In 1963, a young, male bowhead whale was harvested by Native Whalers in Utqiaġvik. The skeleton of the 43′ whale was eventually offered to the University of Alaska – Fairbanks, and it has been in the collection of the Museum of the North ever since. Only the skull has been put on display.
That is about to change, as the Museum is currently putting together the entire skeleton, and will display it from the lobby ceiling once it is complete.
The above video from the UAF Museum of the North, details some repair that had to be done to the ribs of the bowhead whale.
The Potter Section House State Historical Site is now home to the Chugach State Park visitor center. The building was built in 1929, and was used to house section workers for this part of the Alaska Railroad. Originally, there were four section houses along the Anchorage section of the railroad. Their use was discontinued in 1978, and the Potter House is the last remaining of the four. It was listed on National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
A rotary snowplow that once cleared the tracks along Turnagain Arm is also on display at Potter House. The railroad car behind the snowplow, is home to the Kenai Visitor Center. Both visitor centers have been closed due to the pandemic, and remain closed.
The section along Turnagain Arm is notorious for avalanche, although today the avalanches are planned events. Back in the day, the rotary plow revolutionized track clearing. The plow’s steel teeth cut through even the most packed snow, as well as debris from an avalanche, and the occasional frozen moose. The snow was launched from the chute hundreds of feet off the track. Two steam engines pushed the plow, with a crew of seven.
This particular rotary plow was retired in 1985, in favor of track mounted bulldozers. The Alaska Railroad still maintains one rotary snowplow in reserve.
Chugach State Park, just outside of Anchorage, covers 495,204 acres. It is the third largest state park in the United States, and the second largest in Alaska. It is truly, one of Alaska’s many gems.
The great freighter sank 45 years ago today, taking all 29 crew members to the bottom of Lake Superior with her.
Growing up in Minnesota, and spending a fair amount of time along the shores of Lake Superior, the story of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is one that I had heard from early childhood.
Construction on The Fitz started in August of 1957. The Great Lakes Engineering Works was tasked with building a freighter that would come within one foot of the Saint Lawrence Seaway’s maximum length. The customer was the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The ship was launched in June 1958, bearing the name of the president of Northwestern Mutual Life. The cost for the 729′ long freighter with a 26,000 long ton capacity, was $7 million.
For 17 years, The Fitz hauled iron ore from Duluth and Superior to cities like Detroit and Toledo. It took five days to make the run between Toledo, Ohio and Superior, Wisconsin.
The Fitzgerald set several cargo records during its time on the Great Lakes, often breaking her own previous record. In 1969, the ship hauled 27,402 long tons in a single run.
The Fitz quickly became popular with the public. Captain Peter Pulcer would play music over the ship’s intercom, whenever they went through the St Clair and Detroit Rivers. Near the Soo Locks, Pulcer would often talk to the public over a bullhorn, explaining details of the ship.
A storm was building over Oklahoma’s panhandle on 9 November 1975. Weather forecasters predicted that it would stay south of Lake Superior. At 2:15pm, on the same day, the Edmund Fitzgerald left the port of Superior, WI.
The storm moved fast, and by 1am on the morning of the 10th, The Fitz was reporting waves at ten feet. By 2am, the National Weather Service had upgraded its warnings from gale to storm.
The SS Arthur M. Anderson, which had been traveling with The Fitz, started to fall behind the faster Fitzgerald at 3am. The Anderson recorded winds of 58mph at 1:50pm. It started to snow heavy at 2:45pm, and the crew of the Anderson lost sight of the Fitzgerald at that time. The Fitz was approximately 16 miles ahead at this point.
At 3:30pm, Captain McSorley of the Fitzgerald, radioed the Anderson that they were taking on water and had lost two vent covers. The United States Coast Guard had closed the Soo Locks, and told ships to seek safe anchorage.
By late afternoon, waves had increased to 25 feet and wind gusts hit 67mph. The Anderson recorded gusts of 86mph and waves of 35 feet. The Edmund Fitzgerald tried to make Whitefish Bay, where the Whitefish Point light was working, but not the radio beacon. By now the Fitzgerald was blind, having lost both its radar.
At 7:10pm, Captain McSorley radioed the Anderson, that they were “holding their own”. The Edmund Fitzgerald sank within minutes of that final message. There was no distress signal.
The fully loaded Edmund Fitzgerald went down 15 nautical miles from Whitefish Bay. All 29 crew members perished; no bodies were recovered. The Fitz now lies 530 feet below the surface of Lake Superior.
A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3 Orion, equipped with technology usually associated with finding submarines, found the wreck on 14 November 1975. The ship was in two pieces on the lake floor.
Every year on November 10, the Minnesota Historical Society hosts the Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial Beacon Lighting Ceremony at the Split Rock Lighthouse in Two Harbors, MN. This year’s ceremony will be virtual, hosted on the Historical Society’s facebook page. The ceremony starts at 4:30 CST, with the beacon lighting at approximately 7:30pm.
The bus is a 1946 International Harvester K-5. Originally, it was a part of the Fairbanks City Transit System. Since 1960, #142 has been sitting in a clearing along the Stampede Trail.
The Stampede Trail runs from the Parks Highway, north of Healy and Denali National Park almost due west to an abandoned antimony mine. Prior to the building of the Parks Highway, the trail, which dates to 1903, was accessed from the Alaska Railroad.
Bus 142 and two others, were hauled down the Stampede Trail by bulldozer. The busses were equipped with bunks and a wood stove, for construction workers maintaining the trail for the mine. In 1970, the mine ceased operations. Two of the busses were hauled back out, but #142 was abandoned to the elements, due to a broken axle.
Over the years, Bus 142 served as a shelter for hunters, trappers and snowmachiners in the area. Other than that, hardly any thought was given to the old transit bus.
That all changed in 1993, when Jon Krakauer published an article in Outside magazine. The story detailed the travels and subsequent death of Chris McCandless, at the bus, the previous year. The story also inspired a book, as well as a major motion picture. The book is great; the movie: “meh”.
The Stampede Trail is not considered “remote” by Alaska standards, but like any travel off the road system, the Stampede can, and does, have hazards. McCandless unfortunately found them, and tragically perished.
The bus now became a pilgrimage for many people from all around the globe. People flocked to take a selfie, while leaning against the bus, in the chair that McCandless took one from, just prior to his death.
The first 8 miles of the Stampede is maintained, partly paved and partly gravel. After that, the trail becomes more suited to ATV/off-road/hiking. The bus sits 28 miles down the trail. The main summer obstacle is the Teklanika River, although none of the rivers the trail crosses has a bridge. The flow of water can change drastically in the Teklanika with a rain storm or snow melt. When the river is rushing, it is an absolute torrent.
Two hikers who traveled out to see the bus, were swept to their deaths in the rushing water of the Teklanika. Many others were evacuated, after being caught on the wrong bank of the rushing river.
The Denali Borough and State of Alaska had grown tired of the rescues. This summer, as training for the Alaska Air Guard, Bus 142 was flown out to the Parks Highway by Chinook helicopter. It spent the better part of the summer at an “undisclosed location”, probably in Anchorage.
This past week, Bus 142, or as McCandless called it in his diary, “the Magic Bus”, returned to Fairbanks after 60 years. It came up the Parks Highway on a flatbed and posed for pictures in front of the University of Alaska’s Museum of the North. The bus will be stabilized, preserved and displayed at an outdoor exhibit on campus. Its entire history will be detailed with the new exhibit.
Anyone who wants to support the Museum’s conservation effort for Fairbanks City Transit Bus #142, can donate to the cause at the following site:
In August of 1935, Will Rogers and his pilot, Wiley Post, flew throughout the then Territory of Alaska. Post, a well known aviator, would fly the Lockheed Orion-Explorer, while Rogers pounded out newspaper columns on his typewriter.
They left Fairbanks on August 15 for Barrow. Encountering terrible weather, they managed to find a break in the fog, and landed their floatplane on the waters of Walakpa Bay, and asked some Inupiat hunters where they were.
“15 miles from Barrow.”
Post & Rogers returned to the plane, and took off. At an altitude of approximately 50 feet, the engine died, and the plane nosed-dived into the lagoon. The engine was driven back into the cabin, and crushed Post. Rogers was thrown from the plane. Both men appeared to die instantly.
The wrecked Lockheed after the crash
Will Rogers was easily the most recognized and beloved celebrity at the time of his death. His columns were read by an estimated 40 million people, and syndicated in over 600 newspapers.
Post was a famed aviator, and the two men had planned on flying across the Bering Sea to Siberia after their stops in Alaska. A Trans-Siberian flight on to Moscow was also part of the agenda.
Memorial to Rogers & Post at the Pioneer Air Museum
Two metal crosses were constructed to honor both Post and Rogers.
The crosses were deemed too heavy to transport by air from Fairbanks to the crash site near the Walakpa River, and approximately 11 miles from the community of Barrow.
The crosses are displayed at the Pioneer Air Museum in Fairbanks.
A marker and monument that stand near the crash site
Larry Ball Sr; Induction into the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame; Photo credit: The Curator
Larry Ball Sr, the father of a good friend of mine, passed away from Covid-19 complications over the weekend.
I spent several months in Iowa in 2007-08, and was lucky enough to get to know Senior, or LBS, as he was known to many of us. I worked, i.e. volunteered, as a glorified bouncer on the Second Floor of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame during races. LBS and his family had a suite above, and I would wander up to see them at some point during every race, and Senior was always a most gracious host. In 2008, LBS was inducted into the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame, as the successful car owner of Ball Racing.
Photo credit: Ball Racing, Inc; Jeff Tuttle in #3, 1994
The last time I saw LBS in Des Moines, he and Saint Donna, his wife, put me up for a night as I spent some time in DSM. Senior kept me up half the night arguing a point that was desperately important to him. The best part of that conversation, was that we were debating something that we were in total agreement on. To this day, I’m not sure if he was hammering the point home because I wasn’t a convincing accomplice, or because he expected me to come up with a plan of attack, because he had already done the hard part by detailing the problem. It’s a night that I look back on fondly.
LBS was a frequent visitor here between The Circles. I remember hearing from him one February, because my posts had been very infrequent, and he wanted to know what was up. When I told him it was February in Fairbanks, and there wasn’t much going on to write about, he was unconvinced and told me to try harder.
Over the course of the years, I’ve done a fair amount of traveling, and the great surprise and reward of travel is not the locations, but the people I have met by chance. A random hockey game in Fairbanks brought Des Moines back into my orbit, which in turn, brought me into the orbit of Larry Ball, Sr. What a rewarding hockey game that turned out to be.
Rest in peace, Larry. You will be missed by many, and East Des Moines will never be the same.
It had been several years since I ventured into the Air Museum at Pioneer Park. Since they were experimenting with winter hours, I decided it was time to head back over there and see what was new.
Under The Dome: Inside the Air Museum
The Pioneer Air Museum houses a fairly extensive collection of aircraft and other artifacts mainly pertaining to Interior Alaska and Arctic aviation.
Ben Eielson Display
The first major display is on Ben Eielson, the famed aviator and Alaskan bush pilot. Eielson learned to fly in WWI, with the U.S Army Signal Corps. After the war, a chance run-in with Alaska’s territorial delegate to Congress, led to Eielson heading to Alaska to teach. By 1923, Eielson had started the Farthest North Aviation Company. Eielson was the first to fly air mail in Alaska, and the first to fly from North America over the North Pole to Europe.
In 1929, Eielson and his mechanic died in a plane crash in Siberia. The cargo ship Nanuk was frozen in sea ice off North Cape, and Eielson was contracted by expedition leader Olaf Swenson to fly out personnel and furs. The plane crashed in a storm, cruising at full throttle into the terrain. A faulty altimeter is the suspected cause of the crash. Parts of Eielson’s recovered aircraft is on display at the museum.
1935 Stinson SR-JR
This bright red Stinson SR-JR, the Spirit of Barter Island, came to Alaska in 1940, and was flying the Interior out of Fairbanks in 1953 for Interior Airways.
The Stinson in artwork
This SR-JR carries four passengers, has a cruising speed of 110mph, and a range of 450 miles. It was an Interior workhorse, and well known in the Fairbanks area. The image, “I Follow Rivers”, can be found on t-shirts around Fairbanks to this day.
Stinson V77: Peter Pan
The Stinson V77 is the Navy version of the SR-10 Reliant. “Peter Pan” flew the Kuskokwim and Yukon River mail runs. The Stinson Reliant was a favorite of bush pilots, as the aircraft was equally at ease landing on wheels, skis or floats. In 1949, “Peter Pan” made the flight from Bethel, Alaska to Boston, Mass. It is back in Alaska, on loan to the museum, from the bush pilot’s family.
1943 P-39 Wreckage
The P-39 Airacobra was a common sight in Alaska’s Interior during WWII, as it was a mainstay of lend-lease aircraft to the Soviets. This P-39 only made it to Fairbanks in pieces, as it was involved in a mid-air collision with another aircraft 60 miles east of Fairbanks. Both pilots survived the crash.
1942 ST Type Ryan PT-22
The PT-22 was used for flight training all over the globe. Over 14,000 Air Corps pilots trained in the PT-22. This particular PT-22 came to Fairbanks in 1956 after it was retired out of the military.
Manufactured by Bell Helicopter in 1966, this UH-1H “Huey”, saw combat in South Vietnam. During a mission in 1969, this UH-1H was hit by a rocket propelled grenade while landing. After the war, it came to Alaska, and was transferred around the Alaska Army bases, finally landing at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks. It was retired in 1993, and is on loan to the museum from the U.S. Army. The “Huey” is still maintained by Army personnel.
Thomas Ackerman photo
A visitor to the museum several years ago, recognized the Huey’s ID number as the one he flew during the Vietnam War. Sgt Thomas Ackerman was a crew-chief and gunman on this UH-1H. He supplied several photos of the Huey, during its time in Vietnam, to the museum, including the one above. Thomas Ackerman died of Agent Orange related cancer in 2004.
This Beechcraft Model 18 aircraft was manufactured in 1943, and used as a military trainer during the latter years of WWII. After the war, it was bought by Air North for both cargo and passenger transport in Interior Alaska. The aircraft is now on display outside the Pioneer Air Museum in Fairbanks.
The USS Croaker, a Gato class submarine was launched on this date in 1943. The Croaker received three battle stars for its service during WWII. One of three ships I toured while in Buffalo, New York at the military park at Canalside.