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: The Old Man’s Draft

December 8, 2015

During WWII, the government required all males age 18-64 to register for the draft. Registrations were conducted in several rounds, the fourth of which was for those age 45-64, often referred to  as  “The Old Man’s Draft”. Registrants of this age group were not expected to serve in the military, but to be on hand in case their labor or skills were needed for the war effort.


Even small communities had a draft registrar, and in fact Funter Bay had two. Postmaster Harold Hargrave handled registrations for local fishermen and miners, while Pribilof Island internees were registered by Lee McMillan, a Fish & Wildlife Service employee. Registration for the 4th round was begun in April of 1942, Funter Bay registrations seem to have occurred between May and September. I have found records for 29 individuals registered at Funter (again, these were only men age 45-64).

I’ve typed up the records from these draft cards below. The name in parentheses is the person listed as “Person who will always know your address”, if there is no last name in parentheses it is the same as the man listed in that record. If the card is noted “Deceased” or similar, I have also noted that after the names. Spelling of some of the place names is taken from the cards and is not always correct or consistent. The date of birth listed on the cards may not be 100% accurate, as people did not always recall their exact age. The last line of each record is the employer or business listed on the card.

Draft registrants at Funter Bay for the 1942 Old Man’s Draft were:

Peter Bourdukofsky (Alexandra) -Deceased
Born 11/22/1879, Pribilof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

John Fratis (Anfesa Galaktinonoff)
Born 6/18/1886, Pribilof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Alexander Galanin (Mary) -Deceased
Born 9/11/1885, Pribilof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

John Hanson (Frances Emanoff)
Born 4/7/1896, Pribilof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Nekita Hapoff (Prascodia) -Deceased 9/6/43
Born 9/27/1888, Pribilof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

John A Harold (Douglas Ainsworth)
Born Nov 29, 1877, “Calumete Michigan”
Fisherman – Funter Alaska

Ernest Samuel James (H.J. Hargrave)
Born May 3, 1896, Eureka California
Fisherman – Funter Alaska

John Irwin Lee (H.J. Hargrave)
Born March 7, 1880, Brown County So. Dakota
Fisherman – Funter Alaska

Walter Kashevarof (Helena)
Born 7/3/1887, Belkofsky Alaska
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Theodore Kochutin (Maria)
Born 11/1/1888, Pribilof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Condrat Krukoff (Vassa)
Born 3/27/1890, Pribiliof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Theodore Kulchitzky (Nicolai Merculieff)
Born 1/22/1885, Sevoroye, Russia
Priest of Russian Church, Funter (St. George Native Community)

Anatoly Lekanof (Agnes)
Born 4/15/1890, Pribiloff Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Serge Lekanof (Sophia)
Born 10/6/1891, Pribiloff Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Nekifer Mandregan (Alexandra)
Born 2/18/1896, Pribilof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Nicolai Merculief (Angelina)
Born 5/18/1880, Pribiloff Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Stefan Merculief (Agrippina)
Born 9/27/1890, Pribiloff Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

John Merculief (Mouza)
Born 1/19/1890, Pribiloff Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Paul Merculieff (Alexandra)
Born 3/11/1890, Pribilof Island
F&WS Evacuation Camp

John Misikin (Natalia)
Born 9/28/1889, Pribilof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Isidor Nederazof (Alexandra)
Born 2/5/1891, Pribiloff Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Paul Nozekof (Mary)
Born 7/11/1896
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Neil Oustigoff (Mary)
Born 9/30/1890, Pribilof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Vlass Pankoff (Moisey Shabolin) -Deceased
Born 2/22/1888, Pribilof Island
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Radoica Lazov Pekovich (W.S.)
Born ?/?/1881, Montenegro
W.S. Pekovich, Funter Alaska

Leonty Philemonof (Eoff)
Born 5/6/1894, Pribiloff Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Vasilii Stepetin (Marva)
Born 2/8/1893, Pribilof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Paul Swetzof (Julia)
Born 6/8/1892, Pribiloff Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Zachar Tetoff (Daria)
Born 5/21/1879, Pribilof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp


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

Funter Bay History – Health & Medicine

April 23, 2014

Medical care in rural Alaska has always been problematic. The distance from doctors and hospitals can be inconvenient at the best of times, and life-threatening at other times. Throughout the years there have been a number of traveling doctors, dentists, and other medical professionals who visited rural areas of Alaska. Some of these have been mentioned before (such as the floating dental clinic Anna Helen which sank near Funter in 1928).

While immediate first aid frequently involved a jug of whiskey, more serious injuries usually required a trip to Juneau. The following are some accidents and medical incidents noted in historic newspapers (mainly the Daily Alaska Dispatch of Juneau):

-Undated: Two prospectors near Point Retreat were reportedly thawing frozen dynamite in their cabin, when it exploded. The cabin was destroyed and one man was seriously injured. The other set out for help, but the weather was too bad for his boat, so he walked six hours to Funter Bay along the beach. The miners at Funter dressed the injured man’s wounds and kept him warm until a steamer could bring him to the hospital four days later. (source).

-May 5, 1902: A fisherman named Brookler from the Funter Bay cannery had a pistol ball wound in his hand dressed, the shot was reported to be accidental.

-April 16, 1906: Miner J.W. Fox was in the hospital suffering from inflammatory rheumatism.

-April 11, 1908: “A Chinaman” from Funter Bay “had been fooling with a gun” and shot himself through the hand.

(Some other accidental gunshot wounds are mentioned in another post).

-June 24, 1908: An “Indian lad” broke his arm at the elbow and severe complications set in. James T. Barron brought him to Juneau on the vessel Phillip P Kelly for medical care.

-Sept 26, 1908. Funter Bay prospector Oliver Farnum died at the Sister’s hospital in Juneau, about sixty years of age. He had been “ailing for about six months”.

-June 28, 1909: “While working on one of the dams at Funter Bay”, Joseph Rose slipped and fell, fracturing two ribs. He was brought to the Simpson hospital in Juneau on the Georgia.

-December 21, 1909: Soldier J. T. Karr from Fort Seward (Haines) was injured while hunting at Funter Bay and was brought to St. Ann’s Hospital. His name is also given as John Carr in another article. The unfortunate fellow tripped on a rock and managed to fall neck-first onto an axe, which had frozen into the ground edge-upwards. The accident would have been fatal if not for a trained nurse who happened to be at Funter Bay and was able to dress and stitch the wound.

-October 31, 1910: Mr J. Caper from Hawk Inlet had walked to Funter over the mountain to pick up the mail. While returning to Hawk Inlet in the dark, he fell over a steep embankment and broke his ankle. Caper dragged himself the rest of the way over the ground, arriving four hours late, and was taken to St. Ann’s hospital on the mailboat Rustler.

-January 26, 1912: J. Olson was taken to the hospital from Funter Bay with an acute case of rheumatism.

-July 20, 1915. Funter bay prospector W. C. Miller, age 65, came down with pneumonia and took the mail boat Georgia to Juneau. He was placed in the hospital at once, but died the next day.

-Feb 27, 1917. Sam Larson had a severe attack of pneumonia and was brought to the General Hospital in Juneau. The same day, Dan Barlow of Funter Bay was released from the hospital after undergoing eye treatment.

-June 23, 1917: Sam Olson was injured in a fall at Funter Bay and taken to St. Ann hospital.

-June 26, 1917: Harry Cratty suffered a ruptured appendix at Funter Bay and was operated upon by Dr. Dawes at the General hospital.

-June 30, 1917: Olaf Johnson from Funter Bay was also operated on by Dr. Dawes

-August 1, 1917: G.C. Coffin, an employee of the Funter Bay cannery, received eye treatment at the General Hospital

-Feb 26, 1918. Captain Woods of the cannery tender Anna Barron fell 20ft down a ladder and then into the water, he was taken to St. Ann’s hospital and reported in good condition with no broken bones.

-August 17, 1919: Miss B. Blaire, a trained nurse, was taken to the hospital from Funter Bay where she had become dangerously ill with “brain fever”.

Medical care fell to a disappointing low during the WWII internment of Aleut evacuees at Funter. Government logs report that the accepted treatment for a fatal strain of flu was to “sweat it out”.

After WWII, the Teritorial Department of Health operated several floating clinics, including the MS Hygiene. This boat, sometimes known as the “shot ship”, provided vaccinations, checkups, x-rays, and other services to rural families all along the Alaskan coast (detailed article here).


-October 1, 1956: Rod Darnell of Sitka was bear hunting near Funter Bay and failed to kill his prey with the first shot. The wounded bear charged him and gave him severe lacerations to the head and neck. Darnell was treated on-site by a doctor flown out from Juneau, then brought to St. Ann’s hospital for further treatment. A story in Alaska Bear Tales relates another mauled hunter being flown out of Funter Bay in 1957.

-July 5, 1957: Ione Puustinen of Funter Bay was admitted to the Sitka Community Hospital

-June 30th 1987: An article titled “State Repeats PSP Warnings” told of an out-of-state visitor who became ill after eating mussels at Funter Bay. Officials talked of the danger of paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP. Filter feeders such as mussels accumulate toxins from algae (the so called “Red Tide“) in their bodies. The victim was flown to Juneau for treatment and recovered. For many years there was a large skull and crossbones painted on one of the Funter Bay floats, with the warning “Don’t eat Mussels”.

The Alaskan bush can be a dangerous place. While most of these incidents had happy endings, they serve as a reminder to watch your step, watch the critters, and be careful what you eat (and don’t thaw your dynamite on the stove!)

Funter Bay History: Murder & Mayhem

March 25, 2014

Alaska’s history is filled with shady characters, dastardly deeds, and unsolved mysteries. Almost every town, mining camp, or cannery has its tales of murder, larceny, or swindles of one sort or another. In past installments of Funter Bay History, I’ve mentioned some of the criminal activities which went on in the area, including bootlegging, fish piracy, and other shenanigans. This post covers some more serious crimes, as well as various lesser incidents and shady dealings. Some of these are snippets from newspaper articles which are long on sensationalism and short on fact, multiple sources have been consulted when possible. Unfortunately there is not always follow-up information or detail readily available, so the outcome of some of these cases is not clear.


A murder on August 18th of 1894 reportedly involved two local prospectors. Archie Shelp and George Cleveland were accused of illegally selling whiskey to Natives, resulting in a drunken killing (or perhaps two killings, sources differ). The defendants claimed they were in or near Funter Bay during the supposed events, not at Chilkoot (Haines) where the murder took place. An 1895 article described how “two Indians bit the dust” during a drinking bout with two Swedes, which may or may not refer to the same case. Gus Lundgren, who had been camping at Funter,  testified that the two had been there on August 16th-17th of 1894. The defense claimed that they could not have sailed to Chilkoot in less than three days (from my own sailing experience, I would say it could be done in one long day with favorable winds). The prosecutor pointed out that there was no evidence Shelp and Cleveland were prospecting “with pan and shovel” as they claimed, and instead were “prospecting for the aboriginal native” with keg and tin cup. The two were convicted of illicit alcohol sales, and appealed.


An underground fight between miners at Funter Bay was reported in the Alaska Mining Record on June 10, 1896. William Williamson (Brother of Sandy Williamson) was supposedly attacked by Billy George, aka “Indian Charley”, and had a piece bitten out of his lip. The young Williamson had no experience in drilling and refused to strike double-handed. George, who had a “record as a biter” was upset with this and attacked him. After a 20-minute fight which left hair plastered on the walls of the shaft, the attacker fled. Billy George then gathered up his family and possessions and left in a canoe. (Excerpt in Barry Roderick’s A Preliminary History of Admiralty Island).


A “bloody battle”, and the first killing of an on-duty law enforcement officer in Alaska occurred near Funter Bay in 1897. That January, a “notorious young desperado” named William Thomas “Slim” Birch had been locked in the city jail, convicted of “mayhem”. The charge stemmed from a bar brawl in which Birch had bitten off part of Henry Osborne’s nose and ear. Birch was said to possess a “temper that runs wild” when under the influence of alcohol, frequently landing him in trouble. Despite his temper, “Slim” was a popular fellow in Juneau. He and his brothers had made some money early in the gold rush, partly through mining and perhaps partly through smuggling. They owned the Douglas City Hotel and Cafe, which featured a lively saloon, and had the support of many local miners. The night before Slim was to be shipped South to prison, a group of masked men staged a jailbreak, locking the jailer in his own cell. The group then fled in a sloop to Admiralty Island.

Released a Prisoner

Within weeks an informant reported Birch and co hiding out in a cabin on Bear Creek, 3 miles from the Juneau side of Admiralty Island (About 1-1.5 miles from Funter Bay). A posse consisting of two deputy US Marshals, the jailer, a jail guard, and an “Indian Policeman” set out in pursuit. After a tugboat trip from Juneau, followed by a long and grueling hike through snow and ice, the party reached the cabin. Accounts vary as to what happened next. One story was that Slim snuck out of the cabin and ambushed the deputies from high ground. Others say the fugitives fired through the door as the lawmen knocked on it. Other accounts say the officers found Birch and his accomplices sleeping and fired first.

“He is a desperate man and the deputies knew it, so they began shooting into the cabin, taking great chances on getting their man alive. Birch opened his cabin door and began to shoot with two revolvers” (from San Francisco Call)

While the truth of who fired first was not clear, all accounts show that the posse had the worst of the ensuing shootout. Jail Guard Bayes was hit and ran back towards the beach despite bleeding profusely from both legs. Deputy Marshal William C. Watts attempted to take cover behind a fallen tree but found the rotten wood a poor shield.  Deputy Hale exchanged shots with Slim Birch, then came under fire from the cabin. Struck in the chest as he tried to reach Watts, Hale staggered and fell into a small stream. He managed to pull himself out and make it out of range.  Jailer Lindquist hid behind a tree as it was riddled with bullets, and was hit in the eye by flying bark. The Native policeman, Sam Johnson, was the only one of the posse to remain uninjured. Johnson reportedly saw Birch and three or four other men inside the cabin, firing from “loopholes” between the logs. Watts was reportedly hit several more times during the gunfight. The other lawmen retreated, leaving the injured Watts behind. Hale’s wounds were said to be serious, but he eventually recovered.

After fleeing back to Juneau, the officers gathered a new posse of 20 men, along with a detachment of US Marines. A search party from “the neighboring cannery settlement” also hiked in to the cabin (The Funter cannery did not yet exist, but several others were in the area). Watt’s body was found “frozen stiff in the snow, where his cowardly companions had left him”. Several days searching resulted in nothing but frostbite for the posse members, and additional men came in from Sitka to join the manhunt. An investigation of the cabin found the floor “liberally scattered” with 38-90 and 45-70 rifle shells, and several firing loopholes cut into the logs to fortify the position. Also revealed were 50lbs of hidden gunpowder, thought to be part of a bank robbery scheme. Hiram Schell, one of Birch’s accomplices, had previously been in jail for gold robbery, the tale of which is a ridiculous adventure of its own and also involves a stop at Funter Bay.

The search ended when two cannery employees named Cheney and Olson discovered the heavily-armed Birch and Schell sleeping in dense underbrush. They reportedly had pistols in hand, requiring a stealthy approach to avoid waking them. The two cannery men crept up to a ledge above the fugitives, then leapt down and were able to manacle them after a brief struggle. The captors received a $500 reward for their efforts. The slain Deputy Watts had been a popular and well-known officer in Alaska, and tempers were high on all sides. The prisoners were taken to the Sitka jail for their own safety, as there was fear of encountering a lynch mob in Juneau.

At their trial for murder, Birch and Schell claimed self defense, and the contradictory statements from the lawmen confused jurors. Birch’s brothers and local miners  raised enough money to bring in “prominent” defense attorneys from Seattle. The defendants claimed that the deputies had not announced themselves before shooting, and they were thus responding to an unprovoked attack from unknown assailants. There was debate over the cause of Watt’s death, be it from his wounds, freezing, or both. Birch even claimed that he had been kidnapped from the jail and had not meant to escape in the first place! Eventually the pair were found not guilty of murdering Deputy Marshal Watts, an “outrageous” verdict which horrified the governor of Alaska. None of the other offenders were ever found, although a belt marked “W.H. Phillips” was recovered from the cabin.

Slim did end up serving 3 years at San Quentin for the original mayhem charge. He moved to Prescott, Arizona in 1902 and opened a saloon with his brothers Sidney “Kid” and Robert “Bob” Birch. Slim continued to get into bar brawls, including a 1908 affair in which all three brothers broke up a card shark scheme with flying fists. They also ran afoul of the law with gambling fines and prohibition violations. “Slim” died in 1952.

birch2Selected Sources:

-“Bloody Battle in Alaska; Between Desperadoes and a Marshal’s Posse” The Record-Union (Sacramento), 4 Feb 1897.

-“Capture of Slim Birch” San Francisco Call, 4 February 1897

-Fletcher, Amy. “Whitman shines light on a dark chapter of Alaska history”. Juneau Empire, 27 Oct 2013. (link)

-Hunt, William. “Distant Justice: Policing the Alaskan Frontier”. OK: U of OK Press, 1987.

-Roderick, Barry. “A Preliminary History of Admiralty Island” Douglas, AK, 1982.

-“To Plead for an Alaska Outlaw” San Francisco Call, 28 Feb 1897

-Wilbanks, William. “Forgotten Heroes: Police Officers Killed in Alaska, 1850-1997”. Turner Publishing Co, 1999. (link)


An article in the Juneau Record-Miner from July 11, 1907 had the headline “LOOKS LIKE MURDER”. A man named Herman Smith had disappeared under suspicious circumstances, with “strong indications that foul murder has been done somewhere between Douglas and Funter Bay”. Smith’s boat the “O.K.” ran out of gas at Cordwood Creek on the way to pick up fish, so he borrowed a small boat from Harry Scott at a Funter Bay fishing station. After getting fuel he left Douglas to return to the O.K., but then vanished. The article stated that “An Indian woman claims to have seen him murdered in the vicinity of Cordwood creek”. Reportedly missing were $130 cash and a month’s worth of provisions.


A fugitive from Sitka by the name of Ah-kee was pursued and overtaken at Funter Bay in July of 1909, and brought to court by Deputy Marshal Shoup (Shoup is also mentioned in a previous post).


In November of 1912, a miner named Martin Damourette was arrested and charged with larceny, accused by his mining partner L.C. Wilson. The two had stored equipment at their Funter Bay claim, and Damourette supposedly stole it while Wilson was absent. The court dismissed the criminal case almost immediately. Wilson filed a civil suit, but Damourette “ducked out of town” for Seattle the same night.


Another disappearance occurred at or near Funter Bay in 1915. Robert McGregor was reported missing by crew of the Santa Rita the morning after arriving at Funter Bay. He was a carpenter from Gypsum who had worked at various mines and camps around Alaska. Cannery officials supposed that he wandered off in the dark and became lost, but a search of the area found nothing.


Illicit booze continued to be an issue in the area, especially since it could sometimes be mail-ordered!
mail order beer


In October of 1917, two men named Thorensen and Okerberg were indited for furnishing liquor to Natives at Funter Bay.


In 1922 the body of Oscar “Terrible Swede” Lindberg was found burned to death on the beach at Bear Creek, across the island from Funter Bay. The case is filed under “Murders” in the Bayers notes.