Dan Gullickson was interviewed on January 27, 2010 by Karen Brewster at the Tanana Valley Railroad Museum in Fairbanks, Alaska. In this first part of a two part interview, Dan talks about the history of the Tanana Valley Railroad, and the Friends of the Tanana Valley Railroad’s project to restore Engine #1. He also mentions history of railroads in the Nome area.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Railroads of Alaska Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Jan 27, 2010
Narrator(s): Dan Gullickson
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster
Videographer: Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Carol McCue
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
How his interest in the Tanana Valley Railroad started
Working in Barrow as an audio visual specialist for the BIA
His interest in history and organizing the restoration of Engine No. 1
Restoration work starts on the locomotive
History of the Tanana Valley Railroad
Fuel for the railroad and switching from narrow gauge to standard gauge on the Fairbanks line
The end of the Tanana Valley Railroad
Differences between narrow and standard gauge railways
Operating steam locomotives in cold weather conditions
Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.
After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
KAREN BREWSTER: in Fairbanks, Alaska, at the Tanana Valley Railroad Museum which is operated by Friends of the Tanana Valley Railroad, and we're here at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks. And this is an interview for our History of Railroads in Alaska project, Project Jukebox. Thank you, Dan, for spending some time with us this afternoon.
DAN GULLICKSON: You're welcome.
KAREN BREWSTER: So why don't we just get started first with a little background about you. Can you tell us who you are and how you got involved with this Friends of the Tanana Valley organization.
DAN GULLICKSON: Well, it's a long story, but in the summer of 1991, I was doing some filming up on Seward Peninsula about the prehistory up to modern history of the Nome area. And we were documenting archeological sites and mining sites and such, and one of the places we stopped by to pick up some footage was a site that's been called the Last Train to Nowhere.
Which has the remains of the three engines for the Solomon River Railroad, Council City and Solomon River, and were parked on the tundra and just left and are slowly rusting into the tundra. That day we continued up on to the road to Council, and then we next day flew up to -- no, we continued up to a mine called the Big Harrah Mine, it's owned.
Came back the next day, I needed to get some footage of Anvil Creek where the first strike was made. And I needed footage that was showing the ground that had not been disturbed by mining yet, so that meant a day of research travelling up the road and looking for sites. And along the way I discovered I was crossing some railroad tracks, which was a big surprise, because in the bushes on the other side of the tracks were some railroad equipment sitting on the tracks.
I continued up the creek until I found my selected places where I had to shoot, and then came back and shot that equipment also, plus the ruins of some structure that had been right adjacent to the tracks. Came back to Nome and found a tourist thing that somebody was developing called the Little Creek Railroad, I believe.
She had two locomotives in her front yard and a railcar and some other equipment that she'd salvaged out of the bushes and brought into Nome. So we shot that. When we got back to Fairbanks, I had to document all my footage as far as what it was, where it was, and how many minutes, and so -- what kind of shot it was.
And we had no information in our library at BLM regarding that kind of stuff, so I went down to the public library and found a book that was pretty comprehensive about railroads in Alaska so that I could document that stuff. And in the process, I found a chapter about the Tanana Valley Railroad, which I'd never heard about.
It's totally absent from the history curriculum in the school district. And some photographs of old Engine Number 1, both sitting by the old train station downtown, and then when -- there was a picture of it here at the park. Well, it was lunchtime so I decided to go out to the park to take a look at it, and went over there and ate lunch with a friend of mine who sold model trains.
And of course, the conversation, he asked me what I'd been doing, and I told him the story. And he said, what kind of condition is that old locomotive in? And it's pretty deplorable. The fence is falling down, there's no signs up saying what its historical significance to Fairbanks is, birds can fly in and out of holes that are in the water tank, and so on.
And then he said, well, you know the company I sell trains for is coming out with a model that looks almost exactly like that. And I said, order me one and I'll fix it up to look like the one at the park. And he said, you know, we ought to fix that up. And I said, what do you mean? He says, I'm serious. He says, we -- we really should do something about stopping that thing from rusting away and becoming a pile of nuts and bolts.
You're kidding, right? He said, no, I'm not kidding. You, me, Nugent, who was another fellow we all knew from Kiwanis because we were in it together, we could put a group of people together to do something. Okay. If you'll back me, I'll see how far we can take the ball and run with it. And this is what happened.
KAREN BREWSTER: So to backtrack a little bit, you were working for BLM as a public information film producer?
DAN GULLICKSON: Right. KAREN BREWSTER: And how long did you do that.
DAN GULLICKSON: From 1983 until retirement in 2001.
KAREN BREWSTER: And what's your background before that? Are you from Fairbanks originally, or
DAN GULLICKSON: No, I came to Alaska the first time in 1962, living in Metlakatla with some neighbors from Seattle who lived in Metlakatla during the summertime. And I was a transferred Alaskan, decided that's where I wanted to settle. So came back up with a new wife in the summer of '66 for 2 months to attend the university, and then on to Barrow for 8 and a half years.
KAREN BREWSTER: And what did you do in Barrow? DAN GULLICKSON: I was a music teacher and then I became an audio visual specialist.
KAREN BREWSTER: And you worked in the North Slope Borough as a
DAN GULLICKSON: No, I worked for Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Barrow schools were turned over to the Bureau in the summer of 1974 on a one year lease, and then the following year, 1975, '76, the property was transferred to the North Slope Borough.
I continued working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in an administrative function, more or less like an assistant superintendent of schools, but my specific assignment was handling audio visual materials and production for the schools that we had remaining that we maintained out of the Fairbanks District office, which included Tetlin, Beaver, Venetie, and then over on the -- the Yukon Drainage, Grayling and Shageluk. And I continued that until I transferred to BLM in '83.
KAREN BREWSTER: So what does being a audio visual specialist with BIA, what kind of things did you do?
DAN GULLICKSON: I provided the schools with audio visual support for their regular learning materials. It's difficult for children anyplace who live in an isolated environment to utilize printed learning materials when the printed learning materials are based on an environment that's totally foreign.
For instance, Sally, Dick, and Jane live with mom and dad, they have a dog named Spot, they go to the zoo, and on weekends they probably go visit grandma and grampa, maybe on a farm or some other place. That's totally foreign to any kid that lives in a -- in a location that isn't a city.
Not -- not even considering the language difficulties, it's -- the environment itself is foreign, so you need to bring in enrichment materials to supplement the standard products that are produced for the mainstream America. And that's basically what I did. If there wasn't a commercial product available that -- that teachers needed, then I made it myself.
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. So now -- so have you always had an interest in trains? Why this restoration project and those pieces of equipment in Nome caught your attention?
DAN GULLICKSON: I've always been interested in history, family history. I have relics and information on both sides of my family going clear back to immigrants from Holland that came in 1655, and immigrants from Norway who sailed from Norway in summer of 1849. And I've always been interested in history. I think that history is a very important subject that needs to be taught so that you know where you came from, so you have some kind of an identity.
It helps you face the future if you know where you've been. And that summer, it just kind of sparked my interest. It was old stuff. That was summer of 1991. In 1990, I -- actually, before that, in 1984, I was fortunate enough to be a member of a chorus that accompanied the university symphony orchestra to Switzerland and the Scandinavian Peninsula on a concert tour, so I had my first touch with old history.
And of course, I was blown away by the fact that I was in Norway possibly walking down the same streets as my ancestors had, and the same thing in Amsterdam. It was a really interesting experience. So that increased my fervor. In 1990, one of my children was an exchange student in Germany, and we spent three weeks travelling around Germany with her; and, of course, again, the same experience occurred all over because my wife is German Norwegian, so she was experiencing the same thing from a German standpoint.
And so that 1991 trip to Nome was just another, you know, we've got to do something about our local history. Things should not be allowed to be rusting away or rotting away like they are. And Engine Number 1 was in a pretty bad state. It needed attention right away.
KAREN BREWSTER: And you said you spoke to this friend who sort of said, well, why don't we go fix it up. Who was that?
DAN GULLICKSON: That was Russ Green. He used to own the Sew & Vac over on Third Street, in the old Gavora Mall. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh hum.
DAN GULLICKSON: And so we put together a group of interested people and came over to the park and talked to them about it. And they said, well, right now it's part of a long term contract we have with the Fairbanks Historical Preservation Foundation, but let's talk to them, they haven't done anything with the locomotive yet, let's see if they'd be interested in letting you take it over.
And they said, oh, that's great, yes, we'll let them take it over and we'll rewrite our contract with the Borough and everything, right now they will have to work with us, but -- legally, but basically, we started working for the park right away. So we contacted some friends that I knew in Anchorage who were very much into locomotives and the history of railroad in Alaska.
They came up Thanksgiving weekend of 1991 to make a physical examination of the locomotive to determine whether we could just do a cosmetic restoration, patch the holes, slap on a new paint job, put up some signage, replace the rocks and wood in the cab, and so on.
And we got permission to open up the boiler box door and the firebox door to see what kind of shape the boiler was in because that would be a limiting factor in the restoration.
KAREN BREWSTER: This is --
DAN GULLICKSON: And also --
KAREN BREWSTER: This is a steam engine we're talking about?
DAN GULLICKSON: Right. And we also just had to determine how many pieces were missing from it, for any kind of a restoration project, what would we have to put back in there. And they discovered that it was in a remarkable state mechanically of preservation. The biggest problem was the water tank had the big holes in it.
All the running gear underneath that supplies power from the boiler to the -- to the cylinders and so on, everything was there. In fact, we really couldn't tell at that point why the engine had stopped being used. Probably economics, if -- if nothing else, but -- and the wood cab needed to be replaced, it was in really bad shape.
So we made up a report and submitted it to the Borough again, and got permission to proceed with restoration, ultimately leading to making the engine run again, if we could. At that point, we really didn't know until we took it apart to determine why it had been put on the display list, as it were. And we -- first, it was parked not where we are now, it was parked across from the -- from the Pioneer Park train station at that time, so disassembly began there.
KAREN BREWSTER: Where is that in the park?
DAN GULLICKSON: Well, it was -- the old train station is just down track or upstream from this facility about, maybe, 100 yards.
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.
DAN GULLICKSON: And it was parked right across the road from that. The fence had fallen down around it and so on. So the following spring, we rebuilt the fence and put -- then we removed the cab, and it was stored over at Fairbanks News Agency's warehouse for a couple of years. And then started to do a parts survey. And we built a scaffolding around the engine and put a tarp over it at the end of the summer so that stuff that was now exposed would not be weathered too badly.
The following year, Shields Rental donated a crane and operator for a day and we laid track. And this building here now is on top of where we moved the engine to at that point. We laid track over here. And they removed the boiler first from the -- from the chassis, and the smokestack, and we brought them all over here, and then they picked up the chassis and brought it over here and sat it down on the tracks.
And then we cribbed the boiler up around it so that it was no longer sitting on the chassis, but still there in the same location. Then we had permission from -- from the park to build some kind of a structure over it. Well, it turned out that you've got to get building permits, even for a pole shed, unless it's an historic structure that you're moving.
John Reeves and Alaska Gold Company, gave us permission to salvage one of the pole sheds over on the Alaska Gold property off of Illinois Street. So we took that down and re erected it over the locomotive and we didn't have to worry about a building permit. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
DAN GULLICKSON: Which saved a lot of paperwork and a lot of time. And we finished the disassembly there. Then the following couple years later, somewhere in that time frame, I'll say maybe 1995, the Historical Preservation Foundation built a pole shed at the end of where our footprint currently was to restore the remains of the Lavelle Young Wheelhouse, which actually had been found by one of our members on a bar across the river from Galena. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.
DAN GULLICKSON: And he donated it to them. And BLM actually flew the remains into Fairbanks. And they had -- the Foundation had had it in storage for quite some time, so they built a nice pole shed and put the Lavelle Young back together, and we helped them move it out, and we moved into the pole shed. The pole shed became ours. We enclosed it and made it look like a railroad shed, then we moved the remains of Engine Number 1 into there and began putting it back together.
KAREN BREWSTER: So who were the major players, you know, in doing all this work? You mentioned somebody Nugent.
DAN GULLICKSON: Nick was -- Nugent was in at the beginning, but he quickly dropped out. Russ Green was involved in the organization until about -- and he still is as a life member, but officially operating, being here, he's been absent for about six, seven years now.
KAREN BREWSTER: So who --
DAN GULLICKSON: I'm the only one of the three -- I am the only one of the three left. That fall of '91, we had a group of people that -- we found folks that were interested in either locomotives or historical preservation or steam engines, or they were just community spirited persons. And we got them together first the weekend of Thanksgiving that year, when we had the team up from -- from Anchorage, from the Wasilla -- the Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry called MATI, which is at Wasilla.
And they gave an oral report on what they had found, which was followed up by the written report we got in January. In January, we assembled again at Russ Green's office, and there was a group of 15 individuals to review the report and decide what to do. At that point, we decided to incorporate. We had a lawyer who donated his services pro bono, that's Chris Zimmerman, and he's still with us.
And he drew up the Articles of Incorporation and assisted us with the bylaws and so on, and so we -- sometime the spring of '92, we became officially incorporated as a nonprofit corporation. And then we proceeded to fight the battle of becoming a 501(c)(3) corporation with IRS. That took about a year, mainly because we couldn't understand the regulations. They were telling us that we were qualified, and our impression of what they were saying was that we weren't qualified and needed more information.
So I finally got hold of somebody on the phone that I had been corresponding with and I said I don't understand what else you want. She said, well, you don't need to send us anything else, you're qualified. And I said, but that's not what this says. And, oh, we never thought of it that way. So we got our qualification actually dating back to when we had written the -- the initial letter to them.
And that core group of -- of 15 people that are probably still involved here, physically involved, I think, again, I'm the only one.
KAREN BREWSTER: But of those core 15, they all helped work on restoring and --
DAN GULLICKSON: I'll take it back. Dr. Deely was present beginning in January of '92. And he's been with us ever since.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. So how do you go about restoring something? I mean, did you have photographs to know what it looked like? You said it was in pretty good shape?
DAN GULLICKSON: Well, the people that came up from Wasilla knew what they were talking about as far as what was missing and so on. We've accumulated over the years an extensive collection of photographs from the time the locomotive was first landed in the northern country, which was August of 1899, it was the very first steam locomotive in the Yukon Territory, and it operated for five, six years on two different coal mines downstream from Dawson.
One of the financial backers of those coal mines was Falcon Joslin, who, in the -- in 1903, started to speculate about building a railroad here in Fairbanks due to the gold mining activities, and offering a cheaper price for transportation of freight, more than anything else, back and forth from the mines. In 1904, they proceeded with their plans, came down here, and started building the Tanana Valley -- Tanana Mines Railroad.
KAREN BREWSTER: That's what it was called at the time? DAN GULLICKSON: It was called that. It was financed by the same people that financed the White Pass in Yukon.
KAREN BREWSTER: Which was -- DAN GULLICKSON: The Close Brothers.
KAREN BREWSTER: Which was a Lower 48 company, or -- DAN GULLICKSON: From London. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.
DAN GULLICKSON: And then in 19 -- and they started actually constructing the trackage that fall. There were three people involved, and I can only remember two names, the third one's over there on the display panel. Falcon Joslin was the primary, Martin Harris or Harrice was the secondary, and then there's a third fellow over there, too. I could be wrong about 1903 and 1904.
Actual construction of the railroad started in '04 when rails and ties and stuff were brought into Chena by steamboat. And they proceeded as far as they could without any heavy equipment, just manpower and mules, laying the track towards -- the initial plan was to go directly out to Fox, and with a side shoot into Fairbanks.
That was the original plan. However, Fairbanks started developing quickly also, so they completed the spur into Fairbanks first, and then went out through Goldstream Valley to Fox. The Y was right in the valley right below the University of Alaska campus, right below the farm.
Actually, the Chena Pump Road is built on part of the old roadbed, and Chena Pump Road used to go straight across from the current highway intersection to the farm, and that was the old roadbed.
They completed all of that in the summer of 1905.
KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. DAN GULLICKSON: And the Golden Spike was driven on July 17th at Fairbanks. KAREN BREWSTER: 1905?
DAN GULLICKSON: 1905. Engine Number 1 was shipped down from the mines up on the Yukon in June of 1905. And you know, every once in awhile we get additions to our collection. About two years ago, we were -- we located someone who had photographs of the Tanana Valley Railroad that we were looking at because we'd seen them in books. And he said, you know, I've got another photograph of that, I think it's that train, that you might really be interested in looking at.
I'm sorry, I don't have it in my hand, it's over there on a table. So I'll send that along, too. Well, it turned out it was a photograph of Engine Number 1 sitting on the front of the barge bear being pushed by the Riverboat Louise. We had a newspaper clipping from Dawson saying that the boat had left that area on the Riverboat Louise.
KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.
DAN GULLICKSON: Well, the Louise was bringing it here. And so it was unloaded on July 4th at the Chena townsite. Then -- and that's when the original Golden Spike ceremony had been planned to occur, they had the trackage finished into Fairbanks. However, there was a flood. Wiped out a trestle on Noyes Slough and caused some other damage, so they had to rebuild what was damaged, and the Golden Spike actually occurred on July 17th.
KAREN BREWSTER: Now, why did they only go as far as Fox?
DAN GULLICKSON: That's all the money they had for at the time. And Dome and Olnes and Eldorado and Chatanika really were just in the starting phases. Actually, they went as far as Gilmore, which was -- you don't consider it being up the hill from Fox, but it -- it is up on the hillside. KAREN BREWSTER: It is.
DAN GULLICKSON: So it actually ran behind what is now the Silver Gulch Brewery, the track was right behind that building, continued on up the valley. And then in the summer of 1907, the partners decided to buy out the contract mortgage, et cetera, from the Close Brothers, and they refinanced through the Knickerbocker Trust Company, and I don't think that was the Guggenheims, but I could be wrong, in New York again, and renamed it the Tanana Valley Railroad.
So the Tanana Mines became the Tanana Valley Railroad. Actually, Tanana Mines Railway because British -- in Britain it's railway as opposed to railroad. And continued that summer, they built the trackage all the way up to Gilmore up through Fox Gulch, over Hilltop, down the hill to Olnes, and then more or less a straight shot up the Chatanika drainage to Chatanika, stopping at the Eldorado townsite. And there were other sidings along the way also.
There was a siding out in Goldstream Valley named McNeer that one of our people thinks they found the remains of. There was a siding just beyond the Hilltop Restaurant called Hilltop, and that served Oln -- that served Dome, and one other small community in that area, and I can't remember it.
KAREN BREWSTER: So the term is siding, that's a little side railroad?
DAN GULLICKSON: Well, that would be a track that goes off and it comes back on -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay.
DAN GULLICKSON: -- and joins the main trackage. Basically, for the most part, all the sidings were just freight stops, and they would put an old boxcar there or build something like a boxcar just for storing of freight. And like at Dome, there was roads or trails that wagons or cars could follow to get down to the smaller communities of the mines. It was a flag stop railroad, too, just like the Alaska Railroad still is.
You could stop the train at any point, and they would unload your freight or you could get on. People don't realize that, the Alaska Railroad still has that policy.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. It's, I think, the only railroad in the world probably or at least in this country that does that.
DAN GULLICKSON: I wouldn't know.
KAREN BREWSTER: I wouldn't know. I'm -- I'm suspecting.
DAN GULLICKSON: They all used to be that way a long time ago.
KAREN BREWSTER: But so the purpose of the Tanana Valley Railway, Railroad, was, you mentioned freight. It wasn't to bring the gold back out?
DAN GULLICKSON: Yes. It was both directions. It was bring the gold, and not only gold, Fairbanks at one point, or the Fairbanks area, I'm not quite sure where the mine was located, had one of the largest antimony mines in North America. But the kind of mining that they did out in the area around Fairbanks required pretty heavy equipment, not as far as D9 tractors or things like that. Very large boilers to generate steam to thaw the ground. And so that was very expensive to haul that stuff out to the mines.
The Teamsters in those days were making a killing because their freight rates were so high. There was no automobile traffic when the Tanana Valley Railroad started. I should know but I'm not quite sure when the first automobile came to Fairbanks. I know it was the Sheldon --
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. DAN GULLICKSON: -- vehicle, which
KAREN BREWSTER: I don't know. I want to say 1912 or something. I don't know why --
DAN GULLICKSON: Something like that. KAREN BREWSTER: -- why that number comes to my mind.
DAN GULLICKSON: From a meeting I was at yesterday, that's probably pretty close to it. But that was a home built vehicle, too.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. So the Teamsters were hauling everything with horses?
DAN GULLICKSON: Wagons and horses. Yeah. And sleds.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. And so the railroad was a more economical way to move freight?
DAN GULLICKSON: Oh, yes. It knocked the freight price down quite a bit, and I'm sorry, I don't have the figures on top of my head, but again, they are on the descriptive posters around here, or panels. I shouldn't call them posters.
KAREN BREWSTER: And what about passengers? They took passengers?
DAN GULLICKSON: Tanana Valley Railroad had passenger cars, and they hauled passengers back and forth the same as the freight. Everything to the communities went by rail until motor vehicle traffic started, which didn't happen until you had roads. As the roads developed, because they were quicker to get to, allowed you to not only get there but get there in a bigger -- a quicker time. They started impacting the income that the railroads were earning. And that's basically what put the railroad out of business.
You know, we're still mining the same areas, the gold is still there, but it was quicker to get out to the mines if the roads existed by a vehicle rather than by the train. And in those days, the roads -- we're talking Model T days -- didn't really need to have too much of a road to travel those cars on, which is a little bit different than the railroad trackage, requires a lot of maintenance. And once the roads were better developed, then they could have not only vehicles for transporting people, but trucks for transporting the heavy stuff.
There's actually one of the photographs we have in our collection that's been published in a couple books, I think, has a Tanana Valley Railroad with passenger car, then at the very end there's a flatcar with a big boiler on it for one of the mines. It's an unusual enough boiler that you can see it, you know. We think it's sitting on the ground out at Eldorado, at the old townsite.
KAREN BREWSTER: Cool. So what were they using for fuel for those boilers?
DAN GULLICKSON: Wood. KAREN BREWSTER: They were using wood.
DAN GULLICKSON: Coal didn't start coming into Fairbanks until basically the rail connection down at Nenana was established. When they built the Alaska Railroad, it actually began with a purchase of two railroads, and then extending trackage from those two railroads, the first one was the Alaska Central, which became the Alaska Northern, or vice versa, which was constructed from Seward to Cook Inlet over the space of several years. That was standard gauge.
And then they also purchased the Tanana Valley Railroad which was narrow gauge. Purchasing the Tanana Valley Railroad gave them a footprint into Fairbanks, where there was a train station already, maintenance facilities, and all they had to do to get to Anchorage was extend the track -- or to Nenana was extend the track down to Nenana. What happened was the Alaska Central, or the southern section they started building from Anchorage, which didn't even exist at that point Anchorage is a real railroad town -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
DAN GULLICKSON: -- south along Cook Inlet towards Seward to connect with the trackage of the old railroad that they had purchased that came up from Seward to Cook Inlet. And then they started building north from Anchorage towards Fairbanks, and south from Nenana towards Anchorage on standard gauge rails. So you had tracks going south from Nenana that eventually reached the coal mines down at Healy, which then enabled them, that gave them access to that coal, so then that coal could come north. And at Nenana, a very interesting thing occurred. The bridge that's at Nenana hadn't been built yet,
so they had to have some way of getting across the river. Well, they got the track from the Tanana Valley Railroad down to the north bank across from Nenana before the bridge was built. And so -- and that track, the extension from what we call the Happy Intersection, which is right below Ann's Greenhouse, the trackage was extended but it was using standard gauge length ties, which are longer because the track is wider, and standard gauge weight rail, which is heavier for the heavier equipment, but they laid it to 3 foot width on the rails.
KAREN BREWSTER: Which is narrow gauge width?
DAN GULLICKSON: Narrow gauge width. Anything less than 4 feet, 8 and a half inches is called narrow gauge. Standard gauge is 4 feet 8 and a half inches. So you had --
KAREN BREWSTER: So you had -- DAN GULLICKSON: -- a smaller track going south from Fairbanks to Nenana, and then the wider track coming north from Anchorage to Nenana. Now, the reason they built it on standard gauge ties and standard gauge rail, that would enable them to widen it when the time came. So that's what they did. Then -- and then, until the bridge was built, which was completed in February of -- can I look at my cheat sheet?
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh hum.
DAN GULLICKSON: Okay. Okay. February of 1923, the bridge was finished. And at that point, they started widening the tracks from north Nenana towards Fairbanks as fast as they could. By early June, they had reached the Happy Intersection.
KAREN BREWSTER: That's just to the bottom of Ester Dome, basically?
DAN GULLICKSON: Well, yeah, but -- yeah. Right where the -- the road takes off there. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
DAN GULLICKSON: Because that's where the tracks go. But then they had a problem because they still had a railroad going out to Chatanika that was narrow gauge. So what they did at that point was they just added a third rail so that you had the narrow gauge 3 foot rail, and then over here you had another rail that was 36 plus 8 and a half, 14 and a half inches over on the side, so that the equipment from Anchorage could go all the way into Fairbanks. And they finished that by mid June of 1923.
So we actually had railroads coming -- railroad equipment from Seward coming all the way into Fairbanks almost a month before they had the Golden Spike down in Nenana. And the Tanana Valley Railroad at that time or shortly before became the Chatanika Branch of the Alaska Railroad, continued until August 30 -- August 31st of 1930 or '31. We actually have a 1931 calendar in our display case with the dates circled. And I'm not quite sure on the year.
KAREN BREWSTER: But so in -- DAN GULLICKSON: They may have started tearing up the track then, they closed down the Tanana Valley Railroad.
KAREN BREWSTER: But the full on Tanana Valley Railroad kind of stopped before that because it got absorbed by the new Alaska Railroad?
DAN GULLICKSON: Well, the flow didn't stop. They still continued serving communities by rail until it was just economically ridiculous. You had -- the community was fighting to keep the railroad up to Chatanika. And many of the businesses out there would want to have the railroad. At the same time, they were having their shipments come by truck. And one of the railroad people who wanted to shut it down actually went out and made surveys to determine this was actually what was happening. The revenue for the railroad dropped considerably, which is one of the reasons they -- the Government got it for such a cheap price
because once the competition started and it was cheaper to -- to ship by road, as opposed to Teamster wagons, then people took the other -- the other route. And so beginning about 1912, I believe, the railroad was able to pay salaries, they were able to pay the interest on their mortgage, but they were not able to pay the principal. And the Alaska Engineering Commission, which had been formed by the U.S. Government to build the railroad, was starting to negotiate with the Tanana Valley Railroad principals about the purchase of the property and so on.
Well, the bank was worried about their investment, and so they foreclosed on the railroad in November of 19 -- let's see 1917, in November, they foreclosed, and in December 31st of 1917, the bank sold the railroad to the U.S. Government for $300,000. Now, they -- the amount of money that their foreclosure was, was 200,000, so they actually made a hundred thousand dollars on it, not knowing what the actual value of the property was.
KAREN BREWSTER: But then the Government kept operating it?
DAN GULLICKSON: Uh hum. The Government kept operating it until they had enough evidence to say, no, we're not going to do it anymore because you people aren't even using it. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
DAN GULLICKSON: So why should we provide it when you're not using it. So they began dismantling the trackage, first the sidings and so on; equipment was sold that they felt was sellable, or it was reused. Some of the railroad equipment was shipped down to Fairbanks, or down to Anchorage, and then up to the Mat Su Valley to operate on a mine that is out in that area, a coal mine, and I'm really not sure of the name of the mine, but there is a photograph that we have here, and it's quite a -- it's been around a lot, you see it in a lot of prints,
of Engine Number 1 pulling a passenger car, followed by a boxcar. Well, that boxcar was one of the pieces of equipment that ended up down at that mine. And then it was used for -- somebody used it for housing. One of our members discovered it many years ago, and he got it, and it's now sitting on his property. We have been able to identify it because you can see what the number of the vehicle -- of the car is in the photograph, and it's there in very faded paint.
KAREN BREWSTER: Now, so it kept running out to Chatanika in -- up until the 1930s, after the Alaska Railroad was completed. DAN GULLICKSON: Uh hum.
KAREN BREWSTER: So is that when you considered the end of the Tanana Valley Railroad was when that closed down or is it earlier?
DAN GULLICKSON: We consider it that way. I-- I guess a purist would say December of 1917 it ceased to exist as the Tanana Valley Railroad, but the community here would not consider it that way, and we don't, either. They didn't really ever repaint any of the old equipment with a lot of -- a lot of name changes or anything.
We've got a photograph of the locomotive here with U.S. Number 1 painted on the side of it. On passenger cars and equipment, the Tanana Valley Railroad didn't even change the names quite frequently of stuff they bought from other railroads. There's that -- one photograph we have shows one of the passenger cars -- cars still says Klondike Mines Railway on it. So the Tanana Valley Railroad itself never had any new equipment. They always purchased used equipment.
The only time you ever had a new engine was in approximately 1922 or '3, the U.S. Government purchased a new locomotive, Engine Number 152, which was became the main operator on the track as far as the engine that was used. They had several others that for various reasons weren't, but
Engine Number 152 continued to operate until the very end, and then was there to tear up the track. Engine 152 was in good enough shape, it was sold and went to California with a short stop in Whitehorse during the war, and they didn't need it there, so it went on down to California.
It passed into ownership several different times; one of the owners at one point was Gene Autry. It now is in Flint, Michigan, and operates at a railway in a community park much larger in size than Pioneer Park. The park is called Crossroad Village.
And two years ago, they actually repainted it in the original colors. They found the original snowplow that had been stored at one of the previous owners' facilities, and so that's really quite interesting. So you have the last -- the very first engine for the Tanana Valley Railroad, and the very last engine both exist.
KAREN BREWSTER: Cool. DAN GULLICKSON: And one boxcar.
KAREN BREWSTER: And I want to go back a second about the gauges, standard gauge versus narrow gauge. You said Tanana Valley was originally built narrow gauge. DAN GULLICKSON: Uh hum.
KAREN BREWSTER: So if you could explain to those of us who don't know about the different gauges. You mentioned the size difference, but why would you build down gauge versus standard?
DAN GULLICKSON: A lot of different reasons. Expense is probably the biggest concern. Standard gauge equipment is big; because it's big, everything that runs on it has to be big. The rails have to be big, the ties have to be longer. Narrow gauge, because the equipment is smaller, doesn't need to have rails that weigh as much. The rails for the Tanana Valley Railroad were 35, maximum 40 pounds, depending on whatever used rail they could find. The Tan -- the Alaska Railroad was 70 pound minimum. The ties were shorter.
Because they were smaller in size, they could negotiate sharp curves a lot easier, so the trackage could be a little bit tighter. So equipment costs, maintenance costs, the whole nine yards, was just cheaper. You found the narrow gauge railroads in use primarily in mining areas or in industrial areas, and that's basically where -- where they were used. There's still a very major narrow gauge operation in Colorado, actually two of them, but they are all tourist oriented now. They are the remnants of bigger ones.
KAREN BREWSTER: The White Pass road, that's -- DAN GULLICKSON: And the White Pass is narrow gauge. We could take Engine Number 1 down to White -- to Skagway, north, we could get the trackage back to Whitehorse, we could take it to Whitehorse and put it on the track and run it. It would be -- other than getting it there, that wouldn't be a problem at all.
KAREN BREWSTER: I didn't know if the difference of which gauge was used was also a factor of the time period and what was, quote, the norm or the standard at that time.
DAN GULLICKSON: No, the railroads were still building standard gauge.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh hum. DAN GULLICKSON: So the Transcontinental Railroad was standard gauge.
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.
DAN GULLICKSON: But again, it's an expense factor. The -- the only drawback was if you had to if the ultimate destination was a standard gauge railroad for further train shipment, then you had to do something with your freight. I mean, people could get off the cars and walk on to the other cars, which is what they did down at Nenana.
In the wintertime, they actually laid tracks across the ice from the north bank to the south bank, and on the south bank they sat right on the ice right below the dock so that they could unload the freight from the standard gauge cars over the bank onto the Tanana Valley cars.
And then people would go down the stairs, get in the passenger cars. So -- and then when the railroad got to Fairbanks with the standard gauge, then you had to somehow transfer the freight from the standard gauge equipment over to the narrow gauge equipment for it to continue on, on to Chatanika. And that's what they did.
They had to physically pick it up and move it or, you know, either manpower or crane or something like that. Other railroads in the Lower 48 had some other unique ways of doing it. They would pick up the car itself and lift it off of the trucks and set it on the standard gauge trucks and roll away.
KAREN BREWSTER: That's pretty smart.
DAN GULLICKSON: You know, if you could do that, then that would save time.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. DAN GULLICKSON: But here it was labor intensive, so --
KAREN BREWSTER: What about operating a railroad? In the Interior of Alaska is not the easiest conditions to keep a railroad operating, I would think. How did they manage that?
DAN GULLICKSON: With great difficulty. Keeping the tracks clear in snowstorms was difficult. Low temperatures creates major problems. You can't let your water lines freeze or get cold, and they will freeze, so you have to keep heat all the time. For instance, here, we don't have what's called a smoke jacket to sit down on top of the smokestack of the locomotive. So if we want to run this train in the wintertime and we -- the latest we've done it has been Halloween, I don't think we've tried Thanksgiving.
We have to -- even at Halloween, usually, this year was an exception, but we have to back the engine, or tow the engine out of the shop, outside, start the fire outside -- even in the summertime, we start the fire outside -- to heat the water to build up steam pressure, to run the locomotive. We have to do it that way because the pipes will freeze if we don't have the water hot. Now, our temperature cutoff, I think, is 10 degrees. If it's colder than 10 degrees, then we're not going to try and do that because it's just too hard on the equipment.
KAREN BREWSTER: What about historically, do you know what they did?
DAN GULLICKSON: Well, they would -- they had buildings that were designed properly to do -- to start the engines in the wintertime. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay.
DAN GULLICKSON: A smoke jacket is like a chimney that comes down and sits on top of the smokestack, so then the only exhaust smoke that you'd get is when the firebox door is open or something like that, or -- or the smoke box door, which is right underneath the smokestack. So then you're going to get a little bit of smoke coming out. And maintenance shops were notoriously dirty and stuff like that, but we can't do that with this building.
KAREN BREWSTER: No. DAN GULLICKSON: So we start the fire outside.
KAREN BREWSTER: And so once you get it going so that the water lines don't freeze, you just have to keep it going?
DAN GULLICKSON: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: There's no turning it off and letting it rest --
DAN GULLICKSON: No, you don't. KAREN BREWSTER: -- at the other end?
DAN GULLICKSON: You have to keep the fire going, to have keep it up at temperature. Otherwise, you know, even if the train, in the old days, if the engine wasn't running, if it was parked on a siding, you had to keep the pressure up in order to make it go when you wanted to. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh hum.
DAN GULLICKSON: We talked with the operators of the Durango Railroad down in Colorado about winter operations to see what they did, and to gain some insight into what we were going to do because this engine, until we had this building, we never operated it after Labor Day. And we had some cold Labor Days once in awhile, too. Once we moved into here, we had a whole new world. And we came up with ideas. Well, what could we do? It's -- the first one was the Santa Claus Special.
Santa Claus comes into the station on the train, takes a trip around the park with the kids, but we use Engine 67 because of the cold temperatures.
KAREN BREWSTER: So what is Engine 67?
DAN GULLICKSON: That's the park's train, the second one back here. It operates off of the gasoline engine. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.
DAN GULLICKSON: There's no water involved. So we'd like to use Engine 61 -- or Engine Number 1, and if the temperatures ever would allow it, we would, but we basically use Engine 67. And then we have the Santa Claus thing all day long with the kids coming in and visiting. Halloween was our second new operation. In the Halloween special, people come and ride the train for free if they are wearing a costume. We have a costume contest and free refreshments, courtesy of the park, and so on. And it's just a lot of fun. It's a great day for the guys that like to get out and work on the train, and -- and the people that want to come and run
-- or ride it to -- it's a lot of fun, but we couldn't do that before we had the building because it got too cold.
KAREN BREWSTER: What is -- it does make one wonder that when Engine Number 1 was a functional engine for the railroad, how did they keep it operating or did they just stop for periods in the winter?
DAN GULLICKSON: They -- it would stop and they'd let it cool down and then they'd have to start all over again. When you let it cool down, you have got to drain all the lines. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh hum.
DAN GULLICKSON: I don't know whether the storage facilities they parked them in were heated or not. If they weren't heated, then they would literally have to drain everything and make sure it was totally drained. Just like a house, if you're going to close it up for the winter, or a car nowadays, if you're going to leave a car outside parked through the winter, you don't have an electric heater to keep the engine warm or anything like that, you've got to winterize it, and that means really winterizing it. It's the same thing with this. We can't put antifreeze in our water.
We actually use purified water. In the old days, they sucked water out of the ponds or out of the streams. We've got a photograph of the engine with a whole bunch of hose draped across the water tank and there's a pump for them to -- to suck water when they got low. And they also got water out of water tanks, but it wasn't treated water of any kind. In fact, there was a good layer of silt in the old water tank when we took it off. Now to extend the life of the new boiler, because we had to put a new boiler on here, we use treated water. It comes from the power plant after it's been used in the steam generators.
So it's basically distilled water. And then we add chemicals back to it so that the extremely pure water doesn't leach iron or other metal out of the boiler. So we're extending the life of the boiler by using a special treated water. And it's also very clean, obviously, because it comes from the power plant after it's been used. And then we take extreme care to make sure everything is kept as clean as we can get it. We'd like to see this boiler last a hundred years.
KAREN BREWSTER: Can you give us --
DAN GULLICKSON: That will be somebody else's responsibility when we're done.
KAREN BREWSTER: Can you give us a quick explanation of how a steam engine works in a boiler? I know it's very complicated but is there a way to explain it fairly simply?
DAN GULLICKSON: I'm probably the only one that could say it very simply because I don't understand it beyond the simple way. Water is heated. The heat generates steam. Instead of -- instead of gasoline being exploded by a spark plug.