Alaska Railroad Adventure, 1947

by | Adventure, Living Well

My grandparents moved to Alaska in the late 1940s. At that time, the state was very much still a rugged frontier, and everyone had an interesting story to tell. Grandma took notes, and shared them with me, asking me to publish them so the rest of the family could have easy access to these stories.

In this post, my grandparents set out into the wilderness on a train trip through central Alaska in 1947. Along the way, they encounter mountain climbers in the process of making history, and even set up a temporary dental clinic in a bathroom to help locals in need. As usual, these stories are presented in my grandmother’s own words with no editing on my part. I did, however, hunt down a few relevant links and images. You can find more of my family’s stories at McKinley Family.

I probably should have split this into two posts because it’s so long, but I felt like the most fascinating part was the second half. ¬†Incidentally, I ended up working on this railroad in 1992. One of these days I’ll have to write up my Alaska Railroad stories as well.

Once again, in her own words, Doris McKinley:

Doris McKinley - adventuring with the Lion's Club

Doris McKinley – adventuring with the Lion’s Club

The only Railroad in Alaska is United States Government owned and runs from Seward, the port of entry, thru Anchorage to Fairbanks, a 471 mile life-line to the interior. It was built many years ago of Government Surplus Materials after the construction of the Panama Canal, and is in dire need of major repairs. The schedules are notoriously slow. If an engineer wants to flirt with a reprimand, a sure way to do it is to bring his train in on time! The speed limit for passenger trains on the straight-away is 25 miles per hour.

Alaska Railroad Map - Seward to Fairbanks

Alaska Railroad Map – image credit Alaska Railroad

While awaiting completion of the dental offices in the new Sogn Building, my husband and I took a most interesting trip on the railroad, stopping at Curry, Mt. McKinley Park, and Healy. When we left Anchorage, we left all activity except strictly railroad behind. There are no railroad junctions or highway crossing along the entire route. Just wild hinterland!

As we were passing a rather extended, level, open area I was excited to see a complete rainbow. Both ends touching the ground – we looked but could not find pots of gold!

Several old fishermen boarded the train at Anchorage with all their paraphanalia. Then at various streams 30 to 60 miles out, they signalled the engineer, the train stopped, and they got off. A few days later, when they were ready to return, they would stand by the tracks, flag the train and ride in to Anchorage. – an easy way to get to camp!

Judy Schwartz Haley


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