Monday, October 31, 2011

1942 GMC truck I spotted along Alaska Highway

1942 GMC near Northway Junction, Alaska

I drove down to the Beaver Creek (Canada) area this summer. Along the Alaska Highway near Northway Junction (approximate milepost 1260) sits this old 1942 GMC truck. Stenciled on the doors is the lettering, “Department of Commerce, Civil Aeronautics Administration.” The CAA was the precursor to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Northway Juntion  is only about 20 air miles from the Canadian border and the airport there is the entry point into Alaska for most private aircraft. The airport (where the truck was undoubtedly used) was constructed in the 1940s as part of the Northwest Staging Route, where Lend-Lease aircraft bound for Russia during World War II were serviced.
If you are interested in old military vehicles, next August (2012) the Military Vehicle Preservation Association will be bringing a convoy of restored trucks up the Alaska Highway to celebrate the highway’s 70th anniversary. For more information on this event click here.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

At the Malamute Saloon

A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon;
The kid that handles the music-box was hitting a jag-time tune;
Back of the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew,
And watching his luck was his light-o'-love, the lady that's known as Lou.
(from "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" by Robert Service)

This is a drawing of the Malemute Saloon, located at Ester Gold Camp in Ester Alaska.  Ester Gold Camp was a support facility for gold dredges operated in the Ester area by the Fairbanks Exploration Company. After the dredges closed down, the camp was sold and the new owners turned the property into a resort. One of the camp buildings (believed to date back to 1906) was converted into the saloon.

Half of the bar counter from the Royal Alexandria hotel in Dawson City was installed in the saloon and the other half was stored at another location. This was a wise decision. When the Malemute burned down in 1969, the owners were able to rebuild, install the other half of the bar counter, and be back in business as good as ever.

The Malemute is well-known for its sawdust-covered floor, period décor, Robert Service poetry and lively entertainment. Contrary to popular myth, however, the saloon has no association with Robert Service or his poem, “The Shooting of Dan McGrew.”  The closest association is the bar counter in the saloon, which, as I stated earlier, came from Dawson City.

Service also hailed from Dawson City for a time, but even then, “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” was written before Service ever set foot there. Service worked for the Bank of Canada and his first posting in the Yukon Territory was at Whitehorse in 1904.

Whitehorse was  where Service first  listened to the sourdoughs’ stories that gave him ideas for his poetry. “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” was written in 1906 and first printed in Service's book, "Songs of a Sourdough."  The book was published in 1907, one year before Service moved to Dawson City.  And as far as I can tell, there is no evidence that Service ever visited Ester or Fairbanks.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

An Afternoon at John Haines's Homestead

John Haines's home at Richardson, Alaska

Trapper's cabin Haines moved to his property

Poem of the Forgotten
by John Haines*

I came to this place,
a young man green and lonely.

Well quit of the world,
I framed a house of moss and timber,
called it a home,
and sat in the warm evenings
His writing studio up the hill
singing to myself as a man sings
when he knows there is
no one to hear.

I made my bed under the shadow
of leaves, and awoke
in the first snow of autumn,
filled with silence.

 *From Winter News, Poems by John Haines, 1966

Birdhouse atop house
I met a fellow this summer who had just returned from a pilgrimage to the bus at the end of the Stampede Trail where Chris McCandless died.  McCandless was, similar to John Haines,  “well quit with the world." The encounter made me think of Haines, who died earlier this year.  I thought what a shame that so few people even know where the Haines homestead is, much less visit it.
For those of you who don’t know John Haines, he was a superb poet and essayist who spent most of his adult life in Alaska. He lived for over 20 years on a homestead near Richardson, Alaska, and his writings were rooted in the country around him. His poems and essays are often deeply introspective and filled with haunting imagery of the wilderness around him and the few humans who entered it.
Bench at viewpoint
In addition to numerous other honors he received, he was a former Poet Laureate of Alaska, and was awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Library of Congress.

This past fall, when time and weather cooperated, I made my own pilgrimage of sorts to his homestead.  I tramped around the property, visited the home he built from timbers salvaged from an old bridge, walked up to his writing studio on the hillside above his cabin, and then labored up to the bench just below the top of the ridge where he could look out over the Tanana Valley.

I greatly admired Mr. Haines and the visit to his homestead was quite special for me.  After I finish a drawing or two, I’ll publish more on John.  How about you? Have any of you read his works or met him? Let me know.
Panoramic view of Tanana Valley from ridge

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Little remains of Richardson, Alaska

Richardson Roadhouse in 1990, after it closed

When I moved to Fairbanks in 1983, Richardson (about 70 miles southeast of town) was a pale shadow of its former self. There were just a few year-round and seasonal residences, a scattering of abandoned cabins, and the remains of the Richardson Roadhouse.

However, in 1907 the town boasted 500 residents, a roadhouse, grocery store, post office and telegraph station. Gold had been discovered along Tenderfoot Creek in 1905, and the resulting stampede to the northwest on Banner and other creeks brought a score of drift mines. Small steamboats could easily reach Banner Creek on the Tanana River, and a town quickly sprang up there.

It was also along the Fairbanks-Valdez Trail, and the town was named in honor of Wilds P. Richardson, head of the Alaska Road Commission. Richardson was the supply center for nearby creeks and the town’s early prospects seemed promising. The Tanana Valley Railroad even planned an extension to the area, but the amount of gold in the creeks proved low and those plans were abandoned. Just as elsewhere, when the larger paystreaks played out, Richardson’s fortune’s plummeted.

The Tanana River changed course in 1915, encroaching on Richardson and forcing the town to move about a mile north, away from the river. That was when the telegraph station closed. Again in the mid-1920s the town was faced by an angry river, and again it moved north. Each time Richardson moved, it was a smaller town. Eventually all that remained were a few hardened miners, some trappers and homesteaders, and the people at the roadhouse.

Richardson has hosted three roadhouses. The remains you can see today are of the third one, started by Fred Wilkins in about 1915. He homesteaded in the area and ran Richardson’s general store. When the town relocated in the 1920s, Wilkins moved his operation to the north side of the highway. His roadhouse eventually became known as Richardson Roadhouse.

For decades the roadhouse served highway travelers and the dwindling population of Richardson. John Haines, poet and essayist, lived on a Richardson homestead for years. He mentions the roadhouse often — of sitting at tables listening to old-timers’ stories, of community gatherings there on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and of watching as the area's history silently slipped away.

In his essay “Mudding Up,” he wrote “this quiet, rural world of Richardson, with its few surviving people and its old-fashioned implements, remote and settled on a stretch of gravel road, was vanishing even as I came to know it.”

By 1980 the roadhouse consisted of a one-story log café with false front, a small motel unit and a log garage with two associated small wood-frame buildings. The cafe was destroyed by fire in 1982 but the garage operated a few years more.

By the 1990s the roadhouse was closed and vacant, the gas pumps pulled up. In July of 2011 the owners, plagued by persistent vandalism, tore down the motel unit and the two small wood-frame buildings. Little remains except the old log garage and a sign obscured by encroaching trees.

For more posts about John Haines see:

An afternoon at John Haines homestead

John Haines homestead still provides inspiration

Drawing of Tanana River from John Haines homestead

John Haines cabin on a sunny February morning

Monday, October 24, 2011

Just Cover it with Snow!

It might still be summer in Fresno, California; and autumn in Fargo, North Dakota;  but winter is upon us here in Fairbanks, Alaska. Snow has blanketed the area and it probably won’t disappear until next April. For some people this is reason to rejoice since snow sports can now commence.  Others cringe as they reach for the snow shovels and ibuprofen.
For the artist, winter and snow are mixed blessings. Gone are the long hours of plein air sketching and painting. (I did have a watercolorist friend, Edmond James FitzGerald, who, in his younger years, painted plein air during winter. He always carried a hip-flask of whiskey on his field trips. Not only did the whiskey keep him warm, but a little whiskey in the brush water kept it from freezing.) Gone also are the extended evenings with their marvelous light. But winter does have its artistic advantages. 

If you don’t have the time or inclination to put in a detailed shingle or shake roof—just cover it with snow!
If you can’t get the grass right or need to hide something—just cover it with snow!

And if a tree obscures the building you are drawing (assuming you don’t want to get rid of the tree) just get rid of the leaves!

 Of course, I would never stoop to such tricks.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Autumn at Livengood

Old Warehouse
Outhouse at old garage

 We drove up to Livengood (about 80 miles north of Fairbanks) last week. Livengood is an old mining community that was a going concern in the early 1900s. There used to be a large dredge there in the mid 1900s, but it shut down in the 50's and was moved.  Placer mining has continued off and on there, but the town was mostly abandoned. Land ownership there is a mix of State land, old unpatented Federal mining claims, and private property, and there are still many active mining claims in the area. So check land status and respect private property if you visit.

horse-drawn sledge
What's left of horse barn
Livengood used to be on the Elliott Highway (which runs from Fairbanks to Manley). However, when the highway was straightened, Livengood was bypassed. It is now about two miles off the highway. The Dalton Highway (to Prudhoe Bay) also takes off from the Elliott just north of Livengood.

Many old cabins there--old equipment just  lying around. It's like an open-air museum (A little confusing without a guide though.) When I get some drawings done I'll probably write more about the town. There is a book on Livengood called "Livengood, the Last Stampede," by Audrey Parker if you are interested.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cozy Cabin on the Creek

Wow—my first blog post. What to do, what to do? Perhaps I should wax philosophic on art and society, or become pedantic and write about the loss of historic buildings, or do something trite about how art saved my life. Nah! I’ll just go directly to what excites me, art and rambling.
Cozy Cabin on the Creek, pen and ink on Bristol board, 7.5" x 10.5"
I found this cabin beside a narrow road wandering along a small creek northeast of Fairbanks. There is nothing significant about it except that is a typical cabin, much like ones found throughout the hills of Interior Alaska. It is small, only about 10'x 10'easy to build and easy to move. Since building materials were scarce during the early 1900s, people often moved buildings from camp to camp. Walking among the hills around Fairbanks you often see the depressions where buildings used to be, but when the claim ran out, the people moved--lock, stock, and cabin.