In late summer of 1942, Time magazine reported on the progress of the Alaska Highway.
"This is the Law of the Yukon, that only the Strong shall thrive; That surely the Weak shall perish, and only the fit survive."
-- Robert W. Service
...This was a job for Paul Bunyan; to wrest an all weather road from the jealous Northland between early spring and autumn; to span the fierce, death-cold rushing rivers, the black custard quagmires; to cut switchbacks across the Great Divide, to make the way between the Arctic and the U.S. for a highway which some day may be as common as the Boston Post Road.
...The "cats" clawed at the soft soil, bogged down, sank almost to the driver's seats in the black muck. The engineers sweated and swore, dug out the cats, clawed on. Every day it rained. Every day they sweated and swore.
Gradually, steadily, doggedly, the snorting cats drove the forest back. Woodsmen logged the spruce, pine and aspen for corduroy roads over the bogs. "Mister, I thought we'd never get through those first 15 miles. We'd get so damn tired we could hardly drag home, but every afternoon when we got to the store at Charlie's Lake, the lady there'd have a cake for us. Boy, those cakes were good."
...The days got longer, the weather warmer. Now came the black flies, the tiny "no-see-ums" that announce themselves only by a sting, and the mosquitoes. ("Why, over at Watson Lake, a mosquito landed on the airport and they put 85 gallons of gas in it before they realized it wasn't a bomber.") The insects made sweating, swollen hands look like grey fur. The engineers slapped and cursed till they got head nets and gloves.
Captain Hampton Green's bog-busters chewed switchbacks down a steep hillside of ice-hard dirt in a day and a half, ferried a river, scratched up the other side. Right on their heels, Lieut. Colonel Heath Twichell set his Negro engineers to bridging the tumbling water, singing as they sawed. Wading waist deep in the fast icy stream, they put the bridge across in 36 hours, sang hymns at a Sunday service down by the riverside after the job was done.
...Out in the bush the only recreation is hunting and fishing -- on special rights given they by the Yukon territorial government. Doughboys hunt to vary meals of corned beef, potatoes, lemonade, carrots, preserves, and dried eggs, by adding moose and bear steaks, lake trout, spruce partridge, ptarmigan, grouse, venison. At Swan Lake, for lack of regular tackle, a Signal Corps man made a line from telephone wires, hammered a fishing spoon out of a tin can and brought in strings of fat trout over the side of an assault boat. Others knock the heads off the foolish spruce partridge (Yukon chicken) which doze on the lower tree limbs in the summer twilight.
Solders near enough to hit the few towns find expensive beer, and little else. In Fort St. John they mill around on the dusty or muddy main street with lumberjacks, trappers and "dirt stiffs" (construction workers), looking over the waitresses and dumpy Indian girls. Sometimes they get a haircut in Joe's tent barbershop, or go to the hospital, which has the only bath and running-water toilets in town. Average Saturday night consumption of 50-cent-a-bottle beer is 3,500 bottles. At the Inn in Whitehorse the jam-packed solders sometimes push the 11 o'clock curfew up to 2 a.m., ending with a mouth-organ duet and fine boozy soldier harmony. Checks are cashed at the only bank for 460 miles around -- the same one in which Poetaster Robert Service clerked in the gold-rush days.
...When [Brigadier General William Morris] Hoge's party rode and mushed up to Fort Nelson in the winter snow the citizens wondered why he had come. After all, there was nothing to see but a trading post. But Hoge had other ideas. Alaska was a transportation island linked with the U.S. by a moving bridge of ships -- ships now needed desperately elsewhere. Hoge knew that Fort Nelson could be one of a string of airports connecting Edmonton to the Aleutians. He knew that with such a string and with a road to supply them, Alaska could be held; knew also that with Jap islands blockading Vladivostok such a route might well be the only way to send adequate help to an attacked Siberia. The Army road would do for that and later the Public Roads Administration would grade and realign the rough highway. Then, after the war, the people would come. The small dirty towns would have a new reason for existence, and out of fabulous Alaska could come minerals by the truckload for the factories of the future.
Excerpt from "Northwest Passage," Time, August 31, 1942, pp. 77-80.
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