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Duane LeVan, Part 1

Duane LeVan was interviewed on April 11, 2010 by Karen Brewster in Seward, Alaska. In this first part of a two part interview, Duane talks about working for the Alaska Railroad in Seward as a warehouse man transferring freight from ship to train, the role of the railroad in Seward, changes in the longshoring operation with the development of containers and cranes, the impact of the 1964 Earthquake, and the demise of the railroad operation.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2010-02-04 Pt. 1

Project: Railroads of Alaska
Date of Interview: Apr 11, 2010
Narrator(s): Duane LeVan
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster
Videographer: Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Carol McCue
People Present: Sanna LeVan
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
Alaska State Library, Institute of Museum and Library Services
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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Coming to Alaska and first jobs with the Alaska Railroad

Duties of the switch crew and lining up the train

How they turned the engine around on the Y track

Using a rotary plow to clear snow from the tracks

Loading the boxcars at the dock

Cold storage cars and heated cars

Loading lumber on the flatcars

Container operations on the train

Changes in the way freight was handled and the Alaska Stevedore Company

Shift work and handling U.S. mail on the train

Passenger ships that came to Seward and shipping canned salmon

Sorting the cargo destined for different locations

Function of the switch engines and starting an engine

The switch to diesel engines and belonging to the union

How the 1964 earthquake changed Seward

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KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. I'm just going to do my little introduction, and hopefully I'm going to be in the camera shot. I don't know. So today is April 11th, 2010. And I'm Karen Brewster, here in Seward, with Duane LeVan, talking about railroads. Thank you very much. And his wife Sanna is here, too, and she may chime in if she has something to say, as a lifelong Sewardite. You're welcome to come and join us. Okay. Duane, why don't you start out of telling me a little bit of when you were born and where and how you ended up in Seward.

DUANE LEVAN: I was born in Valley City, North Dakota, in 1926. My parents -- the reason I came to Alaska, my dad and mother moved up here, and sister, in '43, I think it was, to work on the Alaska Railroad because he was a railroad man for years in Northern Pacific, he worked on the Northern Pacific Railroad in the United States. He also worked on the DM & IR out of Duluth, Minnesota, for a period.

Anyway, they come up. And then I was in the Navy during World War II, and the latter part of World War II. I never went in until, let's see, '43, forty -- yeah, in the latter part of '43, I think. And then when I got out of the Navy, it was in the spring of 1946, I come to Alaska because my parents were here. And then I -- did you want to go further on when I started work and

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Go ahead. Keep going.

DUANE LEVAN: And then I -- my dad worked on the railroad here out of Seward, of course. And he -- he spent all his years on the railroad in Alaska working from Seward to Portage hauling freight and switching in the railroad yard here in Seward onto the dock for hauling freight off the dock. When I first come up, I got hired by the railroad, and I worked in the roundhouse, what they call a hustler -- hostler at that time. And what we did

KAREN BREWSTER: What's that?

DUANE LEVAN: What we did is we maintained the engines to keep a fire in. This was coal fired engines. We keep the engines warm overnight. So I went to work, like, at midnight and I worked until 8:00 in the morning keeping an engine warm, whether it was an engine that was going north with a passenger train, or freight trains, or their work -- a little work train that they had, engine that they had there at the time. Then I -- in the springtime, there was more money involved, so I transferred down to the warehouse -- to become a warehouseman for the Alaska Railroad. And then I worked on the dock, on the waterfront from then on until 1946.

KAREN BREWSTER: You started in 1946.

DUANE LEVAN: I stayed on the dock, I'm sorry, until '64, when we all lost everything.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. That was

DUANE LEVAN: The whole waterfront disappeared.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Okay. So tell me a little bit about your dad's work. What -- what was a switcher? What does that entail?

DUANE LEVAN: Well, my dad worked what they called the switch crew. And what -- basically, what they did, was there was a multiple tracks here, railroad tracks down in the railroad yard, and they'd bring cars, whichever type of cars they wanted onto the dock to load them. They -- we had what they called a depressed track on the dock in the warehouse that they could switch in, if my memory's right, seven or eight cars at a time. And leave them there, then we would load them with freight going north or where -- we're always going north. And there was tags on the side of the car, for whether it was Anchorage, Fairbanks,

basically, or Palmer, mostly. And they would pull them cars out where the foreman would call that they were loaded, and bring us in another string of cars to load, and then they would sort those cars out in the yard by in the train, making up a train, to where they were going north. So that was more convenient when the train got north for them to take five or six cars, drop at Anchorage, and then the rest would go to Fairbanks or Palmer, you know.

KAREN BREWSTER: So they put them on the engine in order?

DUANE LEVAN: In order on the engine.

KAREN BREWSTER: So you pull them off the back end?

DUANE LEVAN: Right. And then they were hooked onto the back end, and on the back end of that was the caboose for the train crew to ride in, the crew that took them north. Then after loading up the cars, a lot of the times my dad's crew, he was on here with them, with the crew, would take and do what they called the Portage turn at that time. And they would take the engine with the -- with the freight and with the bigger engine than the switch engine, and take it as far as Portage. At times -- well, in those days, even in that later years, there was a place at the top of Mile 12,

there was a section house, and at the section house you could stop and get a meal, or if the snow was too deep and they couldn't get over the hill, they could stay in the night there. -- And then there was a couple more up at Grandview, there was one the other side of Moose Pass, and in various places along the line. The first one I can remember was about Mile 21 out of Seward, there was a water tower that the engine would have to stop and take on water for the -- you know, to make steam.

KAREN BREWSTER: To get up the steep hill?

DUANE LEVAN: Right. To keep the water -- you've got to keep so much water in the boiler to keep -- make steam, and that's what makes the engine go.


DUANE LEVAN: So that was basically what he did, and then come back, of course, with empties from Portage to Seward for us to load at this end.

KAREN BREWSTER: And so here in Seward, all that switching and lining up the cars, there must have been lots of sections of tracks so you could pull those around?

DUANE LEVAN: Yes -- I can't remember, but approximately, oh, say 10 to 15 sets of railroad tracks that was down, straight down from -- from our street here from -- this is Madison Avenue, the widest part of the area was right here. And then one other thing that they had was, I think, quite interesting, in those days, we had to turn the engine around. See, you have to have a place to turn an engine around. Well, in the other states, they have what they call a turntable


DUANE LEVAN: -- at the roundhouse. But what we had here was down by the old roundhouse, which was down, oh, I don't know what, it would be about A Street now, I think, or B and A. We had what they call a Y. And a Y is a set of tracks that the main one would come in, say, going north and south, the main line. Then off the main line, there was a set of tracks that would go towards the west, and that would be over towards Fourth Avenue. And over in that west end of that, there was room enough for an engine to come down that little tracks,

and then there was another set of tracks that would come off of that set of tracks that would curve and go to the east, and go then southeast back to the rail the main line. So consequently, that turned the engine around. See, if you went in -- if you went in from the north end of that Y


DUANE LEVAN: -- and you backed -- and you're going heading north. Okay?


DUANE LEVAN: And you back in going southwest into that what we call a Y, then there was a little extra tail on the end of the Y


DUANE LEVAN: which there is, the engine sat there, you'd throw a switch and this set of tracks would go out of there going southeast.


DUANE LEVAN: Back to the main line. So that turns the engine completely around. It heads it from heading north to heading south. And you could reverse that and do the same with the other direction, if you went in from this end, drove in forward, and you backed out the other one, or drove out the other one, then you're backing down the line.

KAREN BREWSTER: Because they could back up, they just couldn't turn around.

DUANE LEVAN: They couldn't turn around. Well, they turned around so the engine was going the right way.



KAREN BREWSTER: Wow, that's kind of cool.

DUANE LEVAN: Well, it was. Yeah. It really was, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Tell me about a roundhouse. What exactly is a roundhouse?

DUANE LEVAN: Well, a roundhouse is a place to store an engine. And again, what they called it a roundhouse for is just to carry over up here, because we didn't up here because we didn't have -- I'm not sure, I think Anchorage may have had a roundhouse. I'm sure they did later. But a roundhouse is built in a circle, almost.


DUANE LEVAN: With an opening on one side, with what I said was a turntable in the middle. And you come -- the engines come out of the stalls in the roundhouse onto the track, onto the turntable, they turn the turntable, and then they are out on the main line.


DUANE LEVAN: But that's why they had to have a Y here. So our what we called a roundhouse here was just to -- like a warehouse with a big door and couple big doors on one end.

KAREN BREWSTER: That's where you stored the engines?

DUANE LEVAN: Where the engines went in we had -- if I remember right, the one -- the old one down here was three sets of tracks going into it. Then there was a new one built, after that was tore down before the earthquake, there was a new one built right straight down from our street, from Madison. That was the latest one before then. That's the last one they had here.

KAREN BREWSTER: And if they had to do repair work on an engine, is that where they had did that?

DUANE LEVAN: Right. They had a -- in the -- where in the roundhouse, there was a hole underneath the engines.


DUANE LEVAN: So a crew could go right underneath the engine and work under the bottom or whatever of them. And then they had a big chain hoist falls to pick up different parts. Of course, everything was heavy, you know.


DUANE LEVAN: Wheels and everything was very heavy.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, on a train, yeah. You mentioned your dad taking the engines up over to Portage and, you know, they might have to stay at a station along the way because there was too much snow. How did they keep those tracks clear of snow?

DUANE LEVAN: Well, they had a rotary plow the railroad used in those days, but a lot of times avalanches in different areas, they'd get held up.


DUANE LEVAN: And we'd get held up like working here, going north, even north of Anchorage, or I mean north of Portage, those areas that's still there now that the railroad gets stopped on with avalanches, those areas were still there then. So a lot of times in the spring, we'd get shut down for a day or so while they was cleaning avalanches, really.

KAREN BREWSTER: How did they clean them? Like now you have all this heavy equipment.

DUANE LEVAN: Well, all they had was that rotary plow at that time, and then -- well, they took -- sometime later, then, they would haul a Cat on a -- you know, a flatcar and get up there where they could get with a Cat and work on the slides. Otherwise, that rotary plow, and that isn't the best thing in the world.


DUANE LEVAN: Well, because they -- basically we had -- well, I'm getting too far ahead, but after the earthquake, I went to work for the state and I worked with snowplows.


DUANE LEVAN: And with a snowplow with the rotary plow and the railroad, or anywhere else, you have a real problem sticking that thing into a snowdrift because you might hit a tree about 2 foot in diameter.

KAREN BREWSTER: Did that ever happen?

DUANE LEVAN: And there goes all your blades and everything else.


DUANE LEVAN: Then you've got to repair everything. So yeah


DUANE LEVAN: -- it's quite a problem with the rotary plow. So they consequently, any more, they don't -- I don't think they mess with the rotary in a situation of an avalanche.


DUANE LEVAN: It was too difficult.

KAREN BREWSTER: I could see using it if there's a heavy snowfall.

DUANE LEVAN: Oh, it's never -- that's no problem. In fact, it works.

KAREN BREWSTER: But an avalanche -- you know

DUANE LEVAN: It works real well in heavy snow.

KAREN BREWSTER: It seems like you'd be -- with an avalanche, it seems you would be rotaring into, like, a brick wall.

DUANE LEVAN: That's what we run into, and -- well, that, and like I say, debris.


DUANE LEVAN: Alders, you know, brush, whatever you can imagine that would be there.

KAREN BREWSTER: Were there ever accidents with avalanches hitting trains and derailing them and

DUANE LEVAN: I don't remember in my time of any -- any problem with them catching trains. I imagine they might have caught a few cars or something


DUANE LEVAN: -- you know, but the crews usually were staying somewhere.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So now talk about your work on the docks. One of the things you mentioned was the track, the lower area so you could load into the box cars, the lower track? The higher track?

DUANE LEVAN: Yeah. In our old wooden warehouse, and the new one when they built the new concrete one down here after that was gone, we had what we called a depressed track. And the -- the -- we could push boxcars or whatever type of cars, the railroad crew would push them cars into the depressed track for us, which is a track that's in the warehouse, but it's the same height as to where you could just walk right in the doors of the boxcar, that height. So we just had to put a metal plate by hand, we'd just tip it into the doorway, and we had a stretch of about,

oh, 3 feet between the edge of the boxcar door and the permanent or the upper deck of the warehouse. So you could just wheel cargo in there with the two wheelers is what we did to start with.

KAREN BREWSTER: Like two wheel carts, is that what you mean?

DUANE LEVAN: With the two wheel cart, two wheels on the bottom, and little handles, long handles on it so you could carry a bigger load. And that's what it was. About six cases of beer at a time.

KAREN BREWSTER: Say, what kinds of things were you loading?

DUANE LEVAN: Oh, gee. You name it. I mean, it was everyday type of freight. I mean, we -- everything was piece. I mean, we went from dry cargo to some things, like in the winter especially was a problem with freezable. Vegetables all come with, oh, 24, 48 cans to the case. And all individual cases. What, flour come in hundred pound sacks, usually, hundred pound sack at a time. Concrete, cement was 96 pound sacks, paper sacks. That was all by hand.

KAREN BREWSTER: And you had to lift each one of those?

DUANE LEVAN: Put them in the -- come off the ship, they come off the ship in what we call a sling board. A crew in the dock -- on the ship loaded them on the board, 20 sacks to the board, come out onto the dock. We had what we called a jitney. It was a small four wheeled vehicle, a small four wheeled vehicle with these -- when they come on the dock, would sit on a four wheeled trailer with a little tongue and a hook on the front. And the jitney driver would take that out and park underneath the gear where the slings on the -- on the ship could drop or set it on the --

on the four wheeler, and the jitney would pull it into the warehouse. Then the crew in the warehouse, like I was, we drove the jitneys too, but to pull into the warehouse and park it by the boxcar that the freight was going to. And then there was a crew there, there would be, what, two guys in the boxcar stowing cargo. There'd be two guys loading them off of the boxcar -- off of the flat -- or the -- the trailer


DUANE LEVAN: -- onto the floor, tilt them back so truckers could truck them in. There was two guys trucking them into the boxcar. And that's the way the operation went.


DUANE LEVAN: Then the jitney would go back and he dropped that one off, though, at the -- at the door and go pick up an empty.


DUANE LEVAN: So we always kept -- there was empties and the full ones coming and going all the time.

KAREN BREWSTER: Nobody was standing around?

DUANE LEVAN: No. Occasionally you had to wait between pulling one trailer closer to the boxcar or something like that


DUANE LEVAN: -- by hand. Then some cargo, if it was all the same, if it was -- a boxcar was situated right, we could pull the whole trailer by hand. The whole crew would just pull the whole trailer right in the boxcar, and then one guy on each side of the back and unload the whole thing.


DUANE LEVAN: And the whole crew would unload, just take turns setting stuff in the flatcar. Cold storage had to go into a cold storage car, which, at that time, we -- we did -- we did our own icing of the cars.

KAREN BREWSTER: How did that work?

DUANE LEVAN: Well, they had a -- the railroad had an ice house down -- right -- attached to the roundhouse, which was down, I'd say, about B Street. And crew of us would go down to the roundhouse, or the ice house, and in this ice house, you -- I hope somebody's familiar with an ice house -- but they put -- they brought cakes of ice down from Fairbanks, of all places.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, an ice house is a big warehouse with blocks of ice in it, right?

DUANE LEVAN: Right. But the blocks of ice were stored in there with a layer of sawdust between each layer and between each block. So anyway, we'd go down and get blocks of ice out of the ice house and ice up the cars. Now, these old cars we had, in each end of them, they had an area of about 4 or 5 foot wide that extended, you know, towards the front or toward the middle of the car. They had screen over the bottom part of that and screen over the top part on the interior of the car. Up above there was a hole in the roof with doors that we'd chip up the ice and drop it down into these, one in each end of the car.


DUANE LEVAN: And so that was for cold storage cars. This is all we had at that time.

KAREN BREWSTER: So you took those blocks of ice and chipped them?

DUANE LEVAN: Chip them up smaller than the big blocks.


DUANE LEVAN: We had just a chisel, and a long handled chisel, and you could stand on top of the boxcars, you know, and chip them. And then to go further with that, at this -- in the wintertime, those same cars, we put down in them compartments on each end, we had little heaters that were run by briquettes. And we'd fill two of those heaters in each end and put briquettes in them to keep the cars warm. And then we did that on the dock, but then when they went north, the crew ever so often had to check them heaters somewhere out in the railroad yard and that,

which I didn't do, to make sure there was fire going in them; you know, to keep things from freezing, in other words.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So the heated ones were the opposite to keep things from freezing.

DUANE LEVAN: In those same cars but we used them for heat and cold.


DUANE LEVAN: And then in later years they come up with -- with a stove that's underneath the cars for heat. And then further down the line from that, they come in with electric that they could plug in heaters in the ends of the boxcars.


DUANE LEVAN: So they could plug into the engine


DUANE LEVAN: -- and run them. They had a outfit to run them. So anyway.

KAREN BREWSTER: So it sounds like that the loading all that freight on those by hand, that that was a lot of work.

DUANE LEVAN: Well, it was. And there was a lot of men employed, you know, at that time. And see, to start with, well, another thing we handled a lot of was lumber. And in those days, our lumber was stored either in a ship or ships and barges. And that lumber was thrown one piece of board at a time. All loose. There wasn't -- they didn't get into -- this is 1946 up until, what, '52, somewhere in there maybe, in that area. I'm just guessing the time period.


DUANE LEVAN: But anyway, it was all hand stored on the ships. So when we -- when they unloaded lumber, we'd put flatcars with stakes on each side high up in the air to hold the lumber, and then there'd be two guys on the flatcar, and they'd put a sling around the lumber down -- the guys had build it up to a stack of about 2 foot by 2 foot square, and then various lengths, of course, depending on the length of the lumber. And then two slings on that, then the winch driver would set -- put it out onto the flatcar.

You just -- then you just had to unhook the ropes, and hopefully carefully that they wouldn't spill over on you and you didn't have to restack them. They put lumber on there, about 2, 4, 6, 8 -- oh, 6 feet high, 7 maybe


DUANE LEVAN: -- of lumber, in between the stakes. That's how high the stakes were. They had -- we used 4 by 6 wooden stakes that fit in pockets of the flatcars. And so that's how the lumber went. And -- and heavy things, a lot of heavier pieces of equipment would go on the flatcar, and we would block them with blocking so they couldn't slide off or whatever. Whatever was needed for blocking.

KAREN BREWSTER: And tie downs?

DUANE LEVAN: And tie downs, right, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So the lumber on the flatcars, did that get tied down? It was just

DUANE LEVAN: Well, the only place we had to tie it, we put a wire across the top of the stakes that we -- the stakes were long enough to stick up above the lumber about from a foot to 2 foot high, and we had wires that we put across from one stake to the other straight across, and then you tightened them.


DUANE LEVAN: And you'd pull the stakes in on the sides to pull it tight to the sides.

KAREN BREWSTER: So how many guys would be working a shift of loading the goods?

DUANE LEVAN: Well, the docks -- well -- well, for instance on the ship -- on the ship -- on the ship there would be 8 men in the hole, there'd be 2 winch drivers, and 2 sling men, that's 8, 10, 12, and a boss. 13. 13 on the ship. On the dock with just general cargo, we worked two ends of a boxcar at a time, so on the dock, there was 8 -- there was 10 guys on the dock. Per hatch.


DUANE LEVAN: And the ships on the -- on most of the ships were four -- four hatch ships, they'd put four gangs, we would call it, on the ship, and four gangs on the dock.

KAREN BREWSTER: So each hatch had its own -- you were doing it all simultaneous, each hatch?

DUANE LEVAN: Oh, yes. Each -- each hatch was working. Then there would be a gang, maybe, securing the cargo. And then over by the railroad depot, we had what they call a bush track. I have no idea why it was the bush track. But anyway, that's -- that track, we had a ramp that they could back flatcars up to, and we pushed and hauled or drug or whatever automobiles out there off of their approach to the dock, and loaded them on flatcars. That's where we loaded automobiles is off of the dock.


DUANE LEVAN: So that was quite an operation. That would take another crew of four guys or five guys out there working. So consequently, hand work, there was a lot of people working.


DUANE LEVAN: And then -- then as things progressed, even before we started -- do you want to go that far with this?

KAREN BREWSTER: Keep going. Yeah.

DUANE LEVAN: Let's see. Before we started -- before they got to vans, we went through a period of time that they decided -- the steamship company decided this -- they put it on -- our pallet boards were 4 by 6 size, and what they did was made up some sides of racks on the sides that could just sit in holes in the pallet board to make a crib out of them, put sides on them. And then down in Seattle, they'd load these up and put a piece of plywood on the top and make a bundle out of it.


DUANE LEVAN: So all the cargo they were trying, and they did basically most of it, the lighter stuff, would then come to us already in a pallet board.


DUANE LEVAN: Then that cargo, what we did when it got in the warehouse, was some of it we had to unload by hand, but a lot of it, with the doors and the flatcars were big enough by that time, they got some bigger boxcars, wider doors. And small lift jitneys, and we could run a lift jitney in there and set them in there two high in the boxcar. And then, of course, in the doorway you couldn't have the -- the pallet boards tight enough so you'd have to put some blocking where you couldn't get it right in the doorway, so stuff didn't tip over.


DUANE LEVAN: And that was the start of some container operation. Then at the same time, they had for valuable cargo, they come up with a metal box that was about 6 by 8, and that they could lock a door on. And those, they'd bring more valuable cargo in. And we unloaded those, though, on the dock and put them in boxcars here. So -- but they got away with handling them on the ship that way.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. It was all enclosed.

DUANE LEVAN: Right. And that was the predecessor was going further, was getting into the van operation. And the van operation at that period of time, Alaska Steam with the still same Liberty ships that they had, and what they called a knot boat, it was a smaller ship with a house on the stern and the open deck on the front more, they started hauling four wheel vans like the truckers haul now with wheels and all. So they had to make up racks and they could only handle a few, you know, you couldn't handle many, but that was the predecessor to going to the van operation where it just -- they set a flat van with no wheels on a box -- on a flatcar.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. And so a van, it's like -- I mean, enclosed contained

DUANE LEVAN: Containers, that they call containers.


DUANE LEVAN: They were -- most of them were 24 feet by 9, 10. Then we had our -- our flatcars, what they did, they've set up, rigged up the flatcars we had with what we call corner pads, and it's just basically a small steel pad that fit the width and the length of a van, or a container, and had sides on it about 6 inches high, and you put them plates on the flatcars, and then they'd set the van right down in that. See, they didn't have to secure anything.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, so it automatically secured it?

DUANE LEVAN: Automatically secured it just sitting there like that.

KAREN BREWSTER: And once they, do you remember about the time period when they switched from

DUANE LEVAN: Well, I think basically, we probably started in the pallet board operation probably in 19 -- I'm just guessing again -- probably 1951, '52, probably, when they started that. And then it went from there -- well, because -- yeah, we was still doing that a lot, and just messing around with the vans -- or, I mean, vans, the trailer vans like the truckers haul, clear up until before the new dock was built, which was in, what, 1957, I believe.

KAREN BREWSTER: That was the cement dock?

DUANE LEVAN: The cement dock, yeah. And warehouse. And we -- we was still using some pallets at that time because when they built the new dock, they made a big warehouse. I mean, two big warehouses. Well, consequently, the warehouses went almost out of style altogether when they switched over to the container operation. Then at that time, we didn't have enough room, really, to stockpile containers like we should have had. I mean, for a regular container facility. They did the same thing on the whole West Coast was the same; it wasn't just Seward, it was the whole thing up the coast. We were a little more behind than them, of course.

KAREN BREWSTER: So once you started with the containers, you'd have to have cranes or something? How did you move those?

DUANE LEVAN: Well, the container operation then went -- they could set on the -- from the -- from the steamships, our end of it here, the steamships set them on the -- on -- right on the flatcars, right off the ship with the gear. And they'd have to -- it took a lot of switching, but we do a lot of our switching just with -- on the dock back and forth. They could put quite a few flatcars on the dock, and just push them back and forth, and the switch crew would have to haul them away and push us another 8 or 10 or whatever the dock would hold, but then they went basically right from the ship to -- to there. Then they come up with a -- another thing, a hauler, it was --

well, basically, what it was is in lumber yards, they have a hauler for hauling lumber. They could go up, straddle a stack of lumber and pick it up with forks on each side.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, yeah, big prong fork type thing?

DUANE LEVAN: Well, on each side they'd pick it up. And they got something on that order to where they could haul them out in our small yard, and if they was getting too many at a time and didn't have enough cars, then they could stockpile them out in the yard, and then bring them back lumber, and this -- these stackers, like lumber stackers, were tall enough that you could straddle a flatcar from end ways. And you just -- the wheels on each side of it, you drive over the top of the flatcar, and then you lowered your your container down onto the flatcar, into these same corner things that I've spoke of. And then the -- a lot of these cars, of course, were hot and cold cars. I mean, refrigerators. And --

but they all had units on the end of them for hot or cold. You could switch a switch and they'd put out hot air or freeze. And then they carried on the train, they had a flatcar with a -- a generator, so they make electricity, and they had them in the yard when they got out making up the train, they had to plug in every flatcar to every flatcar to run the -- the electric to them.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Now, what was the name of the company that you worked for? Were you working for the Alaska Railroad, or

DUANE LEVAN: Well, at the start, yes. In 1946, it was Alaska Railroad, and before, way previous to that one when it first started. It was an Alaska Railroad employee, we were employees. Then in January of 1947, they decided to hire a longshorer, or longshore company, you know, that did longshore work. And Northern Stevedore Company is the name of the company that took over in Seward. They handled the freight once it was on the dock. But off the ship, the Alaska Steam did their own hiring out of Alaska Steam. And Alaska Steam, of course, was 90 percent or more of the freight coming in here was Alaska Steam.

KAREN BREWSTER: And the folks that Alaska Steam hired, they were also all local people?


KAREN BREWSTER: Or were they hired off the ship?

DUANE LEVAN: No, no, they were local people. The only thing they did different on the steamship at that period of time, and then I'm sure it got over with later, but not in my time it didn't, they give the sailors off the ship one hatch to work. And the reason they did, they had to give it here even because we had enough men to cover it, but the reason they did it here was because the small ports -- and small at that time was like Cordova, Valdez, Ketchikan was small. They -- sailors had to work because there wasn't enough crew.


DUANE LEVAN: So they did the -- they did the longshore work off of the ship. So they said that as long as they had to do the work there, they were entitled to get some work here. They liked the extra hours and, see, that's what it was, because they got extra money, the sailor crew, for working cargo. They got cargo time.

KAREN BREWSTER: About how long would it take to unload a whole ship and get it on the train and the train out of town?

DUANE LEVAN: Well, it's just a hand stowed ship. It varied an awful lot because sometimes, oh, what, I'd say three or four days.



KAREN BREWSTER: So did you work in shifts? I mean, you didn't work three or four days

DUANE LEVAN: We worked -- at that time when they first started in '46, we -- it was after the war, of course. During the war they worked longer hours. We worked a morning shift or day shift, and what they called a night shift, but we only -- it was only for 15 hours a day.

KAREN BREWSTER: You mean each shift

DUANE LEVAN: So we worked -- well, we ended up with -- well, we ended up with two 16 hour -- or two 8 hour shifts is what we ended up with.


DUANE LEVAN: Well, what you had to do is the cargo would cut down right in that time, so we worked the day shift, was a day shift from 7:00 in the morning until noon, and then from noon until six o'clock was open for both day and night guys. So but then there was a shift from 7:00 to midnight, and that was the night crew. So the night crew could come over and work on that middle part there, and the same way with the day crew, back and forth. Because what they had is of the regular workers, there wasn't enough to cover everything when a ship was in, so you had a lot of extra people working just guys from -- walk off the ship. We had a lot of that.

So then the regular workers that way could work a 10 hour shift each one of them, see, you'd get a 10 hour shift out of it. But 15 hours is all the dock was open for cargo.

KAREN BREWSTER: It seems like you'd have to work constantly because you know you have things that are perishables, and that you'd have to, once the ship is in you work, work, work, work, unload, and then you'd have time off before the next ship came.

DUANE LEVAN: Well, yes, we did. But what was the perishables, any perishables were stowed where they'd come off first. Perishables and frozen cargo, it was always -- well, no, I'll start over again. The first thing that come off was the U.S. Mail. And we were the only place I was always told we was the only place, especially on the West Coast, and I don't know how much further it went, that handled U.S. Mail that weren't U.S. Mail employees. We sorted by sacks, not by individual letters, but by sacks of mail and sent it -- put it in boxcars to Fairbanks and wherever it went.

The first class mail always traveled on -- on a -- on a passenger ship. The passenger ships always, and that was the first thing off of the ship, by the way, with the passenger ship was -- the first thing was the mail, and then the fresh stuff, and the frozen stuff, and then everything else was just general cargo. So the -- we -- we hauled the first class mail over to the railroad depot down here, and it went out on the passenger train, the first the passenger train that the passengers was coming off, we'd have that loaded before noon, and it was all on the passenger train heading north.

So that was the first class mail. Second class and packages and like that, whatever the other, we'd load it in boxcars to go north.

KAREN BREWSTER: So some of the ships that came in, they had passengers and freight?

DUANE LEVAN: Right. Well, the passenger ships, all the passenger ships had freight. They all carried freight. And they carried the amount of freight, though, like the train would leave Seward, I don't remember, I think it was around 9:00 in the morning. They tried to get in here, we went to work on the first thing at 7:00. And the passengers come off and they'd get the first class, you know, mail off, and their baggage, of course, their baggage went with them.


DUANE LEVAN: And that was about all on the passenger train. Then the passenger train went north. Then the passenger train would come back, a lot of times on the passenger train was just one day here.


DUANE LEVAN: And then they would turn around that night, the passenger train would come back about 9:00 or so. And then unload, of course, and passengers, and whatever, and we'd have -- see, in those days, too, that was another thing that cost so much was freight coming into Alaska, and I think it's the same thing today. There's no backhaul.


DUANE LEVAN: So basically, coming into Seward, these ships run all -- run to Seattle empty.



KAREN BREWSTER: And the trains came back down here empty?

DUANE LEVAN: Trains come back empty, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Except for passengers.

DUANE LEVAN: There was very little freight that went out of -- out of Alaska. Very little freight went out of Alaska. Of our part of Alaska, I'll say. The only thing, in the fall, we had shipments of canned salmon.


DUANE LEVAN: We shipped a lot of salmon through, load it out of the boxcars and onto the ship. We loaded salmon out. And then, of course, Alaska Steam did, they were all hooked up with Bristol Bay and everything like that, and they had hauls of they hauled the salmon catch.


DUANE LEVAN: Because in those days, it was all canned.


DUANE LEVAN: Oh, yeah, all the salmon was canned.

KAREN BREWSTER: So no fresh.

DUANE LEVAN: There was no fresh can -- fish went out to speak of that I ever heard of out of Alaska. I know the ships didn't carry any fresh fish, it was all canned. Well, halibut. Yeah, halibut was frozen, that would be about the only one.

KAREN BREWSTER: And so then you also had ships that came up that were just pure freight that didn't carry passengers?

DUANE LEVAN: Oh, yes. The other ships were just freight, too. The only thing we had -- well, let's see. We had the Alaska, the Aleutian, the Yukon, what, then the Denali. We had four. We had four passenger ships. And they all rotated in the summer every week, with a passenger ship. And then we had a passenger ship in every so often in the winter, too, was quite frequent. Well, see, unless you flew into Anchorage, well, that was the only way to go, you know.


DUANE LEVAN: And in fact, as late as when I come up here in 1946, I get out of the Navy in Seattle, and I found out that I was going to have to wait, I think it was a week in Seattle to come up here, and I finally, I got onto a -- an airplane, it was a DC 3, and it took -- I think it was 8 hours.


DUANE LEVAN: To Anchorage. We landed at Merrill Field. That was the only field.


DUANE LEVAN: And this is as late as 1946.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. And then

DUANE LEVAN: So Anchorage was only, what, 20,000 or so, or less at that time.

KAREN BREWSTER: And then the road between Anchorage and Seward, was that

DUANE LEVAN: '52, basically.

KAREN BREWSTER: So, then, there really wasn't a road?

DUANE LEVAN: No, no. No. We had a road just going -- we could go to Hope or we could go as far as -- well, it would be about Mile 50. Now it's at Russian River, the other side of Cooper Landing.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. And now you mentioned that the passenger ships, how many freight ships would come in in

DUANE LEVAN: Well, we'd just get freight just on demand. What -- usually we had a couple freight -- freighters a week, one or two at least, yeah. But there was a lot of cargo involved then, you know. I mean, at all work, I was just -- one thing that we had to do, spring and fall, the priority, general cargo, was river freight going down the Yukon. And it went to Nenana. So in our warehouses here, we attempted to, and mostly it worked that way, we sorted the freight off for the river freight by destination, and attempted, of course, to load it in boxcars so it was more convenient because there was railroad workers on both ends, at Nenana and same as here, loaded it onto the stern -- on the sternwheelers at Nenana.


DUANE LEVAN: So that was a priority then because of the people living on the Yukon.


DUANE LEVAN: And you know. So yeah, it was quite a deal to sort everything. I mean, Ruby, you name it, we knew all the names of the -- right on down the line. It was just hang a sign up throughout the warehouse, and you put the freight where the pile was, or the sign was, and then went from there, and then to load it after you got the stuff off the ship pretty much. But that was river freight. It was kind of interesting. And then westward was the same way. We loaded all the freight from here to the end of the chain. And in fact, Homer and Seldovia.


DUANE LEVAN: Oh, yeah. And Kodiak, of course. And all the way out, we had a small ship that run out of here. Well, the later one was called the Expansion. The earlier one way before my time was the Dora that ran out of Seward for westward. But we had to sort that freight because that ships were really small, where the freight was going, you know, whether it was going to Chignik or wherever, along the line, well, they might just get a few pieces of stuff.


DUANE LEVAN: But the mail, too. That was the mail -- the main money they made was the mail contract. They had a mail contract. Once a month, that was once a month service. But we shipped everything out of here with that. We had one outfit out there that had a big sheep ranch, and they'd ship dogs out for their sheep ranch, to herd the sheep around. There was a huge sheep ranch, a couple of them out on the Chain at that time.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hmm. I didn't know that interesting.

DUANE LEVAN: Uh hum. I don't remember offhand the name of the island, but they had the island, you know, they just run them on the island.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, we were talking about when they switched to vans and containers. You stopped working on the docks in '64, right?


KAREN BREWSTER: So it must have been before that because they were doing that when you were still working?

DUANE LEVAN: Oh, yes. Oh, no, we worked vans before that.


DUANE LEVAN: What we did, then, when after the steamship, this got too big of an operation for just rail vans, so then they went to just the flat cargo containers.


DUANE LEVAN: Or vans or whatever they call them now.


DUANE LEVAN: And a lot of those we had a barge outfit come in here, and they still done barges, they are still kicking around Alaska a lot of them yet. In fact, the main ones were about 400 feet long and about a hundred feet wide, and you could stack those vans on there five high


DUANE LEVAN: -- on the dock -- on the deck of those vans. No hole, just all on deck.


DUANE LEVAN: And some of them were the ones that had freezer or hot stuff on them, they had the same thing that they could plug in on the -- on the barge, and they kept a generator running on the barge to keep them whatever. And then we unloaded those with a crane. And they put on the dock down here after the concrete dock was built, they put gantry cranes on. We have two gantry cranes. And we unloaded them with gantry cranes. They were swinging type cranes, and they weren't big cranes. What we ended up with, they brought up some surplus cranes that they -- they worked in the shipyards with building ships. And really, they were --

they weren't made for handling cargo because we could work faster than the cranes could work. I mean, swinging and everything, they wouldn't -- the speed of, like, the new modern cranes they have now where they are like in Anchorage and all down the coast where they just go straight off to the barge and straight back to the dock, then straight back and forth. Ours we swung like a regular crane. These were just like a regular crane only you sit up there, oh, what, 30 feet in the air higher than -- so the flatcars could go underneath you.


DUANE LEVAN: And then you could just swing over and set them right down on the flatcars underneath you as they -- as we took them off the dock. I had a friend work that just swung over onto the ship, and then the top corners of the -- of the vans had a hole in them so that we could take and set that thing down, and then one guy over on the ship that was straightening it out for you, pull a rope, and that would put the dogs in and lock it on. So you just swung it off, and then a guy down on the ground when you would come over the flatcar, got it set down, he just pulled a lever and that would trip it and you'd pick it up and swing back and get another one. Put two vans on a car, on a railroad car.

KAREN BREWSTER: All of that sounds a lot more efficient than


KAREN BREWSTER: doing it by hand.

DUANE LEVAN: Oh, yes. And a lot -- a lot less men.


DUANE LEVAN: Now you're talking you went from 13 men on a crew on -- on a hatch, you went down two, four, what yeah, well, counting the ones they had, two guys that worked on the ship on the dock, went down to four -- to six guys.


DUANE LEVAN: Yeah. So that really cut down. On the dock, it put -- you had to have one guy with the jitneys pushing flatcars around because we had to -- fellow, like I say, that had to do some shuffling right on the dock without a switch engine. So you had a guy pushing the cars and one helping him hook and unhook. And then two guys landing them. So you went down to four or five guys on the dock for that operation, that we was looking at eight, ten guys in a -- in a warehouse taking stuff off by hand. Oh, no, they cut our crews down drastically.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So how did that affect people in Seward?

DUANE LEVAN: Well, it cut down -- like I say, it cut down on our crews, and we was getting down -- before the earthquake, we were getting down to where, yeah, you -- you wouldn't get a full shift with a ship. And that's where it was getting to. Yeah. You wouldn't get a full shift.

KAREN BREWSTER: You mentioned that what your dad did in the switching, in a switch engine, is a switch engine different?

DUANE LEVAN: Well, the only difference is, is -- I'll show you a picture afterwards. The switch engines that they used were quite small, so you didn't have the power to -- you know, to take and load out the highway out the road anyway, out close to the mile -- the divides or anything else, really.


DUANE LEVAN: I mean, they could only pull a few cars at a time. But they were smaller and more convenient to get around for the crews, and everything. That's why the old ones, that's what they were, though.


DUANE LEVAN: The other engines were for the freight and the passenger were larger engines. Of course, they were steam, but -- but they were larger, but the steam -- well, they were -- they -- they were converting when I went to work in '46 down at the roundhouse, there was all coal at that time. Even while I was there in '46, they were starting to convert some of the old coal firers to oil fire. And they burned bunker grade crude. Because I can remember the first time I dealt with it, you had to

-- to start a fire in the thing, we -- we used what they call waste, they call it, it's rags that were shredded, and those they packed in boxes to keep lubricated on the flatcars. You had the little box by each wheel, they put oil in and then this stuff kept wet that way, and for lubrication. Anyway, you take a bail or a bunch of this what they call waste, and keep throwing it into the fire pot, and you had to hook up to a little steam to atomize this oil, because this oil was just like regular crude, it was bunker grade crude was what it was called.

So you had to get it broke down. So you had a little bit of steam and you keep throwing mat -- or lighters in there lighting bunch of this waste, and all of a sudden you get to a certain point and the smell or the fumes or whatever go boom. Oh, yeah, the fire would fly out the door on you. Then you had a fire going finally. Then you could get up more steam, and then you didn't need that anymore because the oil, you could get the oil atomized enough, I guess that's what they call it, atomized, to -- that it would spray in there, you see. You had to spray the oil into the fire pot. So they they was converting it even then.


DUANE LEVAN: They were converting over to just straight coal, so... But they still had coal fired engines going out the road, straight coal, several of them.

KAREN BREWSTER: And when did they start using full on diesel kind of engines from here?

DUANE LEVAN: Well, I think in that one paper I got here, and I didn't remember


DUANE LEVAN: -- but I think it was '70 or '71, they said the first diesel engine came into Seward. Well, maybe it don't say. I know it did before that because this is the warehouse. So this is before '64. It was before '64, before the earthquake. I would refer everything to the earthquake.


DUANE LEVAN: But this is before the earthquake, and this here is -- well, this -- this paper says '57.

KAREN BREWSTER: First diesel?

DUANE LEVAN: The first diesel engine. The first diesel engine into Alaska.



KAREN BREWSTER: Interesting.

DUANE LEVAN: Yeah. Earlier than I thought.

KAREN BREWSTER: Do you think it made a difference switching from -- to diesel?

DUANE LEVAN: Well, the diesel, well, the diesel, the old one anyway, the power, the -- you know, that they had, the old steam, of course, the steam engine's good, but the powerwise, it's a steady power. And then -- and then the thing with the diesel, all they've got to do is hook on another unit. I mean, like they come in here now with these coal trains, they've got three or four units on them. You know, they call them units. They just hook another one on and hook on.

KAREN BREWSTER: You mean -- you mean another engine?

DUANE LEVAN: Another engine, yeah. It's a whole what they call them units -- the diesel.


DUANE LEVAN: Yeah. And they just keep adding them on.

KAREN BREWSTER: And you couldn't do that with the steam engine?

DUANE LEVAN: Well, one steam will work separate from the other one, and both of them pulling, and you don't get the same -- they are not -- they are working exactly the same together.


DUANE LEVAN: You know, one might be pulling a little harder than the other. I might imagine anyway. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Now, when you worked for the Stevedore Company and Alaska Railroad, were you union?

DUANE LEVAN: Oh, yes. Yeah. We were when I first started -- well, yeah, we -- we -- on the ships -- on the ship, it was union. That crew. We weren't to start with. Then we got the union when Stevedore union -- all unionized after Stevedore took over in 1947.

KAREN BREWSTER: So Alaska Railroad to start with, it wasn't union?

DUANE LEVAN: No. We weren't, no.

KAREN BREWSTER: Does it make a difference whether it was union or not?

DUANE LEVAN: Not right away, no. But it made a difference in our pay eventually, though. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: You mentioned the earthquake, which we know is a big piece of Seward history.


KAREN BREWSTER: And talk a little bit how that changed the landscape in relation to the tracks and the docks.

DUANE LEVAN: Well, I -- it's hard to say how much land we lost. I -- like down here at the bottom of the street, it -- this would be Madison Street at the end of Madison Street, going to Seventh, I think probably half, maybe, the land was gone straight down here. The corner by where Standard Oil was, that's where the monument is down on the corner, that lost -- well, I could show you on pictures, the tanks that were sitting there, there was 14 big tanks sitting there, and where those trees are now, they -- they were on the other side of those trees. I mean


DUANE LEVAN: -- it's a couple hundred feet or more that lost all the way around the whole waterfront. And it was told -- I've got a book in there. Well, I'll show you what outfit it's in that come here looking at everything after the earthquake.


DUANE LEVAN: And drawing out what we -- what we lost.


DUANE LEVAN: But what happened, they said, was because this -- the whole town come out of the canyon here over the years, and the deep water right offshore, it -- we had a gigantic landslide. From the earthquake.


DUANE LEVAN: And that's what caused our immediate -- it wasn't a tsunami, it was immediate -- well, it was a tsunami. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: It was a tidal wave from the landslide.

DUANE LEVAN: The tidal wave was from the landslide, and it went across and hit the other side of the bay and come back and hit over here, the first thing that hit.


DUANE LEVAN: The rest wasn't until -- Doug was


DUANE LEVAN: I don't know if you got into it with Doug about it.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, he told us about it, he did.

DUANE LEVAN: It's amazing what he went through.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, it's an amazing story.

DUANE LEVAN: But anyway, that -- that pretty much wiped out the whole waterfront, from what I know. Pretty much did everything. Like I say, the tankers, the tanks went down and drained out, and the oil was all over the bay and the fire. And it was a small Standard Oil tanker in, tied up to the dock. How they ever got -- they ever got it loose, I have no idea, but they did get loose and got out to sea and they were okay. But they got off the dock.

KAREN BREWSTER: But it took all the tracks and all the docks?

DUANE LEVAN: Most of the tracks. There was still some tracks left up where the roundhouse was down here at the bottom of Madison. Tracks going up by that warehouse. But a lot of the tracks went -- railroad cars, tank cars, tank cars were on fire. They were already loaded from Standard Oil, they land here, they burned here for a week or two before they got them cleaned up. But flatcars with automobiles, cargo, a lot of it just dumped in right in the bay.

KAREN BREWSTER: And the loading the oil from those oil tanks into cars, that was a whole different crew or different operation?

DUANE LEVAN: Different operation. Standard Oil had their own employees that worked for Standard Oil. And they pumped into whatever they wanted to go north, you know, it was gasoline from -- but all the -- I don't know, I think all of it went north. I mean, they -- they used north, went through here. I don't know of anywhere else.

KAREN BREWSTER: No, this was the main port.

DUANE LEVAN: This was it.


DUANE LEVAN: So really, for north and westward, this was it. You know. And then it all disappeared. It was quite quite drastic. It was very fortunate with the longshoremen, and I was -- when I was very fortunate, I got -- I wanted to stay in Seward, and I was very fortunate I got on with the state, but they -- every port down on the West Coast invited us down to work, and we could work with them just like their regular -- regular workers. We rotate the work, and that's the beauty of longshoring because you didn't have a job on such and such a dock.

Every day you check in, and you got hired by how you got hired the day before. If you didn't get on the day before, then, say, you'd be the first out, the first one hired the next day. And they'd run you -- we work by hours.