Click image for larger version
Product #: 7064
5 1/2" by 8 1/2"
40 b&w photos
Fairbanks, Alaska, circa 1944 maps
Pub Date: April 2010
The nice thing about Fairbanks, my dad liked to joke, was that no matter what direction you took out of town, you soon
arrived in Nowhere.
Boom Town Boy
©2010 Jack de Yonge
He meant the wilderness, the wild, the bush, untamed nature-whatever one called it, the very thing that had attracted him
and many others to the remote center of the vast territory bigger than all the western states put together.
Thousands had rushed to Alaska's interior to scramble for gold, of course, most with a dream of filling pokes with
nuggets after a couple of summers and then sailing home to the "states"-or "Outside" as we called anyplace
that wasn't Alaska--to lord it over the timid sods who had lingered behind.
Some arrived (and still do) having fled faraway troubles. Nobody much cared. Fairbanks became a place
where you could restart your life. It was the end of the road, literally.
Others, like my dad and mom, came for other reasons-he to work and hunt and fish and poke around the
bush in his spare time. She with no choice in the matter, arriving as a toddler born in Dawson,
Yukon Territory, Canada, during the Klondike Gold Rush.
By the time I was born there, Fairbanks still was very remote.
Though in numbers far reduced from gold rush days, paddle-wheeled river boats still churned the Yukon
and Tanana Rivers during the short but intense summers, hauling people and freight around Alaska's outback.
Another route to the states was south over the Richardson Highway, a potholed lane barely the width
of a car that was dusty, icy, or muddy, depending on the season. The road meandered through forests,
over bare uplands, and across glaciered mountains passes on a spine-crunching, 300-mile drive to the
town of Valdez on saltwater. From there, Seattle's docks lay a week away.
The Alaska Railroad linked Fairbanks with Anchorage 365 miles to the southeast and 105 miles beyond to Seward,
another small saltwater settlement with shipping to Seattle.
As a little boy, holding my dad's hand, I gazed up with amazement at the shiny Lockheed Lodestar that Pan
American Airways landed at Weeks Field, the old Fairbanks ballpark that bush pilots had converted into an
unpaved landing field with hangers. PAA touted this flight as the beginning of scheduled commercial air
passenger service between Fairbanks and Seattle. World War II crimped that.
Aside from a handful of roadhouses, decaying mining camps and Indian villages, Fairbanks provided most of the
civilization, such as it was, for hundreds of miles in all directions.
It was a tiny, isolated town, a short walk away from wilderness where a boy could-and did- find adventure.