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Chapter 12

Re-opening Moore Creek

 

Hildur and I were expecting our second child the first part of April. I bought a bottle of Canadian whiskey and told the crew that I would open it when I heard the news over Tundra Topics, the radio program from Fairbanks for people out in the bush country. Every night Lars Intergard, a heavy drinker, and I listened at nine P.M., me so anxious to hear all was well and whether it was a boy or a girl, and Lars to get at the bottle. After a week or so Lars said, “Why in hell doesn’t she have it and get it over with?”

On the evening of April seventh he was lying on his bunk, the top one of three, when the news came loud and clear that we had a daughter. Lars jumped down with a loud thump and yelled, “Well, it’s about time! Where’s the bottle? Where’s the bottle?!” I was so happy that I couldn’t sleep that night.

We sent Jim Dodson a wire before we left Stevens Village on our last trip to come get us on April fifteenth. By standing spruce boughs in the snow on both sides we marked a long landing spot for him on the river.

In Fairbanks I couldn’t get home fast enough. I was so lonesome for my family and to see our little girl. It was always such a pleasure to come home after my long absences on the freighting trips.

I had not had a bath since we left on the fifteenth of February, so Hildur said, “You have to take a bath!”

“What, again? I just took one last month,” I told her.

After returning to the mine, repairing the tractors 5 making a ditch up on the hillside for sluicing water 5 and putting in our pipeline, the mining was started on June fourteenth. We were disappointed because the ground was frozen solid with permafrost and was full of big boulders, making it difficult to get dirt loose. It thawed only a few inches a day as the bulldozers kept scraping it toward the boxes. The ground was poor, not rich as we had been assured by the former owner.

During that summer of 1945 we bought for Moore Creek a good used D-8 bulldozer, an electric welder and other equipment from Morrison Knudsen Construction Company in Galena. George Black took them by river barge to Iditarod.

In the spring of 1946 I opened up the mine at Moore Creek again, and wrote to my sister, Lempi, to come and cook for us at the camp. Her husband Paul had died in 1940.

When we closed the camp in the fall of 1942 we had put an open five gallon gasoline can under each end of the mess house table to prevent small animals from climbing up, and had piled all the leftover nonperishable groceries on the table. Early the next fall Joe Stover asked us for permission to live in one of our cabins while he ran a trapline. When he got there, he noticed the boards torn off the mess house windows, and one window completely out. He got his six shot pistol ready and peeking around the corner, shouted and whistled. Black bears started jumping out one after the other as Joe shot them, ending up with five dead bears. The mess house was a torn-up, smelly sight, with bear dung and groceries all over the floor, Celotex torn off the walls and a big hole through the wall into the cook’s bedroom and the store room.

When we re-opened Moore Creek in 1946 we needed another D-8, so I

went to Fairbanks and was successful bidder on a very good used one at the Government spot-bid sale at Ladd Field. It was shipped by river to Iditarod.

Needing all the men to keep the mine going, I flew alone to Flat to bring the cat to Moore Creek. After cutting big spruce trees for skids and making a cable-pulled go-devil on which was loaded enough fuel oil and food for the trip, I followed the hilltops as much as possible, for the surface frost was gone.

On a sloping hillside about two hundred yards in front of me was the big brown grizzly bear that had been seen around the hills near Slate Creek. The bush pilots had fun buzzing him on the bald hilltops. It was the only grizzly that to my knowledge had ever been seen in that area.

I turned back and dropped down into the Bonanza Creek flats, crossing them and following the hillsides, getting stuck about twenty five miles from Moore Creek. After trying every trick to get out, ending with the rear end of the cat up against the go-devil and the front end down deep in the mud, I gave up.

It was four P.M. and the weather looked good. Leaving my black rain coat draped over the back of the seat, I began walking toward camp. While stopping at our halfway cabin to rest, I heard a plane fly over. Thousands of mosquitoes in the cabin made me keep going, but walking was tough. However, being the middle of June, it was daylight all night.

When I reached the Camelback Mountain summit quite late, it began to rain hard. Following the rolling bald hilltops made for better walking but I was soon soaked and cold. The country was all low hills with narrow valleys in between so I had to keep going up and down. About two in the morning it got so foggy that I could not see one hill from the next and having no compass, was soon lost. Coming to a dead stump, I tried to start a fire but my matches were wet. It looked pretty bad. I knew that because of the high elevation, it rained and stayed foggy for long periods around Moore Creek.

Knowing that at this time of year snow could still be found on the north side of hills, and since our winter freight hauling trail was north of me, I went down the hill. Finding no snow, I went back up and down the other side. Pleased to find a huge snow drift there, I kept walking in as straight a line as possible. After crossing several hills a creek showed up, hopefully Moore Creek. On crossing it, there, only about a hundred feet in front of me, was a big black bear with two cubs.

Evidently she did not hear or see me because she did not charge. Quietly retreating to the creek and walking straight back for a safe distance, I made a square turn, walked for a while, made another right turn and came to the creek again.

After pushing through the heavy brush and willows for what seemed like miles I began to worry that it wasn’t Moore Creek after all. But my worries were over when I came to our freighting trail. I got to camp a little after six A.M. Hildur was already up and in the mess house.

Tony Schultz had flown over when I was in the halfway cabin. He brought a load of groceries from Flat and said he saw the cat about twenty five miles back with the front end down in the mud and something black (my raincoat) which looked like “Elmer bending over the back of the seat.” They were worried when I hadn’t arrived that morning.

The next morning Joe Stuver and I headed back with the old 60 and a go-devil. We cut spruce poles, laying them crosswise under the tracks to cross the small swampy creeks.

We found the magneto on the D-8 starting engine completely submerged. After digging a ditch to drain out the water, I took the magneto off, removed the front cover, and put them near a wood fire to dry out. While we were busy hooking the 60 up for the pull, the bakelite cover caught fire, burning the bottom part off up to the electric terminal. Joe offered to walk the twenty miles to Flat to get a cover from Fritz Awe, but I thought it would still work. The engine started and we were soon on our way.

About five miles from camp I was going ahead in high gear with Joe following when suddenly the engine on my D-8 died. Water was in the fuel.

Joe was so bushed that his head kept going down, almost falling asleep. I yelled but the 60 was making too much racket. Just as the tracks were about to climb on my go-devil, he lifted his head. I never saw a man reach for brakes and levers so fast. We got back to camp forty seven hours after starting out the day before, to sleep the rest of the day.

Because the price of fuel and everything had risen so much, while the price of gold remained the same, and we couldn’t find any better ground, I decided to close down Moore Creek for 1948. I went to help Eugene at Gold Bench. Victor Neck had died of cancer that spring.

During that summer at Gold Bench Ray fell out of a tree and broke his arm above the wrist. Hildur put a splint on it. Due to bad weather a plane couldn’t get in for ten days. The doctor in Fairbanks said Hildur had done a good job of splinting and the arm had healed well.

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