Of the 1600 miles of Alaska Highway built in 1942, the 40 miles between Pickhandle Lake and Beaver Creek may have presented the greatest challenge. This was one of the first sections where the American soldiers encountered extensive permafrost, the permanently frozen earth underlying much of the northern landscape. When the builders scraped off the insulating layer of overburden, they exposed the permafrost to sun. This melted the permafrost and formed an ice-bottomed mud bog. Fred Rust, historian of the U.S. Army 18th Engineers, quipped that "Yukon sunshine could produce as much mud as rain produces in other parts of the world."
Every vehicle that tried to drive through the quagmire churned it up a little more. Eventually, the only way through was to be hauled by a bulldozer. The road was passable after fall freeze-up, but the spring thaw once again forced the road builders to construct detour after detour. The great holes formed by the melting permafrost earned this stretch the title of "Grand Canyon of the Alcan."
The highway engineers learned that the best way to build a road over permafrost was to leave the insulating cover of dirt and vegetation in place, and even add to it, so that the ice would not melt. Corduroy, the system of laying a roadbed of logs covered with gravel, was often used to cross permafrost areas. The original timbers still underlie much of today's highway.
The road was finally drivable in all weather by October of 1943. Permafrost continues to plague highway maintenance crews by buckling certain sections of the highway every spring.
The Final Link
Near this point, on 28 October 1942, Corporal Refirie Slims of the 97th Engineers (heading South), and Sergeant Alfred Jalufka of the 18th Engineers (heading North), met blade to blade on their bulldozers. Thus the two sections of the Alaska Highway pioneer road were joined to form a continuous link between Dawson Creek, B.C. and Fairbanks, Alaska.
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