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North Pole

Train ride to North Pole

Day 15

The second day in Fairbanks starts at the crack of dawn and this routine will continue thru the rest of week. The bus shuttle operation from Westmark to Fairbanks depot will be running from 6:00 AM - 8:00AM.

Dawn in Fairbanks, AK on Sunday Sept 15, 2013

An another great breakfast in the hotel dining room. The hostesses was able to move the crowd in and out in an efficient manner. Again a big buffet breakfast to fill me up.
After eating and returning to the room to gather items for today’s adventures, I queued up for the bus shuttle to train station. On board the bus, we leave the hotel’s porte-cochere with the analog thermometer reading 32 degrees at 7:30 AM. 

On our ride today we learn more about local living in this state.

During winter and the roads covered with snow and ice, they don’t put salt or chemicals on the road surface. They just use dirt. So on one day in mid April the whole town turns out to clean and sweep to streets of dirt and get the city ready summer and the tourist.

Several years ago, the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. declared the Midnight Sun Game a must see event for any true fan of baseball. The reputation remains for the 108-year-old event that is played without artificial lights on summer solstice, the longest day of the year.

Growden Memorial Park is usually packed with 4,000 to 5,000 fans, several of whom come from other states and a few other countries. The first pitch of the game takes place 10:30 PM on June 21. If the weather cooperates, the sun will be shining for much of the game since sunset is just before 1 AM.

The 2013 contest featured the Alaska Goldpanners of the Alaska Baseball League against Catholics in Action, a San Diego-based sports ministry of collegiate and ex-professional players.

One of the game’s tradition is the break that comes in the half-inning closest to midnight, when the crowd can join in a rousing rendition o the Alaska Flag Song. In 2013, there were at least four former Goldpanners on active rosters of  Major League Baseball.

The driver said that after the game is over many people head over to the golf course to play a round of golf at dawn.

Soon we arrived at the bus’s destination: Fairbanks Passenger Station.

This is the new Fairbanks station, built to provide adequate train space for the new longer trains with private cruise ship cars. The station opened on May 15, 2005.

GPS: 64 51.073, -147 44.436  (Click for map of location.)


depot sign  8456.jpg

The new $22.5 million station is located in a 32-acre site adjacent to the railroad’s operations yard, near the intersection of the Johansen Expressway and Danby Street. When it opened, it replaced the terminal near the intersection of Driveway Street and Phillips Field Road. The new facility was funded through a combination of Federal Transit Administration and Federal Railroad Administration dollars. The new station eliminated the need to block traffic on Phillips Field Road while loading and unloading and makes turning the train easier. It also provides much better facilities for the growing cruise ship business that is regularly adding cars to the passenger consists.

Passenger Loop Connection.

With the new station now located on this line, the Alaska Railroad can park the train at the station overnight. However, this means that the train is facing the wrong direction when it is ready to leave. To solve this problem, a loop has been built to turn the passenger trains as they leave Fairbanks for Anchorage. This was accomplished by extending a spur around the ramp area to another industrial spur which connected to the former mainline just north of the previous station.

The “Capital of the Interior” and Alaska’s second largest city is the northern terminus of the Alaska Railroad and southern terminus of the infamous Haul Road to the North Slope oil fields.
Located in somewhat of a bowl at 439 feet elevation, Fairbanks lies on the floor on the Tanana River Valley straddling the Chena River. This situation has resulted in several floods, very cold winters and hot summers. The railroad has a large yard here, reportedly to handle extra freight that would arrive should the proposed connection to Canada ever be built.

Located inside the new Fairbanks station is the Tanana Valley Model Railroad Club. The club was founded in 1984 and fills a 26’ by 32’ room with their HO layout, modeling the Alaska Railroad from North Pole to Denali Park’s Riley Creek bridge. The layout was open to NRHS Convention participants.

I walked thru the model train layout. Very impressive and every space was utilized. It was very hospitable for the Tanana Valley Model Railroad Club to open their doors to the NRHS participants.

model 1

model train 1

model train 2

rr model 2

train 3

model 4

rail tkt  IMG_9658tt.jpg


Then outside to the boarding platforms. We were told that there would be two trains waiting. One was returning to Anchorage and also leaving soon. Heading in the right direction to the NRHS train I soon find Chris G. and Elisabeth A. at their station by the steps up to the car’s vestibule. They were volunteer workers and helped passengers on and off the cars but especially were needed at the photo stops. The volunteers early on picked up the nickname of “Yellow Jackets,” for their safety vest. I walked thru several cars that had coach seats till I found a good unoccupied window seat. Tip: to get a good seat arrive early; like 45 mins before they open the car. My car was #521, a 1954 Budd Dome Coach, ex-SP&S 559, to BN 4626, to Amtrak 9486, 2000 to ARR.

Soon they were giving the welcome aboard address and some of what we would be seeing and instructions on the photo stop. Then Chris P walks thru the carriage wearing his “yellow jacket” and said the car he was assigned to was several ahead. He said he was enjoying himself and having a good time.

Leaving the station the train crosses Noyes Slough stream using two 14’ timber spans and a 123’ truss bridge. Next is College Road. College Road is the main highway on the north side of Fairbanks. It runs from downtown to the northwest side of Fairbanks at the University of Alaska campus.

Next was the Steese Expressway, Alaska Highway 2. This highway runs through the richest gold mining district in the state. Just a few miles north of here, at Fox, are a number of the gold rush including a gold dredge and the Eldorado Gold Mine.

Registered my farthest north on this planet.  GPS:  64 55.387, -148 01.491.

Some more way points.    64 51.162, -147 41.621
                                          64 50.591, -147 39.071        


Light frost this morning.

The next mile or so were in local neighborhoods. Then we came upon Farewell Street. A good name as the railroad leaves Fairbanks and enters Fort Wainwright. Notice!!!  Notice !!! Please note that photography is not allowed from this point to milepost G6.0.
Not really anything to see and the trees made a good screen along the right of way. Go figure.

The train crosses the Chena River on a bridge of 6 spans. Just railroad north of the Chena River, the railroad makes a hard turn to the right using a 10 degree curve.  This turn is necessary to take the railroad around the end of the 6L runway of Ladd Army Airfield/Fort Wainwright.

Land of Many Names:  Fort Wainwright started in 1939 as Ladd Field when Congress granted $4 million to construct an Army Air Corps cold weather experimental station at Fairbanks. The new base was called Ladd Field, in honor of Maj. Arthur K. Ladd, an Air Corps pilot killed in a plane crash in South Carolina in 1935. The Air Corps bought two homesteads near Fairbanks for a building site. Little was known then about building on permafrost, so problems quickly became evident. In addition the airstrip, housing and office space, workers also had to build a rail spur into Fairbanks to transport equipment and supplies. The railroad was built first. Dynamite was used to blast out huge chunks of permafrost that were pushed into a big pile on which to build the roadbed. When spring came, the permafrost melted and the rails were twisted in all directions.

The first Air Corps detachment assigned to Alaska arrived in Fairbanks in April 1940. The men station here tested clothing and equipment during the bitter cold winters until World War II. With the outbreak of war with Japan in late 1941, Ladd Field became more than a cold weather test station; it became a critical link in the Alaska-Siberia Lend Lease route. The Lend Lease Program enabled the Russians to pick up a plane from the United States for their continued flight to Siberia. Ladd became the turn-over point for a large number of aircraft and pilots who made the arduous trip from Montana, through the Northwest Territories and into the Interior.

In August and September of 1942, the first Soviet pilots and civilians of the Soviet Purchasing Commission arrived in Fairbanks and were housed at Ladd Field. They were checked out in aircraft ranging from P-39 Air Cobras to B-25 Mitchell bombers, before they were transferred to them. The Russians then flew the aircraft to Siberia via Galena and Nome where they were  eventually used in the Soviet war effort against Germany. The first lend-lease flight took place Sept 3, 1942 and the last in September 1945. In all, American crews delivered almost 8,000 aircraft to Soviet aircrews for their war effort. Other work continued here. For example, in 1944, the first US prototype jet was sent to Ladd for testing.

With the reorganization of the War Department into the Defense Department after WWII, Ladd Field became Ladd Air Force Base. By the 1950’s military personal in Alaska were engaged in a peacetime training routine with troops from all over the Lower 48 and Canada. In 1960 it was announced that the installation would go back to the Army. In 1961 Wilbert M. Brucker, then Secretary of the Army, dedicated the post as Fort Jonathan M. Wainwright, in honor of the world War II hero of Bataan.  Today there are nearly 4,000 soldiers and 6,100 family members who call Fort Wainwright home.

Next we pass the Bob Small Runaround. This track is used to run around a cut of coal hoppers before spotting them at the Fort Wainwright coal power plant After that were the Stryker Ramps. A Stryker is a family of 4-wheel military vehicles, with many based here. These ramps are used to load and unload them from Alaska Railroad trains. Then is was the Arctic Redie Mix. A major cement, sand and gravel contractor in the Fairbanks area. The north boundary of Fort Wainwright is near here at the grade crossing with Badger Road.

country side

coontry sde

country side

road side

Now we are running parallel to Richardson Highway. The Richardson Highway (near Fairbanks also known as Alaska Route 2), the first major road built in Alaska, runs from Valdez to Fairbanks. In 1898, the US Army built a pack trail from the port at Valdez to Eagle, a distance of about 409 miles, to provide an “all American” route to the Klondike gold fields. After the rush ended, the Army kept the trail open in order to connect its posts at Fort Liscum, in Valdez, and Fort Egbert, in Eagle. The Fairbanks gold rush in 1902, and the construction of a WAMCATS (Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System) telegraph line along the trail in 1903, made the Valdez-to-Eagle trail one of the most important access routes to the Alaska Interior. In 1910, the Alaska Road Commission upgraded it to a wagon road under the supervision of US Army General Wilds P. Richardson, for whom the highway was later named. The road was further upgraded in the 1920’s due to an increase in motorized travel. The Alaska Highway, built during WW II, connected the rest of the continent to the Richardson Highway at Delta Junction, allowing motor access to the new military bases built in the Territory just prior to the war. The highway was paved in 1957. In the Fairbanks area, the highway has been turned into multiple lane expressway.

The railroad follows Old Richardson Highway into North Pole while the “new” Richardson Highway passes around town to compass north.

The train slows as we near our destination for photo stop and runbys.

Spirit of North Pole. Home of the special Christmas card postmark, North Pole is located 13 miles south of Fairbanks on the Richardson Highway. In 1944, Bon V. Davis homestead this area but sold out to the Dahl and Gaske Development Company, which subdivided it for a town. The community was first incorporated as a city in 1953. The original plan in selecting name “North Pole” was to attract the toy industry to manufacture articles from “North Pole.” This idea failed but the town became the social center for the surrounding military bases.

Robert Norman “Bob” Ross, creator and host of “The Joy of Painting” show on PBS (yes, the “happy little trees” guy), once lived in North Pole. Ross enlisted in the US Air Force at age 18 and was eventually transferred to nearby Eielson AFB. The nearby snow and mountains became the subject  of much of his art. Reportedly, he developed his quick painting technique so he could complete pieces of art during his short breaks at work.

The train stops near mile post 16 which is 16 miles from the Fairbanks Depot. Instructions are given and how events would occur for this photo shoot. Although this is my first NRHS convention and photo runbys, I was familiar with the course of events. That is the train stops, the photographers disembarked, walk to photo spot and line up so everyone has a clear shot of the train.

All the photo stops and runbys were picked, planed and under the direction Mr. Barton Jennings. He spent much time on this project in the last three years. And it surely showed in the excellent results everyone had.

After the train stopped, Bart J. went out to see if the train was spotted correctly and it was safe to disembark.  Once he was satisfied, the yellow jackets open the vestibule doors and proceeded to help the photographers down the stairs and across the terrain.


dis 2

dis 3
Cafe on lower level with kitchen at the far end with no windows and non cafe seating on the upper level with open air seating.

end car

engine head

crowd at north pole


sign santa

I walked around the area and then down to the street crossing. I like the street light post painted as candy canes.

candy cane st


side strret

play ground

c cane

5th st

GPS:  64 45.030, -147 21.222.  This was the eastern most point for me in Alaska.


Author.    photo by Chris P.

Then we proceeded getting lined up for the photo shoot.

at rest

run by

side of road


far end


crowd 66

row crowd

Then Bart J. told us time to leave and start boarding the train.

This is the location of a 5,569-foot-long siding.

About half mile south of North Pole are two oil refineries which produce most of the gasoline, diesel and jet fuel for use throughout Alaska. The refineries are connected to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. The refineries produce several unit trains of product a day. The Anchorage Terminal receives products form the North Pole Refinery via Alaska Railroad tank cars, annually offloading about 35,000 rail cars. One refinery, Flint Hills, Alaska largest refinery produces 16% of the gasoline used in Alaska, accounts for up to 45% of the Alaska Railroad Corporation’s revenue, has historically provided up to 60% of the commercial jet fuel used at Ted Steven’s International Airport in Anchorage and up to 100% of the commercial jet fuel used at Fairbanks International Airport.

Petro Star, North Pole’s other refinery, built in 1985, is a 17,000 barrel-per-day refinery that produces kerosene, diesel and jet fuels. The entire refinery is operated by thirteen employees. As a fully automated refinery, the plant can be run by a single operator. This refinery operates 24 /365.

At mile post 17.6 we cross Laurance Road - Laurance Road heads run east-west between Richardson Highway and the refineries at North Pole.  The Alaska Railroad timetable indicated that SD70MAC locomotives are prohibited beyond mp 17.8. The track beyond this point is built with smaller rails and also is limited to 10 mph for all trains. So the train stops. The engineer gets out, walks to the other end of the train, boards that engine and we are ready to return to Fairbanks.

We were traveling retracing our steps for about four miles when we pass a short spur and stopped . The train reverses direction and travels down the spur. And just a short distance we arrive at a quarry. Gravel was being excavated with several large ponds of water in the quarry. The train stopped for several minutes so photo’s could be taken.

road side



stone lake

GPS waypoints:      64 48.856, -147 39.562

                                64 48.372, -147 39.855

Again the train reversed direction and we proceeded back down the spur and then on to the main.  

That little trip on that short spur was defiantly rare mileage. As a novice rail fan two new terms to understand are new miles and rare miles. A new mile is first time on that line or track. Rare mileage can be once in lifetime trip or detour of passenger train on freight line. The first time I rode the California Zephyr it was my new mileage but not rare. When I rode the south bound Coast Starlight detour thru Bakersfield that was rare mileage. Several of the conventioneers had been to Alaska before and had rode on the Alaska Railroad before so for many there aren’t going to be many new miles.

I learned many of the convention participants travel every year all over the country going to the conventions and getting rare and new mileage.

The representative from the Alaska Railroad was on board our train. The office had looked at old records and they could find no evidence of there ever being a passenger train being run on the North Pole branch.

So everybody on the train received not only new but rare mileage also today.

fort w

hill side

We proceeded thru the no photo zone and then on to Fairbanks. Back thru the neighborhoods and then on to Steese Expressway, across College Road. Arrival at the Fairbanks Station was next at around 12:30 PM.

De-training at the station and then into the waiting room. The gift shop was having a “closing for the season” sale. Starting Wednesday 9/18 the Fairbanks Store goes on its winter hours. They are closed Wednesday through Saturday and open Sunday 7am to 2 pm and Monday/ Tuesday 8am to  3:30 pm. The Aurora Winter Train runs on weekends only, northbound to Fairbanks on Saturdays, southbound to Anchorage on Sundays. I bought a ARR cap and waited in line with rest of big crowd. The main reason for the crowd was the Alaska Railroad (ARR) in cooperation with the NRHS was offering two excursion train trips to Saulich. So the waiting room was filled with travelers of all ages. And most were going to be taken their first train ride. These rides were offered to the residents of Fairbanks by the NRHS as a thank you for hosting the convention. The yellow jackets volunteered to be car attendants. The total for both trips was near 400 riders. Afterwards everyone said they had a good time epically the kids.

Sunday afternoon in Fairbanks 9/15/13

I took the next shuttle bus back to the Westmark and returned to my room about 2:30pm. Laid down for a short nap. After the nap then I got ready for the evening activities. Presentations in ball room of Fairbanks-Denali Park-Anchorage trip logistics followed by historical programs.

Went to hotel dinning room for dinner as it was close and convenient. Had a pulled pork sandwich, finished in time to make it to the presentations held down the hall.

Part of the presentation was the instructions for handling luggage for tomorrow’s trip to Denali over night and then on to Anchorage. Due to space and time limits only an overnight bag could be taken with you on the train. The rest of your luggage was to be checked in the hotel lobby and would be trucked to Anchorage and then sent to the Hilton if you were staying there other wise you will pick it up in the ARR station in Anchorage.
One of the presenters was the engineer who provided rides yesterday at Pioneer Park on the Tanana Valley Railroad # 1. He talked about the rebuilding of # 1 and the history of the Tanana Valley Railroad Museum.

Afterwards I went for a walk around the hotel buildings and notice the poles in the parking lots. One for each space. These are electrical outlets for you to plug in your engine blanket or heater for when you are parked in the below zero weather.  

Back in room, I repack my luggage for tomorrow’s train ride through the heart of Alaska.

fairbanks rt side

fair map

Contact info:

Alaska Railroad:

Tanana Valley Model Railroad Club:

Midnight Sun Game:

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Train ride to North Pole

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