Monthly Archives: October 2018
I am back in The ‘Banks in time for All Hallows Eve. The cabin wood bin is full, the weasel still resides in the wood shed outside, and we received just a dusting of snow on Sunday. That does make life better for the rabbits, as they had already turned white and really stood out on the brown earth.
The 2-4″ in the forecast, tuned out to be .4″ in reality. We will avoid a brown Halloween only on a technicality. We have had just one brown Halloween since record keeping began in Fairbanks. The year was 1938, when a Chinook wind blew in, and melted what snow there was on the ground in the latter half of October.
We are still on pace in 2018 to rewrite some records, however. 1938 set the record for the latest date Fairbanks had an inch of snow on the ground. November 6, to be exact. As of this writing, we have no precipitation in the forecast for the next 10 days.
After checking into the Panama, I went out exploring downtown Seattle. First stop was a brewery and lunch. The second stop was the Gold Rush Museum. I have been to the Klondike Museum in Skagway, but this was the first time I have been to its Seattle counterpart.
The museum is located in the historic Cadillac Hotel building. The museum is not large, but they do a great job telling the story of the Klondike.
When word of the Klondike strike reached the outside world, men and women from all over, flocked to the port cities of San Francisco and Seattle. The effort just to get to Alaska was huge, let alone to get to the backcountry of the Klondike.
The museum offers you six people who joined the gold rush, to follow their journey from start to finish. One young man made his way across the country from Michigan when he heard of the strike. Buying passage to Alaska, he was offered either first class accommodations or second. First class slept with the horses, second class slept with the mules. He chose to sleep with the mules.
An estimated 100,000 individuals made their way to the Klondike in search of gold. 40,000 actually made it to the Klondike. Of those, only half (20,000) worked claims or prospected for gold. Roughly 300 Klondikers made more than $15,000 in gold, which would be around $330,000 in today’s dollars. Of that number, only 50 individuals kept their wealth for any length of time.
The RCMP required that all stampeders entering Canada have a ton of provisions. That’s a lot of gear to haul on your back. That’s a lot of bacon!
Two young men who were visiting the museum at the same time, overheard that I was from Alaska. They hit me with quite a few questions, but it was obvious that they had one thing on their mind: The Chilkoot Trail.
As I’ve written on here before, I have hiked The Chilkoot, which runs roughly from Dyea, Alaska to Lake Bennett, British Columbia. I highly recommended that they get up to Skagway and hike the trail. Hopefully, they will do so, it’s a wonderful hike.
Tony Joe White passed away suddenly on Thursday of a suspected heart attack. The musician was inspired to pick up a guitar as a teenager when he heard Lightin’ Hopkins for the first time. Known for his “swamp rock” style, White wrote several classics including “Willie and Laura Mae Jones”, “Polk Salad Annie” and “Rainy Night in Georgia”. The latter had been covered by over 100 different artists by the time White turned 30.
In the above video, White performs one of his songs with Johnny Cash. White was 75.
The Panama Hotel, located in Seattle’s International District, opened for business in August of 1910. The five story, brick building was designed by Sabro Ozasa, Seattle’s first architect of Japanese heritage. The building was to house Japanese laborers from the area, but also catered to fisherman heading to, or coming back from Alaska. The International District was known as the city’s “nihonmachi” – Japan Town, or translated literally: Japan Street.
The Panama Hotel provided a full-service traditional Japanese-style sento, or public bath house in the basement. In 1910, most private homes in the area did not have their own baths, so the sento provided a neighborhood service.
There was a separate bath for men, and one for women and children. The bath house is still intact in the hotel, and it is the only surviving bath house of its kind in the U.S. today.
Takashi Hori was the owner of the hotel in December of 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked. 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans were rounded up on the west coast and placed in internment camps. Many local residents approached Hori to store their belongings in the basement of his hotel, because they were allowed to bring only minimal processions. Hori was also eventually sent to the Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho in 1942. He returned to run the Panama Hotel after the war ended in 1945, having an acquaintance watch over the hotel during his incarceration.
With the Panama Hotel just blocks from King Street Station, I decided it was the perfect time to stay at this historic hotel during my time in Seattle.
The first impression of the Panama’s interior is the dramatic stairway to the office, which is on the third floor. This hotel really is a trip back in time, and there is no elevator.
The rooms are basic, and reflect the times they were made for. Spartan as they may be, I found them comfortable, clean and they met, even exceeded, my expectations. Each room comes with a sink, but guests share the bathrooms and showers. I did not have any issue with that, and I found no morning competition for the shower.
As a contractor, I loved the building details, as much as the history. The trim, bannisters and railings were all clear, beautifully grained wood. The lighting in the hallways was designed to use natural light as much as possible, and it was fascinating to see that change over the course of the day, although the electric lights were hardly needed until sunset.
Several rooms had armoires that were built out of refrigerator crates back in the 1930’s. The workmanship was quite impressive.
Originally, the ground floor of the hotel had a dentist, a tailor, a laundry, a bookstore, a billiards room, and a sushi restaurant. Today, the lower floor is home to the Panama Hotel’s Tea Room. A complementary continental breakfast is served here for guests of the hotel. The tea selection is extensive, and the squash bread phenomenal. It’s a great place to hang out at the end of the day after exploring Seattle’s downtown.
The Tea House has a great collection of historic photos from the area displayed on the exposed brick walls of the two main rooms. The Panama Hotel is both a working hotel, and a living museum.
When Takashi Hori returned to the Panama in 1945, the hotel’s basement was holding over 50 steamer trunks from the displaced Japanese-Americans. Many trunks and other belongings remain in the basement today. Hori made several attempts to find the owners, but most were never located. The owners had simply vanished. A window in the floor of the tea house gives visitors a glimpse of the private belongings left behind.
The Panama Hotel offers a unique opportunity to explore Seattle’s past. It’s a wonderful hotel. Don’t stay here if you need Five Star accommodations. It’s comfortable, but 1934 comfortable. Unfortunately, the front entrance is enough to deter anyone who needs an elevator. It’s a living time capsule, and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. The current owner, is the hotel’s third. That in itself, is remarkable.
Tours of the bath house are available upon request. I highly recommend joining one.
The Panama Hotel is a U.S. National Historic Landmark, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.
It was 100 years ago on 25 October 1918, when one of the worst shipwrecks on North America’s west coast occurred. The sinking of the Princess Sophia.
A Canadian Pacific Steamer, the Princess Sophia left Skagway, Alaska on 23 October, bound for Vancouver and Victoria, Canada. It was the ship’s final run of the season, and she left the dock three hours late. There were 353 people on board; an eclectic group from the Yukon and Alaska: miners, business men, government officials, their wives and children, along with the ship’s crew.
The Sophia, traveling off course, crashed onto Vanderbilt Reef at 2am on the 24th. The ship was traveling 11 knots at the time of impact. It is not known why or how the ship ran off course, although weather was probably a factor. The ship was cruising through heavy snow and fog, with zero visibility. Procedure called for the speed to be reduced to 7 knots, but the captain kept the pace up, possibly to make up for the late departure. The Sophia’s log was never recovered to provide insight.
A stresscall was sent out to Juneau, and a fleet of rescue boats went out to the reef, and circled the Sophia for several hours.
Initial inspections showed that the Sophia was not taking on water, so the captain hoped that the ship could float off the reef at high tide. Passengers waited anxiously from October 24 to the 25th to be rescued.
The sea began to worsen. A light house tender, The Cedar, could only get to within 400 yards of the Princess Sophia, and was pushed back by the rough waves. By afternoon on the 25th, the storm had increased in severity to the point that rescue ships had to seek shelter themselves.
The winds picked up, the tide rose, and the Sophia’s stern was lifted upward, breaking the hull away when the ship came down. It was now taking on water, and an SOS was sent out from the ship.
The Princess Sophia sat on Vanderbilt Reef for 40 hours, yet sank between 5:30-6:00 pm on the 25th. There were no survivors from the frigid Alaska waters.
There was one Alaskan celebrity on board. Walter Harper, a Koyukon Athabascan, was the first person to summit Denali in 1913, as a member of the Karstens-Stuck Expedition. Harper had just been married on 1 September, and was on board the Sophia with his wife, Frances Wells. The couple were on their honeymoon.
Photos courtesy of the Alaska Library and its Archives
Saint Paul to Seattle
Because I never seem to do things the easy way, I decided to take Amtrak across the northern border of the U.S. to Seattle from the Twin Cities.
The Empire Builder lounge at Union Depot- St Paul, Minnesota
The entire Empire Builder line from Chicago is 2206 miles, and I had already done the Chicago to Saint Paul section.
The line originated in 1929 by the Great Northern Railway and James J. Hill.
The Great Northern was eventually succeeded by Burlington Northern in 1970.
Minot, NoDak train depot
The Empire Builder averages 1285 riders daily, which is Amtrak’s busiest long distance route. The max speed is 79 mph, with an average speed of 50 mph.
I did not get a sleeper car for the roughly 36 hour ride, although they are available. This isn’t air travel: the seats are wide and they actually recline, complete with a foot rest. I did not get a seat mate until Spokane, and that only lasted until Everett.
Sunset from the observation car
The Empire Builder runs the double decker rail cars. There is seating below, but I have always gone up the narrow staircase to the top section. The restrooms are on the lower level.
Since I had been visiting family in Minnesota, I was loaded down with food for the ride. I had no need to visit the dining car on this trip. I did spend a fair amount of time in the observation car, which also offers a basic cafe.
Lately, I find myself in no hurry to climb on board an airplane. Plus, Amtrak has been running some super saver fares, so the rail ride and flight from Seattle to Fairbanks was actually cheaper than the flight from Minneapolis to Fairbanks.
But that had very little to do with my decision to ride the rail. I simply wanted to experience the Empire Builder, and this was the only way to get that thought out of my head.
Skykomish River, eastern Washington
The Empire Builder travels through some beautiful country, as well as some that one wouldn’t mind speeding through. It does stop within Glacier National Park, and the trek through the Cascades is simply wonderful.
The Cascade Tunnel was built in 1929 by Great Northern. It’s just short of 8 miles long. Not much is visible for those eight miles, as you can imagine/see from the photo above. The tunnel is near Stevens Pass, Washington, and there was much grumbling about the lack of cell coverage during those dark, eight miles.
Like cell-free tunnels, Amtrak doesn’t have much say in the weather either. A fog rolled in for our arrival to western Washington, and not much was visible from Everett on.
King Street Station, Seattle
Our train pulled into the King Street Station nine minutes early. Not bad, considering the distance. Amtrak also does not get priority over the freight trains. There were a few times when we had to wait for a freight train to get out of our way.
Overall, I really enjoyed the trip. Once again, this isn’t air travel. One needs to have the time available to ride the rails. One also must be in the proper frame of mind. It’s a good time to drop the petty thoughts and just sit back and relax. I watched one woman get incredibly upset that we were late getting into Havre, Montana. We had just spent 20 minutes waiting for two freight trains to pass, so the delay was hardly a surprise. She was on the train to Seattle, so I couldn’t figure out why she was so upset. Of course, my lackadaisical attitude about the delay didn’t improve her mood either.
King Street Station
Other than her, I met some pretty cool people on the train, and had some great conversations in the observation car. I do recommend the trip, if you have the time.
Alongside Lake Winnibigoshish in the Chippewa National Forest.
I rarely leave Alaska during the summer, but the fishing is supposedly quite good here. The Boys have already started to make 2019 Spring Walleye Plans.
The weather was incredibly nice for our time in the Chippewa. One day saw temps reach 68F. A campfire was still a requirement. S’mores were on the menu.
It should be noted: The fire was not started, nor fed, the Brazilian Way.
I’m a map guy. I admit it and I say it with pride. I like to see the whole layout, get the entire picture, as it were. Or, at least as much as one can get, without actually walking the trail.
I was commissioned recently to guide two teenage brothers on their first ruffed grouse hunt in Northern Minnesota. The Boys, aged 13 & 14, are not map guys. Certainly not paper map guys.
The plan was to camp along the shore of Lake Winnibigoshish, and walk the trails of the Chippewa National Forest. My first stop was the ranger station for a decent map.
On the drive up, The Boys had nothing but derision for my paper map fetish. “We can just google map it!”, they claimed over and over.
I tried to explain the need for an actual map. Technology isn’t always reliable, batteries die, charging fails for one reason or another, signal evaporates.
All to no avail. They were convinced that I was a dinosaur.
Upon entering the ranger station, I promptly stated that my only need was a decent map of the forest. I was just as quickly denied of my quest.
“I’m not allowed to sell you a map. It’s not my job, and no one else is here.”
I asked if he had maps available. He answered yes. I saw the evasive map plastered to the wall with a price of $14.96, tax included. A bit pricey, but I offered $15, and the qualified individual could complete the transaction later, upon their return. I received an apologetic no. Getting desperate, I offered $20, but received another negative response.
“It’s not my job. I’m not allowed to sell you a map.”
I wondered if that statement sounded as absurd to his ears as it did to mine.
Then the park employee committed, what I consider, a cardinal sin: “Just google map it,” he says.
It was a dagger to my heart. Now, I wasn’t just angry, but wounded. You know what they say about wounded animals…
The Boys beamed; The Alaskan fumed.
We took two ATV maps that divided the forest. We found them lacking. We also took some specific HWT maps, but found them also lacking. As suspected, we also, at very inopportune times, found the cell coverage to be lacking. But between the three sources, we managed to piece together a game plan, and always managed to find our way out of the woods.
Sadly, The Boys remain sketchy at reading a map, and good luck getting either one of them to fold a map properly.