This is a recording of Bill Reed giving a presentation titled "I Remember the White Pass and Yukon Railroad” on May 11, 2010 at the Friends of the Tanana Valley Railroad’s monthly "Rail Stories" public lecture series held at the Tanana Valley Railroad Train Museum at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska. He is introduced by the organization's president, Dan Osborne. In this presentation, Bill provides a series of anecdotes about growing up with and working for the White Pass and Yukon Railroad in Skagway, Alaska. It includes funny stories about speeding down the rail on a hand cart, an employee who couldn't read well enough to understand the Fragile labeling on freight, and characters he worked with on the railroad. He also tells about accidents and scary near miss experiences.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Railroads of Alaska
Date of Interview: May 11, 2010
Narrator(s): Bill Reed
Videographer: Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
People Present: Daniel "Dan" Osborne
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Arriving in Skagway as a child
Buildings and engines of the White Pass and Yukon Railroad
The White Pass and Yukon's No. 73 engine
The White Pass and Yukon's No. 190 engine
Engines in the 1952 Fourth of July Parade in Skagway
Docks at Skagway
The White Pass and Yukon's No. 4 engine and learning from engineer, Billy Flynn
Scary incident from lose of ground under tracks at Rocky Point
Breaking a speed record when traveling by handcart down the rails from Clifton to Skagway
Working as a gandy dancer at the Clifton section house
Pie at section house
Slide area blocking railroad, and rotary engines clearing snow and ice
Mickey Mulvihill surviving accidents
Constant wind at Skagway, and harrowing airplane flight
Roundhouse and bridges
Crossing the US and Canadian border at White Pass
White Pass and Yukon's engines
Headwaters of the Yukon River
Section house at Fraser
Tourist route of the White Pass and Yukon Railroad
Food provided at stops
Charlie Rapuzzi and use of air brakes
Location where stampeders would build boats
Men who worked on the railroad
The White Pass and Yukon's No. 2 rotary engine, and working as a hostler helper
Use of old engines as rip-rap during the 1949 flood
The White Pass and Yukon's No. 81 engine
The White Pass and Yukon's rotary caboose
Volcane steam engine
Fixing track at Clifton with train approaching
Driving a train off the tracks
Invention of shipping containers for railroads
Benefit of hand labor for people who couldn't get other jobs, and story about mis-reading of the word "Fragile"
The White Pass and Yukon's No. 80 engine
Knowledge of whistle signals
End of the line at Whitehorse, Canada
The greasing and running of rotary engines
The railroad company looked after its own
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DAN OSBORNE: Tonight’s speaker is Bill Reed. He'll be presenting a talk -- "I’ve Been Working on the Railroad White Pass and Yukon Route." And it looks like you changed the title on me so we're off to a great start.
BILL REED: I couldn’t remember what you said.
DAN OSBORNE: Some of you may know Bill because he's a founding member of the Fairbanks Light Opera Theater and Opera of Fairbanks. I regret to say we have not asked Bill to sing tonight.
We’ve -- fortunately he'll be telling us his stories of "I’ve Been Working on the Railroad." Bill was raised and worked in various positions as a gandy dancer, section hand, and a fireman during the '50’s and '60’s.
That's a fireman on steam engines not diesels. While earning his way through school.
I don’t know if he'll include some of these stories, but he has great stories concerning exhaustion of youth from over work, setting a speed record on the three foot gauge pushcart down hill on a four percent grade that he does not want to re-enact. (Laughter)
He also has some experience with Lower 48 mainline freight traffic as a fireman.
Tonight he's going to talk about a kid growing up in the White Pass tracks.
His father moved to wartime Skagway in 1944. If I've done the calculations right, you were about eight. then.
BILL REED: Yeah, pretty close.
DAN OSBORNE: Something close to that. Give or take 10 years. Okay. Bill, please go ahead.
BILL REED: All right. (Applause) I'm not going to give you a factual history of the White Pass and Yukon. You can get that out of a book.
What I'm going to do is try to string together a bunch of anecdotes that I grew up with as part of my life.
And living and growing up around the railroad can be, shall we say, interesting.
You can’t hear me?
UNKNOWN WOMAN: If you had a microphone --
BILL REED: Well, maybe I -- I can be louder, but -- We'll do it that way. I'll take advantage of technology.
Can you hear now? In fact, that’s too much. There. Give it a little less so I don’t get some feedback. How about now? Are we cooking? All right.
Not a very imaginative title and that's it. I'm going to tell you a bunch of tales from the White Pass and Yukon. Some of them will be true. You know, you got to take them with a grain of salt.
I arrived in to Skagway -- just to give you some background. Don’t have -- what I'm going to do is use the railroad as going up the main line to a place called Carcross to kind of point out these little things that happened in my life.
Some of them fairly interesting.
I got in Skagway in 1944 -- spring of it. And it was a great day because coming from California in those days you were now in a war zone, which meant my mother could get a hold of things like sugar and butter and make cookies.
Dadgum that was good, because in California there wasn’t a whole lot of that. Okay, here we go.
See what -- if I get all my tools to work which is questionable. Come on you going to work, sucker. Um. We'll try one of them. Maybe I'll go over here. Let’s see if I can find some place that will fire.
Ah, there we go. All right. I’ll go over here and do it. Now that, folks is the White Pass and Yukon office building. This is the new version of it.
DAN OSBORNE: Why don’t you get back behind the mic? BILL REED: Pardon? DAN OSBORNE: Get back to the mic.
BILL REED: I can probably -- I’ll just speak a little louder from over here.
That was after the National Park Service took a hold of it and re-painted it and gussied it up. I’ve got a couple other pictures it doesn’t look much different, except the paint is fresher in this one than the old days.
This was the center of the railroad. The superintendent’s office. Everybody that was anybody worked down there. The dispatchers that told you how you were going to go and when you were going to go.
Over there we have one of the 90 Class diesels as I refer to them. They look like bathtubs upside down, but they run pretty good. They were fairly new at this point in time.
My stuff is mostly on steam. I like steam. As one or two friends of mine have referred to -- how about if I point at that? Diesels -- okay, we’ll back up.
This place is the water plug. And this is where the day starts if you're on steam engines. You back them out of the roundhouse or out of the diesel shed which is -- I’ll show you in a minute. And you fill them with water.
Now at this time, they had switched from coal to -- I mean coal to oil. So everything was oil fired.
So you fill them up with oil, fill them with water and you’re good for the day.
This one is simply that (inaudible) -- wrong one.
Coach yards. Over here -- oh let’s see where's my laser pen to point them out.
You don’t see any pictures 'cause they had a big fire and they renovated things, just in case you wondered.
There's the oil tank where all the oil is stored for the year. They’d get a year’s supply of oil for the bunker. See it looks like tar.
This is the machine -- this is the boiler shop -- the machine shop and over here is the roundhouse. Over here, but you can’t see it 'cause it's dark. We don’t get great contrast. Is the rotary shed.
Now, if you've ever gone to Skagway, they have featured Rotary No. 1 sitting right down there by the station. They saved it.
Dollywood, I think, has taken all the equipment from the White Pass and Yukon that the White Pass and Yukon would give them, so it's down there. I don’t know how much snow they get in Tennessee, but, you know, who can tell.
This one, again it's -- the contrast is not as great. I just decided to have that for no good reason, except that's the 73, which I spent time on as both a student engineer and as a fireman. In it's working garb. It's all gussied up now. It's all painty and shiny.
Here it was working, and it's covered and it's nasty looking. And that's the way it looked most of the time.
Now the 73 was the newest. I can remember it being lifted off the freight -- freighter and put on the tracks for when it first came to town in 1949.
So it was brand new even though it didn’t look like it.
This is one I'm going to hit people -- I love steam locomotives -- sorry about that. But I'm not very sorry.
They’re interesting. They give you a lot of action when you're around one. There's lots of moving parts and there's noise and everything a boy would like -- even a man.
It’s -- let’s say it's fascinating business.
This one I illustrate because it's one of the ones in the history of the railroad that was brought up by the Army during World War II.
These were specially made and there was a whole lot of them made and the White Pass and Yukon got about ten of them. They weren’t beloved by the engineers and firemen because they weren’t quite as strong.
In the business you'd say they don’t have as much trackive effort. And so they've always relegated to second status.
They were a little faster than the 70’s, but not as -- not as strong. But you don’t see any of them. There's one -- this one by the way is down at Dollywood all polished up and lookin' good.
Probably hasn’t looked that good since it rolled out of the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia.
UNKNOWN MAN: Is there one of those in the bushes by the side of the track down there?
BILL REED: Yeah, that's the 190, I think. It's its sister unit. And it's not operable anymore.
Like I said, the only one I know that's operating is the one down at Dollywood. I found a picture of it on the web and it was all, like I say, gussied up and it looked great.
I keep forgetting to point -- that I just put there 'cause if you ever see this web they call it a diesel -- was -- it was a gas with a chain drive in there. It looked like a bicycle -- great big bicycle wheel in there. One did not want to get one’s fingers in there.
And that was the yard building. When you were going to move engines that were cold around that thing you’d use that varmint to do it. It was a powerful little thing, but eh -- okay here that -- two reasons I put that in there.
This is about 1952, I think. This is Fourth of July Parade and I got into that picture for two reasons. One, I'm in it.
Two, it illustrates Broadway, which is the main drag. And that's where the train used to come. When I first arrived there, they were just tearing up the tracks. And so instead it went around up here and came around by the station.
Like I said, in case you wanted to know that dog’s name is Tippy. It belonged to my best friend.
I’m right over here playing trumpet. Now that’s the explanation for that picture.
This is down at the docks. I’m kind of getting to where everything came -- happened in Skagway. This is wartime.
The contrast doesn’t show you there's two boxcars here and that's the Princess Nora which if you -- we had it in color it's all in wartime gray.
And the ships that serviced -- so Dan was saying he was surprised. I said they were all Canadian National -- Canadian Pacific that serviced this area.
You had the Nora, Princess Louise and the Nootka. I love that name. The Nootka was the one that brought coal at that time.
This is where everything started. All the ship -- all the stuff came in from the states as we said and went on the train up to Whitehorse. So everything started here -- still does. Docks is where all the passengers get off.
And that is my first love. The No. 4 run by engineer, Billy Flynn. Billy, as I said, he -- I feel badly at times that kids today will never get that opportunity.
I was -- must have been 10 or 11, and through my dad happened to run a bar and grill there at the time, and Billy used to come down and eat lunch there.
And some how or other I finagled him into letting me get on the engine. And so pretty soon I’d spend a number of days. I'd ride around on the engine and I learned how to shovel coal in it. I must have been 11 or 12.
And I’d get to, you know, blow the whistle and he'd occasionally standing there right beside me I'd get to run it. And that's pretty cool when you’re that age.
Pretty cool if you're grown up. You have to pay a lot of money to get that now. (Laughter)
But anyway that's the only reason that it's -- It was an early one. As I say, as far as I know it was done there --
Billy had had a bad accident somewhere along the line and Skagway is a company town and they took care of their own. It didn’t pay very well, but they made sure Billy had work as long as he wanted to work and that was -- he did -- he was the -- in charge of switching.
And so you’d run around, we’d do some switching everyday.
Like I say, when it was my -- when I was a bit younger than that I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Too bad here.
I'm going to reverse course here and show you two pictures. Now this one gets interesting. This is up at -- at Rocky Point. If you go around this corner, that way, you can then see Skagway.
Now a friend of mine had a very interesting and not quite life changing experience right here. This didn’t look -- if you could see it -- this is sheep pile here.
It wasn’t sheep pile when I went across that railroad. It was -- looked like brick work -- stone work up there.
And one day this friend of mine that I went to high school with -- it was after I’d moved up --
I think I probably had been up here teaching school at the time. Tommy -- I saw Tommy Mason was the -- was the fireman on there.
And J.D. True -- some of you may even have his book if you're a railroad nut for Alaska’s history. J.D. was the engineer.
They came around this corner, which is before here. Backing up one. They're about down here and hit that corner -- there was nothing there, except two nice shiny rails. No ground. No nothing.
As Tommy said, I won’t quote him exactly. He was a little bit colorful, but he said he kissed himself goodbye at this point because he said there was no way we'd live through it because it's a long way -- if you've ever been around there, down to the bottom of that canyon.
And there's no way out, because if you're -- it's hard to see it here, but over there there's just enough clearance on the -- that's on the fireman side over there.
You can reach your hand out and touch the rock wall.
And on the engineer’s side, if you open the door and leap out -- um -- by golly that's a long way down. So your options are -- those two or just ride her down.
Well, he and J.D. rode her down. And Tom said at the bottom, he said, "I had bruises on parts of my body I never knew existed."
But he said he was fine. J.D. broke a couple of bones. And considering the other options, it sounded like they came out just fine. (Laughter)
So here they've now put up sheep pile. And hopefully that won’t happen again.
But it stood there for years. You can see the sheep pile right there where it came loose. Very annoying.
Now this is the view down to Skagway. And I will relate the tale of the new speed record.
And I'll show you what it was we came down a little later.
That's just around the corner from where we were.
My first job on the White Pass formally was working at a place called Clifton which is a section house.
And two buddies of mine, Gene VanZantin (phonetic) and Charlie Tunley, who by the way spent his career as a judge up in Nome, decided we needed to go to town.
There was -- so put it this way. There was nobody up there at Clifton that hair was longer than ours.
So we thought it would be an excellent idea to go to town to see if we could find somebody whose hair was somewhat longer than ours to talk to.
Now it's eight miles down there and the first part is pretty flat. So we got this little handcar. It is about oh this long about to that chair and it's three foot, well three foot wide wheelbase for the wheels.
And had a hole in there would you could put a pick axe handle and push on it to brake yourself because this is a 3.9 ruling grade down there.
Now as I used to teach kids in math class when they'd say what about -- what’s slope have to do with anything. I said slope can have a great deal to do with your life. (Laughter)
So we kind of poled our way down the flats. It was a gentle grade and sometimes you'd roll for a pretty good time and then you'd have to push. You come around Rocky Point where you can see from here.
Now it's 3.9 grade all the way down. Okay, fine. We go around the corner and we get up a good head of speed and we're being cool.
And I remember Gene reached over there with his pick axe handle and he reefed on it to slow us down.
He pulled back a stub about that big. (Laughter) It just broke off.
It's an interesting problem at this point. What do you do? We weren’t going fast enough we felt like bailing out, but we had no idea how fast we were going to get going at the bottom of that hill.
And there's a bridge down there. You come roaring down there and then there's a sharp right hand bridge. I wish I had a picture of it.
Now the idea was, in normal times, you kept the pick axe handle with you. You could roll down within a mile or three-quarters of a mile to the city and then walk into town. Ho, ho, ho.
When we came off that hill, I mean, we were going. I don’t know how fast, but I’d -- being even realistic we were hitting 40 or 50 miles an hour.
And we went like one of these sailing ships that you see when they're cornering. We were over on the one side, hanging, and we could feel it doing this and we're going, "Oh, geez!"
Because down there is a river.
And there's a big -- this stream like a comet of sparks coming off the wheels. And we're going, "Oh please!"
Needless to say, we didn’t walk a step to get to town. We were there. (Laughter)
So I have a very intimate knowledge of 3.9% grade. It's a lot more exciting than it looks in a textbook. If you don’t have any more sense than a 14 year old that has.
Okay. This is where it was. That's the Clifton section house. And it is relatively flat here. It -- as I say, it gets a little steeper further down.
And all up and down the road, as I say, I spent the summer working at the section house there and we did whatever gandy dancers do.
If you don’t know what a gandy dancer is, he's a section hand. And it's the basic grunt work that you have to do. Make the tracks straight, replace the old ties, which was always a reassuring thing for us to do.
Because you go along and you get a supply of ties and the -- how should I phrase it?
The White Pass and Yukon Rail was parsimonious with its stuff. They would give you a very small allotment of ties and you'd put them in one at a time.
Okay, it doesn’t sound like much, except the ties we were replacing you’d occasionally pick one up and they'd have these little lead pegs in them that would tell you the date it was put in.
Nineteen-one. ’98. And I didn’t mean, you know, 1998.
And you’d scoop them out with your hand and you're disturbing all the carpenter ants that were in there. And you’d put another one in.
So pulled the spikes out with your fingers and sat them over here and then you’d tamp them up which is something they have automatic tampers around here. They illustrate them every year. It wasn’t done by hand.
Every high school kid that I knew -- boy -- had a job on the White Pass as a gandy dancer in the summer. All the section hands were basically high school kids. And we did that kind of work.
For a few of your -- of the female persuasion, I often think about everybody's in a hurry to go back to the good ol' days. There wasn’t any work, except I had that picture of the car shop. You got to clean windows on the coaches. There wasn’t any other jobs to be had.
All right. Let’s see. I want to aim that one.
I just got this, as they say, a modeler’s dream. This is a little bit up from Clifton.
It's great. You've got this bridge. You're hanging on a cliff. You got a bridge there and you got a tunnel. I mean if you’re a model railroader, it doesn’t get any better than that.
The only tale I can tell you about that one, which was bad but good. A kid -- I can’t remember his name now -- I knew -- was working on that stupid thing and fell off.
And he ended up breaking his back by hitting one of these cross pieces there. But he got well. What I can say?
I mean he got over it and they hauled him down there as there were no backboards or anything else. They hauled him to town and he healed up. Last I saw him he was just fine.
The railroad itself wasn’t all that dangerous. I think to myself that the people I knew and accidents that happened, there's -- railroading is not the most safe occupation you can find, but on the White Pass things moved in a, shall we say, a slow pace.
And so not very often anybody got really badly hurt.
I can give you one as an anecdote.
You've all seen -- you know what the Hamme Pool is? Well, I knew Bob Hamme much before that. Bob was a brakeman on the railroad and he had an accident. He came off the -- one of the cars in the winter and hit an ice patch and he tore up his knee like a football injury.
And the doc told him your days of being a brakeman are over, because it requires some, shall we say, agility.
To be -- you got to walk over -- in those days you had to walk over the cars in the winter when it's slippery and the cars are going like this. And you got to leap across this place. It may be fairly dark and uh -- uh. I wouldn’t do it. You got to be crazy.
That's why I was in the engine. It was nice and warm and it wasn’t slippery. (Laughter)
This is the water tank where you'd fill her up. You could get from Skagway pretty much on a run to Glacier with a heavy load. And then you'd have to water up, because most of the time you would come out of Skagway and it was standard --
You'd have a head end engine and he was going to go all the way to Whitehorse.
You'd have a -- normally you'd have one helper and he’d either -- he’d usually get off at White Pass. Or you'd have a second helper. On a heavy train, you might have two or three helpers going up there.
And if it was that heavy, you probably were going through a lot of water.
You’d water up here, and then finish off and go all the way up.
I just -- like I say the tank was interesting.
The other part and we'll come back to this. This is the same place. It's all gone now. This used to be the section house all along here.
Section houses are great. They always had great cooks. If you were stopped there for a while -- shall we say you could count on a really good piece of pie. Rhubarb or apple. Dadgum, it was good.
It's not going to be easy to see. This part -- I was going to go -- come back to it a little bit.
If you could see clearly, there are some bare patches coming out of here, down here. This is the slide area. This is where most of the major blockages would occur on the railroad.
And it's where you'd earn your money when you worked on the rotary, which we'll come to a little later. 'Cause the slides would come out of there about this time of year. Down those chutes you could just see them.
And they would pile up down there. And you would find nothing but ice.
And the rotary can’t do the way they do you see in these wonderful photogenic pictures. I mean, going along and the snow flying.
This is ice. So what happens is you have to do this -- bang, bang, bang, bang to get through it.
And it's one of the jobs I probably didn’t like the most, because you’re sitting in this tin box. You can’t see anything. And reach right out and go, "Um, snow, how about that?"
You can’t get out. You can’t see anything. You're just in this tin box. It's noisy.
And the boss -- the conductor's up front and he's signaling with a little air horn -- toot, toot, toot. And he'd back up and toot, toot means we're going ahead.
And you sit there with your throttle. The oil throttle in my case. And give it more oil and pour out the black smoke and you’d ram into that and when you could feel the engine -- the steam running out, then they'd back up. And you'd try to build up enough steam and they'd take another whack at it.
Interestingly enough nobody liked the diesels much for that job. And the reason was quite simple.
When you did it with steam engines, they would go ramming into it and before they actually stopped you could take -- like this one has -- a Johnson bar only those were power operated.
You’d slam it into reverse so the wheels are going like this while they're going in. So the engine -- the whole train with two engines and a rotary and a caboose would be backing. It never stopped.
You were always on the move. If you had a diesel, you had to bring it to a complete stop then throw it into reverse and even in those two seconds it could seize up. And then you had a mess on your hands getting it free.
Okay, now this is the five mile bridge and on it filled. Those are diesels. And some of the newer cars -- this great big one.
And that's 14B. It's called bridge.
I’ll bring this one up and I'll show you the guy I know well.
As I told somebody the other day, he was either the unluckiest man or the luckiest man I know of. His name was Mickey Mulvihill. His son, Carl, still lives down there.
And Mickey had two incidents. One of them was right here.
He was going up there. He was the conductor. And he was on top of something called a Jordan Spreader.
They were trying to use it to knock ice off. Well, it didn’t work.
It hit a lump of ice, flipped up into the air, and started rolling down this rock right here.
As you might guess, it's not a good place to go over the tracks. And Mickey said, "I don’t remember how I got out, but I got out, rolled and I looked, there was just a Mickey Mulvihill sized crack in this rock." And he says, "I got into it and then that thing rolled over the top of me."
And he had another one. Why, you'll see a picture of it. I’ll show you when we get to it of the caboose that was on the rotary. It's like a steel armored can.
Mickey had another adventure back where I showed you those pictures of the slide. It came down and got him. Took him down the hill. And it took about a day to get him out.
He was smart enough -- when it happened he got underneath a bunk down there so the metal stanchion kept him from being crushed by the snow.
It took them about -- Mickey used to talk a little funny after that.
But the new caboose they built was kind of like a tank. It would take quite an event.
There were two guys -- he went down and there was another guy I knew and he got a little funny after that, too.
But he had something you and I don’t have. After he went for a little help he had papers proving he was sane. And he said none of you have it do you? (Laughter)
If we think we're a little strange. Good point.
This is the famous steel bridge in the old days. Had the snow fence on both of two of them 'cause the --
Skagway if you pronounce it in the Tlingit tongue means "Home of the North Wind."
Trust me. There's a lot of wind that comes out of there. In fact, a place I can never understand why in God’s name don’t they build windmills there. The wind never stops. Never.
It blows from the south all summer and then by -- in the summer it's all that wind is piled up there in those canyons. And guess what? It turns around and comes south all winter long.
In fact, I told somebody, I said, I remember coming home from college one year. Those of you who are old enough to remember an airline called Alaska Coastal.
Now those were some gutsy people. In fact, a lot of their pilots were ex World War II carrier pilots and they're not exactly a timid breed.
Well, they wouldn’t even fly, but when you're, you know, college age kid, 19 or 20, I wanted to get home. So we called up somebody called Layton Bennett out of Haines. He came and got us.
And I can still remember when we were getting in there and there was one of these, I think it was Pan Am or somebody, he was calling, "Do you see us?" And they’re in a 707. And we’re in a little Piper. One of these low wing Pipers.
"No, do you see us?" "No, I don’t see you. Where are you?" I’m going, "Oh, geez!" And by the time we got to Skagway, it was funny.
At that point, the wind was coming along at a good steady 60 miles -- Well, about 50 miles an hour with a 65 mile an hour wind gusts.
So I think about 15 guys were out at the airport waiting for us. And they leap onto to the wings and it's holding it down there. So I get offand get my bags out and kind of got off it.
Gunned the engine and he rolled about twenty feet, um, um, um, phee. So, yes, the wind gets to be fairly fierce.
This is a covered roundhouse that was out of use by the time I was around. It was still there, but nobody used it.
The idea being -- remember I told you about the helpers -- a lot of them would go on up to White Pass, which we're coming to.
You’d turn -- you’d get off the train there and you’d get a chance to get turned around.
When I was there, you just had to back all the way down so you'd get a crink in your neck 'cause you're going the other direction. I got a couple pictures of this thing.
There's a worm's eye view. It's hot. The reason I bring this up is on this bridge when you're going around the corner this is the new snow shed. That white thing.
When you're on the rotary crew, you had to get them to kick the snow out of the row of the door, so you could get in the snow shed so you'd park out here.
Now as I said, the wind's going about sixty miles an hour. And you wouldn’t think a locomotive -- three locomotives and a bridge would sway in the wind.
Trust me it does. And you're sitting there going whew and you realize there's no way -- I mean if you -- if something went wrong, you’d have time to make out your will before you hit the ground.
And like any kid, of course, we had to crawl out -- dare each other. You'd get on the side of the thing 'cause if you wanted a drink of water, you had to reach -- get outside and the faucet. And you'd walk down the steps and you’d get a drink of water and you'd get back in the cab.
If you made a misstep, like I said, um, a long way down there. It's still there, but no longer used. I guess the maintenance got a little fierce.
They've now put a bridge up the canyon a little further, and torn it off here. This is the bridge itself and they've cut -- taken the track off, so hopefully not too many nitwitted people will wander out onto that bridge. Particularly if you went out there in the high wind, it could get a little bad. Unless you've learned how to fly.
This is what's left of White Pass. This was where you changed to US to Canada. You've now moved on into BC (British Columbia). A great place to be. It had great cooks.
And I won’t name his occupation, but an official of the Canadian government was a wonderful guy to see about October. Now, that's World Series time, right? And if one wanted to make a gentlemanly wager on who was going to win the thing, why this employee of the Canadian government would be willing to cover your small wager as to which team was going to win.
I think he did it all up and down the line.
Now, as I said, there wasn’t anything exciting about White Pass. It just meant you were over the top.
I don’t want this one.
I put this -- this is White Pass at a little earlier date. That is the kind of thing we rode down on -- on the -- to the bottom of the hill. It was fairly adventurous.
I stuck this up here because again if you’re -- I’m an engine freak. I love steam engines.
This is a K28 that the White Pass and Yukon through the careses of the army, snitched from the Denver and Rio Grande Western. In fact, they took everything they could get in the most states.
That railroad was running, you know, 24 hours a day, trains both ways all day long because all the stuff to build the Alaska Highway was the mid point. If you could get it up there and then work both ways.
So that railroad was -- moved more freight in that three year period than it ever moved before or since.
So as I said anything that had wheels on it and would run, they grabbed it.
And this is the headwaters of the Yukon. When you get past White Pass, there's all these little look like mud puddles. Well, they're clear water
And these all flow into Lake Bennett. All of these are going to end up in the Arctic. Every water, which is 20 miles from Skagway, which is seacoast.
So in 20 miles you can go -- you've gone over the Continental Divide.
This water was going to end up coming out of the delta at Nome. And it was great grayling fishing there.
Here's another section house called Fraser a little bit further down. Not Fraser, but just called -- anyway I guess it was, you know, right close to a place called Log Cabin, another section house.
And you could get the train -- like the Alaska Railroad. They drop you off there and you could go fishing. Do exciting things like feed chipmunks pieces of bread soaked in brandy and watch them get drunk. (Laughter)
You know, the kinds of things that kids do for excitement. I know I'll probably have what it is -- the PETA getting me for that. Probably send a hit men around. But it was fun at the time.
That’s Fraser. The tank. It's probably one of the last ones left. There's a whole mess of stations along there -- section house -- Pennington and these various ones along the way that usually had a water tank.
Fraser, you'll see, is where you now -- most of the trains they dump you off here. And they do a bus up one way and the train the other.
When I -- the tourists when I was on the railroad used to do what's called a Carcross Turn, which is a good one to do. It’s -- it’s business, you know, business is the way you do things.
The best part of the railroad is from Skagway to Carcross. After Carcross, nee -- it's most like Fairbanks scenery. Now I love Fairbanks. Lord knows I've been here forever.
It's not the scenery that keeps you here. It's kind of flat and dry, and kind of scrubby black spruce. Well, you've seen what's ahead of you from Carcross north. It's not pretty.
But the train to Carcross -- I'm sorry that people don’t get to have the ride along the side of Lake Bennett. It's absolutely fab -- you know, beautiful.
There's Bennett. And where you stop there -- we stopped -- always stopped for lunch there and it was a tourist train, which this is. Tourists all get off. And they got "moose" meat.
Whereas we would go back -- in the back and have steak, other, you know, not moose steak, a good salad, taters, and either great apple pie or rhubarb or something really good.
It always -- I told them there's one thing that always reminded me -- the number 1 engineer on the road named Charlie Rapuzzi. I was telling somebody that the other day.
You always thought to yourself, if we got in a bad situation where you got stranded up there, you wanted to be stranded with Charlie because he always wore a necktie.
Fine, except there was enough food value in that necktie we could have made soup for weeks. (Laughter).
Charlie never changed the necktie. It was the same one he wore day after day and God knows how many things it had been into, but you knew you could have made soup from that sucker.
He was a character. He was -- actually knew or he had seen Soapy Smith. His mom wouldn’t let him go down to the docks the day he got shot.
His mom and dad ran a grocery store and all the Rapuzzi's worked on the railroad in one place or another. And Charlie you had to watch out for 'cause I liked sports, and he would start telling stories.
This could be good and then bad if you weren’t careful, because Charlie would not pay attention to his air supply coming down the mountain. There's not much to do coming down the mountain -- you just ride down.
And if you happen to put your brake in the wrong position -- there's a whole lot of settings in those air handles. One of them is called lap, which means nothing much is going to happen.
Air leaks. And one of these times if you look up at the gauge -- Charlie, (noise) check your air gauge it's close to zero. "Oh, thanks kid. Thanks, kid." And he'd put it back in there and then start pumping it up and hope you don't need air or something 'cause it could get exciting. It's called runaway at that point.
But he had, as I said, he had these wonderful stories about what happened in the old days in Skagway. Which I wish I had a tape recorder in my head and could remember all these things about Soapy Smith and everybody else.
This is -- like I say, this is where you stop and by the way if you know your Alaska history this is the place where the -- both from White Pass and from Dyea the stampeders would arrive.
You'd build a boat and the lake is over here. I couldn’t find any good pictures what I wanted of the lake. There's a church over there.
You'd build yourself a boat out of whatever you could find. Some of them actually floated. And you'd start down the riv -- the lake. And finally the train was built along -- And oh, I'll get to the rest of the story -- to a place called Carcross.
This was a Fourth of July picnic and these are guys I knew. I just said this is what they looked like in about 1952.
I can’t remember about two of them. This guy I know I know him and this one. That's Bill Bittinger (phonetic) and Auckie Silner (phonetic), probably the best engineer they ever had on the railroad. And J. D. True at that time, being laconic and having a smoke when he was still a fireman.
And they kind of had two trains get in there at the same time that fourth and the other train had -- this is their crew.
And that is the redoubtable Mickey Mulvihill. And the rest of them I know is Joe Shelby (phonetic). Dalton, (inaudible).
I don’t remember -- Ty -- man, he looked like he was a bad mood every time he woke up. He never was, but he was one of these people, you know, how you doing Ty? Great. Okay. You didn’t want to see him on a bad day.
This is the wonderful city of Carcross. Or if you want to know another useless fact, its actual name is Caribou Crossing.
There is a bridge down here. It's a rotary bridge. It used to let the steamers in. It's ceased functioning many, many years ago.
It would pivot around and there used to be -- when I was a kid and being a 16 year old I can remember turning down the opportunity, there was a riverboat that left from Carcross called the Tutshi is how it's pronounced if you ever see it in a book.
And it went down to Lake Lindeman and some of the mines. And it was an absolutely gorgeous trip I was told by my parents who went on it. But I was 16. What do I want to go with you on a trip down there. Blah, blah, you know. I was a 16 year old, what could I say.
Now there's the rotary. That's, I think, No. 2. And kicking the snow out. I don’t recognize right off hand. It's hard to see through the snow, it's probably (inaudible) --
The ground it's up around Fraser some place. They're not working very hard, but it's very colorful that way 'cause it's just drift snow.
Drift snow you just push slowly and that just -- it's like having your personal snowblower. You can go through it.
It's the packed ice that gets more exciting than you like.
That's a rotary that's been working all day. That's No. 2.
And the picture was pixcelated as all get out, but I just drug it in there. That's what they looked like when they came back from bucking snow out of those drifts -- I mean out of the slides.
I mean, that guy -- he's covered -- both -- all the trains -- both engines are covered, buried in snow. Remember those engines are hot. You can guess how much snow was on them before.
So you'd run them into the rotary shed --
I worked as a hostler helper. And what you do there is the engineer on would get -- the crew would get off it and the hostler and I would go out there and we'd put sand in them and water and fuel and you'd park them in the shed and make sure then that -- you had three shifts of hostlers.
And you'd make sure they were nice and hot 'cause you knew that much snow in there you were going to be out there tomorrow.
Sometimes the railroad would be closed down for a day or two until they bucked it out.
They now do it with -- it turns out that it's much more efficient to do it with a Caterpillar tractor. If you get a D9 on that sucker and it moves the snow right out of there.
It's still dangerous as all get out because if you go two or three inches the wrong way -- pish -- over the edge, but they have some pretty good operators and get it done.
This is for no good reason. This is No. 3 rotary you will never see. It's long since -- I’ll show you where it ended up.
It's sitting in the bone yard about -- yeah, there's Carl, who takes credit for that. I went to high school with Carl.
And it ended up here as riprap.
In 1949, there was a fearsome flood that came to town. The river went crazy and was trying to wash out the railroad and they took about I don’t know any old cars they could find, all the old engines, including No. 3 rotary and stuffed in there to kind of staunch the flow and keep the track from being taken out. And they did.
Interestingly enough, those engines have now been pulled out of there, cleaned up and they're getting ready to restore them and put them back in running condition.
So they've been sitting in there since 1949. And they were old then. I mean they were -- they were on the bone yard. There was --
Like I say, Carl and I used to go over there and we'd play with them. You could get on the engines. There was about eight or nine of these old ones that they'd -- superannuated engines that nobody used anymore to go play on.
It was a great place to skip a class or two of school. Not that I would have ever done that, but it was a wonderful place because nobody would think to look in the coach yard -- the old scrap yards there.
Now that's 81. It was -- again being my engine freakish. It's down in Oregon.
The railroad got 81 and 80 from the Sumpter Valley. And they're back again. Somehow they ended up being transferred back to the Sumpter Valley.
They're very similar to the 70 class, except again this is technical things. They're not quite as strong. They only ran at 180 pounds of pressure instead of 210.
And they were sloberstacks, which made them -- now sloberstack won’t mean anything much unless you know that they didn’t have super heated steam.
They had no super heaters in them and that meant you were going to use a lot of water.
So they weren’t the best engines to use, but again they picked them up somewhere probably -- knowing the White Pass they got them real cheap. Everything else they got, they got on cheap.
There's the rotary caboose. The one that they built after Mickey’s little adventure. And this is a side picture which is -- give you some idea. This was a tank.
You'll see ones now they have, they’re not so, shall we say, robust. And I guess they have them parked around there. They finally made some cabooses.
I just have assorted pictures I put up here.
This is interesting if you're a steam fan. It's the only one I’ve ever seen. It's called a Volcane.
If you'll notice here, if I go back to the cylinder. An unusual design. It was tried by all the railroads for a while, because when it works it uses the steam -- I won’t say twice as efficiently as a regular engine, but more than -- it's like one and a half times as efficient.
The trouble is, it's murderously difficult to keep the maintenance up.
So everybody -- all the mainline Santa Fe, Union Pacific, they tried them. Never worked. Somebody on the White Pass must have got the idea well I don’t care what they can do we’ll make it work.
This also tells you why this is called Clifton. You got this big overhang right there. In fact, old Gene VanZantin (phonetic) and I had an adventure here.
Amazing how fast you can move at certain times. Now it was a hot day. I can still remember that one.
Gene and I were out there. We got set with a job 'cause rails -- by the way even model railroad does the same thing. When it gets hot, the rails move.
They crawl up and down the tracks. Downhill that thing so much it moves. We couldn’t throw the switch. So the boss said I want you guys to go out there and saw about a quarter inch off that rail.
Okay. So Gene and I go out there. They have almost like a Swede saw. You're sitting there with a -- none of this power stuff. That's for sissies. That's for railroads who want to spend money on their help.
So they give us a handsaw. We each got it on one side and we're going along there.
All of a sudden we were doing -- I mean we weren't loafing. We weren’t working like we were possessed, but we were doing along I thought pretty well. And all of a sudden you can hear the train blowing -- toot -- toot up there, and damn a little faster.
And we were going pretty -- as fast as we can go and finally Gene went roaring up the tracks and said stop.
And got them stopped before -- it would have been shall we say embarrassing. Because I've had one of those adventures.
I don’t have a good place to illustrate it. Though when I was working as a hostler helper putting the -- putting the -- and you ran the engines at that time.
The hostler was off on this particular thing and he was throwing the switch behind me and it was snowing badly one day and he threw the switch and I went backing up.
And I'm here to tell you a steam locomotive has no springs in it that you’d recognize as springs. When it goes on the ground, any fillings that are loose are going to be coming out of your mouth. I mean --boom -- boom -- boom -- boom.
There's no give. I managed to put all eight drivers on the ground. Oh, it got really exciting around there. People said bad things to me.
I don’t know why. I couldn’t understand it. I just gave them a little something to do that evening.
Actually, we figured it out that what had happened was the snow was so thick that when he threw the switch, it left enough of a jam of snow in the switch point that the engine had picked the switch point and it climbed over the top.
But as I say, there was some basic Anglo-Saxon used in my direction because I was running the thing. I thought it was uncalled for. I mean, observations of things I did and my parenthood. No sense of humor those people.
Now interestingly enough, I will give you a little history which is surprising. The whole business of containers, which is most of the world’s business today was invented on the White Pass.
They were the first railroad to call themselves the container route -- to start containering. There's a story that lies in that.
It was unfortunate. I've been a pretty good union man all my life, but this is one time the union was not too smart.
You could only get so much blood out of a stone and they went a step too far. Even some of the old timers told them that you don’t have a strike. You really don’t 'cause the company doesn’t -- can’t afford it. I’ve seen the books.
But they persisted. So they had a strike.
One of the very few I've seen. And the White Pass said all right.
We'll give you all the money you want. And they invented containers because that meant on the docks when I -- you could get work down there, they’d lift it out and I could go back to the Nora and they have these things like this -- booms and you could get a lift operator who -- he had two throttles of steam and you’d lift -- they'd pull it up, take it over and put it right -- you could untie your shoes in those things if the guys were good.
That's a lot of hand labor that was involved and some of it involved people that probably couldn’t get a job.
I would not believe this, except I’ve told people this one before. There was a fellow who worked down there. There were about four brothers. One of them was pretty smart.
The other two that I knew well -- how should I phrase -- I’ll give you an example. I would not have believed this, except it came from my father who was probably you could trust his word.
He said he was working down in the hold of one of the ships. Everybody worked on the docks. There was no, you know, class system forget it. Everybody worked on the docks when the loads came in. They needed help.
But he was down there driving one of those forklifts -- my dad was, and he said -- what was his name? Charlie Rolf (phonetic) -- not Charlie I mean, Ed Rolf (phonetic) came around and he said one day he was looking up at the cargo along the side of the ship.
And he said damn, Morgan, he said who's this guy Fra-gile that gets all these boxes.
And my dad said he didn’t know what to say. How do you tell a guy Fra-gile is not the name of some place. But it was a place that he could work.
Well, unfortunately the strike ended up losing most of the jobs.
They all well paid jobs. Instead of 35 people working or 40 people working there was more like 10 or 15.
'Cause everything went in the containers and they rigged one ship that was a container ship.
I mean, just like you see now in the big movies exactly. It was the first time it'd ever been done. And they built the Brown and everything got lifted up. You got -- drove in a big old lift, you picked it up, dropped it on a flatcar and that was that. There was no hand labor.
And that's the very early ones. They had some problems with it and they eventually went to the ones that were all -- I’m sorry, I want this one.
Oh, I don’t know -- that's another picture of the 80. No good reason. I just put it in there.
As you say, I’m guilty of -- Oh, and that's No. 1. I’ll show you this other thing in a minute.
That's the one they have left. The other one's down there in the states. No. 2. And No.3 is still in the rock pile there as you can see.
The -- I’ll go back and on another subject. This is where the skipper -- usually the conductor would sit up there and he ran the thing with his little toot -- toot -- toot, air horn.
Or he would, you know, he would warn us ahead of time and then he'd blow the steam and tell the engineers.
If you know nothing else about whistle signals, they mean something. One means stop. Two means forward. Three means reverse.
And that's -- that's the thing you most have to -- you have to learn those things when you're studying to be an engineer. Like five shorts means recover from the east or something, you know.
Since that railroad only ran north and south, you didn’t have to worry about east and west too much.
And this is the end of the line at Whitehorse. Or as they used to call it Black Mule.
Down here, I always loved it. Way down here they had a bunkhouse for you when you did the through run. And there was a neat old guy, I always called Petey. I never knew what his last name was. Petey would get you up in the morning. And he had the damndest way of getting you.
You’d hear this little voice going, pup -- pup -- pup -- pup -- pup. Wow, what was that? Didn’t sound like any alarm clock I ever heard, but that was his way of getting -- up -- up -- up -- up --up.
And at any rate that -- you had -- the railroad took care of you. You had your bunkhouse -- and oh, by the way I went to a movie one time. Coldest I’d ever been in my life.
Whitehorse is like this place. In the winter, it gets cold. Really cold. And the wind doesn’t blow, you hope.
I was going to the movie and I got about three blocks and that was the end of that 'cause the wind was just whistling down there and I didn’t have a parka. I just had a fairly heavy coat.
Fortunately, there was a place along the way, after I backed away, that I could stop by and get some antifreeze before I turned around and went home. (Laughter) I didn’t go to their full movie.
I guess that's pretty much the last -- whatever story I can tell you. Got any questions? Any more lies you want to hear?
UNKNOWN MALE: How much of a breakdown problems did those rotaries have when they started running into the ice? I mean, back and forth. Did they have a lot of grease problems with it?
BILL REED: A fair amount. Usually got them back there. And if I went back here for a second. I should have made the point. Come on. No, I guess it didn’t work.
There's doors along the side. You flip those babies open and you can get to the running gear on both sides. If you saw that one -- the No. 3 which is laying on its side, well all -- you'd expose all that.
You’d have to grease it up 'cause they use grease. And on those steam locomotive you had to grease them. That was part of your job as a hostler. If you ever see them, they look like sticks.
And you have this great big grease gun and it goes -- chuck -- chuck -- chuck -- chuck. And you have these big zerk fittings. You know, you've seen the ones on your car that look like maybe a pencil eraser. These babies are like that and, of course, if you're --
My later time spent -- for a while I tried to work on the extra board for the Union Pacific out of Pocatello.
The zerks on a Challenger are about that big around. You could eat dinner on them.
UNKNOWN MAN: But the blade itself didn’t fall --
BILL REED: No, no, they kept them up. They used to -- the welders put some special alloys on there that were hard when they knew they were going to deal with ice.
They'd harden them up just like they do for scraper blades and cat blades and things like that.
It was a good crew. The guys knew what they were doing.
Like I say, the railroad took care of you.
They would -- oh, I can remember one of the worse jobs I ever had was working on the section gang.
The guy, I'll just say his first name was Charlie. Charlie liked to indulge in the chemical alcohol somewhat. Naw, more than somewhat. He liked to get pretty drunk.
And the railroad would say, "Okay, Charlie, go ahead and have your binge." They’d “fire him” 'til he dried out. Or he got the shakes he couldn’t get a drink up to his lips. And then they'd put him out on the section gang to work himself -- he was a very fine machinist. And then he'd get on the section gang.
And he was the kind of guy you just didn’t want to get down wind of after he'd been sent out there to dry out. Everybody was, "You take him for a while. I can only take so much."
But, as I said, it was a company town and it was impossible to get fired unless you really were way out of -- like if you did jail time.
Even then, they’d make excuses for you. Everybody's entitled to go on a bender once in a while. As long as you sobered up and got back to work eventually they would take care of you.
Kids like me always had a job. If you were going to college -- In fact, it's both good and bad. I think back, Carl is the only guy from my class or about the first four or five that lives there because the railroad from the superintendent on down would tell you, you are going to college.
Don’t argue with me. That's the end of the discussion.
I remember one guy tried to quit and I heard -- he was a couple years older than I, and he wanted to make money. So he got down there with the superintendent -- old Abrams.
And he said fine I'll give you a job. He did. In the section gang. And he told the boss to work him to death.
And after about a week, he came back in the office. He told me about it afterwards. And he said, "Old Abrams had this damn shovel sitting there."
"All right," he said, "how'd you like that? You got a lifetime of this. You want some more? I said I’d give you all you can stand." And he said, "I don’t think so. I think school doesn’t sound nearly so bad."
So as I said there's good things and bad things about a company town like that took -- they would take care of you.
Like I say, they weren’t going to pay you and that railroad was as cheap as anybody I knew of. They got a dime out of nickel’s worth of stuff.
I’d show you these ties they have here which were funny, of course, you probably didn’t notice.
I told you that the ones we were replacing were just (phew) nasty looking stuff. And these were old black spruce.
And I think the reason they had this yellow color -- they weren’t creosoted. I think it was to kill the tree itself so they wouldn’t grow on you when you planted it back in the dirt, because it certainly wasn’t preserved.
DAN OSBORNE: Did you have any more questions? I’d like to thank you, Bill.