Norman C. Stines

(1881 - 1955)

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Norman Stines Photo

Norman C. Stines, undated
Photo: Fairbanks Daily News Miner

Parts of the Norman Stines' story reads like fiction, but at least some of the strangest parts are fact. Born in Detroit, Michigan, to Walter and M. (nee Lyon) Stines, Seines graduated from high school in San Francisco and obtained a B.S. degree in mining engineering form the University of California in 1905.

From 1907 to 1910, following post-graduate work in metallurgy with Prof. S.B. Christie at University of California, Stines examined mining properties in the western states and Mexico. In 1911 and 1912, Stines examined properties in White Russia and the Ural Mountains. In 1913 and 1914, he drilled and developed copper properties at Ekaterinburg, Russia, where he was appointed mine manager of a copper mine. In 1916, he was managing director of Altai Mines, Ltd., and Lenskoi Gold Mining Company and consulting engineer to all properties of the Russian-English Bank. It was the era of great capital expansion immediately before the abdication of Czar Nicholas II and subsequent collapse of imperial Russia. In those years Stines was allocated with some of the preeminent mining engineers of the world, notably Chester W. Purington and Charles Janin, both of whom had spent time in Russian placer fields. He worked closely with Chester Purington while with Lenskoi Gold Mining Company. Judged from later comments, conservative engineer Charles Janin perceived Stines as an ambitious young engineer with a tendency towards promotion and grandiose plans.

During World War I and after the fall of Imperial Russia, Stines left mining, and began a brief State Department career as military attache in Russia. In 1917, just before the Bolshevik Revolution, Stines moved about $2 million worth of platinum, vitally needed for wartime manufacturing, out of Russia to Yokohama, Japan. After the Great War, Stines continued working for his British employers, examining potential mines in the Balkans.

From 1920 through 1926, Alaska became the centerpiece of Stines' career. During this brief seven year period, he made his Alaskan reputation as an outstanding large scale placer mining man with tremendous vision. His conceptual abilities and leadership were called on repeatedly to develop the dredging fields at Nome and at Fairbanks. Two other men, Wendell P. Hammon, and James M. Davidson, were critical to these endeavors. These men were almost thirty years older than Stines and Stines was the man who often maintained an eighteen hour workday on duty in Fairbanks or Nome. Hammon, a major industrialist for many years, could delegate much responsibility to key men like Stines in the mining field. Davidson, associated with a major water supply works since 1901 at Nome, carried out the critical conceptual work needed in order for the large-scale dredging scheme to succeed in Fairbanks and Nome.

Stines was the optimist who believed early on that cold water thawing technology of frozen gravels would be economically viable, despite considerable skepticism as late as 1925. Behind the scenes was the United States Smelting Refining and Mining Company or the USSR&M Company, (hereafter in this text, "U. S. Smelting") of Boston. The exact relation of Stines and U. S. Smelting is uncertain, but from 1920 on they backed Stines and let him lead the Alaska field projects into the development and early mining stages.

In 1920, Nome was thought to be a larger and richer placer field, or at least less difficult than Fairbanks, and Nome was Stines' original target. Ironically, time would prove that the ground dredged in the Fairbanks district was considerably richer than the placer dredged in the Cape Nome district. Stines visited Nome in 1920, liked what he saw, and went to Boston either to obtain financing or to corroborate an opinion already held by the mining company. Stines began to obtain options in the Cape Nome District for U. S. Smelting. Following a 1921 survey by Davidson of potential water availability at Fairbanks, Stines also became convinced of Fairbanks' potential. In February 1924, after acquiring Davidson's options, Stines optioned ground in Fairbanks that included Fish, Ester, Fairbanks, Goldstream, and Cleary Creeks. Stines could also delegate and could obtain a high-level of performance from his non-professional crews. His assistant, later in charge of Fairbanks operations, was Crosby Keen. A key driller, who had known Stines since 1903, was Mike Erceg.

As drill results from the creeks around Fairbanks began to pour in, Stines conceptually planned and accurately predicted costs of an operation that ultimately lasted until the 1960's.

In 1926, Stines was placed in charge of exploration for U. S. Smelting throughout Alaska, Canada, Mexico, and the western United States. Stines left the company in 1929, and, in 1932, opened consulting offices in San Francisco and in Vancouver, British Columbia. Subsequently he reopened a placer mine in the Caribou District of central British Columbia, Canada. In 1933, Stines joined with two well-known Alaska mining men, Ben Bromberg and Sam Godfrey, in a dredging operation in Idaho. In 1938, Stines was again affiliated with U. S. Smelting as the general manager of the Bol-Inca placer dredging operation in Bolivia.

In 1939, Stines renewed Alaska operations, and from then until his death in 1955 had mining projects in Alaska. During the war years and until 1950, Stines held public positions or was a spokesman for business and professional groups in Alaska, especially in Fairbanks.

With Davidson and Hammon, his work revitalized Fairbanks and Nome, then in danger of becoming ghost towns. Older citizens of Fairbanks, Alaska remember Norm C. Stines with esteem.

Written by Charles C. Hawley, 2001

Selected Bibliography

Boswell, John C., 1979, History of Alaskan Operations of United Smelting, Refining, and Mining Company: University of Alaska Mineral Industry Research Laboratory Special Publication, 126 pages.

Cole, Dermot, 1999, Fairbanks - A Gold Rush Town That Beat the Odds: Epicenter Press, Inc., 224 pages.

Deyo, Margaret C., 1925, Waste Gold: A Story of the Second Coming of a Camp: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, December 24, 1925 edition (also republished in Boswell above).

Green, Lewis, 1977, Nome River Water Control Structures: U. S. Bureau of Land Management, Alaska Open File Report 62, 45 pages.

Spence, Clark C., 1996, The Northern Gold Fleet: Urbana / Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 302 pages.

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