By Jesse Brumberger
286 Farmview Drive Macedon, New York 14502
It was just before dawn on a cold and clear October day as I started the climb into Crow Pass in the Chugach Mountains. Being in Alaska, it was already at winter's doorstep and daylight was becoming limited. My plan for day was to climb along a high rocky stream prospecting its pools and eddies for gold particles. Finding no trace of 'color' but plenty of treacherous 'Vergas' on the rocks, I beat a path through some miserable, thorny scrub until emerging at the timberline. The amended plan was now to ascend the valley, check out the known gold-bearing Crow Creek higher up and possibly ascend one of the minor summits above the valley to scope for wild life all of this before my turnaround time of 1:00 p.m. to allow ample daylight for the descent.
About three miles farther up, where the piles of screen yielded to snowy alpine tundra, I saw a vertical shape very hard to judge in such terrain and I had to walk another quarter mile before realizing that this was NOT an outhouse!
I hustled the remaining distance to what I thought was a Uniflow type steam engine with either a boiler or feed water tank by its side. Upon closer inspection, I realized that there were no valve linkages or provisions therefore and that this was in fact a huge reciprocating water pump with a pressure tank. The entire area was strewn with old iron. I suddenly recognized the flywheels of the engine that had powered the pump sticking out of the ground. It was a large oil engine of perhaps eight HP that had broken through its foundation and sunken into the dirt. No identification was visible and, as one might expect, the engine and other machinery had long since rusted solid.
Upslope from the pump station were two rock crushers, a winching rig and several reciprocating feed pump units all protruding from the frozen ground. Down slope there were numerous parts of heavy ore separators, pay loader wheels and huge castings from what looked like centrifugal separators along with other iron junk.
Climbing farther upslope (east), I came upon some old pay loader tracks, and then the old mineshaft itself suddenly came into view. Flooded and clogged with debris, it served as a sharp reminder of how dangerous poking around old mines can be.
Perhaps due to Alaska's remoteness, a fair number of old engines survived the scrap drives to remain around. This old marine engine rests almost like a monument, its two cylinders lined with barnacles, on the dangerous tidal flats near Kenai. Removal of such 'artifacts' from public lands requires a permit.
It seems that this had been an old 'load' mine as opposed to the typical Alaskan 'placer mine,' the latter being an operation separating gold from dirt and sand, the former actually digging into the rock to extract veins of gold usually found in quartz. Ore was winched out in pay loaders, crushed into fine gravel and run through the separators. These separators relied on the gold's higher density to precipitate it from the rock dust and used prodigious amounts of water from the pump in the process. In all probability, the steam-style feed pumps operated off water from the main pump to provide compressed air or still higher pressure water for what looked like some possible hydraulic mining activity nearby. The water seems to have been drawn from the stream running down slope from the pump.
Before leaving the site, I came upon a snow covered marker identifying it as the 'Monarch Gold Mine,' worked by Harry Ingle Staser and crew from 1926 until Staser's death on location in 1940.
I continued my trek into the pass and up the snow fields until weather started to move in and time and energy started to run out. The descent took me past mountain streams, waterfalls and truly awesome alpine scenery along with a few more gold mining relics here and there. Ironically, I had set out to do some recreational prospecting for gold and never expected to find our favorite rusty-flywheel type of 'gold.' And typically, in this land of vast beauty and solitude, I had not seen another human being all day.
About the author: Jesse Brumberger has been involved with old engines and models for about eight years. He runs a small fabrication shop that engineers and builds demonstration equipment, etc., for museums.