Funter Bay History: Fire on the Morzhovoi

June 22, 2017

Fire is something wooden boat owners respect and fear. Between the fuel and the varnish-soaked hull, an overturned lamp or loose electrical wire can get out of hand rapidly. In June of 1955, things got very out of hand on the cannery tender Morzhovoi.

Photo from Alaska State Archives, MS 10, Postcard Album 7.

Built in Seattle in 1917, the Morzhovoi was first owned by the Sockeye Salmon Co of Morzhovoi Bay, AK. It was later sold to the P.E. Harris Company, which operated the Funter Bay cannery after 1941. The vessel originally had a 110hp gas engine, changed to 165hp diesel by the 1950s. It is described in various documents as between 80 and 86ft in length. The vessel was of a fairly standard design used for freight service in the Pacific Northwest.

From Pacific Motorboat, Vol 12, No 9, June 1920 (date in caption likely a typo)

 

From Pacific Motorboat, Vol 8, No 3, December 1915.

I have yet to find details of what transpired in June of 1955, but there are a number of photos in Captain “Kinky” Bayers’ files in the Alaska State Archives. Official wreck reports state that the ship burned on June 10th, but the photos are dated June 15th.

Photo from Alaska State Archives, MS 10, Postcard Album 7.

 

Photo from Alaska State Archives, MS 10, Postcard Album 7.

 

Photo from Alaska State Archives, PCA 127

In some of these photos you can see small rowboats around the burning hull. These may have been curious sightseers like the person who took the photos, or they could have been cannery personnel guiding the boat away from other vessels and docks.

The Morzhovoi is a good candidate for the identity of a burned-out wreck found on the beach of Funter Bay today. The wreck is about the right size and features about the right type of engine, but is in such poor condition that verifying its identity would be difficult.

More photos are in my previous post about local shipwrecks.


Historic Juneau Photos

June 19, 2017

I recently returned from a trip to Juneau, Alaska, where I spent quite a bit of time in the state archives. Most of my research focused on the history of small railroads in the state, as well as some Funter Bay history. However, I also came across a few photos that were unrelated but just too cool to ignore. I’ve uploaded the high-res scans of some of these here to share with interested people. Click the previews below for the full size pictures, but be aware they are large files and may take a while to download if you have a slow internet connection!

Treadwell Mine:

Douglas, 1915:

Downtown Juneau, 1915(?)

Downtown Juneau from Mt. Juneau, showing Last Chance Basin at left. Date uncertain:


Funter Bay History: Annexation and Air Service

April 13, 2017

As with many small rural communities in Alaska, Funter Bay both benefits and suffers from the whims of government agencies. I recently became aware of some potential changes at the federal and local level that could soon affect residents and visitors.

Funter Bay lies in a curious administrative zone, the “Unorganized Borough”. Where most US states are fully divided into Counties, Alaska calls the equivalent division a Borough and is not fully subdivided. There are only 19 Boroughs in Alaska, holding most of the population. The rest is the Unorganized Borough, home to about 13% of the State’s residents. Wikipedia explains more here.

Legally, this means that small communities like Funter Bay do not have any county or city-level services, ordinances, or infrastructure. There is no sheriff, no road crew, no fire department, no ambulance, no schools, no zoning, no tax assessor. The state and Federal governments fill some of these roles on a minor scale. State surveyors can plat land, State Troopers enforce state laws, and the Coast Guard or Forest Service can respond to fires and rescues. It is worth noting that Alaska has no State-level personal income tax, the state’s services being theoretically funded by oil revenue. Alaskans pay Federal taxes and any municipal taxes that happen to be applicable.

Larger towns and cities occasionally expand their associated Boroughs in an effort to acquire more tax base, buildable land, hydropower sites, industries, and other resources. In some cases there have been competing claims and lawsuits by different cities over who gets choice parts of the unorganized borough.

Funter Bay has long been in the sights of planners at the City and Borough of Juneau, the closest major city. City planners proposed annexation of Funter Bay every few years with various seriousness, including 1994, 2006, and again in 2017. In the past, residents have successfully fought off these attempts, arguing that the city would collect taxes on their rural properties without providing any services in return.

 

The first Annexation attempt I remember was around 1994. Juneau was hungry for the nearby Greens Creek mine and its potential property tax. Haines and Skagway were also making noises about acquiring Greens Creek, and Funter Bay was close enough to be a natural inclusion in the boundary extension. The mine’s administration decided annexation was inevitable and not worth fighting, so they petitioned Juneau as preferable to Haines & Skagway. Funter Bay fought the process, and the mine was amazed and slightly chagrined that this turned out to be successful.

1994 CBJ Boundary certificate, after Greens Creek mine annexed

I can recall my parents discussing details with city administrators, one of whom mentioned that a “benefit” would be inclusion in the Juneau School district. My folks said something to the effect of “great, when will the school bus be here in the morning?” (Funter Bay has no roads and is at least an hour from Juneau by boat). Similar questions were raised about how we could call the fire department (cell phones were not yet available), and what utilities the city could provide to a remote island.

The 1994 Greens Creek annexation also upset the town of Angoon, farther South on Admiralty Island. Residents there felt that Juneau got the benefits of taxes and jobs, while Angoon got the chemical runoff from the mine into their traditional fishing grounds. (Article here).

Another major annexation study came in 2006. Several residents, including my sister Megan Emerson, wrote to the newspaper to express their opinions on the subject: http://juneauempire.com/stories/011006/let_20060110008.shtml

A number of other residents’ comments to the Study Commission can be found here. The full study file is below:

2007 CBJ Annexation Study Commission Final Report

One of the arguments repeated by Juneau planners was that outlying communities such as Funter Bay are “socially and economically dependent” on Juneau and should thus be part of the City and Borough of Juneau. My dad pointed out that Juneau is “socially and economically dependent” on Seattle, and by such logic Juneau should be part of King County Washington.

Whether, or when, Funter Bay becomes attached to a major municipality remains to be seen.

The second major issue that has recently popped up is the proposed defunding of Essential Air Service. This program was established in the 1970s to subsidize air travel to rural parts of the United States which would otherwise not be profitable. Currently 61 communities in Alaska use the program, with the state getting about $21 million out of $175 million nationally. Wikipedia has more details here and the US DOT has details here. Historical reports are here. An article about the possible end of federal funding is here.

Bush plane flights to Funter Bay are currently subsidized at $13,312/year under the EAS (contracted by Ward Air) per the DOT’s 2017 report. This not only helps travelers get cheaper “seat fare” on regularly scheduled planes, but ensures weekly delivery of mail to the community. Other benefits include mail-order groceries, medicine, hardware, parts, fuel, and anything else needed for off-grid life. Regular weekly air service was a hugely important part of life at Funter Bay, allowing residents such as my family to get fresh food all winter and keep in touch with the outside world. The weekly plane was a vital way to get back and forth to town when the weather prevented boat trips. Seat Fare on an mail flight might be under $100, while loss of the federal subsidy would require travelers to charter a plane at full price ($500 and up depending on plane size).

As a Federally-supported program, for which rural Alaskans do pay taxes towards, EAS is something that Funter Bay residents have fought to retain and improve in the past. There have been years where less reliable air carriers were contracted, or when funding and scheduling has fluctuated, but the program has remained a mainstay of rural life for this and many other Alaskan communities.


Further Monorail Remodeling

February 3, 2017

Here are a few more updates and photos of the monorail!

The station platform and new steps:

SONY DSC

And some winter views:

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

img_20170127_163726613

And a few more concept renderings:

deck table1

On a sadder note, I recently learned that Kim Pedersen has passed away. Kim founded the Monorail Society and authored a great book on the history and technology of monorail trains. He will be truly missed.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

 


Monorail Remodeling

September 18, 2016

Below are some aerial photos of the monorail showing our “station” (deck) platform started, and the very scenic rural setting between farms and forest:

Drone 12

Drone 11

Aerial photos are courtesy of Tim Walgrave.

Below is a newer floorplan render, showing potential layouts for two cars. This version includes a “sleeping”/”living room”/”office” car and a “kitchen”/”dining”/”guest” car. My improvements will mostly be drop-in modules that don’t permanently alter the car interiors. I have a few friends using the other cars and designing their own interesting interiors!

render4

A close-up of the main control panel, featuring some more museum displays and a Baron von Raschke action figure (after his professional wrestling career, the Baron drove the monorail at the zoo). If any of my readers have photos or artifacts they’d like to share in this small and very unofficial museum, please let me know!

SONY DSC

We also have a projector screen that can be set up for monorail movie nights!

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

More to come as I continue working on this!


Juneau’s Hidden History

August 29, 2016

I’ve been invited to contribute some of my Alaska history research to Juneau’s Hidden History, a Facebook group run by local historian and explorer Brian Weed. Brian and his co-contributors have been posting some great photos and stories of their adventures and discoveries around town. These include old mines, historic vehicles and machines, Native petroglyphs, hidden waterfalls, glacial ice caves, and much more! If you live in or are interested in the Juneau area, I highly recommend visiting the page and checking out their great photos! They take you well off (and sometimes under) the beaten path to see the things that don’t make it into tourist brochures!

The group page can be viewed (and joined/followed) here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/JuneauHiddenHistory/

And their photo galleries can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/JuneauHiddenHistory/photos/

Brian Weed has also written a number of articles for the Capital City Weekly, some of which can be found here.


Funter Bay History: Museums, Collections & Science

July 29, 2016

Some of the feedback I get on my Funter Bay History posts involves people wanting to buy or collect old “stuff” (engines, artifacts, etc). In general I believe historic artifacts should be left where they are unless seriously threatened by decay, development, or vandalism. So for example, I’d like to see things like Funter’s big gas engines remain cool lawn ornaments, but the various steam locomotives upside down in creeks and ditches around Southeast Alaska would be better off in museums somewhere.

Artifacts from Funter Bay have made their way into a variety of museums, historic collections, and scientific archives over the years. Here are a few that I’ve come across during my research.

A rock sample from the Willoughby Mine, “Shore Group”, from a private collection:

IF

A rock core sample from Borehole U-18 at Funter Bay, stored at the Alaska Geologic Materials Center.

Three pieces of Funter Bay Clay were exhibited in the Alaska Building at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition as part of James Lathrop’s private mineral collection.

The Alaska State Museum holds a number of mineral and rock core samples from Funter Bay, as well as a fossil ammonite and a stone pestle (native grinding tool) found there.

pestle

The Juneau-Douglas City Museum has a number of items from Funter Bay, including a gGrape soft drink bottle, a soda water bottle, a Pelton wheel part, and a small motor. They also have a number of Funter Bay documents, including  cannery and saltery applications, a canned salmon label I’ve previously mentioned, and various invoices and receipts for things like dynamite, transportation, and jury duty.

In addition, a number of research papers and scientific studies have involved Funter Bay:

In 1903, the Bureau of Fisheries steamer Albatross collected seabottom samples around Alaska, including near Funter Bay. Some data from these samples appears in several articles over the following decade. Many of these appear to have been found in a single dredge sample of mud hauled up from about 300 fathoms in Lynn Canal, just off Funter Bay.

In 1905 and 1908 articles on Polychetous annelids (marine worms), author J. Percy Moore noted many such worms in the seabottom mud near Funter Bay. These included plentiful specimens of Lagisca rarispina (Sars) Malmgren (now known as Harmothoe rarispinia), as well as specimens of Nephthys ciliata, Goniada annulata Moore, Ampharete arctica Malmgren, and Melinna denticulata Moore. The latter species was observed for the first time at the Funter Bay sample location. The distribution of this species is listed as “Funter Bay, Alaska”, and a specimen is held by the Smithsonian Institution.

Another creature first discovered near Funter Bay (collected by the same Albatross expedition) is Koroga megalops Holmes, a type of arthropod commonly known as a “sand flea”. This particular species has later been found all over the world.

Koroga megalops Holmes

A smaller arthropod known as Holophryxus alaskensis Richardson was also found in the Funter Bay samples, named after discoverer Harriet Richardson in 1905.

Also collected by the Albatross were a variety of fish and plankton including Stenobrachius nannochir (Commonly known as a Garnet lanternfish), Lycodapus grossidens Gilbert (Bigtooth eel), Holomesiella Anomala (a type of tiny shrimp),

A 1910 Bureau of Fisheries inventory collected 12 specimens of Pallasina barbata (tubenose poacher) from Funter Bay. These are frequently found in eelgrass and around dock pilings.

In 1921, the USDA’s Microbiological Laboratory collected samples of seawater at Funter Bay, and found Bact. aerogenes present (link, pg 85-109). It was assumed to be widely distributed through the region based on other samples. (While I am not an expert on microbiology, it appears this organism is now known as Enterobacter aerogenes and is a common gastrointestinal bacteria in animals and humans).

Researchers from the University of British Columbia visited Funter Bay in 1957 while conducting  a fisheries study. Several specimens were collected around Funter Bay, including Oligocottus maculosus (Tidepool sculpin), Pholis laeta (Crescent Gunnel), and Anoplarchus purpurescens (High cockscomb). When I was younger we would commonly catch these small fish in tidepools and under rocks.

UBC Fisheries Record

Speciments of Agarum cribrosum Dumortier (a type of seaweed) were collected by the University of British Columbia at Station Island, in the mouth of Funter Bay, in 1980.

There is a type of soil classified as the “Funter Series” or “Funter Peat” under a 1991 soil classification survey. It is described as “very deep, very poorly drained soils that formed in fibrous peat underlain by loamy mineral materials. Funter soils occur in muskegs on floodplains and stream terraces. Slopes range from 0 to 5 percent”. This is found mostly in the meadows around Funter Bay.

Blackeye Goby and Kelp Perch were sampled at Funter Bay in 1998 by biologists at the Auke Bay Laboratory.

A specimen of Enypia venata (variable Girdle Moth) was reported at Funter Bay in a 2012 paper.