Chapter IX: Hurricane Gulch

Wednesday, June 28th, Fairbanks and Talkeetna.

We were on the road by 7:50 a.m. after a quick thanks to Curt for a great night's lodging.  Stopping at Fred Meyer, we picked up donuts and bananas (Randy) for breakfast.  We caught the southbound passenger train at Happy at 8:33 a.m. and chewed up some more film.  We then chased it to Nenana, but the train proved to be faster and thus denied us pictures.

Trailers MOW car

Further down the road, we popped out of the hazy smoke filled skies and into some real cloud cover for a change.  At 12:33 p.m. we arrived at the Hurricane section house for a walk to Hurricane Gulch Bridge.  To the south of the section house are trailers owned and inhabited by the section employees.  These hard working folks supply their own housing (i.e. trailers) and food, receiving per diem and minimal wages.  Close by was an old orange gas powered MOW car and several work crews on high rail trucks.

We began the three mile walk noticing the tracks looked great and the mosquitoes did not.  Note: walking on railroad tracks is considered trespassing and is strictly prohibited.  At milepost 282, we encountered an empty northbound tank train terminated by caboose 1072.  A northbound passenger train caught us at milepost 283 and engineer Frank Sheppard gave us a friendly wave.  To round out our rail experience, a high rail truck passed us near the 284 milepost.  This made for a neat trip since we were encountering something every mile of the hike.  At 1:30 p.m. we finally arrived at Hurricane Gulch Bridge.  We checked out suitable sites to photograph the train crossing the 297 foot high bridge.  We munched on a box of Wheat Thins and guesstimated the train would arrive between 3:00 and 3:30 p.m.  Surprise!  The southbound passenger train arrived at 2:45 p.m. and I went sliding wildly down the dirt hill to get to my chosen photo spot.  The train was moving slowly to give the passengers plenty of time to view and photograph the gulch which in turn gave Randy and I ample time to get in half a dozen shots of our own.  Having accomplished one of Randy's lifetime goals, we headed back to the Hurricane section house.  We retrieved seven glass insulators from a fallen telegraph pole and carried them out with us.  At 3:58 p.m. we returned to the Hurricane section house and were greeted by Roadmaster Steve Love.  Steve was such a well liked individual that his fellow employees choose him to represent them in the driving of the golden spike at the 75th anniversary ceremony.  We took some last minute photos, stowed our gear and headed to Talkeetna.

Dog Talkeetna Depot

As soon as we arrived in Talkeetna, we headed to the depot and met Jack MacDonald, Talkeetna station agent.  Also providing a friendly greeting was his depot dog, Beukeboon (named after a New York Ranger defenseman).   Jack was a true Alaska Railroad employee, friendly and very laid back. We checked out his depot and found it to be incredibly neat, clean and well maintained.  The hanging flower baskets at the front of the depot were so beautiful that they even caught my usually inattentive eye.  I used the pay phone to call my wife to wish her a happy 20th anniversary and express regret for not being there with her to celebrate.

On Jack's recommendation, we got a pizza at Talkeetna Deli.  Randy and I made a large one quickly disappear as we eavesdropped on two wrinkled ladies lamenting that they would no longer have someone to turn down their beds and place chocolate on their pillows.  I spent some time watching the residents of this small village.  In my eyes, it was as if the 1960s had found a permanent home here.  Here was a land where people could live out their idiosyncrasies without interference from conservatives or government.

A bizillion MOW vehicles were buzzing around the Talkeetna section house and I captured seven images on my digital camera.  The crew was obviously working on rail height as well as ballast spreading.  They seemed unconcerned that it was almost 9:00 p.m. at night.

LodgeWe checked into the super elegant Talkeetna Alaska Lodge.  Randy, the man of many connections, had arranged for us to have a room for two nights at a discount price.  The lobby has a beautiful thirty foot fireplace, natural wood ceilings, deck with a killer view of the mountains and a clothing optional hot tub (just kidding).  While on the deck, we saw a bolt of lightning in the distance.  Randy has lived in Alaska for almost 15 years and this was only the second time he has seen lightning.  After checking out the place, we returned to our room to catch up on paperwork and sleep.

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