Reminiscences

Memories of the Covington area and changes that have occurred as recalled by a native of the area for over forty years.

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A Hike, A Ghost Town and a Deep, Deep Shaft

October 6th, 2011 at Thu, 6th, 2011 at 7:16 pm by Rick Bergum

It had been several years, but at the end of August my family and I finally made it.  We took a hike up to the old mining town of Franklin between Black Diamond and Enumclaw by the Green River Gorge. 

The sun was out that day.  It was hot, but the shade of the trees and our bottles of water kept us cool.  We made our way up the trail that would take us to the abandoned ghost town of Franklin.  The incline wasn’t too steep, although some parts are steeper than others.  Off to our left we could hear the distant sound of the Green River in the canyon far below.  Birds flitted here and there and the smell of hot vegetation and grass tickled our noses.

After about 20 minutes of walking we reached a sort of “Y” in the trail.  A sign there pointed us to the right into the old town of Franklin and to the left to the vertical mineshaft and the Franklin cemetery.  We went right first. 

There’s not much left to see in the old town.  A few foundations, a large concrete structure used for something and the trail going through it all.  Since it was summer, much of the vegetation covered areas we might have been better able to see, but we got the idea.  We wandered around for a bit and then turned back to go in the other direction, our real destination on this summer hike.

Heading up another incline, we made our way up the narrow trail.  About 10 minutes later the railings surrounding the old mine shaft loomed into view.  This was our goal.  Since I’d been here some thirty years ago with my family and then later with my wife when we were first married, I knew what to expect.  But it’s funny how your mind remembers things differently.  I didn’t remember the closeness of the hill behind the shaft or all the shale that had sloughed off of it.  I thought the area surrounding the shaft was more like an open field but it was not.  There was only fifteen feet or so of walking area around the shaft before it dropped steeply down the hill toward the river.  No matter.  We were there to check out the old mine shaft.

The Shaft

Looking Down the Shaft

A plaque sits in front of the shaft describing when it was drilled, how it was used and the years in use, mainly the early 1900′s.  The shaft itself is over 1200 feet straight down.  Old railroad (coal car) tracks criss-cross the opening which are also covered by a more modern grid of iron rods welded and secured by a concrete border all around.  This in turn is surrounded by a metal rail.  And this is where it gets exciting for the daring.

We grabbed handfulls of rocks, sticks and other debris, walked out onto the metal grid and lay down staring into the shaft.  This is not for the faint of heart!  As you lay there and cup your eyes with your hands so they can become accustomed to the dark, you begin to see the shaft take shape underneath you.  You are now looking straight down over a thousand feet into inky blackness.  Cramming our rocks through the holes, we dropped them into the abyss.  As they whistle into the darkness below, they disappear within seconds as the darkness envelops them.  Another five or six seconds later you hear them hit the bottom.  Occasionally a larger roar emanates from the shaft as rocks shift or the rock you dropped bounces off the side of the shaft dislodging a large chunk of rock and dirt far below.  (Warning:  Remove anything you have from your pockets that you don’t want to inadvertantly lose.  If it slips between the grid, it’s gone!) 

After an hour or more of dropping things into this hole in the earth’s crust, we decided to head back home.  We had planned on walking further down the trail to look at the old cemetary, but the overgrowth was more than we’d expected.  Next time we’ll have to hike earlier in the season before the vegetation takes over.  Gathering up our stuff we walk the half hour or so back to our vehicle.  It was a fun and relaxing day. The plan is to do it again, but to explore more. 

We have a friend in her eighties who lived in Franklin as a little girl.  She remembers well the town and what went on there.  We mentioned we were there and she fondly comments on life back then.  Maybe next time we should take her along to tell us the “real” history of the town as she remembers it.

(Note:  There is a guide that occasionally takes groups up to Franklin and shares the history of the area with them.  If you want to go alone, you need to get a free pass from Palmer Coking and Coal located in Black Diamond.)

I've lived in Covington for nearly 50 years. I've seen a lot of changes in Covington during that time and hope to share a few of these periodically. I enjoy writing and also write a blog for those in the custodial field. (The link is included on this blog page.) You can also find information on Facebook under the name Custodial Soupçon.

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