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Chapter 7

Breaking Trail

 

We sent a request to Eugene, Charlie’s oldest son in Fairbanks, to come help me haul gasoline, oil and other supplies with Gus’s and John’s      D-8 tractor that we rented. Taking along a sled with some barrels of fuel, we started breaking the trail toward Moore Creek.

The first day we ran into huge snowdrifts in going over the summit to Bonanza Creek. Bulldozing it all aside was too slow. Better time was made by going with the dozer blade, taking off only a couple of feet, backing up and going again, making about fifteen miles to the Ruby relief cabin before dark. The second day we made only about eight miles.

We dug a space down to the moss and built a fire with damp wood, using fuel oil to keep it burning. Laying down spruce boughs and spreading a quilt on them, we covered ourselves with our sleeping bags.      The heat from our bodies made the quilt wet where it drew frost up from the ground. It was thirty below zero and sleep was impossible. We didn’t expect to have to sleep out or we would have brought a waterproof canvas to put under us.

The third day was quite warm and sunny. The drifts and snow kept getting even deeper as we neared the Camelback Mountain snow belt.  Darkness came and we had made only about five miles. Leaving the tractor    there, taking coffee and food for breakfast, we snowshoed two miles to the old Bonanza relief cabin.

The fourth day the wind blew fiercely all day. The drifts were so hard and deep that we managed only three miles to the Camelback summit.  We spent the night at the cabin again and since Hildur, with Ray, Aina and Gus, were to come on the Pan American mail plane from Fairbanks, we headed back to Flat with the bulldozer.

Gus had his Ford truck in Flat, so I started it up and was ready to t go get them when they landed. Gus and Aina came out of the plane with Gus carrying a basket which he handed to me. There was Ray bundled up, giving me a big smile.

“Where’s Hildur?” I asked.

“She decided to stay in Fairbanks a few days to visit Aunt Bertha,” Gus answered calmly.

I nearly panicked. “I don’t even know how to feed him!” Hildur came out of the plane and everyone had a good laugh on me.

Hildur and Ray slept soundly all night but I didn’t sleep at all. I was worried that the baby was either too cold or too warm, so I kept getting up and closing and opening the drafts on the stove all night.

The next day my partners and I decided to go as far as possible breaking trail with the D-8 from where we had left off. Fritz Awe said his D-8 was broken down but he would put the bulldozer from his D-8 onto his 60 tractor to come help us. I told him it wouldn’t work, his 60 would be too nose heavy with the big bulldozer blade. But my partners insisted on letting him try it.

We started down from Camelback summit, getting stuck every few feet.

Leaving the D-8 there we all snowshoed to Moore Creek, thinking we could do better with the 60 because it was lighter.

The 60 did not have snow holes cut into the track shoes so the soft melting snow balled up into the track links. I couldn’t cut snow holes because we were out of oxygen for our acetylene cutting outfit. I was so lonesome for Hildur and Ray that I happily volunteered to go to Flat with -the three dogs to get oxygen. We had given the rest of our dogs to a trapper.

About twenty miles from Flat I met Fritz Awe coming on his 60 with the huge D-8 bulldozer blade.

The next morning in Flat there was a fierce wind and snow storm. Hildur tried to talk me out of leaving but I told her that quite often it is calm in the Bonanza Creek Valley when it’s storming in Flat.

I left to find that the oxygen bottle and big sled were pretty heavy for the dogs. I made it over the high summit and down into the Bonanza Valley. There the storm was even worse.

At the Ruby relief cabin ten miles from Flat I ate the lunch I had brought, then pushed on. Snow had drifted across the gorge made by the bulldozers into big drifts like rooftops.

Putting on my snowshoes, I walked alongside the trail in the soft snow hoping the dogs would follow. They refused. Going back, I started them on my track; they followed for a short distance, then stopped. I tried every trick in the book to make them follow but dogs can be so darn stubborn. I finally broke trail for a ways, then went back for the dogs each time.

It was twenty miles from the Ruby relief cabin to the Bonanza cabin. I had walked many miles by late evening. The storm raged all day and it was still about five miles to the cabin. Not having strength enough to keep going, I sat on the sled, really worried. I had matches, but no dry -wood was available. It began to get dark and very cold.

Suddenly I thought I heard a tractor coming from the direction of Moore Creek. I heard it–then silence. It kept getting louder and to my great joy and relief, it was Fritz Awe on his way back to Flat with his 60. He had tried to go around our D-8 and nosed down in a twenty foot deep snow drift, taking several hours to get out. We had to pay him a big sum for nothing.

He had lots of food so after a good meal and hot coffee I stood on the back of the sled and yelled, “Mush on!” The hard smooth trail was great. I got to the Bonanza cabin in pitch darkness. After a night at the cabin and no storm on the other side of the mountain, the last ten miles were easy.

The dragline operator and helper had left Slate Creek (Gus’s and John’s mine) the next morning after I did, and kept coming at a steady pace of one mile an hour, towing a sled with fuel and oil. When he got to our D-8 he decided to try breaking trail with the dragline. Being so heavy, big, and powerful, it kept wallowing through, leaving a deep trough behind it.

We were going with the 60 very slowly 5 about four miles from camp, when we heard the roar of the dragline engine. It appeared around a corner, pushing a mammoth pile of snow.

Now that we finally had a trail broken, we went to Slate Creek to load our sleds for the 60 and D-8. Lots of gasoline, oil and supplies I required several trips. On the first trip we emptied a five gallon can into the starting engine tank, cut the top off the can, throwing in a lighted match to burn out the gas. This was our coffee pot, with melted snow for water.

The store in Flat had frankfurters that were encased in thin plastic-like wrappers, then canned. The cans were heated in boiling water. We opened one and Sandy Hukka, our nozzle man, grabbed one of the franks and began eating it, wrapper and all. One of the men said in a low voice, “Lucky we took it out of the can.”

I told Hildur to wait in Flat until we made a few trips, but she had other ideas. She asked bush pilot Bob Vanderpool, when he landed in Flat, to fly her and little Ray to Moore Creek. It was about a quarter of a mile from the air strip to the mine cabins. Bob put on snowshoes, and carried the groceries. Hildur used his spare snowshoes and followed, carrying Ray in a basket. They built a fire in the stove. Hildur put on her own snowshoes and they went back to the plane, Bob carrying Ray this time.

The snow was so deep and soft on the field that Hildur had to hold onto one wing so Bob could turn the plane around by revving up the engine.  He tried to take off but ran out of space so Hildur had to snowshoe, carrying Ray and the basket down to the other end of the field to help him turn around again. Finally he took off and she went back to the cabin with Ray. She said everything looked very lonely, so cold and uninviting.

Hildur waited for us for nine days. Heavy winds and drifts caused our delay. When we pulled into camp at three A.M. in the morning I was shocked to see clothes hanging on the line.

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