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Oliver Backlund, Part 2
Oliver Backlund

This is the continuation of an interview with Oliver Backlund on November 21, 2006 by Marie Mitchell at his home in Fairbanks, Alaska. In this second part of a two part interview, Oliver continues to talk about being on the survey crew for construction of the winter ice road to Prudhoe Bay (Hickel Highway), the equipment they had, conditons they worked under, and engineers he worked with. He also talks about other road surveying he did, including the Richardson Highway, the Parks Highway, and local roads around Fairbanks.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2006-28-07_PT.2

Project: Dalton Highway Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Nov 21, 2006
Narrator(s): Oliver Backlund
Interviewer(s): Marie Mitchell
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
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1) Dropping flags from an airplane to mark the route

2) Naming the winter ice road the Hickel Highway

3) Lack of impact of the ice road

4) Other road survey work around Alaska

5) Praise for Woody Johansen and construction of the Hickel Highway

6) Communities along the winter ice road

7) The only two food services along the winter ice road

8) Impact on communities from the road

9) Dealing with criticism of the Hickel Highway

10) Working with Jim Dalton

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Section 1: Oliver staked a line that marked the route for the winter haul road. He flew with engineer Jim Dalton, who modified the door of a DC-3 airplane so they could drop flags along the route. Oliver sent the flags out the chute in the door at intervals so that the trail was plainly marked on the ground. Each flag was attached to a wooden stake with heavy spikes so it would stay in the ground when dropped.
surveyor -- route layout\ tools -- description\ methods\ route -- selection of\ Dalton, Jim -- engineer\ airplane -- modification\ flags -- stakes\ markers\ route-line\ description of\ base-line -- marked route\ Anaktuvuk Pass -- destination\ Backlund, Oliver\ Sagwon -- destination|

Section 2: The Hickel Highway is the winter ice road, which was used to transport supplies to Sagwon. A winter trail ( using an existing gold miners' trail) was marked and used as the route. Oliver thinks a commissioner named the winter ice road "Hickel Highway", after Alaska Governor Walter Hickel. Hickel Highway went from Livengood to Sagwon.
winter haul road -- renaming of\ Hickel Highway\ Hickel, Walter -- governor\ Hickel Highway -- purpose of\ haul road\ supplies -- transportation\ Hickel Highway -- route\ Livengood\ Sagwon|

Section 3: The winter ice road crew was ridiculed, though the ice road had served its purpose. The Hickel Highway was intended for a short period, so the crew did not expect the winter ice road to last long. Oliver flew over the winter ice road long after it ceased to be used. There were no lasting negative effects (to the environment). The winter haul road (Hickel Highway) had nothing to do with the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System (TAPS) route, nor the Haul Road route.
construction -- winter ice road\ Hickel Highway -- criticism\ purpose\ misunderstanding\ TAPS -- unrelated\ TAPS -- comparison\ route -- differences\ design\ purpose|

Section 4: After the ice road was completed, Oliver worked in the Fairbanks area. He surveyed the Richardson Highway, the Parks Highway, and local roads. It was a time of great expansion (road building) in Alaska. Oliver had no involvement with the Dalton Highway, which was constructed by the oil companies and contractors.
winter ice road -- completion of\ Alaska Department of Highways -- employed with\ Fairbanks -- home\ surveyor -- Richardson Highway\ Parks Highway\ roads\ Alaska -- growth\ road construction\ Dalton Highway -- not involved with|

Section 5: The Hickel Highway was a special case since no one else had equipment capable enough to construct it in such a short period of time. The Hickel Highway construction crew and Woodrow "Woody" Johansen, the district engineer, did what was directed. Woody Johansen was a great engineer. He inspired loyalty in the people who worked for him.
Hickel Highway -- purpose\ reasons for\ crew -- dedicated\ work-related\ winter ice road -- construction\ duration\ Johansen, Woodrow "Woody" -- district engineer\ personality|

Section 6: community\ Coldfoot\ Wiseman\ Dalton Highway\ road -- construction\ community -- changes\ population\ history\ buildings\ Mackey, Dick\ mining\ pioneers\ people\ Wanamaker, Smitty\ cook\ retirement\ remote conditions\ mining companies -- lack of|

Section 7: ice road\ winter\ facilities\ gas station\ food service\ Bethel's\ hotel\ Livengood\ Bettles\ airfield\ Evansville\ Alaska Natives\ village\ trapping\ hunting|

Section 8: ice road\ community -- changes\ road -- impact of\ community -- response\ road -- acceptance of\ opportunity\ economy\ Fairbanks\ income\ growth\ Fairbanks -- reasons for staying|

Section 9: Oliver and the crew felt betrayed due to the criticisms about the construction of the winter ice road (Hickel Highway). He notes, that the "crew did their best, and were doing their jobs."
Backlund, Oliver -- opinion\ comments\ criticism -- reasons for\ unwarranted|

Section 10: In 1951, Oliver met engineer Jim Dalton on the North Slope, whom the Dalton Highway is named after.
Dalton, Jim -- engineer\ meeting with\ Dalton Highway\ Dalton, Jim -- reference to oil companies\ response to\ Hickel Highway -- worked with|