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Trip Report

Alaska Trip

August 7-17, 2004
Section 1 of 5


(Click small photos to see larger; all larger photos are less than 52K)

Departure, Saturday August 7

On August 7th of this year Betty, I, and our son Don departed for a trip to Alaska. In addition to seeing the spectacular scenery of Alaska I had two other motives for making this trip. First this was the only state in which I had not been. Secondly there were two railroads that I wanted to ride, the White Pass & Yukon and the Alaska Railroad. This report is about our trip on these two lines.

On the way to Skagway, The home of the WP&Y the ship stopped at Juneau Alaska and I made the 50th state. That's one goal out of the way.

Tuesday August 10

Approaching dock in Skagway.  Ore dock is on left. August 10th 0600 finds me on deck at the bow of the Holland American liner Zaandam as it approaches the Broadway Dock in Skagway. Skagway is a small town of about 800 population. Already at the Railroad Dock are 2 Princess Cruise line ships, we are about to tie up and another ship is following us into port. Each ship has over 2000 passengers about to descend on the town. We have been told that this is normal for about any morning during the summer.

WP&Y station and office on right.  Main street of Skagway center. As we approach the main dock the headquarters and station of the WP&Y are directly in front of me. The building on the right is the office building. It has the dispatcher and other operational personnel. The square building on the left is the ticket office and gift shop.

On the left is the Ore Dock, site of the main reason for the WP&Y. This facility has not been used since 1982 when freight service was halted. At that time the WP&Y stopped all operations for about 6 years. In 1988 it resumed operations as a Tourist Railroad and has a very successful operation for that purpose. The Ore Dock is now used as another dock for cruise ships. There are Railroad tracks out onto each dock so that passengers can go straight from the ship to train.

Harbor and main part of Skagway.  Expect a few visitors. After we tie up the passengers who have bought train tickets, on the ship, are let off first. After the train has loaded passengers off the ship, it then pulls down to the station and loads walk up passengers. Passengers can make a round trip by train or go one way by bus and the other by train. The WP&Y appears to tailor its schedule for the demands of the cruise ships. This time of year there are a minimum of two round trips to Fraser B.C. On Saturday there is an additional trip, behind Steam to Bennett and return. Extra trips are scheduled as required.

Rotary #1 This day we are scheduled to take a tour of Skagway then have the afternoon free to walk around town. During the tour of town we are taken to the historic town cemetery. En route we pass the shops of the WP&Y. They have a large shop area where they do all their maintenance. As we pass steam engine #73 is in front of one of the shops. Back in town Rotary #1 is on display in the park just in front of the depot. This plow is still in service and is used in the spring to open the road. It is one of only 2 three foot gage plows left in operation.

I spent most of the afternoon at the station watching trains arrive and depart. There must have been several extras that afternoon because of the number of arrivals and departures.

Vestibule on each end of car. Motor home steps to avoid step boxes.

The standard car is about a 40 foot car with 10 rows of seats. These seats are walkover so there is no need to turn the cars or train. The cars have an open vestibule at each end. Also the windows are extra large. There are several combo cars with a baggage compartment on one end and seats on the other. The baggage end of these cars is equipped with a wheelchair lift which stores inside the car when not in use. Each vestibule is equipped with pull out steps, like are in mobile homes, so there is no need to carry step boxes. These come in handy when stops are made en-route to let hikers on or off. Each car is equipped with an oil stove which burns Diesel fuel.

The WP&Y has a total of 69 restored and replica cars the oldest dating back to 1883. Power is provided by 10 shovel nosed General Electric engines from the 1950's, 10 Alco units from the 1960's and engine #73 a fully restored 1947 Baldwin 2-8-2 Mikado class steam locomotive.

White Pass & Yukon, Thursday, August 12

I am up at about 0700 this morning. We have a 0815 departure time for the WP&Y. This morning we will be riding over the historic White Pass to Fraser B.C. This is the same route that was taken by the gold hunters headed for the Klondike in 1896. It is a 20.4 mile trip climbing from sea level to 2865 feet. Ruling grade is 3.9% and the whole route to the top of White Pass is better than 2%. Of course the railroad was not here then and the stampeders had to climb to the top. Also they had to have a ton of supplies with them before the Mounties would let them into Canada. This meant that most of them made 30-40 trips carrying supplies on their back. A few of the lucky ones were able to find pack horses to help. I get to the station at about 0730 and boarding starts at 0745. I want and get a seat in the rear car. This is the best car for pictures because it has an un-obstructed rear vestibule. I get 3 seats and Betty and Don arrived about 0800. Our destination today was Fraser B.C. 27.7 miles away where we would change to a bus to continue with the rest of our trip. On each seat was a copy of the WP&Y on board Magazine ALL ABOARD.

Passengers were allowed to ride the open vestibules. The vestibules had chains around them. The only restriction was that you could not stand on the junction of the cars. Each car was equipped with a good PA system. Announcements and commentary were informative. The only gripe I had is that you could not hear the PA on the vestibules.

Our train this morning is made up of 15 passenger cars and 1 boxcar (I never did find out what was in the boxcar. Power this morning is 4 G.E. Shovelnose diesels.

Skagway river just north of WP&Y Shops. Highway on other side of canyon.

At 0815 we pull and pass through the edge of town. At the 2 mile post we pass the WP&Y shops and join the Skagway River. We will climb out the east side of the river canyon. Since the 1970's there has been a highway up the west side of the canyon. This highway joins the Alcan Highway at Whitehorse. Before the highway was completed the only method of getting a vehicle to Skagway by land was to ship it in on a flatcar on the WP&Y. Also all supplies came in by ship or by rail. The Rails are still in place for the full 110.4 miles into Whitehorse. They are in service only as far as Carcross at the 67.5 mile marker. Special trips go to Carcross several times a year. The station at Whitehorse is still there but not used as a station.

During WW II the WP&Y was taken over by the Army and used to ship road building material and equipment to Whitehorse for the Alcan Highway. During the early 1970's supplies and material for the Alaska pipeline came in over the WP&Y.

Denver, hikers at far end of Trestle. Rocky Point from rear platform.

As we began to climb we soon leave the river behind and climb the side of the canyon. There are some low clouds this morning which we see as fog as we climb. The River drops away as we climb the canyon wall. At the Denver (5.8 mile mark) we stop to let hikers off and then cross the East fork of the Skagway River on a high steel trestle. The river that we are following and all of the side rivers are formed by melt from the Glacier field. A mile later we round Rocky Point where the shelf for the railroad was blasted out of solid granite.

Continued in next section

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