White Pass and Yukon - Alaska
“…hit it big and then Betty’ll marry me…”
“…heard the news and I just stood up from my desk and walked out.”
“Gimme a slug of whiskey.”
“…heard about a fellow who struck it big…”
“Sure is cold up here.”
There was so much noise that I couldn’t follow a conversation for long. Folks were excited. I’m sure some were tired, lonely and nervous too, but what I heard was the excitement. Gold! Gold! Gold!
Gold Fever they called it. Pulling out of Skagway I was bursting with men and supplies. Most of them were new to the area. They’d walked out on jobs and left families behind in the hopes of getting’ rich. Everyone was riding high on dreams. No one except me knew what the folks headed the other way were saying.
“…don’t even have enough for the fare home.”
“Buried two friends. I’m lucky to have survived.”
“Never been so cold and hungry…”
“…no idea what I’ll do now…”
And some didn’t speak, just sat there, sick, lonely and worn out. I imagine, if you searched the world over you’d be hard pressed to find a better witness to dreams. And to broken dreams. Yep. I heard the stories as they were going, and I heard them coming back.
The White Pass and Yukon Railroad was built during the height of the Yukon gold rush to help ferry men and supplies into the interior. Due to the challenges of construction, the railway has been named an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, an honor that has been awarded to only 36 man-made structures around the world.
Though 100,000 men and a handful of women headed north during the gold rush, it is estimated that only 4000 found gold, and only a few hundred became rich. After the gold rush the railroad continued to operate as a passenger and freight service. During WWII it was the main supply source for the US Army’s construction of the Alaskan Highway.
Today the White Pass and Yukon operates mainly as an excursion railroad and is one of the most visited train excursions in the world.