Yukon Nuggets

1954 Yukon Nuggets

Haines-to-Fairbanks Pipeline


It wasn't the Yukon's first pipeline. The Canol line had been built in 1942, and included a line from Whitehorse to Skagway.

The eight-inch pipe-line, built in 1954 from Haines to Fairbanks, was a symbol, not of WWII, but of the cold war with Russia. It was designed to deliver low-cost quantities of jet fuel to Eielson Airforce Base in Alaska, used by the Strategic Air Command bombers. The 600-hundred mile line cost the American military 54 million dollars. Today, it would total about 400 million.

The pipeline was part of the American policy of deterrence during the frightening days of the Cold War.

Prior to 1955, fuel for Alaskan military bases was supplied by the Alaska Railroad at a delivery cost of ten cents a gallon from Anchorage to Fairbanks. Too expensive, said military planners. Fuel delivered by the eight-inch pipeline was a cent a gallon in shipping costs from Haines to Fairbanks.

The route from Haines to Fairbanks was selected because the Haines Highway provided a ready-made corridor. Haines had a deep-water, ice-free port, with docking facilities capable of handling large fuel tankers.

The pipe and construction materials began arriving in 1954, and were trucked to staging areas throughout Alaska, the Yukon and British Columbia. By the summer of 1955, the job was finished, and the first tanker arrived in Haines in June 1955.

The line ran from Haines, up the Chilkat River valley and paralleled the Haines Highway to Haines Junction. A pump station at 49 Mile lifted the fuel over the Chilkat Pass, the highest point on the entire line at 3600 feet. At Haines Junction, the line turned north along the Alaska Highway and headed for Eielson Air force Base.

The fuel was boosted over the summit and past Kluane Lake by a pump station ten miles north of Haines Junction. There was also a pump station at Destruction Bay and one south of the Donjek River.

The flow and pressure were constantly monitored at pump houses, in both the Yukon and Alaska, as the fuel ran to a terminal at Tok Junction to await a delivery to Eielson Air Force Base.

Storage facilities, at both Haines and Tok, could handle almost three hundred thousand barrels of fuel. The line carried a mixed bag of product at the same time including jet fuel, aviation gas, diesel and regular gasoline. Pressure inside the line prevented mixing of the different types of fuels.

The pipeline could deliver almost thirty thousand barrels of fuel per day. Well-trained American and Canadian professionals operated the system, including my brother Fred, who loved his work and the family life offered at the Destruction Bay pump house.

By the early 1970's, solid-fuel Minuteman missiles began replacing bombers and reduced the need for conventional fuel. The pipeline and pump stations were abandoned in 1971. The pipe was salvaged in 1991.

The Haines to Fairbanks pipeline had done its job. It was economical and safe. During sixteen years of operation, delivering milllions of barrels of fuel to the US Military in Alaska, not a single plane was lost because of bad fuel.


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.