The Alcan Hwy


Who knows what Alaska would be like today if not for the events of WWII.  Seen as a stategic, as well as an extremely vunerable corordor of the North American continent durring the war, the U.S. military spent billions carving up the landscape so “people could use it,” as well as defend North American from the Japanese.  One of the many projects at this time was the Alaska-Canada Highway.

Said to be the greatest engineering feat durring WWII, the Alcan was completed in less than nine months using seven U.S. Army Corps of Engineer regiments.  Because the army was still segregated and blacks could not fight in combat, four of the seven regiments were “CLD” (colored).  The other three were white and in some cases durring construction they would work towards eachother in competition; at least one observer said that the black regiments would often win.  There is a picture in John S. Whitehead’s “Completing the Union,” that shows a black man and a white man shaking hands at the joining of their opposite stretches of road.  It is quite powerful!


Battling subzero temperatures, permafrost, frostbite, gail-force winds, horifying clouds of mosquitoes, and the occasional brown bear encounter, these regiments (mostly trained in the deep south) completed the Alcan in record time.  Using aerial surveys and local guides, the regiments cut an artery through the Northern Rockies and Yukon so that Alaska could be supplied.  Work was able to go so fast because the D-8 “dozers” they used could knock down 100-year-old spruce trees in seconds; then the troops would come in and limb the trees and lay them tightly perpendicular to the course of the road to establish a foundation called “corduroy.”  Then feet of gravel and rock would be laid on the corduroy and a you would have a road.  Bridges and culverts seemed to be the time consumer.

Just thought this might blow yer skirt up.


One Response

  1. That is a fascinating history…I’ve got alot (as I’m sure many do) of great memories driving the Alcan.

    My favorite is the way folks seem to form a cohort when all the roadtrippers hop off the ferry in Haines and are headed in the same northerly direction…I remember when I did the first leg of the trip alone one year and all the bikers and a few families that were in my “cohort” looked out for me. Different ones of us would bump into each other at customs, the gas station in Haines Junction, the restaurant in Haines Junction, a few other various little stops (I think the Kluane Lake lookout area/bathrooms) and even Fast Eddies in Tok!

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