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Serving the Motorized Units That Built the Alcan Highway

Serving the Motorized Units That Built the Alcan Highway

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Published by Steven Howell

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Published by: Steven Howell on Feb 16, 2012
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02/16/2012

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N
EW Y
ORK
3600
,
 
[EDMONTON
1215-iv
.-
LOW/ER POST 151
LIARD RIVER
8.. 1
WHITEHORSE
-'2
2
TESLIN
172
SERVICING THE
THAT BUILT THE
By Harold McKeever
T
EMPERATURES that went down
to 76° below zero—a 1,500 mile
highway to build through almost
impenetrable forest—and nothing to livein but tents, or quickly constructed huts.
That gives some idea of the terrific job
facing the Army and Civilian contractors,
in building the Alcan Highway—a mili-
tary road over which a stream of menand munitions is now flowing to smash
the Japs. It's a story of high courage,
engineering skill, and the adaptation ofingenious mechanical ability to automo-
tive service problems—problems that had
to be solved with the help of lathe,
welder and other shop equipment withwhich good mechanics make new partsout of old ones.
Some day the Alcan Highway may be
the world's most interesting road for
tourists—a road dotted with hotels, re-
sorts, camps, service stations and hot
dog stands. Today, however, it is strictly
a military highway, and, at that, a very
arduous one to travel. Consider, for ex-
ample, that the round trip from Chi-
cago to Fairbanks is 8,000 miles and youhave some picture of the distance, while
the highway itself is 1,500 miles fromthe end of the farthermost rail line in
(Left) The author beside one of the sginposts on the Akan Highway(Right) An unusually straight streteh of the
great highway
 
Northwestern Canada up to Fort Nelsonand White Horse, and on into Fairbanks,
Alaska.
Yes, the same general methods thatkeep cars and trucks running in your
own home town were used to keep trac-tors, bulldozers and other road makingequipment in operating condition, but
At first over ten thousand engineer
troops lived in hastily erected tentramps. Later tent. were winterised
or replaced by warm insulated huts
it couldn't have been done without thatvital something that inspires men to winagainst all odds.
Take for example a night in Novem-
ber with the temperature down to zeroand buck private grease monkeys work-ing through the night in bitter cold with
lanterns, to lubricate service trucks bare-
Snow is windrowed along the outer
shoulder as a safety aid
handed in half open pits—and nary a
grumble or gripe. Consider also a bunch
of lonesome boys in the Northwoods-
ten thousand of them from the engineer-
ing regiments—many of whom hadn't
seen a woman in seven months.
And the story of Alcan also brings the
memory of a fine young Captain whotook pity on the author of this article
and kept him over night in his tent at a
point five hundred miles up the high-way when there was no other place to
sleep. "Look," said the Captain, revealing
a thumbed radiogram which said: "Con-
gratulations on a job well done." But
what it left unsaid was how this Captain
This "Caterpillar" track-type tractor hauls a trailer-load of supplies over on unfinished
pioneer road
../1•
maa
ss
s
."e.
Fleets of dozers widened the pioneer cut by side-casting trees, roots and humus to the clearing
edges. This Is a Caterpillar diesel with LeTourneau angledozer.
 
Diesel tractor with blade grader, grading • section of the highway
could spend the period of spring isola-
tion, getting set to build road at the
earliest moment of summer.
Tons of machinery parts were
flown
north, by bush flyers who set snow-
shoed planes down on frozen lakes. Simi-
lar drama was enacted at the other entrypoints. Up in Alaska one contractor flew
fifteen hundred men into the interior to
get going.
How They Went At the Job
The first idea in planning actual con-
struction was this: The U. S. Army regi-ments would build a rough pioneer "tote
road," and civilian contractors would
come in and build a wide parallel high-
way of a more permanent character.
That's the way work was started at the
southern end. But in a few weeks all
hands saw the necessity for joining
forces and "working like hell" on the
best possible single road.Actually, the Army pioneered about 85
31
per cent of the road, and the contractor
outfits followed in their wake, widening,
straightening, cutting down steep hills
and strengthening the roadway with
gravel. Contractors pioneered four
stretches amounting to about 200 miles
of excellent highway. Some of their work
matched the Army's for speed, resource-fulness and war-spirit.
When it came to actual construction
the American bulldozer was king. Bull-dozers and choppers felled probably ten
million trees, to clear a 60 to 100 foot
patch through the dense forest.First a bulldozer operator attacked the
woods along a line of trees which the
surveyors had tagged with red
rags.
With
his sharp 'dozer blade he severed shal-low side roots (northern trees have no
big tap roots) then pushed the trees
over, clearing a narrow path a few hun-dred feet ahead. Next came
a
half dozen
more tractors, which scraped trees, roots
and forest humus to one side like piles
and his boys had felled trees, hewn logs
and thrown a 200-foot trestle across an
icy, turbulent river in three days and
nights—all accomplished through an in-genious scheme and with meager equip-
ment, yet without getting a single man
"dunked."
World's Biggest Roadbuilding Fleet
The interesting fact about Alcan's con-struction is that no new tricks were used.
Just time-tried American roadbuilding
methods, employing standard models ofAmerican tractors, bulldozers, scrapers,
power shovels, air compressors and
trucks. Aided by fifty-five American and
Canadian contractors under the U. S.
Public Roads Administration, the Army
"ganged up" on the job, blazing trail
simultaneously from many working
fronts, with the biggest fleet of road-
building equipment in history. Back inthe States, long before the 1942 spring
30
thaw, the vast, intricate job of planningsupply lines and strategy and assemblingand shipping equipment, camp supplies
and troops had been organized and gotten
under way—a dramatic chapter as yetpractically untold. The wilderness wasinvaded from three working bases—at
the southern end; at midpoint via
Skagway and the narrow-gauge rail line
over the mountains to Whitehorse; and
into the Alaskan end through the port
of Valdez.Knowing that time was the essence, the
first U. S. Corps of Engineer troops en-
tered the southern end a month before
the scheduled time of the awful bottom-
less spring thaw that hits the north
country. In this month, working and liv-
ing out in the blizzards at 25 to 40
below, our soldiers scattered great quanti-
ties of equipment and supplies along
through the woods to Fort Nelson, es-
tablishing base camps where the men
Cheeking the bulldozer hydraulic control on one of the heavy unite

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