Saturday, October 31, 2015

Friday, October 30, 2015

Roadhouse paintings by Marge Gull


I was doing internet research and came across some roadhouse paintings done by Genevieve Marguerite (Marge) Gull. The image I included is her painting of the Timberline Roadhouse, which was a one-year-only roadhouse that operated during the winter of 1905-06.

According to an obituary I found (Marge died in 2013), she and her husband came to Alaska in 1938, living first in Fairbanks and then Anchorage. She was an amateur painter and “painted all 49 roadhouses that were on the Valdez-to-Fairbanks Trail.”

I assume that many of the paintings were done from photographs since the roadhouses in questions disappeared long before Marge came to Alaska. Still, the paintings are kinda cool.

The Valdez Museum appears to have most of the paintings, and the images are online. Here is the url for the museum’s online collections: 

A description of the image is on the back of each painting (also available online). I think the descriptions come from the book “Roadhouses of the Richardson Highway,” by Walter Phillips.

Check the paintings out.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Old churn drill in the new snow - October 2015

We had some wet white slop fall about a month ago, but today we started getting a proper snowfall, a light dusting of dry fluffy snow. I went out to take photos and saw the remains of what I think is an old churn drill located along the Steese Highway out by Fox.  Churn drills were used to obtain ore samples. Here is a drawing of an intact  churn drill. Those are dredge buckets lined up in from of it.

Monday, October 26, 2015

LeTourneau Sno-freighter, a Cold War giant makes Arctic transportation history

On a hillside along the Steese Highway south of Fox, Alaska sits a relic of the Cold War, a “sno-freighter” used in the mid-1950s to move supplies from Central Alaska to the Arctic coast for construction of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line. The DEW Line was a series of military radar stations (no longer in existence) arrayed in a 6,000-mile arc across Northern Alaska, Canada and Greenland.

The sno-freighter is a “land train” built by R.G. LeTourneau Inc. These land trains, developed as off-road vehicles, were (in train fashion) multiple wheeled cars linked together. Their motive power was individual electric motors located in the hub of each wheel. This arrangement evenly distributed power across all the wheels, providing better traction. LeTourneau worked on development of land trains until the first heavy lift helicopters went into production in 1962. These helicopters eliminated much of the land-train market.

Between 1953 and 1962 the company developed five land trains, each one unique. The VC-22 Sno-Freighter (shown in the drawing) is the second one LeTourneau produced. It was built for Alaska Freight Lines, owned by Al Ghezzi. Ghezzi was a pioneering Alaska trucker — his company was the first to keep Thompson Pass north of Valdez open in the winter.

General Electric Corporation (GE) was the main contractor for DEW Line construction, and Ghezzi obtained a contract from GE to deliver 500 tons of freight to the Canadian Arctic. The sno-freighter was a key part of his plans for the supply effort.

The vehicle has a lead power unit, plus five trailers. The lead unit is 16 feet wide and about 45 feet long. It contained a control section, a bunk section for its four-man crew, and a power section. Power for the train was provided by two 400 hp Cummins diesel generators. The generators provided electricity for the vehicle’s controls, and to run the electric motors that drove the sno-freighter’s 24 wheels. (The power section is now gone.) Each trailer is 16 feet wide and 40 feet long. The complete land-train is 274 feet long, and towers above the ground on 88-inch-high balloon tires.

According to the book, LeTourneau Earthmovers, in February 1955 the sno-freighter was shipped disassembled from LeTourneau’s Texas plant to Circle, located at the end of the Steese Highway about 135 miles northeast of Fairbanks. LeTourneau technicians accompanied the land train and re-assembled it at Circle.

A 1950s LeTourneau brochure touts the land-train’s off-road capability. However, the same brochure says that it was designed to utilize ‘bulldozed trails” in heavily-vegetated areas. Indeed, when the sno-freighter (carrying 150 tons of cargo) left Circle headed northeast towards the Canadian Arctic, it was accompanied by five bulldozers to blaze a trail, and 32 Mack trucks with loaded trailers. (With 500 tons to be delivered, Ghezzi needed more than just the sno-freighter to fulfill his contract.)

The land train worked well during its first winter trek. The caravan covered about 1,000 miles round-trip, returning in the spring to Eagle where the sno-freighter was parked for the summer. (Eagle, located about 300 miles miles east of Fairbanks, is the northern terminus of the Taylor Highway.)

Resupplied for the next winter freighting caravan, the sno-freighter made it into Canada before an accidental fire destroyed its generators. Without power, and with no possibility of repair, the land train was abandoned.

Cliff Bishop, in his book, “Eighteen Wheels North to Alaska,” wrote that the sno-freighter was eventually towed back to Boundary, just inside the U.S. border. Bishop participated in the recovery and moving of the land train, car by car, from Boundary to Tok. Its final destination was Fairbanks.

The sno-freighter was eventually bought by long-time Fairbanks resident Bobby Miller and later acquired by Rick Winther, who also has deep Fairbanks ties. Rick originally hoped to display the land train at Pioneer Park, but when those plans fell through. John Reeves allowed him to store the sno-freighter on Reeves’ Fox property. Anyone traveling the Steese Highway can now view this piece of Cold War transportation history.


  • “Conversation with Rick Winther, owner of the LeTourneau sno-freighter

  • Eighteen Wheels North to Alaska, a History of Trucking in Alaska. Cliff Bishop. Publication Consultants. 2009

  • “LeTourneau Earthmovers.” Eric C. Orlemann. MBI. 2001

  • “New Horizons in Off-Road Transportation.” R. G. LeTourneau, Inc... no date (c 1955)

  • “Trucks Blaze New Winter Trails Northeast to the Arctic.” in Fairbanks DailyNews-Miner. Nov. 8, 1955

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Drawing of wolverine tracks in the snow

With snow on the ground here in Fairbanks I thought I would put up this drawing of wolverine tracks in the snow that I recently completed. This is another tiny drawing, only about 3.5" x 5".

Monday, October 19, 2015

Raindrops and juniper berries - October 2015 in Fairbanks

 Yesterday was a drizzly rainy day here in Fairbanks. The precipitation let up for a while in the afternoon and I went out into the front yard to find sparkly raindrop decorations adorning everything. Here are a few photos of the common juniper bushes in the middle of our yard.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

a good day's catch - drawing of salmon laid out on river bank

This is a small drawing (about 2.5" x 5") that  I did for a special project.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A walk down Minnie Street in Fairbanks - October 2015

View from Illinois Street looking east down Minnie Street towards Noyes Slough

The powers that be keep talking about "improving " Minnie Street," which connects Illinois Street with the east side of town. Minnie is a narrow, two-lane road with a narrow sidewalk along one side. Improving would probably mean widening and putting in properly sized sidewalks on both sides of the street. That means that at least some of the old houses along the street will probably disappear.

Old houses on west end of Minnie Street

This whole area was pretty much rural up until the 1930s. Charles Slater had a homestead east of Illinois Street that stretched to Noyes Slough. On the other side of Noyes Slough was Graehl, a tiny log-cabin settlement, that, according to Terremce Cole's report, "Historic Resources of the Minnie Street Corridor," was populated mainly by bachelor prospectors and Native families.

Old houses on east end of Minnie Street

Slater began subdividing and selling his land in 1939, coinciding with the beginning of Ladd Field. I suppose much of the development in the area is attributable to the military build-up in Fairbanks during and after World War II. I think Most of the residences in the area date from the 1940s through the 1950s.

 I though I would take a walk along the street and record the older buildings before they disappear. My little tour is from the Noyes Slough bridge to Illinois Street. I didn't photograph all the buildings, just the ones that caught my eye.

The bridge over Noyes Slough. This bridge and the Wendell Street Bridge across the Chena River were both built in 1953, taking pressure off the Cushman Street bridge and Illinois Street for moving traffic across the river from downtown Fairbanks.

 Rod's Saw Shop - an early light industrial building next to the slough. I have always thought the second floor of this building would be  a great place for artists' studios
The old Chandler Plumbing buildings - another example of the commercialized east end of Minnie Street. Now closed, it used to have a business on the ground floor and apartments on the second floor.

 The old Johnny's Express building. Johnny's was a fuel oil delivery service.
The Northside Grocery and Service Station Building - built in 1952. This was the site of the first self-service gas pumps in Fairbanks

Antique shop at the corner of Minnie and Fulton Streets

The Tamarac Inn, built in the early 1950s, was a small motel cobbled together out of surplus military buildings from Ladd Field. The electricity to the place was turned off last winter, and it has sat vacant since then. I talked with one of the workers, who said they are rehabbing the building.

The "Mormon Chapel," built in 1952. It used to look much more impressive when it actually had a steeple instead of just a cross. It is now a non-denominational church.

 The Minnie Street Inn. The blue building in the front is the original structure (much altered). The building to the right is a later addition to the inn.

The Noyes House, built in about 1911 by Frederick Noyes, who owned the Tanana Mill lumber yard. It used to have a third story.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Nagley's Store in Talkeetna - legacy of a frontier merchant

Nagley's Store in the 1970s when it was the B & K (Barrett & Kennedy) Trading Post

Horace Nagley (1875-1966) was one of the first merchants to establish a store in the Susitna Basin. He came to Alaska from Washington in 1905, working summers on a freighter plying Alaska waters, and spending winters in Seattle. In 1907, with the financial backing of two partners,  he opened a general store at Susitna Station, a Dena’ina Athabaskan village on the east side of the Susitna River, about 1 ½   miles below the confluence of the Susitna and Yentna Rivers.

A year later his partners sold out to the Alaska Commercial Company and Nagley found himself without a store. Determined to remain in business at Susitna Station, he erected a second store building and bought goods on credit from the Knik Trading Company.  His new store opened in August of 1908.

He met his future wife, Jessamine, who was a teacher, at Susitna Station. They were married in the summer of 1912. In 1914 they opened a second store at McDougal, a small settlement at the mouth of Lake Creek on the Yentna River that served the Cache Creek Mining District. McDougal was a short-lived community that only lasted until a more direct trail to Cache Creek was blazed from Talkeetna in 1917.

In 1917 Nagley was able to buy back his original Susitna Station store from the Alaska Commercial Company.  That same year the Nagleys built a small cabin at Talkeetna and began spending increasing amounts of time there, letting an employee, Roland Healy, manage the Susitna Station store.

In 1920 the Nagleys decided to open a store at Talkeetna.  Some histories state that Nagley moved his store building from Susitna Station to Talkeetna. However, Coleen Mielke, in a 2014 biography of Nagley, states that Horace continued to have Mr. Healy operate his store at Susitna Station, while he built a new store at Talkeetna.

The Susitna Station store operated at least into the 1920s. No one is sure when it finally closed. When Mielke's family visited Susitna Station in the 1950s, Nagley's abandoned store was one of the few buildings that had not been claimed by the Susitna River.

In Talkeetna the Nagleys built a 1 ½ story, 25' x 35' log structure with squared corners. The modern building's distinctive first-floor windows, with diamond-shaped panes across their tops, were part of the original construction.
The Talkeetna store originally sat next to the Susitna River, at the corner of Main and B Street,  However, severe flooding in 1945 forced the Nagleys to relocate their business away from the river, and they moved the store to its present location—lock, stock and building.

George Weatherell (a miner in the Cache Creek area) pulled the building with his tractor, inching it three blocks to the east over a three-day period. Old-timers reported that the store stayed open during the entire move.

After the move, Nagley built a 14' x 35' wood-frame shed-roofed addition on the store's west side. At a later date he built two log additions, end to end, at the rear of the store. The first is 20’ x 25', and the second is 29' x 25’.

Horace sold the store in 1947 and it was rechristened the B & K Trading Post.  At some time later two smaller additions were built on the west side, an 8' x 11' one facing Main Street, and a smaller 8’ x 6’ addition behind it. (I first saw Nagley's in the 1970s when it was still the B & K Trading Post.)

The Nagley’s retired in Anchorage after selling the store. Jessamine died in 1955 and Horace died in 1966. Both are buried in Anchorage.

The store's name was changed back to Nagley's in 1994, honoring the contribution Horace and Jessamine made to Talkeetna. On New Year’s Day in 1997 the building was almost lost when a fire broke out. Fire fighters battled for almost four hours before bringing the blaze under control. Like many early Alaska structures, the store was insulated with sawdust and moss, and smoldering insulation re-igniting was a continuing problem. Vigilant lookouts watched the store for several days to ensure the fire was completely out. Using as much of the original materials as possible, the store was rebuilt and back in business by that spring.

Nagley’s Store is still in business and is a central fixture in Talkeetna. 


  • Dictionary of Alaska Place Names. Donald J. Orth. U.S. Geological Survey. 1971
  • “Horace Willard Nagley, Alaska Pioneer Merchant at Sustina Station, McDougal and Talkeetna.” Coleen Mielke. Matanuska-Susitna Valley, Alaska website. 2014
  • “Susitna Station.” Coleen Mielke. Matanuska-Susitna Valley, Alaska website. 2012
  • “Talkeetna Historic District – National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.” Fran Seager-Boss & Lawrence Roberts. National Park Service. 1992
  • Talkeetna. The Talkeetna Historical Society. Arcadia Publishing. 2013