1966 Yukon Nuggets
Moving the SS Klondike
There are strange things done in the midnight sun, perhaps none stranger or more spectacular than, back in the June of 1966, when the old sternwheeler SS Klondike made her final voyage.
Back in the the summer of 1966, the Klondike sat in the shipyards alongside the Whitehorse and the Casca, aging, rusting hulks of the once proud fleet of boats which plied the Yukon River. The Klondike, however, would begin a new life on June 10th of that year.
Kunze and Olsen Construction had been contracted by the federal government to move the boat through the streets of Whitehorse to its present site at the south end of Second Avenue. But how to move a 1300 ton, 210-foot-long sternwheeler? No problem. Chuck Morgan had the answer. Chuck was in charge of the project. He designed a cradle of steel beams to be fitted underneath the flat bottom boat. Then he placed large wooden planks in front, attached heavy steel cables to the ship, and pulled it along with three TD 24 Caterpillars.
The boat wasn’t about to get any speeding tickets. It moved at a snails pace, but move it did - down First Avenue to Taylor and Drury’s car dealership, across their parking lot to Second Avenue and along Second to the final resting site. It arrived safe and sound on July 16th, 1966.
There were many oddities in this project. To ensure the boat and its cradle would move smoothly, Palmolive soap was spread over the wooden pads. The workers used so much soap that the whole town prayed that it wouldn’t rain or Whitehorse would have been the cleanest capital in the world. The steel girders, used as the cradle, came from the Peace River bridge which had collapsed in 1958. Hydro lines had to be taken down so the ship’s smoke stack could move safely through the streets.
A classic picture shows the Klondike parked at the corner of First and Main beside the old Taylor and Drury department store… a stop sign in clear view. The movers obviously obeyed the law. An informal ceremony was held on the deck of the Klondike on July 16th. Mayor Howard Firth presented Captain Chuck Morgan with a gold miniature of the sternwheeler and, thanks to the work of Ed Jacobs, the old riverboat whistle blew once again.
The Klondike has become a major tourist attraction over the years as millions of dollars have been spent to ensure the boat looks like it did back in the 50s when it plied the river from Whitehorse to Dawson.
So next time you pass by or visit the Klondike, think back to that warm July day in 1966, with the boat parked on First Avenue and the townsfolk praying for clear skies.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.