“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Near Chitina in Valdez-Cordova Census Area, Alaska — Northwest (North America)

Wooden Wonder

Wooden Wonder Marker image. Click for full size.
Courtesy of Thomas P. Martin, June 26, 2011
1. Wooden Wonder Marker
“In constructing high trestles and in laying steel track on beds of ice and snow, storms, high winds, and extreme cold tried the patience and fidelity of the strongest and most faithful.” — Cordova Daily Alaskan April 1, 1911

By the time rail building crews reached the Gilahina River they were racing to complete the entire railway by April of 1911. The price of copper was high and pressure was on to get ore to market. Seasoned crews worked round the clock through one of the harshest winters on record. The thirteen miles of track between the Kuskulana Bridge and the Gilahina River was constructed in just seventeen days! Laying track across the broad Gilahina would require careful planning.

To negotiate the rugged Alaskan landscape, wooden trestles were common along the entire Copper River & Northwestern Railway. A total of 273 wooden trestles were constructed, spanning over thirty miles. The Gilahina would be the largest at 90 feet tall and 880 feet long. Over one half million board feet of lumber would be required. Crews wasted no time.

The challenge of constructing the trestle
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over the Gilahina turned out to be the weather. In January 1911 the thermometer sank all the way to -67° F. The bitter cold lasted through the entire construction of the Gilahina Trestle. As winter temperatures plummeted, workers bundled up against the piercing chill of winter. Carpenters struggled with timbers that split and cracked from the cold. It was impossible to drive pilings into the frozen ground. Holes had to be blasted to anchor the pilings.

In spite of the terrible working conditions, skilled workers rose to the challenge and the Gilahina Trestle was completed in just eight days! On January 28, 1911 the first train crossed, carrying construction supplies to continue the work.

Only thirty-six miles to go and the last of the big challenges would be complete!

Top: Photo: Skinner Foundation, AK State Library
Center left: “The work is nothing short of marvelous, when weather conditions are taken into consideration. For the past two weeks the thermometer has been ranging between 30 and 60 below and at times during the extremely cold hours, trouble was experienced by the carpenters in driving the bolts, which split the heavy timbers like a cake of ice." — unidentified railway official
Center right: Sparks from passing trains were a serious risk to wooden trestles. Water barrels placed
Remains of the Gilahina Trestle image. Click for full size.
Courtesy of Thomas P. Martin, June 26, 2011
2. Remains of the Gilahina Trestle
along the tracks were used in putting out small fires. Nevertheless, in the summer of 1915, sparks fanned into a blaze that burned the Gilahina Trestle to the ground. To keep the ore trains running, rail crews rebuilt the trestle in only ten days, two days longer than it had taken the experienced crew to build the original in the dead of that bitter winter of 1911.
Bottom row (left to right):
• Construction camp at Strelna.
• Pack train hauling supplies
• Track cache.
• Full ore bags wait in Kennecott. Photo: Jon Cole Collection, NPS
• Constructing the Gilahina Trestle. Photo: AK Sportsman Magazine
• Crossing the Gilahina, 1916. Photo: U. of Washington Libraries
Photos: Unless noted, courtesy of G. Bleakley Collection, Copper Center AK
Erected by National Park Service.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Bridges & ViaductsRailroads & Streetcars. A significant historical month for this entry is January 1911.
Location. 61° 26.287′ N, 143° 43.167′ W. Marker is near Chitina in Valdez-Cordova Census Area, Alaska. Marker is on McCarthy Road (at milepost 29), on the left when traveling west. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Chitina AK 99566, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers.
The Gilahina River Trestle image. Click for full size.
Courtesy of Thomas P. Martin, June 26, 2011
3. The Gilahina River Trestle
At least 1 other marker is within walking distance of this marker. Railway to Riches (here, next to this marker).
More about this marker. Marker is located in a pulloff on the west side of the Gilahina River. McCarthy Road is an unpaved, gravel road often laced with potholes that winds along the former railroad route through remote, rugged terrain. It is closed in the winter.
Credits. This page was last revised on June 1, 2021. It was originally submitted on May 25, 2021, by Duane and Tracy Marsteller of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. This page has been viewed 249 times since then and 100 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on May 25, 2021, by Duane and Tracy Marsteller of Murfreesboro, Tennessee.   3. submitted on June 1, 2021, by Duane and Tracy Marsteller of Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
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Nov. 28, 2023