All in a Day's Work

Portraying the various types of work and special challenges that occur along the rails of the Alaska Railroad



Tunnel Section in the early 1980's (before the new heated/insulated portals were built) required a tremendous amount of labor to keep the tunnels from icing over. The object was to keep the water flowing in the ditch as well as to slow down the formation of ice on the ceiling and walls.

The standard daily routine was to load up a pushcar with 20# charcoal bags, top off the barrel of diesel and head down through the tunnels. After picking ice that had formed over the rails overnight, you would start emptying the previous night's ashes (a dirty, dirty job) from the 55 gallon drums that were cut in half to make the pots. After dumping a couple of bags of charcoal into each pot, you would go down the line...douse the charcoal with a generous amount of diesel and drop a fusee into each pot. The last thing you did for the day was to make sure that all of the pots were still going and that the ones sitting under the drips had their lids (corrugated tin pieces) on them. There was nothing worse than coming out the next morning and finding that you had pots where the fire went out and they were now froze into the ice. Not only did it take a lot of extra effort to get the pot out, often times the pot would incur a hole at the bottom from using picks to retrieve it. If a hole occurred, you wouldn't know it until the next time you used it and the water in the ditch put the fire out again and the process started all over again.

Working pots in the Tunnels is one of the few jobs that a person can be cold, hot, wet and filthy all in a one hour period. It was here that I became familiar with the miracle fabric....polypropylene!!