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The Yukon Adventure  !  

AMPHICAR ADVENTURE

After 24 years of living in the big State of Alaska, our experience with cars is that we need one hardy enough for our photography and rock hunting adventures.

Our 1955 Ford hating given its last faithful gasp, in 1965, we were looking over four-wheel drive vehicles, in front of our fireplace one snowy night this March, The twenty-mile per hour blizzard blew in our rock hunting friends, Everly and May Gibbons. They looked over our car brochures, then told us the car they were interested in was the "Amphicar".


"What's that"" said Ivan and Oro.

"That is a car that also travels on the water. doubling for a boat." said May "It has a water cooled 4 cylinder, 12 volt engine. We have looked at literature. It runs 32 mpg on the road-and 1 1/2 gallons per hour on the water."

"The Amphicar has 4 speeds plus reverse. The land speed is 75 mph maximum speed. Water speed is 12 mph. It has twin nylon propellors".

"The water tight doors with double locks and seals keep out the water In short, the Amphicar is the equivalent of a 14' steel hull boat, as a car it has a full rear seal and trunk space, with room for four"

"Where do we find an Anchorage dealer!". "Nick Rauch, who is the Alaskan Distributor of Amphicar."

The versatility of the boat-car appealed to us. With Amphicar we would drive in any lake or river along the Alaskan roads, reach the far side for wild life movies (Ivan's speciality), fishing. and bring back a carload of interesting rocks (Our hobby).

We slab and make bookends of any good Alaskan cutting rocks from fossils to jade. For 11 years I have been the program and tour chairman for the Anchorage rock-hound club. the "Chugach Gem & Mineral Society" - 470 members. I take them by helicopter, bush plane, swamp buggy all over Alaska. With Amphicar, this would be one more way to look up places for the club to go.

With the melting snow at Easter, our plans turned to map hunting the lakes we could travel with boat-car. On April 20th we called RCA and left a message for Nick Rauch to bring us Amphicar brochures

Nick Rauch came into our store and talked about the performance of the Amphicar, Everything we heard sounded good. Then he gave us the clincher idea

"I have been selling Amphicars in Alaska for a year. I have had my Amphicar out in Cook Inlet. Seward Bay. and the fast Kenai River, as well as many lakes I know what it can do Now I want to take it down the Yukon River, the fifth largest water way in the world in capacity "

"How about two well-known Alaskan photographers going with me in your Amphicar? You could sell the movies to the German Amphicar Corporation and give lectures. This would be a "First' for us-the first car down the Yukon River.

These sentences from Nick fired our imagination!

"We'll go." "Deliver a red Amphicar (for color photography) and we'll draw up plans"

Two weeks later a little red Amphicar drew up in front of our door.

On May 15th, the ice was off the lakes near Anchorage. We took our first Amphicar ride at Mirror Lake. As we drove in, the thought was in both our minds "this just doesn't seem right, driving a car into the lake." But the marine drive went in smoothly, the wheels carried us right over the muddy rocks into deep water.

Away we drove, stopping all traffic on both highway and lake. This was a fun situation, and we enjoyed it. Boat owners grabbed cameras and around and around us they went, shooting up film. The Amphicar performed smoothly just like Nick said it would.

From then on we make plans. Nick was taking his eleven year old son Phillip on his Amphicar for the Yukon trip, and Ivan and I were to go in ours. With a minimum of space, we carefully weighted each camera, camping outfit, so our cars would not be overloaded

We set the sailing date for June 15th. We would drive over the Glenn Highway, then down the Alaskan Highway to the junction of the Taylor Highway, up it to Eagle, put the Amphicars in the Yukon River. and come out at Circle, a distance of 165 miles. This would be a week off from our jobs - all we could manage.

First I had a rock club field trip to copper nugget country near the famous Kennicott Mine. Ivan and I and 6 rock hounds flew in and brought out fifty pounds of copper nuggets each, June 13th. Then we met the Rauch's, Nick, Ethel, Phil and Kathy, and Friend Erna Johnson at Atlasta House, Mile 166, Glenn Highway and headed north for our boat-car adventure. John and Marcy White of Atlasta House suggested a radio interview at KCAM at Glennallen; this is central Alaska's most powerful radio station We did and astounded the radio announcers with our proposed trip

Ethel. Kathy, and Erna led the way over the Taylor Highway to the launching spot - Eagle on the Yukon. These three were seeing us off, then driving back up the Alaskan Highway through Fairbanks to Circle (about 600 miles) to greet us at the end of our journey.

We stayed at South Fork Lodge the night of June 14th, located in historic Chicken Creek gold mining district

Kathy Rauch, 8 years old, was delighted by the hired lodge hand who turned puppet master to entertain her. He was good. During the long winter days of six hours daylight and 18 hours night, he is Chicken's most versatile inhabitant welcome at every home.

Another guest at South Fork lodge was Fred Buske "Chief Chugiak" of Chief Chugiak Jewelry Story, who was rock hunting. Fred has a gift shop near Anchorage and we have been friends for 16 years. Besides being mutual rock hounds, we have a bond in our unusual pets Fred had for several years a pet lion. We have a friendly reindeer.

Fred has been down the Yukon on a wooden raft. This is not a deluxe way to travel and he was reluctant to hear we were going to enter the mighty river with our 14' boat-car. He thought our trip would be as rough as the one he had. But we were determined to go through with this river adventure

We drove into Eagle at 4.30, June 15th. The Bierdermans own the Eagle Trading Post and when we told them about our boat-car trip, we got headshakes and stern sentences - "too many logs on river, icebergs cover sandbars, can't land. Too dangerous."

Nick and Ivan asked the Bierdermans, old river pilots, if they would draw in the best route through the river channels and sandbars on our maps. They did- and this was to save many hours of navigating.

At 5 30 Nick took his Amphicar into the Yukon for a test run, while the entire population of Eagle-55-and our group watched. The Amphicar swayed from one side down the water's edge bank to the other as it entered the ten mile an hour current (We found our later that the mud ramps had a deep hole in it right under the water). Then the little white car swept forward towards the red serpentine bluffs. We could see Nick putting on speed to bring it around in a broad circle to head back upstream. For a while it seemed like no headway could be made against the torrent of rushing water, then Nick slowly came nearer. Everyone held their breath. The Amphicar became bigger and bigger, suddenly there it was on the ramp. All the men ran down to pull it up the muddy ground, but it needed no help. The car left the water and sped up the road. Nick had 55 crowded around him when he stepped out of the car. Now they were filled with enthusiasm over our trip down the river.

That night we had an elaborate farewell meal at Merley's lodge and a good night's rest in preparation for the rough journey ahead.

Mrs. Merley serves as Eagle postmistress, librarian, tax collector. city treasurers, customs agent, district recorder. weatherman, airlines communicator, and State Welfare Agent. She said she heard that we had made it all right on our trial run

At 7.30 AM on schedule, Nick and Ivan put theirAmphicars into the Yukon. I had entered the Biedermans long riverboat and was out in the middle of the Yukon River where I could take black and while photos, color slides, and movies of the historic departure, A mile downstream, the transfer of cameras and photogramer to Ivan's Amphicar was quickly made.

AL 8.30 we had gone seven miles-beautiful clear 85 degree weather and so s-m-o-o-t-h - driving down the river. Not much debris after Eagle. There were 500 feet striated bluffs alongside us.

At 9.50 we drove into Pickerel Slough, 15 miles from Eagle. The Biedermans had told us pike fishing was good here. We tried for two hours. but the water was too high from the spring runoff, and the fish wouldn't bite. At 12.00 a thunderstorm blew up; we pulled the cars into the mouth of a slough to get out of the waves created by wind. We had lunch while waiting out the thunderstorm. Phil busied himself making an overhead shelter of spruce and willow boughs in case we had to make an overnight camp. This 11 year old was cheerful and helpful the entire trip.

At 1.30 we took off down river, still raining-warm rain, but no wind.

Thirty miles from Eagle and we were passing Calico Bluffs - sedimentary, extremely folded layers of ochre, yellow, and brown, with layers of fossils. They were sheer cliffs of one thousand feet to two thousand feet. No place to land and the rapids were too fast to try for fossils.

Nation, 45 miles from Eagle, is a deserted Indian village. Here we had planned to camp the first night, but when we tried to make the shore, it was all soft mud and no sand. The mouth of the river was choked with drifting logs, and we could not pull in. We tried several sand bars-too swift a current and too many icebergs lining the shores. At last we sew a stiller channel by Logan Creek. Nick went first and got safely in. Then Ivan made his run. Just as we came out of the main channel, the current sweeping around the island we were making fur pushed us sideways, and we crashed against the Island. Rocking violently. Ivan said, "We're in trouble, kid" He put the car into drive, and we made a run for the opposite island, scraping bottom all the way

Nick and Phil pulled over from where they had been watching us in apprehension and we tied up to the over hanging trees for the first night.

The Yukon River had recently been over part of this island, it was damp. We were fortunate enough to be carrying (NRC 8 x 10) space blankets, instead of heavy tarps, so we spread these under the aspen and willow and put out camping equipment. These space blankets keep in 60% of the body heat and proved so successful on the Yukon trip that we would not be without them. The temperature dropped to a cool 40 degrees as soon as the sun went down. but our space blankets kept us warm, and we know they will be excellent when we go caribou hunting in September and pitch camp in the snow

The mosquitoes were bad, although none had bothered us on the river, a big fire helped keep them away.  Blue bells, anemones, and roses were on the island. and the thrushes sang in the bushes, the beavers had been busy falling cottonwoods on the island shores. There were many moose tracks. 

That first night we had rice and chopped beef for dinner. Because of limited space in the Amphicars, we were carrying dried food. Phil never complained about this diet, but once this night he reminded a wishfully of has mother's fried chicken. We told him dried food wasn't as tasteful as Ethel's dinners, but necessary for this trip From then on, he ate anything. Outside of a few timely remarks about the mosquitoes, Phil never protested the rough trip again. A very good eleven year old sportsman. that Phil Rauch.

We were in bed by 10 00 p,m It was still broad daylight; the setting sun this far north just touches the Yukon River in June and bounces back up. The hoot owls and the mosquitoes made sweet harmony as we fell asleep.

There was a low fog over the river when we woke in the morning, but it soon was gone in bright sunlight.

For breakfast both men flopped flapjacks high in the air. With dried scrambled eggs and canned bacon, we made a good meal and at 10 after looking at our maps, we left on the second lap of out journey.

It was tense wondering whether we could cut across the rapids at the island tip into the main channel. Ivan went first, putting his car into full speed ahead to make the big river. His rush worked and Nick and Phil were right behind him.

We saw two bull moose that second day, and a cow and calf. They stood placidly on the river banks and watched the little white car and the little red car go by as though this was an everyday occurrence.

Along the edge of the islands and the river. the trees were leaning back at a 45 degree angle, the icebergs had pushed them over when the spring breakup came.

All during the journey there were 5 to 8 foot boils in the river. They had a tendency to slue the cars around so that Ivan and Nick were kept busy steering every minute This left navigating and photography to me.

The channels and islands has changed since the year before. I would call to the boys to stay away from a charted sand bar that we couldn't see, but the chart said was there. Our route went through channels whose mouths were so choked wish debris that we would have to take another channel not recommended by the Biedermans because of choppy water, rocks, or narrowness. It was so hot we travelled with the tops down, but on choppy water we just put the tops up and the water went over the windshields I got good action movies on this,

The yellow swallow-tinted butterflies and dragonflies flew out from shore to visit us Yellow geums, purple fireweed, and white anemones made the bluffs colorful.

Many islands were completely covered by icebergs, just as we had been warned.

At 10:00 the second day, we were halfway to Circle 75 miles. I made deviled ham sandwiches and passed them across the water to Phil and Nick

At 3:30 we tied up at Coal Creek for our second night The icebergs were fifteen feet tall on the beach.

We located the mouth of the creek with binoculars. Ivan swept across the current into the quiet creek. Turning upstream he hit a submerged gravel bar and the Amphicar was grounded. We rocked the boat back and forth, put it into car drive, reversed it, and pulled off the bar.

Meanwhile, Nick was pouring on the gas to come into the creek He was lucky to come right into deep water. The two cars came to rest by the Icebergs

Coal Creek was once a thriving stop on the Yukon River for the sternwheelers. There is a road to Woodchopper Gold Mine and the gold dredge

The houses were in good shape. We moved our duffel into the Coal Creek Roadhouse to the big top floor where there was plenty of light The chairs were covered with sheephide- very sturdy. Freizes were in the fancy wrought iron stove.

There were soft mattresses and springs to spread our sleeping bags on - this was luxury. No mosquitoes in the roadhouse, but bad outside.

While we were fishing at Coal Creek, Nick said, "Look at the bull moose." It had walked down to the creek edge opposite us for a drink. A magnificent rack even this early in the year He stood there long enough for 'all of us to get a picture and then slowly turned and walked away.

Seventeen inch grayling were lumping in the creek, but none of us could hook one, so we had pork and beans and beef stew for dinner.

At 10:15 (still broad daylight), we went to bed. I woke up once and heard a heard rainstorm, at six a.m., it was very bright and no rain. At 7 am we had flipped our pancakes in the air for breakfast

At 9.0 o'clock both Ivan and Nick made an easy takeoff and we were on the last day of our journey to Circle.

The bluffs were beginning to narrow down to the Yukon Flats that start at Circle City, The flats are 200 miles long and 10-40 miles wide. Across from the last bluffs at 11am white water Rapids showed. We pointed them out to Nick, but he had seen them. We rolled up the top, and as we went through the waves I took movies. lvan handled the boat like a veteran.

Nick was speeding up all the third day-he was anxious to see the rest of his family, and he knew they would be worrying about him until they, saw him safe.

One o'clock-20 miles to Circle-and I made turkey and cheese sandwiches for lunch. A thunder and lightning storm blew up Coal Creek way. We finished lunch and put the tops up. We can sure get in out of the storm in a hurry.

If we did not have well-marked maps with the channels drawn in by Biederman's of Eagle, we would waste days searching for the right route. There are so many islands. channels, and gravel bars, it would be hard to guess which one to take.

At 4 15 we saw the first houses and people at Circle. I saw them first and waved to the other car. Tears came, to my eves - the first people for 165 miles. We turned on our car lights, hoping the people of Circle would see them through the low river fog. Later Ethel and Erna were to tell me that they were having coffee in the Yukon Trading Post when the Indian boys came running in to tell them they saw car lights one-half mile out on the Yukon (The river is that wide at Circle.) All the villagers of Circle ran down to the rivers edge to greet us. A boat with the owner of the Yukon Trading Post and an Indian came out to show us the right channel into Circle. They could see we were in difficulties There were so many hidden sandbars in front of Circle that we were constantly scraping boulders on our hull.

Ivan and Nick put then cars into car drive to get off the bars into the deep channel where the Circle guide boat was. We followed the boat back and saw the towns population waving to us. Ivan and Nick speeded up the cars and ran up the shore side by side Ivan hit soft sand and bogged down Ethel and Erna grabbed the front of Ivan's car and pulled him up the beach. Nick had hard gravel under the lyres. He poured on the gas and in a mighty surge, went out of the water, He jumped out. grabbed his lovely wife with a big Irish grin, gave her a hearty kiss, and hugged his daughter, Kathy. The Circle people gathered around and wished us well. Ivan and Nick opened their car hoods and showed off their engines that had performed so well. 

Everyone was interested in the details of our three-day journey.

After half an hour of telling our story, we relaxed with hot showers in the deluxe Warren Motel, changed clothes, and went to the Yukon Trading Post for a civilized dinner. Running water and electric lights were a bit strange, but so enjoyable.

Mary Warren outdid herself on dinner-cheesed potatoes. shee fish, green tossed salad, homemade biscuits, fruit salad with whipped cream, corn tartar sauce, and was it any wonder I could not eat the huge slab of cheese-pear pie offered?  Phil had the pie and ice cream on it!  Where did he put it? That dried food on the journey was filling, but it didn't taste like this.

Dinner over, Ivan and I took a ride down the Steese Highway. After the smoothness of the Yukon River, the frost boils and ruts in the road seemed extra rough.

That night Ivan and I took pictures of the midnight sun sinking into the Yukon River, our watery home for three unforgetable days.

The Rauches and the Stewarts had successfully completed their "first", the First car down the Yukon, North America's fourth largest waterway and the fifth largest river in the world in capacity.

One impression after we reached home - we met our friend. Fred Buske "Chief Chugiak" and he told us how worried he had been. Seems Fred met some Fish and Wildlife men on the way back to Anchorage, and they had told him he should get the Air Rescue helicopters after those friends of his on the Yukon River, because it was impossible for them to make it safely to Circle.  Fred was pretty worried until he reached Anchorage and learned we were safe.

All's well that ends well


Oro Stewart

 

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