Fairbanks has seen several disastrous floods. 1905, 1911, ’30, ’37, ’48, ’67, ’92 & 2008. In fact, there was a time when the Cushman Street bridge, which crosses the Chena River, was rebuilt every spring when the rushing river wiped out the bridge after the ice went out.
Here’s a photo of the high water mark in the 1930 flood of the old Samson Hardware. Notice they were a CAT & Ford dealer back then. In fact, they were also a Willys-Overland dealer at one point.
The old Northern Commercial Company power plant is across the river in the background. Oddly enough, the remnants of the NC Company, NC Machinery, is the current CAT dealer, and they have a shiny new building on Van Horn.
Photo courtesy of The University of Alaska Archives
Wild fires over the previous year burned away ground cover along the river banks, and unusually high rainfall in July and August sent runoff from higher elevations into the Chena & Tanana Rivers, turning them into rushing torrents.
The Chena River went over flood stage on August 14, and Fairbanks would suffer its largest natural disaster that August of 1967. By the end of the day on the 14th, the majority of Fairbanks and Fort Wainwright would be under water.
Boats and helicopters would become the main mode of transportation, as people fled to higher ground. Over 7000 people evacuated to the University of Alaska campus, which sits high on a hill. I met a woman several years ago at the post office who gave me a hug after seeing my old Land Rover. I was only slightly taken aback, then she explained that her family had been driven up to the university campus during “The Great Flood” in a truck just like mine. She said the driver would stop when he spotted people stranded, set the hand throttle to keep the water from running up the exhaust pipe, then load them into his truck and hauled them all up to UAF. I would love to know who owned that Series Rover back then.
This is my favorite photo from the Great Flood. I heard that the owner of this car had been ridiculed pretty hard for owning an amphibious car so far inland. Then the Chena overran its banks, and the car became a bit of a folk hero. Update 11-6-14: I’ve been told that the owner of the amphibious car was Fletcher Howard Alexander, who owned A&B Auto Sales in Fairbanks. That is just Classic Fairbanks in action.
Four people were killed in the flood waters, and damage ran into the hundreds of millions of dollars. It was also the death knell of Creamer’s Dairy, the last in-town farm, as the flood drove it into bankruptcy.
Samson Hardware remained open, selling pumps and everything else with water running through the store. The flood waters damaged the historic 1906, wooden building, forcing major repairs to shore up the walls with concrete. The State used these vital repairs of the building to deny the old store historic status years later and took the land using eminent domain for an unnecessary second bridge across the Chena. “State sanctioned theft, is still theft.” — My soap box moment for the day.
All photos courtesy of the University of Alaska Archives, except the amphibian car, which comes courtesy of the Fountainhead Auto Museum.
At the end of 2012, PenAir retired its Goose — The Spirit of Akutan II — which ended the commercial flying boat service in Alaska. Since 1977, PenAir’s Goose provided regular air service to the remote Aleutian community of Akutan, where the surf was too rough for the floats of more traditional seaplanes.
The Goose is a beautiful seaplane. With those twin 450 horsepower, Pratt & Whitney radial engines, you’d have no trouble getting your moose out.
As if the disintegrating fireweed isn’t enough of a sign, I’ve noticed the sandhill cranes flying overhead all this week. Winter is right around the corner for those of us in Interior Alaska. In fact, this past week was one of Toyostove servicing and chimney cleaning for clients. I have yet to climb up on my own roof, but at least my woodshed is stocked full.
So, I’m comfortably in my cabin on this August evening with the windows open and “Mulligan Meets Monk”, from the old Riverside label, is spinning on the turntable. What better time for a reality check?
Some insight into Fairbanks “Autumn” Weather:
Average first freeze is September 8.
Average first snowfall is September 21.
Average first inch of snowfall is October 8.
On average, by October 18, the snowpack is established and sticks around until May.
Average first date below zero is October 28.
Here’s to a very long autumn…
This post comes by request via Milwaukee. I guess it may be time to “drop the puck”.