Pages from the Past:
On To Honolulu

By Nicholas Deely

During the spring of 1985 I developed a strong desire to get off into the "bush" to search for the "mother of all railroad pictures" of the Alaska Railroad. To add to the excitement of this trek, I elected to attempt this trip at a time when the snow accumulation would probably be at its highest. In this way, the natural beauty of the Talkeetna mountains would be enhanced by the added snow-berms, snowdrifts, and the development of incipient avalanches!

Accompanied by two great friends, Keith Meredith, Captain, U.S.A.F., and Hans Rex, Geologist/Electrical Engineer, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, we headed south to a point on the highway which was approximately in line with M.P. 288.7 on the Alaska Railroad ----- Honolulu. At this point the rail line descends from a broad shelf of the Alaska Range in a breath taking horseshoe curve, about 270 degrees, into a valley ever so briefly, only to start climbing, almost immediately, to another disconnected mountain shelf. All the while the Talkeetna Mountains framed in the background!

We reached a point on the highway that was, pretty much, in line with our destination. Up and over an eight-foot highway snow-berm we slogged only to find ourselves in waist to shoulder depth snow. Although the day was perfectly clear with deep blue skies, it was -40 degrees (F). for some unexplainable reason we didn't bring our snowshoes along (a bad mistake) so we were forced to make trail under the most adverse conditions. After about two miles of doing the "high step" in these deep snows, we reached our destination on the railroad.

We set up our cameras in our desired locations and waited for the expected late morning freight train. Supplemented with continuous sips of hot chocolate we waited, and we waited, and we waited-----and waited. Our freezing bodies would periodically be stimulated out of a state of rigor mortis as we started to hallucinate the sound of diesel motors and oncoming air-horns!

Reality and sanity finally grasped us-----there would be no train for us today. The sun was setting, the winds were picking up, and we were ever so COLD. We headed back to our automobile, unable to high step as we had earlier done (our joints seemed to be frozen), and had to resort to brute force to plow our way back to the car.

It was now pitch black as we headed north to home. As we approached a railroad crossing, we could hear the roar of on coming diesel engines embellished by whaling air horns. Keith started yelling, "Stop the car, stop the car-----I came here to shoot the Alaska railroad, and, [expletive], I'm going to!" He promptly jumped out of the car (while it was still moving), climbed up the snow-berm and "madly" clicked away. He got his picture-----a bright light superimposed on a field of black! Two weeks later we returned to the same spot, with snowshoes, and got our pictures.


© 2005 Nicholas Deely