Alaska Highway History: Surviving (or not) the Cold
My Dad came to Dawson Creek to work on the Alaska Highway as a civilian in 1942. He operated heavy equipment along side the American soldiers.
In what was one of the earliest and coldest autumns ever recorded, Dad said the equipment took a real beating that year. The temperatures froze lubricants, seized transmissions and snapped axels. Equipment had to be kept running 24 hours a day, shutting them off was out of the question.
Wrecked and abandoned vehicles were a common sight on the sides of the road as it grew in miles. The combination of the brutal cold weather conditions and the scarcity of spare parts meant many were left to rust where they broke down.
A lot of the creeks that had to be crossed were swift water and resisted freezing even in the harsh cold. Often rushing through the interior of the smaller vehicles, cold water drenched men and steel alike. The underside of any vehicles that crossed became immediately ice coated and had to be kept moving or else the ice would lock the wheels within seconds of standing still.
The cold temperatures not only froze the equipment, it brutalized the men too. Dad said one of his friends froze to death alone when his bulldozer broke down and no help was available. Many of the men who worked the road experienced frostbite that year.
When you travel the highway you will see the rusting relics of the abandoned equipment. It's a fitting tribute to the effort it took to build the Alaska Highway.