John Arthur Miscovich

(1918-2014)

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john miscovich portrait

John A. Miscovich in 1964.
From Sandi Miscovich Files

Introduction

Alaska's mining community lost a giant on August 22nd, 2014, when John Arthur Miscovich passed away at his home in Orange, California. John Miscovich embodied the pioneer virtues of independent thinking, self-sacrifice, hard work, ingenuity, and honesty in his chosen field of work, placer gold mining. As soon as he became of age, he pursued a mining career that endured until his passing in 2014 at the age of 96. Miscovich is remembered not only for his expertise in the field of placer mining but also for his creative and practical water technology innovations, especially the Intelligiant. John's in-depth of knowledge about Alaska's mining history has proven invaluable to the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame for 20 years.

miscovich family circa 1925

Peter and Stanna Miscovich (on right) with their 7 children at Flat, circa 1925. John is second from left.
Photo courtesy of Sandi Miscovich

John Miscovich, Early Years

John was born March 7th, 1918 in Flat, Alaska, where he spent the first 13 years of his life and where he called home his entire life. He completed studies through the 8th grade in a one room school at the remote mining camp. All of the Miscovich kids were directly exposed to the mining industry as they grew up, although the smaller scale operations that characterized the camp were in steep decline just a few years after the 1908 discovery. Beginning in 1914, most gold production, with notable exceptions, would be dominated by the activities of several bucketline stacker dredge operations owned by larger firms until the early years of Alaska Statehood. Notable exceptions were the Peter Miscovich, David Strandberg, Lars Ostnes, and Andrew Olsen family-owned gold mines.

On July 23rd, 1933, fifteen-year-old John and his siblings witnessed a notable event in the world of aviation, when renowned pilot, Wiley Post, crash-landed his Winnie Mae airplane at Flat. Post was on his final leg of a solo trip around the world. John would relate to Dawn Kirk:

"I remember the day Post tried to land at Flat. He zoomed around the airstrip three times. Then he came through a hole in the clouds ... and landed on the 800 foot long air field. He had about 300 feet left when he hit a hummock and went on his nose, damaging his propeller."

A handful of Flat miners repaired the famous Winnie Mae and sent Post on his way to a record-breaking 8 days, 15 hours, and 51 minutes trip around the world. Two years later, on August 15th, 1935, Wiley Post and famed American Humorist Will Rogers crash-landed south of Barrow, Alaska while en route to the USSR—both men were killed. Fifty years after Post's landing at Flat (1983), John honored Post and the miners who repaired the Winnie Mae with a monument erected at the Flat airport.

Wiley Post's plane crashed at Flat

Famed aviator Wiley Postís airplane, the Winnie Mae, as it nose-dived at Flat Airstrip on July 23rd, 1933, damaging its propeller and running gear
Photo from University of Alaska Archives

wiley post by plane

Wiley Post after the aircraft had been repaired by gold miners and young John Miscovich at Flat. Post would go on to break a world record for his around-the-world flight, which took 8 days, 15 hours and 51 minutes to complete. Two years later, Post and humorist Will Rogers would crash near Point Barrow, Alaska enroute to the Soviet Union (USSR). Both were killed. In 1983, John Miscovich organized an effort to build a monument, using an old dredge spud, to honor Wiley Post fifty years after his historic flight.
Photo from University of Alaska Archives

In 1931, Stana decided to move her family to Fairbanks where the children could take advantage of improved educational and social opportunities in the northern metropolis of about 5,000 people. In late September of that year, John and brother George left Flat for the first time to continue their schooling in Fairbanks. They made the trip to Fairbanks in a biplane piloted by a young aviator, Bob Ellis, who would become a well-known, pioneer bush pilot.

Stana found a "fixer-upper", three bedroom cabin in Fairbanks to house her family. The family installed an electric water heater, toilet, and a fifty gallon coal-fired stove that funneled heat to all of the rooms; all made possible by the modern FE Company power plant, the city water system, and easily accessible Healy coal via the Alaska Railroad. Later, new rooms were added to the Miscovich residence. Joining with others arriving in Fairbanks from remote bush locales, the Miscovich family members were transformed into "steam-heated pioneers".

The Miscovich family residence, at the corner of 7th and Barnette, was eventually sold to the City of Fairbanks, where a State Office building and courthouse would be built. It now houses University of Alaska continuing education programs. After her family was raised and her husband, Peter, died, Stana moved to Seattle, where she passed away in 1968.

Stanna Miscovich proudly shows off her potato patch at the Miscovich 'homestead' on the corner of 7th and Barnette Avenue in Fairbanks, circa 1941. Today, the University of Alaska Continuing Education program building occupies the site.
Photo provided by Sandi Miscovich

John Miscovich, the Miner

While growing up, all of the Miscovich sons, George, John, Howard and Andrew, worked the family placer gold mine with their father, Peter, from May until September; the boys then returned to school in Fairbanks. Much of John's, much-admired placer mining skills had their beginnings while he worked for his father. John learned how to weld, operate, and repair heavy equipment, and efficiently use water to strip overburden, provide for washing pay gravels, and generate electricity (with a PeltonTM water turbine). He also learned from his father how to treat mine employees. The Miscovich family mine would offer a job to anyone who wanted work regardless of their background and race, provided they work hard for the firm. For a ten hour shift, Peter Miscovich paid $7.00/day, which was considered high for an entry level placer mine position (most firms during the 1930s and 1940s paid $4.50-to-$5.50/day for a ten hour mine shift).

The 'glory years' for the Miscovich family gold mine began in 1934, and continued until the onset of WWII. In 1934, Peter took a chance and purchased a Caterpillar Diesel-50 Tractor with an Isaacson bulldozer, the first to be used in Alaska. Later, in 1936, Miscovich acquired a 65 ton, 1.5 cubic yard P&H backhoe to be used for water ditch construction, another first for Alaska mine operations.

Flat in 1914

Flat as it appeared in 1914; the dredge on the right is the Beaton-Donnelley Dredge.
Photo from Sandi Miscovich

spring stripping with a Cat

John Miscovich with the family's Caterpillar Diesel-50 tractor during spring stripping, circa 1940
Photo from Sandi Miscovich

At the same time, the price of gold was raised from $20.67/ounce to $35.00/ounce by the Roosevelt Administration. By 1940, the combination of increased mine output made possible with upgraded heavy equipment and higher gold prices resulted in a five-fold increase in mine product value for Peter and Stana Miscovich.

In 1941, the patriarch, Peter Miscovich, formed Peter Miscovich and Sons, Inc. to conduct placer mining activities throughout Alaska. WWII would temporarily delay implementation of the new firm. All the Miscovich sons were of eligible age, and entered into military service. From 1941-1945, John Miscovich served as a Staff Sargent in the U.S. Army #807 Engineering Battalion on Adak and Umnak Islands as part of the Aleutian Campaign. Upon his honorable discharge in 1945, John rejoined Peter Miscovich and Sons.

Miscovich with family's Caterpillar

George Miscovich drives the family's Caterpillar Diesel-50 tractor with Andy and Howard riding behind; Peter is in front of the tractor, circa 1936
Photo from Sandi Miscovich

Miscovich men in uniform

The Miscovich men in their military uniforms; John is on the far right; circa 1942.
Photo from Miscovich family files

During the late 1940s and the 1950s, Peter Miscovich and Sons Inc. began to expand mining activities from their Flat-Iditarod home base. Peter Miscovich passed away in 1950, and his four sons took over the mining operations. Placer mines on Poorman and Flat Creeks in the Ruby district were the first to be mined by the firm for gold outside of the Iditarod District. Other properties mined by Peter Miscovich and Sons, Inc. included Amelia Creek near Manley Hot Springs; on Butte Creek in the Circle District; on Fairbanks Creek in the Fairbanks District with Martin Sather; on the South Fork of the Goodpaster River with John Hajdukovich; and on Wattamuse Creek in the Goodnews Bay District. During this time, John also spent considerable time as a water technology consultant.

By the mid-1950s, the effects of the fixed price of gold ($35/ounce) began to seriously affect the economic viability of placer mining throughout the Alaska Territory and Miscovich and Sons were not exempted. The brothers, George, Andy, Howard, and John eventually broke up the family business and separated into smaller placer mining ventures and diversified into other activities. As placer mining declined, John's brothers, Andrew, Howard, and George operated heavy equipment in the Operating Engineers #302 and worked on Cold War era military construction projects. One brother, George, would serve in the Alaska Territorial Legislature during 1949-to-1954, and eventually became Speaker of the House.

In 1957, John married Mary Stankovich, who immigrated from Croatia (then a part of the Yugoslavian Federation) to California in 1954. Shortly afterwards, John would bring his new wife to the Alaska Bush. Together, John and Mary raised four children while mining on the historic Discovery claim at Flat: John Jr., Peter, Sandra, and Maria. John's brother, George, married Mary's sister, Kate. Upon their deaths, both George and Kate were buried near Kate's home in Imotica, Croatia.

In 1958, John Miscovich purchased the Otter Creek Dredging Company, and its 3.5 cubic foot bucketline stacker dredge on Otter Creek near the place of his birth. John and his young family operated the dredge until 1966 (for most of seven seasons), when a fire destroyed the machine shop, which was essential for maintaining the dredge operation. During those final years, the Otter Creek Dredging Company dredge confined its digging to thawed ground immediately adjacent to the active channel of Otter Creek, because it would not be economic to thaw frozen parts of the paystreak.

John increased the size of placer gold mining operations during the mid-1970s, when the price controls on gold were lifted during the Nixon Administration. By 1980, John Miscovich and his family were mining a right limit paystreak on Otter Creek on and near John Beaton's Discovery claims. The paystreak, which re-mined zones left over from earlier dredge activities was exploited by John and family until the late 1980s. Whereas John Jr. and Pete kept heavy equipment in operations and the mine accounting in order, Sandi and Maria would operate the water giant during water sluicing of the gravels. John's wife, Mary, served as an effective expeditor and maintained order in the camp.

john and mary newly wed

Newly-weds Mary and John Miscovich, circa 1957
Photo from Miscovich Family

Riley dredge photo

Riley (Otter Creek Dredging Company) dredge operated by John Miscovich and his family from 1958-1966
Photo T. K. Bundtzen

miscovich kids at Black Creek cut

Maria, Sandi and John Jr. at placer mine cut, Black Creek; circa 1972
Photo Miscovich Family files

Miscovich operation on Otter Creek

Miscovich operation on Otter Creek; circa 1980s
Photo from Miscovich Family files9

Family goes to Nenana to vote

The Miscovich family flew to Nenana from their Flat mining camp on November 7th, 1966 so that John and Mary could vote. Croatian-born Mary had just became a naturalized U.S. Citizen so it was the first of many times that she voted in her new home.
Photo from Fairbanks Daily News Miner, 1966

During much of his life, John believed that the lode sources of placer gold in mdash; Iditarod district would eventually be mined and give the Iditarod district a second life—much like what happened in the Fairbanks district with the discovery and development of the Fort Knox gold mine. He was especially interested in one deposit near the head of the Otter Creek paystreak. In 1969, John purchased the federal mining claims overlying a mineralized zone upstream from the Discovery claims from AMHF Inductee Bob Lyman. The Golden Horn gold-silver-tungsten hard rock deposit is thought by geologists, engineers, and miners to be the major source of the placer gold that formed in the stream basin. During the 1930s, AMHF inductee Wesley Earl Dunkle leased and later mined the Golden Horn deposit with underground mining methods, but the venture ended after a dispute with the claim owners. During the late 1980s, John attempted to develop the Golden Horn deposit as a combined hardrock and residual, heavy mineral placer deposit. Approximately eight tons of scheelite-rich (principle ore of tungsten) placer gold concentrates were produced from the Golden Horn deposit before the effort ceased in 1993. The writer and Marti Miller mapped and sampled the Golden Horn deposit in 1988.

During the late 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, several hardrock exploration programs involving diamond core drilling and geophysical and geochemical surveys have been conducted by several operators, including Union Carbide and Alaska Ventures, Inc., at the Golden Horn deposit. John's dream of developing the Golden Horn hardrock gold-silver-tungsten deposit has yet to be realized.

John with 28 ounce gold nugget

John with 28 ounce gold nugget and Stamp Mill from Golden Horn mine used by W.E. Dunkle, during the 1930s; photo is circa late 1980s
Photo from T. K. Bundtzen

John Miscovich, the Inventor

In 1935, John Miscovich left school after finishing the 11th Grade and traveled to the Lower 48 with his father, where the two would seek out friends and relatives from Croatia. Because of the trip, he would never finish high school. Instead John Miscovich became a self-educated man and exhibited an immense curiosity of nearly everything for his entire life. When asked about his educational resume, he would often tell people with a smile (including the writer) that he graduated from the "University of Flat".

Miscovich pioneered many hydraulic mining technologies and held more than 300 U.S. and Foreign patents for his innovations. He is best known for the 1946 Intelligiant (sometimes known as the 'Misco-Giant), a high-powered, automatic, hydraulic monitor. The inspiration for the Intelligiant began while John was still in the Army. As told to journalist Sharon Bushell:

"As soon as I was discharged from the Army, I came back to Flat, and was able to make a giant operate automatically, 24 hours a day. It was simple. The old giants didn't have ball bearings on its movements. I added ball bearings for both vertical and horizontal movement and that made it possible to go to any number of drives--air, water, or electric. It opened up a whole new world".

As told many times to the writer, Miscovich credited the following as the primary inspiration for his Intelligiant invention:

"while standing at the handle of the old gold mining water giant; working long hours as a young boy and holding on for dear life. I knew there had to be a better and safer way to accomplish hydraulic stripping"

The unique two-bearing design allowed for much higher working pressures than achieved in conventional water monitors and fundamental increases in hydraulic power—needed for firefighting. An important early modification to the Intelligiant was switching the main manufacturing castings to stainless steel, which reduced weight and allowed the giant to withstand much higher water pressures. Although initially designed for use in Alaska's placer fields, it was adapted for many non-mine applications. John needed financial support to perfect the Intelligiant design, but was firmly rejected by several Seattle bankers. He then traveled to Lakeland, Florida, where he found financing from the Chicago-based, International Mining Corporation (IMC), which mined phosphate deposits. In Florida, the Intelligiant was used by IMC to remove overburden from nation's largest phosphate mines. Later, the John Stang Manufacturing Company, impressed with the initial design, led to applying the Intelligiant to more than 150 uses. It would be used in military, civilian, oil and gas, and many other applications.

In 1951, the New York City Fire Department added the Intelligiant to its fire boats, which was followed by deployment of the Intelligiant on Los Angeles, California fire boats and trucks. In 1968, the British Postal Service issued a stamp commemorating the Intelligiant. The postage stamp features the Intelligiant protecting oil drilling platforms from accident-induced fires in the North Sea.

In 1975, the Intelligiant was used to cut a new river channel on Cebu Island, Phillipines in order to prevent flooding. In 2001, the Intelligiant could be seen working with fire rescue crews during the 9/11 New York City World Trade Center terrorist attack. In 2011, the Intelligiant was used to remove contaminated soils and debris associated with the Fukushima, Japan nuclear disaster. Closer to home, the Intelligiant helped build the Kotzebue and Sitka airports and the first ice island offshore from the Prudhoe Bay oil field to be used as a drill platform.

Graphic from the original Intelligiant

Graphic from the original Intelligiant, circa 1947

john demonstrates intelligiant at Flat

John Demonstrates the Intelligiant at Flat
Photo from Sandi Miscovich

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John and Mary meet with New York City fire department official

John and Mary meet with New York City fire department official concerning Intelligiant use by agency, circa 1957
Photo from Sandi Miscovich

intelligiant in Los Angeles

Use of Intelligiant in Los Angeles harbor
Photo from Sandi Miscovich

Intelligiants used on fire boats in Puget Sound

Intelligiant used on fire boats in Seattle's Puget Sound
Photo from Sandi Miscovich

UK stamp featuring Intelligiant on off-shore oil rig in North Sea

United Kingdom Stamp showing Intelligiant protecting offshore platform from fire in North Sea
Photo from Sandi Miscovich

John Miscovich, the Historian

John Miscovich was an invaluable source of information to the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame Foundation (AMHF) since its beginnings in 1997. He provided important leads and first-hand contributions for more than twenty (20) AMHF inductees including: Thomas P. Aitken, John Beaton, Clarence Berry, Earnest Collins, Jim Crawford, Mattie (Tootsie) Crosby, Wesley E. Dunkle, Glen Franklin, Charles F. Herbert, Robert Lyman, Merton Marston, John McGinn, of course, his father (Peter Miscovich), Andrew and Edward Olson, Lars Ostnes, Toivo Rosander, Russell Schafer, Art Shonbeck, David Strandberg, and John Gustavus (Gus) Uotila. John not only could accurately describe aspects of the lives of these interesting individuals but properly put their accomplishments into historical context. John was always judiciously cautious about what he said about inductees, and when he did not have first-hand information, he recommended other information sources.

John was an accomplished mine historian, and frequently made contributions to the Journal of the Alaska Miners Association on topics ranging from mining equipment technologies to transportation challenges in Territorial Alaska. John's chapter in Judy Ferguson's excellent book Bridges to Statehood-the Alaska Yugoslav Connection shows that he was not only an accomplished story teller but also an excellent writer.

Summary

In 2012, John, at 94 years of age, and Mary Miscovich made their last trip to Flat, still a remarkably complete yet abandoned Gold Rush Town. It marked their 55th trip together to their gold mine.

The writer will miss his eternal smile and terrific sense of humor. I cannot remember a single encounter with John when there wasn't a burst of laughter and subsequent reflection about the many individuals he knew or events he experienced. At the same time, John did not belittle or insult people, even when he held great disagreements with them.

John joins his father, Peter, a previous inductee, into the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame Foundation. By honoring both men, we honor all the Miscovich family members that have contributed so much to Alaska.

Written by Tom Bundtzen, October 28th, 2016
The writer used a variety of information sources while compiling the biography of John Miscovich (see bibliography). Most of the photos and graphics have been provided by Sandi Miscovich.

Bibliography

Bundtzen, T.K., Miller, M.L., Laird, G.M., and Bull, K.F., 1992, Geology and mineral resources of the Iditarod Mining District, Iditarod B-4 and Eastern B-5 quadrangles, southwestern Alaska: Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys Professional Report 97, 48 pages, two plates at various scales.

Bushell, Sharon, 2002, A life on the claims: Narrative of John Miscovich as told to Journalist Sharon Bushell, Anchorage Daily News Sunday Feature Alaskana, November 3rd, 2002, Page D-3.

Cole, Dermot, 2014, Miscovich parlayed mining camp innovation into firefighting advance: Alaska Dispatch News, August 30th, 2014, 2 pages.

Ferguson, Judy, 2009, Longest-Owned Family Gold Mine: John Miscovich, in, Bridges to Statehood, The Alaska-Yugoslav Connection: Voice of Alaska Press, Delta Junction, Alaska, pages 78-95.

Ferguson, Judy, 2008, A Hundred Golden Years, in, Sundays: Fairbanks Daily News Miner, July 6th, 2008, Pages E-1; E-8. Hawley, C.C., 2002, Biography of Peter Miscovich: Alaska Mining Hall of Fame Foundation Paystreak Newsletter, Volume 4, No. 2, pages 5-8.

Kirk, Dawn, 1983, Wiley Post Landed 50 Years Ago at Flat, Alaska--Honoring Pioneer Aviation: The Alaska Miner, Journal of the Alaska Miners Association, Volume 11, no. 6, pages 12-13.

Leach, Adam, 2014, The Intelligiant: John Miscovich's rise from Alaskan gold miner to world renowned inventor: Mine Digital Magazine, Issue 28, November 20, 2014, 3 pages.

Miscovich, John, 1999, Written correspondence to Tom Bundtzen on December 13th, 1999; RE Data presentation of Golden Horn gold-silver-tungsten deposit, 2 pages.

Miscovich, John, 2007 The Last Great American Gold Rush: The Alaska Miner, Journal of the Alaska Miners Association, Volume 37, No. 1; pages 6-7.

Miscovich, John, 2012, Written correspondence to Tom Bundtzen on October 8, 2012; RE Mattie (Tootsie) Crosby AMHF induction, 5 pages.

Miscovich, Sandra, 2009, Alaska's mining history—the Intelligiant Story: The Alaska Miner, Journal of the Alaska Miners Association, Volume 37, No. 5; pages 6-7, 15.

Stevens, Caroline, and Miscovich, Sandi, 2008, History of the Flat-Iditarod Gold Rush, The Alaska Miner, Journal of the Alaska Miners Association, Volume 36, no. 4, pages 6-7, 18-19, 22.

Unknown Author, 2014, Obituary of John Arthur Miscovich: Fairbanks Daily News Miner, September 7th, 2014, page 6

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