Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Fairbanks Creek Camp was one of F.E. Company's final ventures in Fairbanks area

North side of blacksmith shop at Fairbanks Creek Camp in early spring of 1994

Gold Dredge No. 2, located about 20 miles northeast of Fairbanks at Fairbanks Creek, was one of Fairbanks Exploration Company’s (F.E. Company) last operational dredges. The dredge was constructed on Lower Goldstream Creek in 1927-28, but was moved to Fairbanks Creek in 1949.

The move was accomplished during winter. A trail between Goldstream and Fairbanks Creeks was cleared in early winter, and snow allowed to accumulate. Dredge No. 2 was disassembled and in March was moved in sections with each section positioned on sled tracks and towed by four D-8 tractors.

In his book on the history of the F.E. Company, John Boswell stated that the dredge’s weight plus the friction from the sled runners melted snow under the runners so they actually ran on a thin layer of water. This eased transport, but when the tractors stopped, the runners immediately froze to the ground. This problem was remedied by laying spruce and cottonwood poles crosswise across the road (called “corduroy”) underneath the runners. This necessitated either advance planning for stops, or jacking the dredge section up to put the corduroy under the runners.

The move was completed on schedule and the dredge re-assembled and put into operation. Except for one incident, Dredge No. 2 labored uninterrupted (taking into account winter shut-down, of course) until 1963, when the F.E. Company shut it down permanently.

The incident that marred the dredge’s career was its accidental sinking in April 1959. The accident occurred when a deckhand tried to dislodge a chuck of ice from the stacker (the long tunnel-like apparatus at the back of the dredge used to discharge rocks and gravel). Instead of breaking up the ice with a pike pole, he used a stick of dynamite and ended up sending the dredge to the bottom of the pond. The dredge pond had to be drained and the dredge repaired and re-floated, which wasn't completed until September 1959.

Fairbanks Creek Camp was constructed to support F.E. Company’s dredging operations, which included exploratory work, clearing and thawing of ground, and the dredging itself. According to the book, Historic Resources in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the camp originally included 12 buildings: several small single-story bunkhouses, a laundry, two-story combination bunkhouse and mess hall, food cache, cook’s residence, blacksmith’s shop, garage, and sheds.

All of the buildings at Fairbanks Creek Camp were of wood-frame construction. Their construction and appearance were similar to other F.E. Company support camps like those at Ester and Chatanika. Many of them were sheathed with metal siding. Most of the buildings were just set on wood sills so they could be easily moved. (In fact, many of them had been moved from the Lower Goldsteam area.) The blacksmith shop and garage, however, had dirt floors.

The drawing shows one of the outside walls of the blacksmith shop, and the turnbuckles and other items stored there. The camp smithy fabricated or repaired many of the simpler implements used in dredging operations. More complicated items (anything requiring machining or with intricate parts) were worked on at the F.E. Company machine shop in Fairbanks. It’s hard to envision what some of the metal pieces we found stored at F.E. Company shops were used for, however, one of those strange pieces now supports our mailbox.

When I visited the camp in the early 1990s, the buildings had been sitting empty for 30 years. A few of them had already collapsed. John Reeves bought the property in the late 1990s, and as part of the sale he was required to remove most of the camp buildings, which were on un-patented mining claims. Many went to Gold Dredge No. 8, but the two-story bunkhouse/mess hall was hauled to Cleary Summit and is now the Mount Aurora Lodge. The few buildings left at Fairbanks Creek Camp are on private property and the access road is gated.

For more history of the Fairbanks Exploration Company check out these posts:


  • Conversation with John Reeves, owner of Fairbanks Creek property
  • Historic Resources in the Fairbanks North Star Borough. Janet Matheson & F. Bruce Haldeman. Fairbanks North Star Borough. 198
  • History of Alaskan Operations of Unites States Smelting, Refining and Mining Company. John C. Boswell. Mineral Industries Research Laboratory, University of Alaska. 1979
  • The Northern Gold Fleet: Twentieth-Century Gold Dredging in Alaska. Clark C. Spence. University of Illinois Press. 1996

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Starwort, mushrooms and panorama at Delta River - August 2015

Went camping along the Delta River near Black Rapids this past weekend. This is a panorama looking downriver. (Click on the image for a large view.) Weather was blustery--wind blowing down the river as usual. It was strong enough at times that if you were walking with your back to it, you sort of automatically picked up speed.

I read an account of a traveler along the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail back in the early 1900s. He was traversing this section of the river where the trail was out on the iced-over river channel. Many people hiked the trail during that period, and he was watching the person in front of him who was running with the wind. As he watched, the runner suddenly dropped out of sight. Evidently the runner had come up on an open lead of water, and with the wind at his back couldn't stop in time and plunged into the river, never to be seen again.

On a lighter note, there were Alaska starwort (Stellaria alaskana) blossoms all over the place These are tiny flowers, no more that 1/2" across. The flowers actually only have five petals, but each petal is split, sometimes for 3/4s of its length, so they often look like they have 10 petals.

Along the bank of the channel there were many rocks that had been dislodged and rolled downhill. In each of those hollows where a rock had been were these small, delicate mushrooms. the mushrooms were no more that 1 1/2" across.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Bunchberry and Fungi - Fairbanks - August 2015

When I was out taking photos of the woods behind my house i noticed these two examples of fungi ensconced among the bunchberries (Cornus canadensis) . These two fungi were within yards of each other.

A large mushroom overshadowing the buncberries beneath.

A lichen (I assume its a lichen) engulfing a bunchberry plant.  (Yes, lichens are a fungi, at least in part. They are composite organisms with algae or cyanobacteria  (sometimes both) and fungi living together symbiotically.)

Friday, August 14, 2015

Ground Dogwwod berries ripening in the woods - Fairbanks - August 2015

I walked through the spruce woods behind my house today and admired the ground dogwood (Cornus canadensis) that blanketed the forest floor.

The dogwood (also called bunchberry) certainly brightens up the forest floor with its bright red berries. The single-seed fruits are actually called drupes, but nobody calls that.


It makes such a nice ground cover. I've been planning to plant some in my front yard, which is a native species garden.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Wet and Webby - White Mountains - August 2015

Gathering berries on a drizzly taiga hillside,
I chance across a spider gathering raindrops in her web,
Pass by her berry-laden bush,
And bring home memories instead.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

"Eva's Place" can still be found at Pioneer Park

Building 23 (Eva's Place) at Pioneer Park as it looked in 1989

One of the oldest buildings at Pioneer Park (formerly Alaskaland) is associated with Eva McGown, who was known as Fairbanks' "official" hostess.  Building 23 is a cabin located next to the ice cream parlor in Gold Rush Town. According to park records this 14-by-18-foot log cabin was constructed about 1903-04 on Fifth Avenue between Noble and Dunkel Street, and was used by Orr Stage Lines as a bunkhouse. Ed Orr opened the stage line in 1904 and ran passengers and freight between Fairbanks and Valdez.

A close look at the cabin’s front fa├žade shows that the building may have served another purpose before becoming a bunkhouse. The space between the front window and door is framed in and sheathed with wooden shiplap siding, as is the wall below the window. Sans window and door, the front entry for the building was wide enough to admit a wagon or sledge, and the building may have been used by the stage line for equipment storage. Sourdough Roadhouse has a cabin (originally used for wagon storage) that shows similar modifications.

The stage line closed down in 1914, and at that point Building 23’s history fades into obscurity until it was donated to Alaskaland by the Nordale family. However, about the same time the stage-line closed, a tiny leprechaun of a lady arrived in Fairbanks who would figure into a later chapter of the Orr Stage Line building.

Eva Montgomery was a 31-year-old mail-order bride from Ireland. She journeyed to Fairbanks to marry Arthur McGown, part-owner of the Model Cafe on Second Avenue in downtown Fairbanks.

Eva made the monumental journey from Ireland to Alaska during the winter of 1913-14, first on a steamer from Belfast to New York, then by train across the U.S. to Seattle, where she boarded another steamer that sailed up the Inside Passage to Valdez. From Valdez she ventured over the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail via horse-drawn sledge and dog sled. Eva arrived in Fairbanks on Feb. 26 and was married to Arthur that evening.

According to Jo Anne Wold’s book, The Way it Was, Arthur and Eva lived in a small house on Perry Street. Five years into their marriage Arthur became ill and was an invalid until his death in 1930 from bone cancer.

After Arthur’s death Eva found herself alone and struggling financially. She paid the bills selling magazines and taking odd jobs, but the loneliness was almost unbearable. Eva coped by comforting other lonely women and visiting patients in hospital. She was soon involved in most aspects of Fairbanks social life, and developed a keen knowledge of the housing situation in town.

Dermot Cole wrote in his book, Fairbanks, A Gold Rush Town that beat the Odds, that her “friendly and outgoing manner soon evolved into a one-woman housing and greeting service that became vital during the many years when demand for housing outstripped supply.”

The community recognized her value and during World War II (when the military commandeered local hotels) the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce hired her at $75 per month to run a housing office to find temporary quarters for the hundreds of people flooding into town.

She was later hired by the city (at $110 per month) and continued her social ministry from the lobby of the Nordale Hotel, where she had moved. In a 1991 interview, Joe Vogler said, “She sort of held court there … She was the town hostess, and Eva McGown was a queen in her own right.”

When Alaskaland opened in 1967, Eva spent her summers there, running her hospitality center out of Building 23. She continued holding court, either at her Alaskaland cabin, or her room at the Nordale Hotel, until her death in 1972.

  • A Gold Rush Town that Beat the Odds. Demot Cole. Epicenter Press. 2003
  • Alaskaland Cabin Lore. Alpha Delta Gamma. 1978
  • “Alaskan memories: A Fairbanks woman with a big heart of gold,” In Fearless Men and Fabulous Women: A Reporter’s Memoir from Alaska & the Yukon. Stanton Patty. Epicenter Press. 2004
  • Pioneer Park property records
  • The Way it Was, Of People, Places and Things in Pioneer Interior Alaska. Jo Anne Wold. Alaska Northwest Publishing. 1988

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

We finally found the blueberries! Steese Highway - August 2015

Because of the hot dry weather earlier this summer, the blueberry harvest right around Fairbanks has been disappointing.  However, on a scouting expedition up the Steese Highway about a month ago we found a promising hillside. We went back this weekend and found blueberries aplenty!


 We picked for about an hour on Sunday evening and about an hour on Monday morning, and came back with about two gallons. The weather was drizzly Sunday night (no bugs) an overcast with a slight breeze on Monday morning (few bugs). All-in-all an excellent expedition.

All I'm allowed to say about the location is that its on this side of 12-Mile Summit, and we left plenty of berries.