Alaska Highway: The Biggest and Hardest Job Since the Panama Canal | HistoryNet

Alaska Highway: The Biggest and Hardest Job Since the Panama Canal

6/12/2006 • American History Magazine
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
A bulldozer of the 340th Engineers, Northern Sector, meets the lead clearing dozer of the 35th Engineers, Southern Sector, near Watson Lake, Yukon Territory to complete the linking of the sectors and provide a road from Fort St John to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

It’s difficult to imagine road-building conditions any worse than those workers faced in 1942, when they began carving a supply route over the Canadian Rockies, through the Yukon Territory, all the way to remote military outposts in Alaska. ‘Men hired for this job will be required to work and live under the most extreme conditions imaginable,’ read one recruitment notice. ‘Temperatures will range from 90 degrees above zero to 70 degrees below zero. Men will have to fight swamps, rivers, ice and cold. Mosquitoes, flies and gnats will not only be annoying but will cause bodily harm. If you are not prepared to work under these and similar conditions, do not apply.’

The idea of laying a roadway to connect the United States with the continent’s ‘far north’ can be traced all the way back to the Yukon gold rushes of the 1890s. But it wasn’t until the 1930s that Alaska’s territorial legislature commissioned a study of possible routes — and it took the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to finally get the work started. Once drawn into World War II, the U.S. government worried that Japan would follow the destruction of the U.S. Pacific fleet in Hawaii with an invasion of Alaska. Within a few weeks of the Pearl Harbor attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided that plans for a highway to Alaska deserved re-examination.

This resolution became the first step in what one army colonel characterized as the ‘biggest and hardest job since the Panama Canal.’ Despite obstacles that might have doomed the project had it been undertaken in peacetime, in less than nine months a rapidly marshaled force of almost 16,000 soldiers and civilians forged 1,422 miles of roadway from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Big Delta, Alaska. There the road joined the pre-existing Richardson Highway (which originally began as a trail for gold stampeders in 1898) for the remaining 98 miles to Fairbanks.

The final cost of the Alaska Highway — or ‘Alcan’ as it is often called — was $138 million, although the War Department omitted from that figure the cost of paying and equipping the soldiers working on the highway. Nor did it include the amount spent on the Canadian Oil (CANOL) Project, a refinery and pipeline system that stretched across northwest Canada and Alaska, built concurrently with the highway (also at the behest of the War Department) to satisfy the petroleum needs of the highway, and the Northwest Staging Route, a string of small landing fields established earlier across western Canada for military use. ‘No other World War II construction project was more expensive,’ notes Heath Twichell in his Northwest Epic: The Building of the Alaska Highway. Nor did success come without criticism. Politicians on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border questioned the highway’s usefulness, and at least one politician — U.S. Senator Harry S Truman — saw his career boosted by raising doubts about this vast military enterprise.

The decision to move forward with the project proved easy compared with the dilemma of choosing where to build the road. Initially, there were four paths under consideration. Two of them had strong political and commercial support in western Canada as well as Washington state, and they were approximately the same length, just over 1,300 miles. Route A ran east of British Columbia’s Coastal Mountains, while Route B paralleled British Columbia’s section of the Rocky Mountains. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pushed for a third choice, Route C, which sliced northwest across the Rockies, a distance of roughly 1,400 miles. The fourth option, Route D, rolled north from Edmonton, Alberta, into Canada’s Northwest Territories and then west over the Mackenzie Mountains to Alaska — a distance of about 1,700 miles. All four choices had obvious drawbacks. Route A’s coastal track would make it the most vulnerable to Japanese attack, while Route B would be susceptible to snow and floods. Both B and C also avoided towns — notably the railway terminus of Whitehorse, in the southern Yukon Territory — where construction supplies could be easily transported. Route D promised access to oil fields at Norman Wells in the Northwest Territories (a plus, considering the wartime need for fuel), but it was the longest alternative.

In addition, all four routes shared another drawback: none offered ready access to the Northwest Staging Route. If the United States had to defend against attacks on North America from the Pacific Basin, it would need to resupply those airfields. President Roosevelt hadn’t originally insisted that planners consider the Staging Route when orienting the Alaska Highway, but it would certainly make better sense to provision the airways by road rather than having to depend on the riskier air transit of materiel. This consideration led to a fifth highway plan that incorporated the best features of Routes A, B, and C. This fifth alternative’s one drawback — and it was a major one — was that no one had had the opportunity to study it. Without time for a comprehensive survey, engineers and surveyors would have to work out many of the road’s details once the project was already underway.

Although Ottawa insisted that the United States build and pay for the road — and turn over the Canadian section six months after the end of the war — Canada’s government agreed to provide timber and gravel and waived import duties, sales and income taxes, and immigration regulations. With that settled, the Roosevelt administration gave the go-ahead, and the Army Corps of Engineers set about determining the best way to attack the project. Although it sounded like a phenomenal task, the Corps reached a preliminary solution within 48 hours. It called for the deployment of four 1,300-member Engineer construction regiments to begin gouging out a ‘pioneer trail.’ Two of these regiments — the 35th and the 341st — would start at two different points of the southern, Dawson Creek end of the route and work their way north and west. Meanwhile, the 18th and 340th Engineers would begin at Whitehorse, near the middle of the prospective highway, and begin cutting road both south toward Dawson Creek and northwest to Alaska. Finally, civilian contractors under the supervision of the U.S. Public Roads Administration (PRA) would work southeast from Alaska toward the Canadian border and link up with the 18th Engineers. Once the road builders had finished this pioneer trail, PRA contractors could use it as an access road into the wilderness and build — either on top of this road or, in some areas, parallel to it — a two-lane gravel-covered highway, complete with permanent bridges, which would serve both during and after the war.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Men and equipment of the 18th Engineers building a timber bridge across the Raspberry River north of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.

Responsibility for this mammoth undertaking went to gruff, 48-year-old Colonel (soon to be Brigadier General) William M. Hoge. Missouri-bred and West Point-educated, Hoge had won acclaim in combat during World War I. He went on to command a battalion charged with erecting roads and bridges in the Philippines’ jungle-covered Bataan Peninsula and later he ran a flood-control office in Nebraska. His superiors back in Washington, D.C., believed that if anyone could build a road from British Columbia to Alaska with the necessary speed and minimum trouble, it was Hoge.

Their faith seemed well placed. Even as Alaska’s governor Ernest Gruening — grandly irritated that the army should have ignored his recommendation of coastal Route A — blustered that the compromise plan ‘will not get us the highway in any reasonable period of time,’ American troops and civilians were already arriving for work in the far north by the spring of 1942. Coming by train and plane, they dropped into an area that boasted more caribou and moose than humans, and they arrived with what amounted to an armada of heavy equipment: 174 steam shovels, 374 blade graders, 904 tractors, and more than 5,000 trucks, as well as bulldozers, snowplows, cranes, and generators. Many Canadians were dubious about claims that the defense of Alaska meant the defense of Canada and they didn’t trust the United States to give up its control of the highway even after World War II ended. They were less awed than shocked by this rapid buildup in British Columbia and the Yukon. A headline from British Columbia’s Peace River Block News that spring revealed an uneasiness felt by many locals: ‘United States Troops Invade Dawson Creek to Build Alaska Road.’

No more comfortable, though, were the Americans assigned to road construction. One oft-repeated tale concerns a staff sergeant who, arriving in Dawson Creek during a blizzard, asked his superior officer, ‘Major, where do I sleep?’ The grinning major replied, as he put down his own bag, ‘Take any snowdrift you like. This one is mine!’

Living arrangements weren’t quite that harsh (there were at least tents and a mess hall for the road builders), but working conditions left much to be desired. After arriving at their destinations, troops cooled their heels for weeks, until spring thaws made it possible to begin construction, and more had to wait for their equipment to catch up with them. The cold and the exhausting pace of the work proved hard on the men, causing a few to pitch face-first into campfires as they warmed their hands above the flames. Lack of sleep took its toll in other ways. Wrecked vehicles became a common sight on the sides of the lengthening road. The supply of spare parts couldn’t keep up with the demand. According to Ken Rust, the 18th Engineer’s historian, the men worked ‘in coolie fashion, bending pick points in frozen ground and mucking around in rivers of mud, getting nowhere.’

Warmer weather only brought new hardships. Rivers flooded. Truck wheels were trapped in dense, grasping mud. Equipment became caught in forest fires. And Alaskan mosquitoes — ‘bush bombers,’ as the soldiers nicknamed them — proved far more troublesome to the men than the Japanese Zeros they’d been warned might breech the Pacific coastline at any moment. ‘You had to eat with your head net on,’ Hoge recalled, ‘you would raise the head net, and by the time you got food on the spoon up to your mouth it would be covered with mosquitoes.’

The land on which the new highway was being constructed stubbornly resisted taming. Most of it was covered for as far as the eye could see by dense spruce forest or boggy patches of vegetation called muskeg. The earth was so swampy in places that road builders could make progress only by laboriously felling trees and laying them down, side by side, to form a ‘corduroy road,’ a surface that would shift and buckle as the ground dried. Worse yet, the men had to build over permafrost (permanently frozen ground) that required corduroying, then dumping truckloads of earth and gravel on top of that to provide a usable road surface. Such problems slowed progress, especially in the road’s initial stages. Rust noted, ‘Swift moving Yukon streams resisted freezing and the underside of trucks that crossed them became ice coated . . . . After driving through water it was absolutely necessary to keep the vehicle moving, as ice would lock the wheels of a truck that stood still for a few seconds (not minutes, seconds), and any attempt to move forward would snap an axle.’ He added, ‘Trucks with bent frames and beds and distorted springs moved crabwise up the road. Some trucks broke in half, were left beside the road as derelicts. Men suffered but held up better than equipment.’

General Hoge soon realized that he would need additional troops to complete the road expeditiously. But with the Japanese stepping up their assaults in the South Pacific, most regular army engineers had been dispatched there. The War Department solved the problem by sending black units to Hoge’s aid. Commanders did not reach the decision easily. The army was still segregated in 1942, and officials were hesitant to post black soldiers in areas (especially the American South) where their presence might incite racial animosity. Furthermore, under the misapprehension that African Americans would be unable to withstand Arctic conditions, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson had previously refused to post black troops in the far north. But the highway project’s need for manpower finally convinced Stimson to reverse his policy, and three black Engineer regiments — the 93rd, 95th, and 97th — were assigned to the project, boosting Hoge’s numbers by a third and increasing his command to 10,607 men.

In June 1942 the Japanese attacked Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, adding increased pressure to the fast pace of road building. Troops worked long hours in shifts, without a day off. Some companies used what they called a ‘train system’ of construction, with all units moving forward simultaneously — the heavy bulldozers in front, knocking down or uprooting trees, followed by other ‘dozers that pushed the debris to the sides of the road, and then work parties corduroying over soft spots, creating permanent bridges and culverts, and eventually giving consistent shape and borders to the roadway. In other places, companies of men labored in what can only be described as a leap-frog method: each crew took responsibility for a 5-to-10-mile stretch of road, and when a crew finished a section, it skipped to the front of the line and began work on another. As the summer of 1942 ended, Hoge’s reports to his superiors grew more optimistic.

The changes the road building brought to the region baffled the few isolated native and white trappers living there. ‘We were taking goods into the north by horse and dog sleighs the way our fathers and grandfathers had done,’ recalled one trader about his first encounter with the road builders, ‘when we met . . . a great fleet of trucks as far as the eye could see . . . . [T]ime went ahead more in a few minutes than it had in a whole lifetime. Like the snap of your fingers, we changed from the old to the new.’

In August 1942 Lieutenant General Brehon Somervell, the army’s chief logistician, made a four-day inspection of the highway to check on any problems and to see if any organizational changes were needed. He decided that the project was moving too slowly and that Hoge’s troops were ill prepared for the winter. The following month Somervell relieved Hoge of his command and replaced him with Brigadier General James O’Connor. Hoge later claimed that Somervell had fired him not because of Hoge’s shortcomings but to settle a score that dated from their service together in the 1930s.

An advance clearing crew of the 340th Engineers finally met the 35th Engineers on September 24, 1942, on a tributary of the Liard River — thereafter known as Contact Creek — to open the pioneer trail from Dawson Creek to Whitehorse. A month later the 18th and 97th Engineers encountered one another near Beaver Creek in the Yukon Territory. In just over six months soldiers and civilian contractors had laid down a supply road that many thought could never be built — certainly not so quickly. A statement from Secretary Stimson’s office praised the men who ‘pushed forward at the rate of eight miles a day, bridged 200 streams, laid a roadway 24 feet between ditches, [and] at the highest point, between Fort Nelson and Watson Lake, reached an altitude of 4,212 feet.’ But the exhaustive work caused one sergeant with poetic tendencies to write, ‘The Alaska Highway winding in and winding out fills my mind with serious doubt as to whether ‘the lout’ who planned this route was going to hell or coming out!’

At the highway’s official opening at Soldier’s Summit on November 20, 1942, General O’Connor speculated that the building of this road might someday ‘become an American saga ranking with the epics of Frmont and Lewis and Clark.’ Yet the story wasn’t over. As late as the close of 1943 some 11,000 military men were still assigned to the region, under the direction of the PRA, and progress on the road continued until well after the war, as workers replaced temporary bridges with steel spans and relocated some sections to improve the army’s two-lane track.

Questions about the highway’s usefulness persisted as well. As late as 1947 Congressman Warren Magnuson of Washington continued to promote construction of Route A, which he called ‘the real Alaska Highway.’ The road also figured in a 1943 U.S. Senate investigation of the CANOL Project led by Harry Truman, the junior senator from Missouri. Truman’s committee determined that the pipeline had been raised in haste, at extraordinary taxpayer expense, and that it failed to provide a local source of oil that would be necessary in the defense of Alaska.

Thanks to that probe and others like it, Truman earned national renown and the nod to become Roosevelt’s last vice president. After the war, Truman saw the U.S. government sell off or dismantle CANOL’s components. But the highway persisted. It opened to tourist traffic in 1948, and over the following decades, Alaska and British Columbia refined their respective sections. Now completely paved, the road offers an extraordinary (and often extraordinarily lonely) journey into the northern wilds. Built to speed supplies north, it is now a road over which to linger and enjoy one of the twentieth century’s great engineering marvels.

This article was written by J. Kingston Pierce and originally published in the January 2001 issue of American History Magazine. For more great articles, subscribe to American History magazine today!

89 Responses to Alaska Highway: The Biggest and Hardest Job Since the Panama Canal

  1. Preston Willson says:

    I was “Selected” and assigned to the 18th Engineer Regt. about 9 months before Pearl Harbor. We went overseas to Canada, via Skagway Alaska and over the rail to Whitehorse Y.T. Canada. The next months were spent in the constructio of the highway to near the Alaska border.. The Army unit became a construction company. We did not get any fresh supplies. When we left the temperature was 60 below zero. We later spent 18 months on a small island, Shemya, building an Air Base. It was 32 months from the time we left Seattle to our return. From there we were sent to Florida–half way around the world.
    Few members of the 18th are still alive.
    I am 90 years old and live in Calif.
    The best part of the army duty was that we came home. Each of us remember building the Highway. Preston Willson

    • Anna says:

      Mr Wilson, how wonderful that you were part of such a mission, and alive to tell us about it, some people can’t imagine driving the Alaska Hwy let alone build it! I am Canadian, I went to visit the Yukon for a summer and stayed for 6 years! Have a grand-daughter in Fairbanks, AK, and have travelled the highway many times! Thank you very much for all you did to make it easy to me to travel north of 60.
      All the best.

    • Dana K says:

      Mr. Wilison, thank you. I really don’t know what else to say. I have traveled the highway in each direction 3 times. Everytime is an adventure. I am taking my 7 yr old daughter and my wife up to Kasilof, were gonna base in Seweard. My girls love to fish. So I thought I would let them experince the Salmon run on the Kenai, in July.
      I am writing my thesis on your construction on the Alcan Highway. So if you recive this before March 25th 2012 and have any info that you cannot find in history books and willing to share, I would really appreciate it. My daughter already has made her sigh for Watson Lake’s Sign Post Park.
      Again Thank you Semper Fi
      Staff Sargent Dana A. K USMC Retired

      • Dana K says:

        Oh and one more thing. I cannot find who was the CO for anypart of the project. Do you have any names I can google?

      • Ken Binam says:

        I noticed you posted that you were looking for info about the CO for the Alcan highway. I have a news paper my father saved from when he was with the 18th Eng. Also have pictures of his if you’re interested.

    • Mike says:

      Hi Preston, Thank you for your service in the 18th Reg. I’m a historical researcher and have a question. One of the roads near Delta Junction was called “Jack Warren ” do you know why roads were named after people? Thanks for your time.

      • Barb Smith says:

        I notice that many of you are writing to Mr. Preston Wilson. But according to message #7 below, he is deceased. Just thought I would point that out to you all.

    • Jim Hoffmann says:

      I am the grandson of Edwin G. Hoffmann of St. Louis, a member of the Civilian Corps of Engineers assigned to build the Great Alaska Highway.

      Sir, do you remember him?

  2. […] story. A young man, who was sleeping, suggested contacting Robin Meade, from CNN News. ANSWER:… per this.. seems like it would be the US Army Corps of Engineers. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers […]

  3. Rod Jacob says:

    Mr. Willson,

    I am a writer who lives in Whitehorse.

    I would love to hear hear more about your experiences in Yukon with the 18th.

    Do you remember going to dances around Whitehorse in your off hours? What about the air force personnel? Did you work with them frequently?

    Best wishses,
    Rod J.

  4. M. Wolf says:

    Mr. Willson,

    I am currently researching the Alaska Highway for my senior thesis project at Iowa State University. I would love to communicate with you about your experience if you are interested!


  5. Kenneth Binam says:

    Dear Mr. Preston,
    I am quite pleased to see that you posted a note on this site.
    Like others I am trying to trace some information and your assistance would be wonderful.
    My father, Wilson Binam, also worked on the Alaska Highway as a cook/barber in the Army. He died in January 1967. I was 12 years old and didn’t get to talk about his time on the ighway. I also found out that he as in the Battle for Attu. I’m having a difficult time connecting the two with the 18th Engineers. Where you also on Attu? Can you help me with the connection that gets my father on Attu.
    Thank you very much for you time.
    Kenneth A. Binam

  6. David Chapman says:

    From another website, I learned that Preston Willson passed away in early December


  7. Linda says:

    Recently my father and step-mother demolished a former US military barracks that was a part of the property they purchased. In the demolition, they came across a piece of board that was signed by Joe V Mier. Joe belonged to the US troops that were working in the area of Fort St. John BC on the Alaska Highway. If anyone knows of Joe or his Family, please email.

  8. Barb Smith says:

    My husband served with the 340th Combat Engineers who helped in the construction of the Alcan Highway. He is still alive at 89 and has his Battalion’s “Book” of the 340th Engineers in Alaska. The Battalion was then sent to the Pacific Islands and again, he has his Battalion’s “Book” on that part of the war. He has told his sons and family members of his experiences in Alaska and the Islands. I wonder if there are any other 340th Engineers out there?

    • Vicky says:

      Hi Barb, I seen that your husband was one of the pioneers of the Alcan. I am wondering if he had ever mentioned meeting a community of First Nation people who lived along the Prophet River. Just past Trutch Mountain or between mile 202-260 on the Alaska Highway.
      My son’s great grandmother has told me a story of the first time she had encountered the US Army: She was only maybe 5 or 6 years old at the time and her people was scared of the new strange people and their machines. The people decided to send a little girl to go see if the army men were hostile or kind. She didn’t speak english and could not understand the men talking to her. She said they gave her food and supplies, that they piled the rations around her and patted her on the head and went on their way.
      It would be nice to find a journal entry or story of one of those army men. That is part of the reason I am writing on these blogs I come across that relate to the old highway.
      Thank you for your time and take care,

    • Mike says:

      Hi Barb, I gave all the information you sent me in the mail, to the “Alaska Veterans Museum” in Anchorage Alaska and will it will be on display for the, 70th Anniversary of the Alcan Highway. I thank you for your information and will send you photos. Marvin Smith’s service will not be forgotten.

      • Barb Smith says:

        Mike: Thank you for doing that. I actually got a lump in my throat when I read that. Marvin would be proud. He was always proud of having served his country; tho the time he spent in the Asian Pacific theater of war left him with some scars. Not the kind from being wounded (tho he did have small ones plus Malaria), but to his spirit – at the end of his life when he sat in our front room and said his prayers out loud – he always asked for God’s forgiveness for what he had to do in the war. See, no matter how much time has gone by, a veteran who has had to serve in a combat situation, doesn’t really forget it. God bless all of our troops now serving and those that have served and those that paid the ultimate price with their lives. And I remember now a distant cousin of mine: Emil John Wurtz, Corpsman, died on Hill 881S Feb. 22, 1968. That was when the Khe Sahn siege began.

      • Michael Phillips says:

        Barb, I will be sending you a package of photo’s of the 70th Anniversary display of the ALCAN highway which is at the Alaska Veterans Museum, 333 West 4th Ave suite 227 Anchorage Alaska
        99501 and web site
        Your husbands picture Marvin A Smith and the booklet of the 340th Engineers Company B is on display. I thank you for perserving the history of your husband and for others to see the hardships the military had to go thru to build a road 1,543 miles in 8months and 11 days. Mike Phillips

      • Barb Smith says:

        Mike: Just saw your new reply of 7/15/12 regarding photos. My sons and I thank you for passing on Marvin’s photos and the book. Am looking forward to seeing them when I receive the package. Thanks so much again.

  9. thomas painter says:

    barb smith my dad has passed on he was in 340 i think and worked on hwy. and then went to pacific islands. his name was rupert q painter. i think he was a staff sgt. any mencion in those books of him. thank you tom

    • Barb Smith says:

      Tom: I haven’t looked at this website for awhile. The reason I did tonight is that Marvin passed away at the age of 90 on Dec. 28, 2010. I have the books I mentioned above and will look for your dad’s name in them. There are pictures of the platoons but I cannot remember if the names are underneath them or not.

      If you Google or Yahoo, 340th combat/construction engineers, you will see an article that I put in the Illinois Dept. of Vet Affairs before Marvin died about the group. Wish I had your email address. Barb Smith

      • Michael Smith says:

        Hi, thanks for the reply. my e-mail is My grandfather was Lt. Col. Irving N. Smith. He was pictured in many photos in a souvinier book called “”track tracks”, the building of the alcan highway.” I have a picture of the book that I could e-mail to you, I don’t know if it is one of the books you have. I don’t know if my grandfather was pictured in any other books. My father and grandfather have both passed now, as well as all the rest of my family, so it is difficult for me to discover any new info, such as dates, locations, etc. I look forward to hearig from you with any info you may be able to provide. Thank you SO MUCH for your time, and I am very sorry to hear of your loss. Best wishes in the new year, sincerely, Michael Smith (North West Pennsylvania).

  10. Erin Browne says:

    I am doing some research on the 18th and their involvement in creating the Alcan Highway for a PBS show.
    If you were in a Reg that helped to make the highway, or are related to someone who did (and may have heard their stories or have their photos/momentos) please contact me.
    I am doing historical research but as always it is great to hear from those who were there or their proxies. I also have some questions I would love to ask.
    Please email me at
    Thank you!

  11. Brad says:

    my grandefather was part of the Canadian civil engineers sent there to assist in the construction. after the completion my grandfathef brought back several pieces of machinery that was abbandoned by the US. He formed a construstion company out of the equipment in thje early fifties, and my father took over after mygrandefather passed. I grew up on the toys the boys used to build the mighty road.

  12. michael smith says:

    my grandfather (Col. Irving N. Smith) worked on the alaskan highway, and had his picture printed several times in the “truck tracks” book that was published. My father HAD a copy of this book, but after his passing we never found it. I have seen copies, but cannot find any for sale. can anyone help?? also any info or literature on my grandfather would be great. Thanks in P.A.

    • Barb Smith says:

      Mike: I recently found a website that had lists of books about the Alcan Highway. Here are three listed including the one you are talking about – last one listed: The website is:

      U. S. Army
      The Long Trail: 341st Engineers on the Alaska Military Highway, 1942-1943
      Charlotte, NC: The Herald Press, ca. 1944.
      112 pages, illus.
      “It is being distributed free to every man who was in the north country with the Regiment. All costs are paid from the profits made in the operation of the Regimental PX in Canada.”
      2005 value: $150-300

      U. S. Army (This is the one I have)
      Lower Post or Freeze: 340th Engineer Regiment on the Alaska Military Highway, 1942-1943
      Charlotte, NC: The Herald Press, 1944. ca.
      90 pages, illus.
      2005 value: $500-700

      U. S. Army – This is the one you talked about.
      Truck Tracks: Special Souvenir Edition
      16 February, 1944. 128 pp, illus.
      2005 value: $50-100

      • jeremy G says:

        Hello. I have a photo book that was made by the civilian workers on the alcon. It is a leater bound book has about 75 black/white still shots of camps work sites. Equiptment going throug the permafrost and getting stuck gard shacks and a lot of people in cluding my grampa and I have his footlocker that has the original map still painted on it. I want to sell theis.

  13. Barb Smith says:

    Michael: Just looked at this website after quite a while. Was your grandfather in the 340th Construction Battalion? My husband, Marvin A. Smith served in and just passed away Dec. 28, 2010 at the age of 90. I have two books from the 340th. One for Alaska and one for the Pacific Islands. Do you think those are the books you might have seen once? The only thing I could do is look for his name in them and make you a copy of the book. Marvin had Taps played at his services and the flag folded by two soldiers and presented to his family. Hope you see this and reply. Barb Smith P.S. I will look for your grandfather’s name in the book tonight. I am in Illinois.

  14. Al Manning says:

    Though I don’t have a lot of information, my dad was involved with the Alcan Highway project. He was a mess sergeant (cook), and I believe he was a member of the 477th Quartermaster Regiment.

    • Micahel Phillips says:

      Hi Al Manning, I’m working with the Alaskan Veterans Museum and they are trying to get pictures of the Alcan highway and display them at the museum. Any pictures can be scaned and sent back to you. Michael Phillips, 12400 Atherton Rd Anchorage Ak. 99516

      • Barb Smith says:

        Mr. Phillips: Though you didn’t ask me, I sent you a large brown envelop this morning. I scanned some of my husband’s photos, tho not all of them, and they are in it. I also sent you a xerox copy of his book about building the Alcan Highway from his regiment along with another little book that he had. If you can use any of this info fine, if not, fine too. I would like to hear more information on the museum that you mentioned. Good luck. Barb Smith Oh, I forgot, Marvin was a member of the 340th Regiment, Co. B.

      • William Morales says:

        My Uncle was assigned to Company C. 18th Engineers. I found over 100 photographs of equipment and scenery. He also left some photos of Japanese bodies at Attu. I am in the process of scanning and turning these photos in .jpg files. If interested, contact me at:

      • Ken Binam says:

        My father was a cook/barber with the 18 th engineers. He died in 1967 when I was 13. I do have pictures a newspaper and a little memorabilia. Please let me know if you are interested.

        Ken Binam

  15. Sandy Dobbelaere says:

    My Dad has passed away now, but he was one of the civilian workers on the Highway he was 17 when he joined a crew and rode a train upnorth. His parents did not know he left Ohio. His older brother had just been killed in the war. His crew boss wrote a letter home to his parents when he found out. My dad drove trucks and bulldozers. That was his type of work after he was married and until he retired he drove truck and hauled cement and dug ponds for people.
    We were told all the stories of the hard work and the great food the mess cooks made. He especially loved sourdough biscuits There camp was close to Kluane SP? lake for a while . He talked about the good guys he worked with and bearcubs coming into camp and seeing a black wolf one night. Can you imagine what an adventure that was for a 17 year old. My Dad was 89 when he died we live in Ohio, but he took us up north every summer in June and we drove around Alaska looking at old haunts of his. I remember stopping at a lookout site with a bunch of tourists and a park ranger was standing there. Dad told him about the road that was up on the top of a mountain that they had put it in when they were building the highway . The guy kind of blew him off like he was crazy and the next day we stopped back by there and this guy comes back up to my dad and starts talking to him telling him he had talked to some old timer and found out there was an old road up there. My parents made the trek up there every summer till my dad passed away from cancer If he could have talked mom into moving up there with us 6 kids we would have all been Alaskans.

    • Barbara Boaz says:

      My father in law from MO, Bert Boaz was also a Civilian working on the Alcan Highway around Whitehall in 1943. If any one has any information
      about him I would appreciate hearing from you

      The civiian’s working on the road were under the supervision of the PRA and I believe were linked with the 18th, and they came in the spring of 1942. There has to be a record of these men somewhere?

      Barbara Boaz

    • says:

      Sandy: My grandfather was a cook up there. His name was Russell Orr McKinley. He was born in 1905 and died in 1959. If you have any more cook stories or pictures, please let me know.

  16. Allen says:

    Hello all,
    Thank you all for sharing your stories and for you and your loved ones work on the highway. I live in Delta Junction where the Alcan joins the Richardson Highway and am a graduate student working on a history of Alaska thesis and how the Army made it happen. Anyone that can contribute or give me sources to look at would be most appreciated.

    • Barb Smith says:

      Allen: Not sure what you mean by “sources”. I do have my husband’s book from his battalion (340th) that is strictly on the building of the Alcan Highway. However, I cannot send it to you tho I have made paper copies of it for our sons. Don’t know if a paper copy of the book would help you or not. I would have to mail it and it will be sort of heavy so probably cost a few bucks to send it to you IF you should like it. My email is
      Barb Smith

      • Barb Smith says:

        Al: Received your email; sorry if I misunderstood what you were looking for. It was my husband who was in the 340th Engineer Construction Battalion and I would not send you his book; only a copied paper booklet of it. Also, I am assuming that you have Googled in such names as “Alcan Highway, ” 340th and 341 Construction Battalions, WWII, etc.

        Good luck. Barb Smith P.S. Tried to email you back, but you have that security email thing, so I hope you get this.

  17. Lynn says:

    My father (Vincent Henry Graff) worked on the highway as a civilian. About all I remember was that he was with Osterman construction out of Iowa.
    If anybody has any information, it would sure be appreciated.

    • Ken Eide says:

      I had two uncles who worked on the highway as civilians. They were from Iowa so it is quite possible they were with Osterman Construction as well. There names were Arthur and Peter Knudsvig. I would like to research their story as much as possible for a family history book. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

      Thanks, Ken

      • Al Manning says:


        I live in Iowa. Do you know where in Iowa they were from? I might be able to do some research for you.


      • Ken Eide says:


        My uncles lived in Northeast Iowa near Decorah. They did work in the Waterloo area at times.


      • Al Manning says:

        Are you looking for any information about them, or just specifically information relating to their work on the highway?

      • Ken Eide says:


        I am looking for information about their work on the highway. Specifically the location of the civilian contingent, what section they worked on and possibly where they camped.


        Enjoyed the comment “…that’s just the Inside Passage.”

        Thanks to you both,

      • Barbara Boaz says:

        Ken, I am also working on a family history for my daughter. My father in law was with the civilian, i believe they were under the supervision of the PRA. He was there in 1943, in Whitehall; but I can’t find anything about how long or any data base. Have you had any luck?

        Barbara Boaz

    • Lynn says:

      A light hearted side note: My wife and I were planning an Alaskan cruise, and asked my parents if they’d like to go along. My father said, “That’s not Alaska, that’s just the Inside Passage.”
      And my mother said, ” If I wanted to go to Alaska, you would have been born there.” They were married in Iowa after he came home to the farm.

    • C.T. Lentz says:

      Hi Lynn, my father who was from Iowa too, also worked with a construction company on the highway! I’ll try to find out more. We have a few photos he sent to my mom then.

    • Barbara Boaz says:

      If you have had any luck with the researching civilian, pls let me know.

      • Ken Eide says:


        I haven’t found anything except general information. If all goes well I may travel the highway this summer and do some research along the way. I understand there are some very good historical records that can be found along the route. If I go perhaps you could give me a name and I could do some checking for you.


  18. […] Alaska Highway: The Biggest and Hardest Job Since the Panama Canal The final cost of the Alaska Highway ??” or 'Alcan' as it is often called ??” was ….. Irving N. Smith) worked on the alaskan highway, and had his picture printed several times in the … […]

  19. Darla J.Spene says:

    My Grandfather- Herbert Linhardt worked on the Highway also, would like to locate pictures. Thankyou

  20. Barb Smith says:

    Darla: Saw your post; looked for your grandfather’s name in my late husband’s book on the Alcan Highway. Did NOT see it listed in the index of men in the 340th Construction Battalion. That does not mean that he wasn’t there with another Battalion such as the 341st or others. What kind of pictures were you looking for. I have a whole book full of them? Just pictures of the building of the highway? Let me know. I would be glad to send you some even tho I didn’t see your grandfather’s name. Barb Smith

    • says:

      Barb: My grandfather was the cook. His name is Russell Orr McKinley (Mac). Please let me know if you have any pictures. I would be very interested in them and any stories you have.

  21. Barbara Boaz says:


    His name is Bert Boaz, or Bertram L. Boaz, Jr. and he was there in 1943 for sure.

    Thanks so much!


  22. Teressa Underwood says:

    If you ever have the opportunity to go to Alaska, DO IT! We were there in the summer of 2010 and stopped in Dawson Creek for a couple of days. The Alaska Highway Museum there is so interesting. They have a 20-minute documentary about the construction of the highway that is well worth watching The construction of the highway was a herculean feat. What these men endured is heartbreaking. Alaska is the most AWESOME place ever. Breathtakingly beautiful.

  23. Don Bielski says:

    My grandfather, William Nauman, was I believe very involved in
    this project as a member of the Army Corp. of Engineers. In
    fact, that is where he passed away, during construction. His
    daughter Carol, my mother, was too young to remember many
    details and my grandmother passed away in the late 70’s and
    I don’t know how much even she actually knew, after all, he never
    came back.

    Any information would be appreciated.

  24. Vicky says:

    Hello, My name is Vicky and I currently live on mile 232 of the current Alaska Highway. I am looking for any information or pictures of the construction or use of the Alcan Highway in the area between Fort St. John and Fort Nelson from 1942-1980. If anyone has every heard any mention of the First Nation People that lived in this area. Mentions of Prophet River, Trutch Mountain, Pink Mountain, Buckinghorse River, Sikanni River, or Kalua Lakes would be much welcome. I am interested in old stories that relate to the area I live in. My family and I use the old highway all the time still for access to hunting and fishing. We come across old buildings and old foundations that are still kinda standing. We found an old sawmill the other day down an old road off of the Alcan, that was owned by a man named Jack Pankqu ( not sure of the spelling) that was opened approx 1960 and closed 1972. I got this bit of info from my family member who has lived in this area for 47 years. So thank you for reading this and I hope to hear from you.

  25. Barb Smith says:

    Vicky – sending you an email. Barb Smith

  26. Al Manning says:


    I don’t have any stories, but my dad was in one of the army units that worked on the Highway and took quite a few pictures, which I recently ran across. One of them is a picture of the Charlie Lake General Store, which, from what I can tell, was about 6 km northwest of Fort. St. John.

    • Vicky says:

      Thank you Al for your response and Thank you Barb Smith for sending me information. I welcome any history for the Alaska Highway. Canadian’s didn’t record alot of history for this accomplishment of road building that is why I am starving for information. My common law husband grew up on this highway and we still live here. we live on mile 233 of the highway and not much history is recorded for this area.
      Al if you wish I would appreciate a copy of what you have if it is no problem. you can email me or mail it to me which ever works best for you. thank you
      – Vicky Woodworth

      • Vicky says:

        After reading my last post, I should say that each town and city has their own recorded parts of history. Fort Nelson has one of the best I have seen when it comes to old artifacts. Marl Brown has the largest selection of old trucks and equipment I have ever seen.
        My issue is that the history is hard to find online. someday I will travel the entire highway to visually learn but until then I am blogging. Thank you!

  27. marlys walters george says:

    good morning: i have quite a few pictures of the work done on the highway. my dad helped with the progress. dad died in 93 and i have all these old pictures. i would like to see if anyone is intersted in them they show the old machines that were used. aand the conditions of the country. please let me know thank you mjg

    • Vicky says:

      Hi Marlys, I was wondering if you had any pictures of the area of highway between Fort St john BC and Lower Post BC? I am interested in any thing that is refering to the first nations families that they may have encountered. If you scroll up more on this page you may see more of my posts, but I live in Prophet River which is about mile 233 on the Alaska Highway. I travel the highway your dad and many other men built all the time and I will agree with all text that refer to the land be tough and the bugs! lol Thanks you for your time.

      • Bob MacDonald says:

        I saw your note that you are living at 232. I lived at 232.5 in 1968 (I was 16 yrs. old), east side between you and Lum n Abner’s. Lum n Abner’s was being run by a couple name Bob & Jean (1967/68). I don’t recall their last name. My Great Uncle owned 232.5 post office back in the 1950’s and 60’s. His name was Earl Inglesby, he would have been around 60 in 1967. He came up the A Hwy to build it, bought the land and stayed. Also down south on the road was the Fell family, not sure of the spelling and only recall one as Wayne Fell. They apparently bought my G. Uncles land after he left for Dawson Creek late in his life. Are you are at the new place on the east side of the hwy or on the reserve land? Our cabins were just where the new gas pumps are located or there about. I have been up there several times over the years, 1969, 1970 and again in 2011. Big changes from the 60’s. I am planning a trip up again beginning of August 2013 by motorcycle.
        Perhaps you have info that would help me as well. My father, who also lived there was Bill (William) MacDonald and my brother Don as well.
        Bob MacDonald

    • says:

      I would be very interested in the pictures. My grandfather helped build the highway. He was the cook. He died in 1959. Thank you.

  28. William Morales says:

    My Uncle was assigned to Company C, 18th Btn Engineers (Combat) which was fleshed out into the 18th Regt. He worked on the ALCAN road. After it was completed, his unit was summoned to assist in the invasion of Attu. He left over 100 photographs, including a host of picture postcards of area commuinities, which I am in the process of scanning. The pictures of Attu are mostly of Japanese bodies. I plan to give the photos to the History Office, Army Engineers.

    • Barb Smith says:

      To William Morals: Giving the photos to the History Office is a great idea. I didn’t know there was such a place.

  29. Jim Knight says:

    My father, Paul E. Knight worked on the Alcan Highway. I have around 100 pictures of the construction & people who worked on the highway. He was with a civilian contruction company and worked in the area of the Peace River, Suicide Hill & Whitehorse. I am in the process of scanning, cropping & cleaning my photos. I also have a few names to go with a couple of the photos. I have yet to be able to read the name of the construction company he was working for, but hopefully one of the photos will reveal this information. My Dad said his only regret was not entering Alaska. He thought that since he was working outside of the USA he wouldn’t have to pay income tax, but lo & behold he did have to pay it upon returning to the USA. I will try to update everyone & hopefully put these photos in a PPS program for viewing. My dad was born Nov. 4, 1916. Would have been 96 this November.

    • C. M. Toppenberg says:

      Hi all, my father worked a year or two on the AlCan clearing, digging and grading. He worked for a contractor out of Iowa. He joined Navy later and served aboard the LaVallette in the Pacific. He would have been 95 this November. We look forward to seeing your photos Jim Knight. Visiting the AlCan Highway and Alaska is something I really want to do. Dad loved being in Alaska and brought Mom a polar bear coat. He loved working on the highway.

  30. Paula Sexton says:

    I enjoyed reading everyone’s replys and am going to try and research the books listed. My Grandfather, Walter Preston, was in the Army and I was told he worked on the highway. I have been trying to find information. Thanks to all.

  31. says:

    My grandfather was also part of civialian corps of engineers also and was one of the cooks. His name was Russell Orr McKinley (Mac). I would love to know if anyone has any pictures or knew him. He died in Sept 1959. My email is

  32. Barb Smith says:

    Linda: Altho I have the whole book of the 340th Regiment helping to build the Alcan Highway, I do not have any pictures of the cooks cooking, so to speak. I also have individual pictures that my husband took himself and sent home.

    I can send you some of those photos, but they would not be of your grandfather, etc. Let me know if you are interested. Take care.

  33. David Nimmo says:

    To any out there who may be able to help me!!!!

    My father ( his name was Ivan L. Bud Nimmo) worked on the highway with the civilian crew who groomed the highway and installed many of the
    efinements & upgrades in the fall of 42 thru 43. My mother (Frances L. Tip Nimmo) and the other wives were able to accompany the men as far as Dawason Creek.
    Anyway I have many pictures of the original highway, workers and original bridge construction taken by my father. I would like to see these go to a museum dedicated to the Highway.
    Anyone with contact info to a Museum honoring the Highway, please contact me. My email address is DAVIDNIMMO@GBPACKERSFAN.COM
    Thanks in advance

  34. Barb Smith says:

    To David Nimmo:

    Don’t know if this will help you, by in the comments above, there is this notice:

    Micahel Phillips says:
    2/13/2012 at 2:12 am
    Hi Al Manning, I’m working with the Alaskan Veterans Museum and they are trying to get pictures of the Alcan highway and display them at the museum. Any pictures can be scaned and sent back to you. Michael Phillips, 12400 Atherton Rd Anchorage Ak. 99516.

    I sent this fellow my husband’s book on the his regiment helping build the highway along with actual photos that he took himself. I know that they did this display for the Highway’s 70th anniversary. You could get in touch with him and ask him if he wants some more photos. Barb Smith

  35. David Nimmo says:

    Thank You Barb. Guess I missed that one


  36. Christine McClure says:

    I have read all the posts. For photos it would be most helpful to send them to one of these places:Eric A. Reinert, Humphreys Engineer Center, Office of History Army Corp of Engineers, 7701 Telegraph Road, Alexandria, Va 22315 or The University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections and Archives, Rose Speranza, Archivist, PO Box 756808, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775-6808. My father was a junior office in the 93rd Regiment ad I would love to here from any one that has photos from this regiment or stories. Please contact me at for any questions. Thanks

  37. S. Ross says:

    My grandfather, Dave Ross worked as a Canadian civilian on the highway. Our family lived near Dawson Creek and Dave had a 1940 Fargo truck. He and his brother, William, hauled explosives up the highway.
    He told me stories of finding a driver with his truck broken down. The man was sitting on the side of the road, frozen. Dave was a self taught machinist and could fix anything. At one point, near Charlie Lake, he was comendeered by the US Army to fix trucks and bulldozers. After 5 days he finally convinced the fellow in charge that his wife would be fearing the worst as there was no way to contact her.
    One of the other stories that always stuck with me was the explosion in Dawson Creek, a barn, I believe, used to hold explosives. Dave and William were heading home when they saw the fire behind them. They turned around to help and were ordered to go up and down the back alleys taking a little firewood from each family’s wood pile. This was done to set up bonfires for a makeshift airstrip to take out the injured, I believe he said they were flown to Seattle. I would love to hear more about this!

    And that old Fargo truck? Grandpa went to sell it after the war but my father, a little boy at the time, cried as he was attached to it. Grandpa kept it and eventually repurposed it with a grain bin and used it for a few more decades. Our family still has that truck.

  38. Justine White-Fish says:

    I have pictures from the construction of the highway. They where going to be thrown away and I rescued them in hopes of finding people that might have family in them.

  39. Justine White-Fish says:

    I forgot to give contact info. I dont want any money for them. I just want them to find their home.

    • JIm Knight says:

      Justine, I took 163 pictures of the Alcan Highway that my father shot and scanned them in the computer, cleaned them, straightened & cropped them and put them in a PPS program that I will be sending to both Canadian & Alaskan museums. I know that you can send them directly to those museums and they would be more than happy to accept them as part of the history of the Highway. Do you know what area of the Alcan Highway that these pictures are of? If you can’t contact the museums to donate them, I would be willing to accept them, clean & crop them and get them to the museums.

  40. Verna Wheeler says:

    My dad also worked on the Alcan Hwy in 1943with a civilian construction company. This summer my brother and I plan a trip to the Hwy to see it, We wish we knew what parts he worked on. He told us that he helped pub numerous logs into the muskeg (sp?) to made it usable. My dad’s name was Vernon Lee and he lived in Monterey County of Calif. We have a wonderful scrapbook of photos that he kept. He didn’t take them, but were given to him by a friend that also worked there. About 10 or 15 years ago, I saw an announcement of a reunion of Alcan hwy construction workers, but we weren’t able to go and my dad had already passed away. I’m also interested if anyone knew him or a construction co. that might have been in CA recruiting heavy equipment operators.
    Verna (Lee) Wheeler.

  41. Jim Knight says:

    I have finished my project and have a PPS program with all of the pics in it. There are about 161 photos all together. I wish this website had the capability of inserting my program into it so everyone could see these photos. My father was hired by the Bechtel Corporation of San Francisco, Ca. He had been working for the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). His pay while working on the Alcan Highway was somewhere in the range of $ .60-.75 cents/hr. This was much better than what he had been making. He left his wife and 2 children in Los Angeles, Ca. (I was not born until 1945) and headed for Dawson Creek. The Bechtel Corporation was working on the CANOL Project, a pipeline from North of Whitehorse to Dawson Creek. This pipeline was supposed to pump oil from the oil fields to Dawson Creek. Wrought with bribery and fraud, the pipeline was discontinued around 1945. I don’t know what area he actually worked, but I have numerous pictures of the Peace River Bridge construction, Whitehorse, & suicide hill. If anyone would like a digital copy of my PPS program please send an email to: and put in the subject line: Alcan Highway.

  42. Jim Knight says:

    I know the Bechtel Corp. of San Francisco, Ca. was one of the leading recruiters and it is also close to your area. Do you have a way of scanning some of the photos that I could review? Especially camp or truck pictures. This might give me some idea. Thank you in advance.
    The state of Alaska Museum will accept digital copies of your photos for their archives, but the Alberta, Canada museum refused my photos since they were digital copies. They wanted the originals with proof of who took them. I explained that the originals would stay in my family as part of our heritage. Their reply was: Thanks anyway. Too bad they do not want photos of one of modern world’s greatest projects.

  43. Sandy Naylor says:

    Does anyone know if names are listed in “The Long Trail: 341st Engineers”. My father Lester Senour was a part of the 341st that helped to build the Alcon Highway. He never would talk about his experiences there. In fact, he didn’t consider himself a veteran. How do you prove that your father helped to build the highway. When my son was young he tried to tell his teacher that his grandfather helped to build the highway and she actually called him a liar. So much for sharing family history. If you could help I would appreciate it greatly. Sandy

  44. Sandy Naylor says:

    Does anyone know if names are listed in “The Long Trail: 341st Engineers”. My father Lester Senour was a part of the 341st that helped to build the Alcon Highway. He never would talk about his experiences there. In fact, he didn’t consider himself a veteran. How do you prove that your father helped to build the highway. When my son was young he tried to tell his teacher that his grandfather helped to build the highway and she actually called him a liar. So much for sharing family history. If you could help I would appreciate it greatly. Sandy

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