Going back over the falls:
Camera: Leica M3; Film: Kodak 35mm, Ektar 100
A book review, of sorts:
Prompted by the post on here about the sinking of the Princess Sophia, I had to read Walter Harper’s biography by Mary Ehrlander. It turned out to be a well written, and fascinating read.
Walter Harper was the youngest child of the famed Irish gold prospector Arthur Harper and Athabascan Jenny Albert. He was born in Nuchelawoya, which is now the village of Tanana, in December of 1892. Walter did not know his father, as his parents separated after his birth, and Jenny raised him in the traditional Athabascan ways.
At 16, Walter met the Episcopal archdeacon, Hudson Stuck. Stuck was immediately impressed by Walter, and he soon became the archdeacon’s trail assistant. It was a role that Harper flourished in. Already an accomplished hunter and fisherman, Harper quickly mastered the river boat and dog team, as Walter traveled with Stuck throughout the Yukon River basin.
It didn’t take long for Harper to become vital to Stuck’s operation. In 1913, Stuck and Harry Karstens decided to attempt to climb Denali, North America’s highest peak. There was never any question that the 21 year old Harper would be a member of the expedition. Missionary Robert Tatum also joined the group. On June 7 of that year, Walter Harper became the first known person to step on the summit of Denali. By all accounts, Harper was the glue that held the expedition together, allowing it to succeed.
Walter Harper led an incredible life, in many ways he experienced the very best that Alaska had to offer at that time. Hudson Stuck was a prolific writer, and Harper kept his own journals of his experiences, although only Walter’s journal of the Denali summit has survived. Ehrlander is a great storyteller, and does a wonderful job of recreating Harper & Stuck’s adventures, as well as exploring what had developed into a father/son relationship.
Harper packed a lot of life into his short time on earth. Fresh off of his marriage at the age of 25, Harper and his new bride, Frances Wells, left for a camping trip, spending their wedding night in a tent along the Porcupine River. They did a hunting-honeymoon, for food to stock the Fort Yukon mission & hospital for the coming winter. Having such a good time in each other’s company, they stayed longer than planned, missing a steamer to Whitehorse, for their trip Outside. Eventually, the couple did leave Fort Yukon on the steamer Alaska for Whitehorse. From Whitehorse, they took the White Pass & Yukon Railway to Skagway, where they booked passage on the Princess Sophia’s last trip south for the season. The Princess Sophia would strike Vanderbilt Reef, and rough seas would eventually sink the ship. All lives on board were lost.
Walter Harper and Frances Wells were buried in Juneau.
“Here Lie the Bodies of Walter Harper and Frances Wells, His Wife, Drowned on the Princess Sophia, 25th October 1918. May Light Perpetually Shine on Them. They Were Lovely and Pleasant in Their Lives, And in Death They Were Not Divided
Harper Glacier on Denali is named after both Walter and his father, Arthur. The ranger station in Talkeetna is also named after Walter Harper. I highly recommend Walter Harper: Alaska Native Son to anyone interested in this unique time and place in history. Nothing is quite like early 20th Century Alaska, and Walter Harper makes an extraordinary subject. The sky is the limit as to what this Alaskan could have accomplished if he had lived a longer life. Which is simply amazing in itself, considering what he did accomplish in such a short time span.
The Curator’s curiosity towards wildlife, knows no bounds, and he has more than once inquired about the difference between the American Crow and the Common Raven. A pair of Fairbanks ravens are pictured here.
Ravens are larger, about the size of a red-tailed hawk, and they often travel in pairs, where crows often travel in a flock. Crows have tail feathers that are basically the same length, so when they spread their tail, it looks like a fan. Ravens have longer middle tail feathers, so theirs looks like a wedge when spread out. Crows also emit a cawing sound, while a raven gives off more of a low croak.
The audio of a raven is an Alaska Field Recording, which is in the public domain. Thanks to floydstinkyboy for sharing it.
Ravens are seen year-round in Fairbanks. They are incredibly smart birds. I knew a sled dog who, I was told, had to defend his meals from ravens as a puppy, and he never forgot. He grew to hate ravens, and just the sight of them flying overhead drew a raucous, angry, bark fest. The ravens seemed to know this, as they would torment him just by chatting with him calmly from the tree top near his doghouse.
One of my favorite raven encounters happened in a lumber yard parking lot. I was in my truck talking to a customer on the phone, when a rather large raven landed on a truck in front of me. I watched captivated as the raven tore off the rubber from a windshield wiper. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man flailing his arms and running towards the truck. The raven quickened its pace, and promptly removed the rubber from the other wiper blade. Just as the man reached the truck’s hood, the raven lifted off into the air, with both rubber strips trailing behind it like a couple of thin snakes. An exasperated gentleman, proceeded to round on me for not defending his truck from the opportunistic flying thief. I had to admit to the man, that I was so mesmerized by the raven’s actions, that intervention never occurred to me. The entire time, the customer was howling in the phone, as I had been giving a play by play of the action.
I spent some time walking through Pioneer Park, which was originally known as Alaskaland. The temperature was hovering just above zero at the time, and there was absolutely no one else in the park. None of the buildings were open either, with the tourist season running from Memorial Weekend to Labor Day Weekend.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers host the Wisconsin Badgers this weekend at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis. The Gophers will be celebrating their 1979 National Championship team on its 40th anniversary. Herb Brooks may be gone, but former players will be honored, and can no doubt be found wandering the rink’s concourse before games and during intermission.
The Gophers defeated North Dakota 4-3 in the title game in Detroit. They had three 70 point scorers on the team: Steve Christoff (77), Don Micheletti (72), and Neal Broten (71). Captain Bill Baker set a program record that year with 54 points from the blue line. Eight members of the 1978-79 Gopher hockey team would join Coach Herb Brooks at the 1980 Winter Olympics.
Prices at the concession stands are said to be at 1979 prices for Saturday’s game. Which makes me ask: Were they really charging $2.00 for a hotdog at the hockey end of Williams Arena back in 1979?
A program note: All University of Minnesota home games will be free to Federal employees & one guest, from now until the government shutdown ends.
Visuals courtesy of Golden Gopher Hockey
The SS Nenana today:
In 1957, the SS Nenana was brought to Fairbanks. She was docked on the Chena River and became a restaurant and boatel. By 1960, her new owners were not making enough money in the venture, so the Nenana sat unused until 1965. During that time, souvenir hunters hit the old sternwheeler hard.
The 100th anniversary of the purchase of Alaska was closing in at that time. “Alaskaland”, a borough park dedicated to Fairbanks history, had just opened, and the SS Nenana would be a welcomed addition. A channel was dug from the Chena River to the park, and the old sternwheeler was floated in.
That is where one can find her today. In 1986, the Nenana saw an extensive restoration. Working off of old photos and the original floor plan, the renovation took six years. Some original items from the ship were found, others had to be fabricated.
The SS Nenana is one of only three steam-powered passenger sternwheelers left in the United States, and of the three, the Nenana is the largest. She is also the first sternwheeler to be built from blue-prints.
Time and the elements have once again taken their toll on the Nenana. Recently, the borough has closed the interior of the ship to summer tours. Another renovation of the old sternwheeler looks to be on the horizon. Without it, the ship will be dismantled. The “Friends of the SS Nenana” are gearing up to “stabilize and restore this one of a kind piece of history”.
Nenana Ice Classic officials announced the ice thickness of the Tanana River recently. It was the thinnest ice ever recorded on the Tanana in January. To be fair, the Nenana Ice Classic contest may be over 100 years old, but officials only started announcing the ice thickness back in 1989.
January ice thickness usually falls between 30 and 45 inches in January. In 2019, the thickness was only 16 inches. The previous low was 21.5″ in 2004.
The Tanana River froze over in October, which is normal, but we had such a mild first half of the winter, that the ice has not thickened to normal levels. That is the case for rivers throughout Interior Alaska right now. River travel has been sketchy in spots.
The annual Nenana Ice Classic is Alaska’s longest running game of chance. Every year we guess the date & time the ice “goes out” on the Tanana River. Tickets for the 2019 event go on sale February 1.
The SS Nenana is a steam powered, sternwheeler that was originally commissioned by the Alaska Railroad in 1932 for their Steamboat Service. Her parts were built in Seattle, then shipped north to Nenana, Alaska and assembled there. Named for the community where she was built, the SS Nenana first entered service in 1933.
The Nenana has five decks: cargo; passenger or saloon deck; boat deck, which housed the life boats; the Texas deck, which had cabins for the captain, crew and any VIP travelers, and topped off with the pilot house.
At 237′ long and 42′ wide, the Nenana had 22,000 square feet of deck space. She was built to handle passengers and freight, housing up to 50 passengers in 24 staterooms, and could haul 300 tons of cargo. A full load usually had a crew of 32 and a passenger list of 35. Completely loaded, the Nenana drew only 3’6″ of water.
From 1933 – 1954 she ran the Tanana & Yukon Rivers from May through September. Her main route was between Nenana and Marshall, which was 858 miles. The Nenana had one of the most advanced power systems of its time: twin, tandem 330 HP horizontal condensing engines. The engines could recycle 85% of the steam back into water, allowing the Nenana to be surprisingly quiet. She was powered originally by burning wood, and could store 230 cords of firewood on board. In 1948, the Nenana was converted to burn oil.
While traveling the Yukon River, the Nenana could push up to 6 barges. On the Tanana River, she was limited to only one barge, due to that river’s sharp turns.
During WWII, the Nenana was a vital part of the war effort. Between the massive military buildup within Alaska, and as aircraft and other equipment was ferried across the state on its way to Russia, the Nenana moved supplies for Galena Air Base and a host of other military outposts scattered along the Yukon River Basin.
By 1955, the SS Nenana was pushed out of the freight and passenger business by cheaper and faster means of transportation. Her story doesn’t end quite there, however.
Film footage courtesy of the University of Alaska Archives; photos courtesy of “Friends of SS Nenana”
In 1923, Warren G. Harding became the first president to visit the Alaska Territory. Harding traveled by rail across the continental United States, then by ship to Seward, Alaska. The entourage traveled by rail once again to, what was then known as McKinley Park (Denali), followed by the short run north to Fairbanks. At the time, it was one of the longest trips ever taken by a sitting U.S. president.
While in Alaska, Harding helped celebrate the completion of the Alaska Railroad, which runs between Seward and Fairbanks. Harding even drove in the “golden spike” at the stop in Nenana. Upon arrival in Fairbanks, city dignitaries were told that no Ford vehicles could be used in the motorcade. Speculation ran wild, but most likely it was due to rumors that Henry Ford may mount a presidential run himself.
President Harding gave a speech to 1500 Fairbanks residents in 94 degree heat. A reporter, Charlie Ross, who later served as press secretary to Harry Truman, cursed the White House staffers who advised the press to bring only warm clothing and long underwear.* It was Alaska, after all.
Harding and Company were originally scheduled to take the Richardson Trail back to Chitina, and then the Copper River & Northwestern (CR&NW) Railroad over to Cordova on Alaska’s southern coast.
Now that would have been a trip to write home about!
The Richardson at the time, was an unruly, rugged, mosquito infested track by all accounts, and the railway was affectionately known as “The Can’t Run & Never Will”. Sadly for history and adventure lovers everywhere, Harding’s “fatigue” forced the group to travel back to Seward they way they had come.
One railcar from President Harding’s 1923 visit is located within Fairbanks’ Pioneer Park. It is a Pullman passenger car, and one of three that was in the presidential train. Built in 1905 in Chicago, the Pullman is also known as the Denali car, and carries the Alaska Railroad equipment number X-336. Purchased by the Alaska Railroad in 1923, it saw passenger service until 1945. It was restored in 1960 and given to the city of Fairbanks. It has been in Alaskaland/Pioneer Park since 1967.
*The Anchorage Daily News