjoyable few hours we had chatting with Ron…. or rather listening to him chat… and looking at some of his photos…. Ron had the floor. Story’s flew… about his Speeder for getting to school… his propeller driven snow machine… his mom and dad bring in the Dredge with a 60 horse team… dragging the steel bridge in… WOW… we finished up the afternoon walking around in his fields looking at some of the discarded iron… the rusty history of Basin Creek.
Our plan was to come back to Nome the next year after we were done re-packing A-313 in Eagle River , and to spend at least a day on the Dredge with Ron and to interview him for our Documentary. This should have happened in June or July of 2020, except the Covid19 Pandemic got in the way. When travel restriction loosened a bit in July we quickly reinvented our itinerary for getting to Palmer and Eagle River in August of 2020, but we could not travel to Nome because of Covid restrictions… we didn’t have the time to sit in quarantine during the trip. Unfortunately, life is just too short, and you just don’t know what other plans God has for any of us. Ron passed away just a year ago last week, 11-20-2020. But, what memories we have of that afternoon, just a year before.
We said our goodbyes and Tom left Ron with a Corry Rails hat, and we were off to take a tour of the Water Dept facilities in Nome and to checkout one of the Dredges. Then it was time for that “Safety Meeting” appointment… aahemm!! We stopped and picked up a couple of brewskies and made it to the Q-Trucking Shop on-time. We met up with Charlie Reader and several others of the Q-Crew and told them the story of what our plans were for Climax A-313 and enjoyed a couple of cold-ones together. Then, after a bit, Charlie says.. “You really do need to talk to my sister Cussy… she’s the historian in the family!” We had heard that Cussy had been having chemo treatments and that can really drag a person’s energy level down, and Toby asked Charlie if she would be up to it? “I don’t know, let’s find out” Charlie says… and he calls Cussy… tells her about us, and Cussy says “Send ’em over”. So, more goodbyes and by 6:30 we had stopped and picked up Trish and we are at Cussy’s meeting and greeting… For the next couple of hours Cussy holds court and keeps bringing out boxes of stuff… information overload…
I’m sitting on the floor looking over maps and photos and books… We’re kids in a candy-store… trying to absorb as much as we can while listening to the Professor intently. I only wish we had had the foresight to have a video recorder, or at least a tape recorder, going the whole time… what a hoot!!! …sooooo much information in such a short time… I want to do it again… Thanks for the memory Cussy!
Then… I asked Cussy about this rumor I had heard… about the Builder Plate being on the wall of the Polaris Bar… Cussy looks at me and all she said while shaking her head was “You need to talk to Stan Andersen”… and Cussy was instantly on to another subject. Well, Stan Andersen’s name had come up earlier in conversation with Toby… Stan was a Seabee also. Stan had also been on the City Council in Nome and Cussy had worked in the City offices for 34 years… so Toby’s and my eyes met and we nodded to each other with raised eyebrows… as more stories flowed. We finally decided we were all hungry… none of us had had dinner.. so with Cussy all bundled up, it was off to the Pizza place for dinner and a beer…. WHAT an evening… what a day… not a bad day in Nome, even with the snow on the ground. Plans were made that we would all meet-up at the VFW for dinner on Saturday night.
Saturday, Toby, Trish, Tom and I headed out Shelton Highway again, further this time… past Salmon Lake… almost out to Shelton… and pulled into the cabin of Carl Emmons. Another one of the guys who REALLY knows the history and background of a lot that happened in the early days in Nome and with the various iterations of the Railroad…. OH, My!!! more great conversations… and there wasn’t any snow yet that far inland from the Bearing Sea. After a couple of hours with Carl, we headed up the road to check out some flatcars off the side of the road, and then headed back into Nome to make sure we were in line for Dinner at the VFW.
At the Vets Club, we all grabbed a table by the window and Cussy and crew showed up… and Toby and I head to the bar to get a couple of beers. We are at the bar when Toby says “Oh, hey… you need to meet this guy”… I turn around and Toby introduces me to Stan Andersen. Toby takes the beers back to the table leaving Stan and me talking about old times, the Seabees and Vietnam… and what units we were in. Dinner was being served and we made room for Stan at the table as we continued our conversation. I was out of Port Hueneme, CA in MCB-3 at Camp Haskins South in Danang and Stan was out of Gulfport, MS with MCB-133 up at Camp Campbell in Phu Bai, I believe. Neither of us were getting much of our delicious steak dinners eaten… but “It was getting deep, never-the-less”, if ya know what I mean! We eventually transitioned the conversation to our project, the acquisition of Climax A-313, the little engine which had been in Council and Ophir.
Finally I asked Stan about the rumor… and told him that I had asked Cussy, but that she deferred and had only said to “…talk to Stan Andersen…”. Stan takes a sip and says shaking his head, “That plate was never on the wall in the Polaris!” …a long pause, and I’m silent… waiting… and finally he says, “It was on the wall in my Bar… the Bering Sea”… more silence, and then… “but I sold the bar ten years ago or so”. Finally I asked “Did the plate go with the Bar?” to which Stan replies, “No, I kept all the memorabilia on the walls… I’ve got it somewhere, but I haven’t seen it in 5 or 6 years… when I find it, I’ll let you know and see if I can get it to you.” Incredible… Tom is sitting next to me and the look on his face, and probably mine too, had to have been a sight to see… here we are 3500 miles from Corry and we have just found the guy who has THE plate, and possibly we have been offered the Builder Plate we were looking for…. Unreal! Another great day in Nome!
Well, the story gets better as Stan tells the tale about his folks going out camping at Council every year as Stan (and his twin brother Steff, and their sister) was growing up… and on occasion they would drive over to Ophir… about 14 miles away, around the mountain… and one time they spotted this old wooden locomotive (our Climax A-313 of the Wild Goose Railroad, and later the Golovin Bay Railroad – same trackage)… this would have been in the late 1950’s, and they took a couple of photos with the twin brothers hanging on the engine, and with their Dad Steve sitting on the headlight stand in front of the smokestack… and there on the Running Plate is the Builder Plate.
Stan told us that it was then that he said he wanted that Builder Plate for himself… he wasn’t sure if it was that year or the next that he came back and unbolted it. The boys interest in locomotives and trains goes back to when they were 4 or 5 years old, as seen in the photo with their sister on one of the locomotives of “The Last Train to Nowhere”. Later in life, after the military and Vietnam, and returning to Nome and becoming a Bar owner, he placed it on the wall of the Bar where it stayed until he sold the Bar. I think he said that the Bell at the Bar to ring for buying rounds was mounted in front of it… I would like to find a photo or two of it on the wall in the bar, if anyone has one.
Sunday morning, after Toby, Chef Extraordinaire, had prepared an sumptuous Breakfast (Eggs Benedict ala King Crab), we said quick goodbyes to everyone in the area, stopped by the Nome Cemetery to say a quick goodbye and a salute at the gravesite of Chuck Reader, the three of us headed off to the airport to catch our 1:00pm flight. In Anchorage for a few days, we would be making more contacts for the repacking and doing more research, with Toby’s help, when he didn’t have meetings scheduled, before flying home to Corry.
SKIP FORWARD A FEW MONTHS… Out of the Blue, Stan calls me…. “I just wanted to let you know I have found the Plate… I was talking to my brother Steff one day and I mentioned to him that I couldn’t find it…. and Steff says to me ‘What do you mean… I know exactly where it is! After you sold the bar you gave it to me to hang on the wall of our cabin in Council'”. …and then Stan says “I’ll let you know when I have it.”
A few more months go by and I get a note from Cussy and she mentioned that Stan had been in the hospital with some serious issues and had been taken to Anchorage… she asked if Stan had found the Builder Plate, and I filled her in. More back and forth happened over the next several months, and both Stan and Steff were in the hospital at times. When we were planning this trip, and re-planning it at the last minute, to be in Alaska in August, I let Stan know that we were planning to come to Nome and hopefully out to Council at that time. Stan wrote back saying that Steff and Patty, who hadn’t been up in a couple of years, were planning on being in Council also.
That’s all the background…. now, JUMP FORWARD TO THE END OF AUGUST, 2021: The next day, after we arrived in Nome, I sent a Text Message to Stan… Stan’s plan was for the four of us, Stan, Steff, Norm and me to get together the next morning at the VFW. That morning, Norm and I were at the VFW at the appointed time, and waited… and waited… I finally sent a text to Stan asking if he was OK? (since I new that both he and Steff had touch-n-go medical issues)… Stan hadn’t heard from Steff yet that morning, but he would call as soon as he did hear. We left the parking lot and about 20 minutes later Stan called saying that Steff was running behind for check-in for the flight to Anchorage, but could we meet in 15 minutes… SOOOOO ….Stan, Norm and I got together at about 11:00am that Tuesday at the VFW and after hand shakes and introducing Norm, and a bit more chit-chat, Stan reaches in his truck and hands me a bag with the Builder Plate from Climax A-313. WOW!!… it really does exist!! Inside the Club we had a lot more conversation, and some Hats and Shirts… and A-313 Builder Plate Hat Pins, calendars etc. were exchanged …. just can’t get away from those Great days in Nome… when magic happens!!! A replica Builder Plate is in the works to go back on the wall at the Anderson cabin in Council.
Later that afternoon we stopped by Cussy’s, and in the course of conversation she asked if we had talked to Stan yet… and I said we had… and she asks “…and the Plate?” “We have it”, I said. “Where is it?” “Out in the truck”… “Well, Go get it… I want to see it.”… which we gladly did… a fine celebration with a wonderful gal…. Thanks for all your help, history and information Cussy!!!
WELL…. So you see… That’s the reason for pulling this out as a separate topic. Now the Plate is back home and will be used for the time being as a centerpiece in our fundraising efforts until such time as it gets bolted back onto the running plate of the smokebox of A-313. Needless to say, we are pretty proud and grateful to have it in our possession. Thank you so much Stan and Steff!! You have been great caretakers … and everyone else who made it all possible. That made the entire trip worth it, if nothing else were to happen.
Stay tuned for Part IV of the 2021 Alaska Trip…. that will be Catching-up #6.