Friday, November 27, 2015

Outside on Black Friday - A snowy November day in Fairbanks

I took the opportunity today to go for a walk in the woods behind my house.There was 8-10" of fresh snow, most of it still unspoiled by snow machines. Partly cloudy with a temperature of about 28 degrees. By the way, that's the noonday sun on the horizon.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Haydon cabin evokes memories of homesteading days along Chena Slough near Fairbanks

Cliff and Orea Haydon's cabin pm Chena Slough in 2014

The Badger Road area was settled by homesteaders beginning in the early 1900s.  However, before homesteaders started clearing land there was just Chena Slough snaking through the birch- and spruce-covered lowlands.

The Alaskan definition of a slough is a river side-channel, and Chena Slough used to be such a waterway. It exited the Tanana River southeast of present-day Fairbanks, upstream from Moose Creek Bluffs, and meandered about 40 miles before rejoining the Tanana where the Chena /Tanana River confluence is now. The Chena River emptied into Chena Slough about 18 miles (as the fish swims) upstream from Fairbanks—a few miles downstream from the modern Nordale Road bridge.

In 1901 E. T. Barnette tried ascending Chena Slough to avoid  Bates Rapids on the Tanana River. Unsuccessful, he and his party were forced to disembark on a bank of the slough. Thus was Fairbanks born.

Low water in Chena Slough plagued Fairbanks-bound steamboats. According to the book, Steamboats on the Chena, workers attempted to divert more water from the Tanana River into the slough by opening additional channels at the slough’s upper end. Their efforts did little to alleviate low-water levels, and perhaps contributed to the severity of floods that inundated Fairbanks on a regular basis.

Those frequent floods were one of the banes of early Fairbanks, and residents eventually decided that less Tanana River water running through Fairbanks was desirable. In 1945 the flow of water into the slough was curtailed when Moose Creek Dike was constructed, severing Chena Slough into two segments. (Moose Creek Dike is not to be confused with the later Moose Creek Dam and Chena Flood Control Project.)

The slough’s upper segment became Piledriver Slough—probably named after Piledriver Roadhouse, located where the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail crossed the slough. Piledriver Slough, conjoined with Moose Creek, found a new outlet to the Tanana River.

The lower segment of the slough remained Chena Slough. Now it is commonly called Badger Slough. It only has an outlet into the Chena River, and its water source is groundwater seepage from surrounding lowlands.

Chena Slough used to be much wider and deeper. However, without the inflow of Tanana River water, the slough’s channel and the Chena River channel itself have shrunk over the years. Chena Slough shrank more drastically though. Boats could once ply the entire length of the slough, but now only portions are navigable.

According to Bureau of Land Management records, Fairbanks residents began staking homesteads along the slough in the 1920s. One of the earliest homesteads was that of Harry Badger, (Badger Road’s namesake) who filed for entry in 1922. His homestead was located about where Nordale Road now crosses the slough.  In a 1993 interview with Margaret Van Cleve, Orea Haydon (another Badger Road homesteader and neighbor of Harry) remembers the large fields of strawberries that Harry and his partner, Walter Crick, grew, and the large community dinners the two hosted.

Orea and her husband, Cliff, homesteaded nearby. Cliff filed for entry in 1941, a year before marrying Orea, but World War II intervened and he couldn’t make the necessary improvements until after the war. Badger Road ran through their homestead and they grew barley, oats and wheat alongside the road. Orea was also well-known for her extensive flower gardens.  Like many homesteaders, the Haydon’s worked in Fairbanks to support what Cliff referred to as the “stump farm.”

Their home, built during the 1940s, is just off Badger Road on Haydon Court.  The original 19’ x 25’ log structure, with dovetailed corners, faces the slough. An 18’ x 21’ log addition with saddle-notched corners extends to the rear. All-in-all it is a picturesque reminder of homesteading along Chena Slough.


  • Bureau of Land Management records
  • Cliff and Orea Haydon interview by Margaret Van Cleve on September 1, 1993. University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Collection
  • “Restoration of Sloughs in the Fairbanks North Star Borough (Tanana River Watershed)”. Nancy J. Ihlenfeldt. Alaska Department of Natural Resources. 2006 
  • Steamboats on the Chena. Basil Hedricks & Susan Savage. Epicenter Press. 1988
  • "Transforming the Chena Slough through Fairbanks into a River - 1900 to Present." Bob Henszey.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"Ode of the North" by Joseph Ulmer (found tacked to the wall of a cabin on Deadwood Creek)

Take a drink with a friend or friends when you have a chance.

When using a man’s cabin and before leaving wash the dishes, leave shavings and kindling and as much wood cut as you used. Also, close the door of the cabin. If barricaded against bears, put the barricade back.

Never ask a man what religion he has for the great outdoors is his place of worship.

Never speak of women disrespectfully; we all had mothers.

Always give a fellow a lift if the going is tough.

Don’t abuse a dog. He is the best friend you have on the trail. Be kind to dumb animals, they remember you.

Don’t kill any game wantonly…only what you have to kill for your need or for someone who is out of meat.

Call the musher in and offer him a mug up or feed and if he is tired give him a shakedown.

Don’t waste any animal by shooting at them for targets. The last cartridge may save your life.

Keep your matches and footgear dry on the trail and never drink whisky or other spirits on the trail; it may be fatal to you.

Don’t wander around when the fog comes in and you can’t see where you are going; wait till it clears up.

Don’t leave any lights or candles burning or heavy fire in the stove when you are away from the cabin.

Don’t set fire to the woods. It will destroy the wildlife and game.

Parboil your bacon before frying; it will not cause you so much rheumatism. Also, be sanitary about the camp so as not to pollute the water and atmosphere.

Don’t tell the other fellow your troubles, especially love or matrimonial affairs. He may have a lot of his own.

Keep off the other fellow’s trapline, both literally and categorically speaking.


Joseph Ulmer (1874-1958) was a resident the Circle Hot Springs area. In addition to mining, he worked as an engineer for the Alaska Road Commission and was a Territorial Road Commissioner. He was an inveterate writer—penning scientific and historical articles, satire, criticism and poetry. Ulmer published newspaper columns under the pen name, “Cassiar Joe.”

Friday, November 13, 2015

"Gold, Steel & Ice" book documents remarkable mining machines used in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve


I just received a fascinating book published this year by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The book is Gold, Steel & Ice, A History of Mining Machines in Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve. Written by National Park Service historian, Chris Allan; and illustrated with historical photos, as well as modern photos taken by Todd Croteau and Yasunori Matsui, the 113 page, 11” x 8 ½” book documents some of the archetypal mining machines used in the region. 

The book has sections on steam traction engines, donkey engines, steam boilers, gold dredges, prospecting drill, and caterpillar-style tractors. Profusely illustrated, and with an informative but easy-to-read style, the book is a pleasure to read or just peruse. The photos, both historic and modern are remarkable, and as a bonus, the headpiece illustration for each section is a watercolor sketch done by Mr. Croteau. 

It is a well-crafted book and I urge you to check it out if you can. I’m not sure where people outside Fairbanks can find it, but the ISBN is 978-0-692-50483-3. I talked with Chris Allan, the author, and he said there are copies at the Park Service office in the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center here in Fairbanks.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Eureka Lodge has served Glenn Highway travelers since road’s inception

The original cabin at Eureka Lodge in 2013

The Glenn Highway, which stretches from Anchorage 179 miles northeast to the Richardson Highway, should perhaps have been named the Castner Highway. After all, Lt. Joseph Castner, and not his superior, Capt. Edwin Glenn, is credited with being the first Westerner to blaze a trail along the Matanuska River to the Copper River Plateau.

The U.S. Army sent Glenn and his men to Alaska in 1898 to find a route from Southcentral Alaska to Circle City on the Yukon River. However, Glenn spent most of his time in Cook Inlet, delegating much of the exploration to his lieutenants. Lt. Henry Leanard led a party up the Susitna River, and another party, commanded by Castner, traveled up the Matanuska.

Castner’s party faced extreme obstacles, hacking its way through thick undergrowth along the tumultuous Matanuska River, all the while cajoling pack animals across bogs, streams, and steep hillsides. After two months he finally attained the Copper River Plateau. Glenn did eventually follow Castner, but it was the lieutenant who blazed the trail.

Even with an established trail, the route was difficult, and few followed it except prospectors. In the early 1900s some of those prospectors discovered gold along tributaries of the Little Nelchina River in the northern foothills of the Talkeetna Mountains. According to a 1918 U.S.G.S. report, in 1914 about 400 miners swarmed into the area, establishing the gold camp of Nelchina (now abandoned) at the confluence of Crooked Creek and the Little Nelchina.

While some supplies were freighted up the Matanuska River to Nelchina, the primary freight route was from the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail to the east. That changed with construction of the Alaska Railroad. The federal government wanted to develop coal deposits along the Matanuska River to provide fuel for the Navy’s Pacific fleet. A railroad spur was extended from Palmer up the Matanuska to Chickaloon, and the first coal was shipped in 1917.

With a railroad line as far as Chickaloon, most freighting to Nelchina shifted to the Matanuska River route. The Chickaloon coal mine closed in 1922 as the U.S. Navy shifted from coal-fired to oil-fired ships, and the tracks north of Sutton were abandoned. However, the old railroad grade was still utilized by freighters.

With the building of Elmendorf Airfield and Fort Richardson at Anchorage in 1940-41, the federal government decided the area needed a road-link to the Richardson Highway. Work on the Glenn Highway, following the Matanuska River, began in 1941 and was completed by 1945.

The Eureka Roadhouse (now Eureka Lodge), located at mile 128 of the highway (and about 15 miles south of Nelchina mining camp), was one of the first businesses opened along the new road. However, the roadhouse’s existence predated the highway.

Even in the early 1900s the Nelchina region was a destination for caribou hunters. According to a 1990 article in Alaska Business Monthly, Eureka Roadhouse began in 1936 as a hunting lodge. The lodge’s current owner, Jim Fimpel, told me that a couple named Warrick (first names unknown — they were just Ma and Pa) erected the original building (shown in the drawing) on the shore of a small lake.

The log cabin, with squared corners held in place by vertical boards, began as an approximately 15-foot x 15-foot structure, but by 1945 a similarly-sized extension (also of logs) was added to the rear. Except for a new metal roof, and the fact that the cabin has settled considerably, it looks much the same as it does in photos from the 1940s.

A larger lodge building was built in the late 1940s, but the original cabin still stands as a reminder of the Glenn Highway’s early days.


  • “Alaska Roadhouses find New Niches.” Jacques Picard. in Alaska Business Monthly. Vol. 6, No. 6, June 1990
  • “Comprehensive Development Plan, Trails Inventory, Glenn Highway Region.” Matanuska-Susitna Borough. 1987
  • Conversation with Jim Fimpel, owner of Eureka Lodge
  • Lieutenant Castner’s Alaskan exploration, 1898: a journey of hardship and suffering. Joseph Castner. Cook Inlet Historical Society. 1984
  • “The Glenn Highway—From Blazing to Paving.” Mary Cracraft Bauer. in Northern Adventure. Vol. 1, No. 5, Summer 1987
  • The Nelchina-Susitna Region, Alaska, Bulletin 668. Theodore Chapin. U.S. Geological Survey. 1918

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Circa 1940s drawing of Edgerton Highway and Copper River by Olive Malstrom Carl

I came across this while going through a box of drawings. I bought it at a rummage sale years ago for a few dollars.

The artist is Olive Malstrom Carl, who was a well-know painter in the Pacific Northwest. The following bio is from the book, Women Artists of the American West.

Born in Tacoma, Washington, Olive Carl was a painter in oil and watercolor of landscapes, seascapes, marines, still lifes, portraits, and old buildings of the Northwest such as "Cabin at the Edge of the Mountain', and "Haunted House on the Whiskaw".

She was raised in Tacoma, and while working in her father's drug store, did sketches of customers. At age 18, in 1916, moved to Seattle where she studied at the Seattle School of Art and at the Seattle Art Musuem. She married Emil Henry Carl Jr. in 1924 and took time off from her career to start a family. But in the 1930s, she returned to painting seriously and in 1935 opened the Olive Carl School of Art, which remained in operation until 1974.

Seattle remained her home throughout her life until her death in 1988, but she traveled extensively including 17 trips to Alaska, to Canada, Europe and South America. She exhibited regularly and had 150 one-person exhibits, which included the Frye Art Museum and the Washington State Historical Society.

On the back of the drawing is the notation, "'Biffy' - outside toilet near Lower Road House enroute Chitina & near Liberty Falls." The roadhouse mentioned may have been the Lower Tonsina Roadhouse.

Saturday, October 31, 2015