First they knitted a sweater for the DC-3 weather vane that stands in front of the building. Then, this past weekend, the Yukon Transportation Museum was invaded by a military convoy that evoked images of the construction of the Alaska Highway during the Second World War. An added attraction was the “Snow Monster.”
The Military Vehicle Preservation Association’s convoy consisted of 90 restored military vehicles and 190 participants. It assembled in Dawson Creek at the end of July and headed north on August 4. Convoy vehicles could be seen parked at the museum last Friday and Saturday.
The outbound journey brought them up the Alaska Highway to Watson Lake, where they turned right on the Campbell Highway. They headed north at Carmacks, but took a side-trip on the Dempster Highway to the Arctic Circle, and spent some time in Dawson City before venturing into Alaska.
The seed for the convoy was planted the summer of 2010, said Wendy Rowsam, a public relations volunteer for the convoy. This was followed up last year with a test run, during which they met with community groups and checked out stopping points and campgrounds along the way.
The whole affair was run with military efficiency. Each day, they travelled 320 kilometres along a pre-determined course, with specified stops mid morning and afternoon, and a place to gather for lunch breaks. Everybody did their own vehicle maintenance, but there was a special maintenance team that followed the cavalcade to help those stranded with more serious mechanical problems.
A doctor participated in the event but as of the weekend, there had been no major medical problems.
Rowsam and her husband, Jeff, travelled in a 1942 Dodge half-ton WC21. It was the same model as the first vehicle to complete the Alaska Highway from start to finish.
According to Jeff, it used to be hard to get parts for these old vehicles, but as the preservation movement has gained momentum, so has the availability of spare parts improved.
Many convoy members are former military people themselves, or have family ties to the military. These old vehicles also evoke strong feelings, and often prompted a flood of memories from old-timers the convoy encountered along the way.
The highlights of the convoy so far? One was reaching the Arctic Circle, where everybody was photographed with their vehicle beside the sign at the Arctic Circle. Another was the many kind people who have helped them along the way. Singled out for recognition in this regard was Fischer Fuel of Dawson City, which went out of its way to order parts for the convoy.
Another highlight of the Saturday event was the presence of guest speaker Dale Hardy, president of the R.G. Letourneau Heritage Centre in Longview Texas, accompanied by John Davis, a U.S. military veteran, who rubbed shoulders with a Snow Monster while stationed in Greenland in the 1950s.
The Snow Monster in question is the Letourneau Logistical Cargo Carrier LCC-1, and it is currently on display in front of the Transportation Museum.
The machine was built by the R.G. Letourneau, Inc. in Longview in 1955. For several years, it went through assessment by the military in Michigan and Greenland before being shipped to Alaska in 1961 for continued testing.
While stationed at Fort Greely, it was put into service on a rescue mission. An earlier model of Snow Monster, the Snow Freighter, had been hauling supplies to Dew Line stations. While hauling 400 tonnes of cement and steel north, the Snow Freighter had jackknifed, and fire had damaged the lead unit.
The whole train was abandoned in the Yukon about 55 kilometres southeast of Eagle, Alaska. Under pressure from the Canadian government to remove or bury the Snow Freighter, the LCC-1 was sent in to haul the damaged Snow Freighter from the bush.
Temporary repairs were improvised, and it eventually reached the Dempster highway at Chapman Lake. From there, the peculiar procession made its way to Dawson, where it was parked near the community airport.
The cement and the steel were sold to the Canadian government, which used the materials in the construction of a couple of bridges, including the bridge over the Klondike River at the beginning of the Dempster Highway.
The wagons from the Snow Freighter were sold off, one by one, and the LCC-1 returned to Fort Greely in 1962.
Hardy continues to piece the story together from various sources of information, including old photographs, which he is carefully analyzing. In one image he showed me of the Snow Monster, there is a special roof rack over the cab. In another, this and the front passenger corner are dented and a headlight is missing. In another, the rack is gone and the missing headlight has been replaced.
Each photo helps establish the sequence of events in the life of the machine, even when they reveal more questions. I could see Hardy’s enthusiasm as he talked about the puzzles solved and those remaining.
The LCC-1 itself reveals evidence of its past. The aluminum shell on the steel chassis had at some time been repainted, but in various places, the underlying markings are visible. Some of the lettering on the front still hasn’t been identified, but I suspect that Hardy will keep digging until he has the answer to that question too.
Outside, we examined the vehicle in the gentle rain and noted other peculiarities of design that make this prototype a unique specimen. I counted the number of bolts that would have to be removed in order to change one of the five-metre-tall tires. Now there is one flat I would not want to fix.
Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. His new book, Dalton’s Gold Rush Trail, is now available in stores. You can contact him at email@example.com