Mining History Association

Annual Conference June 15-19, 2017

University of Alaska - Fairbanks

Fairbanks, Alaska

 

The 2017 Annual Conference of the Mining History Association (MHA) was held at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, June 15-19, 2017. 

 

Fairbanks, Alaska’s “Golden Heart City,” has a fascinating mining history that started in 1902 with Felix Pedro’s discovery of placer gold in what is now known as Pedro Creek.  A local frontier trading post was renamed Fairbanks in 1903.  Pedro’s discovery started the Fairbanks Gold Rush which drew thousands to the interior of Alaska.  Following the familiar pattern, placer mining led to lode mining in 1911.  Later on, large gold dredges of the U.S. Smelting, Refining, and Mining (USSR&M) Company's Fairbanks Exploration (FE) Company reworked many of the early small placer discoveries.  Mining had its ups and downs over the decades, but there is still mining in the Fairbanks area. The Fort Knox Mine, a modern open pit operation north of Fairbanks, is Alaska’s largest gold producer.  Sumitomo Metal and Mining operates the Pogo Underground gold mine about 70 miles southeast of Fairbanks. Coal is produced at the Usibelli Coal Mine at Healy, south of Fairbanks.  Every summer, a number of placer mines, some still family owned, operate along area streams.

 

The University of Alaska in Fairbanks (UAF) campus was our conference venue for registration, accommodations, paper sessions, and the Saturday Presidential Luncheon. Situated on an elevated ridge, the campus offers stunning views of the Alaska Range on a clear day. The UAF Museum of the North is right on campus.  UAF’s Department of Mining Engineering annually graduates engineers that design and operate mines not only in Alaska but around the world.  Free shuttle services are available for transport around the campus, and city buses connect the campus to downtown and the Fairbanks airport.  CLICK HERE for a campus map.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Accommodations were at the UAF campus dormitories and apartments. The rooms are simple, but do come with a choice of sleeping options that range from a single bed with a bathroom and shower down the hall to a two-bedroom apartment complete with a lounge room, kitchen (with basic utensils), and bathroom. All rooms come furnished with a chair, desk, and single bed(s). This is not a full service hotel where the staff will make your bed, but sheets and towels are provided. There is free Wi-Fi on campus.

BE PREPARED TO EXPERIENCE ALASKA 

Fairbanks can arguably be considered the geographic center of Alaska modern mining.  The Greens Creek and Kensington Mines are in the southeast near Juneau.  The Red Dog Mine is to the northwest above Kotzebue.  The huge Pebble copper discovery is southwest of Anchorage.  Prudhoe Bay is to the far north and the Alaska Pipeline Corridor, which bisects the state, is close to Fairbanks.  Historic mining areas are similarly located in all directions.  The Yukon and the Klondike are to the north and east.  Nome is to the west.  Juneau and Kennecott are to the southeast.  It is worth remembering that Alaska is a very big state.  If you overlay an Alaska map on one of the “lower 48,” the Panhandle will be located over Florida, The Aleutians will be over Southern California, and Fairbanks will be located in Iowa.

 

That said, in addition to the organized tours held during the Alaska MHA Conference, countless opportunities were available for independent travel to explore both mining heritage sites and the many incomparable National Parks and Wildlife Refuges in the state.  The Alaska Railroad connects Fairbanks with Denali National Park and Anchorage, with connecting service to Whittier and Seward.  Major international air carriers serve Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Juneau.  Cruise ships make Alaska a popular summer destination.  Scores of tour companies, large and small, are available to help you accomplish your “Alaska Dream Trip.” Check out the ALASKA TRAVEL BEYOND THE CONFERENCE link and the tourist information websites listed below.



 The Campus of University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE


A monument to Italian immigrant, Felix Pedro (Felice Pedroni), commemorates his 1902 gold discovery north of Fairbanks.



Examining a pan of gold nuggets at Chatanika, not far from Fairbanks c1916.


Fairbanks and Nome (pictured here) were centers of extensive gold dredging in the 20th Century.

 

Alaska hard rock miners, c1916.

 

The Independence Mine near Palmer Alaska is preserved as a State Park.

 

The famous Kennecott Mining complex, a National Historic Landmark, is located near McCarthy in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
 

(Photos courtesy Library of Congress)

 

TRANSPORTATION

Getting to Fairbanks by Air

Fairbanks International Airport (FAI) is serviced by three major domestic carriers (Alaska, Delta, and United) and an international carrier (Condor) that offers seasonal service from Frankfurt. The Fairbanks Airport is located south and approximately four miles distant from the UAF campus.

Getting to Fairbanks by Other Means

Driving to Fairbanks from the lower 48 states is an ambitious trek (the distance from northern Montana being 2,300 miles), but driving to Fairbanks from Anchorage will allow you to bookend the conference with a scenic trip past the entrance to Denali National Park.  Fairbanks is 360 miles from Anchorage (approximately a 6 hour drive). Note that you may experience delays on the highways due to perpetual summer roadwork.

By Train.  The Alaska Railroad runs daily service between Anchorage and Fairbanks. It is a 12-hour trip aboard the  “Denali Star.”

By Bus.  The Alaska Shuttle runs daily service between Anchorage and Fairbanks. It is a 9-hour trip.

By Car.  By Car. Several car rental and RV rental agencies operate in Anchorage. On the highway between Denali and Fairbanks, the Usibelli Coal Mine can be seen to the east of Healy. This surface mine is a fourth generation family-owned operation, Alaska’s only operating coal mine, and an important energy source for interior Alaska 

For car travel, always keep in mind that the distance between destinations is often considerable and that Alaska also has a low population density. This translates to patchy cell phone coverage and long distances between road services. So, be sure to pack snacks and water, and take opportunities to keep the car fueled up rather than testing the limits of the gas tank. Also consider purchasing a copy of The Milepost. This excellent road companion provides a detailed log of each of the highways in the state, as well as land and ferry routes to Alaska. Highway logs include descriptions of towns and businesses along each route (sometimes with brief historical notes), in addition to noting rest areas, scenic viewing points, and other points of interest.

ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS

Daylight Hours.  Fairbanks has almost 22 hours of daylight in mid-June. The curtains in hotel and dorm rooms may not block out all of the light, so pack a sleep mask to cover your eyes if you need the dark.

Temperatures.  Fairbanks temperatures in mid June range from the 50s to 70s. The days are typically warm and dry, but pack a sweatshirt or two and a raincoat in case of inclement weather.

Bugs.  Alaskans joke that the state bird is the mosquito (it is actually the ptarmigan). You’ll find the cities and the UAF campus essentially free of this pest, but the situation can change when you are out in the woods. When going on one of the expeditions, wear a hat and long pants, and take along a long-sleeve shirt. You’ll find a range of mosquito repellants available in the stores, both Deet-laden and Deet-free. If selecting the former, purchase ones with 20% to 40% Deet--anything less just makes the mosquitoes angry.

CLICK HERE FOR CONFERENCE PROGRAM

CLICK HERE FOR MORE FAIRBANKS AND ALASKA MINING HISTORY

 

CLICK HERE TO LEARN ABOUT CURRENT ALASKA MINING

 

SOCIAL EVENTS (CLICK BELOW for Photo Galleries)

Opening Reception, June 15, 2017.  The opening reception was held at the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame, located at 825 1st Avenue in downtown Fairbanks. The museum was founded in 2013, for the purpose of honoring Alaska’s mining pioneers. Inductees include famed mineral discoverers, educators, geologists, engineers, as well as those engaged in the legal profession. The building itself is a historic structure, constructed in 1908 to serve as an Odd Fellows Hall. Our reception was catered, and you could wander about the exhibit space to learn about Alaska’s mining inductees. Its location in downtown Fairbanks also meant you could walk from there to other downtown sights.

Awards Banquet, June 16, 2017. The banquet was held aboard the riverboat the Tanana Chief. A delicious
buffet dinner was enjoyed by all.

Presidential Luncheon, June 17, 2017.  The luncheon was held at Dine 49 in Woods Hall on the UAF Campus.  The luncheon program included the “Passing of the Presidential Pick” from Erik Nordberg, MHA President 2016-17, to Peter Maciulaitis, MHA President, 2017-18.  The Presidential Lecture will followed.

 

TOURS AND FIELD TRIPS (CLICK BELOW for Photo Galleries)

Pre-Conference Tour: Alaska and Polar Regions Collections & Archives, UAF Campus, Thursday Afternoon, June 15, 2017.  The University of Alaska Fairbanks opened in 1922 as the “Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines.” Like other mining schools, the college library became well stocked with mining textbooks and periodicals. The university archives also became a repository for a range of mining-related collections, including company records, historical photographs of mining operations, and film archives. The archive staff provided interested researchers with a tour of the facilities and a highlight of some of the mining collections.

Fairbanks Exploration (FE) Company Machine Shop Tour, Saturday, June 17, 2017.  Following the Saturday Presidential Luncheon, we visited the FE Company Machine Shop. The US Smelting, Refining & Mining (USSR&M) Company constructed this facility in 1927 to support the company’s extensive operations throughout the Fairbanks District, making both repairs and tools for the various dredges. When operations closed in 1964, the company left the shop items in place. All of the equipment, including industrial lathes and large-scale welding equipment were left in the condition they were when they turned them off. Workers’ clothing still hangs in the lockers, the shelves remain stocked with miscellaneous tools and equipment, and the belt-driven machinery still runs. John Reeves, owner of the machine shop, explained what is stored and operated there. This was a rare opportunity to see a different facet of mining operations.  The site is not otherwise open to the public.

Tour of the Chatanika Gold Dredge, the US Army Corps of Engineers' Permafrost Tunnel, and USSR&M Archives and Pleistocene Fossils, Sunday, June 18, 2017 .  From the UAF campus, we traveled by bus to Dredge #3 situated in the northeastern corner of the Fairbanks Mining District, and one of eight bucketline stacker dredges that the USSR&M Company had in operation from 1927-1963. The drive out included a visit at the Pedro monument, commemorating the discovery of gold in the Fairbanks area by Felix Pedro in 1902, and a stop at Cleary Summit, the principal lode mining area of the Fairbanks District. Patricia Piersol and Jane Haigh, the owners of Dredge #3, led a tour of the dredge, which is about 300 meters west of the Steese Highway.  We then visited the nearby Chatanika Gold Camp, the original facility built by the USSR&M Company to house and feed its employees, where the owner provided a brief tour. After lunch, we visited the U.S. Amry Corps of Engineers Permafrost Tunnel, AKA the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL), a unique research installation that allows scientists and visitors to walk into the permafrost.  Then we visited John Reeve's private collection of Pleistocene fossils of fauna that roamed Central Alaska during the Ice Age. John also discussed his archive of records from the USSR&M Company.

Tour of the USSR&M Archives and Pleistocene Fossils, US Army Corps of Engineers' Permafrost Tunnel and the Kinross Gold Corp., Fort Knox Mine, and Sunday, June 18, 2017.  From the UAF campus, we traveled by bus to see John Reeve's private collection of Pleistocene fossils. John also discussed his archive of records from the USSR&M Company. A quick photo stop was made at the Trans Alaska Pipeline which is across the highway from John Reeve's Gold Daughters gold panning attraction. The next stop was  the Permafrost Tunnel (see description above). We then headed to the Kinross Gold Corporation’s Fort Knox Gold Mine, via the Steese Highway, making a lunch stop at the Pedro monument, commemorating Felix Pedro’s gold discovery in 1902. The Fort Knox Mine is an active, modern open pit operation located in the vicinity of Cleary Summit. The mine works a low-grade ore body (with less than one gram of gold per ton).  In operation since 2011, its production record now makes this mine the single largest gold producer in the state. The tour visited the open pit and ore crushing facilities. Other onsite processing facilities include a mill processing 2,800 tons an hour, and a heap leaching operation.

Post Conference Tour: Lode Mines of the Fairbanks District, Monday, June 19, 2017 (Self-Driving Tour).  The Fairbanks region is dotted with the remnants of historic lode gold mines, and although today some are a little off the beaten path, the preservation is remarkable. This tour included a visit to some of the key properties in the two centers of lode mining: the Pedro and Ester Domes. Sites in the Pedro Dome vicinity included the Hi Yu Mill, a 10-stamp mill in operation through the 1930s and still largely intact, with the majority of crushing and recovery equipment in place. In the Ester Dome area, we visited the Grant Mill as well as the Clipper Mine, where we had an opportunity to venture underground. This small-scale mine remains in private ownership (the original family house stands beside the adit entrance). Although no longer in operation, the mine has an interesting history that included adaptive use for research during the Cold War.

Post Conference Tour: Sumitomo Mining’s Pogo Mine, Monday, June 19, 2017.  In 1994, the Teck-Cominco Corporation discovered a rich hard-rock gold deposit about 70 miles southeast of Fairbanks and 35 miles northwest of Delta Junction.  It was placed into production in 2005 by Sumitomo Metal and Mining and is currently one of Alaska’s largest gold mines.  Gold at Pogo is mined underground with the latest mining technologies and deploys state-of-the-art environmental monitoring.  It was truly a mine worth seeing and a unique opportunity to experience large-scale underground mining in the remote interior of Alaska. A 56-mile-long road was built into the mine site from the Richardson Highway prior to production. 

MINE VISITS ON THE WAY TO FAIRBANKS (CLICK BELOW for Photo Galleries)

Independence Mine State Historical Park.  Join Mike and Pat Kaas for a walking tour at the Independence Mine in the Willow Creek Mining District, near Hatcher Pass, above Palmer, Alaska.

 

Kennecott Mine and Mill (Coming Soon).  Join Johnny and Dawn Johnsson and Dick and Elna Houck for a visit to the famous Kennecott Mine, in McCarthy, Alaska, now part of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

 

FAIRBANKS SURPRISES (CLICK HERE for Photo Galleries)

 

The Fairbanks area held many mining-related and some non-mining surprises for those with the time to do a bit of exploring on their own.  Check out the Photo Galleries for a quick look at a few of them.

 

• Alaska First Families Monument

• Pioneer Park

• Museum of the North, University of Alaska Fairbanks

• Davidson Ditch

CLICK HERE for ALASKA TRAVEL BEYOND THE CONFERENCE

MANY THANKS TO OUR SPONSORS


VISITOR INFORMATION (Accessed 6, March 2017)

Alaska Tourism (and Visitors Guide)

 

Fairbanks Tourism (and Visitors Guide)

 

University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF)

 

Museum of the North, UAF Campus

 

Alaska Miners Association

 

Alaska Mining Hall of Fame Foundation

 

Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys

 

Kinross Gold Corporation (KGC), Fort Knox Mine

 

Sumitomo Metal Mining Company, Ltd., Pogo Gold Mine

 

US Army Corps of Engineers, Permafrost Tunnel

 

Alaska Railroad

 

Alaska Shuttle Bus Service

 

READING AND REFERENCES (A Short List)

Terrence Cole, Crooked Past:  The History of a Frontier Mining Camp, Fairbanks, Alaska, University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks, 1991.

Charles Caldwell Hawley, Wesley Earl Dunkle, Alaska’s Flying Miner, University Press of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, 2003.

Lael Morgan, Good Time Girls of the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush, Epicenter Press, Fairbanks/Seattle, 1998.

Clark C. Spence, Northern Gold Fleet:  Twentieth Century Gold Dredging in Alaska, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1961.

Catherine Holder Spude, Robin Mills, Karl Gurke and Robert Sprague, Eldorado!  The Archaeology of Gold Mining in the Far North, University of Nebraska Press and the Society for Historic Archaeology, 2011. 

William R. Hunt, Golden Places: The History of Alaska-Yukon Mining, National Park Service, 1990 (Available Online, Accessed March 2017).

CLICK HERE FOR MORE READING AND REFERENCES

 

 

ORGANIZING COMMITTEE

Paul White

Tom Bundtzen

Rolfe Buzzell
Ted Hawley
Robin Mills
Patricia Peirsol

PHOTO GALLERY

OPENING RECEPTION, JUNE 15, 2017

ALASKA MINING HALL OF FAME FOUNDATION MUSEUM

CLICK ON AN IMAGE TO ENLARGE


(Above) The Alaska Mining Hall of Fame Foundation Museum in Downtown Fairbanks occupies the historic IOOF Lodge building (ca1908).  It is listed on the National Historic Register.

(Left) Past MHA Presidents, Roger Burt (UK) and Bill Culver with Carmen Culver welcoming friends old and new.

(Left to Right) Bill Hawes and Patty Peirsol.

 

Eric Nystrom with Terry and Linda Reynolds.

Ralph Bourette and Stephanie Saager-Bourette with Lynn and Mark Langenfeld.

Sunau Murata (Japan), Pita Burt (UK), and Pat Kaas.

 

Rolffe Buzzell, Janine and Michael Dorsey, and Chris Haigh.

 

Dan Gray, Steve Hart, with Mary and Dick Beach.


Carmen Culver and Nola Hill (Australia).

Our Chefs for the evening prepared delicious Alaskan salmon and blueberry crepes.  Tom Bundtzen is at the rear.

A map of the Fairbanks Exploration Company gold dredge locations, one of the many informative displays in the museum.

An exterior view of the historic Alaska Mining Hall of Fame Foundation Museum building.

Photo Credits: Mike Kaas


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