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Alaska’s' First Free Mail Delivery Service
By FRED LOCKLEY (Third Installment) When more than one mail steamer arrived, as they frequently did, on the same day, or within a day or two of each other, we would put in long hours. For instance, we reported one morning at 4 o’clock at the paper tent, for after the first few weeks a large tent was put up near the postoffice in which the papers were cased toy a night crew, a day force being on duty to hand them out. We worked out several sacks of papers from the cases between 4 a.m. and 6- We spent the forenoon in making a letter and paper delivery; at noon the mail was landed from a steamer which had ar rived from Seattle. We worked all afternoon look ing through the newly arrived mail. Before we had finished all the pouches of “outside” mail, the Dora from St. Michael arrived with several sacks of local mail, that is, Alaska mail, including Daw son and other Yukon River points. By the time we had completed the Dora’s mail it was supper time. The acting postmaster took both carriers to his boarding place, and served a regular banquet, including ice cream made from condensed milk. We went back'to the office, routed our mail in the paper tent, and at 10:30 p.m. we started on our delivery. We were through by midnight. It did not seem so out of place to be making a midnight delivery where the daylight was con tinuous, and where the streets were as crowded at midnight as at noonday, as it would seem at home where night-time implies darkness. From 4 a.m. until midnight — a work-day of 20 hours. Of course this was exceptional, although on several occasions we worked 18 or 20 hours. Usually, however, from 10 to 12 hours constituted our day’s work. Whenever we had leisure on account of the non-arrival of mail steamers,, we would go to the paper tent and work out papers. We built a de livery wagon from a pair of bicycle wheels mounted on a narrow steel axle, surmounted by a large dry goods box. Putting several hundred pounds of papers routed in bundles of convenient size, we would make a paper delivery several times a week. I remember one day when the rains had conr menced and the streets were knee deep in mud. We were both pulling the cart when it got in a mud hole up to the hubs. We were tugging away to extricate it when a man, probably a newspaper correspondent, came up to us and said, “Hold on just a moment, boys, I want to get a picture of Nome’s free delivery bogged down.” He called to the proprietor of the Arctic Pharmacy who took a snapshot of us. We often wished our comrades in the service could take a glance at us as we routed our mail. As there was no room in the postoffice we took it to our tent across Snake River. In lieu of a table and case we sat cross-legged on the sand and gravel floor of our tent, and would use gold pans, boxes and other makeshifts as substitutes for a case. For a routing table we would use our cots. If one made an inadvertent move the carefully laid piles of letters would, with one accord, slide toward the center of the cot, and I would find the mail for the Customs House genially frater nizing with that of the Gold Belt Dance Hall, or the S.Y.T. Co., gravely intermingling with the mail for the Yukon Saloon. It took but a day or two for the knowledge that a free delivery had been established to be come known and appreciated. Orders for the de livery of mail poured in by the score. We had to “book” them, place each new name in our route book, alphabetically arrange and verify the address given so as to place it in its proper position on our route map, and then get their mail from the general delivery. We soon had about 1,200 patrons apiece, and, in addition to remembering their names so that we could take the letters for them from the incoming mail as we rapidly glanced at each letter before we passed it on to the box clerk, or casing clerk, we had to keep track of the changes of address which were constantly occur ring. What added materially to our work was the fact that not only the individuals and firms were in constant motion like the bits of glass in a kalei doscope, but the places of business themselves were likewise not exempt. Tents gave place to frame buildings overnight. When we presented ourselves With mail for the mining broker whose office on the previous day had been a tent, we found he had folded his tent like the Arabs, and quietly stam peded to some newly discovered district or likely creek. One such instance comes to mind out of dozens of similar experiences. My comrade in the service received orders to deliver the mail for the Red Cross Pharmacy. It was a canvas and frame-work affair located on the north side of Front Street near the Alaska Exploration Company’s store. He booked the order, delivered the mail a few days, then the whole thing disappeared. Next day I found it on my route near the “Gold Digger” office. We made the necessary corrections on our books, and I took his mail, when he again disappeared, moving to a new location on my comrade’s route, and taking his house with him like a snail. My partner booked the order and I erased it from my book. We soon lost him again and found that he had discovered a more favorable location on my side of the street, and resumed his residence there. Where one would see a tent on the forenoon there might be a building site for sale in the afternoon. That night a large force of carpenters would be put to work, and by next day a frame building would be almost ready for occupancy, cloth tackers and paper-hangers following the car penters closely. At best the season was but short and every moment must be utilized. Most of the stores were open day and night, being run by two shifts of clerks. A man called me into his tent one morning and asked me to deliver his mail. Next day I re turned with mail for him. Imagine my surprise when I could not even locate the place where his tent had stood. I rubbed my eyes, looked up the order, got out my route map, and found the place where the tent should have been; but in its place was a frame structure upon which the carpenters were still at work. A grocer was arranging his stock. I asked him where his predecessor was. “Oh, he has mushed on,” was his response. “But he told me to bring his mail here,” I said. “Well, that is all right, but that was yesterday,” he an swered as though discussing ancient history. “I bought him out yesterday afternoon, hired a gang of carpenters and ran up this building last night, and we put our stock of goods in this morning. The man you are looking for pulled his freight for Council City this morning. I guess you had better forward his mail there.” I could multiply in stances, but I will only cite one more. I delivered the mail for a second-hand man at his tent opposite the North American Trading & Transportation Company’s store. As I passed along the street opposite the Barracks one forenoon someone hailed me. It was my second-hand man. He said, “Leave my mail here after this, I sold my business out last night.” He had put in a stock of fruits and fancy groceries, changing not only his location but his business overnight. That same afternoon I passed his way, when he again hailed me. “Hold my mail for a few days,” he said. “What’s up now?” I inquired. “I got a lease on this business site for $50, he answered. “This noon the Babcock Undertaking Co. offered me $150, so I sold it and am $100 ahead of the game. I am going to auction my stuff off this evening, as he takes possession tomorrow morning.” He had owned and disposed of two business enterprises within 24 hours, and made money on both trans actions. Needless to say he was a “Down East Yankee” and would rather swap than eat. It was remarkable what absolute confidence the public reposed in us. I entered a saloon one day, delivered the mail to the barkeeper and to the men who were running the various games, such as “Black Jack,” “Stud Poker,” “Roulette” and “Craps” and the “Wheel of Fortune.” An old gray beard, a stranger to me, called to me. I went over to see what he wanted. “Here, son,” he said, as he pushed over a pile of $20 gold pieces. “I have started a little game here that is panning out pretty well. Get me a money order for one hundred dollars to send my wife in Los Angeles.” I wrote down her name and address, pocketed the gold and next morning brought the man his money order. This is not an isolated case. I suppose I have bought a dozen or more money orders for men who were too busy to attend to it themselves. They would hand me 50 or 100 dollars, throw down a silver dollar and say, “That will cover the cost of the order and pay you for your trouble.” While on my way to the postoffice one day I went up a side street not on my regular route. A man came to the door of his tent and motioned to me. He tried to speak but was too sick. A spell of coughing seized him so that I tried to support him to keep him from falling. His eyes were un naturally bright, and I could see that he was a very sick man. As best he could, interrupted con stantly by severe spells of coughing, he told me that he had not been able to get his mail. He was sick and alone. He had taken his place in the line and, after keeping it half an hour and having gotten nearly to the delivery window, he had be come weak and fallen down, and thus lost his place. No one was allowed to ask for more than one person at a time. If he wished to ask for two persons he must take his place at the foot of the line and work up again. The sick man had no friend whom he could ask to stand in line fdr him, and was very anxious for his mail. Poor fellow, I felt very sorry for him. Sick, alone, possibly dying and unable to hear from home. I went back to the postoffice and got him his home letters of which there were more than 30. When I returned he was in bed'and in a high fever. He did not seem to be able to realize what I wanted. I propped him up in bed, showed him his letters, told him they were from home and left him. Much to my surprise and pleasure he lived to get back to the States. (To Be Continued) THIS WAS NOME'S POST OFFICE. Building in 1900; situated on B Street between First and Second, just south of the old ANS School. TDM Bulletin Provides Miners With Up-To-Date Information from Juneau (from the Territorial Department of Mines Bulletin for March) Mining Access Roads The only bill introduced so far | in the State Legislature that is; intended to assist prospectors and : miners is H.B. 79 by Representa- ' tive Bob McCombe. -The bill would I direct the Highway and Public | Works Department to build access j roads to inaccessible mineral areas j as determined by the Commis-! sioner of Mines. This act was in- ! troduced because present policy | restricts road construction to the i approved road net and to stan*! dard construction specifications. It will not be effective, of course, without an appropriation. H.B. 92 would appropriate $100,000 to the Highway and Public Works De partment for the first year of operation of this act. H.B. 79 was passed by the House with only one dissenting vote, has been re i ported out of the Senate Finance l Committee with a “do pass,” and | is now in the Senate Commerce j and Labor Committee. H.B. 92 ■ was reported out of the House j Resources Committee with a “do 1 pass,” and is now in House Finance. Other Bills of Interest H.B. 13 — Would establish a new Workmens Compensation Board and set new rates which are estimated by one mining op erator to indicate a cost increase of 17 per cent for the average em ployer. Presently in Senate Com merce and Labor Committee, then to Judiciary Committee. S. B. 41 — Would extend the time of redemption of delinquent lands under the Land Registration Law beyond the present limit of one year after court award of the land to the State. Proposal is to allow original legal owner to re deem delinquent land (including patented claims) at any time up until the State disposes of the land by lease or sale. Still in State Af fairs Committee, then to Judi ciary. Oil News We believe that if all goes well, Fairbanks consumers will be cooking with gas by the fall of 1961,” said the president of Alas ka Propane Company of Fair banks recently. Alaska Propane was the lucky bidder for much of the Gubik gas structure on the Arctic Slope and also has ob tained a pipeline right-of-way i from there to Fairbanks. In a sur prise move, Colorado Oil and Gas Company purchased the Alaska Propane leases and right-of-way, giving more strength to the pro posal. However, early exploration of the Gubik field and construc tion of the pipe line (cost: at least 42 million) is contingent on two things: <1) release of the with held buffer zone between the leases and Pet 4, and (2) a firm commitment from the military for use of the gas at Ladd and Eiel son Air Force Bases. Proposed price of gas to Fairbanks con sumers has not been mentioned. Property Tax On ; Claims Some of our readers have been getting tax bills on unpatented claims lately and are wondering what goes on. The Territory-wide property tax that was collected in 1949 and repealed in 1953 was fought from the time of the first attempted collection as illegal and carried all the way through the courts. A recent U. S. Supreme Court decision held that the tax was valid. Since then, the State Department of Taxation has been sending out new notices to all who were on the tax rolls during 1949-53 and who did not pay. Unpatented claims were valued by the tax law at $500 and the rate was set at 1 per cent, making the tax $5 per claim per year. Anyone who held claims during that four-year period is apparent ly liable, according to the law. A court case in the Stale of Wash ington resulted in a decision that an unpatented claim can be taxed as personal property rather than real estate, and that only after* a patent is issued does the claim become real estate. New Book for Alaskan Prospectors o “Introductory Prospecting and Mining” by Leo Mark Anthony is the title of a book just off the press at the University of Alaska School of Mines. It is a 90-page bulletin written othe fundamen tals of mineral identification, geo logy, and mining, and covers about the same ground as the mining extension courses taught throughout Alaska each winter. It may be obtained from the School of Mines, Box 498, College, Alaska for $2.50 per copy. HOT LUNCH MENUS Monday — Rice cheese lunch eon meat casserole, green beans, cake custard pudding, bread, but ter, milk. , Tuesday — Baked beans, spin ach, fruit jello, bread, butter, milk. Wednesday — Vegetable soup with meat, peanut butter sand wiches, peaches, milk. Thursday — Spanish rice, sliced beets, pineapple upside-down cake, bread, butter, milk. Friday — Baked seafood, peas, cherry cobbler, bread, butter, milk. MAZONNA STORE MOVES TO CENTRAL LOCATION i The Mazonna Store ha? moved upiown, to the building in back of The Glpe Pot, facing EirstrAven ue. Manager Alfred Mazonna, whose store stock is>ipw at thi«? time, is anticipating full shelves when the first boat arrives. Fine Job Printing At The Nugget.