Story last updated at 10/9/2013 - 1:18 pm
New topics come my way instigated by readers. Some questions continue to plague us. Harvey Gilliland of Petersburg wonders about the barrels distributed on the peak of the roofs of old buildings, especially canneries but occasionally on a sawmill. We speculate that these were used to collect water. But for what purpose? Fire protection? Imagine a man seeing fire inside a building, racing to find a ladder and scrambling up the steep roof to dump the barrels. "That amount of water would be insignificant and most of it would run fruitlessly down the roof," Harvey speculates. Possibly it could put out a spark on the roof that had not fully developed in an all consuming fire. However the placement of the barrels, so far apart, dampens that theory. Harvey suspects that there is hardly anyone around that can answer our puzzlement. Prove us wrong.
My columns continue to bring comments about the communication cables in Southeast. Michael Burwell, former BLM employee, keeps track of ships and shipwrecks. He wrote that the cable ship BASIL O. LENOIR was sold to RCA Alaska Communications in 1973 and used in Alaska. Sometime after 1979, she was sold. The next reference Michael found is in 1989 when she appears as the F/V PALISADES. She seems to have spent time in Juneau and Seattle when not fishing because the Coast Guard inspected her in those cities. The last owner was David J. Dreyer, Sr. Michael wonders what became of the vessel. It looks like she was out of service after 1999.
Another story upon which people comment is that of the McLANE, the USCG/Navy vessel involved with the sinking of the Japanese submarine off Dixon Entrance in 1942. Robert D. Peterson emailed that his father (Henry Peterson) was a Motor Machinist Mate 1st Class in the engine room at that time. "Dad was always a 'Teller of Tall Tales' and he told us what we always thought was highly colorized version of this tale." Recently Peterson learned that the McLANE was being restored as a museum, and the log books were available on line complete with some crew photos. (http://www.hnsa.org/ships/mclane.htm)
From the website, I found that the McLANE was 125 feet long with three officers and 17 crew. On November 1, 1941, she began to operate as part of the Navy out of Ketchikan. Among her duties was to help with various sea mishaps.
The PORT ORFORD went aground on Yasha Island south of Point Gardner in Chatham Strait in September 1942. Owned by the Port Orford Lumber Co., she was on a charter trip for the Navy to Excursion Inlet. Caught in a heavy snow squall, she stranded because of a navigational error. The lifeboats were swung over the side as she began to pound and grind on the reef. The current was so strong, the crew headed toward nearby Tyee cannery. However, 20 minutes later the Ketchikan seiner WILHELMINA took the captain and crew aboard. When the McLANE arrived the PORT ORFORD was hard aground but still upright with the after deck awash at high tide. Lighters had already been sent for, but she began to break up in the heavy northwesterly swells just as the barges arrived. Cargo, lumber, and drums of gasoline cluttered the waves. It is unclear from the McLANE logs if the cutter stayed during the clean-up. However, the Navy ws in charge of salvage operations.
The second mate, who laid out the course, was charged with "unskillfulness," and the pilot charged for not checking the course. Was it taken into account that the day before, the PORT ORFORD hit the inside dolphin No. 4 in Wrangell Narrows?
As an aside, Wayne Short of Petersburg told me that fellow named Jim Peterson built a house on an island with planks from the PORT ORFORD. For a couple months, gasoline drums washed up on beaches. When Peterson found one, he'd pump the fuel into his boat.
A high visibility involvement for the McLANE was the Harold Gillam airplane crash in January 1943. Gillam was a longtime bush pilot who went down in the mountains above Boca de Quadra. The McLANE was sent to aid the rescue operation. This is a long, fingered fjord between Ketchikan and Dixon Entrance. After entering the bay, she began to break ice 14 inches thick in order to get as close to the crash site as possible. Survivors were rescued, but Gillam, who had attempted to walk to the shore, did not survive the cold. Several accounts of this event have been published.
Winter in Southeast precipitated needs for rescue. In February 1923, the cutter went to Kendrick Bay on east Prince of Wales Island to pick up a stranded logger, Nicholas Kring. She had to break ice in the bay prior to the rescue. In February 1944, the McLANE assisted the Army tug ST-169 in distress in Chatham Strait. In October of that year she rescued three survivors from a disabled vessel.
One other event in the logs caught my attention. On July 16, 1944, the McLANE cruised to the Hazy Islands where she sent a boat and crew ashore with John Dassow to get samples of sea lion meat. This was for research purposes by U.S. Fish and Wildlife laboratories.
Dassow in 1941 took a position as a junior chemist at the new Ketchikan Fisheries Product Laboratory (1940-1971) to work on fisheries utilization. The laboratory director was told in 1944 by the Washington D.C. office to investigate potential emergency sources of marine food in case military activities in Alaska caused food shortages. From the usual species, the search was expanded to those not usually used for food. One was the Steller sea lion.
He needed a sea lion. In his article in the Marine Fisheries Review that I found online, he does not mention the McLANE but says the Coast Guard deposited him on an offshore rookery where a large male of 1,200 pounds was killed. He obtained the needed meat and liver samples. The crew helped him move the large carcass and samples to the ship. The McLANE proceeded to a cannery in Craig where the meat and liver were put in refrigerator storage. Then he arranged for transport back to Ketchikan. He writes: "Both meat and liver of sea lion proved surprisingly palatable in our laboratory tests, especially if one were hungry and anticipated a food shortage."
January 1, 1946, the McLANE was returned to the U.S. Coast Guard and she did not return to Alaska.
Pat Roppel is the author of numerous books about mining, fishing, and man's use of the land. She lives in Wrangell. She may be reached at email@example.com.