In the 1960's there was no highway to Fairbanks from Wasilla through Cantwell and Nenana. Homesteaders generally rode the railroad to their varioius sites along the railroad right-of-way. A lot of homesteaders who had access via the Willow-Talkeetna road would drive up and take off on side roads like the Burma Road or the Willow Road to their sites.

The journey from Anchorage to Talkeetna was about 120 miles. The road was paved through Wasilla, but the pavement ended just past the airport in Wasilla, leaving a rather well maintained gravel road from there to Talkeetna.

Generally if a person was low on fuel, they would drop in to a pump in the Talkeetna area. We usually dropped in to Frank Swanda's state-of-the-art (Alaska bush state-of-the-art) and gassed up for the return trip. I don't recall any pumps in Talkeetna town...and here's a picture of the gravel road in town at that time, complete with a float plane parked near the general store.

Frank's huge facility was on the side of the dirt road as you came into Talkeetna (July, '65). We'd gassed up before at his old pump (which sat on a pallet hooked to the road), but this trip he had a Neeew pump. It was mounted on a platform of sorts, one end of which sat right on the road logs that kept the gravel from sluffing off into his swampy area. So here's Frank, standing proudly next to his new facility. By the bye, the fuel tanks were mounted on a platform that had log pylons into the goo....which, for Alaska, wasn't all that unusual. They were probably in frozen ground to a certain extent. There WAS "perma frost" in the region. We found perma frost under our tree roots on our beloved "Pickett Street" cabin site. Anyway, heeeeeere's Frank:

Here we see Frank with his spankin' new pump, me tending the gas tank. You can see under the pump, but the facility was safe. We used to cringe at the price of fuel up there...I think it was something on the order of 50 cents a gallon. Of course this was the time when we drove that same VW bus from Los Angeles to Los Anchorage, then 400 miles further than now, on $47 dollars worth of gasoline. Got that? $47 to drive from LA to LAnch.

Alaska and rock-pocks used to go hand in hand. They still do on some portions of the Alaska highway. I just noticed that massive splat on Laurella's side of the car...prolly caused some "start." I actually lost a chunk of window on my Subaru 3 years ago on the Cassiar. Gravel flies off tires, simple as that.

Frank turned in his keys in '70 from what I read. It was a pleasure to know him and trade with him.

FYI - a dear friend of the Gruffs, Brenda Salzano, was raised on a "railroad homestead," and has a fascinating, readable blog on her days and those of her parents during this incredible experience. Yes, passenger trains DID stop for unloadings...it was part of the uniqueness of travel on the incredible early Alaska Railroad...

Click the picture if you want to read Brenda's family story:

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