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in an elapsed time of just under six weeks and an actual working time on the steel of twenty-seven days.
This building of the Miles Glacier bridge was but one incident, though an important one, in the construction of the Morgan-Guggenheim's Alaskan railroad. It was all a battle, and a fierce one, from beginning to end. The road is now completed to its terminus 193 miles from tidewater and trains run from end to end of it throughout the year. The fight is forgotten in success.
And to this day very little has been heard of the man who won, or will be, if he has his way. But Erastus Corning Hawkins has in this winning put himself in the very front rank of construction engineers and can no longer be ignored.
Since the Copper River valley was first considered as a possible railroad route to the Alaskan interior, eminent engineers have been declaring such a road's construction and operation impossible. In 1905 Michael J. Heney, the contractor who built the White Pass and Yukon railway, made the perilous journey up the valley on foot and he declared that money and Mr. Hawkins could build a railroad on
the preliminary survey he then made.
Even with that the eminent specialists stuck to their opinion, though Mr. Hawkins was the engineer who built that other "impossible" road over the White Pass.
Anyway Hawkins told the MorganGuggenheim syndicate, which asked him, that he could do it. The syndicate had bought the great Bonanza mine up in the Chitina country and wanted an outlet for its ore, so it supplied the money and gave the word to go ahead.
Work began in October, 1907, and was continued all winter, Hawkins leading the forces in person, with Heney as contractor. It was heart-breaking work for many reasons.
Copper-River weather is Alaska-coast weather with sundry added features; that is, in winter it is warm and cold by spells and the alternate freeze and thaw, with deep snow and overflows of the streams, produces conditions on such flat ground as the Copper River delta as Nature can equal in no other way.
In summer the delta is networked with 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 shown on the left.
meant the most unremitting haste in that region.
The spring breakup, with its further deluges of ice-laden waters and driving rains, found many miles of wobbly, sinking 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 the crew are wading waist-deep in the 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 and day this glacier discharges a battery of bergs from its disintegrating face. Often a whole cliffside of ice drops a hundred feet and more into the deep river and the waves it sends to the opposite banks are twenty feet high and 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 vvagonload 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