The Chickaloon Branch connected the coal mines of Chickaloon, Eska and Jonesville out of Sutton with Palmer and joined the Alaska Railroad main line at Matanuska Junction. By 1928 the line between the coal washing plant at Eska and Chickaloon was discontinued and the right of way became part of the Glenn Highway.
The track up hill to Jonesville mine from Sutton was 6% and there was limited space at the mine for car storage. Stu White who was fireman for Bill Stewart on this run, reported that loaded runaways were a constant threat when moving down this grade. Typical trains from the mine to Anchorage were 18 to 24 loads behind the 400 and 550 class consolidations. Up to 30 loads could be handled with two F7 units in the latter days of operation. The mines were closed and the track from Palmer to Sutton shut down in the mid 1960’s when power plants in the Anchorage Area were converted to natural gas.
The Matanuska River constantly ate away at the railroad roadbed built along the canyon wall. The steep wall rising from the river is alluvial gravel loosely cemented and constantly subject to weathering. The railroad was built between these opposing forces. The alluvial rock does not make good rip rap. As a result the railroad used the river bank as a bone yard for surplus rail cars, trucks, steel scrap, concrete rubble. It is still there. The rip rap in the Matanuska River was photographed on October 12, 2003 by Pat Durand during a hike with Jeff DeBroeck and Ed Kovich. We waited until the leaves had fallen and lucked into a warm sunny day with no wind on the river bottom.
The equipment begins to appear in the edge of the Matanuska River about two miles north of the old Palmer Depot. Easy access is to follow the railroad right of way trail which runs about six miles and comes out at Moose River. The trail is well traveled by four wheelers and there are only occasional areas where rubble has come down across the railroad roadbed trail. The challenge is climbing down the hill side to the water line where the rip rap is located. Another approach could be made up river with a jet boat.
Following are some observations by Pat Durand and confirmed in conversation with Bob Barrett of Sterling who photographed this same equipment 20 years ago.
Camp car tender is former US Army tender #3403 (yellow number on rear of tender) and may have come on one of the 400 class consolidation. It was mounted on flat car X604 which was in turn built from a Milwaukee box car. Trucks for this camp tender are just up hill and are of T section casting with wheel date of 1936.
Tender Tool box is 6’ long 15X15X17.5 with a sloped lid and sits right behind the slope sheet. Rear deck to bunker is 7 foot. Headlight bracket is 15X15 and 6 inches high. Water bunker opening is 82” long by 19” with 9.5” radius ends and stands 6 inches high from deck of tender tank.
The locomotive cab found in the river clearly displays #10 in bright white. Jeff thought there was a 50? something hiding behind the 10. Lettering in white at the bottom indicated class 0160 21/26. Checking the locomotive rosters showed this in fact to be a Class C 160 with 21 inch stroke and 26 inch bore. Locomotive #503 was destroyed in the 1951 roundhouse fire while undergoing repairs. The cab and various other parts eventually were dumped in the Matanuska Rip Rap. The wind blown sand had carefully blasted away most of the 503 to clearly reveal #10 from this locomotives earlier life with the US Army.
Flat #X805 appears to have been a cut down Composite Gondolla and is nearly buried in white lettering you can still read the number and LD LMT 100000 CAP LT WT 35000
Composite Gondola number ARR 4285 proved to be one of the more instructive finds. It rests upside down so the down river side lettering was protected from the weather. These gondolas were composites of steel framework and wood timber decking on sides, ends and bottom. The bottom has eight wood drop doors for discharging contents.
This car was marked as follows. In white ARR 4285 Capy 100000 LtWt 40300 LDLMT 128700 Lgth 41 FT. Some of these digits at random were in dark yellow ???. On the frame in yellow it is marked 4-54 FREIGHT SERVICE 3-29-55 and at mid point of the car on the side it is marked in yellow FOR FREIGHT SERVICE ONLY.
(Modelers note: Intermountain Railway Co offers a kit for the USRA Composite Gon with stamped steel ends. These can be easily replaced with wood decking and styrene Steel bracing to match the ARR 4285. USRA approved the design in March of 1918 as a steel conservation measure for W.W.I. 20000 were built by five manufacturers. The ARR had many of them.)
Right next to #4285 in the Rip Rap is what remains of a flat car cut down from a Composite Gon. The car has low sides with a welded steel channel cap and wood decking. This car was probably in MOW service and possibly used to haul a D7 Caterpillar for snow fleet service.
The Coach Observation in the river is the Yukon #6. This is the same configuration as the Seward #5 currently in use by the Seward Chamber of Commerce. They were both built in Anchorage Shops from former NP Diners along with Coach #19. The Yukon is on its side with the forward end completely buried in the mud. The observation end sticks up in the air like a steam ship on its last dive. The holes in the roof evidence the use of the RR ditcher to push it from the rail into its resting place.
The Truss frame flat cars were probably the remains of Hart Convertible Gons which had that kind of frame. That also explains the location of the brake cylinder out on the edge of the frame. (Modelers note: The old Tru-Scale Models Silver Streak line offered a kit for the Hart Convertible Gon.)
This is a great three or four hour hike and puts you in touch with the railroads history. Just imagine those early Moguls pulling the hill up from the river bottom to Palmer.
© 2003 Patrick Durand