Walking into history

Posted: Sunday, July 23, 2000

``I want to show you guys something,'' Mike Grummett's always saying as he pushes through some brush to check out an old-timer's cabin, a mining shaft or a forgotten trail.

Grummett, Larry Fanning and I are hiking partners and most recently, Grummett led us on a search for two cabins in Carlson Creek basin about five miles east of Juneau.

The cabins were built in 1915 by Bart Thane to house work crews as they constructed a power line from Annex Creek Dam through Carlson Creek basin to Juneau.

Later, the cabins were used to house maintenance crews, but after helicopters started ferrying crews to work in the early 1960s, the cabins fell into disrepair, said David Stone, a Juneau mining historian and consultant.

The line still provides about 10 percent of Juneau's power, Stone said. Alaska Electric Light & Power Co. now owns the power line and the cabins.

I was surprised to see the cabin known as Camp Four still standing when we reached it last fall. It's a tall weather-beaten house that stands at the edge of the woods near a creek. We climbed up a set of steep rickety stairs past an iron triangle ready to call work crews to a meal.

Pushing open the door we could make out scattered equipment, such as a push-and-pull saw, bunk beds all around the room, and antique light bulbs dangling from the ceiling. To our great delight and surprise, the lights went on when I flipped a large electrical switch.

``It's like walking into a piece of history,'' said Fanning, a retired Juneau fire chief.

Betty Harris, 75, remembers that past. As a child she visited the cabins with her father, Homer Nordling, an electrical engineer for Alaska Juneau Gold Mine. They would hike along the trail next to the power line as her father checked for needed repairs.

The hikes were special, said Harris, because her father would only take one of his children, and staying at the cabins was a great adventure. She remembers big wood stoves and men playing cards.

``They taught me how to play poker,'' she said with a laugh.

But what she really liked was the food: chocolate cake, donuts, fresh bread and pies.

Grummett, Fanning and I found the second cabin this spring when we flew out to Sunny Cove, where Carlson Creek empties into Taku Inlet. It was much worse for wear with its roof and floor buckled in. What we didn't expect to find was an old road.

As we walked along, you could feel the cordwood underneath the moss. The road obviously had been constructed as part of the power line running back to Juneau where you can see the same road as it zigzags up out of Sheep Creek Valley near Thane.

Had we found the Holy Grail, a road out of Juneau? Not quite. The old road only runs as far as the Annex Creek power station on Taku Inlet and it's actually part road, part tram and rail track.

We were on the rail section, which Grummett was later able to confirm when he talked to Elmer Lundstrom, 85. Lundstrom, who worked for the A-J mine when the company owned the power line, had helped rip up the metal ties from the track for use in the mines during the late 1930s.

We left the cabin and bushwhacked our way up the old road past an incredible white water section where Carlson Creek blasts down out of an upper basin. We were thinking of following the power line back to Juneau and looking for a place to cross the creek. But the creek was too deep and fast.

None of us were even thinking about the tram that Harris had said once straddled the creek.

``Hey, look over there,'' Fanning said.

He was pointing to shopworn wooden box hanging from a pulley attached to a cable. We were like little boys with our excitement. Now we had a chance to ride a piece of history.

I would be remiss not to remind people that hiking in this area can be dangerous and that the cabins are private property. Hopefully they will be around for another generation to rediscover.

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