Train ride to North Pole
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
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
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
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.)
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
I walked around the area and then down to the street crossing. I
like the street light post painted as candy canes.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Back in room, I repack my luggage for tomorrow’s train ride
through the heart of Alaska.
Alaska Railroad: www.AlaskaRailroad.com
Tanana Valley Model Railroad Club: www.tvmrr.org
Midnight Sun Game: www.goldpanners.com