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Hesden Scougal
Hesden Scougal

Hesden Scougal was interviewed on December 20, 2006 by Marie Mitchell at his home near Wasilla, Alaska.  In this interview, Hesden discusses his family background and marriage, his service in the Marine Corps, his professional work experience with Lytle & Green Construction, his public service as Deputy Commissioner of Highway, his involvement with the construction of the Hickel Highway, and a brief history of the Winter Ice Road (known as the Hickel Highway) and the hardy crew that built it.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2006-28-14

Project: Dalton Highway Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Dec 20, 2006
Narrator(s): Hesden Scougal
Interviewer(s): Marie Mitchell
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
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1) Personal background

2) Coming to Alaska, and building airfields

3) Meeting his wife, Roma Hulse

4) Working for contractors on construction projects in the Naval Petroleum Reserve #4

5) Building the airfield at Bettles

6) Oil and gas development at Umiat and the Naval Petroleum Reserve #4

7) World War II in Alaska, and early oil and gas development

8) Examining and marking the proposed route for the winter ice road

9) Building the winter ice road

10) His friend wanting to drive a Lincoln auotomobile up the winter ice road

11) Bridge design and construction around Alaska that he was involved with

12) Modification of tractor cabs for winter conditions

13) Use of spruce wood on tracker rollers to prevent ice buildup

14) Getting assigned to the winter ice road project and assessing the project delays, and effect of the road project on access to Anaktuvuk Pass

15) Failure of the winter ice road project

16) Naming of the Hickel Highway, and misperceptions of the road

17) Toughness of the road construction crew

18) Dealing with cold and extreme conditions

19) Route of the winter ice road

20) Other jobs he had after leaving the Alaska Department of Highways

21) Successes and challenges of the Hickel Highway project, and continued maintenance and use issues on the Haul Road

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Section 1: Hesden Scougal’s father, Alexander Scougal, was a newspaperman for some fifty years, was a reporter for the Seattle Times and the Sioux City Journal, and along with his brother, DeWitt Scougal, was one of the first linotype operators west of the Mississippi River. Alexander Scougal died in May 1937 when he was editor and publisher of the Shell Rock News in Shell Rock, Iowa. He married Hesden's mother, Opal Leonard, in 1912. Scougal has four siblings. He was raised during the Depression (1929). It was the beginning of radio, which affected small-business owned newspapers. Hesden worked for his father until he was 15 years old. After his father passed away, Scougal worked as a carpenter apprenticeship with Lytle & Green Construction. He relocated to Alaska with his employer. The employer had the contract for airports in Alaska. Scougal was involved with many major construction sites.
Scougal, Alexander -- father\ reporter\ Seattle Times -- employed with\ Leonard, Opal -- mother\ siblings -- number of\ childhood -- during the Depression (1929)\ radio -- emergence of\ newspapers -- declining\ Scougal, Hesden -- worked with father\ father -- passed away\ Scougal, Hesden -- age\ carpenter -- apprenticeship\ Lytle & Green Construction -- employed with\ Alaska -- relocation|

Section 2: In 1941, Scougal served in the Marine Corps. He was discharged in February 1942. In October 1942, while at the Veterans Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, Scougal was interviewed for a job helping to construct airports in Alaska. On January 15, 1943, he arrived at Fairbanks' Ladd Field (now Fort Wainwright) on Canadian Pacific Airlines, where the temperature was 42 degrees below zero. He worked for the contractor building airfields around Alaska, many of which were being developed because of World War II and the American-Russian Lend-Lease Project, where US military airplanes were flown through Alaska over to Russia for use in the war.
marine corps -- served in\ military -- discharge\ year -- February 1942\ Alaska -- opportunities\ Fairbanks -- relocated to\ Russian Lend-Lease Project -- worked with|

Section 3: Scougal's wife, Roma Hulse, was a school teacher in Jackson County, Missouri. She was recruited to work for the U.S. government and was assigned to Remington Arms near Kansas City, Missouri, where she worked until 1941. When war came, she was transferred to the Canol Oil Pipeline project in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and as work proceeded to completion she was transferred to the Alaska Highway project in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada. After the higway project was completed, she was transferred to the Russian Lend-Lease Project in Fairbanks. Hesden Scougal was a bus driver, transporting Canadian and Russian deportees back to Canada. He met Roma in September, and they married in December 1948. They were married for 56 years, and had children.
Hulse, Roma -- wife\ school teacher \ U.S. government -- recruitment\ Remington Arms -- wife's employer\ Alaska -- relocation\ Russian Lend Lease Project -- worked with\ Scougal, Hesden -- bus driver\ marriage -- December 1928\ fifty-six years|

Section 4: Scougal worked for Lytle & Green Construction, who formed a co-venture with other companies called Arctic Contractors, to explore and develop the at PET-4 (National Petroleum Reserve #4) oil field in the Arctic which was controlled by the Navy. The first thing that was needed, was an emergency airfield. The Navy decided on an air route through Anaktuvuk Pass, because Atigun Pass was impossible to fly through. Even today, pilots fly to Barrow via Anaktuvuk Pass avoiding Atigun Pass. Hesden worked for Arctic Contractors at Umiat.
Lytle & Green -- employed with\ fieldwork -- location\ Arctic\ Arctic Contractors -- formation of\ co-venture\ purpose -- develop field PET-4 (Petroleum Reserve #4\ Navy\ oil field -- development of\ road access -- in need of\ route -- proposal\ Livengood to Anaktuvuk Pass\ alternate route -- Livengood to Atigun Pass\ Atigun Pass -- concerns with\ Umiat -- development of|

Section 5: In 1945, the Navy decided on the air route through Anaktuvuk Pass for access to the Arctic, and needed an airfield for emergencies. Lytle & Green was awarded the contract to build an airfield at Bettles along this route. Bettles was a prominent point that had been used by prospectors, miners and trappers for years. If World War II had continued and the oil from PET4 was needed, the Navy had a tentative plan for a pipeline through Anaktuvuk Pass to Bettles to Livengood, and to the railhead at Fairbanks.
Navy airfield -- emergencies\ Anaktuvuk Pass -- village\ village -- establishment\ year -- 1943\ Anaktuvuk Pass Eskimo -- nomadic\ Anaktuvuk Pass -- settlement\ Lytle & Green -- contract\ contract -- awarding of\ airfield -- development of\ Bettles\ access route -- transfer fuel\ Anaktuvuk Pass\ Bettles\ Livengood\ Fairbanks|

Section 6: Umiat\ oil well -- drilling\ Square Lake\ oil wells -- capped\ Andreason, Fred\ Simpson Seep\ Kuparak\ gas development -- Gubik\ Gubik well -- fire\ development -- lack of\ Naval Petroleum Reserve #4 (PET-4)\ survey -- guesswork\ equipment -- lack of|

Section 7: Alaska during war-time (WWII) and during the 1000 Mile War in the Aleutian Chain. Japanese invaded and bombed the Aleutian Islands, a vicious war. Fighting this war took a lot of petroleum, so the Navy was interested in developing its oil and natural gas reserves in the Arctic. Development agreements were made with some oil companies and eventually oil was discovered at Prudhoe Bay. Later, after statehood, lease sales were made for exploration.
Alaska -- relocation to\ World War II\ 1000 Mile War in the Aleutian Chain -- description of\ war -- effects of\ Arctic -- oil and natural gas discovery\ Navy -- interested in\ Arctic -- development of\ oil -- discovery\ Hickel, Walter -- Secretary of the Interior\ lease sales in Alaska\ budget -- shortfalls\ Miller, Keith -- Governor of Alaska|

Section 8: oil -- transportation\ transportation -- route\ Anakutuvk Pass\ project -- design\ design -- failure\ failure -- reasons for\ Dalton, Jim\ Backlund, Oliver\ route -- examination of\ Bettles\ Wiseman\ Chatanika\ Kobuk River\ airplane\ route -- survey\ route -- marking\ tree -- throwing\ surveyors -- number of\ money -- lack of\ trail -- winter|

Section 9: Building the winter ice road and working with Woodrow (Woody) Johansen who was the District Manager for the Alaska Department of Highways. The governor directed the Highway Department to build a 400 mile route from Livengood to Sagwon in the wintertime. It was a formula for failure because the Alaska Department of Highways was primarily a maintenance organization not a construction company. The construction was done under harsh winter conditions with limited equipment and funding.
Steen, Cosby -- Commissioner of Department of Highways\ Johansen, Woodrow (Woody) -- District Manager\ Robertson, Bruce\ Alaska State Department of Highways\ governor -- directed by\ route -- construction of\ route -- Livengood to Sagwon\ Alaska Department of Highways -- responsible for\ maintenance\ construction -- limitations with\ equipment -- lack of\ construction -- winter ice road\ distance -- 400 miles\ funding -- limited\ winter ice road project -- destined to fail|

Section 10: Kries, Louis\ Fairbanks\ ice road -- completion\ Prudhoe Bay\ road -- driving\ car -- Lincoln\ fuel -- availability\ services -- lack of\ road -- perception of|

Section 11: Hickel, Walter -- Governor\ winter ice road -- construction\ Steen, Cosby -- Commissioner of Department of Highways\ Johansen, Woodrow (Woody) -- District Manager\ Scougal, Hesden -- Deputy Commissioner of Department of Highways\ road projects -- statewide\ bridges -- construction of\ Nenana River Bridge\ engineers\ Springer, Henry\ Henderson, Roger\ Sitka Bridge\ bridge -- type of\ Hurricane Gulch Bridge\ design -- challenging\ winds -- effect of|

Section 12: The Alaska Department of Highways started the crew without cabs on the tractors. Burgess Construction used cabs with their vehicles and offered to design a cab for the tractors. The department had graders and loaders, but not D8 or U2 tractors. Burgess Construction fitted the tractors with a cab to protect the crew from the winter conditions.
Alaska State Department of Highways -- equipment\ tractors -- without cabs\ Burgess Construction -- designed cab\ Burgess Construction -- fitted the tractors with the cab\ cab -- reasons for|

Section 13: The D8 tractor had two rollers, and today the configuration is the same. The crew had to take the rollers off, and place spruce on top to travel during the winter. The tracks on the rollers create heat, and heat creates ice. Wood does not conduct heat, which is why the crew placed spruce on the track. This prevented the ice buildup and a free-rolling track.
D8 tractor -- story\ two rollers -- removal of\ spruce -- placing of\ reasons\ tracks -- ineffective\ spruce tree -- creates traction\ benefits of|

Section 14: Steen, Cosby\ job -- assignment\ experience\ Bettles -- roadhouse\ Crevice Creek\ Fickus, Bill\ airplanes\ governor -- appointment\ road -- construction\ construction -- delay\ problems\ terrain -- lack of understanding\ rivers -- crossing\ Anaktuvuk Pass\ snowmachine -- use of\ firewood -- harvesting\ oil -- freighting|

Section 15: The winter ice road did not accomplish what it was intended. People envisioned a steady traffic flow, but did not understand that it was not constructed as a highway. The naming of the highway (Hickel Highway) is a misnomer. Highways are associated with real traffic. Trails are associated with sleds and pioneer trails, which is what the winter ice road is.
winter ice road -- outcomes\ criticism -- mixed\ winter ice road -- haul road\ naming of\ Hickel Highway -- name of\ highways -- real traffic\ trails -- sleds|

Section 16: Scougal would have called the winter ice road the Hickel Trail, not the Hickel Highway. There are many trails with names. Scougal does not know why the governor named it the Hickel Highway. This resulted in people thinking it was a road. He knows of one trucker that attempted to haul supplies on the winter ice road, but could not make it. There are cuts in the trail that are 12 feet deep.
Scougal, Hesden -- opinion\ winter ice road -- renaming of\ winter ice trail -- preference\ Hickel Highway -- misnomer\ trucker -- story of\ trucker -- Hickel Highway\ winter ice road -- not a highway|

Section 17: The crew was a hardy group of men. When told to do the job, they did it without questions asked. They were told to go to Prudhoe, and they did. Al Miller, the cook, was the best. Hesden remembers Al saying, "Hell, I am going to take it. This is a road to Prudhoe". The crew started with Wannigans that had no insulation. The bunks were three high, and when Elmer Parkinson scheduled the crew with 12 hour shifts, "only men dedicated or crazy did it".
crew -- winter ice road\ hardy\ men\ Miller, Al --cook\ Wannigan -- no insulation\ bunkhouse quarters -- description of\ schedule -- 12 hour shifts\ "only men dedicated or crazy did it"|

Section 18: Mechanics need to use their hands to repair equipment, and this was challenging during the extreme winter weather conditions. Propane could not be used at the -20 degree F or colder conditions they were working in; they used blowtorches. The crew had to be hardy and tolerant. For example, in the last two days in 1969 when they were finishing the last stretch of the road, Loren Ledso and his crew made it from the baseline to Sagwon in 12 hours. They barely made it before break-up.
mechanics -- hardy\ weather -- extreme\ propane -- non-existant\ construction -- winter season\ propane -- lack of\ crew -- tolerant\ Ledso, Loren -- story of|

Section 19: Route of the winter ice road. There was already a trail to Sagwon from Umiat because of the airfield and oil fields. Construction of the Haul Road. Scougal feels going through Atigun Pass was not a cost effective route, and that it is an expensive area to maintain. When Alaska governor Miller was not re-elected, Scougal resigned from the Department of Highways. He had worked with Highway Commissioner Bruce Campbell and he was capable, but they had differences.
winter ice road -- route\ Livengood\ Prospect Creek\ Bettles\ Crevice Creek\ Anaktuvuk Pass\ baseline\ Sagwon\ Umiat -- air field\ oil fields\ Haul Road\ environmental -- impact\ right of way\ Scougal, Hesden -- opinion of\ Atigun Pass route -- disadvantages of\ Haul Road -- route\ engineers -- concerned with\ Scougal, Hesden -- resigned\ Campbell, Bruce|

Section 20: job\ Trans-Alaska Pipeline\ pipeline -- coating\ Surfcoat\ Steen, Cosby\ Hosby, Ernie\ Petersburg\ Petersburg Fisheries\ water -- quality\ water -- treament\ sewer -- treatment\ treatment plants -- building of\ job -- city manager\ Keetel, Dick\ Petersberg -- mayor\ construction project -- criticism of|

Section 21: Praises the road maintenance, the Alaska State Troopers and the people in the road camps, and summarizes his thoughts about the route of the winter trail (Hickel Highway) versus the current Haul Road and the costs of each. Though the Hickel Highway was not a viable project and has many critics, it was a great accomplishment for a group of men to build such a route over the course of two winters in harsh and subzero conditions. They went over an unsurveyed route with a minimum of equipment. And they proved what was an accessible route and what was not.
Commissioner of Highways\ highway -- oversight\ pipeline -- beginning of\ camps -- establishment of\ Alaska State Troopers\ law enforcement\ decision making -- pressure of\ road -- maintenance\ winter trail -- construction\ Hickel Highway\ winter trail -- route\ Umiat\ Anaktuvuk Pass\ John River\ Bettles\ Livengood\ Fairbanks\ route -- criticism of\ route -- accessible\ route -- cheaper\ maintenance -- costs\ topography -- effect of|