ALASKA TRIP AUGUST 2021 – Part I
Still working on catching up #3
As I mentioned in the last posting, the planning for our return to Alaska to continue our efforts originally planned for 2020 and canceled / postponed due to Government imposed travel and access restrictions imposed because of the COVID19 worldwide Pandemic was difficult at best. It changed on a daily basis over the several months of planning. Inflation was rearing its head even beyond the normally higher prices found in Alaska. The fuel prices were surging because of the Government’s move away from energy independence achieved during the last few years. The micro-chip shortage affecting the auto industry’s ability to provide new cars to the rental agencies coupled with the major rental agencies disposal of over a million un-rentable vehicles in 2020 due to America’s restriction on travel has driven the rental prices through the roof… from $35 in 2020 to $265 per day in 2021, if you could find one to rent. We had the everything planned to be in Alaska in the last days of July but at the last minute Erik Christenson’s schedule was changed and we wouldn’t be able to meet with him until the beginning of September. We had to be in Nome and ready to go to Council in August, since that is when the Summer resident’s would be there, most for the first time in 3 years. It was becoming a nightmare to put it all together, and the costs were escalating with each change. The one thing we couldn’t afford to do was to put it off for another year… we needed to find parts, and we needed to interview people… some of whom were having major medical problems.
On this trip, Norm T. would be going with me since Tom V. was finalizing plans for a wedding. Norm had been with us in Alaska on the Rescue Team in 2020 and brings an excellent knowledge of all things mechanical with his strong background in Hit-n-Miss and Gas engines and his appreciation of vintage equipment. So it was off to Anchorage. Our 11 hour flight schedule had been changed to a 15 hour flight with a long layover in Atlanta. Upon arrival in Anchorage another Team Member, former Pennsylvanian Gene Augustine, picked us up at the Airport and took us to the Motorhome we were renting for a few days. The lady renting us the vehicle had invited the three of us to stay for a fresh Halibut dinner… a very nice gesture… she wanted to hear more about our Project. The Motorhome was a perfect way to go with the cost of rental vehicles, combining both our transportation and housing and eliminating the need to constantly change.
After dinner, we were off to Wasilla where we camped the first night in the parking lot of the 557 Restoration Project, a partner of ours in our Rescue efforts. In the morning we spent a few hours discussing both of our projects with Pat Durand, President of the 557 Restoration Company and Friend of A-313 extraordinaire… Pat was also a longtime personal friend of Keith Christenson and continues to lend new insights advice to our project.
That afternoon we were off to Fairbanks. The further north we went the more overcast it became and finally into the rain…. we never did see Mt. McKinley while driving through Denali with the low cloud ceiling. Rain had been the daily forecast for the previous week as well as for most of the time we were in Fairbanks. In the few days we were in Fairbanks, we spent time in Archives at the Univ. of Alaska Fairbanks. It was an eye-opener to realize the extensiveness of their collection and to realize that large sections are yet to be cataloged. We found some of the photos and information we had been searching for, but most importantly we made good contacts for future research.
Some of the impromptu connections we were able to make while in Fairbanks will be invaluable in future research on the history of our engine and the Wild Goose Railroad. We ran into Alan Armbruster at breakfast at Mikie-D’s early on… he spotted the “557” cap I was wearing and is a fan and contributor to Pat’s Project… from that hour long conversation came introductions to four more rail enthusiasts including Joanie Skilbred who just happened to be on the Board of Directors at the Tanana RR Museum. After a short phone conversation with Joanie we met up with her at the Museum that evening for a couple of hours.
What a great little Museum… it is within and area known as Pioneer Park which contains many original Fairbanks log cabins and a huge collection of historical artifacts, including a paddle-wheel steamer which navigated the Tanana River. Joanie was kind enough to take us to see the Climax Flatcar Trucks which had been retrieved from Council, AK by some of their volunteers 20 years ago…. An awesome sight, just amazing seeing them and being able to photograph them… Thanks Joanie and the rest of the Tanana crew.
Over the next couple of days we were able to meet up again with Alan and the Model RR group at their large display located at the Alaska RR Depot in Fairbanks where they open for the passengers on the departing train to Anchorage…. met with “Shorty” Wilbur and his collection… Willy Vinton and Tim Cerny at the Fountainhead Museum… what a gorgeous collection …. and spoke with several more over the phone. Angella and Fawn in the University Archives were extremely helpful even though things weren’t quite back to normal following the Covid lockdown. We wish to thank all of them for their outgoing friendship and hospitality while we were in town. From there it was back to Anchorage