ExploreNorth, your resource center for exploring the circumpolar North

Return to the Home Page The ExploreNorth Blog About ExploreNorth Contact ExploreNorth

Search ExploreNorth

Pioneer Alaska Bus Companies

This article appeared on page 23 of the Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) on Monday, September 16, 1946. A longer version of this story, with no byline, appeared on page 10 of The News-Chronicle (Shippensburg, Pennsylvania) on Tuesday, September 24, 1946.

By William Strand
(Chicago Tribune Press Service)

    ON THE ALCAN HIGHWAY, Sept. 15 - A trip on this thorofare, built under the stress of war, is rigorous but too beautiful to be monotonous.

    It takes two days to go 620 miles from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Whitehorse, Y. T., with a night stopover at Burwash Landing in the Yukon. You drive 14½ hours that first day, covering 440 miles. If you are lucky the last few hours will be in the moonlight.

    The second day is shorter with only 180 miles to go. Lack of way stations prevents a more equal division of that journey.

    The O'Harra Bus Lines, which also serve Anchorage, Valdez, Circle City and other centers with road connections, operate three runs weekly over this stretch of the Alcan. Connecting buses, operated by the British Yukon Navigation company, make the 900 mile run over the rest of the highway to Dawson Creek, Alta., twice a week.

Beautiful Scenery

    Dawson Creek is the southern terminus, with road and rail links to Edmonton, thence to eastern Canada and the United States.

    The Fairbanks-Whitehorse route has some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the world. The road, an engineering marvel, was driven thru one of the harshest wildernesses in this hemisphere. It is vast frontier land once known only to Indians and a few Klondikers.

    Speeding along the highway's firm gravel surface, travelers now sometimes go for many hours without seeing another human. But the sight of bear or moose is not uncommon.

    The Tanana river valley and, farther south, the foothills of the St. Elias range are a riot of autumn colors, altho natives assert the sights will be far more striking after the first frost. The birch and poplars have turned a deep gold, forming a brilliant backdrop for the green of the spruce. Willows, ragweeds, and wild grass begin at the road's edge and disappear into the forests, a tangled mass of almost impenetrable underbrush.

Solitude Impressive

    But most impressive is the solitude that hangs over the country. Bus passengers expressed amazement at the absence of traffic on the 28 foot thorofare. In two days they saw less than a dozen other vehicles except for road graders and other equipment operated by the highway maintenance crews.

    Hundreds of miles separate stopping points where gasoline and food are available. Gasoline, which must be hauled into the interior by rail and distributed by truck, is costly; tires and tubes are virtually unobtainable. As nearly as possible, motorists are required to be self-sustaining for the entire journey before being allowed to venture on the highway.

Pauses for Breakfast

    The Whitehorse bus leaves Fairbanks at 8 a. m. and pauses briefly at 10 a. m. for breakfast at a small roadhouse. The lunch stop is about three hours later at Tok junction in the Tanana river valley.

    "I just ate breakfast," remonstrated a woman passenger. "I think I'll wait for dinner."

    The driver, Douglas Hendry, who has been driving on the highway since it was opened and before that drove a tractor for a construction gang when it was being built, eyed her good humoredly.

    "Lady," he replied, "on this line you eat when the food is available. When we leave here you won't get another meal until 10:30 tonight."