1943 Yukon Nuggets
Danville, Illinois is a town of about 33,000 people located 120 miles south of Chicago. It is the birthplace of actors Dick Van Dyke, Gene Hackman and famed Hollywood dancer Donald O’Connor. But for the Yukon, Danville is important not for actors, but for an American infantry private.
It is the birthplace of Carl K. Lindley, the homesick GI of company D of the US Corp. of Engineers, whose sign near Watson Lake started the Alaska Highway signpost forest. The sign read "Danville, Illinois, 2835 miles." One day some years ago, Carl Lindley told me how he came to paint the name of his hometown at that location. He had arrived in Dawson Creek in March 1942 with the first group of GIs who were assigned to begin building the pioneer military road to Alaska.
In February 1943, his company "D" was sent to the Liard River area to build a sawmill to cut trees for logs needed to repair bridges. Then the squad moved to the border of the Yukon and BC, near Lower Post. One day they were building a loading platform for gravel trucks. There was an accident and Lindley's feet were run over by a truck. He was taken to a regimental aid station at the intersection of the new Alaska Highway and the existing road leading to the Watson Lake airport.
Though not badly hurt, he couldn’t walk very well and was unable to work on heavy construction. So his company commander put him to work painting roadside signs and regimental numbers on various pieces of equipment. One day in February 1943, Carl was ordered to repaint a sign on the road which had been damaged by a bulldozer.
When he finished that little job, he decided to paint the name of his hometown on a board and nail it to the same post. Carl Lindley painted the words "Danville, Illinois, 2835 miles" Thus began the tradition of painting place names along the Alaska Highway which continues to this day as the world- famous Watson Lake signpost forest. This tradition has continued through the years as highway travellers bring every kind of sign imaginable to place in the forest. The signs numbering almost fifty thousand come from all over the world.
In August of 1943, Carl Lindley, and other members of his company D of the US Corp. of Engineers, was a sent back to the United States for further infantry training. Then they sailed to England in October 1943 and took part in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day in 1944, and the infamous Battle of the Bulge.
Carl Lindley passed away in 2002 at the age of 83. But his role in the history of the Alaska Highway is forever etched in that single board attached to a makeshift pole at Mile 635 of the Alcan Road in February 1943.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.