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I was surprised to hear that the TVRR Museum was open in the winter, so I thought I’d head over there and check it out before the tourist season. I’m glad that I did, because I ended up with what amounted to an incredibly well informed, guided tour. Kudos to the museum volunteers.
The museum owns and operates the only steam locomotive in Alaska. There is another locomotive in Wasilla, but it is not in operating condition. Engine No.1 was built in 1899 by the H.K. Porter Locomotive Works of Pittsburgh, PA. It was the first locomotive in the Yukon Territory, and when it arrived in Chena, Alaska on July 4, 1905, it became the first locomotive in Interior Alaska, as well.
Chena was located ten miles downstream of the rival town of Fairbanks, at the confluence of the Tanana and Chena Rivers. The larger riverboats had difficulty navigating the Chena River, which made the community of Chena a good option for the unloading of goods & supplies. The town had a lumber mill, hospital, school, city hall, dance hall and three newspapers. In fact, one paper, the Tanana Miner was bought by the Fairbanks Daily News to become the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, which is still the Fairbanks newspaper.
The Tanana Valley Railroad started out as the Tanana Mines Railway. Track was laid from Chena to Fairbanks, and through the Goldstream Valley to Fox. It was a narrow gauge railway. The TMR gave way to the TVRR and the track was extended out to the mining claims at Chatanika. At its peak, three trains made a roundtrip run from Chena to Chatanika every day.
By the end of 1917, the TVRR was in financial trouble. The gold in the Chena and Chatanika Rivers had played out quickly. The Alaska Engineering Commission, precursor to the Alaska Railroad, bought out the TVRR in December of 1917. Engine No.1 was retired in 1922, and by 1930, the Alaska Railroad had closed down the final TVRR line. Today, one would be hard pressed to find any evidence of the town of Chena. Anything left is buried under feet of river silt.
Engine No.1 sat outside the International Hotel and Samson Hardware for years. The locomotive was then moved to Alaskaland when the park opened. In 1991, volunteers took on the daunting task of restoring the old steam locomotive. On July 27, 1999 the old engine was up and running, and in 2000 it was once again hauling passengers.
When I stopped by, Engine No.1 had just received its annual inspection, and they were in the process of putting her back together again for another season at Pioneer Park.
Engine No.1 runs the tracks at Pioneer Park a half-dozen times a year. The rest of the time, the duty is performed by it’s replica, No.67. Tickets cost $2 for adults and $1 for children.
The museum is not a large building, but it is full of Alaska rail memorabilia and artifacts. Historic pictures line the walls, as do railroad lanterns and even an original TVRR time schedule.
The volunteer when I stopped by, a self described “train geek”, was incredibly generous with his time and info. Honestly, he was a wealth of information on the history of the Tanana Valley Railroad and the status of the railroad in Alaska today. Well worth the time to stop in while walking the paths of Pioneer Park. Admission is free, although I’m sure donations are needed & appreciated.
The Mears Memorial Bridge was completed on 27 February 1923. The 700 foot long truss bridge spans the Tanana River at Nenana, Alaska. The bridge was the final link in the Alaska Railroad.
The bridge is named after Colonel Frederick Mears, the chief engineer and chairman of the Alaska Engineering Commission, the builder of the railroad and its original operator. In 1923, the Mears Bridge was the longest truss span in the United States and its territories. It spans the longest distance of any bridge in Alaska, and is still the third longest simple truss bridge in the U.S..
Wednesday, 27 February, is International Polar Bear Day.
There are 25,000 estimated polar bears world-wide. On average, a male polar bear weighs 1500 lbs, and can stand close to 10 feet tall on its hind legs. The largest known came from Alaska, and stood 12 feet, and weighed 2210 lbs. Females are quite a bit smaller, weighing on average 500 lbs, and only standing 8 feet tall.
Polar bears are closely related to brown bears. The two populations likely became isolated around the time of the last ice age, around 150,000 years ago. The two species can interbreed, but have adapted to very different habitats. Neither species would last long in the other’s habitat. For example, the polar bear is so adapted to the Arctic climate, that they can not take temperatures above 50F for very long.
Only female polar bears who are pregnant hibernate. Male bears are active year round.
Polar bears can, but rarely, live past 25 years in the wild. Although, in captivity, they have reached 43 years.
Russia outlawed the hunting of polar bears in 1956, the United States began protecting them in 1972. Regulation in Greenland started in 1994. Currently, Canada allows the hunting of up to 500 polar bears annually.
The World Ice Art Championships has returned to Fairbanks. The Ice Park opened on Valentines Day. I checked it out the other day, but the vast majority of the sites had blocks like the one pictured above. No carvers were working when I stopped by.
Fairbanks is known for its crystal clear ice, which the carvers love to use. There will be single block, double block and multi-block carving contests. Plus, there are single carver and two person carver events. I’ll stop by a few more times after the carving is done, and everything on display.
The “luge” track, set up for the kids, looked particularly fast.
The Ice Park is located at the Tanana Valley Fairgrounds, and is open 10am to 10pm, until nature melts the carvings.