Actually, not me after all. My dad. My dad worked on the railroad from June of 1948 until he retired thirty years later. I came close. In the late winter of 1976, I was standing in the employment office of the Alaska Railroad, handing in my sure-thing application to be a cook on the railroad for the summer extra gangs.
Then came a phone call from my mother. The dispatcher at the Operating Engineers Union hall in Fairbanks had called and offered me a job on the construction of the Trans Alaska Pipeline. And that simple phone call changed my life. But, that's another story. Today's story is about a small part of the Alaska Railroad, and a continuation of my trip to Fairbanks over last weekend.
There have been almost 500 wildfires in
As I neared the town of Nenana, sixty-five miles from Fairbanks, I saw what looked like a large black rain cloud, so my hopes rose about avoiding the smoke I’d heard was limiting visibility. If it was raining, I thought the rain would lessen the smoke.
Eventually, I realized the black cloud was smoke. A temperature inversion layer was holding the smoke close to the ground, and I entered the smoky area before I reached Nenana.
With the discovery of gold in the Fairbanks area in 1902, miners rushed to the Interior. A trading post/roadhouse was established in 1903 at what became the town of Nenana. St. Mark's Episcopal Mission and school was built in 1905.
I want to tell you something about Nenana.
There is a town called Nenana, pronounced Nee–
There is a river called Nenana. There is a river called
Nenana sponsors the annual Nenana Ice Classic, a game of guessing when the ice will go out on the
Legend says two bored railroad workers in 1915 started the whole thing by starting a pool on when the ice would go out.Actually, with the winner getting more than $300,000 in prize money,who cares what the town and river are called? My mother, along with a number of other people, won one time with a guess on her May 5 birthday. She said she got enough to pay her
Each winter a huge tripod is placed on the ice, frozen into place, and a wire attached to a clock mechanism. Once the tripod has moved a hundred feet with the out-going ice, the ice is declared “out” and spring is here. So, for two bucks a ticket, you place your guess and you takes your chances.Wanting to get a photo of the tripod, I pulled off the highway, drove down the main street of Nenana, and parked next to the
Then I visited the Railroad Musuem. The Alaska Railroad played a prominent part in the history of
The president left
In the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964, damage to the railroad was estimated at $30 million, with a substantial portion of that in Seward where the rail terminal was hit by a tsunami. The railroad was up and running within two weeks.
Ownership of the railroad was ceded to the state in 1985. Since then, it has become a symbol of pride for the state. It hauls a tremendous amount of freight, and has been declared one of the best passenger railroads in the country. Recently I heard on the news that the ride between Seward and
The railroad has been important to the town of
I found a number of interesting things inside, including a framed newspaper front page bearing the tragic news of the plane crash that killed Will Rogers and Wiley Post in northern
In a glass display case, there are two old concertinas. I took pictures of them and e-mailed the photos to my friend Polka Dan as soon as I could.
A tiny cook stove that probably burned coal or wood.
There was also a newspaper with a photo of a white moose.
And a “telephone” that looks like a character in a Pixar movie.
With a last look around Nenana, I pointed the truck and trailer north and headed out of town, over the bridge spanning the
The smoke from wildfires became more pronounced, looking like a thin, low-lying ground fog, but smelling of burning wood. Once I reached the top of a ridge that runs towards
And into the Valley of Death rode the Five Hun.... No, it was just Pablo and me, actually.
(to be continued)