Arnold Nordale

(1896 - 1976)

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portrait of Arnold Nordale

Arnold M. Nordale, undated
Photo credit: Marilyn Nordale Stacy

Fairbanks Mining District during the early part of the 20th Century would often walk to the Chatanika River to fish for grayling or whitefish and the occasional Sheefish. They mushed sled dogs during the winter months, and went to school sometimes during the short, sun-filled summers. Arnold M. Nordale was one of those youngsters. As a native-born Alaskan, Arnold first glimpsed the light of day in Juneau in 1896, the year of the Klondike Stampede, and would experience life in many north-country mining camps before his passing in 1976. Arnold Nordale was associated with the Alaskan, USA and Yukon, Canada placer gold mining industries for much of his 79-year-long life.

Early Years and Family Roots

The Nordale clan has strong links to Alaskan mining history. Arnold was born in, 1896 in Juneau, the Territorial Capital of Alaska, the same year that George Washington Carmack discovered placer gold on Bonanza Creek, a tributary of the Klondike River. Arnold's father, Anton Johann (Tony) Nordale, a native of Goteborg, Sweden, was prospecting for placer gold on the Stewart River, a major tributary of the Yukon River 65 miles upriver from the Klondike at the time of the discovery. Tony Nordale quickly made his way to the brand new community of Dawson, which was being built at the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers. But instead of acquiring mining claims in the district, he built a successful restaurant business in the center of Dawson. Tony then moved his family from Juneau to Dawson, staying there until 1901. After a fire consumed the family home in Dawson, Tony Nordale opened up a roadhouse on Dominion Creek in the southern part of the Klondike district, about 40 miles southeast of Dawson.

In 1904, Tony Nordale and his family heeded another call for a new north-country gold rush. Two year's previously, Italian immigrant Felix Pedro had discovered placer gold in the Tanana River basin of Interior Alaska, about 400 miles west of Dawson, and a new town, Fairbanks, was being developed on the Chena River, a tributary of the Tanana, to service the mining district. The Nordale family departed Dawson and came down the Yukon River and then up the Tanana River aboard the sternwheeler S.S. Monarch, arriving at Chena town site and onto Fairbanks during mid-summer. The family wintered in Fairbanks during 1904-1905. Then Tony built the Grand Hotel in Cleary City, one of the largest log buildings in Interior Alaska, near a center of mining in the Chatanika River basin, about 30 miles northeast of Fairbanks, taking advantage of the newly completed Tanana Valley Railroad to freight in supplies needed for the new hotel. Cleary townsite rapidly gained as many as 4,000 gold seekers drifting in winter and sluicing in summer. The Cleary Creek basin housed many of the richest drift mines in the district (Pratt, 1989). The Nordale family lived in Cleary City for nearly ten years, where Arnold and his siblings, Alfeld-Hjalmer, Anita and Alton, spent much of their formative years, enjoying the country side and the local community. In 1960, Arnold would relate about his life in Cleary City:

"There was no real juvenile delinquency although the Cleary Camp ran wide open. Children had to create their own amusements as most adult family members were pretty busy with mining. There was a wonderful family life there (Gregory, 1960)."

Nordale children

The Nordale children at a placer drift shaft near Cleary City, circa 1905, left to right: Arnold, Alfeld-Hjalmer, Anita, and Alton. .
Photo Credit: Marilyn Nordale Stacy

The Grand Hotel flourished for about 15 years in Cleary City, but was eventually closed when the underground drift mines played out. Arnold Nordale's father, Tony, would eventually build the first Nordale Hotel in Fairbanks, which was rebuilt following a fire in 1923.

After attending both Cleary City and Fairbanks area school districts, Arnold Nordale enrolled in Stanford University in 1913, earning a B.S. Degree in Mining Engineering with a minor in Geological Engineering from that institution in 1917. In 1920, Arnold married Nan Knudson and the couple would have two daughters, Marilyn and Joann, and son Arnold Junior. Arnold Junior was killed during WWII while serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps.

Arnold Nordale's Alaskan Professional Career

In 1908, at the age of 12, Arnold Nordale began his career in the gold mining business, scraping the bottoms of wheel barrows and watching pumps in an underground drift placer gold mine near Cleary City.

After returning to Alaska from Stanford, Arnold joined the staff of Chief Engineer F.H. Bailey, who was designing the final routes to be constructed for the Alaska Railroad, which was finished in 1922. Upon completion of the Alaska Railroad project, Arnold Nordale spent three years as an engineer for the Alaska Road Commission, where he designed surface access roads for the Territory.

In 1925, Arnold was hired by the United States Smelting, Refining, and Mining Company (USSR&M) in Fairbanks, locally known as the FE Company. The East-Coast based firm began an eight year development project, beginning in 1920, to put into production a large fleet of bucketline stacker dredges to mine placer gold in the Fairbanks district left over from the older drift mining activities.

Arnold joined the technical support team that built the Davidson Ditch, a 92 mile long combined ditch and pipeline system designed to provide water used in stripping operations in the Chatanika River and Goldstream Valley basins. Whereas James Davidson designed the Davidson Ditch, geological engineers like Arnold Nordale actually built the water system and insured its technical success. Without the reliable water source provided by the Davidson Ditch, dredging would not have been possible in most of the Fairbanks district. Nordale's involvement included: 1) earthwork classification and costs; 2) outlet penstock design; 3) intake and diversion dam design; and 4) various anchor and siphon designs mainly for the pipeline portions of the system. The Davidson Ditch provided water to the Chatanika portion of the project beginning in May, 1928 and the Goldstream portion of the project beginning in June, 1929.

After his Davidson ditch assignments were completed, USSR&M General Manager in Alaska Roy Earling directed Arnold to design and implement churn drilling exploration programs in the Ester area, the western most extension of the Fairbanks Mining District. This included both the Ester Paystreak, the Cripple Gravel paystreak, the Gold Hill Paystreak, and the Sheep Creek paystreak. Arnold and his team first drill-tested ground on Ester Creek, and prepared the ground for hydraulic stripping of over burden and thawing of frozen pay gravels. Eventually, in 1936, Gold Dredge #6 would be transported from the Goldstream Valley area to mine the Ester paystreak; then the Gold Hill paystreak (1951- 1958); and finally the Sheep Creek paystreak (1959-1962).

During 1933-1935, Arnold and his exploration team began a drill testing program south of Ester Creek, where a deeply buried ancestral placer gold deposit known as the 'Cripple Paystreak' had been discovered by early placer miners during the early gold rush years.

According to Boswell (1979):

"The Cripple paystreak was discovered in 1933 although . . . the it's presence had been suspected by early operators in the Ester district. Some efforts were made by earlier prospectors to sink shafts over pay areas but indications are none of the shafts reached bedrock. Arnold Nordale supervised the drilling program in 1933 . . . After 1934, Harry Owen acted as drill foreman under Nordale . . . and continued the prospecting".

dumpbox blueprint

A generalized Dump Box and Sand Pump set-up invented and designed by Arnold Nordale in 1932 became a widespread technology used by USSR&M during exploration drilling programs throughout the Fairbanks district.
Photo Credit: Files of Marilyn Nordale Stacy

staff posing

Professional staff at USSR&M offices in Fairbanks, circa 1933: Front row--Gus Burnett, John C. Boswell, James D. Crawford, Agnes Mapleton, Gertrude Schlofelt, Hertha Baker; Second Row: Charles Fowler, O.J. Eggleston, Ross Knickerbocker, J.R. Weaver; Third Row: Arnold Nordale (see arrow), C. E. Osborne; Fourth Row—George Butrovich, James Newlin, James Chamberlain, Louis Giddings,; Fifth Row: Charles Huston, Arthur Daily, Frank Butterfield, Jack Linck.
Photo Credit Boswell, 1979.

The name 'Arnold M. Nordale' appears on many of the historic drill and development map plats for the Cripple project. Although the Cripple paystreak was not placed into production until 1940 with the deployment of Dredge #10, it became important to USSR&M's district-wide fortunes. For many years, mighty Dredge #10, unofficially designated 'The Queen,' would produce about one third of all the placer gold produced by the seven-to-eight bucketline stacker dredges that comprised the fleet in the Fairbanks district.

In March, 1935, Arnold Nordale authored the 47 page Manuel: Description of Fairbanks Exploration Company Prospect Drilling Methods, which became a standard company reference for exploration teams in Fairbanks and in Nome.

Arnold Nordale--Mayor of Fairbanks—and the Fairbanks Public School

In 1933, Arnold Nordale was elected Mayor of Fairbanks, Alaska, a position he held for two years. It should be stated here to clarify any confusion that Arnold's father Anton (Tony) and brother Alfeld-Hjalmer also served as mayors of Fairbanks. Nordale Elementary School in Hamilton Acres is named after Alfeld-Hjalmer Nordale. In addition, while Arnold was major of Fairbanks during 1933-1935, another brother, Alton, was in the Territorial Legislature. Arnold's father Tony also served in the Territorial legislature from 1919-1921. His brother Alfeld-Hjalmer served in the Territorial Legislature from 1941-1945.

Before Arnold assumed the post of mayor, the original Fairbanks primary-secondary school, 'Old Main', built out of whip-sawed lumber and logs in1907, burned down to the ground on December 4th, 1932. The fire left 340 school-aged children without a place to attend classes. All textbooks, musical instruments, and other school equipment were destroyed in the hot fire. What to do about a new permanent school facility became controversial. The outgoing mayor J.F. Bryant thought that the students could be moved temporarily to the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines until a new structure was built. Most Fairbanks residents believed that the previous building was a firetrap and supported construction of a more fire-resistant building. But many balked at an estimated $127,000 price tag for a modern concrete structure and resisted a $100,000 bond proposal approved by the city council. Territorial Representative Alton Nordale (Arnold's brother) introduced a bill in the legislature on March 1, 1933 requiring all new Alaskan schools with >100 students be built with fire-resistant materials. This action sparked many letters to the editor (pro and con) to be published in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner. On March 13th, although a majority or city residents voted for the $100,000 bond, it failed to pass the required 65% majority for project implementation.

As Arnold Nordale took over the office of Mayor of Fairbanks on April, 4th, 1933, he renewed the campaign to build a modern school for Fairbanks, and insisted the new school building budget could be kept below $150,000—including insurance. Arnold had three young children, and he wanted them and other children to experience a better education in a modern structure that was free from fire dangers.

On April 12th, 1933, a strong earthquake in the Los Angeles basin of southern California destroyed or seriously damaged many old wooden and adobe schools while leaving modern concrete schools relatively intact. This faraway geological event helped turn public opinion toward constructing a sturdier, fire-resistant school in Fairbanks.

On April 15th, a slightly smaller bond proposal of $98,000 that was put forth by Mayor Nordale and the city council passed with the necessary citizen's votes. The final price tag for the new school project came in at $117,000. School construction took place quickly and was completed on January 24th, 1934. The new, sturdy, three story concrete school features a classic art deco style architecture and was aptly named Fairbanks Public School. Since 1995, the Fairbanks Public School building, aka 'Main School', has housed the City of Fairbanks Administrative Center (Allan, 1995).

Image of Fairbanks Admin Bldg, formerly the city's school

The city of Fairbanks Administrative Center as it appeared during the coronavirus lock down, circa 04 01 2020. The attractive mid-20th Century building was the former Fairbanks Public School; it's construction in 1933-34 was championed by Mayor Arnold Nordale.
Photo by T.K. Bundtzen

Arnold Nordale's Mining Career in Yukon, Canada

In late 1935, a new chapter of Arnold Nordale's life would unfold. It involved an almost unique cooperative arrangement between the two large gold dredging firms, the USSR&M Company, based in Fairbanks, Alaska, and the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation Limited (YCGC) based in Dawson, Yukon Territory, Canada. Both USSR&M and YCGC had spent years consolidating placer gold-bearing alluvial basins that had been previously worked by smaller scale operations. In the Fairbanks district, USSR&M operated a maximum of eight (8) dredges from 1928-to-1965; at Nome, USSR&M dredges operated a maximum of three (3) dredges from 1922-to-1962 and then from 1974-to-1995. USSR&M also operated dredges in the 40-Mile and at Hogatza.

In the Dawson area, YCGC dredges (as many as 10 of them) operated from 1932-to-1966. For decades, both firms shared knowledge on how to develop the deposits, including drill technologies, frozen ground development, electric power design, and waste removal strategies. Both companies had access to a top-flight mining school at the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines, later to become the University of Alaska (in 1935). Competent mining and geological engineers produced at the school in Fairbanks were hired by both the USSR&M and YCGC. The communities of Dawson and Fairbanks enjoyed many close inter-personnel relationships for decades.

Although both YCGC and USSR&M began as the result of amalgamation of older, exhausted placer ground into large, low grade, dredge-developable resources, their histories differed. The process in which USSR&M acquired and developed placer gold resources in the Nome and Fairbanks districts was by the systematic acquisition of 'worn-out' placer ground from small firms; then solving the various engineering problems needed for success. Complex water systems like the 92 mile long Davidson and 45-mile-long Miocene Ditches, hundreds of miles of electric power lines, thermal power plants in Fairbanks and Nome, and machine, carpentry and vehicle shops and other infrastructure were built for the dredge fleets.

In the Klondike, there were also colossal engineering works built such as seventy miles of ditch and pipeline—bringing water from the Tombstone Range thirty miles northeast of Dawson; two hydroelectric power plants and a coal fired power plant; and hundreds of miles of hand-cleared power lines (Neufeld, 1993). But the dredge mining 'political' agendas in Dawson were more complicated. Almost immediately after the Klondike gold discovery, British-based entrepreneurs raised considerable capital, acquired vast acreages of placer ground, and began to build dredge fleets without sufficient technical planning; in addition, very little prospecting was done. As a result, there were many costly, technical failures with predictable, follow-up litigation. Chief among the Klondike 'Gold Hustlers' was A.N.C. Treadgold, described by geologist Lew Green (1996):

"An Oxford-educated Englishman was the principal promotor involved in attempts to corner the Klondike gold field for dredging from 1898 until his death in 1951……Sometimes successful, his schemes were doomed by his insistence on managing the operations personally . . . The losers were his English backers, left with little to show for their monetary investments."

Although YCGC was incorporated in 1923 initially by Treadgold; with so many conflicting interests involved, litigation was inevitable. It was not until 1932 that YCGC actually became an operating dredge firm and even then, litigation continued until 1936, when a final Treadgold lawsuit was terminated by the Privy Council of the United Kingdom—which houses the Supreme Court of Great Britain (Nordale, 1955). Important components of the overall district development existed; such as hydroelectric power and accompanying power lines, and as many as seven available dredges. But, as late as 1934, much of the YCGC ground had not been systematically drill-tested.

In 1935, USSR&M General Manager Roy Earling sent Arnold Nordale to Dawson to assist in a problem solving exercise. YCGC General manager W.H.S. McFarland requested assistance from USSR&M on several important issues: 1) Ascertain the conditions of seven (7) dredges both operative or inoperative--thought to constitute (in 1935) the YCGC dredge fleet;
2) Assess the conditions of maintenance and repair facilities such as machine, electric, and carpenter shops;
3) Design and implement a systematic drill program for all potential dredge ground (Nordale, 1956).

Arnold's emphasis was on completing a systematic drill program for YCGC. The project, which took three years, involved seasonal crews of up to 150 and as many as twenty churn drills. It showed that a number of large blocks of YCGC ground could be successfully dredged, while other areas were shown to be unworthy of further consideration and were excluded from further work, with all rights and land title abandoned. While describing the drill program he carried out, Arnold Nordale (1956) stated:

"In doing this (the drill program), the entire YCGC project was removed from the realm of hazard and chance to the realm of sound business enterprise. With a precise knowledge of the value of the gold contained in the ground, it became strictly a geological engineering problem to extract it at a profit".

By 1940, Arnold Nordale was a permanent employee of YCGC. The firm reached the maximum scale of operations, when it had eight stripping plants, which removed 4.3 million cubic yards of muck and nine thawing plants, which thawed 6.2 million cubic yards of gravel and bedrock. Ten bucketline stacker dredges were in operation: two 5.75 cubic feet capacity, five 7 cubic feet capacity, and three 16 cubic feet capacity units. That year, all ten dredges dug and processed 10.5 million cubic yards of goldbearing 'pay gravel' (Nordale, 1955; Neufeld, 1993).

By 1942, when Federal Order L-208 has essentially shut down the Alaska dredging fleet, senior managers of the USSR&M Company in Alaska were temporarily transferred to offices in Salt Lake City, Utah or to the East Coast or even furloughed. Arnold managed to find limited work in Dawson for some of his former colleagues in Fairbanks and Nome since Canada did not pass a federal ban on gold mining as was implemented in the United States. Still, operations by YCGC were also reduced due to shortages in specialty steels and rubber——and man power; many young miners had enlisted in the Canadian and US armed forces.

By the end of WWII, Arnold assumed the position of Assistant Resident Manager for YCGC in Dawson. In March, 1945, Nordale informed YCGC General Manager McFarland of a new study carried out by USSR&M in Fairbanks aimed at reducing costs of thawing frozen gravels for dredging by deployment of a new type of mechanical (hammer) point-driving machine. The study analyzed data from testing sites scheduled to be mined by Dredges #3 and #5 in the Fairbanks district (Nordale, 1945). Costs using traditional hand-driven 'point doctor' methods, versus the new mechanized driving and pulling of steel methods, were compared and scrutinized. Nordale had been networking with his colleagues in Fairbanks, who told him that the mechanical point driving machine also removed a lot of wear-and-tear on thaw point field crews. A significant percentage of 'lost time' accidents reported by USSR&M to the U.S. Bureau of Mines safety officers were caused by upper torso injuries related to manual point driving (Bundtzen, 2019). McFarland approved the new point driving technology for use by YCGC in Dawson.

In 1947, Nordale published an article in the Transactions of the Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (CIM) entitled Valuation of Dredging Ground in the Subarctic. The article became a standard reference for evaluating frozen dredge ground in Alaska, Yukon and in the International arena. AMHF Inductee Earl Beistline used Arnold's CIM article as a standard reference with his teaching curriculum at the University of Alaska School of Mines.

In 1948, with the retirement of McFarland, Arnold Nordale was appointed the overall General Manager of YCGC in Dawson. By then, YCGC operated eight (8) dredges in the Klondike district as compared to seven (7) dredges operated by USSR&M in the Fairbanks district during the same time.

A 1951 travel book authored by the latter day travel celebrity Frank Cline devotes a full chapter of his book Hands Across the Pacific to a tour of the Klondike district hosted by Arnold Nordale, who describes all aspects of the operations of the dredging firm as well as a healthy sprinkling of Klondike mining history.

In 1956, Arnold published a full technical article about historic YCGC activities in the Canadian Mining Journal. Combined with Lew Green's synopsis in The Gold Hustlers, Nordale's 1947 CIM article, and the Northern Gold Fleet by Spence (1996), these publications collectively offer important information sources for the gold dredging industry in the Klondike District.

Nordale at dredge

General Manager of Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation (YCGC) operations Arnold Nordale wearing his 'Alaskan Tuxedo' at Dredge #4 in the Klondike Mining District, Yukon, Canada circa 1951.
Photo Credit: Marilyn Nordale Stacy

Retirement and Remembrance

In 1961, Arnold Nordale retired from YCGC and other mining industry responsibilities. He moved to Seattle, Washington, but remained actively engaged in the management of Nordale properties in Alaska and in Yukon Territory. For many years, Arnold's father Tony and then Alfeld-Hjalmer Nordale managed the Nordale Hotel in Fairbanks, but with their passing, this task was ultimately assumed by Arnold Nordale. As a result, Arnold made many trips to Alaska and used the historic Nordale Hotel as a seasonal family office. Tragically, the hotel was destroyed by fire on February 22nd, 1972, killing four people, including the hotel's famous hostess Eva McGowan.

Arnold made many meetings with the Alaska-Yukon Pioneers organization in Seattle, and visited with old time friends like mine investor Sam Applebaum, who was very active in the Fairbanks and Iditarod districts. Arnold Nordale was lifetime member #1126 of the Pioneers of Alaska Igloo #4, headquartered in Fairbanks. In 1976, Arnold M. Nordale passed away in Seattle, Washington of natural causes. He was 79 years old.

Arnold Nordale bridged the gap between the early north-country activities during the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush and the follow-up dredge field developments, the latter of which help sustain the economies of Fairbanks, Nome and Dawson for decades. He was perhaps symbolic of a unique cooperative link between two north-country corporate dredge entities—USSR&M and YCGC. Arnold was a civic leader in both Fairbanks and Dawson, whose actions substantially improved both communities during the early-to-mid 20th Century.

By honoring Arnold, we also bring attention to the role of the very influential Nordale family in Alaska's history, many of whom were involved in many resource, educational and civic developments.

Nordale Hotel scenes

Photo Sources: TKB files.

Written by Thomas Bundtzen. An earlier draft was reviewed by Paul Glavinovich and Travis Hudson. The AMHF appreciates the efforts of Marilyn Nordale Stacy and Mary A. Nordale for providing access to important referenced materials and the Pioneers of Alaska Igloo #4 for assistance in researching Arnold Nordale records at their museum in Fairbanks.


Allan, Chris, 1995, The Spirit of Old Main: A History of the Main School (1932-1995): 32 pages.

Author not identified, 2018, 'Nordale (Elementary School) History': 2 pages,

Boswell, John C., 1979, History of Operations of United States Smelting, Refining, and Mining Company: Mineral Industries Research Laboratory, University of Alaska Publisher, 124 pages.

Bundtzen, T.K., 2019, The United States Bureau of Mines and its Role in the Alaska Mining Industry, in, Bundtzen, editor, Alaska Mining Hall of Fame Honors Three Pioneers of the U.S. Bureau of Mines: The Paystreak, volume 20, No. 1, pages 8-19.

Cline, Frank, 1951, Hands Across the Pacific, Angus and Robertson, Publisher, 304 pages.

Green, Lewis, 1994, The Gold Hustlers, Alaska Northwest Publishing Company, Publisher, 339 pages.

Gregory, A.R., 1960, Arnold Nordale, A Rare Alaskan, Was Born in Juneau in the 1890s: Fairbanks Daily News Miner, March 10, 1960, 1 page.

Neufeld, David, 1993, Dredge Camps of the Klondike: Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation Camps of the 1940s: Wellington (HD-395) Collection.

Nordale, A.M., 1935, Description of Fairbanks Exploration Prospect Drilling Methods: Unpublished technical report for United States Smelting, Refining and Mining Company (USSR&M), 47 pages. March 1 Draft

Nordale, A.E., 1945, A Study of Possible Labor Reduction on Thawed Operations: Unpublished joint analysis jointly by YCGC and USSR&M staff, 5 pages. March 29th, 1945.

Nordale, A.M., 1947, Valuation of Dredging Ground in the Sub-Arctic: Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Transactions, Volume L, pages 487-496.

Nordale, A.M., 1956, History of Activities, Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation Limited, Yukon, Canada, with Comments on Geology of Deposits: Canadian Mining Journal.

Pioneers of Alaska Igloo #4 Records, Arnold M. Nordale, Pioneer #1126. Pratt, Fred, 1989, Cleary, A Legend Carved on the Hillside: Heartland Magazine, (Fairbanks Daily News Miner), H-8-to-H10.

Spence, Clark C., 1996, The Northern Gold Fleet, University of Illinois Publisher, 303 pages.

Stacey, Marilyn N., 2020, Written Correspondences (2) to Thomas K. Bundtzen.

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