Thea Agnew: I was working for Bob Jacobs as a guide during the summer that Jos was in Kennicott. I remember his excellent sense of humor and his amazing ability to absorb all the details of the mill workings at Kennicott. He was a powerful person and I remember him well even though I knew him only for a short time. (Left: Click to enlarge. Right: We think her name is Lida Gregory and we can't find her to tell her about Jos.)
Ken Brower: I turned to the notebook detailing my visit to the Kennicott Mine, and I found an account of an inspired tour of the mill tower led by "Yost," as I heard the name--not very meticulous reporting, but that's what I jotted down.
We several people whom Yost guided through the mill agreed afterward that it was extraordinary how much he had learned about the building in the short time he had been there. I remember thinking that he was either some kind of genius, or an idiosyncratic fascination with the old mine gave him geniuslike qualities. Here is some of what I wrote:
"This building was built in 1911," says Yost. "It was inhabited until 1938. It was not that safe when they built it, and it's been through a 9.2 earthquake since. It's not that safe now." He pauses, confesses he's only been doing these tours for 2 weeks. "There may be certain risks about which I don't know."
We sign a document. "This is not a waiver," says Yost. "It's an acknowledgement of risk." He looks us over. "I like to sort out my troublemakers from the start. Are there any geologists or engineers?"
He tells us the story of Tarantula Jack Smith and Clarence Warner, discoverers of the mine. We hear the pasture of grass story. (Which I no longer remember. I have a vague notion that someone saw what looked like a pasture of grass in Wrangell-St.Elias, and that is what drew the prospectors? Something like that?)
80% copper, the ore, he tells us. Tells old joke about the CR (Copper River) Railroad ("Can't Run Never Would") ? [Don't get it, where's the NW?]
Yost quotes Mike Haney, who was building rail from Cordova. "If you give me enough dynamite and snooze, I'll build you a railroad to hell." Snoose is snuff, and they used it because you don't want to SMOKE tobacco around dynamite. Yost tells us about the stamship that was disassembled and packed into here and reassembled.
Yost points to a safety feature--wood shield around a gear. "There were so many hundreds of ways to kill yourself in this building. Please don't feel obligated to try any of them. I don't like to think about the accident that made this safety feature necessary" (he says, pointing to the shield around the gear.)
"Center-cut Douglas fir--all the beams in this building," says Yost, in answer to a woman's speculation that vibration is why the beams are so big.
Yost shows us the Plato-o self oiling head motor to work shaker table. Cam is eccentric inside, which Yost shows us. He demonstrates noise by shaking sheerk manually. "Imagine this multiplied 40 times," he says.
"Now a paperweight," Yost says of huge wheel. Once integral, then Kennicott no longer needed it.
"the entire building was jerry-rigged."
[Here I, and not Yost/Jos, observe:] The vermiform appendix of the mine. The whole place is organic.
"The phrase is 'abandoned in place,'" Yost says of the crusher. "Wiley Coyote Crusher," he calls it.
"This building really had a brain of its own," says Yost. Shows us the separators. Building really does have so many circulations systems--like a body.)
"'Don't drain yourself here, it will rot the timbers,'" says Yost, reading some grafitti on wall. "And stink like hell," someone has added.
Yost shows us run-off system some carpenter has devised, because timbers were rotting from run-off down slope. (We're nearing top.) "Jerry-rigging!" cries Yost. "This whole building is jerry-rigged."
Yost shows us high-grade ore chute. Did require a worker to pick off chunks and toss them in.
[Here Ken Brower, and not Yost, observes] How the building just seems to keep going up! It's like building in dream. That add-on, improvised feel. From its bottom up to the superconscious of the top floor. The trap doors in unexpected places, leading into dark places. The unfathomable dimness of elevator shafts. The grim obsolete undecipherable machinery. Indeed. The "Thunder Dome" feeling. Thunder Dome meets Bodie; ghost town. That jury-rigged, jerry-rigged feel of Road Warrior movies. Of post-apocalyptic movie set in Aussie outback.
Air compressor. The belt is gone, but Yost gets several of his clients to spin it manually. "Sounds like some sort of aboriginal instrument," I say. Diggerie Do? Is that what they call it? Yost agrees. When the wheel spins, the rest of us hold hands over exhaust hole. Wind comes through, and diaphragm makes that whispery aboriginal wind-instrument moan. If a ghost had a voice?
Top of the tower. The arctic, Alaskan views in the weathered frames of the windows. Me trying to make composition of the mountains beyond, by moving my vantage around, and sometimes succeeding.
Just loved this tour. And I'm not a machinery person.
(And that is the end of my notes. What Jos did, in researching and interpreting the building, was what we try to do in literature. In two weeks or whatever he had fashioned a great poem to the mill tower, and if there were a Pulitzer or Nobel for mine-guiding, he would have won it.)
Best wishes, Ken Brower
Jos: Thoughts on tape (on guiding at the Kennicott Mine) in his own words (.mp3 file)
Other Jos Alaska links: Fishing diary. Big fish. Audio tape diary. Election campaign. American Country Magazine. Mine guiding.