This is a continuation of the interview with Fred Hupprich on January 7, 1994 by Margaret Van Cleve in Fairbanks, Alaska. In this second part of a two-part interview, Fred talks about starting a business with his brother, driving trucks across ice bridges, and working for the Alaska Road Commission.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Railroads of Alaska
Date of Interview: Jan 7, 1994
Narrator(s): Fred Hupprich
Interviewer(s): Margaret Van Cleve
Transcriber: Carol McCue
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Starting a business with his brother
Driving trucks across ice bridges
Driving a Cat train
How ice bridges were built
Working for the Alaska Road Commission
Retiring from the Department of Fish and Game
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.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: This is the second tape, Fred Hupprich -- Hupprich.
FRED HUPPRICH: Oh, yeah. Then we were driving for Alaska Freightlines, and then I drove for a couple other outfits, too, at the during that time. And let's see. This was -- probably worked for Mitchell Truck and Tractor after -- after that for a number of years, until -- well, done a lot of various different things for them. Running Cats and hauling freight and gravel and operating equipment, and then -- yeah.
This is the -- in about 1952, then, like I say, I drove quite a bit in the years, and then come along '51, '52, my brother and I decided to get out of the trucking business and try a booze business. So we had a chance to buy a bar back in Nenana again, and so we got that thing going.
And of course, prior to all this, way back in '44, I started taking flying lessons. I was working for Alaska Airlines at the time, and I got, oh, a half a dozen hours in with the meager pay I got from Alaska Airlines.
And of course, I turned 18, so I had to sign up for the military. And I had to go into the Army in April of '45. So I put 18 months in the Army, and of course, I was six months in Anchorage and then the rest of the time up here in Fairbanks at Six Mile Ordnance. And of course, I got out of the Army in November and no work or nothing else. In 1945, I got discharged. So then I just worked odd jobs for different places. I worked for the city for a while, hauling snow and various other things. And of course, that's leading on up into Mitchell's Truck and Tractor's time, and then Alaska Freightlines.
And then, like I say, we're back to '52, and went into the bar business there in Nenana. Of course, I picked up flying again, learned how to fly, finished learning how to fly then. And brother and I had two or three different types of airplanes over the course of six, eight years. And so the bar business wasn't doing that good where two of us, George's family and then me, being a bachelor, couldn't live on all that.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So it was your brother George that you were in partnership with?
FRED HUPPRICH: Yes, my brother George I was in partner with. And he didn't want to go to driving again, so I thought, well, I'll give it a try again. So I went back to work for Mitchell again driving. And of course, that led up to all this truck driving with Freightlines and various Clark and Ward Trucking. And that led us up to the winter of 1955, '56, back to the Alaska Freightlines again.
And that year, Al Geraghty, Alaska Freightlines, got a contract with the government to supply diesel fuel on the North Slope for the Distant Early Warning sites. And they started a winter road up through Circle City, and hauling barrels of fuel oil and overland with Cat trains and stuff like this. And so I worked that winter up there hauling fuel and stuff like that.
And then come back that summer of '56, why, I hauled just regular freight, cargo out of Valdez and Anchorage for Alaska Freightlines. Then come along that fall, Freightlines decided to get another contract to supply more building materials for that DEW Line site, and this year, '56, '57, they decided to go through Eagle, Alaska.
And of course, they started early and built an ice bridge up there to get equipment across so they could start bulldozing a road north. And I, for the first part, was just driving a supply truck up there hauling mail, groceries, and stuff like that; and then finally, we decided I could go on and go to work up there, drive more of the big Mack trucks they had. And they had 12 of them, pretty good sized truck. They hauled about 200 ton each, the trucks.
And at the same time, they had tractors pulling bobsleds with freight on and stuff. We were hauling rebar steel and 90 pound pails of cement. And of course, we loaded all this equipment there on the riverbank at Eagle, which was about 8 miles from Eagle upriver where we started out with the winter trail.
And it was about, oh, 1900 to 2000 miles up to where our first drop off point was. And this was all overland, so that winter, and I just drove a Cat most of the time, bulldozer, plowing snow and keep the blowing
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Is that what you call a snow Cat?
FRED HUPPRICH: Well, just a regular bulldozer. Yeah, just a Cat.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: A snow train? Yeah.
FRED HUPPRICH: Well, the outfit, yeah, they were Mack trucks and lowboys, and they hauled the freight, rubber tired, but there are two Cats to each train. There are six trucks on each train. Consisted of six Mack trucks with a 70 foot long low beds with 200 tons on. And each truck hauled 2,000 gallons of fuel with it in the belly of the lowboys.
But anyway, prior to us leaving with that from Eagle, there was Cat trains that pulled five bobsleds loaded with about 50 ton on each bobsled with a big D9 tractor pulling them, and breaking -- making trail and everything else all ahead of us. So we followed them. And we were on the road about three months, just working our way. We averaged about 20, sometimes 30 miles a day.
And of course, this tractor that I was driving was a small light V 8, and I had to do all the pulling of the trucks up the hills, helping them along, because they'd spin out and couldn't get over the hills, so they needed a tractor to help getting up over the hills. And plowing trails and dragging a drag to make it smooth enough for them.
And we got up to Coronation Gulf. And we found a -- looked at a map and you go out the mouth of the Ray River into Coronation Gulf, which is up in Northwest Territories. We were headed towards Victoria Island, Site 14. And we were to deliver our freight there, which was several hundred ton of cement and rebar steel.
But on the way over there, out onto the gulf, the Coronation Gulf, we got about 30 miles out into the gulf, and we hit a lead in the ice and one of the trucks fell through, but we didn't lose it. It hung up on the ice.
And so we called across to the Cat train that was ahead of us to come back and pick up our freight because we didn't dare go any further with them heavy loads on a single unit like a lowboy because too much weight on these drivers and the trailer wheels in one spot. The ice where we went through was only 5 and a half feet thick, and it was saltwater ice, which is softer than freshwater ice.
And so we decided -- they came back and picked up all our freight with the bobsleds from the Cat trains, and of course, they were spread out far enough that the weight was distributed in a long area so it wasn't quite as bad. They didn't fall through, but we had trouble, so we turned around, got back to -- to the mainland, or a -- had a good solid footing, and started taking our trucks back to a place where they can get them.
Well, we knew we run out of fuel, so we didn't have any fuel to go anyplace, but we stopped on a big lake and an air where they could fly in air -- big airplanes, and they picked up the crew. And then there was another train coming out with smaller trucks coming north, they picked up our trucks and turned them around and took them back to the gulf, Coronation Gulf, where they parked them on the beach. And then that summer the Alaska Freightlines came in with tugs and barges and loaded them up and brought them back into Seattle. And that was the end of that venture for me. I made about $6,000 in three months, which is pretty good money in
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah, back then.
FRED HUPPRICH: -- '56 and '57. And of course, I had to buy a new car; in other words, I spent the money pretty fast.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: That usually happens.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: What months would this have been? January, somewhere around there?
FRED HUPPRICH: It was -- well, it was in the winter of '56, '57. So they started out in '56 from Eagle, probably right close to freeze up time; oh, late September and October. And just the minute that the river froze up there, they had a crew in there with pumps and stuff and they started hauling brush and spruce trees and laying across the river. It was about a half a mile across the river.
And then they'd pump water on the river up on top of that and freeze it, and then keep building it up until it was about 5 feet thick. Big enough to carry all the big loads that went across there where we had a staging area on the other side on good ground where the whole operation took off and went north from.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: How wide would the ice bridge have been?
FRED HUPPRICH: Oh, probably 200 feet, 150 feet, somewhere in there, just spread out, and it tapered up like that, too. But the more weight, it sunk the ice down; the more ice we put on top, it kept pushing the bottom down, so it was thick down at the bottom, too. You know, you couldn't hardly tell that you had a big -- like a dike running across there. But it was fairly high, you know. And it held the trucks up real well.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So using vegetation as a way to get to --
FRED HUPPRICH: Vegetation and snow and then pumping water out and freezing it down. They -- they make ice bridges all over. That's the same thing they've done --
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: That's a standard technique for making --
FRED HUPPRICH: -- on the pipeline days and stuff like that. The Army builds one out here across the Tanana every winter and stuff called ice bridges, and that's the way they build them up.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And somebody always goes through the ice bridge on the Chena River.
FRED HUPPRICH: Well, yeah, but they don't -- that's just --
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: That's just frozen, natural --
FRED HUPPRICH: But you start to drive on that one and nobody takes care of it or builds it up or makes it thicker or nothing; that's just take your own chance.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah. I think I'd prefer to pass on that.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah, me, too. Yeah. Then after all that happened, why, I guess I drove more day more years until 1960. And I thought, well, I'm just about tired of driving trucks, I'm going to get into something else.
So here again, my brother sold the bar business in Nenana and he moved back to Fairbanks, and he decided to get into the -- stay in the liquor business, so he got some property over there on Minnie Street and Steese Highway and started a package liquor store.
And about the same time, I decided to start a truck and tractor business of my own, so I bought a small tractor and a backhoe and a dump truck and some other equipment, and built a little shop, and I got into the truck and tractor business.
And I sort of got to specializing in landscaping and digging basements and putting in sewer systems. And I had sewer pipe and systems scattered all over the town of Fairbanks and outlying areas, and some of them paid for and some of them not, but that's beside the point. So I run that for about, oh, until the flood year, 1967. And I had enough money on the books that I couldn't collect, so I thought I wasn't going to work for somebody else anymore, so I sold the business in 1967.
And I got shiny eyes then and decided I better get married, too, so I looked her up and talked her into getting married. And at the same time, I thought, well, you're getting married so you better find a good, steady job, something with a retirement behind it. So I went over and got a job at the Alaska Road Commission, or State Highway Department in the spring of 1967.
And I worked there for, oh, I think about five years -- well, let's see, '67 to '72. And I was operating equipment again and running lowboy and hauling their tractors around the country and running graders and stuff like that, just whatever they wanted me to do.
And I was getting tired of operating equipment, so I thought, well, let's see. A friend of mine come along and he says, hey, how would you like to be a mechanic for us. Well, it just happened to be George Van Wyhe that was regional supervisor for sport fish for the State of Alaska. And they had a little shop and an office and stuff over on Creamers Field there where it is present day.
And he says, I need a man to maintain boats and outboard motors and -- and do a little welding and fix trailers and stuff like this. And I said, George, I'm not too much on outboard motors. I says, I can work on a diesel engine or big gas engine or something, but -- oh, you can do it. Oh, I said, so I -- they made arrangements to transfer me from the Highway Department over to the Fish and Game.
So I went over there and they didn't have nothing to work with. I had to bring all my own tools. And finally with a little finagling and stuff we got a welder and air compressor and more tools and different things to work with, drills and stuff like that. And of course, over the course of, I think, from '72 to '85, why, I built up that shop into a nice little working maintenance shop for sport -- sports fishing equipment and stuff. And I was the only man out there in the shop, so I pretty well was my own boss.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Boss. Yeah.
FRED HUPPRICH: And everything else. I done my own expediting and chasing parts and fixing this and scrounging. I'd go over the highway and get my hands into all their nuts and bolts to get started before we could get a budget to run our own shop. But other than that, and then comes along 1985, and I had enough time. And what happened is our department, our supervisor, George Van Wyhe, he decided to retire. So he gets all set up to retire. So -- and I'm still there.
And they sent a new man in from Juneau to run the operation. Well, the first thing he said to me when he got here, he says, Fred, I don't know what I'm doing here because I hate sports fishing, and I'm a commercial fish scientist. I said, well, I can't help that, John. He says, so he got to be supervisor.
Well, then, he -- he just was the kind of a guy that kept everything to himself. He wouldn't give you an order, he wouldn't tell you what he wanted or anything else, and he was very unsociable. So I -- in 1985, why, I decided I couldn't get along with this supervisor too well.
What they done was split up my job, maintenance for sports fishing, and he changed things for maintenance to buildings and grounds. He wanted me out there mowing the grass and planting flowers and painting and cleaning windows. And I says, well, that's not my line of work. So I had about 16 years in with the Fish and Game, and 5 years -- no, not 16 years. I had -- no -- yeah, about 16 years with the Fish and Game, and a couple 5 years with the Highway Department, enough time to retire, so I --
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: 20 years plus.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah, approximately 20 years. 19.8 years I think it worked out. And so that gave me a retirement from the states and working for them. And of course, I kept my wife busy working so we'd have plenty of money to operate on. And then I got years older and started getting into my Social Security and Longevity, and that's the way we're living today is her working and me sitting.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Well, thank you very much for --
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- telling me about the early days in Nenana and bringing me up to date on what you've been doing.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. Well, it's been a wonderful life. And we sure have a good time anyway. And go camping and fishing. Well, not too much fishing. We go down to Homer and get some halibut once in awhile, usually once a year. And then this last summer I lucked out and got a friend down at Copper Center that gave us a bunch of red salmon, so I'm going to con him again this year and see if I can't get back there for some more.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: That's a good way to fish.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. I figure that's the best way in the world to fish. Rob somebody else's fish wheel.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah, I've done the Chitina dip netting, the Tanana gill netting, so --
FRED HUPPRICH: Well, you're --
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: I'm about ready for that kind of fishing, too. Well, thank you very much.
FRED HUPPRICH: You're welcome.