I had not heard the term Milwaukee Road in years. I came across a plaque honoring the rail line when I was looking around Union Station in Chicago.
The railroad started in 1847 as the Milwaukee & Waukesha. At the time, rail was needed between Milwaukee and the Mississippi River. Changes came and went, the railroad went into receivership in 1859 and was purchased by another railroad and then combined with still another. Out of the chaos emerged the Milwaukee and St Paul. In 1874, the line absorbed the Chicago and Pacific Railroad Company. The name changed once again to the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul: The Milwaukee Road.
The passenger train was the Hiawatha. My grandmother told me stories of riding the Hiawatha from St. Paul to Chicago. It must have been quite the ride for the details flowed smoothly.
By the mid 1930’s the Hiawatha added the famed “Beaver Tail” cars. The streamlined observation cars were a hit, and earned their nickname from the rail car’s shape.
Milwaukee Road plaque: Union Station, Chicago
Expansion would begin with the Olympian Hiawatha, which ran out to Puget Sound; the Midwest Hiawatha, which ran between Chicago & Omaha; and the Southwest Limited: Chicago-Milwaukee-Kansas City.
There was a burst of ridership after WWII, and the railroad came out of the bankruptcy caused by the Great Depression. Unfortunately, like much of the railroad industry, hard times returned again. Between 1971-1974, Milwaukee Road lost $100 million. After downsizing, selling of track and assets, Milwaukee Road was finally bought by two competitors: Soo Line and C&NW. By 1986, the Milwaukee Road was on the route to memories.
Today, much of the abandoned Milwaukee Road is now Rails to Trails.
The Fairbanks North Star Borough has recently proposed dismantling the historic sternwheeler.
I knew something was up. Several contractors I’ve talked with were willing to donate time & resources to the ship’s restoration, which would be added to grants and fundraising, but the Borough was obviously stalling, and we were convinced they just wanted to look the other way until nature takes over.
In all honesty, Fairbanks is terrible when it comes to valuing its history. Fairbanks has only existed since 1904, so its not like it’s an overwhelming time frame.
So for my readers in Fairbanks, drop the Borough Assembly an email if you’d like to see the Nenana remain the centerpiece of Pioneer Park. Don’t hold your breath for a response. Of the nine members plus the mayor, only two bothered to respond to my inquiries.
An Assembly meeting on the subject is slated for January 16.
Click the link for FNSB assembly member contact info:
The Russian-American Company was established in 1799. The RAC received a renewable 20-year charter, which granted the company exclusive rights over trade in Russia’s North American territory.
The fur trade led the RAC to build a trading post on the Middle Kuskokwim River in 1841, which they named Kolmakovsky Redoubt. The blockhouse, above, was the first building erected. Eight more structures would also be constructed.
A map showing location of Kolmakovsky Redoubt on the Middle Kuskokwim
Kolmakovsky was the only Russian redoubt to be constructed in Alaska’s Interior. After the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, the redoubt eventually transferred to the Alaska Commercial Company.
The blockhouse stood alongside the Kuskokwim River for over 80 years. In 1929, the building was donated to the University of Alaska. The eight-sided log building was dismantled, the logs numbered, and then shipped to Fairbanks. It remained in storage for the next 50 years.
In 1982, the blockhouse, which has a diameter of 17′, was reconstructed behind the Museum of the North, on the UAF campus. In 2009, the University received a grant from the “Saving America’s Treasures” program to to do an all out restoration. A concrete pad was poured, any rotten logs were fabricated as the originals, and the roof was rebuilt. All but one of the interior horizontal roof supports are original.
The spruce logs are all connected by interlocking dovetail notches. There are no windows, only a low doorway, and three narrow musket slots. The Kolmakovsky blockhouse is the only Russian blockhouse ever found with a sod roof, the rest were all built with a plank roof.
Today, the blockhouse from Kolmakovsky Redoubt is still located near the Museum of the North on the University of Alaska – Fairbanks campus. The Kolmakovsky Redoubt site on the Kuskokwim has been placed on the Alaska Heritage list of historic properties and archaeological sites. A detailed excavation of the site was completed during the 1966 and 1967 summers by UCLA professor Wendall H. Oswalt. Well over 5000 artifacts were excavated, which are now a part of the collection at the Museum of the North.
Astronauts Pete Conrad, Alan Bean and Dick Gordon launched from Kennedy Space Center on this date in 1969 aboard Apollo 12.
The launch occurred as rainy weather enveloped the Cape. 37 seconds after launch, lightning struck the rocket, causing all sorts of haywire across the control panel. At the 52 second mark, a second lightning strike took out the “8-Ball” attitude indicator. Just about every warning light on the control panel was now lit, and the resulting power supply problems caused much of the instrumentation to malfunction.
Back at Mission Control, EECOM flight controller John Aaron, had seen this before in simulations. He calmly suggested a solution to the Flight Director, “Flight, try SCE to Aux”. Even though few knew what Aaron was talking about, the order was sent to Apollo 12, and Bean flipped the SCE switch to Auxiliary setting. Telemetry was immediately restored, and Apollo 12 continued on with its mission.
John Aaron was forever known as that “Steely-eyed missile man” from then on.
Astronaut Alan Bean on the surface of the moon. Photo by Charles “Pete” Conrad
The lunar module, with Conrad and Bean, landed in the area known as the Ocean of Storms on November 19. The landing site was within walking distance of the Surveyor 3 probe, which had landed on the moon in April of 1967. To date, it is the only time mankind has “retrieved” a probe sent to another world.
Solar eclipse from Apollo 12, on its return home to Earth. Photo credit: NASA
The crew of Apollo 12 returned to Earth on 24 November 1969. Landing east of American Samoa, they were recovered by the USS Hornet.
The Apollo 12 mission lasted just over 10 days, 4-1/2 hours.
Felice Pedroni left his small mountain village of Trignano, Italy in 1881. Upon landing in New York City, as a fresh immigrant, he changed his name to Felix Pedro. Pedro was 23 years old at the time.
From New York, he worked his way across the United States, eventually finding himself in Washington state. From there, Pedro migrated to the Yukon Territory. By 1898, Pedro was working the Forty-Mile Mining District in Alaska. He supposedly struck it big on Lost Creek with his partner, Tom Gilmore. Unfortunately, the creek retained the name “Lost Creek” for a reason. Gilmore & Pedro had to abandon the claim after its discovery, due to running out of provisions. They did mark the spot, but spent the next three years trying to find it again. They never did.
Felice Pedroni, aka Felix Pedro
As it often happens throughout history, the city of Fairbanks got its start due to happenstance, coincidence and a dose of pure luck.
Two things happened that drove the city’s founding. First: The banker, swindler and first mayor of Fairbanks, Elbridge Truman Barnette, booked passage on the sternwheeler Lavelle Young from St Michael, AK in August 1901. After hitting the shallows of Bates Rapids on the Tanana River, E.T. Barnette convince the Lavelle Young’s Captain Adams to try a shortcut up the Chena River. Well, everyone knows what they say about shortcuts. The sternwheeler ran into sandbars only 6 miles from the mouth of the Chena, and the Captain refused to go any further. Barnette, his wife Isabelle, his employees and all his cargo, were unceremoniously dropped off on the south bank of the river.
Captain Adams later was quoted as saying, “We left Barnette furious. His wife was weeping on the bank.”
Looking downstream on Pedro Creek
Second: Re-enter Felix Pedro and Tom Gilmore. The two miners were prospecting in the area, when they saw the smoke rising from what turned out to be the Lavelle Young. They came across Barnette and his predicament and promptly bought a year’s worth of supplies. Barnette could do little with winter closing in on him, so he built a log building that he named “Barnette’s Cache” and decided to stick it out until spring breakup.
On 22 July 1902, Pedro & Gilmore discovered gold in a small, unnamed creek north of Barnette’s Cache. The Fairbanks Gold Rush was on.
Barnette promptly gave up any idea of leaving the area. He named the new community “Chena City”, and by autumn, he was elected the recorder for the new mining district. Judge Wickersham, who had been appointed to the territory by President William McKinley, suggested renaming the community Fairbanks, after the up & coming Senator Charles Fairbanks of Indiana. Barnette agreed to do so, thinking it could gain favor for the town.
During the winter of 1902-03, as many as 1000 new miners came to Fairbanks from all over the globe. They were quickly disappointed to find that one could not mine the frozen creeks during an Interior Alaskan winter. Temperatures were regularly recorded in the -50F range that winter. Barnette made a fortune with his trading post monopoly, and by 1908, Fairbanks was the largest city in Alaska.
Felix Pedro Monument; Steese Hwy, Alaska
Felix Pedro died of what was believed to be a heart attack in 1910. He was 52. His partner at the time doubted the cause of death, believing that Pedro’s wife had poisoned him. Pedro’s body was shipped to San Francisco, and buried there. In 1972, Italy wanted Pedro back, so his body was exhumed, and reburied in Fanano. Before reburial however, an autopsy was performed, and hair samples concluded that Pedro, had indeed, been poisoned.
This past weekend, the city of Fairbanks celebrated Golden Days, the annual event recognizing Fairbanks’ golden start. The celebration is marked by parades, street fairs, a Felix Pedro look a like contest, and the running of the historic steam locomotive No.1. It fact, this year was No.1’s 120th birthday.
Today, a monument to Felix Pedro can be found along the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks. Across the highway is Pedro’s original mining claim on the creek that now carries his name. The claim is owned & operated by the Pioneers of Alaska, Igloos #4 & 8. It is open to the public; anyone can pan for gold in Pedro Creek.