Excerpt from Charlie Rainwater's Memoirs

by Charlie Rainwater


Dear John,

I received your packet in good shape and of course in reviewing it a sense of nostalgia came over me especially the pictures of the old Curry Hotel. I will talk about it later.

Regarding the Loop and its demise; The contractor had removed the Howe trusses that spanned the river and the under crossing of the railroad track. There were nice timbers in the trusses as well as large iron bars that cinched the top and bottom chords together and used in lateral bracing. The old snow shed located at the upper end of the loop had been abandoned, but was used as a storage site for emergency bridge materials. There we 9"x17"x28 ft. long select fir timbers as well as 12"x14"x14 ft. long timbers for capping piling. There were bridge ties and guardrails enough for eight panels of trestle bridging. All the above were new unused materials and an easy gold mine for the contractor. When the contractor pulled out, the long curving trestles were left for me to put on the ground. They would be burned when there would no chance of fire getting out of control.

I spent the winter of 1948-49 in the Curry Hotel. It was a fancy place with leather upholstered chairs and couches, oil paintings on the lobby walls including oil paintings of sled dogs by Josephine Crumrine. The dining room had white tablecloths and monogrammed china, very high class and played heavily to the tourists who sometimes spent the night there before going on to McKinley Park or points north.

When I arrived at the Hotel, all the storm windows were still in the basement, having been removed in the previous spring. They were in various stages of disrepair and as we mended them, we installed them on the room designated on the window frame. No small task and there were plenty of them.

The hotel had its own laundry and laundry workers. The building was steam heated and the washers, dryers and mangles were steam heated, all located in the basement. As I recall, the housekeeper was Miss B, and that was the name she went by and incidentally she was my boss, Bruce Cannon's mother-in-law. She was a strict disciplinarian allowing no funny business with her help.

There was a beautiful suspension bridge crossing the Big Susitna River at the north side of the hotel yard. It has a large sign saying, "Danger! No trespassing!" blocking the entrance. I think the bridge was designed for foot and pack animal crossing. The big suspension cables were heavily galvanized and in excellent condition. The droppers that help the floor joists were 3/8" double dipped galvanized rods that pierced the floor joists and the under side of the joists were protected by a large galvanized washer with double hex nuts holding it in place. The 2"x12" decking was showing considerable rot as well as some of the joists. The suspension cables were fastened to eyebolts anchored deep into the solid rock wall of the canyon. On the hotel side, the cables were attached to huge eyebolts embedded in a multiton concrete dead man then elevated to the top of large timber posts that had cast steel shoes that allowed the cable to bend over on its way across the river. These posts showed some deterioration at their bases, but not bad. People disregarded the warning signs and crossed the river at will. The crossings lead to a trail ending at the lookout cabin where the Chulitna River drainage and the rugged mountains associated with, and a spectacular view of Mt. McKinley. The cabin was a nice little structure that had all windows on the mountain side. Some skilled artists had painted a remarkably good image of Mt. McKinley on the wall board of the cabin. The artist could look out the window and paint directly on the wall. This was nice, for many times the mountain would be obscured or partially so when the hikers arrived at the cabin. At least they could see what the mountain could look like on a nice day. There has been speculation that Sydney Laurence spent some time at the cabin and possibly painted the likeness. I have been told that part of the wall board had been cut away and the painting gone. I was sorry to hear that.

When spring came, I was assigned to a bridge gang and we worked most of the summer out of Curry. I was assistant foreman on the gang and my immediate boss, Nels Bysheim and I tried to get management to let us repair the suspension bridge. The task would have been simple, starting on the far side of the bridge, remove all the wood work to the near side. Once the weight was off, jack up the cables and install creosote treated timbers under the cables then let the cables down. The railroad had stock piles of treated 4"x6" lumber for joists and the two by twelve decking was always at hand. We could not prevail and before we left, a bulldozer was used to cover the concrete after the eyebolts had been severed with a cutting torch that let this beautiful structure fall into the river. I would guess the cables are still intact on the far side of the Big Sue, but trailing down river with all the droppers still attached. What a pity!

In the first part of August 1948, we were moved to McKinley park. There we were to destroy an old roadhouse that was melting down between the Depot and the Hotel. We also had to tear down the old horse barn that was located on the east side and below the railroad tracks. In its place, we were to build a warehouse for storing Park freight and a walk-in freezer/refrigerator adjoining the hotel kitchen. It seemed to me that the old roadhouse had just been walked away from, leaving some of its stock still in the shelves. Among the litter were several five pack ages of Crooks Cigars. They were literally crooked, but still intact. The big horse barn was a noble structure, having a hayloft with trolley and track for hoisting the hay into the loft. There were hay holes over the mangers where the horses were stalled. The structure was very well built and we had to destroy it without benefit of crane or mechanical assistance. I was really surprised to find two red squirrel's nests in the barn. The squirrels being territorial, they had their nests and accumulation of water rations in the peak and opposite ends of the barn. The little fellows raised hell with us interfering with their life styles and I was sorry to see bushels of dried mushrooms come down with their nests. Just below the barn was a storage yard of horse drawn road equipment as well as other obsolete things including a cordwood saw complete with a Model T Ford motor for its power unit. There was a horse drawn road grader with big hand operated wheels to regulate the blade's cut while grading. There was a Fresno scraper and a couple of slip scrapers. There was a beautiful rubber tire wagon that had roller bearing wheels and a chassis rugged enough to haul gravel on. The tires were rotted off and the wheels were about six inches into the ground. There was a nice stagecoach parked there and still intact. I got to see how the coach was suspended on big leather straps that reached from front to rear axles for an easy soft ride for the passengers. This unit disappeared shortly, but most of the other pieces were buried in a hole excavated by a bulldozer that covered them up. Some museum pieces went that way. The whole area around the depot had a changed look before we completed our work there.

John, I've seen many changes to the ARR since I hired on in 1948 and when I retired in 1984. I'm writing my memoirs and the ARR is a major part of them.

Charlie Rainwater
Homer, Alaska
June 4, 2003


© 2003 Charlie Rainwater