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Problems with DEW Line freight hauls, March 1956

Arctic & Northern Military History and Issues

The Whitehorse Star - Thursday, March 8, 1956

Whitehorse Board of Trade Hits DEW Line Nerve - March 1956

    Whitehorse Board of Trade struck a nerve with the transportation bureau investigation of DEW Line freight hauling. The four-man special committee have aired revelations indicating disregard for Canadian sovereignty and Canadian contractors.

    Information they have collected shows Canadians were given no chance to bid on the giant mid-winter haul to DEW Line points out of Eagle, Alaska into the Yukon. Neither surface carriers nor airlines, apparently, were permitted a chance at the defense job although an exchange of notes between U.S. and Canadian governments preliminary to the work promised Canadian contractors wherever possible would be asked for bids.

    It appears, as well, customs and air transport board regulations have been by-passed and that licensing, compensation, income tax, duty and other regulations may have been ignored by those participating in the haul out of Alaska.

    Members of the special committee are C. E. Fisher, N. Gritzuk, F. A. Welbourne and E. Theed. They are considing sending a delegate to Ottawa to further the cause of Canadian carriers on DEW line jobs.

    Some idea of size of shipments was given by unconfirmed estimate that some million-and-a-half gallons of fuel oil went through Eagle within a past few days. They said a stockpile of 4,200 tons of freight destined for the job was stored at Valdez at one time recently.

    It is in the Alaska Freight Line haul that the diesel-electric "Land Train manufactured by Le Tourneau in the southern states was in use. The giant vehicles, each wheel of which is independently driven by its own motor, is capable of large tonnage loads but, observers say, it has not proved its efficiency. One view expressed was cats used in clearing a road for it could have hauled a larger load themselves without the land train.

    Freight haul is via Valdez to Eagle with Alaska Freight Lines as prime contractor. Yukoners argue a more suitable route would have been through Dawson, Mayo or Flat Creek or up Canol Road. Both Pat Callison and Pacific Western Airlines have indicated they were ready and willing to carry out flying jobs for the project but were not approached for bids.

    Committee members were concerned not only with present activities but also with future situation which, they said, in a letter to Aubrey Simmons January 31, may become worse if steps were not taken now to guarantee Canadian operators were at least given a chance to tender on DEW line requirements within Canada. They referred to the need for future annual supplies to the installation sites.

No Instructions

    In their letter to Mr. Simmons they said: "On January 12th, the air transport board were written jointly by Callison and Pacific Western, informing them of the situation and requesting their action. Before so doing, the Collector of Customs, the RCMP and the Army Signal Corps at Dawson were contacted and all advised they had received no instructions or information concerning any arrangement which would allow these people to travel in the Yukon as they are.

    This is the second year of Alaska Freight Line operation in Yukon Territory but they were incorporatd as a Canadian company only recently.

    Replying February 7, Mr. Simmons commented the matter of moving materials to DEW line sites was under investigation by the Minister of National Defence. He noted "there certainly are a number of points that require clarification." and added "the question in turn has been referred to the department of transport who are reviewing the problem and advise me that I can expect a detailed report about the end of the present week..."

    "It should be noted that the freight operations of the Alaska Freight Lines into Canadian Territory in connection with work on the DEW Line are under current review by interested Canadian Government Departments and that the whole subject was recently considered at a departmental meeting. It is understood that as a result of the meeting the Company officials are working with representatives of interested Canadian Departments at Ottawa to insure that their operations are brought ino line with the requirements of the Departments concerned."

    From Dawson, it was understood, many U.S. aircraft on DEW line work have flown in and out of the airport there, apparently, with little regard for air and custom regulations. In the last few weeks a customs officer left Dawson for Eagle, Alaska, presumably to attend belatedly to supervision of freight traffic into this country. The air transport board have shown great concern for activities in the area and are now investigating the entire set up.

    Local men expressed no knowledge of "tentative enquiries" Ottawa says were made regarding Canadian bids on the freight haul. They point out that there are men in the territory with many years experience in cat train work, whose experience could be used to advantage. It was felt sufficient backing could have been readily obtained to handle such a contract.

    Planes based at Dawson and Whitehorse could have serviced the trains.

    Preliminary route suggested was through Skagway, to Whitehorse by rail and on from this city by truck to the cat train base. It was further suggested a good portion of the materials could have been moved more cheaply by Dawson and Whitehorse based aircraft.

    Committee wondered if any Canadians had been employed during the winter of 1954-55 and whether those employed now with Alaska Freight Lines were taken on only after the transportation men had started their investigation. They were also curious as to whether regulations such as compensation, unemployment insurance, income tax, territorial licencing and so on had been attended to.

U.S. Planes Used

    February 18 Callison's Flying Services wrote board members to say: "They (Alaska Freight Lines) have been useing at least half a dozen different types of aircraft for the past three months. Have only started: using this Canadian Registered Beaver during the past ten days. The only reason for getting this Canadian aircraft is that after the pressure was put on them they are trying to cover up. Committee said March 2: "No flight plans have ever reached Canadian authorities in connections with the air operations out of Eagle, Alaska, Obviously, without this basic information, Search and Rescue officials never know when, or to what extent, they may be called on - or how much it might cost the Canadian taxpayers." They cited instances:

    Last December a small aircraft with two persons on board was lost and is not yet located. Later in December a Cessna 180 landed on the Blackstone River, receiving damage though no one was injured. Pieces of the aircraft were gathered up and hauled to Alaska. To the best of the committee's knowledge neither Canadian Customs nor the department of transport were advised.

    A Travelair made a forced landing 40 miles off course but its occupants were lucky enough to wind up near a cabin in the 40 below temperature.

    For 10 days a Fairbanks based Norseman was used to haul fuel oil from Norman Wells, NWT, to a cat train approximately 60 miles west of there. CPA, meanwhile, had two Otters based there.

    Last year's operations were from Eagle to the McKenzie Bay area near Shingle Point, Yukon. This year cat trains are moving out of Eagle, directly across the Yukon to connect with the Canol Rd. at or near Norman Wells. From there they head north-east. It is believed the trains pass directly north of Keno City by some 60 or 70 miles.

    Committee's view was a more economic routing would have been from a base at Flat Creek, Mayo or Elsa and the Canol Rd. Routes would have been shorter and follow terrain that appeared more practical.

    Concern was also expressed with regard to future use of the route through Eagle for development of Yukon resources. Territorial people wanted to be sure any project such as the Peel Plateau oil hunt, if successful, would feed out through this territory, not into Alaska. North-South roads, not Enst-West were the answer. They wanted Yukon resources charted and developed to advantage of Canadians.