Funter Bay History: Locomotive Headlamp

May 26, 2016

While researching Funter Bay history I often find things that are not in their original context. Rural Alaska is a great case study of creative re-use. The cost of new equipment leads many things to be salvaged and repurposed in ways they weren’t intended. A great example is this old kerosene lantern. It had ceased being used for its original purpose, was modified into an electric wall lamp, then was abandoned again.


The lantern is in rather rough shape, but still recognizable as a type used for headlights on small industrial locomotives.


I suspect this lantern originally came from the Danvenport 0-4-0T steam locomotive used at Funter Bay in the early 20th century. The locomotive was abandoned around 1952 after a failed conversion to gas power, and most of the small parts were stripped between the 1950s and 1970s. The headlight may have become a decoration for one of the miner’s cabins, with a little work to allow an electric bulb to be added.

The locomotive from Funter Bay is seen below, compared to a Davenport drawing of a very similar model. The headlight mounting bracket is a U-shaped piece of sheet metal riveted to the boiler just forward of the smoke stack:


Some details are labeled below. Intact locomotive headlights of similar design can be seen here and here.


Keith Muldowney believes this may be from the Star Headlight Co, founded in 1889 and still in existence today as the Star Head Light & Lantern Co. Some of the company’s history can be found here. Star manufactured kerosene lights until about 1941, when they switched to primarily electric lights. Keith sent a great set of drawings for a similar Star headlight design:


Star Headlight. Courtesy of Keith Muldowney

Other possibilities for the lantern’s original use include on a ship or underground in the mine, although carbide lamps were more common than kerosene for mining. It could have also been used on the surface at the mine or by a fish trap watchman. The locomotive origin is attractive but by no means confirmed! Hopefully I’ll be able to track down more information on this interesting artifact in the future.



Funter Bay History: Helen Antonova, Mining Engineer

May 28, 2015

One of the first women to graduate with a degree in Mine Engineering, Helen Anatolievna Antonova arrived at Funter Bay in the fall of 1929. Born in Russia in 1904, Antonova traveled through China and Japan with her mother before moving to the United States. Her early life was spent in Siberian mining towns, and despite early work in theater, she always dreamed of becoming a mining engineer. She enrolled in the University of Washington’s College of Mines, the only woman to do so at the time (though not the first in the US).


University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Tyee 1928, pg 57. Courtesy UW Digital Archives.

As a female student in a traditionally male field, Antonova encountered much skepticism from officials and unfriendliness from classmates. She would later experience mistrust from coworkers (and their wives). Despite being told by the dean that no one would hire a woman for mine work, she led a successful career as a mine engineer, working throughout the US. On several occasions she was offered roles in theater and in Hollywood, but preferred surveying and assay work over acting.

After finishing her thesis and graduating in 1928, Antonova found a job with a mining company in Funter Bay. She recalled that the owner initially assumed her to be male, writing that he was surprised an engineer would have a woman’s name. Helen described Funter Bay as a small mining town, but noted that nothing could be purchased there. Despite its small size and remote location, Funter was home to a fellow female UW alumni. May Sophia Otteson (Tubbs) was a graduate of the class of 1916 and daughter of Charles and Mary Otteson, who ran another mine close to the one which employed Helen.

Conditions at Funter were spartan, a house was provided for Helen and her mother but was poorly insulated and had almost no supplies. The mine owner’s wife suggested they bring their own wood-burning stove with them. Groceries and goods were brought out on the weekly steamer from Juneau. Some medical care was available from a nurse living at the nearby cannery. Running water and electricity came from a waterfall, and stopped working during the winter. Helen took these conditions in stride, sometimes standing in icy water while surveying. The mine was reportedly very happy with Antonova’s work, and begged her to return after she moved back to Washington state.

Helen eventually married a Russian miner from Juneau (She mentioned that many Russian miners worked in Alaska, some sneaking over from Siberia illegally in rowboats). Her new husband became jealous of Helen’s superior position and income, and demanded they move back to Washington so he could pursue a degree of his own. She divorced him after his attitude and anger grew worse.

After moving back to the Lower 48, Helen held various jobs at mining and refining companies. She later married Nicholas All from New York (Her last name is sometimes listed as Antonovall). Helen Antonova All was interviewd in 1978 by author Joan Dufault, whose book Vintage: The Bold Survivors! contains more details of her life and experiences.

Funter Bay History: A 1906 Visit

April 23, 2015

An article in the January, 1906 issue of Recreation magazine describes a visit to Funter Bay. Mining Engineer Waverley Keeling penned the piece, entitled “From the Delaware to Alaska” from a bunkhouse in Funter Bay. He describes it as a business stop at “a quartz mine”, but mentions that his party would also “shoot some of the thousands of ducks and a few deer, dig clams at low tide, and catch halibut at any tide”.


From Keeling, Waverley; “From the Delaware to Alaska”; Recreation, vol 24, No 1, January 1906.

The photo from Funter Bay accompanying the text appears to show Coot Cove. The photographer was on the Western shore looking towards the area which would later be home to the cannery’s scow slipways.

Keeling describes his lodgings as a boarding house “near the shore of a beautiful little harbor called Funter Bay, and just back of us are the peaks of Snow Mountains some 4,000 feet high” (The mountain was not yet named for Robert Barron). He wrote from the combined kitchen and dining table, by the light of a large swinging lamp and tallow candle stuck in a beer bottle, sitting on “the hardest spruce-board stool that man ever constructed”. The group of six had purchased mining properties around Lake Atlin, BC, and had stopped in Funter as a side trip on the way North. They sailed to Funter on the “big Columbia River sailboat of that famous southeast Alaskan, Windy Bill”.

While Keeling notes the beauty and abundant wildlife of Funter Bay, he also comments on the downsides; “there is no particular season of the year when it doesn’t rain. The thermometer at Funter Bay since we came has been up to 40, and the rain which descended that day was as unmistakably an outpouring of ‘settled cloudiness’ as anything I have ever seen or felt in Pennsylvania”.

Funter Bay History: Seattle High School Students

March 24, 2015

In the summer of 1919, a group of Seattle high school students traveled to Alaska to work at the Funter Bay cannery. One or more of the group took a number of photos during this and possibly subsequent trips. I have been posting photos from this collection over the last several weeks.


The above photo was likely taken soon after arrival at Funter Bay. The boys are wearing outfits more appropriate for school than for cannery work. One boy on the left has a Ballard HS letter jacket.

A list of the students along with contact information for their parents is labeled “Contracts… Funter Bay”. The back has some of the same names along with numbers, perhaps related to hours or pay.

ebay49    50_crop

The names on the list are:
Clarence Hawley
George Anderson
Malcolm Owen
Harold Hendrickson
Roy F. Swenson
Marvin Kleve
Ed Wilkerson
George Fraley
Gilbert Swart
Elmer Green
Cedric Hilton
Eugene Walby
Robert Stevens
Webster Hallett

Twelve of these boys attended Ballard High School, while two (Owen and Hallett) attended Lincoln High School.


Professor Carl Milton Brewster taught Chemistry at Washington State University. Some of these students went on to study Chemistry at various Washington colleges. Prof. Brewster is likely the older man seen in several of the group photos (at center, below). The students have acquired more rugged outfits and a variety of hats in this photo:


Some of these photos are RPPCs, or private photos printed on postcard stock. Several images are wallet-size prints with writing on the reverse side, and some of the smaller prints are partially hand-colorized. There were also a few commercial postcards, likely purchased during the trip. As some of the photos in this set are from later years, one or more of the boys probably returned for subsequent summers. Cannery work reportedly paid better than the summer jobs available in Seattle at the time.


Written on the back of this photo; “We are rowing boat on the bay”. The cannery bunkhouses are visible in the background:


And on this photo; “We boys cross the bay and go up to the tunnel of the gold mine”. Apparently a visit to the mine required fancier clothes! This may have been a day off for the boys, or could have been an educational visit to learn about assaying or other mine-related topics.


This photo of Harold Hendrickson is labeled “Me (Buck)”. He may have been the photographer of some or all of these images:


After graduation several of these boys attended the University of Washington, including Harold Hendrickson, Clarence Hawley, and Gilbert Swart. Hawley and Swart both went into chemical engineering. Hendrickson seems to have followed the relatively new field of air conditioning, writing several papers on the subject. He is listed in the 1940 census as an Air Conditioning Engineer in California.



Some associated photos from the same collection were taken at other locations, possibly by the same people on their way to or from Funter Bay. These include more RPPCs, trimmed wallet-size prints, and at least one commercial postcard.

Inside passage view, possibly from a steamship:

View from a ship, probably of Taku Glacier near Juneau:


The next two images show the Steamship Admiral Evans, which occasionally called at Funter Bay. The first appears to be a commercial postcard, possibly purchased on board. The 2nd seems to be labeled in the same way as some of the cannery tender photos from this collection. This may have been taken on the way to Funter Bay at the start of the 1920 season.



Many of the Ballard students seen here went on to form a club called the “Knights of the Moon”, established January 31, 1920 (Per the Seattle Times). As described in a 1994 Times article, the club was started by 13 friends who attended Ballard High School in 1917, 1918, and 1919. Most of the club members were school athletes who played basketball and baseball, and the club fielded Church League and City League teams after high school.  Several members were good singers, who would go to “Ballard Beach” in Seattle to “bay at the moon” according to Clarence Anderson (George Anderson’s brother). The club would put on dances, beach parties, and theater parties. Anderson reported that there was no drinking at these parties, and credits the club for keeping some young people out of trouble.


Eventually the club reached 50 members, pledging new members like a fraternity, and not missing a monthly meeting until 1987. The Times article went on to report the final meeting in 1994, as only three charter members were still alive.  (Charter Members were listed as Carl Anderson, George Fraley, George Frazier, Clarence Hawley, Harold Hendrickson, Herman Leander, Richard Smith, Roy Swenson, Edwin Wilkerson, Rolf Wiggen, Clarence Anderson, George Anderson, and Harold Shepard).

Several of my recent posts feature other photos from this collection, possibly including and/or taken by some of these people. They are:
Steam Donkey Part II (includes another group photo of the Ballard Students)
1920s Cannery Postcards
1920s Cannery Workers
Cannery Tender Operations
Navy Ships
Dano Mine Part II

I would like to thank Dr. Alice Eagly for providing information about her father, Harold Hendrickson. I would also like to thank the Ballard High School foundation for providing research material on these students.

Funter Bay History: Steam Donkey Part II

March 3, 2015

I previously mentioned a Vulcan Iron Works steam donkey at Funter Bay in one of my earlier posts on steam power and internal combustion. Recently I acquired a photo which shows a very similar device at Funter, perhaps the same one. This photo is likely from the summer of 1919.


The photo was taken at the corner of the main Thlinket Packing Co warehouse, seen below:


The steam donkey seen in 1919 and the one in my modern photos look nearly identical to me. The layout of pipes, the piston parts, and the boiler door all appear to match. The donkey in 1919 is mounted on large logs. My modern-day photos do not show any logs under the engine, but loose spikes are visible (the logs likely rotted away or were removed). John Taubeneck provided some details on the Vulcan Iron Works in a comment on my earlier post, noting that there are only a few of these donkeys remaining. He believes the unit pictured above is slightly smaller than the one in the woods, but it is hard to tell.

Neither photo shows the conical top or smokestack seen on other Vulcan donkeys, in the 1919 image they may have been removed for shipping, and by the time of my photos the stack seems to have rusted off and fallen to the ground (a few decades ago it was still mostly upright and covered with a washtub).


The remaining donkey is across the bay at the base of the mountain where it powered an aerial mine tram. If these are the same unit, it may have originally been owned by the cannery and later sold to the mine. As the cannery used mainly low-horsepower gas engines on-site, a steam engine would likely have been used somewhere off the property. It could have served as a pile driver engine, or been used for logging in Kelp Bay or elsewhere.

The men posing on the donkey in the 1919 photo seem to have been a group of Seattle high school students. They will probably be discussed in an upcoming post.

Funter Bay History: Dano Mine Part II

February 23, 2015

I recently acquired some photos that I believe are related to the Alaska-Dano Mine at Funter Bay, circa 1920. These needed a bit of detective work to place.

The first photo, taken at high tide, shows several buildings, a boat moored to a piling, and another boat full of people being rowed nearby.


Identifying this photo required some additional research into the Alaska-Dano Mining Co’s surveys, specifically US Mineral Survey No 1513. While the near-shore buildings are not shown on the survey plat, they are described in the text of the document as improvements to the property.

Dano Improvements

The directions in the survey are given in the 90-degree compass heading format used by surveyors, which allows the measurements to be plotted on a map. This results in roughly the layout seen below. Orange squares are buildings, with the two-story bunkhouse in the center and the two log cabins at the sides. The 4th log cabin mentioned was farther up the mountain.

Dano survey

Both of the frame structures in the photo seem to be built directly on tree stumps, a cheap and easy (if not long-lasting) foundation. The smaller frame building in front of the bunkhouse does not appear on the survey, so it may not have existed at the time (built later, or burned down prior). I would guess this to be a tool storage or workshop building. The smaller structure farther to the right is likely an outhouse, and the white structures behind the bunkhouse could be wall tents.

A two-story bunkhouse such as this indicates more than a few workers, structures of similar size at other mines housed a dozen or more men. (A photo from Katalla shows what the inside of an Alaskan bunkhouse might look like). A kitchen was sometimes located in the bunkhouse, although separate mess tents were also common to reduce fire hazards. Mine camps also usually had a blacksmith shop, an assay office where drill cores and samples were evaluated, and sometimes separate cabins for the owners or management. Stables for any horses or mules might also be found nearby.

Despite the different number of structures shown on the survey, I believe the photo matches the Dano Mine’s camp pretty closely. In addition to the two-story bunkhouse, the rise of land (tree tops) in the background matches the rise behind and to the right of the surveyed location.  Towards the top of this rise are found shafts and artifacts from the Dano Mine, and farther back is the first tunnel (seen collapsed in my earlier post), likely the “Little Pete” tunnel. The shoreline is fairly generic, but would match this location at high tide. Additionally, a slightly earlier and more distant view of the Dano Mine’s shore camp seems to show a large structure in approximately the right place to be the bunkhouse. The other frame structure did not seem to exist yet when this photo was taken (1919). A smear of light-colored material to the right is likely mine tailings from the tunnel and shafts.


Below is another map of the Dano claims (rectangles) with some of the tunnels labeled. The curving lines are streams.

Dano map

The next historic photo appears to be farther back from the beach, towards the Alaska Dano’s other tunnels near the base of the mountain.


This photo is not at any of the mine workings, so the people could be on a trail to the mine or on a hunting trip. They seem to be standing in a muskeg meadow with some swampy water in front of them, looking towards a nearby ridge with a mountain stream in the background and a round hill between. Identifying the exact location required a little more photo analysis. Below are some crops from a 1982 infrared aerial photo of Funter Bay, which helps to identify some of the terrain features in the older photo. This is a best guess based on my knowledge of the area and interpretation of the photo.


1982 CIR aerial courtesy of US Geological Survey.


Lastly, this photo seems to be looking North from near the Dano beach camp. The hills in the background seem to match the terrain behind the cannery, which is just barely visible along the far shoreline to the right.


Several men in a rowboat are roping an iceberg, maybe for use in local cold storage rooms or iceboxes. Summer icebergs used to be common sights along the Inside Passage and even in Downtown Juneau, but as the climate warms and glaciers retreat, they are much rarer today.

Unfortunately I don’t have any more information on these photos, such as the name of the photographer(s) or any of the people shown. Its possible some of these are related to a group of Seattle high school students who visited Funter Bay in 1919. If any readers happen to know more, I would love to hear about it!

Alaska Railway Technology

October 17, 2014

This post examines some of the technologies, construction techniques, and equipment commonly found on small railways and tramways in Alaska (many of which I have documented here).

porter 0-4-0

Alaska short line railways were often built rapidly on a shoestring budget, to serve an industry of unknown financial return. In several cases they were built as parts of investment schemes or frauds, and never intended to be permanent. As such, these lines used many techniques developed for temporary logging, mining, and construction railroads in the Pacific Northwest. They also used a wide range of motive power, often choosing cost over effectiveness.



The simplest and cheapest guide rails were simply logs laid end to end, the so-called “pole road”. This could be traversed by a wide-flanged wheel or even a tire-less automobile rim. The ride was generally not very smooth and required a very low speed. The poles would only last a few years at best, and less in rainy coastal climates. In Alaska, such tramways were typically under a mile in length and hauled by animals, although lower-48 logging companies used everything from steam locomotives to tractors to modified trucks. Fairbanks miner and contractor H. M. Henning placed a want ad in a 1905 edition of the Engineering News Record seeking a pole road locomotive, I have been unable to determine where he intended to use it or if he ever purchased one.


The next step up from poles were wooden rails, often 4x4s cut by an on-site sawmill. This was sometimes referred to as a “plank tramway”. Rails could be covered with strap iron to improve the lifespan of the wood. Most standard rolling stock and light locomotives could be used on iron-topped planks. A downside was the tendency to “snakehead”, the metal straps could come un-pinned from the wood and curl up to pierce the bottom of the cars. Tramways of this type could be found all over Alaska in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, ranging from 1-15 miles in length.


Standard iron or steel rails were the mark of a better-funded and more permanent railway or tramway. Rails are rated by weight in pounds per yard, so “30lb rail” means that 1 yard of rail weighed 30lbs. The heavier the locomotive and cars, the heavier the rail needed to be. Modern North American railroads  commonly use 75-140lb rails. Mine cart tracks were sometimes as light as 8lbs. Street railway track was commonly 30-45lbs. For small contractor’s locomotives such as the one used at Funter Bay (approximately 10 tons loaded weight), the manufacturers recommended a minimum of 25lb rail, although 15-20lb rails were common on short lines. The AJ Mine hauled heavy rock loads over 50lb rails. The White Pass & Yukon also used 50lb rails. The Tanana Valley Railroad and the Yakutat & Southern Railroad both used 40lb rails. The Alaska Railroad began with 55-75lb rails and now uses 115-141lb rails on main line and 90lb on some sidings.

Some example rail sizes based on the author's collection.

Some example rail sizes based on the author’s collection.

Low budget railways often purchased second-hand “relaying” track that had been pulled out of service due to wear or damage. Rails were in such demand that they were often pulled up and re-laid 3 or 4 times as companies closed or failed and equipment was sold to other operations. Track condition was less important at the low speeds of most small railways and tramways, but court documents record a number of injuries from derailments on Alaskan short lines.




For flat ground, the simplest grade was a corduroy road with rails spiked to it. This was commonly used on muskeg or permafrost, where the grade could “float” on top of the loose ground. It was subject to subsidence and frost heave, and often became a roller-coaster track after a few years. Ties could also be laid directly on the ground, although they tended to sink in if spaced too far apart.

As flat ground is a rare commodity in coastal regions of Alaska, a more common approach was the trestle grade. This raised most or all of the track on wooden supports, which could maintain a level path over and around uneven ground. High enough trestles also eased snow removal. A walkway was sometimes provided between the rails for humans or draft animals.


Tram with wooden grade and center walkway, with part of a hand-pulled car. Photo courtesy AKphill.

Two types of grade are seen below, rails on corduroy are on the right, and a log trestle is on the left:


Courtesy of Alaska State Library, MS 247 1_02

A variant of trestle grades is the boardwalk tram, where rails were laid on or into a wider wooden boardwalk (examples of which can be found in place of roads in many rural communities). These typically ran between multiple buildings of an industrial complex such as a cannery, mine, smelter, or pulp mill.

Boardwalk tramway at Sand Point:

sand point

Public domain photo courtesy of USGS Photo Library.

Gravel-ballasted grades were a significant upgrade and represented a long-term commitment to the rail line. They required significant labor, extensive ground preparation and surveying, and a ready source of gravel, but paid off with less ongoing maintenance. Some mines used their crushed tailings or waste rock as track ballast. Even a gravel-ballasted railroad grade could suffer from permafrost heave and ground deformation, as seen in the below photo of the CRNWRR grade, 20 years after abandonment:


Public domain photo courtesy of USGS Photo Library.



Horses and mules were often the first “power” on small tramways. Some short lines continued using draft animals into the 1920s, although others upgraded to mechanical power as finances and hauling tonnage dictated. In the Nome area, and reportedly in other parts of the state, dog teams were used to pull small flatcars. These were often called “pupmobiles”.


Public domain photo courtesy USGS Photo Library

Very short and/or very steep tramways used fixed or stationary engines, either steam donkeys, small internal combustion winches, or electric hoists. Usually a very steep tramway was referred to as an “Incline”, and could operate either as a single-track or a 3-4 rail funicular.

A few incline trams were of the gravity or counterweight type, using only (or mostly) the weight of a descending car to raise the ascending car on a parallel track. This worked best when there was a steady supply of rock (ore and/or tailings) at the upper end.

Steam locomotives began replacing horse power in the 1880s, and remained in use in Alaska into the 1950s. Small “dinkey” engines could be found all over the state, the design of choice for most short lines was the 0-4-0 saddle tank locomotive. The short wheelbase allowed a tight turning radius and ability to take uneven track. The small size gave a good power to weight ratio and simplified delivery to remote locations. No tender was needed, as water was stored in saddle tanks hung over the boiler and fuel could be kept in bins in the cab. Such locomotives could be purchased new from major manufacturers including H.K. Porter, Baldwin, and Davenport, who marketed them to mines, plantations, factories, and contractors. They could also be acquired second-hand from construction companies in the lower 48. When urban street railways began electrifying, small steam dummies became available as surplus. Fuel was local coal or wood, making operation relatively cheap. The main drawbacks were low speed and limited fuel capacity. Several midsize railroads in Alaska (Such as the Y&SRR and TVRR) outgrew their original saddle tank engines and upgraded to faster, longer-range units.

Porter tank locomotive

Small locomotives were often described by loaded weight and piston size. 8-10 ton locomotives with 7×12 pistons were common in Alaska. A few short lines used 0-4-2 configurations, allowing slightly more speed and hauling power at the expense of wider turns, and at least one short line seems to have used an 0-4-4 locomotive.

Internal combustion locomotives were also found on small Alaska railroads. Many were home-made affairs cobbled together from spare parts. Converted tractors and autos were common, with Ford cars and Fordson tractors being some of the most popular. Small gasoline switch engines were sometimes used, and sometimes steam locomotives were converted to use oil or gas engines. A variety of railway “critters” can be seen in this video, operating at Nome after the steam railroad was converted to a public tramway. These are some good examples of some of the locally-built motive power found on other Alaskan short lines.


Electric battery locomotives were often found underground, but were less common for surface tramways. A few larger mines used trolley-type electric locomotives, with power supplied by overhead wires. Both types required a cheap source of electricity (usually hydroelectric dams or ditch systems).


Battery locomotive at Apollo Mine, photo courtesy AKphill.


Rolling Stock:

Small 4-wheeled flat cars were the most versatile and popular rolling stock found on Alaska short lines. They could handle sharp curves, carry most types of load, and be pushed or pulled by anything from humans to locomotives. During construction of a railroad or mine, they could haul materials and lumber, and after completion they could haul loose material with the addition of stake and fence sides. Often these would be coupled via long poles which increased the turning radius between cars. Longer loads could be stacked across two cars, or a temporary flat car could be built using two smaller cars as individual trucks. Photos commonly show short trains of 2-3 cars pushed ahead of the locomotive, especially uphill. This likely assisted with braking, as the cars would not have their own brakes.

Berner's Bay Watermarked Crop

Lumber on coupled flat cars at Berner’s Bay, photo courtesy of Michael & Carolyn Nore

Once a mine or industry had finished construction and begun hauling regular loads on its railroad, more specialized cars were sometimes used. For mines these usually included small 4-wheeled ore carts or larger hopper cars. Canneries also favored box hoppers to transport bulk fish. Coal depots usually had small side-dump cars (vs end-dump mine cars). Only a few small railroads used dedicated passenger cars, more often workers would ride to the job site on modified flatcars or on the locomotive. This was often in violation of company safety rules, occurring with a nod and a wink from the train crew and resulting in injuries when cars derailed or collided.

mine car diagram