It was May 2, 1942 that the 341st Engineers started out from Dawson Creek B. C. to fulfill their assignment on what was to become an all weather pioneer road to Alaska. I was in Co. "D".
After arriving in Dawson Creek by train, we proceeded over the trails, mountains, and hairpin curves to the Peace River and Ft. St. John. There was a short stay on the banks of Charlies Lake waiting on equipment. Five men drowned while we were there when a pontoon raft hauling equipment was caught in a sudden squall. Gus Hedin, a local trapper, saved the lives of five other men in the tragedy.
We made our way through rain, mud, and thaw; passing The Blue Berry Ridge, the Pink Mountains, the Sikanni Chief River, and the Buckinghorse River on our way towards Ft. Nelson.
Most of the transportation was manpower self-furnished. The ruck sacks and tools wore grooves in each man's back. The ruck sack traveled first class because it contained all of the gear that each man had. He had to care for it no matter how heavy it was. It was always soaked from the rain. No man was exempted from these conditions. The "C" rations and mail were brought in by pack horses. Fuel was towed in by D4's with trailers and mud sleds. Sometimes the trucks were useless during the thaw and rains.
There were always breakdowns of heavy equipment. It took good mechanics led by L. C. Goldberg, Wilfred Grondine, and David Hudson; and many other operators to keep moving forward around the clock.
Following all of the heavy equipment were the men and the muscle power at hand for building bridges, culverts, and corduroy using trees, rocks, gravel, and any material available at or near the location. The material was carried by manpower, in many cases up to one half mile. The trees didn't grow where they were needed. Many pioneer culverts were built to help the drainage, which was an enormous problem. The Buckinghorse River Bridge was on of the first pioneer bridges built between Charlies Lake and Ft. Nelson. It was in service for about one and a half years carrying heavy traffic loads.
During the spring, the sun and rains would cause areas that stayed frozen most of the year to thaw. At times the bottom of the roadbed would fall out. Corduroy was the only answer, when possible, or go around adding curves and miles. We finally reached Ft. Nelson connecting with the 35th Engineers sector of the road.
This section had many mountains cuts of solid rock. Co. "D" was assigned to this area dynamiting to cut down high grades. We were there about six weeks improving many conditions of the road. Near the end of the year Co. "D" made the trip back to Dawson Creek. After the long grind by truck we arrived there. It was the first time most of the men had the chance to sleep off the ground and in pyramial tents since arriving in Canada.
While in Dawson Creek Co. "D" took up another trade. We constructed many spurs to the railroad there. During January of 1942 Co. "D" constructed a troop depot. We built metal huts during the sub-zero weather.
In February Co. "D" was assigned to replace a large portion of the original bridge over the Peace River. It had been taken out by ice jams caused by errors in blasting ice. Without this bridge, all rations, and supplies were cut off to the north. This became a very dangerous job. The ice passing through would tear out piling and repairs as fast as it could be replaced. It took about one week to close the gap. The men were happy to leave that job. The Peace River was very swift, a person would not have had a chance if he had fallen in.
We returned to Dawson Creek to finish the rail head. While in Dawson Creek, a building near the edge of town where contractors had stored dynamite caught fire one night. Co. "D" was called to fight it. This was hopeless due to the lack of water. Normally dynamite would just burn, but by error someone had stored blasting caps in the same building. The fire was just under control when the caps set off an explosion. This was the end of a large portion of Dawson Creek. One of our men lost his life in the catastrophe Many G. I.s and natives were injured. The blast started fires in many sections of Dawson Creek.
In February, a few days after the fire, Co. "D" was assigned to move north again to set up camp at the Upper Liard River. Traveling by truck, the road was frozen solid and slick. Travel was slow and hazardous. This was something different than the mud and rain we had during the first trek north..
At the upper crossing of the Liard River we had to prepare to save the bridge during the thaw, and improve that section of the road. We set up a saw mill, went to logging, and produced piling and timbers for other outfits in the area. The thaw came as we prepared for blasting ice on the downstream side of the bridge. We also removed the bracing in the channel area of the river. This kept the bridge open as long as possible. We were able to replace this area that dropped with the ice flow without losing the complete bridge.
I know that all other Army Engineers outfits assigned to the construction of the Alaska Highway met with the rugged conditions of the north. Considering all of the obstacles, the road turned out to be crooked, yet it was the straightest and dustiest road to Alaska. I know many of these men that served in the Engineers left their pioneer brand on the Northwest wilderness of Canada and Alaska.
After leaving Canada, these men were reassigned to Europe, Asia, and the Pacific. Many lost their lives for their country.
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