Read several articles on us from several Alaskan news sources....
The "Great Alaskan Train Move" - How we got all these cars to Fairbanks...
Local train links: Crooked Creek & Whisky Island Railroad...
 
Train Links

 

The Great Alaskan Train Move
Morning used to be a peaceful time for family chatter, but six months ago, Susan Wilson bolted out of bed to share with her husband, Mike, a dream she had. She excitedly told her husband that, in her dream, they had a train nestled on their hillside property located in Fairbanks, Alaska. Mike, thinking nothing of it, chuckled. Three days later, he wasn't laughing so hard when Susan announced that she had just purchased a caboose! She asked if he could move it up to their house. Thinking it was a toy she had bought for their children, he asked if he could fit it in the back of his pickup truck. Susan chuckled and replied, "Well, maybe, let's go see."
Mike grinned, tipping back his baseball cap, and said: “For you babe, I'll move anything,” which left him wide open for Susan's future dreams! Pulling up to the site of where the caboose was located, Mike's jaw dropped. Why, it was a real caboose, which was 14 feet high, without the rail trucks, 41 feet long, weighing 52,000 pounds! Mike grinned, tipping back his baseball cap, and said: "For you babe, I'll move anything," which left him wide open for Susan's future dreams! This was the beginning of the great Alaskan Train Move!
Several years ago, a local attorney purchased Caboose No. 1068 from the Alaska Railroad as an anniversary present for his wife, who later decided it wasn't quite what she had in mind as a memorable keepsake of years of marriage and decided to sell it to the Wilsons. Susan bought the caboose, surprising Mike with the request to move it. Mike pondered for three weeks, trying to decide how to move the caboose. Because of the height of the power lines, which became a moot point, because the caboose wouldn't fit under the over passes! This was when Mike decided to use to 980 Cat Loaders. He lifted the train off the rail tracks and put the couplers of each end of the caboose into the buckets of the loaders, and chained the couplers to the buckets thus enabling them to keep the caboose, at some points, only four inches above the ground, clearing the power lines. The two operators were in constant contact by radio as they moved the caboose through 9.6 miles of busy intersections and steep hills; however three hours later, they had moved the caboose to the Wilsons' property.

Fairbanks was abuzz with the news! The Tanana Railroad Association, who is currently renovating narrow gauge steam trains at Alaskaland, a local theme park, called the Wilsons to congratulate them. During this discussion, they shared that Mt. McKinley Hotel had offered them two pullman sleeper cars. However, being interested solely in narrow gauge cars, Tanana Railroad Association informed Susan that these trains were available. Well... Susan immediately called Mt. McKinley Hotel to ask if the trains were still available. To her delight, they were. Mike, thinking he had just accomplished the unthinkable in moving the caboose to the Wilsons' property, was aghast at the idea of moving two rail cars 120 miles into Fairbanks.

The gold and blue cars had been part of the Denali Hotel since 1971. After the hotel burned down, they were purchased from the Alaska Railroad to add housing for tourists. They graced the entranced of the hotel for 22 years, until the Wilsons purchased them each for $1.00. They were manufactured in 1956 by the Pullman Car Company, and were two of the 12 sleeper cars built that year. They were named the "National Emblem" and the "National Domain." Each car is 85 feet long, 10 feet wide , and 13 feet tall, weighing 90 tons each.

Mike researched how to move these cars and found that the cost to pick up the trains with cranes and place them on lowboys was astronomical. The closest cranes would have to be broke down and transported from Anchorage, some 400 miles from Fairbanks. Mike, however, knew there had to be a way to move those trains to the Wilsons; property, within their budget, and keep his promise to his wife that he would move anything for her!

Two months passed, the Christmas season came, and the Wilsons were attending the Operating Engineers' holiday party. They ran into their old friend, Wesley Mitchell. Wesley had worked the railroad since he was 14 years old. Within three years he had worked his way up to gang boss, until the railroad found out he was under age and fired him. The railroad lost a good man in Wesley, and the Wilsons found the answers they needed in the same good man. Within one week the plan was set into action.

The Wilsons with the aid on Wesley's knowledge, hired a crew of four men. The plan was to jack the train cars up, with a 50 ton air-over-hydraulic jacks placed under the jack pads. It would be necessary to lift the train cars a total of 60 inches, in 7 inch lifts. The train car would them be hooked on the end of a 1991 International four axle tractor and moved to Fairbanks. A dolly was made from the axle and frame of a dump truck. A fifth wheel attachment and a cab for steering and control were mounted. A special fifth wheel pin hitch, made out of 1/2 inch T-1 steel, then and 8x8 1/4 inch square tubing was welded to the back of the hitch plate. Holes were cut in the flange of the train frame and tubing bolts on each corner of the hitch. The train car would be cross trained to the dolly so it steer itself . That January all necessary permits were attained. They allowed for 136,000 pounds to be later transported on a tilt top equipment trailer. Mike and the crew headed down to Mt. McKinley to prepare the train cars for transport. Temperatures had dipped to 40 degrees below zero. The weather , not cooperating with machinery, froze the jacks, making them impossible to use. The men took one 500,000 BTU space heater, along with three 150,000 BTU space heaters, placed them under the trains and completely enclosed it with tarps, to heat the equipment. Finally, six days later, the first car was jacked and ready to go.

The first winter storm watch of the season was in effect. On the first blind corner out of Mt. McKinley, Mike had to make a sharp turn to avoid hitting four moose, thus breaking the cross chains. This was our first challenge of the Great Alaskan Train Move.

Forty miles out of McKinley, the lug nuts came loose on the outer wheel of the dolly. The train hobbled into Nenana, where a local garage lent us wrenches to repair it. It took one full day to move 120 miles, with an average speed of 35 miles per hour. They crossed eight bridges on icy and snowy roads.

Once the train reached the Wilsons' hillside property, it took five days to move the train 1,000 feet! The first obstacle was to take a train, tractor and dolly, which measured 126 feet, around a 40 foot curve. The belly of the train was pivoted around the inside off the curve, this maneuver taking half a day. The last switch back on the road to the final resting place of the cars had an 80 foot radius. However, it was on a 15% grade. To stabilize the train from tipping, it was tied to an International TD8 Dozer and a 966 Loader, as well as several 150 foot spruce trees. On this switch back, we almost lost her several times, the first being when the undercarriage got caught up on the inside of the corner. This happened because of the icy conditions. The truck slid sideways because it was unable to stay on the high side of the curb. The weight of the train made it impossible to stop the truck. God was watching over us, and stopped the train car by a break in the air line, stopping the tractor's wheels only inches away from a 20 foot drop off. The men stopped, had a cup of coffee, fixed the air line, did a little Cat work, built the bank up and proceeded with caution. Inching our way around the switch back, we began to slide again, this time all but tipping the train on its side tearing the bolts out of the frame of the fifth wheel attachment. The men once again sat down, had a cup of coffee, and went to plan "B." They needed to figure out how to keep the tractor up on the corner and stabilize the train at the same time. With the experience of the crew, they pulled through with no loss of life or equipment! They did this by taking a loader, pulling it with the top picking eyes, and pulling it back upright. Then, jacking and cribbing, they got the fifth wheel plates welded and repaired, and finished around the corner at the breakneck speed of six inches per hour, completing out five days of sheer terror! Because of the incredible time we had on the final switch back, the men have named it the "SOB," also known as "Slide Over Baby!"

Now that the move was over, it was time to begin renovations on the two sleeper cars, as well as the caboose. The Wilsons plan on converting the train into a bed and breakfast, called the "Forget-Me-Not Lodge/Aurora Express."

The Aurora Express now consists of seven authentic Alaska Railroad cars resting on winding track, nestled on fifteen acres of towering spruce. Each room commands a panoramic view of the Tanana River, the Alaska Mountain Range and the City of Fairbanks. A 20 minute drive will take you to most tourist attractions, as well as Fairbanks International Airport.

The caboose is name the "Golden Nellie," in honor and memory of Susan's grandmother, Nellie LeVision, who was lead mechanic at Eilson Air Force base, near Fairbanks, during World War II. After the war, she retired to Eagle, Alaska, to live in a tent and pan for gold. The caboose is the "presidential car" of the Aurora Express. With gilded golden ceiling, heavy emerald velvet curtains, queen size bed and a private bath, the Golden Nellie is our most extraordinary treasure. The original chairs have been restored, so one may sit in comfort after climbing the golden ladders into the covered observation deck high above.

The "National Domain" has been restored into four elegant suits, with queen sized beds, private baths and entrances. Replicas of old brass pounded ceiling glisten above, heavy burgundy velvet curtains trimmed in gold fringe add a luxurious feeling, while cherry stained walls compliment Victorian beds, lamps and wall paper.

The "National Emblem" provided the cozy accommodations which sleeper cars offered their passengers in the past. She has been restored to her original splendor. Small but delightful rooms share baths, while double beds magically fold down from arched ceilings, and passenger seats offer comfortable seating. This is a wonderful car for those traveling in large groups with children.

If anyone wants to learn how to move trains or has questions about of move feel free to call us. We're more than happy to share our experience!

 

Alaska Railroad
The Alaska Railroad offers rail transportation and travel packages to some of Alaska's premier destinations like Seward, Anchorage, Denali and Fairbanks. Their web site has train schedules, travel package descriptions and prices, and a lot of other interesting information for tourists and train enthusiasts.

 

Crooked Creek & Whisky Island Railroad
The Crooked Creek & Whisky Island Railroad runs within Alaskaland - a theme park of Alaskan history and culture.
And more...
Alaska Railroad Video - tells the story of trains in Alaska since the Gold Rush.
Tanana Valley Model Railroad Club - A diorama displaying model trains is at the Alaska Railroad Passenger Terminal.
University of Alaska Museum - Only 10 minutes away its a Must See!!!
Riverboat Discovery - Take a 3.5 hour cruise through the heart of Alaska.
El Dorado Goldmine - Ride the Tanana Valley Railroad for an adventure into the gold fields of the Interior.
More area attractions: Cramer's Field, Malemute saloon, Palace saloon and of course the Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis
Picture of one of many of the Alaska Railroad's bridges.

The nearby town of Nenana has an old railroad depot and museum.

 

© All Rights Reserved, 2005, Aurora-Express.com.