Excerpt - White Pass & Yukon Railroad Trip from Whitehorse to Skagway
The White Pass & Yukon Railway was initiated by British investor William Close who wanted to build a railroad from Skagway--with its natural harbour--to the head of the Yukon River. Three professional railroad men that Close hired thought it impossible after checking out the perilous route. Back at their hotel, they met Mike Henry--an Irish Canadian railroad contractor--who had returned from his own surveying of the area. He convinced them that it could be done: "Give me enough dynamite, and snoose, and I'll build you a railroad to hell."
So between Close and his British investors--who invested a total of $10 Million --Henry and his crew built the narrow gauge (three feet wide) which was both cheaper and necessary because of the sharp turns. They built it in 26 months starting in 1898. They used 450 tons of blasting powder, and, at some points, the men worked by dangling from ropes on the icy walls of granite. The wage was $3 a day.
This is an amazing train ride. Although the railroad operates two of its original steam engines--one over 100 years old--those are for special excursions and short routes. We were pulled by a diesel electric engine. The scenery is beautiful of course, and Doug and I enjoyed chugging along the route seeing Bridal Veil Falls which flows 5,000 feet from a glacier to the Skagway River. There are two tunnels on the route.
Glacier Gorge has a chasm of 900 feet so that had to be bridged with a trestle. A highlight of the trip was standing outside on the platform between cars with fireweed seeds and wind blowing as I tried to get a decent photo of the train heading around a bend. Fortunately, we were in one of the cars near the back of the train. It was fun to watch people taking turns bending out over the railing in an attempt to get that perfect photo.
We saw discarded rusted objects littering Dead Horse Trail on the White Pass--Trail of 98 which was 45 miles long over the mountains--where many prospectors travelled the steep mountainsides. (There were two routes into Lake Bennett--the Chilkoot Trail and the White Pass Trail--and prospectors had to go over one or the other so they could float the 555 miles down the Yukon River to the gold fields.) Most of the gold-crazed stampeders treated the horses terribly--many of whom were originally from the glue factories in Seattle and were shipped to Skagway and sold for extremely high prices. Over 3,000 pack animals, mostly horses, died on Dead Horse Trail. Gruesome....
At the Summit of White Pass--about 3,000 feet--we crossed the international border between Canada and the United States. We opened our passports to the photo page and held them up by our faces as a customs officer quickly walked down the aisles. Note that we had to send our passport numbers to the ticket office at least 48 hours before departure so we would have been vetted. Then, after 20 miles chugging along, we disembarked in Skagway for a two hour stopover.