« PreviousContinue »
in an elapsed time of just under six the preliminary survey he then made. weeks and an actual working time on the Even with that the eminent specialists steel of twenty-seven days.
stuck to their opinion, though Mr. HawThis building of the Miles Glacier kins was the engineer who built that bridge was but one incident, though an other “impossible” road over the White important one, in the construction of the Pass. Morgan-Guggenheim's Alaskan railroad. Anyway Hawkins told the MorganIt was all a battle, and a fierce one, from Guggenheim syndicate, which asked him, beginning to end. The road is now com that he could do it. The syndicate had pleted to its terminus 193 miles from bought the great Bonanza mine up in the tidewater and trains run from end to end Chitina country and wanted an outlet for of it throughout the year. The fight is its ore, so it supplied the money and gave forgotten in success.
the word to go ahead. And to this day very little has been Work began in October, 1907, and was heard of the man who won, or will be, continued all winter, Hawkins leading if he has his way. But Erastus Corning the forces in person, with Heney as conHawkins has in this winning put himself tractor. It was heart-breaking work for in the very front rank of construction
many reasons. engineers and can no longer be ignored. Copper-River weather is Alaska-coast
Since the Copper River valley was first weather with sundry added features; that considered as a possible railroad route to is, in winter it is warm and cold by spells the Alaskan interior, eminent engineers and the alternate freeze and thaw, with have been declaring such a road's construc- deep snow and overflows of the streams, tion and operation impossible. In 1905 produces conditions on such flat ground Michael J. Heney, the contractor who as the Copper River delta as Nature can built the White Pass and Yukon railway, equal in no other way. made the perilous journey up the valley In summer the delta is on foot and he declared that money and networked with river Mr. Hawkins could build a railroad on channels filled
LOOKING SOUTH TOWARDS THE CENTRAL FRONT OF CHILD'S GLACIER. Here the channel is but 1.200 feet wide and the ice cliff 300 feet high. The waves from falling ice bergs go clear over
the boulder bank sbown on the left.
with swift-flowing icy water, glacier plies and materials for a thousand men streams of all sizes and great overflows. must be got out across those flats someIn between and beneath are silt-beds, how. There was no way around; no quick sands and morasses in unimagin- paralleling wagon roads or navigable able variety but invariably low tempera waterways, no bridges and no hillsides to ture. The delta cannot be crossed in follow. summer by any living creature except Out onto the flats, already ten feet
winged ones. And every mouth of the deep in snow the army started, facing river is sealed with silt bars that nothing continual storms of great ferocity. Hawbut a canoe can navigate, as the con kins led, as always. Over the snow and structors found to their cost, after through the alternating slush he laid repeated trials.
temporary roads of alder brush. If you The work, then, must be done in the stepped from these you went waist deep Alaskan winter. Every pound of sup in slush or disappeared in powdery snow.
to be set and three steel bridges to be meant the most unremitting haste in that anticipated with temporary wooden struc- region. tures and all at top speed, for a time- The spring breakup, with its further limit of three years had been placed on deluges of ice-laden waters and driving the 193 miles of construction and this rains, found many miles of wobbly, sink
ing track built, but the work was driven forward harder than ever. There was track connection with a ballast bed that jutted into the delta, however, and it was good ballast, hardening like cement after it was in place. While the construction crew and its advance guard of supply men pushed forward, the completed line was being raised several feet above the delta level. Today that whole stretch of forty miles is an hour's pleasant run over a roadbed that equals almost any in the East and through a country that fairly smiles at you.
But it did not smile to those fighters of the summer of 1908. There were thousands of tons of stuff to be got somehow from the end of the line forward to the fiftieth mile where the biggest job of all waited—the Miles Glacier bridge.
At first they tried taking it up the river in small boats, fifteen or more toughened river men to the boat. The river is deep and swift and icy cold; the banks, of smooth boulders, were often overhung with tangled cottonwoods, matted low by the deep snows. A boat ascending the river here must be “lined up." Ropes are attached fore and aft and it is dragged along the rough shore
by stumbling, struggling men, while half KUSKALANA CANYON WHICH WAS CROSSED FROM the crew are wading waist-deep in the DEPTHS OF THE ALASKAN WINTER.
numbing current to keep her off the rocks.
TRESTLE WORK AT THE DELTA OF THE COPPER RIVER.
But a greater danger confronted the boats at the upper end. Here for three miles the river undercuts the glacier and the channel is but 1,200 feet wide. Night
for the steel bridges began. There were
a score of difficulties as "insurmountable” and day this glacier discharges a battery
as some of these mentioned—actual imof bergs from its disintegrating face. Possibilities from the viewpoint of ordiOften a whole cliffside of ice drops a hundred feet and more into the deep
nary construction standards—that were river and the waves it sends to the oppo, fifty miles of road.
overcome in the building of that first site banks are twenty feet high and
Work closed down that second winter, sweep fifty feet up the boulder-strewn shore, carrying all but the biggest boulders before it.
Past this terrifying onslaught the little cargo-boats had to crawl helplessly and rarely did they get through with a full load. More than once they were dashed to pieces and the men barely escaped with their lives, for no man can swim six strokes in the Copper. Hard as the boatmen worked, they could barely get through more than enough supplies to feed then selves.
Meanwhile a wagonload was being driven through the heavy brush and over sandhills and swamps along the right-ofway and tough western horses were being brought over the flats to do the hauling.
Just this matter of getting in horses was not easy. Little flat-bottomed boats only big enough for one animal were built and they were ferried over the river channels, then dragged over the quicksands by hand-twenty men or more to one horse. Sometimes the animal could walk a little way but progress generally was at the rate of about a mile an hour.
Little by little the rails were sent forward, while at the three main river channels the work of building concrete piers down through the swift yellow current