Tag Archives: video

The SS Nenana


The SS Nenana on The Yukon River

The SS Nenana is a steam powered, sternwheeler that was originally commissioned by the Alaska Railroad in 1932 for their Steamboat Service. Her parts were built in Seattle, then shipped north to Nenana, Alaska and assembled there. Named for the community where she was built, the SS Nenana first entered service in 1933.

The Nenana has five decks: cargo; passenger or saloon deck; boat deck, which housed the life boats; the Texas deck, which had cabins for the captain, crew and any VIP travelers, and topped off with the pilot house.


The SS Nenana pushing a barge

At 237′ long and 42′ wide, the Nenana had 22,000 square feet of deck space. She was built to handle passengers and freight, housing up to 50 passengers in 24 staterooms, and could haul 300 tons of cargo. A full load usually had a crew of 32 and a passenger list of 35. Completely loaded, the Nenana drew only 3’6″ of water.

From 1933 – 1954 she ran the Tanana & Yukon Rivers from May through September. Her main route was between Nenana and Marshall, which was 858 miles. The Nenana had one of the most advanced power systems of its time: twin, tandem 330 HP horizontal condensing engines. The engines could recycle 85% of the steam back into water, allowing the Nenana to be surprisingly quiet. She was powered originally by burning wood, and could store 230 cords of firewood on board. In 1948, the Nenana was converted to burn oil.

While traveling the Yukon River, the Nenana could push up to 6 barges. On the Tanana River, she was limited to only one barge, due to that river’s sharp turns.

During WWII, the Nenana was a vital part of the war effort. Between the massive military buildup within Alaska, and as aircraft and other equipment was ferried across the state on its way to Russia, the Nenana moved supplies for Galena Air Base and a host of other military outposts scattered along the Yukon River Basin.

By 1955, the SS Nenana was pushed out of the freight and passenger business by cheaper and faster means of transportation. Her story doesn’t end quite there, however.

Film footage courtesy of the University of Alaska Archives; photos courtesy of “Friends of SS Nenana”


The Grizzly Torque


Grizzly Torque, circa 1957

In the fall of 1956, Bristol Foster was itching to get out and explore the world. He had recently finished his masters degree in biology at the University of Toronto. Foster immediately thought of his friend, Robert Bateman as an ideal travel companion. The two men mapped out a trip that involved crossing four continents. They only needed a vehicle.


Foster and Bateman picking up the Grizzly Torque in England

“… it had to be a Land Rover,” says Bristol Foster. So they ordered a 1957 Series I with an ambulance body. Foster went to Solihull to pick up the Rover, and get trained on their off road course. Bateman arrived later and they took the Series I on a shake down trip through Scotland.


Camping out of the Torque

Foster & Bateman set off for Africa with the newly christened Grizzly Torque. They had agreed to send regular articles and illustrations documenting their trip back to the Toronto Telegram, where they became known as The Rover Boys.

The Rover Boys had a very loose schedule. There was a general direction they meant the trip to follow, but the route taken from Point A to Point B was by no means a straight line. They were free to do as they wished, at a time when this type of travel was ideal. Today, it would be virtually impossible to make the same trek. Not only due to safety concerns, but the difficulty of getting visas throughout the area.

In the Belgian Congo, the little four cylinder engine whined from the excessive load. Some thirty members of the Mbuti tribe were crammed into and onto the Land Rover along with the two Canadians up front. They bounced along a forest track, with the tribe members laughing and singing traditional hunting songs. Foster and Bateman were in Africa, on an adventure of a lifetime. Robert Bateman, thinking back on that time said, “One of the greatest senses of freedom I think we’ve ever had.”

Bateman, now a renown Canadian artist and naturalist, painted small murals along the body of the Grizzly Torque, documenting the places they traveled through. The artwork is stunning, and no doubt caused some excitement with the people they met along the way.


Elephant meets Grizzly

The trip was not without unexpected “adventures”. The Grizzly Torque was flipped over on its side in India, after swerving to avoid a bicyclist. A window was lost in the crash, and was replaced with plexiglass.

In total, The Rover Boys traveled over 60,000 kms, through 19 countries, on 4 continents over 14 months with their Grizzly Torque. The trip ended in Australia with the Land Rover being shipped back to Vancouver after traveling throughout the Australian Outback. From there, the Grizzly Torque continued to be well traveled.

Foster used it on what was then known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, as he pursued his doctorate. It was eventually sold to a student studying peccaries in Texas. The student was raising a juvenile eagle at the time, and the raptor learned to perch up front between the seats. As an adult, the eagle rode happily along, all across the state of Texas, on various expeditions. The student returned to British Columbia with the Land Rover, where he sold the Grizzly Torque to a rancher. Things become murky after that. At some point, the well traveled Land Rover gets sand blasted down to bare metal, painted light blue, losing the wonderful murals, and its identity. The old Rover then spends decades out of the public view.


A blue Torque (?)

Stuart Longair now enters the story. A rancher has four old Land Rovers out in a field, and he wants them gone. Longair, has been a Land Rover cult member from an early age, since riding along with his father in a Series I as a young boy. He buys all four Rovers, sight unseen. The now, faded blue Grizzly Torque, spends the next decade out in another field. Then Longair comes across an old picture of Foster & Bateman with the Grizzly Torque, and he starts to wonder about the neglected Rover he purchased over a decade ago. Longair gets a hold of Bristol Foster, and convinces him to come out and look over the blue Rover. Foster immediately recognized the Grizzly Torque under all of the neglect, but to make sure he went over to the driver’s side door, and found that it was still fitted with the replacement plexiglass from India.


The Grizzly Torque restored

Now that Longair knew that he had a piece of not only Land Rover history, but Canadian history too, he went about restoring the Grizzly Torque. Working off of old photos, Robert Bateman himself, repainted the Rover’s murals along the flat sides.


The Rover Boys reunite with a restored Grizzly Torque


The restored Grizzly Torque and its repainted murals


The eagle in the Grizzly Torque, somewhere in Texas

Photos credit: Bristol Foster & Robert Bateman; Video credit: Land Rover


“They Shall Not Grow Old”

A rare movie review:

Director Peter Jackson has a new documentary out: “They Shall Not Grow Old”. In total, Jackson and his team restored over 100 hours of 100 year old archival footage from the Imperial War Museum. They narrowed that down into a colorized account of the British soldier on the Western Front. There is no narrator; recordings taken by oral historians from actual British soldiers who served in WWI take us through this journey of theirs. They tell us their own stories, in their own words. The result is a brilliant, visually impressive film, with more humor from the men than one would expect from those surrounded by war. Make no mistake, the film is also jarring, and brutal at times, as was the First World War. One person sitting near me, stood up and left during the artillery scene, and did not return until the shelling stopped.

I saw the film on Monday. There is a 3D version of the film being shown, but unfortunately, I was not able to see that. I originally went to the 3D showing, but this being Fairbanks, the version’s file was corrupted, so I had to come back for the 2D version.

After the end credits, Peter Jackson returns for a 35 minute discussion on how and why he made the documentary the way he did. It’s well worth staying for the behind the scenes look. Jackson is a man obsessed with detail, and that trait does him, and the film, great service. I’m not a fan of colorizing black & white films, but this is a little different. Black & White was used to film footage during WWI, because that is what was available at the time, color was not even an option. Cameras during that time period, were designed to advance the film by hand, so the various footage that Jackson & Company restored, were all at different frames per second, which certainly complicated the restoration. It really is an impressive undertaking, and I was caught up in the intense ride.

This is a documentary that is well worth seeing. In the U.S., “They Shall Not Grow Old” will be shown on the big screens, nation wide, one more time: December 27.


70 Years On:

87 year old Solihull native takes her first ride in a Land Rover.


A teenaged Dorothy Peters and #16

In July 1946, Dorothy Peters went to work at Rover’s Lode Lane Factory. She was only 15 when she first went to work for the company. The first vehicle she worked on was chassis number 16. As in, the 16th Series Land Rover to cross the assembly line.

The now retired Ms Peters, has been a lifelong supporter of the brand, but surprisingly she had never ridden in a Land Rover. Over the years, Peters had dreamed of at least once, driving Solihull’s famous Jungle Track, the off road course that Land Rover tests its vehicles on.

As fate would have it, #16 is now owned by Mike Bishop, Land Rover Classic’s Reborn Engineering Specialist and Heritage Expert. Bishop reunited Peters with #16, and took her for a little spin, Land Rover style. The reunion and visit to Jungle Track can be seen in the following video.


Tony Joe White

Tony Joe White passed away suddenly on Thursday of a suspected heart attack. The musician was inspired to pick up a guitar as a teenager when he heard Lightin’ Hopkins for the first time. Known for his “swamp rock” style, White wrote several classics including “Willie and Laura Mae Jones”, “Polk Salad Annie” and “Rainy Night in Georgia”. The latter had been covered by over 100 different artists by the time White turned 30.

In the above video, White performs one of his songs with Johnny Cash. White was 75.


The Queen of Soul


Aretha Franklin at Columbia Records

We lost another icon of the music world with the passing of Aretha Franklin. Franklin got her start as a child singing gospel at the New Bethel Baptist church in Detroit, where her father was a minister.

Franklin signed on with Columbia Records in 1960 at the age of 18. She found success and acclaim after signing with Atlantic Records in 1967. By the end of the 1960’s Aretha had become the Queen of Soul.

Franklin brings down the house at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015. As a singer, Franklin won’t drop the mic, but she can drop the coat.

I have to add a clip of Aretha’s cameo in “The Blues Brothers”. Matt “Guitar” Murphy is “her man” in the film. Sadly, we lost Murphy earlier this year, as well.

Franklin was a powerful vocalist, who wrenched every bit of emotion out of the lyrics. As Paul McCartney said, she “was the Queen of our souls.”

Aretha Franklin was 76; there will never be another quite like her. Rest in peace.


Fairbanks Arts

Who says Fairbanks lacks culture?

The Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival winds down to a close at the end of the weekend. Hopefully, visitors, at the very least, took in some of the free lunch concerts that have been going on at various locations around town. The Festival started in 1980, and has been a boost to summers in Fairbanks ever since.

I saw the Lowboy Cello Band on Alaska Live Wednesday, which prompted this post. One doesn’t often think of Fairbanks as being a cello hotbed, but we seem to be holding our own. The band consists of four members of the Alaska Cello Intensive. The above video is the ACI doing a beautiful, yet more traditional piece. I will follow that up with a video of ACI getting a little loose and funky.


Valley Spruce by Sara Tabbert

The original piece above, by artist Sara Tabbert, is hand carved and painted on wood. The piece will be auctioned off today at 7:30pm at the Westmark downtown, during the FSAF Orchestra Pops Concert.