"Containerization." Today it is as commonplace as crocuses on the clay cliffs in the spring. Ports around the world are bustling with huge machinery loading and unloading goods. It wasn't always so.
Everything you buy today probably arrived from some foreign country inside a big metal box called a container, thanks to the pioneering work of a Yukon company. The White Pass and Yukon Route built and tested one of the world's first container shipping systems back in 1955, and was the first to enter the integrated ship-train-truck business.
The first load of freight in the test container carried rolls of building paper and had more bugs than a Yukon River fishing camp in June.
The material was intentionally chosen because it had always caused trouble when shipped by the old methods. The stuff usually arrived flattened or creased. In the November 1955 test run, beginning in the Port of Vancouver, the rolls stood on end inside the metal container, which was locked and custom-sealed, and swung sluggishly by a crane to the deck of the newly built container ship, the Clifford J. Rogers.
This was a red-letter day for White Pass. They were breaking new ground in the shipping business. At Skagway, the container was again swung through the air onto a White Pass train flatbed.
As the building paper travelled over the bumpy 110-mile rail line, it was held firmly in place, and untouched by human hands since it had left Vancouver. As the train chugged into the Whitehorse station, the container was greeted by an enthusiastic entourage of company officials and an exuberant crowd of Yukoners. Then, disaster. The container's doors wouldn't open. They were jammed shut. After considerable advice from the crowd, nervous White Pass officials ordered workmen to get a blowtorch from the nearby tool shed.
Finally, the doors swung open, and inside were the rolls of building paper in pristine condition. The doors had evidently jammed after being shaken on the long sea-and-land voyage from Vancouver. That minor matter could be fixed. The container concept was deemed a success.
The new ship and containers, combined with the upgraded railroad and truck fleet, made the Yukon the home of the first integrated container system in the world.
In 1965, the Clifford J. Rogers was sold and replaced with the MV Frank H. Brown, one of the world's most modern freighters, built in Montreal by the Vickers Shop Building Company.
Well, I recall attending the commissioning of the new ship at the Montreal waterfront and interviewing the venerable old man of the White Pass company, Clifford J. Rogers himself.
While the containerization principle on the Frank H. Brown remained the same, the equipment had important design changes. The first containers were relatively small, holding only about five tons of freight, while the new, improved versions held 25 tons of freight.
By 1969, the modern White Pass customs-sealed containers came in four types - heater, freezer, vented and dry. Containers and heavy deck loads of northbound freight were easily exchanged at Skagway for a southbound containerized cargo of copper, asbestos and silver-lead-zinc concentrate, when mining in the Yukon was at its peak of production.
By 1982, with mining activity at an all-time low, the White Pass was forced to shut down the little narrow gauge railway, and container shipping by rail came to an end. But not before the company had shown the world how to ship goods from the world's busiest ports to the isolated inland regions of any country.
It was a lesson well learned, and today's massive transfer of goods world wide reflects the pioneering work of a venerable company, the White Pass and Yukon Route.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
Klondike Kate was born Kathleen Eloisa Rockwell on October 4, 1876, at Junction City, Kansas.
Nicknamed Kitty, she grew up in Spokane, Washington, with her mother and stepfather, Judge Frank Bettis. Kate lived a luxurious childhood, with a governess and household servants. Her love of music and dance became evident at a very young age, as she would dance, spin and leap to the music she heard.
She was also kind and generous. Once, a fire left many families homeless, so Kate invited everyone to "come stay with them for a while." Over one hundred persons stayed for more than two weeks, to her parents' consternation! Nevertheless, she was an adventurous child. Her parents felt that a private school would teach her refinements, and she was sent to a convent. She bounced from convent to convent. The Sisters at one academy restricted her desire to dance, but one day she danced the Highland Fling behind a Sister who was leaving the study room.
Another Sister came through another doorway and ordered Kate to "Bath number three." This meant she would be locked in the bathroom for the rests of the day. Kate was furious! She knew this was the day the nuns took baths, so she drained all the hot water and dumped towels into the drain! Consequently, she was sent home.
Kate came to the Yukon with a friend, who returned to the lower 48 after a rough trip. Kate was undaunted and made it to Whitehorse Rapids, where a Mountie turned her away saying the trip is too dangerous for ladies. The rule was that women and children had to walk the five miles to the foot of the rapids. Kate was not discouraged. She dressed as a man and went back to the landing. A scow was drifting away from the bank, and the Mountie had his back turned. Kate ran to the water's edge and leaped to the scow's deck. She had outwitted him! After the ride through the rapids she wished she had walked the five miles!
Kate received a letter in Whitehorse, an offer of soubrette in a large theatrical company, in Victoria, which was organizing to go to Dawson City in the spring. She decided this was a better idea, and returned to Victoria. Kate was the best of entertainers. It was this talent, combined with her qualities of charm, kindness and sincerity, that won her the title "Queen of the Klondike." She would grubstake miners down on their luck, until they were on their feet again.
She passed away on February 21, 1957, at her home in Redmond, Oregon.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
To understand the Distant Early Warning line, you first have to understand the dawn of the nuclear age and the phrase "mutually assured destruction." In the early fifties, both the U.S. and Russia could deliver nuclear warheads to each other’s major cities. First nuclear strike was the biggest fear.
In December 1952, U.S. President Harry S. Truman approved the idea of an early warning system as one of his last acts in office. In December 1954, Western Electric got the contract to build, and complete, the DEW line by July 31, 1957.
It would be a chain of sixty-three integrated radar and communication systems, stretching 3,000 miles from the northwest coast of Alaska, across the northern Yukon coast to the eastern shore of Baffin Island at the 70th parallel.
The delivery of supplies and personnel amounted to the largest commercial airlift ever assembled. During the three years of construction, some 120 ships brought 42,000 tons of steel, millions of gallons of fuel, and many other supplies. More than 25,000 people were involved in construction. In all, more than 7,000 tradesmen from the U.S. and Canada worked at breakneck speed. Scores of commercial pilots, flying everything from bush planes to four-engine aircraft, worked in one of one of the greatest airlift operations in history.
Each main DEW station has its own airstrip, service buildings, garages, connecting roads, storage tanks, warehouses and, in some cases, an aircraft hangar. The cost of the DEW Line, excluding equipment, transportation and construction of the DEW East Section, exceeded $750 Million. There were three DEW Line stations in the northern Yukon: Shingle Point, Komakuk Beach and Stokes Point.
Despite the isolation, life at a DEW Line station was fairly comfortable, with private rooms, excellent food, modern indoor plumbing, and lots of spare time. DEW Liners enjoyed well-stocked libraries, current magazines and newspapers, first-run Hollywood movies and, of course, outstanding pay. It was common for an employee to be paid $3000 a month, a huge sum in the fifties and sixties.
If there was a front line to the Cold War, the DEW Line was it. The goal was to provide warning of nuclear attack, and then to think about how to dig the world out from under the ash heap of nuclear Armageddon. An unending topic of conversation at a DEW Line station was what would happen if the Russians really came.
By 1985 with technological advances, the United States decided to bring down the curtain on the DEW Line - almost. The U.S. and Canada began to transform the line into a highly automated version called the North Warning System.
A legacy of the DEW Line, that surfaced after the handover of stations to Canada, was the question of almost forty years of buried waste, PCBs, and other toxic chemicals seeping into the Arctic environment.
For a time, controversy raged over whether the U.S. or Canada was responsible for the cleanup and dismantling of the stations. Finally, an agreement was reached in 1996, with the United States contributing $100 million toward the cleanup.
Meanwhile, proposals have been made to preserve at least one DEW Line station as a museum.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin