Scrapping History for Fun and (no) Profit

I was saddened to learn that <someone> has begun demolishing historic sites in Alaska and selling them for scrap metal. And they’re not even making a profit on it! (Update: I initially thought the Bureau of Land Management was doing this, but after emailing them, they’ve stated that they weren’t involved).

As reported in the Anchorage Daily News on November 15th of 2012, a “Test Shipment” of scrap to South Korea included “Two gold dredges from Fairbanks” (http://www.adn.com/2012/11/15/2694098/new-international-export-at-port.html)

Here’s a video version of the article released by the MatSu Borough: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLl-fPHfCKQ

As some background (click for Wikipedia article), gold dredges are large mining machines, designed to float along streams and scoop up gold-bearing gravel (placer gold). There were once 8 of them in the Fairbanks area, with this recent destruction there are only 4 remaining.

I happen to be familiar with both the dredges that were scrapped, The Fairbanks Exploration Company’s #5 and #6. Dredge Number 5 is (was?) on the National Register of Historic Places: http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/NRHP/Text/04000186.pdf
Here are some photos from the National Historic Register.

Here is a historic video of #6 being moved from one mining area to another: http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg11/id/6910/rec/15

Some more recent photos on Flickr:
F.E. Co Dredge #5: http://www.flickr.com/photos/45622415@N06/sets/72157622883552541/with/4187941367/
F.E. Co Dredge #6: http://www.flickr.com/photos/45622415@N06/sets/72157622901922769/with/4195297437/

Maybe these dredges weren’t as popular or well-known as the ones you can drive right up to, but they had their share of visitors. I’ve hiked out to both of the dredges in question (I’m not sure who owned the land at the time, the trails to the dredges were not signed or marked when I visited. I did hear that someone later put up a “no trespassing” sign at Dredge #5 after it became popular with geocachers) (Update: the BLM says that they don’t own or manage the land). I enjoyed seeing these somewhat forgotten mining relics in-situ, as they were left at the end of mining work, with trees growing up through them and wildlife inhabiting the interior.  It felt like a much more authentic experience than queing up with a group of Florida tourists to visit some sanitized, OSHA-approved, restored commercial attraction (No offense to the owners of Dredge #8, but I always preferred the rusty abandoned dredges and never got around to visiting their touristy one). I particularly liked the journals of dredge movements, weather, and other comments written on the interior walls with chalk by workers in the 1930s. All of which is gone now. It isn’t even a win for the environment, looking at recent aerial photos, I see that whoever pulled the dredges out bulldozed their way through and generally tore up the areas, leaving landscapes that look more like a gravel pit than the quiet 2nd-growth forest that used to surround these machines.

before-after
Dredge #5 site before and after. Click for full size.

Here’s one of my own photos of #5:

Here is another another article about the BLM’s destruction of a dredge near Chicken in 2007, Apparently it wasn’t safe enough to leave just lying around, someone could need a tetanus shot just from looking at it! Plus, without gift shops, these abandoned dredges clearly aren’t doing anything useful for the economy. The Jack Wade dredge at Chicken was listed in the Historic American Buildings Survey / Historic American Engineering Record: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/hh/item/ak0198/

Here is some local discussion of the destroyed Fairbanks dredges. Unfortunately, some of the photo links don’t work.
http://www.akmining.com/forums/showthread.php/1749-Another-One-Bites-The-Dust?s=312222970e925115bbd86194e425b141

It’s depressing to think that these historic landmarks have no value other than as scrap. In fact, they barely have any scrap value at all, as the ADN mentions that they were destroyed and sold at a loss, just to see if it’s feasible to transport something on a ship from one place to another (hint: I’m pretty sure people have been doing that for a couple centuries now).

“Working on the effort nearly 2.5 years, Syed Hussain is a managing partner of Tri Metal International LLC. Two international buyers of scrap metal for Japan and South Korea traveled to Port MacKenzie Saturday to observe the loading effort, and were very pleased, Hussain said. Breaking into the global competition has had its hurdles, he said. He said he is losing money on this shipment just to prove to the scrap industry that it can be done.” (From Anchorage Daily News)

The ADN article goes on to state that Tri Metal International is working with the BLM to acquire more “abandoned mining equipment and machinery”. I have to wonder what historic properties they’ll set their eyes on next? Maybe they could just go through the National Historic Register and use it as a hit list, I see a few properties on there that are probably rich in scrap metal! Maybe Nome’s iconic ghost train, or the giant Igloo hotel in Igloo City, or all those rusty mini-submarines and artillery cannons the Japanese left in the Aleutians. Sure, people like to take pictures of those things, but none of them are on OSHA-approved museum-curated tour routes with gift shops and quick bus access to cruise ships, so they’d probably be more valuable as scrap exports, right? (I think the Igloo is mostly cement, but maybe someone could crush it up and use it to fill potholes or something).

(Original post updated based on info received from the BLM and National Park Service)

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3 Responses to Scrapping History for Fun and (no) Profit

  1. Thank you for your blogpost and article links here – I’m as utterly frustrated as I’m sure you are about this situation. I’ve been lucky enough to gain permission to photograph at one of the two scrapped dredges – this last summer, in fact – and was sad to hear that this was happening. I’ve been photographing the remnants of Fairbanks’ mining past for nearly 10 years now and it’s sad to see so many landowners against preservation. It’s surprising that BLM got involved in this, given that both dredges were on private property…

  2. Dianna says:

    I wonder what’s motivating this. Nomination to the National Register doesn’t necessarily protect things from being demolished, but I can’t see where it’s worth it for the BLM to go to the trouble of doing so unless they’re either mandated to do something else with the land or under some sort of financial pressure from someone else involved. The former seems unlikely since the nomination says it’s private property, but I wonder about the latter. Who’s this Tri Metal fucker anyway, and what’s he offering BLM to get involved?

    This is all setting aside, of course, my own personal and professional feelings about old material culture, as well as the fact that ordinarily the BLM as a federal land-managing agency is under unambiguous legal obligation to steward any historic cultural properties it may find itself owning, which is why I ever have a job at all. Also, there’s a place called Chicken?

  3. Dianna and Jason, I have some updates in my next post, the BLM says they weren’t involved. I’ve edited this one pending further info.

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