Mike Mancini, of Keno City, tells some of his cherished tramline and No Cash memories.
This is a very interesting insight into his early mining camp life.
Many thanks to Mancini for this.
His story follows:
Thank you for asking me to share memories of the tramline system that transported lead, zinc and silver ore from Calumet, Yukon, to the mill in Elsa. I am sending you a little background on my experience as a young child living in No Cash, which was the tramline’s midway station. I hope this gives insight into a very special time in Yukon history.
My memories of the place begin in the early 1960s when my mother brought me to the Yukon from southern Italy. I was the first child of Pete and Josephine Mancini.
I was conceived in No Cash, a minesite that belonged to United Keno Hill Mines in early 1960. My mother decided to go back to Italy to have me, as she did not like the idea of having her first child in the bush in the Yukon. She did not want to take the chance as proper medical facilities were so far away.
My mother made the decision to go to Italy and come back only when my dad got a proper house with running water and all the amenities. Until my mother was pregnant they lived in a tarpaper shack, one of two or three shacks that provided accommodations for the men who worked on the midway station of the tramline that brought the raw silver ore down from Calumet to the mill in Elsa.
I was almost two years old when we returned to the Yukon. My father had gotten word to my mother that he would get a good house in Calumet any day now so the decision was made to make the trip back. My father had not seen me since I was born and could not wait for the family to be united. My father had been optimistic he would have a house in Calumet since he was next on the company waiting list. Upon arriving, my mom moved back into the tarpaper shack she had left a few years before.
We did not move up to Calumet until 1965.
The early years in No Cash were special. I remember pointing out the shack’s window at what I thought were a bunch of dogs, or as I called them, “puppies.” My mother noted they were a group of bears passing through on their way to the Calumet dump. No Cash was on their trail, so they would stop once in a while to look around. My mother explained to me how dangerous they were and how I was not allowed to go outside on my own.
They just looked cute and cuddly to me.
One day I heard a noise on the porch and, thinking it was my dad, went to explore. As I fumbled with the doorknob, my mother told me not to open it. She came and picked me up and, as she lifted me, I saw a black bear staring back through the glass of the front door. It did not look quite as cute when I saw it that close.
I remember hiding in the bedroom with my mother until my father came home.
I was scared for a while, but my youthful curiosity got the best of me. I figured out how to open the locked door and started wandering away on my own.
My first few wanders got me into the neighbour’s house. There was a man living next door named Louis Tjemsland. He was my dad’s cross-shift on the tramline for many years.
Louis had been born in Norway and left home on a ship at 15 years old. After spending many years at sea he made it to Canada and, eventually, up to Dawson City where he worked many jobs. One of the jobs he talked about was as a dredge foreman. He had started working for United Hill Mines in the early 1950s and had worked at the tramline a few years before my dad started.
My mother and father had taken me over to visit him many times and, soon, I wandered over on my own.
He always gave me a few cookies or candies for a treat. There was always a pot of stew or my favourite of meatballs, potatoes and peas on the woodstove. It was always a treat to go over and spend a few hours. There was always a radio on in the background which I listened to for long periods. Louis also had a stack of magazines and books on his kitchen table. Some of the ones I remember looking at were the National Geographic and Alaska magazines. I would spend much of my time looking at the pictures.
The place was magical to me as Louis had a passion for hunting and fishing and had a few rooms filled with a variety of fishing rods and hunting equipment. He always promised me he would take me fishing and hunting when I got older. He kept his word as he became the grandfather that I never had. He was a good family friend right up until he passed away in 1983.
It was a five-minute walk from Louis’ house to the tramline so as I got braver and sneakier I would run to the tramline to meet my dad. The first few times I got into trouble for wandering that far. My mother would escort me over and, eventually, would call my father on the phone and would tell him to watch for me as he could see our house from the tramline station.
I remember the first time I looked inside the tramline. It was a busy place with the ore buckets coming through at a steady pace.
It was also a very noisy place with a strong smell of grease that was used to keep the heavy duty steel cables that carried the buckets lubricated.
My father always told me to not come in past the doorway as it was too dangerous to walk right in. Sometimes there was a whole lineup of ore buckets stopped in the tramline as they were backed up for some reason or another. My dad would keep them until he got a call from the old-fashioned handringer phone to let more of the
buckets through to Elsa.
I remembered one day being startled as a person crawled out of one of the empty ore buckets. Many of the guys in Calumet would use the tramway as a way of getting down to Elsa to socialize with their friends. The company threatened the guys with pink slips if they were caught using the buckets, but the guys kept taking chances anyway. There was a man that they called “Tramline Tony”. Tony Sgorsgelski was his real name and he was my father’s foreman and head mechanic for the repairs of the tramline. In the late 1970s he was my foreman when I worked in the machine shop as a student.
My dad came very close to getting hurt one day when the hood of his winter coat got caught on one of the ore buckets. It dragged him out of the building as he hung dangling on the bucket by his neck. The only thing that saved him from getting hurt badly was the fact that the hood had a zipper that enabled him to unzip it and fall into the snow. The incident left my dad shaken but he kept working.
The buckets always had treats in them also. The fellows that worked at the Calumet station would send down lunch bags with sandwiches and baked goods that came from the Calumet cookhouse. My father would lead me in to the heart of the tramline building to a small heated lunchroom where he would let me warm up and have a few treats. The lunchroom was the only room in the building that was heated. The rest of the building was open to the elements as it was just a large wooden structure with no insulation in the walls. I remember the large wooden beams that supported the building. As a kid, the building felt massive.
I also remember the winter months when frost lined the cracks of the rough one-by-eights and one-by-tens that were used for siding the building.
I would spend many long hours at the tramline playing in the lunchroom. They were some of my earliest memories that left an impression with me to this day.
I have been back to No Cash many times over the years and every year there is less and less as the weather and salvagers have taken many of the buildings apart.
The tramline station looks like a skeleton of what it once was with many of the large support beams exposed to the weather.
Many of the ore buckets are still hanging on the rails, as if they are waiting to be sent down to the mill in Elsa.
These memories and artifacts of a very important time in the mining history of the Yukon are just fading away, but we are trying to save as many of them as we can. Over the years there are many people who worked at United Keno Hill Mines coming back to do some reminiscing of their work experience many years ago.
Just last year, a fellow came in to my snack bar and told me that he worked on the tramline in the early 50s. He even had some great photos of the tramline that he brought back with him.
I could go on and on, but these are just a few of my cherished No Cash memories.
Anyone with information about this subject, please write Jim Robb: The Colourful Five Per Cent Scrapbook – Can You Identify? c/o the Yukon News, 211 Wood Street, Whitehorse, Yukon,
Y1A 2E4, or e-mail through the News website, www.yukon-news.com.