Chapter XVI: Whittier and Marty

Wednesday, July 5, Whittier and Eagle River.

It was bound to happen sooner or later.  After all, this is Alaska.  Yes, it had finally rained.  It was falling fairly steadily which forced me to break out my rain gear for the first time during the trip.  Drats!  This would also make it tougher to get decent photos.  To make matters, the barge had already been unloaded in the wee hours of the morning.  I had missed it.

Thus, it was an easy decision to become an armchair photographer.  I drove around town and when I saw a picture I wanted, I simply rolled down the window and snapped it.  I was lazy, but I was dry.  There really isn't very much to Whittier so I completed my photographic safari in under an hour.  I drove through the rail yard and found Frank sitting in locomotive 2004 waiting for the Difco dump cars to be filled with gravel.  While talking with Frank, I kept an eye out for Pat Durand..

The rain had almost stopped when Pat Durand arrived at 9:45 a.m.  He brought Marty Quaas, a seven year Alaskan with a fetish for Western railroads, with him to share in the tour.  I hopped in the van and got my cameras and voice recorder ready.   I knew Pat would make for an ideal guide since he lived in Whittier as a boy and knew the old stories and where old buildings used to stand

Pat began by pointing out where the lumber company once stood using an old photograph from a book.  He then pointed out the locations of various military buildings, parade grounds and Quonset huts which had long since vanished.  My favorite part of the tour was the old Buckner building.  This building was actually a city in a box during World War II.  It had apartments, theater, bowling alley, hospital, jail, etc.  Old abandon structures really fascinate me so I confess to poking my head into several of the rooms n the building.  It was almost creepy, a darkened building with moss growing on the floor, mineral stalactites hanging from the ceiling and broken window glass crunching under our feet.  We then toured other locations such as the old docks, the salmon runs, fire station, etc.  Pat was kind enough to have brought lunch for us and we ate at the edge of the bay.

Buckner exterior Buckner interior
Buckner building Interior of Buckner building

It was finally time to close the door on Whittier and head back through the tunnel.  Since Pat had some errands to do in Anchorage, he suggested Marty and I ride together to the Durand house and meet up there.  Traveling from one side of the mountain to the other is like night a day.  On the Whittier side, things were gloomy, cold, gray and drizzly.  On the other side of the mountain, we found sunshine, warmth and blue skies with puffy white clouds.  During the drive, Marty and I caught the southbound empty Grandview train and I couldn't resist getting a shot of it.  Once in Anchorage, we stopped to refuel my little rental gas hog.  As we entered the gasoline station, we heard a crash and saw a three car collision on the main rode beside us.  Although no one seemed hurt, the cars were pretty crunched up.  Note to myself: start driving more carefully.

Once we got to Pat's, we regrouped and headed for Marty's place.  Now Marty's house must be seen to be believed.  The living room and kitchen area has beautiful natural log walls, knotty pine ceiling and hardwood floor.  Few feelings rival the thrill of gazing across the river and into the snow covered mountains through their enormous picture window.  As if the trip had not spoiled me enough already, I was seated at the end of the dining room table so I could soak in this incredible view while Marty's wife Agnes served an awesome dinner of meat loaf, baked potatoes, baked beans, bread and coleslaw.  This was my first home cooked meal in over three weeks so I did my best to pack it away.

CWRR Marty

Next, it was time to submerge into Marty's basement to  experience his Consolidated South Western Railroad HO scale layout.  This mammoth double level layout features 350 feet of double mainline, a huge roundhouse, dozens of industries, trestles, a helix and a sophisticated digital command control system.  It must be seen to be believed!  It takes a minimum of ten minutes to get a train around the entire layout.  Marty also has very elaborate operating sessions once a month.  During these sessions a dispatcher can give orders to 15-25 people running their own locomotives and consists.  I must admit that I have never seen a finer layout than that of Marty Quaas.

Beast 1807 Eklutna
The beast! The frame of #1807 Eklutna gravel pit

While finishing up the tour, Pat's son Casey joined us.   Casey had flown in from his job on the north slope just to spend a couple of days with me.  Wow!  Casey and I soon split so we could check out a few of the lessor known treasures of the Alaska Railroad.  We first stopped by the Durand homestead to swap my rental car for Casey's truck.  Did I say truck?  I meant to say beast!  This growling brute can make seemingly remote areas easily accessible while still being quite a chick magnet.  We checked out the abandon frame of locomotive 1807 at Birchwood and the gravel pit and Difco dump cars at Eklutna.

Returning to the Durand homestead, Casey gave me the executive tour of all his past, present and future modeling projects.  As Randy Thompson once confided to me, "Those nicely detailed units I sent you are cat toys compared to the incredible ones produced by Casey Durand."  Indeed, Casey kitbashes models until they are exact replicas of existing Alaska Railroad equipment, right down to the weathered look.  Through many years of trial and error (plus a few choice words from his father) he has become a master craftsman.    A rainbow of models were brought out of cabinets, shelves and drawers and I stood in awe of his expertise.  Alas, I only wish Casey had enough time to custom make a few items for me.

Through prior arrangements, I had the Durand's mega motor home for my night's lodging.  It was indeed a treat to finally sleep in a bed again.

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