History - Mining
Last updated: 9 April, 2013 14:46
Link to Cripple Creek Site
Link to Cripple Creek Site

The Story of Gossen and the area around

The story of Gossen is an old story, almost back to the start of the earth it can be argued - but I presume that for those interested in the geological story, they will find the information elsewhere, as the history told here is from a much later period.

Before Gossen Island and the area around became what we see today it was a peaceful area. Not many people lived here and those who did were mainly fishermen with some farming and ranching as an extra food reserve.

The winters could be hard, but the weather was something not to be complained about since there was enough rain to give water and enough sun to give growth.

So life was not as hard as one might think when looking at the land. Yes, the winter storms could be very tough, but since the winters were shorter and the area was sheltered from the hard winds of the open seas, the first settlers found themselves in what they believed was a paradise on earth.

Wildlife was plentiful; the forests gave enough timber for houses, boats, and firewood for the winters. The sea provided plenty of fish, and the land was able to be cultivated with small farms due to a climate that was warmer than the cold north where the people came from.

But yes, even if this was considered as a paradise, they still had to struggle to survive sometimes. Not all years were good years, but such is life, so nothing new there.

The years passed by, people were born, people grew old, new generations came along, and contact with the outside world was growing as young people wanted to explore the world like their ancestors did so long ago.

Most of the people lived on the mainland as Gossen Island was considered to be not as well suited as the rest of the area - but there were at least a couple of farms out there, one was where the town of Gossen is today.

The meaning of the word Gossen is long forgotten, but it is thought to be made up by two words and is said to have something to do with the shape of the land. They say it goes back to the first settlers here, but since the old knowledge is fading away, no one is sure anymore.

And since the new generations are not so interested in the old ways anymore, it gets harder to keep the history alive unless it gets written down.

When the modern age came, it became even harder to keep families together and living there became even tougher. The young ones wanted so much more than this simple country life.

Then, one day, the first event happened that was a sign of things to come. It was around the end of the 1800's, about 1899 when silver was found in the area.

The settlements on Gossen, Northbay, and what later was to become Rockport, didn't care to much as it was not near them, but of course, the silver hunger brought people into the area. Still, the fact that it was one of these settlers that originally found this precious metal made people proud and it pleased them to learn that he would keep it home so to speak.

The area where it was found was quickly full of people, but it didn't take long before it was clear that the first comers, who had named their mine Lucky Guess, seemed to be more or less the only lucky ones since not much silver was found elsewhere.

It was clear that the people behind this find had done their homework and managed to secure most of the area where the valuable metal was located.

This of course didn't make the new comers very happy, but not much could be done about it. A few of them tried the courts, but didn't succeed in anything but wasting their money. So most of them moved elsewhere after having spent too much time and money trying to find that precious silver outside the hill area where the Lucky Guess Mine worked.

Some turned back to farming and stayed in the area, but the words about a gold find in Alaska made most people scramble away in search of the golden rainbow!

For the owners of the Lucky Guess there was no need to seek out another distant Eldorado, as the mine they had was very rich! Soon it also was decided to build a mill at the location of the mine, as the transport of the ore out of the area was very cumbersome.

This was due to the fact that there was no railroad nearby, and the only way out was over bad roads and over the waterways. In wintertime the water could freeze, road out of the area clog up with lot of snow, ore piled up and costs went through the roof.

Due to the mine and later the mill, a small community grew up along the river and the mine, and that town was soon called Lucky after the mine. This small town sported a small sawmill, as well as all the necessities a town would need.

But things wouldn't last very long. The location of the town was not a great location; it lacked a good transport connection. The river was widely used, but everybody dreamt about a railroad.

The railroad came in 1902. It provided transport in and out of the town, both from the mine and from the town of Lucky, and it made the town a good place to live. At least if you overlook the fact that the mill wasn't the cleanest neighbor you could have. But it provided people with work and that was the most important thing!

The first railroad to the area was a 2-foot gauge line. It was hastily built, over a difficult route. The narrowness between the rails of just 2-feet didn't prove to be a good choice for an outside connection and it suffered from that all its short life.

Then, suddenly the town seemed to stop living up to its name. A disastrous fire hit the town in January of 1907, and many of the structures burned down. If it hadn't been for an enormous effort from the people and considerable luck, the whole town, the mine and mill would have been erased from the face of the earth.

It looked like the end of the town of Lucky, and its small railroad. The town started to die bit by bit as some of the businesses decided to move over the hill to Rockport, as that was now the new major town in the area.

Rockport had in the last years grown in size from a tiny fishing community to a small town, and there were much talk about a brand new rail connection to Rockport. This would probably help a lot as it was supposed to be of a much larger size and greater standard than the little two-foot line to Lucky.

Rockport also had a much better harbor, and its closeness to the sea secured a much better connections with the outside world than the long and winding route of the 2-foot line.

In addition the forests in the area had started to get attention from loggers, and as the silver started to run out in the Lucky Guess Mine, the town of Lucky started to fall apart.

But still, the only existing rail connection to the outside was the old line coming to Lucky and the mine. Even if the line didn't see much traffic near the end of the century. Then a disaster happened along the line's route to the outside world.

Much of it was destroyed in a hard, late winter storm, and the only connection that was left, was via Rockport and its harbor. The owners of the railroad had no interest in putting the money needed to rebuild the line, so it was abandoned.

This was done under much protest from the local people, as they still wanted the railroad to the outside. While the mine and mill was still producing, it was not half as much as just a year earlier. So profits were down, but a outside connection was still very important for them.

So, it was decided to approach the outside company owning the railroad line, and ask them if they wanted to sell what was left of the line in the area, which they accepted and the line was sold to the local people for a low price.

It would have cost the now previous owners more to get things back out from the area than they were willing to spend, and that's the reason they sold it all.

The locals did this, as while there still was talk about a railroad coming, no one had seen it so it was decided to reuse the tracks, ties and rolling stock stuck in Lucky to build a connection from Lucky to Rockport.

This happened as the mine and the mill still produced some ore, and the need to get this out of the area made them look at Rockport for help. It was clear to the owners that things didn't look good for the future. The hope was that maybe things would pick up, so having a better connection to Rockport seemed like a sensible thing to do, especially if that other railroad would one day show up.

It was clear that rebuilding the old line would cost too much and give very little revenue. So the connection to Rockport was made and while there were still houses and a few businesses left in Lucky, most of the businesses were now over in Rockport.

Due to that the small 2-foot line still had some transport of goods/people to and from Rockport in addition to the output from the mill now going to the harbor in Rockport.

Later parts of the old mainline out of the area was reused as the North Bay Logging Company, the name of the 3-foot line that finally arrived years later, made a logging camp (Camp #2) along the line.

But back to the story of Gossen Island. We now write the year 1909 and some important things happened out on the island of Gossen!

The news broke that some very precious metal was discovered in the hills out there, and the mill owners jumped with joy since that could mean they could/would get more work again.

The discovery of gold and the start of another local railroad to tap the riches of the mine meant lots of changes to the area. But due to being such a late discovery, lots of the old time boomtown feeling didn't occur.

This was because the discovery was done on private property and kept well under control by the landowners. Almost all land on Gossen was under private ownership by now, so there were no place for any newcomers.

Another local man, who had spent several years studying geology and mining methods, discovered the mine. He had been working in several gold and silver mining areas in Colorado, USA and had since his younger days been sure that there was something of value on Gossen. Maybe because his grandfather told him so when he was young.

Still, it was luck; knowledge and more luck that one day brought this now not so young man what he had been dreaming about for many years.

Olav was his name, as his grandfather before him; it was a tradition in the family that all first-born males should be named Olav or Harald every other generation.

His son was therefore named Harald, and it was Harald that had been able to help raising the money needed for the new Railroad on Gossen as both his father and he saw the great potential in having a railroad already from early beginning of the mining.

The fact that the mill owners early on became involved also helped tremendously with the success of this new railroad. It would soon be known as Gossen Railroad (GR).

As things happened, Olav knew about some cheap ore cars for sale in Colorado. It was from the Gilpin Tram, a 2-foot mining railroad near Denver.

They were expanding and needed to change their stock of ore cars. So as soon as the necessary money was raised they bought 14 cars from the Gilpin Tram Company. This together with the purchase of a used Shay geared locomotive, number 1, made the start of the Gossen Railroad Company come to fruition.

This Railroad started at the farm of Olav & Harald, now known as the town of Gossen, where a small port and bins for the ore was constructed for unloading/loading into barges for further transport to the mill.

The reason for a mill not being built locally on the island, or even at Rockport, Northbay or any other nearby location, was pressure, much pressure from the owners of the Lucky Guess Mining & Milling Company.

They had been extremely helpful in raising money as they saw a potential for more profit and better times for their own company. But they also wanted to control things as much as possible.

Olav had wanted a mill on the island, but as he had to have partners, it was not his decision alone, so he just had to give in; even if he told his partners several times that this long transport would add tremendous costs to the ore processing.

His partners on the other hand argued that there was no need to build a new mill as they had one that could be used, the tracks were already there due to the line between Rockport and Lucky, all they needed was to construct a ore unloading at the Rockport harbor and they would be in business!

At first there was only this one mine, but soon another was found even higher up on the hillside. This was to become the main and largest mine for a long time. It was called the Princess mine.

Unfortunately the first mine played out too fast, but the Princess made a bonanza and the railroad quickly laid tracks up to it, including some large bridgework and lots of twisting and turning to get over a hill standing it the way.

The Princess became a large mine over the years. A big ore house was built. The mine itself was made mainly with stone due to the knowledge of stonework from the miners that were hired to work the mine.

Many of them came from an area where building in stone was very natural, and here they had both stone and woods for construction even if the wood was quickly cut down in the nearby areas.

Making the mine out of stone had the advantage that it could withstand fire better even if the roof itself still had to be made of wood… It proved also to be better in the winter they said, but that is probably arguable as the boarding houses belonging to the mine was made out of wood as most of the other houses in the area.

For many years the GR had it's end terminal here, with a run around siding and a steep branch track up to the coalbins for the Princess Mine.

But the siding that used to be here was taken out when the line was expanded up to Eagle Ridge and the new Gold Eagle Mine open, and has never been put back.

They needed all the tracks they could get the hands on for the expansion, and since it for the time being looked like the Princess was about to play out they chose to do it that way. This choice would later come back and haunt them for years as Princess did not play out and the switching soon become a nightmare in order to serve the mine.

You can call it poor management or whatever, but the fact remains, the company refused to spend money to rebuild the siding.

Even after they in later years did expand the trackage at the mine to two short stub sidings, located at the ore house, each now holding 7 cars. They say that the siding up at the mainline is not needed, as the crew is so familiar with how to serve the mine that no siding is needed…

The Princess ore house can load 4 orecars at once and the mine has its own coal delivery spur for the powerhouse that still runs on coal. There's been lots of talk of making it electric only, but a supply of cheap local coal has made that decision-making not very important yet…

The start of the Railroad is at the farm that is now the town of Gossen as mentioned earlier, with the railroad and all the construction out here, a town just had to be established. The landowners had done the best they could to keep it under control, so it's a sort of a family town.

Gossen Railroad Company has its service facilities here, this was where the output of ore and input of other goods took place in the early years of this century, but as most people probably have noticed, things today are quite different.

This was due to the next round of hardship and changes that hit this area around 1920.

After a very dry and hot summer things got really bad one morning down at the harbor of Gossen as the ore transfer point caught fire. Nobody knew what really happened, but fire had been the worst fear all summer for the citizens of Gossen, as well as elsewhere in the area.

Everybody had been on full alert as much as possible as a fire would be a disaster in a small town made of wooden houses - but securing the ore transfer point hadn't been on people's mind. As no people lived at the premises and therefore no sources of fire should exist it just didn't occur to them that a fire could start there.

All this changed in the early morning of September 14, 1920, as this was the start of one of the biggest fires in the history of the area. The reason was never found, but it was suspected to be related to some drifters that seemed to use the ore houses as a sleeping hall.

Somehow the big wooden structure caught fire, the alarm sounded at 04:30 when a lady that had been out for a necessary trip to the outhouse saw the flames lighting up the sky, and people got a brutal awakening.

Due to not having a good fire protection system for hauling water, and the fact that the lake that normally was filled with water had been almost dried out this summer, the effort had to be concentrated on trying to keep the fire from spreading to the town as the orebins and structure were beyond any rescue.

Thanks to a massive effort they managed to save most of the town, but the harbor area with the loading/unloading parts were severely damaged. When the day was over and things had cooled down it became clear to the people that they had been lucky despite the fact that they now more or less were cut off from the mainland.

A temporary harbor was quickly set up, but since all but one of the ore barges that had been used for transport had been lost in the fire, the transport of the ore had a massive set back. This was a catastrophe as more gold had been discovered further up the hill the previous year.

Image of the Gold Eagle Mine
A view of the Gold Eagle

Another mine, the Gold Eagle, had been opened, to which the Gossen RR had managed to get a spur just a few weeks before the fire.

The owners of the mill at Lucky were very eager to keep their businesses rolling, and so were the mine owners and the people of Gossen.

The following weeks/months saw massive working to solve the transport problems. Earlier there had been much talk of maybe building a bridge connection over to the mainland and the mill so the transport cost could be lowered, but since the barge transport worked so well no one wanted to spend the needed money.

Some work to find a good route had been done, but not much had really happened. But now these plans were dragged out in the light again and work started almost immediately.

In the meantime they built some "fast and dirty" orebins to use for transport out from Gossen on the one remaining barge to the unloading port at Rockport where they had used the old line from Lucky to Rockport to haul the ore to the mill.

Those bins were just meant to last as long as it would take to make the rail connection and bridges. The mine and the mill owners, and the people of both Gossen and Northbay helped with both money and labor, mostly labor, so the line could be ready as quickly as possible.

Northbay wanted the rail connection as it made life a little easier for them and their products to reach Rockport, while the people of Rockport was more interested in the new 3-foot gauge line now reaching the town and its new logging industries.

Somehow, no one knows why, but it proved to be a bad choice, the 3-foot line owners had no interest what so ever in making a line out to Gossen and tap the resources out there - all they wanted was to get their saw mill into production of lumber.

Some say it had to do with the rail owners been involved with "too many gold adventures that turned bad quickly" to be involved with more of the same kind.

And since the mines out on Gossen had been running for several years already, they properly figured they would soon be running out. The discovery of this newest mine didn't seem to mean much, and with the fire out on Gossen they probably didn't want to spend the money either. Whatever the reason was, they just weren't interested.

So, the new line out to Gossen was still to be a narrow 2-foot line. It left the old mainline to Rockport from Lucky at a place later known as Saylear Jct. due to its closeness to Saylear Bay just opposite of Northbay, then swung around the hillside partly along the old road from Rockport to Northbay.

From here it followed the hillside around Northbay and out to the edge where a large trestle took the line out to a very small island where the roadbed was blasted out and another similar bridge took the railroad over to the island of Gossen.

Thereafter it was a short climb to the facilities at Gossen and the old line up to the mines. This made the line into a sort of a switchback as the engine needed to run around the train in Gossen, but from a maintenance viewpoint it was good as it meant the snowplow stationed at Gossen never had to be turned as it could plow both to the mines and the mill trackage the few times they really needed it.

The people worked very fast, the bridges were in place before the winter came along. The grading was relative easy, and to almost everybody's surprise the line opened for use already in January 1921.

By 1926 Northbay had its second rail connection as the 3-foot line made a connection over the hill from Saylear Bay and the mainline. This was to tap the richly wooded hills in this area, but while it was feared that it meant the death of the public transport to Northbay for Gossen RR, it didn't first seem to happen.

Maybe it was due to the fact that the resident of Northbay felt much gratitude to the little company, maybe something else, however the reason the 2-foot line is still popular with the Northbay residents.

The economic bonanza of the two mines resulted in an unusual locomotive being purchased to replace the aging Shay. An English salesman visited the mines and persuaded the owners that a Beyer-Garratt engine would halve their transport costs.

When this weird thing arrived it had an engine at each end and a big boiler in the middle. By all accounts it did the work very well despite its strange appearance.

But, it brought much laugher in the beginning, and you should have seen the faces of the mine owners and the railroad crew when that strange engine first arrived on the 3-foot line, their jaws dropped right down as even if they had seen pictures and read the brochures and all that, no one was prepared for the sight of this massive yet small engine with the very special look!

The fires that haunted the towns in the area finely seem to have stopped, but not before Rockport had it's own encounter in what was to become the largest fire ever (we all hope) when more or less all of the old town burned down in 1928.

Again it was the drifters that got the blame, staying in the warehouses and sheds down at the harbor, and while much of the town had actually sort of moved up the hill towards the yards of the 3-foot line there where still a lot of houses and some businesses down at the old harbor.

This might be the reason for the fire to have spread so fast, the town was old, many houses where in bad shape and almost all were made out of wood.

But, some good seems to have come out of it, when you look towards the water today you will see that some farming has taken over the earth where once houses stood, a earth now rich and good to grow in!

The old coal transfer for the 3-foot line to Gossen RR is still down there, not so often used anymore by the citizen of Rockport, but still available for those who needs coal for the heating and cooking.

You will also find that the old line that used to bring the ore from the island to the mill is still going down to the harbor- somehow it has never been ripped out, but I think it will not be long before it happens. Even if once in awhile you see the Beyer-Garratt and a few cars go down there to pick up something that comes in over the waters.

The Gossen RR and the North Bay Logging Co were not always the greatest friends so I think the Gossen RR wants to keep their connection to the outside just in case.

Besides, if the idea of using a larger ship to bring tourist in and out of the area and to tour the fjords becomes a reality one day, they have a good shot at bringing some of them on their line as the North Bay Logging Co has no direct rail connection with the sea in the area.

Even if those ships will have some problems as the 2-foot line out to Gossen built some fast and cheap trestle type bridges out to the island, and no big ships will ever come through those bridges.

The people of Northbay did protest when it happen long time ago, but as they also wanted the line to happen it wasn't a uniform protest. Beside, the boats they had back then were able to pass through the trestles as they were not very wide.

But only time will tell, as I write this in the spring of 1935, it can well be seen how the lumber industries have helped to bring increased prosperity to the area as the result of work and easy access to the world, but no one should forget the massive effort and impact the mining and the tiny little Gossen Railroad have had to the area too!

Many nice things can now be found in the stores in Rockport, and there are tourists in the summer time. If asked, most people agree that this is a good time, despite the suffering during the time of the depression.

The mines still dig up gold; Old Lucky (as the mill is known today) has recently been expanded and has raised its capacity to 400 tons of ore per day, although it still doesn't run at full capacity.

The area has its own coalmines so both the mill and mines are still run from coal. The people still use a lot of coal. The lumber industries continue to prosper, so in conclusion life is actually pretty good these days.


Your Historian

Linda Irene Tingvik


A personal note

I have lived here all my life and have seen the many changes as they occurred. It has been a long life and I could not have wished to live in a more wonderful place. I believe you, kind reader, will find it just as enchanting.

My family members have all been miners and as it can be seen, my interest is more with the fortunes of the mines and their railroad. I leave it to another more knowledgeable person to write the history of the loggers and their railroad.

LIT 1935