Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Nursing a diminishing case of strep throat and suffering from a week's worth of sleep deprivation, I headed to the Dayton International airport. My wife and son dropped me at the loading area and I was on my way for my fourth trip to The Great Land!

Now modern flight is both a miracle and a curse. It is a miracle that I can be transported 3400 miles from Dayton to Anchorage in less than eleven hours.

The "curse" comes in two distinct parts. Part number one is security. Post-9/11 airport security procedures dictates a vast scrutiny of both you and your belongings. Your checked bags have to be run through a scanner the size of a Volkswagen. Later on the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) will open these bags, cutting locks if necessary, inspecting the contents and then leaving you a note saying they peeked at all your personal stuff (yes, even your underwear). As you head to the gate, inspectors will poke and prod you and your bags. First, you place all metal items and carry-on bags into large gray tubs. So I put in my laptop ("remove it from the case, please"), watch, sunglasses and coat. The security agent said this was not enough so I had to add my shoes (good thing I was wearing ones without holes!) and my belt. All that was missing from the scene was some bawdy stripper music.

The second part of the curse is the airplane seat. I got lucky on the first two segments of my flight by having an empty seat between myself and the other passenger. However, the third segment more than cancelled out this luck. I was on a Boeing 737-700. My seat was over the wing and thus did not recline, but of course the one in front of me sure did and it dug deeply into my knee. I kid you not; I was so wedged into the seat that I was unable to move. If the flight had included a meal, I would have been unable to eat it. It was only the thought of the Alaska Railroad that brought me through the three and a half hours of pain and suffering.

Valuable posterThings turned from evil to euphoria when I arrived in Anchorage. Don Prince, a retired Alaska Railroad yardmaster, met me at the gate with a smile. He would be my host for the next eleven days. We traveled to his beautiful condo in conveniently located downtown Anchorage. Ever the perfect host, he gave me the keys to his car and condo and permission to use the washer, dryer and telephone (including long distance calls) whenever I desired. As I entered the spare bedroom, I saw the Alaska Railroad fairy had already been there. There was a hard hat, track chart, timetable, yard pass and coffee mug, everything the Alaska Railroad's number one fan would need for some serious train snooping!

Saint Don fixed one of my favorite dinners, Fillet Mignon, salad, baked potato and chocolate truffles. We poked around on eBay for a while, looking for elusive Alaska Railroad items and then went though some of Don's keepsakes including his extensive collection of Alaska Railroad posters. One of the posters he has is actually quite rare (shown at left). Although 500 of them were printed, half of them proved defective and had to be pitched in the trash.

Additional note No. 1: After I left Alaska, Don took his poster and had it reframed and the owner of the shop told him it would sell for $1,500.00!

Additional note No. 2: The railroad ordered 500 to be printed, but when the material (mylar on a roll) arrived from the lower 48, the printers ran all the required number of posters and at the end it was discovered that the roll of mylar had several wide streaks thru the middle of the material. The manufacturer could not provide the printer with another roll in sufficient time to reprint so the railroad only had 250 posters in total. The poster was entered into an International Print competition in Chicago that year and won the grand prize. The artist, Susan Ogle, took the concept from an old photograph the railroad had hanging in the office which showed a freight train traveling across the Ship Creek bridge
coming towards the old depot in Anchorage from the Anchorage yard. The bridge is still there but the rails have since been removed and it is nothing more than a foot bridge today.

Prologue | Index | Chapter 2