Story last updated at 4/2/2014 - 5:52 pm
Our Cessna 185 circled over the top of the heavily wooded mountains of Kasaan Peninsula on the east side of Prince of Wales Island. It was July 1971, and husband Frank and I and our friend Arlene Pickrell were heading out to explore a copper mine on Mt. Andrew.
Our Ketchikan Air Service pilot brought the airplane over the glory holes that looked like giant gopher holes. Even from the air, we could see the blue copper streaking the rock walls. "There are old buildings." Arlene pointed down at the silvery box-like structures and piles of rubble.
"Where's the trail up there?" my practical husband asked. We made another circle over Kasaan Bay and the mountains.
"There's the trail!" Below us, we could see grey planks crossing the muskeg. It took one more circle for Frank to decide which of the small bights along the shoreline he wanted to land at and put us ashore.
In 1969, we had gone ashore from our first boat named Twinkle at this site when we and Cy and Mary Steers of Ketchikan were searching for a picnic site after exploring the Salt Chuck mine at the head of Kasaan Bay. From the air and the beach, there was nothing to indicate that this small half-moon beach had once been the scene of mining activity. Not one wharf piling nor piece of rusty equipment stood on the beach - even at low tide.
With the Steers, we found a couple moss-covered boilers and an air compressor inside the woods. This discovery encouraged me to research what had been there to warrant such heavy iron machinery. This trip, we were prepared to find the mine on the mountain.
Known in the mining days as Mt. Andrew Landing, we worked our way up this gravel beach and through the brush into second-growth timber. As we walked on a carpet of moss, we found a cabin that had collapsed into the shape of a lean-to. Here we stashed our dinner and rain gear because the sun suddenly started to shine. Arlene started up the trail that was clearly defined by split timbers covered with moss. Frank and I poked around the old machinery. With a bit of searching, we located the pipe used to convey the air to the mine. Compressed air was widely used in mining to operate drills and hoists. Nearby, we found rusting boilers used to provide power.
The remains of the ore bunker looked as if a giant had played a game of pick-up sticks. We found parts of the Riblet cable tramway that transported supplies up and ore down the mountain between the landing and the mine.
I knew from research that Riblet, which became the world's largest ski-lift manufacturer in addition to its mining work, made what is called a bi-cable tramway - one that had an endless traction cable to which carriers or buckets could be attached. Both the mine and landing had terminals. A crew member put a load into a carrier, then attached the carrier to the cable and hauled it to the discharge terminal at the mine. The empty carriers were attached to the cable on the return side and hauled back to the landing terminal. Power was provided by the boilers we found.
A bucket carried workers so they did not have to climb the trail to the mine. An account in the July 14, 1911 issue of the Ketchikan Miner told of how miner Martin Bugge was stranded 30 or 40 feet above ground when something happened to the operating gear. He sat there for longer than he wanted. Since we were visiting the mine at about the same time of year, we really appreciated his plight: "Flies soon found Martin, and the bumps on his face tell the balance of the tale.
When we caught up with Arlene, we were going uphill through tall timber on steep mountainsides. As the trail continued upward, the forest began to open. On the backside of the knoll between the mine and the beach, we came to the muskeg. Here was the plank trail we'd seen from the air.
Soon we came to a pile of rubble, all that was left of a tower used to support the cables of the tramway. There was also a pile of tailings and a dark hole into the mountain, shored up with what looked like very flimsy timbers. This could have been an early one-man prospect or an exploratory tunnel. This was not the main camp.
Then abruptly we were going downhill, and through the branches of a deadfall we could see a huge pile of tailings. We scrambled to the top. Below us and to the left was the Mt. Andrew mining camp. Elevation 1,440 feet! We rested, ate our lunch, and planned our explorations.
This mine had its beginnings in 1899, when Sam Lichtenstadter traveled north as a representative of London financiers. He came out of Dawson via the Yukon River. He met a man named Captain Crooks, who told Lichtenstadter that back in the 1870s he had hunted on Kasaan Peninsula and seen an outcropping of copper ore.
Crooks died before he could guide Lichtenstadter to the spot. Despite the irony of the captain's name, Lichtenstadter decided to search for the deposit. He stopped in Ketchikan where he hired four longtime prospectors - Ed Doolitttle, Frank F. Black, Harry Trimble and Joe Johnson - to help him locate the outcroppings. The Kasaan Peninsula has many copper deposits, so it was not unexpected that the men found copper ore. Lichtenstader staked claims. The resulting claims were named Mount Andrew in honor of Herbert H. Andrew of Sheffield, England, who was Lichtenstadter's backer. The name survives for the mountain today.
Development work began, and by 1901, 20 men worked on the claims. Trouble plagued the operation from the start. In April that year, all the supplies except powder stored in the magazine were lost in a fire that destroyed a building used as the office, cookhouse and assay plant.
The bunkhouse and manager's residence escaped the flames. The carpenters quickly constructed new buildings, and work on the claims resumed.
This was just the beginning of troubles Lichtenstadter encountered as he brought the claims into a working mine that produced valuable ore ...
To be continued next week!