Category Archives: history

Engine No. 1

Engine No. 1 traveling the rails

Engine No. 1, the 120 year old steam engine, was making the rounds this Labor Day.

It was the final weekend of the season for the old locomotive. It now retires to the Tanana Valley Railroad Museum until next Memorial Weekend.

FTVRR in action

A special shoutout to FTVRR for all their hard work this summer.


Woodstock at 50

Yasgur Farm

On August 15, 1969, the Woodstock Music Festival got underway near Bethel, NY.

Three days of Peace & Music. Richie Havens took the stage at 5:07 pm as the first act that Friday in 1969.

Woodstock plaque erected in 1984

The Curator and I visited the site in March of 2018, after attending the ECAC Conference Hockey tournament at Lake Placid.

Turn up your CCR and Santana this weekend.


Apollo 11: Splashdown


Navy Seals from the USS Hornet (in background) approach the Apollo 11 capsule after splashdown; Photo credit: NASA

After a successful moonwalk EVA, the crew of Apollo 11 returned to Earth on 24 July 1969, eight days after launching from Cape Kennedy.

Splashdown occurred 812 miles from Hawaii, and only 12 miles from where the USS Hornet was stationed, waiting to recover the crew.

The mission duration was officially 8 days, 3 hours, 18 minutes and 35 seconds from launch.

The three man Apollo 11 crew was scrubbed, disinfected and remained in quarantine for 21 days after their return.

Commander Neil Armstrong passed away on 25 August 2012. Fellow Apollo 11 astronauts, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin were front & center for many of the 50th Anniversary celebrations.

Michael Collins’ book: Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys, is one of the very best written by an astronaut.


The little creek that started it all…

Flashback to 22 July 1902


Pedro Creek: Looking upstream

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.


Apollo 11: Day 4


Image credit: NASA


Apollo 11: Day 3


Image taken on the third day of Apollo 11’s flight. Earth seen from 162,400 nautical miles away; Africa, with the Sahara Desert, is quite clear. Image credit: LPI

Aldrin: “Houston, Apollo 11. We’ve got the continent of Africa right facing toward us right now, and of course, everything’s getting smaller and smaller as time goes on. The Mediterranean is completely clear. The Sun looks like it’s about to set around Madagascar. The equatorial belt of Africa stands out quite clearly. We’re seeing a dark green or a muddy colored green, compared to the sandier colors of the southern tip of Africa and, of course, the Sahara northern coast of Africa. There’s a rather remarkable cloud that appears in the vicinity of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s just about to go into the sunset now. It is casting quite a large shadow. It’s isolated. There don’t seem to be any other clouds. The band of clouds near the tropical convergent clouds down around the equator clearly separate the clockwise and the counter-clockwise cloud formations. Over.”

This was the final day of preparations for the lunar landing scheduled for the following day. The spacecraft approached the moon, and went behind it, putting Apollo 11 in a blackout with Earth. The crew used that time to prepare for their first lunar orbit insertion maneuver: To position themselves to orbit the moon.


Apollo 11: Day 2


Earth as seen from 113,500 miles away, on Day 2 of Apollo 11’s journey. North is up, with Greenland visible, South America can also bee seen. Image credit: LPI

Collins: “Rog. I’ve got the world in my window for a change and looking at it through the monocular, it’s really something. I wish I could describe it properly, but the weather is very good. South America is coming around into view. I can see on the – what appears to me to be upper horizon, a point that must be just about Seattle, Washington, and then from there I can see all the way down to the southern tip – Tierra del Fuego and the southern tip of the continent.”

Armstrong and Aldrin, while on live TV, put on their spacesuits and went down the docking tunnel from Columbia to the Lunar Module (LM). They gave viewers on Earth a short tour of the vehicle that would take them to the lunar surface.

To break away from the Earth’s gravitational field, Apollo 11 needed a speed of 7 miles per second. By the close of the second day, Apollo 11 would leave the Earth’s gravitational field, and enter the moon’s. The Columbia and Eagle would then slow to 2400 mph at this time.


The Saturn V


The Saturn V Rocket of the Apollo 4 mission, stands at the launch pad in November 1967; Photo credit: NASA

The Saturn V rocket was developed under the direction of Wernher von Braun, the German-born engineer, and Adolph Hitler’s star rocketeer. The Saturn V went from idea on paper to actual flight in a period of six years. The rocket’s first flight was the unmanned Apollo 4 mission in 1967. It’s first manned flight was Apollo 8 in 1968.

The Saturn V had a height of 363 feet, and a width of 33 feet. It weighed 6,540,000 lbs, with a payload of 310,000 lbs to (low earth orbit) and a payload of 90,000 lbs to the moon. The Saturn V was a three stage rocket: The first stage was powered by five F-1 engines, the second stage by five J-2 engines, and the third stage by a single J-2 engine.

The first stage of the Saturn V, saw the five F-1 engines use 20 tons of fuel a second, producing 7.5 million pounds of thrust. When Charles Lindberg crossed the Atlantic in 1927 in his Spirit of St. Louis, the small plane used 450 pounds of fuel for the entire flight. The Saturn V used 10x that amount in it’s first 1/10 of a second.


The five F-1 engines of the Saturn V; Photo credit: space.com

The Saturn V remains the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket to launch. It holds the record for heaviest payload launched. Fifteen Saturn V rockets were built, but only thirteen saw flight, with all 13 launching from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. To this date, it remains the only vehicle to transport humans beyond low earth orbit. 24 astronauts were sent to the moon on the Saturn V. Of its thirteen missions, the Saturn V saw no loss of life or loss of payload. However, the rocket was tested by Mother Nature during Apollo 12, when lightning struck the vehicle moments after launch. Other than some strange warning lights within the cockpit, there was no major damage, and they went on to land in the moon’s Ocean of Storms. Which seems more than appropriate.

The Saturn V saw it’s final flight on May 14, 1973, when it carried Skylab into orbit.


Apollo 11 Liftoff


Apollo 11’s Saturn V rocket lifts off from Kennedy Space Center; Photo credit: NASA

The crew of Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, launched from Kennedy Space Center on this date in 1969.


Apollo Week