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2013 NRHS Convention The Tanana Valley Railroad Museum and Salmon Bake

by Chris Guenzler

Everyone left the Riverboat Discovery and bussed over to Pioneer Park.

We arrived at Pioneer Park after a fantastic boat ride and tour.

Fairbanks Pioneer Park

Pioneer Park is a 44-acre facility in Fairbanks that is intended to preserve the history of inner Alaska and Fairbanks in particular. It includes numerous museums, shops and restaurants and has no charge for admittance, although many of the individual museums do have a charge. Pioneer Park began soon after Alaska became a state when in late 1960 the Pioneers of Alaska requested public land from the State of Alaska. The plan for the land was to create a tourist attraction that showed historical Alaska exhibits. To manage the project, the Pioneers of Alaska formed the non-profit organization Pioneer Memorial Park, Inc. Almost immediately, several historic structures were moved to the property and efforts began to create a historic village explaining the history of Fairbanks. In 1965, another group known as the Alaska 67 or A-67 committee, requested that the park be used for the 100th year celebration of Alaska's purchase from Russia. While seeking funding for the expanded park plans, the A-67 committee subleased the property and reopened the facility as the "Alaska 67 Centennial Exposition."

After the event, the Pioneer Memorial Park returned the property to the State of Alaska who immediately turned over the property to the City of Fairbanks. On May 1, 1968, Mayor Red Boucher of Fairbanks stated that the name for the park was now "Alaskaland". The name Alaskaland lasted more than thirty years but there were many complaints that tourists often seem to expect to find a theme park along the lines of Disneyland. With the theme of history and recreation, a push began in 1999 to rename the park. In October 2001, approval was received to return the park's name to Pioneer Park and it became official in July 2002.

Today, the park is open year round but most concessions are only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and generally only from noon to 8 p.m. Some of the major attractions in Pioneer Park include:

Chena Hotel - This building has an interesting history dating to some of the earliest days of Fairbanks. The Palace Hotel originally stood near the corner of Cushman and Fourth Avenue. The name of the hotel was changed to the "Palace Hotel and Bathhouse" when bathing facilities were added and opened to serve local miners. The hotel was apparently never considered to be the best in town as it stood at the edge of the "red-light district", a row of small cabins on Fourth Avenue between Cushman and Barnette in which prostitution was tolerated behind a high protective fence. In 1906, fire destroyed most of the downtown buildings but the hotel survived in nearly its original condition. In 1957, the hotel was renamed the Chena Hotel. With changes downtown, the building was moved to the park in 1967 and restored.

Gold Rush Town - Since the park's founding, twenty-nine rustic cabins have been relocated and refurbished at Pioneer Park to create Gold Rush Town. Among these cabins are a few notable structures that include:

The Kitty Hensley House was built around the turn of the century on Eight Avenue and moved to Pioneer Park in 1967. It resembles the small Queen Anne-style cottages of the western continental United States. Kitty Hensley was a friend of Captain Smythe of the Florence S. steamboat on which she and her daughter sailed for many years. Kitty died in 1931 and the local newspaper reported that her "friend" and "neighbor" Captain Smythe had been tending her fire during her brief illness. Hensley and Smythe never lived together nor legalized the union that gossips recorded for history. Even nearly three quarters of a century after her death, Kitty is still not accepted into polite society. A handwritten sign over the staircase reads that "This cabin is not a tribute to Kitty but to the many kind and loving homemakers whose children and grandchildren are the solid citizens of today".

Judge Wickersham's House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was moved to Pioneer Park in 1968. On April 15, 1904, Wickersham bought the lot at the northeast corner of First and Noble Streets for $175 and built a house while he and his wife lived in a tent pitched at the front door of the house, with the first part completed by the middle of June. Leaving Fairbanks for the winter, the house was finished in June 1905. In 1906, a heating plant was installed as he and his wife planned to finally stay a winter in Fairbanks. Wickersham sold the house for $1,500 in 1922. At the time the house was moved to Alaskaland in 1968, the original kitchen, woodshed, closet, porch and a north addition were believed to be too deteriorated to move. The kitchen was recreated in 1986. The original sitting room of 1904, now the dining room, and the parlor and northwest bedroom or study of 1906 have been restored.

The First Presbyterian Church arrived at Pioneer Park in 1966 when the church's congregation needed the original building site to build a two story community center annex. The Presbyterian Church started when Dr. S. Hall Young arrived in Fairbanks in 1904 when only 500 people lived here. Dr. Young could not afford a downtown lot so he purchased one on the outskirts of town at Seventh and Cushman and gathered materials for the first church. In the 1930s, the church was moved further east on its site at Seventh Avenue and Cushman and turned to face Seventh Avenue. Sometime in those early years a front vestibule and large steeple were added. In 1931, a new building was moved and the original building was moved to the back of the lot and used for Sunday school rooms.

The Georgia Lee's House is thought to have once been an establishment of ill repute. The building started out in Nenana in the 1920's but was moved to Fourth Avenue in Fairbanks in 1928. After its move to Pioneer Park, its interior was refinished "in the stylish manner reminiscent of its heyday". Today, the building serves as the park office and headquarters.

Doc Stearns' Cabin was built in the 1920s by the first veterinarian in Fairbanks on 6th Avenue. Doc Stearns was an avid moviegoer and also operated a small farm.

Pioneer Air Museum - Housed in the Gold Dome at Pioneer Park, the organization began in 1979 and opened in 1992. The museum chronicles the development of flight in Alaska. The collection includes complete aircraft, mechanical parts and many documents about the history of Alaska air flight.

The Alaska Native Village Museum takes a look at Alaska through the Athabascan culture. It houses such Native artifacts as a wolverine parka and traditional tools. A mural depicts life along the river.

Pioneer Museum, also known as Pioneer Hall, offers a glimpse of frontier Alaska. Pioneer Hall was built to represent the design of a fine 1900 era building and includes photos, documents and displays explaining the early days of frontier life in inner Alaska.

The Tanana Valley Railroad Museum

The Tanana Valley Railroad Museum was built and is managed by the Friends of the Tanana Valley Railroad. The FTVRR is a non-profit organization of volunteers. Over a period of eight years, the volunteers restored and now operate Engine 1 at Pioneer Park. The $2.5 million dollar museum building was built in 2005 and opened to the public in 2006. The museum building consists of two parts: a large shop area to work on Engine 1 and other restoration projects, and a smaller area where there are displays and a short track to display Engine 1 and other rail stock. This is a working museum where visitors can see what is going on in the shop and learn something about the engine and the Tanana Valley Railroad.

The Tanana Valley Railroad Museum shares track with a second narrow gauge railroad throughout Pioneer Park, known as the Crooked Creek and Whiskey Island Railroad. The ride takes about fifteen minutes to cover two laps of the 0.6 mile route, built in 1967 as a part of the Alaska 67 Centennial Exposition. The regular boarding site is at the TVRR museum building. The museum features Tanana Valley Railroad Engine 1, an 0-4-0 saddle tank, builder's number 1972, steam locomotive built by H. K. Porter & Company on January 12, 1899. This steam engine was the first locomotive that operated in the Yukon and Tanana River drainages, beating the White Pass and Yukon. TVRR Engine 1 first arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska in July 4, 1905. Currently, Engine 1 operates on selected dates during the summertime at Pioneer Park.

When originally built, Engine 1 operated near Dawson at a various coal mines until Falcon Joslin bought it for his Tanana Mines Railway, where it ran locally from 1905 until the early 1920s. The Friends of the Tanana Valley Railroad was incorporated in 1992 to restore Engine 1 to working order and they returned it to service on July 2, 2000. The running gear of 1 is all original but the cab has been reconstructed and the boiler replaced, burning locally- mined coal.

The early history of Engine 1 is pretty clear; however its later history is a bit unclear. Built in 1899, it was purchased new from company stock on May 5, 1899 by the North American Transportation and Trading Company. Its purpose was for hauling coal from mines up Cliff Creek to the Yukon River (1.75 miles), about 50 miles downstream from Dawson City, Yukon Territory. It arrived in August 1903 and stayed there until July 1903. It was sold to the nearby Coal Creek Coal Company of which Falcon Joslin was a major stockholder. The Coal Creek Coal Company mines were 12 miles by rail from the Yukon River. In early June, 1905, Engine 1 was sold to the Tanana Mines Railway located at Chena, Alaska. It departed Coal Creek on June 5, arriving at Chena on July 4th, using a steam paddle wheel river boat and barge to make the move.

Chena, the headquarters of the TMR, was first connected by rail to Fairbanks, ten rail miles away and a Golden Spike was driven there on 7 July 1905. Via a wye five miles from Chena by late fall 1905, rails had reached 20 miles towards the gold mines terminating at Gilmore. The financial backers of the TMR were the Close Brothers of London. In order to extend the railway beyond what the Close Brothers would finance, the railway was reorganized in 1907. The ownership of Engine 1 changed to the Tanana Valley Railroad due this reorganization. The new funds enabled the TVRR to lay 25 more miles of track from Gilmore to extend the rails to Chatanika, Alaska. On November 1, 1917, TVRR was sold at a bankruptcy auction for $200,000, and then sold to the Alaska Engineering Commission for $300,000 on December 31, 1917. In August 1923, the AEC became the Alaska Railroad with Engine 1 still listed on its inventory.

The actual retirement date of Engine 1 is unclear, but there is some evidence that it was about 1924. On July 18, 1924, Alaska Railroad General Manager Lee Landis ordered the railroad to "discontinue the use of any narrow gauge equipment that has not been equipped with automatic couplers". This must have included Engine 1 as to this day, it still has link and pin coupling. More evidence suggests a retirement date of 1924 as a letter from the railroad's Superintendent of Motive Power and Equipment to Noel Smith, Special Assistant to the Secretary of Interior, dated August 12, 1924, stated "Engine 1 - Purchased from coal road near Dawson in 1904 by the Tanana Valley Railroad". It is a small dinky and unfit for service. During FTVRR's restoration the truth of the statement "unfit for service" was confirmed.

Sometime later, but definitely by 1930, the steamer was given to the City of Fairbanks and placed on display by the old train station. It sat for almost four decades beside the downtown station before being removed in 1966, cosmetically restored and placed on display at the Alaska 67 Centennial Exposition in 1967. Twenty-five years later, Engine 1 was leased to the Friends of Tanana Valley Railroad restoration, exhibition and operation. It returned to service on July 2, 2000. To haul passengers, the railroad has several small bench cars which sit approximately a twenty adults each.

The Friends of the Tanana Valley Railroad shares track with the Fairbanks North Borough's historical park, Pioneer Park, the successor to the Alaska 67 site. Since the opening of the Alaska 67 Centennial Exposition, the historic park has operated another train conveniently also on three foot gauge, one of the inspirations to restore Engine 1. The Park today still operates Whiskey Island 67 (numbered for the centennial celebration), a Ford engine, gas-powered locomotive disguised as an 0-4-4 steam locomotive. According to data on the builder's plate, it was built in 1967 by the C.M. Lovsted Company of Seattle, Washington. C.M. Lovsted was a railroad parts supplier who also had a history of manufacturing and selling machinery and industrial elevators.

Our Visit Here

We walked in and our first stop was at the Harding Rail Car.

Harding Rail Car

This is the railroad passenger car used by President Warren G. Harding when he visited the territory of Alaska in the summer of 1923. Harding was the first chief executive to visit the territory when he came to celebrate the completion of the Alaska Railroad. President Harding arrived in Alaska by the USS Henderson on July 7, 1923 and he and his presidential party started his visit in the southeast at locations such as Metlakatla, Ketchikan, Wrangell, Juneau, Skagway and Glacier Bay. They then arrived at Seward on July 13 and boarded this car to tour the Alaska Railroad.

The Alaska Railroad supplied the presidential party a full train for their tour of Alaska. The train consisted of a baggage car; business cars A1 and B1; sleeper cars "Fairbanks", "Talkeetna" and "Anchorage"; diner car "Seward"; and compartment observation cars "Kenai" and "Denali". Harding made a number of appearances between his arrival at Seward, his dedication of the railroad at Nenana, and his visit to Fairbanks on July 15, 1923. In poor health, Harding returned to Seward on the 17th and then returned to Portland via Vancouver, Canada (becoming the first president to visit Canada). At 7:35pm on August 2, Harding died suddenly in the middle of conversation with his wife while in San Francisco.

Pullman built this car as a Compartment Observation Car in 1905. It contained four staterooms, one drawing room, a buffet room, card room and observation room. It was sold to Great Northern Railway on September 21, 1905 and operated between Saint Paul and Seattle. GN sold the car to the Alaska Railroad in 1923 and it was renamed "Denali". According to research on the history of the car, modifications were made to the car in 1928. It is believed that the buffet room and card room were removed to expand the observation room, resulting in the change of two window configurations on the left side of the car.

In 1945, the car was converted into outfit car 003 and retired to a siding near Nenana. With the creation of Pioneer Park, the car was renovated and donated to the Pioneers of Alaska Igloo 4 in Fairbanks. The car was placed into storage and kept there until it was damaged in a warehouse fire in August 1966. During the 1967 Alaska Centennial Exposition in Fairbanks, it was installed at the park and received another renovation.

The sign for the Harding Car.

The Harding assenger car.

The interior. The display boards were donated by the NRHS.

S.S. Nenana

This sternwheeler was launched at Nenana, Alaska in May 1933 and operated on the Yukon and Chena Rivers as a towboat, mainly carrying cargo, but also passengers until 1952. The Nenana is 237 feet long, 43 feet wide, has a draw of just six inches and once was rated at 1,000 gross register tons. Like many of the Alaska riverboats, the S.S. Nenana was built to serve as a packet boat - carrying passengers, freight and mail at the same time. The Nenana had accommodations for 48 passengers and 300 tons of freight. She also pushed as many as six barges loaded with merchandise. Reportedly, the S.S. Nenana is the second largest wooden vessel in the world today. Reports state that the five-deck ship "made the 774-mile voyage from Nenana to Marshall, Alaska, every two weeks during her five-month season, traveling 24 hours a day". In the early fall or in poor weather when it was dark, a huge searchlight mounted on the steamship made forward progress possible. Her boilers were wood-fired. The top speed was 17 miles per hour downstream and ten upstream. When under full steam, the boiler consumed a cord-and-a-half of firewood every hour. About 200 cords of wood were carried on the cargo deck and 16 cords piled on the bow for ballast. In 1948, the boilers were converted to oil.

The Nenana is considered to be the last and most luxurious of the paddlewheelers plying the rivers of Alaska and the Yukon. She became a museum as early as 1967 and has been under restoration since. Thanks to this work "mahogany paneling and brass hardware gleam in the observation lounge." Today, the S.S. Nenana is listed as a National Historic Landmark.

Three views of the S.S. Nenana.

Lavelle Young Wheelhouse. Next I walked over to the train station to wait for the train to arrive.

The train arrived and I joined Bart Jennings, and soon Elizabeth joined us. We then took a two loop trip around Pioneer Park.

Views of our trip around Pioneer Park.

The steam engine at the station.

Chris Parker rode the next train.

Ford Railway Express Truck. Elizabeth and I next decided to get pictures of our train at various places around the park and first set up at the "S" curve just west of the Totem Poles.

The train at the "S" curves. We moved to the northwest grade crossing and waited.

The train at the northwest grade crossing.

The fire speeder followed the steam train.

Pioneer Park views as we moved to our next photo location.

The train on the southwest fill. We moved over to the southeast fill.

What a great photo location this was with the trees in fall colors in bright sunlight.

The sun went behind the clouds when the train came into sight. Maybe later.

The train at the east grade crossing. I headed over to the Salmon Bake next but on my way there, encountered the train at the west overpass.

The train at the west overpass. I then went to the Salmon Bake.

Alaska Salmon Bake

The Alaska Salmon Bake is located at the west end of Pioneer Park and is known statewide for generous portions of King salmon, Bering Sea Cod, Prime Rib grilled over an outdoor alder wood fire and rounded out with deep-fried halibut, baked beans, salad and blueberry cake. Both outdoor and indoor seating is available. The Alaska Salmon Bake is surrounded by what is known as Mining Valley, a collection of mining equipment and a working replica of a gold rush-era sluice gate. It was a great midday meal and afterwards, I returned to photography.

A Pioneer Park scene.

The train on the southwest fill. I went back to the southeast curve to try it again.

The train on the southeast fill. I went to ride the train again.

The train came into the station and I took two more laps with it. I then took the fire speeder around twice and Elizabeth joined me for one lap, after which we rode the train again. Later, we caught the fire speeder coming towards us by the Totem Poles.

Bart Jennings was aboard on this trip. We then walked over to the east grade crossing to catch the steam train one last time.

The train passed us at the east grade crossing. From here I went to the bus which first took us to the hotel then to our next stop of the day and Elizabeth walked back to the hotel, did the laundry and relaxed.

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