Yukon Nuggets

  • The first in a line of army trucks at White River that composed the first convoy to travel from Whitehorse to Fairbanks. Date: November 20, 1942. Yukon Archives. R.A. Cartter fonds, #1501.

  • Army truck bogged down in the mud ruts along the temporary road with a cable on it to winch it out. Date: 1942. Yukon Archives. R.A. Cartter fonds, #1510.

1942 Yukon Nuggets

First Truck Over The Highway

Two young American soldiers made northern history back in September of 1942. Driving a Dodge half-ton weapons carrier, they left Dawson Creek and headed northwest into the history books.

Corporal Ottawa Gronke was from Chicago Illinois. Private Robert Bowe hailed from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Both were young soldiers working on construction of the Alaska Highway. On September 22nd, 1942, the pair left Mile 0 at Dawson Creek, bound for Whitehorse.

When they arrived in Whitehorse on September 27, they left behind them 1,030 of the most gruelling highway miles in the world. Hairpin turns, treacherous mud, and almost impossible grades made every mile an exciting adventure experience.

Proudly, their Dodge weapons carrier bore a sign saying " first truck, Dawson Creek to Whitehorse. Driving time 71 hours". Surprisingly, they had only one mechanical problem, a flat tire about 40 miles out of Whitehorse.

On November 18th, 1942, it was announced that Gronke and Bowe would drive the first truck of the first convoy from Whitehorse to Fairbanks. On the morning of November 20th, at Soldiers Summit, officials from Canada and the U.S. joined hands across a red, white and blue ribbon to officially cut the ribbon and open the highway.

Gronke and Bowe were in their little weapons carrier followed by a small caravan of heavy-duty trucks. They rolled forward at the drop of the ribbon with the first load of freight for Fairbanks, arriving in the Alaska town in 32 elapsed driving hours.

Gronke and Bowe were the first to travel the entire length of the Alaska Highway.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.