Whittier in the 1960s

Whittier yard trrop train

Whittier Troop Train - Taken March 1960. At the time the military was still bringing most of their people into the state (but only a state for a year!!) by ship through Whittier (usually) and sometimes Seward (my wife first arrived in Alaska on a troop ship through Seward). When the ships arrived, the railroad would run troop trains into Whittier to move the troops and their personal baggage and equipment to either Anchorage or Fairbanks. Sometimes these trains would run as Passenger extras, at other times the would move as advance or second sections of scheduled trains. The latter is the case in this instance where the train is running southbound as a second three (notice that there are no green indicator lights displayed which would indicate a first section), the regular southbound Anchorage-Whittier passenger train. Note that this train is on track five in the yard (the dock lead) rather than running down the main line into the station at the south end of the yard. Notice also that this train is running with troop kitchen cars for food service as well as regular 30 and 40 series coaches along with some 20 series cars on the rear. This happened more frequently during the winter when the 30 and 40 series cars were not needed for the Fairbanks trains. During the summer these trains would sometimes show up with nothing but 20 series cars and troop sleepers. I also have a photo of the Navy troop ship, at the Whittier dock, that was associated with this rail move.

These trains almost always ran with a single FP-7, the only time that a 1500 usually got into Whittier at the time. This was one of the reasons that the railroad had 3 FP-7's. During the summer two were used on trains 5 and 6, the Fairbanks passenger trains, while one was available either for backup or, more usually, for the Whittier troop trains. In the winter it was the same situation with two FP-7's needed for trains 7 and 8, the tri-weekly overnight trains, and one used for the Whittier troop trains. Anytime that you see a photo of a passenger train south of Anchorage between 1953 and 1962 with only one FP-7 you can be almost certain it was a Whittier troop train. Special trains running to Seward (there were no regular Seward passenger trains after 1955), unless only one or two cars, always required more that one unit while the regular Whittier passenger trains usually ran with 1000 or 1001 as power until the arrival of the 1800's and conversion of the Whittier passenger train into a mixed (#23 and 24).

Finally, as you know, this day represents a particularly spectacular winter day for Whittier

John Gray

Maynard Mountain looms in the background of this photo of the windswept Whittier yard in an early spring day sometime in the mid 1950's.   The white fuel tanks on the right are product receiving from the ARMY finger pier that extended out to deep water to the right.  Just behind the white tanks are the Union Oil Tank farm facilities and the roof of the Union Oil building can be seen just over the train.  Beyond that can be seen the domed top of the slash burner and the twin smoke stacks of the Colombia Lumber saw mill.

Truck mounted rotary snow plows were used to clear the yard.   A full section crew spent the winter just cleaning switch points and digging out the low mounted ground throws that would soon plug again with drifting snow.

Pat Durand

The troop ship at the dock was typical of the ships the navy operated up the coast at that time. They had yet to to get fully into the charter/contract mode that they use today although some movements were already starting to happen on commercial vessels. As with much of what happened along the coast at that time the ship is from the World War II era. In addition to the Navy Passenger vessels there were also WW II T-2 tankers in use for the petroleum movements into the territory. Remember, at this time there were no refineries north of the Pacific Northwest.
If you were to turn around from where the troop train pictures were taken you would see the south end of the Whittier yard and, more importantly, the Buckner Building. Besides serving as the principal administrative headquarters, troop barracks and and center for the port's support functions, the building also played a role in the inbound and outbound transport of troops. Obviously, the ships could easily bring in or take out far more troops than the railroad could move in and out of the port in a single train. This was long before the railroad developed the capacity that has been around from the 1980's to move cruise ship traffic. Thus, to make the whole troop movement process work you had to have a way to keep them "in storage" to allow the railroad to work off the surge that most ships created. This is a characteristic common to all port-rail operations for all commodities. The Buckner building had the capacity to provide temporary living space for enough troops, officers and dependents to manage the surge.
Snow 1030
The above two slides were taken inside the Whittier engine house. The photo of 1030 was taken on the center track in the engine side of the house. The building had five tracks, three of them on the engine side of the building. These had track pits for inspection underneath the locomotives. The other two tracks were built for coach and caboose storage and servicing but, by this time, were used almost exclusively for heavy equipment maintenance. This is the use you see in the photo. The photo of 1030 is one of my favorites simply because of the lighting in the engine house at the time. 1030 had become a pretty standard fixture around Whittier by this time. She was used along with 1031 in both yard work and on the daily or twice daily turns to Portage that connected with the Seward freight trains. Both of them had been in town for years.
Mild blizzard
The final slide in the series was taken out at the first tunnel door later in the day after both the passenger trains (#4 and the troop train-probably operating as second #4) had left town. It shows pretty clearly how changeable the weather in Whittier can be. The earlier slides show a sunny, calm day that was the exception in Whittier any time of year. By the time of the last photo, it is still clear but the wind has come up and drifting has started. My father, who was section foreman in Whittier from 1953 to 1958 has told me of times that they would finish clearing the main line only 30 minutes ahead of the afternoon northbound passenger train (#4) and that, if there was enough fresh snow and wind, the train would get stuck between the depot and the first tunnel.
Whittier 1964
Valorie Booyer, September 4, 2008: I just stumbled on your website for the first time today, I wish I had done so along time ago, it is fantastic. My father was Ralph Lowe, I noticed you have the article on your website."Portrait of a Railroader" he held #1 seniority position in the transportation department when he retired as the Trainmaster in 1989 and even then he did not want to retire. The railroad was his life and therefore our life. I often tell people my favorite smell is creasote and the ocean air in Whittier. [This photo] is of Whittier about 1964-65.

Page created on 8/14/08 and last updated 9/20/08
© 2008 John Gray unless otherwise noted