The model of Hundalen
In the workshop barracks at Katterat station on the Ofotbanen railway there is exhibited a landscape model in 1:100 showing what it looked like in Nedre Hundalen around 1902. The model is made by Per Henrik Mørk and Vera Steine and shows an important part of the Ofotbanen’s construction history.
HUNDALEN IN OFOTEN
Hundalen was the name of the lower part of the valley that we know today as Sørdalen. The names Hundalselva, Hundalstoppen and Hundalsfossen are used both in everyday speech and on topographic maps. The first survey team used the name Hundalen for what we today call Nedre Hundalen. They probably learned about the place name from the locals in Rombaksbotn. The name “Húnn” is Old Norse for small bear or bear cub, while in Sámi the name can mean a good fishing spot.
The English company “The Northern of Europe Railway Company” was established to build a railway to Narvik, which had an ice-free harbor in the winter. During the surveying work that started in the spring of 1883, Hundalen was considered a suitable campsite that was strategically located for the upcoming construction road from Rombaksbotn. Here it was flat and plenty of space to build barracks for the workers.
Due to the technical requirements for curvature and gradient of the railway, the route had to be laid in a large loop over Sørdalen/Hundalen and up along the steep east side of Norddalen. As a result, Nedre Hundalen remained as the hub of a wheel, with a short distance up to the work sites at Katterat, in Sørdalen and in Norddalen.
The peat barracks from the English construction period 1883-1889
There were several peat barracks in Hundalen and in Norddalslia that were built under the English plant. When bankruptcy came in the spring of 1889, William Spear had taken out a mortgage on the barracks because the railway company owed him money. The Norwegian plant started in 1898, and by then Spear was still the owner of the barracks.
THE SWEDISH “LINBANEN” ROPEWAY
The volume of goods on the construction road increased, and transport by horse had insufficient capacity. The ropeway that was supposed to relieve the horses took the goods from the construction road west of the Hundal River and lifted them 250 meters via an 800-metre-long wire span to a small plateau east of the river where the mountain flattens out towards the border. Work on the construction started in the winter of 1898/1899, and in June it was ready for the start of shipping with the ropeway. The worst climb and a full 4.5 kilometres of detour via Hundalen were avoided. In the autumn of 1899, the upper section of the ropeway was also completed.
At the foot of Hundalsfossen, on the opposite side of the river from the power plant, the lower ropeway station was built. One kilometre of additional construction road was built to the lower station from Storfossen. At the lower station stood a steam-powered “locomobile” delivering 20 horsepower to the drivetrain of the ropeway. At the middle station on the construction road up in the North Valley, a smaller steam engine of 8 horsepower was installed. The middle station was a transshipment station. There, goods could either be loaded onto horse transport or onto the wagons to the upper part of the ropeway, which took the goods on to the upper part of the gravel pit at Bjørnfjell.
THE POWER PLANT AT HUNDALSFOSSEN
The reason why a power plant was built on the Ofotbanen railway was that the plant had to hurry to finish the railway in time. The licence stipulated that the delivery of ore from the quay in Narvik could start on the first of January 1903. This meant that the Ofoten Railway had to be ready by the end of 1902. The waterfall below Hundalen was to provide electric power to the plant.
The work started in the summer of 1900 with the construction of a dam in Hundalen, and a route for a 390 meter long pipeline down to the engine house at the foot of Hundalsfossen. The pipes were delivered in five-metre lengths from a boat in Rombaksbotn. The turbine house and the rest of the plant were completed between October 1900 and February 1901. The plant employed Edvard Petrus Dahlin from Ångermanland in Sweden as machinist. The power plant in Hundalen was commissioned in the spring of 1901 and became the sixth hydropower plant in the region. It had a short, but important period of operation on the Ofotbanen railway from the summer of 1901 to the autumn of 1902.
Carpenter Albert Zintzen from Vågan came to the Ofotbane Railway as a carpenter. We assume that he helped build both the infirmary and the assembly hall in Hundalen. In addition, he built his own house with café and guest room opposite Statens Handelsbod in Hundalen. There he lived with his family and servants. We assume that it was his wife Anna who ran the café, because carpenter Zintzen was a busy man at the plant. In the census for Hundalen in 1900 there are registered eight railway workers who lodged with Zintzen.
The infirmary was located at the junction where the construction road from Rombaksbotn splits at the bridge over Hundalsfossen. It was the architect Paul Due at NSB who was commissioned to design the infirmary and builder H. Hansen built it. The need for an infirmary and access to health care was obvious, also for facility management. In addition, an active workers’ association had been established, which had as an important requirement that there should be permanent medical staffing at the infirmary in Hundalen. The doctors had regular office hours in Hundalen a few days a week. Although the infirmary was less expensive than first thought, it still had such a rare luxury as electric outdoor lighting. The infirmary had several rooms on the second floor that were rented out to the fitters at the power plant. The infirmary in Hundalen was in operation until October 1902, with the last recorded admission in July 1902.
House of Assembly
The management at the Ofotbanen railway saw the need for a place where the workers could meet. The building was designed by architect Paul Due. Here there was to be a meeting hall, reading room and accommodation for the teachers at the 2nd department of the Ofotbane building. The House of Assembly was to fulfill many social functions; cinema, lectures, church services and devotionals, schoolroom and meeting rooms for the workers’ union. During the typhus epidemic that hit Rombaksbotn in the winter of 1901, Dr. Pettersen, the assembly hall was requisitioned for an epidemic shelter.
The Trading Booth
NSB arranged for provisions to arrive for the workers at the mountain facility. Two trading stalls were erected, which were run by managers in Sildvik and Hundalen. The trade stalls had to carry everything needed for food and other things for the work teams, cooks and engineering families. From kerosene to lamps to salted meat, candy and sewing equipment. In addition to the trading booth, there were two other shops in Hundalen. They were not required to have a wide assortment, but could take in and sell whatever was most popular. In other words, Hundalen, this little “Metropolis”, had three shops, four cafés, an infirmary, a power plant and a school.
The trading shed in Hundalen was built as a solid building with a floor area of 140 m2 spread over two floors, in addition the building had a full basement with laundry room and storage space. On the second floor there were two large rooms where the manager lived with his family, as well as space for merchants and maids. On the ground floor there was a large living room, kitchen and shop. In one building there was an office/cash register and entrance hall with access to the store. When the facility was over, Handelsboden was dismantled and transported up to Katterat station where the building was reassembled, now as a guard’s residence for the railway foreman and his family.
Stables and forge
There was a great need for transport from Rombaksbotn up to Linbanen at Hundalsfossen waterfall and otherwise to the various construction sites on the Norwegian and Swedish sides. The construction road was built all the way to Abisko. For the transports wagons were required in the summer and sleds in the winter, and horses to pull. There were wagon men, drivers, blacksmiths and stables both in Hundalen and several places along the construction road.
Baard Jensen was born in 1858 in Lærdal in Sogn and came to Narvik in 1886 to seek work in the English Ofoten Railway. Baard Jensen became foreman of one of the work teams at “Fjellanlegget”, and in 1888 the team was based in Indre Sildvik blasting out a rock cut that later got the name “Baard Jensen skjæringa”. In the spring of 1889 during the “Great Strike”, Baard Jensen was elected head of negotiations by the 500 workers who had not received wages or final settlements. During the Norwegian plant from 1898 to 1902, Baard Jensen was employed at the Ofotbanen’s 2 branch, which had its headquarters in Hundalen. He was one of the founders of the first trade union in Hundalen and later the Narvik Labour Party.
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