Current News – We have just had a fabulous ride down the Oregon and Northern Californian coast on Highways 101 and 1. We are now just north of San Francisco and are about to ride into the city tomorrow across the golden gate bridge. Can’t wait.
Meanwhile back to summer in the Yukon and the silver mines of Keno.
Blog 278 Keno City 24th June 2013
This region was Canada’s largest silver mine for many years and the ore mined in the Keno-Elsa area was unusually high grade which made it commercially viable to ship it despite the distances and difficulties. Between 1919 and 1942 $23,000,000 worth of silver was extracted.
We ran into three Irish guys in Keno who were replaying their youth. After graduating from University the three of them did a trip on dirtbikes across this area. Now 20 or maybe 30 years later they were doing it again on hired KLR650′s, this time they had a backup 4WD and trailer but they were doing it again for real.
One of them said I’ve got something you will recognise and after some rummaging in the truck appeared wearing a plastic English policeman’s helmet and proceeded to tell Kev off which made a funny photo.
We were told we should ride the very rough 10.5km road to the top of Signpost hill, they weren’t kidding the road was super rough caused by the rivulets running across it in all directions. It was also really steep and we bogged down a few hundred feet from the top necessitating Karen jumping off and giving Kev a push to finish the last bit while she walked the last 100feet.
It was worth it for the 360 deg view over Faro Gulch and was a great lunch and photo spot. We were at 1,848m.
The signposts were erected by United Keno Hills mines after the company hosted visiting scientists in 1956 during International Geophysical year. The signs all point to the cities represented by the delegates, the first signpost was wooden this steel replacement was added in 1989.
This cairn at the summit of signpost hill was dedicated to Alfred Kirk Schellinger a mining engineer and geologist who staked the Keno vein on this location on 29th July 1919.
Despite the fact that we were close to longest day there were still large areas of snow at the summit.
The door knob is a remnant of an old cabin, a reminder of times past.
The Yukon Gold co. established Keno Hill Ltd in 1920. Keno Hill Ltd shipped the ore that winter and the silver mine was called the richest in Canada. The ore was hauled the 40miles to Mayo where it was loaded onto the steamers. Down below Keno City came to “be” when John Kinman staked his claim at the bottom of Keno hill in 1919 which became a staging area for loads to be pulled up the hill. Cabins, shacks, stables and a hotel were knocked together. Nearly all the old 1898 placer miners’ cabins were recycled to build the new town. The population grew to 300 and by WWI Keno was a lively town of 800.
As we said Keno is remote now but back in the early part of the century it was really remote. It cost a lot of money to get anything shipped in or out so people had to be resourceful as this picture shows. It is built from parts of other machines and powered by an early ford auto-mobile engine.
Keno’s winter population these days is only about twenty, it has few streets but it is a place full of character and characters and we were glad we took the detour to see it. In the short summer the population swells a fair bit, there is a campsite and a hotel/bar.
Like our bike many things had more than one purpose this quaint little church also doubled as the library and meeting hall, heated by a great boiler inside.
This cabin belonged to one of Keno’s most renowned “seamstresses” it seems the miners had a lot of socks that needed darning as there were quite a lot of seamstresses listed on the early census records when the mines were booming.
Hidden away in the backwaters of Keno was a house which was entirely surrounded in brown beer bottles. The home of the local hotelier, it was a lot of work to carry them all out so the barman thought he would find a use for them as insulation. Apparently it worked to as this house was reputed to be the warmest in town.
Keno had a great museum dedicated to all things mining or Keno. There was great sign in the museum saying if “If Elsa is a hamlet, then Keno must be a piglet”.
The mining museum housed a great collection of artifacts from the era.
Here was a display showing the miners hauling out the ore, some of the typical equipment they would use and the inside of a cabin.
The eccentric looking tool chest was the work of a mining engineer who either had a bit too much time on his hands or was a bit frustrated at work. Either that or it was just a bit of fun to brighten up his day. I bet someone’s going to comment “it looks a bit like your bike” ha, ha.
Here’s Karen tempting the bear with food smells.
There were also barns outside with mining equipment. First up a rock drilling machine then Kev trying the all terrain tractor out for size.
The Keystone punch drill was used to prospect. It hammered down a hollow tube to grab a core sample to see what lay beneath. The levers within reach of the of the rear engineer were all used in the mining process while the controlling levers for the machines movement were up the front.
When people see the chains on our bike they think we are breaking new ground but it’s all been done before. Here is an old photo of a motorcycle with chains and skis fitted.
Until fairly recently, the largest consumer of silver was the photography industry, silver halide was used as the light reactive chemical on negative film for a century. A replacement substance has now been found and the move to digital imaging has reduced the demand for chemicals for film photography even further.
Silver is popular in jewellery and is also used in minting coins and dentistry. The total district production up to 1972 was about 175,000,000 ounces over a 59 year period, making Keno/Elsa one of the world’s greatest silver camps.
The town of Elsa just down the track was named after Charlie Brefalt’s sister, it came about in 1924 after he staked a claim, in 1949 it became the administration centre for the united Keno hill mines with a population of 700 until it shut down in 1989, a small maintenance and exploration crew still remain there.
Next Up – Dawson city here we come.