Anchorage ALCAN Memories
You're about to discover the beginning of the ALCAN Highway.
Did You know?
The Alaska Canadian Highway (ALCAN), also known as the Alaska Highway, was first proposed as a way to connect the United States to Alaska in the 1920s.
But the project officially began on March 9, 1942.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the road in cooperation with the Canadian government. 10,000 workers were used.
Road Crews at Work
There were miles and miles of forest to clear. There were creeks and rivers to cross. And there were mountains to climb.
All of the above, and the need to add twists and turns to the road to protect military convoys from attack by enemy planes.
Yes, all the above resulted in a road that seemed to have been laid out by a drunken snake.
Even Heavy Equipment had a Hard Time
Carving a highway out of the Canadian wilderness was no small task.
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Canadian Grey Hound Buses
Photo from Explore North
Did You Know?
From 1942 until 1944, Canadian Greyhound Coaches provided regular service on the ALCAN Highway between Dawson Creek and Fairbanks, Alaska. This was done while the road was still under construction.
U.S. Military personnel were allowed on the buses, as were civilian employees of the United States Government and workers employed by U.S. agencies or their contractors.
Each bus used two drivers working together.
As you might imagine, both the Greyhound buses and the passengers faced extreme challenges.
Read more about Greyhound Bus Service on the ALCAN and discover
Spring Breakup 1946
Did you know that the ALCAN Highway wasn't opened to civilian traffic until 1948?
However, two years before that, in 1946, there were two families from Arkansas and one person from Seattle who were given permission from the Canadian government to travel the highway to homestead in Alaska.
Here is their story
The First Civilian Travelers
In 1946, only military traffic was allowed on the ALCAN Highway.
But two families from Arkansas somehow persuaded the Canadian Government to let them drive the highway to Alaska, so they could homestead. A man named L.D. Roach also received permission. The two families traveled together. Roach traveled by himself.
While it was called a highway, in reality it was nothing more than a muddy trail in the summer, with wooden bridges. The grades were steep. After a rain, sections of the road could be flooded or impassable.
There were no motels or places to get food or supplies.
Travelers were on their own.
The Colter – Hayes Caravan
Two families traveled together, the Colter family and the Hayes family.
They formed a caravan of sorts with a 1936 Willy's Overland and a 1936 Chevy. The two vehicles towed trailers filled with gas, food, and other supplies.
They prepared their food along the way, made their own repairs and camped out at night.
In those days, because of the war, tires were not made very well and repairing them was difficult.
Leaving from Seattle, L.D. Roach made the trip up the ALCAN Highway in a 1930 Packard Roadster.
His vehicle was the 8th civilian car to drive the highway (although records are incomplete and a few motorists may have driven the road without permission).
At least twice during his trip, Roach's car went off of the muddy road.
While others later received permission to travel the highway, most had to be rescued, so the Canadian Government stopped letting civilians drive the road.
Regular Civilian Traffic
In 1948, the ALCAN opened to regular civilian traffic.
Is This a Familiar Site?
For those who traveled the Alaska Highway back in the day, you may remember the road as it looks in the picture above.
“It was a barely two lane gravel road. In the spring it was a muddy mess, in the summer it was dusty and rain turned the dust to slick mud. Winter on the snow-covered and icy highway was a different challenge.”
Read more ALCAN Highway Memories and enjoy
The ALCAN Today
It’s been many years since construction officially began on March 9, 1942.
And the muddy trail that greeted the first civilians in 1946 has seen many changes.
It looks like a beautiful Sunday drive.
If you travel the ALCAN today, it’s hard to imagine those early days in the 1940s and early 1950s.
The last time Mike and Mary of Anchorage Memories traveled the road in May 1995, there were still a few places where you could still see sections of the old gravel road.
As I wrote this edition of Anchorage Memories, I remembered the many times I was on the road. First in the 1950s as a boy and the last time in 1991. While the ALCAN is still an adventure, nothing can compare with the highway’s early days.
Did you travel the ALCAN to Anchorage or other parts of Alaska? Or maybe you traveled the ALCAN to the lower 48.
Discover the whole history of the ALCAN Highway and enjoy.
“I grew up in Salcha so was curious to read your story on Fairbanks! Thank you for sharing!”
“Thank you, Michael and Mary! I was born at the Anchorage Providence Hospital and had eye surgery later at the Anchorage Presbyterian Hospital.”
Great News from Mary and Mike
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Did you enjoy traveling the ALCAN with us in this edition of your Anchorage Memories VIP Club? You can get in touch with us by replying to this email, or you can click on the following link to Contact Us.
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Until Next Time
Mike and Mary
Anchorage Memories VIP Club