Friday, December 26, 2014

Fox tracks along the Chena River - December 2014

During my recent walk along the Chena River I saw lots of fox tracks--must be a good vole year. For the first photo above, which is several shots stitched together, I stood about six feet above the ground, teetering on an old snag that had gotten hung up on the river bank during this past summer's high water.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas day along the Chena River, 2014

 Happy Holidays!

Went for a walk on the Chena River today. It was a lovely day -- partly cloudy and about 5 degrees above zero (F). It was about 1:00 in the afternoon, with the sun about as high in the sky as it was going to get today, Days are getting longer though!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Fortymile Roadhouse and the Taylor Highway, gateway to the historic Fortymile country

Fortymile Roadhouse in 1998
The 160-mile long Taylor Highway was constructed between 1947 and 1951 to connect the Alaska Highway with the Fortymile River region (often referred to as “Fortymile country”) and the city of Eagle on the Yukon River.

When the road was first proposed and during construction, it was referred to as simply the “Fortymile Road.” It was later named the Taylor Highway in honor of Ike Taylor, Alaska Road Commission (ARC) president from 1932 to 1948.

During the early 1900s, the ARC constructed a road from Eagle as far south as Wade Creek, about 60 miles. At the same time, Canada’s Yukon Territory extended its road system westward from Dawson City to serve miners in the Sixty Mile River area. In the 1930s the ARC and Yukon Territory linked their two roads, and the Top of the World Highway (Yukon Highway 9) was born.

According to articles appearing in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in November and December of 1938, the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce began pushing for a road from Fairbanks to Fortymile country soon after completion of the Top of the World Highway. Chamber members believed that such a road would relieve the “shut-in” atmosphere of the Fortymile area and open up opportunities just as the Steese and Elliott highways had done.

Although the ARC was in favor of the road, budget restraints kept the road on the drawing board until World War II intervened and construction efforts were diverted to the Alcan Highway. However, construction of the Alcan accomplished part of what the ARC wanted to do anyway; build over 100 miles of road to the edge of Fortymile country.

The gateway to Fortymile country turned out to be just a few miles east of the new community of Tok. When the Alcan was built, land ownership was not a prime consideration, and the section of highway just east of Tok ended up passing through the northern edge of the Tetlin Native Reserve, one of the few reservations ever established in Alaska. The new junction of the Alcan Highway and the Fortymile Road was about 13 miles north of the Athabascan village of Tetlin, so it was naturally called Tetlin Junction.

Seizing the opportunity to be the first business serving the new road, Ray and Mable Scoby, along with their partner, Clarence “Red” Post, decided to build the Fortymile Roadhouse at the junction. According to a Bureau of Land Management report, "Indians, Traders and Bureaucrats in the Upper Tanana District; a History of the Tetlin Reserve," they leased land from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and began building in 1948, before the road was even completed.

Roy David Sr., an Athabascan who grew up in Tetlin, said in a 2013 interview that when he went to work for the Scobys in 1952, only the café was open. Over time the Scobys added a bathhouse, numerous tiny rental cabins located in front of the bathhouse, and a service station with garage to repair vehicles. The drawing shows the café and bathhouse. Ray Scoby also operated a small sawmill processing timber he harvested under permit from the Tetlin reserve.

Tok is only about 12 miles away, and as highway conditions improved and new visitor facilities were built in Tok, there was less need for the roadhouse at Tetlin Junction. The roadhouse finally closed in about 1985 but opened again briefly in 1992 for the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Highway.

The drawing shows the roadhouse in 1998 when the buildings were still in decent shape. Now, the rental units have disappeared and everything else is boarded up, weathering away amid obscuring trees.


• “Chamber of Commerce endorses Fortymile Road.” in “Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.” 11-15-38
• “Driving along Alaska highways.” in “Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.” 5-25-73
• “Indians, Traders and Bureaucrats in the Upper Tanana District: A History of the Tetlin Reserve.” C. Michael Brown. Bureau of Land Management. 1984
• “Lack of Fortymile Road gives rich district dim, shut-in atmosphere.” in Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. 12-7-1938
• “Roy David Sr. Oral History.” interview by Barbara Cellarius and Leslie McCartney. University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program. 2013
• “Tok-to-Border folks feel like second-class citizens.” in Fairbanks Daily News Miner. 4-11-1963

Monday, December 8, 2014

Manley Roadhouse – Serving hospitality since 1903

Manley Roadhouse as it looked in 1994

John Karshner was prospecting for gold when he stumbled across a hot springs in the hills just north of a small Tanana River tributary in 1902. Karshner had a farming background and saw more potential for profit in selling food to prospectors and miners than in actually mining, so he immediately staked out a homestead north of the stream, which became known as “Hot Springs Slough.”

A trading post supplying goods to prospectors in the Tofty and Eureka areas to the north was located about 10 miles to the east, at the confluence of Baker Creek and the Tanana River. However, seeing the advantages of the hot springs site, entrepreneurs soon built a general store on the north side of Hot Springs Slough, eclipsing the Baker Creek operation. The Baker Creek site was located along the route of the Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System (WAMCATS) telegraph line and survived for a time as a telegraph station, but except for a small sawmill, otherwise passed into obscurity.

Hot Springs (also called Baker Hot Springs and eventually Manley Hot Springs) was in the ascendant though, and other facilities sprouted up. According to the Manley Roadhouse website, in addition to the store, Sam’s Meals and Rooms (which eventually became the Manley Roadhouse) opened in 1903, also on the north side of the slough.

Most of the new town’s businesses appear to have been clustered along the base of the hills on the north bank of the slough, rather than on the flatter ground to the south. This was in part because of the Martin Sabin homestead, which occupied about 150 acres on the south side of the slough where the town airport is now. I think it was also because of a military withdrawal on slough’s south bank made to support the WAMCATS telegraph line. When the landlines were replaced by wireless telegraphy (radio) most of the telegraph stations closed. Consequently, the military withdrawal at Hot Springs was abandoned, and business began moving across the slough.

In a biography of Stanley Dayo, a long-time Manley resident, he states that the Manley Roadhouse was moved across the slough to its present location in 1925. Late January and early February of 1925 was also when the serum run from Nenana to Nome occurred, during which 20 mushers relayed diphtheria anti-toxin to combat an outbreak of the deadly disease.

The book, The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic, relates the story of Edgar Kalland, an Athabascan musher who carried the serum from Tolovana to Manley, a distance of 32 miles. The temperature during his run was about 55 degrees below zero (F) and one newspaper article reported that upon arriving at the Manley roadhouse, Kalland’s mittens were frozen to the sled’s handle bar. The roadhouse proprietor reportedly poured boiling water over the handle bar to free Kalland’s mittens. (I’m assuming the roadhouse had not been moved before the serum run took place.)

The roadhouse has gone through a succession of owners, but it basic appearance has changed little over the years. The front portion of the establishment, a 2-½ story wood-frame structure with a gable roof, looks pretty much the same as it did when moved across the slough. It is very typical of commercial buildings built during the early 1900s.

The rear section of the building has changed gradually during the years — morphing from a small one-story addition (with additional additions tacked on, Alaska-style) to the present two-story structure. The roadhouse is still operating, serving Alaskan hospitality to locals and visitors year-round.


  •  An archeological reconnaissance of Manley and Hutlinana Hot Springs, central interior Alaska. Robert Sattler. University of Alaska Museum. 1986
  • Bureau of Land Management records
  • “Manley Hot Springs history.” John Robert Dart. On Dart Agriculture and Mining website. 2010
  •  “Manley Roadhouse history.” on Manley Roadhouse website. 2009
  •  Prospecting and Mining Activity in the Rampart, Manley Hot Springs and Fort Gibbon Mining Districts of Alaska, 1894 to the Present Era. Rosalie L’Ecuyer. Bureau of Land Management. 1997
  • Stanley Day, Manley Hot Springs. Yvonne Yarber & Curt Madison. Yukon Kuskokwim School District. 1984
  • The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic,. Gay Salisbury. W.W. Norton. 2003

Monday, December 1, 2014

For One Artist, Colorblindness Opened Up A World Of Black And White

Mary's Turn - engraving by Peter Milton

"Colors can cheat the eye but sumi (black pigment) never can; it proclaims the master and exposes the tyro" - Henry Bowie, in On the Laws of Japanese Painting.

Most readers of my blog probably don't know that I am red-green colorblind (as you silently say to yourself, "That explains why all his drawings are in black and white."). That's also why this story from NPR on the colorblind artist, Peter Milton caught my attention. What he says is so true--I don't miss color. Check out the story here.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Chena River on Thanksgiving day -- sunny and beautiful

Thanksgiving day here is Fairbanks. My wife and I walked down to the river and back just now. It is clear and cold, about -5 degrees F. Actually pretty good weather for the end of November. Beautiful. So this is a photo of the Chena River on Thanksgiving at about 2 p.m.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Main School, now City Hall, is a Fairbanks fixture

Soon after Fairbanks was established, residents began clamoring for schools. In the fall of 1903 (even before the city was incorporated), a small private school opened. Thirteen students and their teacher met in a small cabin at the corner of Wendell and Noble streets. Unfortunately, a funding shortfall closed the school just before Christmas.

In spring 1904, a public school opened in a rented facility near Lacey Street and Third Avenue. The next fall 50 students moved into a new school building at the corner of Second Avenue and Noble Street.

The Fairbanks school population continued to grow, and in 1907, a new two-story frame schoolhouse with full basement was built on Cushman Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues, the site of the present Old Main School. (A few school board members objected, saying the location was too far out of town.)

The new school building had wide front steps surmounted by a portico, and a hipped roof topped by an open belfry. In a town composed primarily of one story log cabins, the two-story school seemed a magnificent building, likened by one local pastor to an English cathedral.

The school, along with a 1929 addition, served Fairbanks children until 1932 when fired consumed the building. The structure was a loss, and classes were moved to nearby churches and civic organization facilities until a new facility was constructed.

In 1933 construction began on a 35,500-square-foot, reinforced-concrete building on the site of the old building. Plans for the new school were drawn up by the engineer responsible for the Federal Building then under construction in Fairbanks, and the school building shares many of the same Art Deco exterior design elements. As originally constructed, the building had three stories with a ground floor daylight basement. The building faced Cushman Street, with classrooms and office on all three floors and a 4,000-square-foot gymnasium extending to the rear. It was officially opened on Jan. 22, 1934.

A burgeoning student population meant the addition of a south wing in 1939 and a north wing in 1948. With both additions, close attention was paid to blending in with the old exterior. However, consistency between old and new interior floor plans was not maintained. Differing floor levels and confusing connecting hallways made the interior a maze. In his booklet, The Spirit of Old Main, a History of the Old Main School, Chris Allen related a joke that, “suggested that any senior who was able to find his way from the center of the building to the outside should be handed a graduation certificate.”

Main School remained the Fairbanks School District’s only school until 1951 when the district began building schools in outlying areas. By 1959 only junior high students remained. All students had been moved to other facilities by 1976 and the school district’s administration offices moved in. The district’s offices remained there until 1993 when a new administrative center was completed. Main School was then relinquished to the city. The building’s ground floor windows were boarded up and the heat was turned off.

The next December (1994) the city began moving its offices into the building. A year of no maintenance and no utilities meant a great deal of work needed to be done on the building.

Old Main School is in the National Register of Historic Places, and the city has a goal of restoring the building to its original floor plan. Some major renovations have already been accomplished, such as fixing the roof, refinishing the gym floor and bleachers, replacing all the windows that had been boarded up, and opening up all the hallways. Much of the credit goes to former Mayor Jerry Cleworth, who attended Main School.


  • Conversation with Jerry Cleworth, former Fairbanks City Mayor
  • “Fairbanks, a City Historic Building Survey.” Janet Matheson. City of Fairbanks. 1985
  • “Our Schools, a History of Elementary and Secondary Public Education in the Fairbanks Area.” Fairbanks North Star Borough. 1989
  • “The Spirit of Old Main, a History of the Old Main School – 1932-1995.” Chis Allen. 1995
  • “National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.” Russell Sackett. National Park Service. 1990

Monday, November 24, 2014

Kickstarter campaign starting soon for "Interior Sketches II"

This is for fans of my historical essays, drawings, and  first book, "Interior Sketches, Ramblings around Interior Alaska historic sites." Response to the first book was positive, and since I have continued to write and draw, its time to begin working on a second book.

After Thanksgiving I'll be starting a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to publish "Interior Sketches II, More ramblings around Interior Alaska historic sites." The book will feature 60 more historic sites in Eastern Interior Alaska, plus additional drawings of Interior Alaska.

The fundraising campaign will have the same sort of premium levels as my first Kickstarter campaign: notecards, post cards, calendars, copies of the book, and original drawings. Watch this page for additional information.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Birch seeds and catkin scales as miniature leaves for dioramas

So all you Northern types who live surrounded by birch trees--there are those winter days when the wind blows and the snow ends up with piles of birch seeds and birch catkin scales all over the place. Very pretty, but do you know what all those itty bitty birch bits are good for? I didn't until this week when something odd happened on my blog.

I did a blog post several years ago about a blustery winter day and posted photos of birch seeds and catkins strewn all about. In recent blog statistics I noticed multiple hits for that old blog posting--almost 50 hits coming from all over the world.

I finally tracked the hits to a link posted on a website for large-scale model builders who construct dioramas for their models. Turns out if you put down a thin layer of glue on your diorama and then sprinkle birch seeds and catkin scales liberally over the glue you end up with piles of just-the-right size autumn leaves! Here is a link tp that page.

The person posting the link evidently thought my piles of miniature leaves were good examples. The power of the internet! Here is a link to my original post.

Who knew?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Icy tree in the winter sun - Fairbanks in November

Had a friend  tell me about an ice-laden tree near the old library at the corner of 1st and Cowles here in Fairbanks. The tree stands beneath the downspout of the building's gutter and with the warm winter we have had so far many of the branches are coated in ice. The icy branches looks very interesting in the changing light conditions. Pick a different time of day and the tree will look different.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Rocks n' Snow - November 2014

We have had a paucity of snow so far this year. I took these photos several weeks ago in my front  yard. There was still some residual heat in the rocks so the snow melted where ever the rocks were. It is the middle of November now and the rocks are still uncovered.

"Sketches of Alaska" now appearing in "Last Frontier Magazine"

Last Frontier Magazine is a relatively new publication. Based out of Palmer, it is going into its second year of life. Produced by Alaskans for Alaskans, its web page states that the magazine's "goal is to provide individuals with stunning photography and insightful stories that celebrate the place we call home and the people in it."

Its a monthly magazine and the editors say as long as I keep feeding them material they will keep publishing it. Starting with this month's issue, the magazine will be reprinting some of my columns. This issue features my story and drawing about Constitution Hall.

Its a lovely little magazine--nicely produced. It has a print and on-line issue. You should check it out <> .

Friday, November 7, 2014

The early Richardson Highway and the Gibson stage line

The Richardson Highway stretches 368 miles from Valdez on Prince William Sound to Fairbanks in the Tanana River Valley. In its earliest form — the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail — it was the dominant overland route into Interior Alaska.

The Valdez-Fairbanks Trail also was called the Richardson Trail after Major Wilds P. Richardson, the first president of the Alaska Road Commission (ARC). The trail was blazed in about 1903 as an offshoot of the Valdez-Eagle Trail, After the ARC formed in 1904, improvement of the Richardson Trail became a priority. By 1910 it had been upgraded to an all-season wagon road (albeit a very primitive wagon road in places).

A few automobiles had already appeared in Fairbanks (freighted in on steamboats), and as the Richardson’s road conditions improved, adventurers began testing their vehicles against it. By 1909 autos could be driven as far as Birch Lake about 60 miles southeast of Fairbanks. According to the book, The Trail, the Story of the Historic Valdez-Fairbanks Trail, some entrepreneurs teamed up with stage lines to take passengers part-way to-and-from Valdez via motor vehicles.

By 1912 road conditions improved enough that some dared think it might be possible to drive all the way between Fairbanks and Valdez. All the major streams and rivers except five had been bridged, and those five had ferry service across them.

Bobby Sheldon of Fairbanks was the first to succeed in driving the Richardson. He had been interested in motor vehicles even as a youth. While living is Skagway in 1905 he built the first automobile in Alaska. (That home-built vehicle is on display at the University of Alaska Museum of the North.)

In early 1913 he ordered a Ford Model T from Samson’s Hardware. It wasn’t long after its arrival in June that Bobby began toying with the idea of driving the car from Fairbanks to Valdez. With two burly passengers (who helped pull the little flivver out of mud holes and across flooded streams) Bobby made the groundbreaking trip between July 29 and Aug. 2.

His wasn’t the only vehicle to successfully make the trip that year, though. The ARC sent a truck out from Valdez on July 28 loaded with supplies for camps along the trail. It accomplished the same feat in a slightly longer time, arriving in Fairbanks on Aug. 6.

With motor vehicles having finally conquered the trail, auto usage picked up. In 1914 Bobby started an auto stage line, partnering with another Fairbanksan, Tom Gibson. The next year Gibson started his own line, “Gibson Auto Stage.”

According to a 1958 Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article, Gibson operated 23 vehicles, such as the 1916 Dodge Model 30-35 Touring car shown in the drawing. The Dodge, now owned by David Stone and Don and Ray Cameron and on loan to the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum, was modified by Gibson for his business’s special needs. The fuel tank was originally at the back of the vehicle, but in order to make more room for luggage the tank was repositioned under the front seat. The frame was jacked up several inches, and a metal support bar was installed between the front fenders to keep them from rattling.

The Valdez-Fairbanks Trail was officially designated the Richardson Road in 1919. Between 1920 and 1927 the road was gradually improved to automobile standards, eventually becoming the Richardson Highway.

With the completion of the Glenn Highway in 1945 (linking Southcentral with the Interior’s road system) the Richardson became a conduit for drivers traveling between Anchorage and Fairbanks.
Construction of the Parks Highway in the 1970s reduced traffic on the Richardson, but recent improvements to the Glenn and Richardson Highways have brought a resurgence in travel along the scenic roadway.


  • “Gibson ran early-day stage.” In Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. 7-18-1958

  • “History of the Valdez Trail.” Geoffrey Bleakley. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve web site. 2013

  • “Major Roads of Alaska.” National Park Service. 1944

  • Signage at Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

  • The Trail, the Story of the Historic Valdez-Fairbanks Trail. Kenneth Marsh. Trapper Creek Museum. 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Roald Amundsen cabin in Eagle - a link with bygone era of Polar exploration


The small frame house shown in the drawing, located in Eagle, Alaska, is where Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen (1872-1928) spent several months during the winter of 1905-06. He had mushed to Eagle, 400 miles south of the Arctic Ocean where Amundsen’s iced-in boat lay anchored, to send a telegram announcing that he and his crew were the first explorers to successfully sail through the Northwest Passage, the fabled ocean route traversing the Canadian Archipelago.

In contrast to earlier unsuccessful expeditions that involved large ships, scores of men, and dependence on tons of supplies carried onboard, Amundsen sailed a small shallow-draft boat with an appropriately small crew, and as much as possible lived off the resources of the area. He and his hand-picked six-man crew set sail on June 16, 1903 from Christiana (Oslo), Norway aboard the 70’ sloop Gjoa.

Several months later he sailed into the Canadian Archipelago northwest of Hudson’s Bay, searching for a location to set up scientific instruments to study the North Magnetic Pole. Aided by a group of Netsilik Inuit who settled nearby, Amundsen spent two winters at a site he christened Gjoahavn, in a protected harbor on the southeastern coast of King William Island.

During that time his party conducted systematic magnetic and meteorological observations at Gjoahavn, and made numerous forays to map the local area and take observations closer to the magnetic pole. One of the important discoveries from the expedition was that the pole had shifted about 30 miles to the north since first being located in 1831.

After his second winter at Gjoahavn, Amundsen continued his quest to navigate the Northwest Passage. Guided part way by Inuit kayakers, the Gjoa inched through the shallow, island-dotted waters until finally reaching Herschel Island in the eastern Beaufort Sea.  Because of the all-too-short navigation season, Amundsen was forced to overwinter there, along with several whaling vessels which had been plying the Arctic Ocean near the Bering Straits.

A wrecked whaling schooner was beached at Point King, near where the Gjoa was anchored. According to the book, “Amundsen, the splendid Norseman,” the ship’s captain wanted to reach San Francisco to outfit another ship for the next whaling season and contracted with Inuit guides to take him by dog sled as far as Fort Yukon.

Amundsen agreed to accompany them on the trip. Being the good Norwegian he was, Amundsen skied much of the way, helping break trail for the sled dogs. Some accounts stress Amundsen’s desire to send word of his success back to Norway, but Elva Scott, in a 1996 Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article, wrote that he was also seeking medical assistance for an ill crew member.

Fort Yukon did not have the telegraph facility that Amundsen had hoped for, so he and the whaling captain decided to push on to Eagle while their Inuit guides waited for Amundsen’s return at Fort Yukon.

When Amundsen arrived in Eagle on December 5, 1905 the thermometer read -60 degrees F. Amundsen’s first stop was the Northern Commercial Company (NC Co.) store, where he was mistaken for just another bedraggled prospector until asking to send a telegram to Norway. Broke, he had to send the 3,000 word telegram collect.

While waiting for replies to his telegram and for funds to complete his voyage, Amundsen lived in Eagle as guest of the NC Company’s store manager, Frank Smith. The small gable-roofed cabin he stayed in, about 15’ square with a small shed-roofed rear extension, is located on what is now called Amundsen Street, behind the old NC. Co. store building.

Amundsen finally departed Eagle on February 3, 1906, skiing the 400 miles back to the Gjoa. Later that year he and his crew completed their historic voyage across the Arctic Ocean, arriving at Nome in the Bering Straits on September 1, 1906.


  • “Amundsen cabin.” Sandra Faulkner. Historic American Buildings Survey , National Park Service. 1986
  • Amundsen, the splendid Norseman. Bellamy Partridge. Frederick A. Stokes Company. 1929
  • “Arctic explorer leaves imprint in Eagle.” Elva Scott. In Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. 10-6-1996
  • The North West Passage; the ‘Gjöa’ expedition, 1903-1907. Roald Amundsen. E.  Dutton. 1908

  • The Last Viking, the life of Roald Amundsen. Stephen R. Brown. Da Capo Press. 2012