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.