Saturday, June 29, 2013

Old Dodge M-series 4x4 somwhere in the hills around Fairbanks

His is a photo of an old Dodge M-series truck. Some one told me about it few weeks ago and I asked the owner if I could photograph it. He said yes, but only if I promised not to tell where it is. Seems that when he parked it about 25 years ago it was in fairly complete condition, but as you can see, many of the parts, including the entire engine, have walked off. Some people just have no respect for private property.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

1940s Quick-Way Truck Shovel crane on Brockway Chassis near Ester

Here is a 1940s era Quick-Way truck-mounted crane sitting on a Brockway chassis. It is located along the Parks Highway near Ester.

According to an article on the ConstructionEquipment.Com website, in 1922, a prototype truck-mounted shovel (the first truck-mounted shovel developed in the U.S.) was demonstrated in Wyoming. After modifications and further engineering, the “Quick-Way Truck Shovel” went into production in 1929.  It was designed as a shovel, but could be modified to work as a hoe, clamshell, dragline, pile drive and crane.

Several thousand Quick-Ways were manufactured during World War II and shipped worldwide. The Quick-Way Truck Shovel Company was bought out by Marion Power Shovel Company in 1961.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Old Federal Building in Fairbanks anchors downtown district

Old Federal Building in Fairbanks in about 2000

The book “Ghosts of the Gold Rush” recounts that many long-time Fairbanks residents believed the reason Fairbanks prospered and Chena City (at the confluence of the Chena and Tanana Rivers and consequently in a better location for steamboat traffic) failed was because of the machinations of E.T. Barnette and Judge James Wickersham.

Barnette and Wickersham met serendipitously in St. Michael in 1902 where Barnette, who still had dreams of starting a trading post at Tanana Crossing, was supervising the construction of a shallow-draft steamship to transport him up the Tanana River. Wickersham was impressed with Barnette and told him if he named his trading post after Senator Charles W. Fairbanks of Indiana (whom Wickersham admired) he would do everything in his power to help Barnette succeed.

Felix Pedro’s discovery of gold in a tributary of the Chena River the same year changed Barnette’s plans for moving his trading post, and the new town on the Chena became Fairbanks. When Wickersham moved the Third Judicial District’s headquarters from Eagle to Fairbanks in 1903, the new courthouse and federal jail were built on land donated by Barnette. Old timers believed it was the government presence, represented by the federal courthouse, that ensured Fairbanks’ survival. (for a post on Wickersham's move to Fairbanks click here.)

The original wood-frame courthouse burned down, along with most of the downtown business district in 1906 and was quickly replaced with another wood-frame structure built with green lumber. Coupled with a poor foundation, inadequate load-bearing walls, and a poor design, the building deteriorated rapidly and by the 1910s residents were clamoring for a new building.

After repeated requests, in 1931 the federal government appointed George N. Ray, a prominent Washington D.C. architect, to design the building, and allocated $424,000 for its construction. The construction contact was let in March of 1932 and in August 1934 the building was dedicated by Fairbanks Mayor E. B. Collins, Alaskan Congressional Delegate Anthony J. Dimond, and Second Assistant Postmaster General Harlee Branch.

The courthouse building, which also housed the post office and other federal agencies, is shown in the drawing. The large reinforced concrete building is 128 feet long and 92 feet wide, occupying an entire city block on Cushman Street between Second and Third avenues. It has three full floors with a small central section rising an additional level.

The building is decidedly Art Deco in design and use of materials. It is symmetrical, composed of three sections, with each section having three bays. The design elements are rectilinear, and the building utilizes repeated low relief geometric decorations.

Aluminum, which was a popular decorative material during the art deco, is used extensively in the building. The metal was relatively rare and hard to manufacture during most of the 1800s — in fact it was once called the Prince of Metals because of its scarcity. New production methods at the end of the 19th century brought it out of the luxury market and into common usage as a design and architectural element.

Incised aluminum panels are used on the old federal building to decorate the parapet and between the window bays. The front entrance also has cast aluminum doors and aluminum transom grills cast in the shape of eagles. The four large wall-mounted entry lanterns beside the front doors also used to be aluminum but they have been replaced.

The federal court, post office, and other federal agencies occupied the building until 1977, when they moved to a new federal building on 12th Avenue near the Steese Expressway.

The old federal building is now privately owned and is occupied by private offices, but it is still a splendid anchor for the downtown area.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

More old buildings in Talkeetna

 Here are a few more photos of old buildings in Talkeetna. See my previous post for a short history of the town.

At the corner of First and C Street.

Between First and Main  on B Street

On Main Street between C and B Street

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Historic Talkeetna in May, before the summer hordes arrive

Talkeetna Roadhouse, built between 1914 and 1917
Here are some photos of historic buildings in Talkeetna. We have been stopping there as part of our job for the past three months, and had a very nice time.

Fairview Inn, built in 1923

There are lots of reasons for visiting, but I’m mainly interested in the history. The cook at the West Rib Pub told us Princess Tours drops about 2,000 tourists a day in town during the summer. Not my idea for a summer destination, but it is nice in the spring, before the tourist hordes arrive. 

Nagley's Store, built before 1915

According to the Talkeetna Historical Society, a settlement called Susitna Station was in existence here by 1915, when it was a riverboat station providing supplies to prospectors. In 1916 the location was selected as s divisional headquarters for the construction of the Alaska Railroad. The Alaska Railroad surveyed a townsite in 1919. The town is on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

Monday, June 17, 2013

1960s Mercedes 1113 fire truck in Talkeetna, Alaska

The things you find in the supposed hinterlands. This is a mid-1960s Mercedes Benz 1113 cab-over fire truck I saw in front of the Fairview Inn at Talkeetna. The model 1113s were called "kurzhaubers," which means short hood.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Sourdough Roadhouse was popular stop along old Valdez-Fairbanks Trail

These two cabins at Sourdough Roadhouse date back to its early Valdez-Fairbanks Trail days

Margaret Murie, in her book, “Two in the Far North,” said that all the best roadhouses had a “Ma” to provide a touch of gentility to the trail.

While it may be true that the best roadhouses had a ma’s touch, some of those women proprietors were less than genteel ladies. “Roadhouses of the Richardson Highway” tells of Nellie Yeager at Sourdough Roadhouse who, while she provided a comforting “woman’s” touch to the roadhouse for 14 years, could out-cuss any muleskinner or stage driver who set foot in her establishment. It was said that some travelers stopped by just to see the performances.

Sourdough Roadhouse (also called Sourdough Lodge or just Sourdough), is located at 147.5 Mile Richardson Highway, adjacent to the Gulkana River. It was one of the busiest roadhouses along the old Valdez-Fairbanks Trail and was a major station on Ed Orr’s Valdez-Fairbanks Stage Line.

The roadhouse’s popularity was in part due to the efforts of its owners, but also owed much to its location. It was at the junction of a winter trail that climbed the west fork of the Gulkana River into the Alaska Range and over a divide into the MacClaren and Susitna River drainages and the Valdez Creek mining area (now reached by the Denali Highway).

The roadhouse, situated along the 1906 re-alignment of the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail, dated from about that same time, although some histories put its initial construction at 1903. Until the roadhouse’s destruction in a 1992 fire, it was the longest operating roadhouse in Alaska still in its original building. (Click here for a photo of what the original roadhouse used to looked like.)

As an aside, I have a friend who worked for the Alaska Department of Transportation years ago. He travelled all over Interior Alaska and often stayed at roadhouses. He told me it wasn’t surprising that many of them burned down, often because of lack of kitchen maintenance and buildup of grease. One of the things he always did after stopping at a roadhouse was plan his escape route.

A new roadhouse structure was built at Sourdough in 1993 and the business is still open. The two cabins in the drawing, which date from the roadhouse’s early years, are all that is left of the original roadhouse operation.

The roadhouse’s current proprietor told me the cabin to the left was used for wagon and sled storage. If you look closely you can see that the cabin doorway originally extended to the far end of the window. Ed Orr used to store stage equipment in roadhouse buildings, and it is possible this cabin was used to shelter one of his stages or sleds.

Of course, the roadhouse operation encompassed more than just the lodge and immediate out buildings. Bureau of Land Management archaeological surveys at its Gulkana River campground next to the roadhouse have uncovered evidence of the establishment’s much larger presence, including the remains of a fox farm operated by another of the roadhouse’s owners, Hazel Waechter, during the later 1920s and early 1930s.

BLM surveys near the roadhouse also uncovered a cabin built and occupied by an Athabascan Indian family from about 1924 to 1945. Athabascans have occupied the area for thousands of years, and according to a BLM internal publication, the Ewan family of Gulkana (23 miles to the south) used the area for subsistence hunting and gathering.

Sourdough is still a popular place for salmon fisherfolk to congregate and launch their boats onto the Gulkana River. Hopefully, Sourdough Roadhouse will continue to provide comfort and memories to those fisherfolk and other travelers along the Richardson Highway for years to come.


  • “After all these Years—History and Good Food go up in Smoke,” K. E. Mushovic, March 1993, “BLM-Alaska Frontiers,”
  • “Just Junk, or is It? Some Junk Talks. At Sourdough campground BLM archaeologists have found trash that reveals details about the place,” March 1990. “BLM-Alaska Frontiers”
  • “Roadhouses of the Richardson highway,” Walter Phillips, 1984, Alaska Historical Commission
  • “The Trail, the Story of the Historic Valdez-Fairbanks Trail.” Kenneth Marsh, 2008, Trapper Creek Museum

Monday, June 10, 2013

Sign of the times - Mom and Pop roadhouses and lodges along Richardson Highway fading away

Paxson Lodge in June 2013 - only the cafe is open

We drove the Richardson highway as far south as Sourdough this past week, and I was saddened by the state of most of the small commercial lodges and gas stations along the way. There is nothing left of the Richardson Roadhouse now except an old log garage. The Summit Lake lodge burned down years ago and has never been replaced. Paxson Lodge is in deteriorating condition—the gas pumps aren’t working and only the café is open. Meiers Lake gas station and café are closed. Sourdough Roadhouse is still open, but the owner told me that this summer will probably be their last. If they can’t sell the roadhouse—well, who knows. 

It seems that the only locations that are making it are ones like Rika’s Roadhouse or Sullivan’s Roadhouse that have been saved by federal, state or local government agencies; or ones that have found a niche market, like the Lodge at Black Rapids. All the rest seem to be succumbing to the double whammy of improvements to the Richardson Highway and increasing vehicle fuel efficiency that make it unnecessary and inconvenient to stop.

It’s a shame. There used to be scores of little Mom and Pop operations along the highway during its early days, but as the years have lengthened they have gradually disappeared. All these little wide spots in the road—the places that made travel along the highway possible—the places that for many residents made life along rural parts of the highway possible--are fading away, along with the lifestyle and history they represent.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Young bull moose at Paxson - 6-5-2013

As we came down out of winter along the Denali Highway we rounded the final curve before Paxson and saw this young bull moose browsing next to the road. Cool!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Landmark Gap on Denali Highway - June 4, 2013 - still lots of snow

We drove in on the eastern end of the Denali Highway this past week from Paxson to MacClaren River Lodge. There was still plenty of snow! Above is a photo of Landmark Gap from the Denali Highway. Below is a photo on the other side of the highway.

We got to MacClaren River just about the time the road crews from Cantwell drove in. The western half of the highway had been experiencing numerous road washouts for the past week. Road crews said the road to the west was "kinda sorta fixed" but there was still plenty of work to be done and they didn't recommend cars or RVs drive it.

The road between Tangle Lakes and MacClaren River was no cakewalk either. Lots of soft spots in the road, water running alongside washing away the shoulder, and water across the road in several spots. The descent from MacClaren Summit  to the river was the worst with multiple soft spots, cracks in the roadbed, and eroded areas where water had been running across the road.