Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Late winter panorama of east side of Broad Pass, Alaska

This is a view of the mountains on the east side of Broad Pass.  I took  the photos a week ago from the pullout at Mile 199 of the Parks Highway.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Snow ripples in Broad Pass

We went snow shoeing again this past week. This time at the south end of broad pass where the railroad tracks cross the highway. There is a low area there (I think it was a merieal site for highway construction. In the winter the snow drifts in there and the wind blows interesting ripples across the packed snow.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Stationary but fast-changing cloud over Broad Pass peak

We were stopped on the Denali Highway three miles east of Cantwell this past week. I was watching this cloud forming and dissipating over a peak at the north end of Broad Pass. With the wind coming from the north, the water vapor was condensing just to the south of the peak, and then dissipating a few hundred yards further on. I took these photos about five seconds apart. It was fascinating to watch.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Artist speaks at Pioneer Home in Fairbanks

I went out to the Pioneer Home this afternoon to give a presentation about historic sites along the road system in Eastern Interior Alaska. This was a return engagement. I was there last October talking about historic sites around Fairbanks. That went well, so the residents invited me back.

I feel honored. Many of the residents at the Pioneer Home have lived the history that I talk about. One fellow I chatted with after the presentation told me he had worked at one of the sites I talked about. He even verified some of the information I presented, which until that moment had merely been unsubstantiated information passed along to me as possibly being true.

Anyway, I had a great time, and am sure that I will return. Thank you Paul (my son and in-house computer guru) for making all the equipment work!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Agatey overflow along Denali Highway

Several areas along the freshly plowed sections of the Denali Highway had heavy frozen overflow that had to be chopped through by the road clearing crews. In one area the overflow was over five feet thick.

In one place some layers of the frozen overflow had a burnt umber color. The chucks looked like giant agates.

Monday, April 22, 2013

View of Mt. McKinley from newly plowed section of Denali Highway

I have driven the Denali Highway several times, but in the past always west to east. The state DOT started plowing the Denali Highway this past week and we drove in as far as the plowing had progressed (about 17 miles). It was only when we came back out I realized what a great view of Mt. McKinley you get from the Denali Highway. The hills rise up above the floor of Broad Pass enough to give an excellent panorama.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Case L tractor and the early years of Creamers Dairy in Fairbanks, Alaska

Case L tractor in front of creamery at Creamers Dairy
When Charles and Belle Hinckley arrived in Fairbanks in the spring of 1904, they had no inkling that they would establish what would become a bird sanctuary 70 years later. They were just searching for their personal bonanza — not by mining gold, but by milking cows.

The Hinckleys (originally from Washington state) heard of Nome’s strike in 1900, but instead of sailing north with shovels and gold pans, they sailed with several Holstein milk cows. Charles and Belle ran a successful dairy in the Nome area until the gold strike began petering out.

Then, hearing of new opportunities in Interior Alaska along the Chena River, they packed up their cows and took the first steamboat of the 1904 season from St. Michael on the Norton Sound coast up the Yukon River to Fairbanks. It took 27 days to reach Fairbanks, during which time they helped pay for their passage by keeping passengers and crew supplied with fresh milk.

Charles and Belle originally ran a small dairy near Fourth and Kellum Street (what is now downtown), but eventually moved across the river to Graehl, (the old Steese Highway crosses the Chena River at Graehl) where they built a log barn and house. According to the book, “The History of Creamer’s Dairy,” during this period the Hinckleys couldn’t afford regular milk bottles, so they sterilized wine bottles and used them instead.

The Hinckleys soon were able to buy a 327 acre homestead three miles farther out of town, along what is now College Road. For several years, while they cleared additional land, the Hinckleys herded their cows to the homestead to graze in the summer and back to the barn in Graehl during the winter. Eventually they moved their entire operation, including house. The structure was disassembled and the pieces carefully labeled before being hauled and re-assembled at the new site. The log house (the dairy’s present farmhouse) was enlarged over the years and eventually covered with board and batten siding.

Belle’s sister, Anne; and Anne’s husband, Charles Creamer (who had grown up in Fairbanks); bought the dairy from the Hinckleys in 1928. They expanded the operation and in 1935 bought their first tractor, the Case L tractor shown in the drawing. Switching from horse-drawn machinery to powered equipment was sometimes trying. According to Don Creamer (Charles Creamer’s son) the tractor “had a habit of getting itself stuck,” and needed to be pulled out with the old reliable horse team. The Creamers eventually retired the Case and bought newer tractors, but hung on to the old tractor. It was restored by Robert and Barbara Moore and still has a home at the dairy.

In 1938 the Creamers had the largest and most modern barn in Alaska built for their operation. The new barn was 110 feet long, and 36 feet wide, with a huge hay loft capable of holding enough hay to get a 55-cow herd through a Fairbanks winter. To celebrate its completion, they held a barn dance with an estimated 1,000 people in attendance. In 1950 a second barn, nearly as big as the first, was constructed.

At the height of operations, the dairy employed between 12 and 16 people, producing 250 to 300 gallons of milk and dairy products, and 400 to 600 gallons of ice cream and sherbet daily. However, changing market conditions and new health regulations eventually led to the dairy’s demise. The Creamers were forced to close their dairy in 1966, but with support from the Fairbanks community it was brought back to life as Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge.

For information on the history of Creamers Dairy after 1966 check out this post, "Creamer's Dairy an iconic part of Fairbanks history and landscape."

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ptarmigan tracks at Broad Pass

Betsy and I were checking out the Summit airstrip in Broad Pass when we noticed animal tracks crisscrossing the snow. It took us a while to realize that they were ptarmigan tracks. That must have been a sizable covey!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Ski tracks along the Susitna River

The past week I was in Talkeetna and took a walk along the Sustna River. Some one had been cross-country skiing a few days prior to my walk, and the skier left interesting tracks as he-or-she herring-boned up a small rise. The tracks are not depressions in the snow. Rather, they are ridges. The skier's initial ski thrust compacted the snow, and wind subsequently eroded the snow around the tracks.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Eagle City Hall reflects city's pioneer days

Eagle City Hall as it looked in the 1990s
The City of Eagle sits beside the Yukon River six miles west of the Canadian border. It was established by disappointed miners returning from the Klondike, but mining is only part of the area’s history.

Eagle is located along the Yukon’s west bank, south of Mission Creek. In 1874 a French-Canadian fur trader, Moses Mercier, started a trading post called Belle Island about three miles to the north near a Han Athabascan village. 

A few years later he moved the trading post to the mouth of Mission Creek. Han called the creek Tototlindu, but an Episcopal mission (only lasting a few years) next to Mercier’s trading post led to the creek’s renaming. The trading post itself only operated intermittently.

Han have occupied the Upper Yukon region from Charley River (55 miles downriver from Eagle) to the Klondike River (60 miles upriver at Dawson City) for generations. (Eagle Native village is still located just upriver from Eagle.) Archaeological excavations at the Eagle courthouse in 1975 uncovered evidence of Native occupation hundreds of years prior to Western contact.

Gold had been found in Alaska's Upper Yukon region many years before the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush. A strike was made along the Fortymile River in 1886, and in 1895 it was discovered on American Creek (a tributary of Mission Creek). However, when the fabulous strikes along the Klondike River were publicized, most of these miners left Alaska for the Yukon.

A few popular histories place Eagle’s beginning in 1897. While some miners may have camped at Mission Creek in 1897, period documents indicate the town actually began coalescing in 1898.
U.S. Army Captain P.H. Ray, who travelled to Alaska in 1897 to investigate rumors of civil unrest and scout out locations for Army posts, traveled up the Yukon River as far as Canada’s border in Fall 1897. In an Oct. 6 letter he described the Mission Creek area as an excellent location for a military post, but did not mention any settlement there. He also recommended that posts be established away from mining towns so that “troops, if required to act will not be biased by local influence” — hardly the recommendation he would give if a settlement already existed there.

Much changed over the winter of 1897-98. When Ray mushed up the Yukon River from Fort Yukon to Dawson City at the end of February 1898, many disgruntled Americans (unable to find stakeable claims and unhappy with Canadian regulations) were headed back to the U.S.. Ray found miners camped at Mission Creek and Seventymile River (about 10 miles downriver from Mission Creek). Because of the beneficial attributes of the Mission Creek site, he still recommended building a military post there.

In May of that year a group of 28 miners laid out a townsite at Mission Creek, calling their new town Eagle City (because of eagles nesting on the bluffs just to the north). By summer there were about 500 cabins and 1,700 residents.

A sawmill quickly sprang up and three commercial companies built stores: Alaska Commercial, North American Transportation and Trading, and Alaska Exploration Company. The new city soon boasted a hospital, newspaper, several churches and numerous saloons.

Eagle became the first incorporated city in Interior Alaska in January 1901, and residents designated the log cabin pictured in the drawing as City Hall. Located at 1901 Chamberlain Street near St. Paul’s Church and the river, it was built with round logs saddle-notched at the corners, and has a corrugated metal roof. A 1986 addition to the rear is also constructed of logs and blends nicely with the older structure. Still used as City Hall, it is typical of many Eagle buildings.

For more history of Eagle check out these posts:
Fort Egbert at Eagle, Alaska brought order to Alaska-Canada border
Old Eagle Courthouse dates back to days of Territorial justice

Talkeetna winter sunset

April--and its still winter in Talkeetna, oh yes! This is a photo of the birch trees in front of our rental cabin (Susitna River Lodging) in Talkeetna. The cabins are on the east bank of the Susitna River. The Alaska Range peeks out across the river to the extreme right in the background.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Frozen Flame detailing on our truck--compliments of Mother Nature

Weather conditions along the Parks Highway this past weekend were such that fantastic flame-shaped icicles were growing on our truck. They looked cool, but we had to knock them off. Besides the additional weight they added to the truck, the ones in the wheel-wells were brushing against the tires. I was afraid we would impale one of the tires as we bounced over dips and bumps in the road.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Wind and truck sculpted ice

On a recent trip down the Parks Highway, the weather conditions were such that slush thrown up from the road froze almost instantly when it hit our truck. The results were interesting.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Hand-drawn map for Interior Sketches book

I have been working on a map for my upcoming book on historic sites in Interior Alaska. Since I love old hand-drawn maps, and in keeping with the subject matter and content of the book (drawings of old buildings), I though a hand-drawn map of Interior Alaska would be appropriate. The map is a work in progress, but here is how it looks right now.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Denali (Mt. McKinley) north and south

I drove down to Talkeetna last week. It was a beautiful cloudless day and I took photos of Denali from the north at Broad Pass, and from the south at Talkeetna.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Ravens at Byers Lake

We are stopping at the Byers Lake Wayside on the Parks Highway on a regular basis for our jobs. Two ravens frequent the parking lot by the outhouses there, bumming for handouts.

During one recent visit the raven got tired of being ignored by me and flew off to perch in the top of a scarred birch tree. The view is looking west towards Mt. McKinley, which would be visible to the left of the trees if this were a wide-angle shot.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Caribou along Denali Highway

For the past month I have been on the road a lot--a temporary job earning money to support my art habit. I'm driving regularly up and down the Parks Highway and parts of the Denali Highway.

On Monday of last week we had a near blizzard at Cantwell--40 MPH winds and drifting snow. By Wednesday the weather had cleared--cold but beautiful. Saw a small band of caribou Wednesday morning three miles from Cantwell along the Denali Highway. They were nice enough to let us take their photos.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Railroad changed Nenana forever

Nenana depot as it looked in 2012

 In March 1914, Congress authorized the construction of a government railroad in the Territory of Alaska. The northern terminus of the railroad would be in Fairbanks, but there were two competing routes from ice-free ports at tidewater to the Interior. There was an “eastern” route starting at Valdez or Cordova on Prince William Sound, and a “western” route, starting at Seward or Portage Bay on the Kenai Peninsula.

The future of the Athabascan village of Toghotthele, located near the confluence of the Nenana and Tanana rivers, was unequivocally affected when President Wilson chose the western route. His decision was influenced in part by national sentiment against J. P. Morgan and the Guggenheim family, whose Alaska Syndicate owned the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad that ran between Cordova and Kennicott.

The western route followed the right of way of the bankrupt Alaska Northern Railroad north from Seward to Turnagain Arm, and then struck out across the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, crossing the Alaska Range at Broad Pass, and heading north to Fairbanks. The proposed railroad crossed the Tanana River at Toghottele (now named Nenana).

The Alaska Engineering Commission (the government entity formed to oversee the railroad’s construction) began work in 1915 at Ship Creek in the newly formed town of Anchorage. By 1916, 60 miles of new track had been laid, 100 miles of roadbed graded and 230 miles of right of way cleared.

Some histories claim that the Alaska Railroad’s tracks reached Nenana by 1922, but this is not completely accurate. While the rail link between Anchorage and Nenana was completed in 1922, the AEC had decided to have crews work simultaneously from the south and north. Anchorage was the southern construction headquarters, and Nenana was chosen as the northern headquarters.

Beginning in 1915, the AEC built a sizable construction compound in Nenana, including offices, dormitories, power plant, machine shop, warehouses and hospital. (All of these structures are now gone.) A white man’s community sprang up around the railroad yard, and Nenana’s population quickly doubled. By this time, Fairbanks’s sister city of Chena (at the mouth of the Chena River) was dying, and many of that community’s buildings were relocated to the new railroad town at Nenana.

So construction crews worked south from Nenana and north from Anchorage, and in February 1922 the gap between the southern and northern segments was closed with the completion of the Riley Creek Bridge (still in use) just outside the entrance to Denali National Park.

A bridge across the Tanana River still needed to be constructed, but that did not stop rail traffic from reaching Fairbanks. The AEC had acquired the bankrupt Tanana Valley Railroad in 1917, and in 1919 it extended tracks south to the north shore of the Tanana River. Until the Mears railroad bridge across the Tanana was completed in 1923, passengers and freight were ferried across the river when it was free of ice, and during the winter, temporary tracks were laid across the frozen Tanana River.

With the completion of the railroad as far as Nenana, a depot was needed. A single story station with passenger waiting room and freight storage room (similar to the historic depot still standing in Seward) was built in 1922 near the waterfront. In 1937, a second story containing the personal quarters for the railroad agent was added.

By the 1980s, the depot was no longer being used, and it was transferred to the city of Nenana in 1987. Now the Alaska State Railroad Museum, it is open during the summer free of charge, and is a lovely place to spend a morning or afternoon.