Tag Archives: nenana

Alaska Railroad Centennial

Nenana: Where River Meets Rail, and Past Meets Future”; Charcoal drawing by Noah Nolywaika

2023 is the Centennial year for the Alaska Railroad. U.S. President Warren G. Harding presided over the completion ceremony on July 15, 1923, by driving in the golden spike.

“Alaska Railroad: 100 Years Strong”; Oil painting by William Chase

This past weekend, the annual Alaska Railroad print signing took place at the Anchorage Depot. The tradition of a yearly AKRR print was started back in 1979.

This year, Nenana artist Noah Nolywaika was on hand to sign his charcoal drawing of the Nenana Depot, where the railroad was officially completed 100 years ago. William Chase was also there with his painting of the locomotives throughout the railroad’s history, including Engine No. 1. That historic steam engine now sits outside the historic Anchorage Depot.

Prints and posters are available through the Alaska Railroad’s website.


Decked out for the season

A lit up STR Nenana

Nenana in oil

Oil painting of Nenana, Alaska under the northern lights by Carl Saxild, Circa 1937

Nenana Ice Classic 2022

We are quickly coming to the deadline to get Ice Classic tickets into the red barrel. The deadline to have your guesses in is April 5th.

The Nenana Ice Classic, Alaska’s gambling addiction of choice, was first started in 1917, when railroad engineers, working on the fledgling Alaska Railroad, started a pool to guess when the ice would go out on the Tanana River. Alaskans have been taking their shot at the prize ever since.

The ice was last measured at 32″ thick on March 24 near the tripod.

A ticket will set you back $2.50, which is good for one guess. The winning guess in 2021 was worth $233,591.

Nenana Ice Cam, March 28, 2022


The ice has gone out in Nenana

The Nenana Ice Cam on 21 April 2021

The ice has gone out on the Tanana River in Nenana, Alaska. Officially, the tripod moved enough downstream to trip the clock at 12:50 AST on April 30. The jackpot for the 2021 Nenana Ice Classic is $233,591.

Nenana Ice Cam on 2 May, 2021


March in Alaska

The Nenana Ice Classic:

Visiting the village of Nenana this past summer

The Nenana Ice Classic tripod was raised on the Tanana River this past weekend. The Ice Classic is our annual event, where residents and visitors can guess when the ice goes out on the Tanana. This is the 104th year of the event. Tickets are $2.50 per guess. The ice thickness as of Sunday was 44-1/2″.

The 2021 tripod is in place.

The 2021 Iditarod:

The 2021 Iditarod Trail map

The Last Great Race is seeing a lot of changes for Covid-2021. The race will not end at Nome this year, due to Covid concerns. In fact, to protect villagers, mushers will not be venturing into communities like in a normal year. Due to the new route, which is now an 850 mile long loop, teams will race to the ghost town of Flat, and return to Willow.

The Iditarod Start at Willow, Alaska; Photo credit: ADN/Marc Lester

There was no ceremonial start in Anchorage this year. The 46 mushers and their teams went directly to Willow for the Sunday morning start time. Press accounts have the crowd at starting line at 300 visitors, mostly family and dog handlers. In a normal year, there would be at least 6000 cheering the teams on.


The ice is out!

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The tripod hangs on early Monday morning

The ice went out on the Tanana River at the village of Nenana on Monday.  The tripod officially moved the distance to trip the clock at 1:56pm.

This was the second time that I have guessed the correct day the ice went out.  I was so close, so tantalizingly close.  As they say, close only counts in horseshoes and bear encounters.

Between the years of 1917 and 1989, the ice went out this early only three times.  Since 1990, the ice has gone out this early 11 times.

Ice Classic officials say it may be a month before winners are notified and announced.  They are running a skeleton crew due to Corvid-19.  They have also stated that the number of tickets sold are well below normal numbers due to the difficulty after the virus forced businesses to close.

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The tripod has ventured downstream

Images credit: Nenana Ice Cam

 


Nenana Ice Classic 2020

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Not surprisingly, even the 103 year old Nenana Ice Classic has seen some changes this year due to Covid-19.  Every year, since 1917, Alaskans have been betting on when the ice would go out on the Tanana River at the village of Nenana.

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The Ice Classic time schedule

The earliest the ice has gone out was last year, when the famed tripod tripped the clock at 12:21 am on April 14.  The latest the ice has gone out was on May 20, which has happened twice.

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As one can see from the above graph, 2019 was an anomaly for more than one reason.  The ice rarely goes out between midnight and 9am.

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Image from the Nenana Ice Cam on April 7.

As of April 6, ice thickness near the tripod was 32.5″.  Usually, all guesses/tickets must be in before April 6, but the deadline has been extended to April 10.  We usually buy the tickets at various venues that have the bright red Ice Classic Can on their counter, the filled out tickets are then dropped in the can.  This year, since so many businesses are closed, and people are urged to stay at home, guesses can be mailed to the Nenana Ice Classic directly.  Entries must be postmarked no later than April 10, 2020.  Each guess/ticket is $2.50.

I have never missed an Ice Classic since I moved to Fairbanks, and this year joined the stay at home club, and mailed in my guesses.  Last year’s jackpot was $311,652.


The Great Race of Mercy

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Ryan Redington comes into the village of Ruby, Alaska; Photo credit: ADN/Loren Holmes

Due to the coronavirus scare, about the only sporting event still taking place in the United States is the Iditarod sled dog race.  Interestingly, the Iditarod commemorates the 1925 Nome Serum Run.

 

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Known at the time as the Great Race of Mercy, the race against time stands alongside the Good Friday Earthquake as one of Alaska’s defining moments.

Curtis Welch was the only doctor in Nome in the autumn of 1924.  He had placed an order for diphtheria antitoxin, but it had not arrived by the time the port was entombed in winter ice.  In January of 1925, Welch had diagnosed the first case of diphtheria.

His pleading telegram to the outside world read as follows:

An epidemic of diphtheria is almost inevitable here STOP I am in urgent need of one million units of diphtheria antitoxin STOP Mail is only form of transportation STOP 

With the area population around 10,000, and close to 100% mortality rate, the situation was dire.  After the 1917 influenza, in which half the native population perished, time was of the essence.

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Nome, Alaska circa 1916

The mail route between Nenana and Nome was 674 miles.  The only diphtheria antitoxin was in Anchorage.  The antitoxin was put on the Alaska Railroad to Nenana and then hauled west by dogsled.  The rural Alaskan mail carriers were the best dog mushers in the State, and the vast majority were Athabaskan.  “Wild Bill” Shannon was the first musher to take the serum from Nenana.  The temperature was -50F when he left Nenana with a team of 11 dogs.  When Shannon reached the village of Minto at 3am, it was -60F, and Wild Bill was suffering from hypothermia and frostbite.

The serum went from relay team to relay team.  At times, the serum was brought into various roadhouses to warm up.  One musher at Manley Hot Springs had the roadhouse operator pour hot water over his hands so that they could be broken free of his sled’s handle bars.  It was -56F.

By January 30, a fifth death, and 27 cases of diphtheria had occurred in Nome.  Plans were made to fly serum in, but they were rejected by the Navy and experienced pilots because of the weather.  The relay went on.

Leonhard Seppala left Nome for Shaktoolik to take his place in the relay.  He faced gale force winds and -85F wind chill.  His lead dog Togo traveled 350 miles in total.

Henry Ivanoff’s team was tangled up with a reindeer.

Charlie Olson took the serum from Seppala, his team was blown off course by the winds. He passed the serum to Gunnar Kaasen in Bluff, AK.  Kaassen waited for the weather to improve, but it only became worse, so he set out into a nasty headwind.  His lead dog was Balto.  Kaassen could barely see the first two dogs in front of his sled because of the blowing snow, but Balto led the team through high drifts, river overflow and heavy winds.  At one point, a gust of wind flipped the sled.  The serum was thrown into the snow, and Kaassen’s hands were frostbit trying to recover the cylinder of serum.

In spite of the hardships, Kaassen reached Point Safety ahead of schedule.  The next man up, Ed Rohn, was sleeping, so Kaassen and his team led by Balto continued on.  They arrived in Nome at 5:30am.  The relay of dog teams traveled the 674 miles in 127-1/2 hours.  Not one vial of serum had been broken.

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Gunnar Kaassen and Balto

For the first time since the Last Great Race first ran, mushers this year are not being allowed into villages due to coronavirus concerns.  Checkpoints are in tents out on rivers away from communities.  Spectators have been told not to show up in Nome to cheer as teams cross under the famed burled arch on Front Street.

If nothing else, 1925 shows us how vital it is to step up and come together at a time of crisis.


Breaking Up

The picture was taken the last day of March. I have never seen The Pond with as much bad ice this early. The open hole is from methane release, which caused the ice to thin just above the methane pocket.

The Nenana River has some open water already, downstream from the Ice Classic Tripod. The earliest the Tanana River has gone out is April 20. Short of an epic cold snap, that record will be broken in 2019.