1947 Yukon Nuggets
Alaska Highway Opens - 2
The bitter memory of World War II was fading by 1947. North Americans were optimistic. TIME magazine carried a special feature on a new land of adventure and promise. The far north was on everyone's mind.
The magazine reported that by boat, plane and car, hundreds of Americans were moving toward the last great U.S. frontier - Alaska. Up the Alaska Highway through some of the world's most majestic mountains and the continent's most unpeopled wilderness, as many as twenty families a day were driving. Their earthly goods were strapped to their cars. Most of them were looking for a home. 'What would the new pioneer's find?' was the question posed by TIME.
The answer? A vast land - raw, primitive and barely scratched by civilization after eighty years of U.S. ownership. A frontier society - easygoing and vigorous.
It was a land of opportunity - but at the price of a stiff endurance test. To beckon the pioneers on was the promise of an economic boom begun by the war and protracted by the proximity of Russia.
Aviation was booming, thanks to the Army's frantic wartime construction, and to war surplus sales. In 1947, a used DC-3 sold for twenty-five thousand dollars. Alaska had twenty-seven major airports. Five hundred and eighty-two commercial airplanes were registered within the Territory where there had been only 157 in 1945.
Pan American Airways offered daily flights north from Seattle. The biggest boom was in military construction. Across Bering Strait Russia, is only 52 miles away, reported TIME. Arctic and Pacific defense loomed large in U.S. military thinking, and Alaska loomed large in both.
Alaska-based B-29s flew routine missions over the North Pole, and the Army and Navy were pumping men, and millions of dollars, into the Territory. At Mile 26 on the Richardson Highway near Fairbanks, the Army was rushing construction of one of the world's biggest airfields, to be called Elmendorf, while improving Ladd Field and repairing installations at Nome.
These huge construction jobs meant huge payrolls. Into Fairbanks alone, in June 1947, Pan American Airlines was flying 2,500 laborers, cat skinners, carpenters. Alaskans drink an ironic toast: "Here's to Joe Stalin - Alaska's best friend," and speculate endlessly on rumors of similar activity in Siberia.
Alaskans voted three-to-two in favour of statehood, which would come two years later in 1949. The most exciting news of 1947 came from the Navy's Petroleum Reserve Number Four in the Arctic.
TIME said that Texas roughnecks, toiling 180 miles from Point Barrow, sank a well and struck amazing oil that poured like beer and smelled like gasoline. Some geologists think that a great untapped pool of oil lies under this patch of the Arctic.
Yes, in 1947, when the Alaska Highway opened, so did the soon-to-become State of Alaska.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.