Alaska Highway - Early days of travel - Starting in 1962
This was the start of the Alaska Highway in 1962 in Dawson Creek. Since that time they have rerouted the traffic about a block north and set up a parking lot, large enough for RVs. They have another "start" sign at the parking lot.
The Alaska Hwy, has for me, for almost 50 years, been a source of great pleasure, challenge and still creates a sense of “wow” every time I drive it. First drove it as a 20 year old, fresh off the ranch in southern Oklahoma, ending up in Nome. Worked a couple of weeks for a miner, getting his equipment ready to work, made enough money to make it back home, in time for the fall semester in college. A guy in Nome, had offered me a job when I graduated, so for the first time, I was motivated to finish. Finished college and returned to Nome, in 1964, to live.
The Alaska Highway, also known as the Alcan and always will be to some of us, was finished in 1942 and opened to the public to use in 1947/48. (both dates are given in different publications) so I first drove it 14 years after it was opened to the public. When finished the length was given by the Army as 1,680 miles. (Dawson Creek to Fairbanks) Now the end of the Highway is considered to be in Delta, cutting off about 98 miles of the total. My first trip the distance was listed as 1,520 miles, DC to Fairbanks. With the rerouting, straightening, etc. the Canadian section is given as 1,387 miles. The ownership/maintenance of the Alaska Hwy is divided between, British Columbia, Yukon and Alaska. BC was the first sections in Canada to be paved. Alaska was paved (sort of) in 1962 and the Yukon sections were the last to be paved. Canada and the US have an agreement for joint care of the Haines Hwy and the Alaska Hwy north out of Haines Junction. For the most part, the US provides the funding and Yukon provides the actual maintenance, contracting, designing, engineering, etc. The Haines Hwy is of primary interest to the US, not Canada, since it and the northern section of the Alaska Hwy connects Haines Alaska with the mainland of Alaska. This is known as the Shakwak Project agreement.
If I had a “do over” on my early trips to/from Alaska, it would be to take more photos and label them, LOL, and to have purchased a better camera. Don’t have a clue as to why I didn’t do either. So the few slides I have remaining of the trips, in the late 60s and early 70s are approaching 50 years of age, some got wet in storage and were destroyed and some got lost in moving, etc. Some of the early photos were on “film” and printed and put into the daughter’s scrapbooks. Apparently all/most of the film negatives were not kept.
When I think of the “old” days of driving the highway, the first thing I remember is the noise from the rocks and gravel, hitting the bottom of the vehicle. Second I remember the dust or mud, depending on the weather. Much of the length was nothing but dirt, whatever was available to the construction crews that built the highway. The section of highway in the Coal River/Liard Hot Springs area was just black, looked almost like pavement but when it rained, it was as slick as ice or close to it. However the road grader crews were able to keep it smooth most of the time. Graders were constantly working the road it seemed, many signs up to watch for graders approaching in your lane. On some of the blind corners, it would get the driver alert in a hurry to see one in front of him, head on.
One trip 1969 I used a pop up trailer for the trip, it had the very small tires, which were not at all suitable, for the pot holes, etc. on the gravel. I broke both spring shackles off and had to stop, at a road house, to have them welded back in place.
The Bronco that pulled the popup in 1969.
One of the three truck campers, we owned while living in Alaska - About 1981 or 82.
The 5th wheel became our semi permanent fishing camp on the Kenai River, just upstream of Soldotna. This was late in the fall, as the river level has dropped, everyone wearing jackets and a campfire is lit. Judging by the size of my daughters, it would have been about 1983 or 84. We had 110 ft of river frontage.
After that trip, I went to a truck camper, a 5th wheel, and most miles, I put on a Class C, running the highway route, to the lower 48 and back. At one point in time, we owned a truck camper, a 5th wheel and a Class C, bunk bed model, at the same time. The TC was mainly for hunting/fishing, the 5th wheel ended up on our river front lot on the Kenai River, just upstream from Soldotna. The Class c was our traveling machine and we put just over 80,000 miles on it before we traded it in. After six round trips on the Alcan, it was tired and ready to be retired. LOL. Then we switched to a Class A and then a second Class A, but never liked them as much as the Class C.
We now use a Lance truck camper for our trips to/from Alaska, from south Florida. It is a very handy size for just the two of us, now days. We also have a 31 ft. 5th wheel, bunk bed model, for when our young grandsons go with us camping. It seldom leaves Florida.
Current Lance truck camper. Photo taken in Dawson City YT, 2011
Photo of current 5th wheel trailer
The Alaska Hwy has three (3) designations these days. In BC it is Highway 97, in Yukon it is Hwy 1 and in Alaska it is Route 2. From Delta on in to Fairbanks, technically a person is on the Richardson Hwy which was in place prior to the building of the Alaska Highway
This is a photo of the highway, probably in the Yukon in 1962. The road was narrow, virtually a single lane with trees, way too close to the road surface to watch for wildlife.
Over the years the highway was moved, straightened, rerouted, etc. This is a photo of the stretch of road that did run on top of Trutch Mountain. There was a roadhouse and road maintenance camp along that section. Both closed when the road was moved about 5 miles west, to run through the valley.
Another photo of the highway
I can’t recognize this old bridge but don’t believe it is still in use. It may have been on one of the sections that have been abandoned. Some of the abandoned sections were plowed up, others turned into local roads, some became city streets, if in a town.
In addition to making numerous RV trips, I also make several car trips. Here is one of my solo trips in my 1964 Chevy Impala, high output 327 V-8 with 3 on the tree. This was at a pull off just south of the village of Teslin, on the south side of the bridge.
Once in Alaska, the road was paved, but very rough, lots of pot holes and frost heaves and dips. In 1962 the Alaska Hwy was considered to end in Fairbanks and they had a monument to that effect. The slide was scanned backwards but I notice the word Hiway is the same front or backward. LOL
The Santa Claus House in North Pole has always been a fun stop for us. This early photo was when the founders, Con and Nellie Miller were operating it. Currently their son, Mike Miller and his family are the owner/operators and have greatly expanded the building and for a number of years they operated a nice campground next door to the gift shop.
My next trip back was in 1964, just after the Good Friday Earthquake in south central Alaska. Here is Anchorage as it was in 1962. Many of these building were destroyed in the 1964 quake.
In 1965 I drove out to Portage Glacier, south of Anchorage and the road was drivable but the extensive road damage was still present and showing the power of the quake. The glacier has receded to where it isn’t visible from the visitor’s center any longer, as it was in 1965 when it was within 100yard of the visitor’s center area.
It took many years for the Alaska Highway Department to get most of the visible damage cleaned up from the Good Friday Earthquake, as it was known. First priority was to get the roads opened and useable again. This part of Alaska, sunk several feet and allowed salt water to move in, killing most of the vegetation that depended on fresh water to live.
In the early 60s, there were very few commercial campgrounds to use. Most were provincial ones that were dry camping. There was a commercial campground in Whitehorse, downtown about where the Family Hotel and Laundry mat is now located. It was within walking distance of several nice shopping places, such as Hudson’s Bay Company and then, Northern Commercial Company. In the 60s and early 70s, it made a fun week or ten day trip to RV over to Whitehorse from Alaska, spend a few days in Whitehorse, then up to Dawson City and return to Alaska via the Top of the World Highway. For many of the years we were living in the bush of Alaska, we stored a recreational vehicle in either Fairbanks or Anchorage for summer use.
During most of the year, we depended upon our airplanes, river boats, snow machines and dog teams for transportation. If we needed a car in the summer time, we would rent or lease one, in town.