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
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
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.