From their log cabin overlooking Scoter Lake at Nelchina, to Glennallen, Valdez, Anchorage, Copper Cener, Tok, Palmer, Fairbanks, Denali, Matanuska, Susitna, Valdez, Cordova and other communities, Norman Wilkins recorded daily journal entries throughout the 25+ years he and his wife Sylvia spent carving out a life on the Alaskan tundra.
10,000 Days In Alaska
This is book one of a monumental, three-volume, historical documentary journal detailing the daily activities of Norman and Sylvia Wilkins (and frequently, of their friends and neighbors) including the struggles and frustrations of living on the frozen tundra. Each book is sold separately and all are available at amazon.com. Also more info is at www.10000daysinalaska.com.
It was 1979, and after 8 months of work and planning, loaded down with 73,000 pounds of gear and equipment, my wife Sylvia and I left Motley, Minnesota for Alaska. We were on our way to work a gold mining claim for someone we knew there.
Not far into Canada, we had problems with the truck’s transmission and had to make repairs in Edmonton, leaving there early on July 7th. When we learned a bridge was washed out on the Al-can, we took a detour through Prince George and on up to the Cassiar Highway.
Coming in to Prince George, Canada, there is a long, steep hill that goes down to the river there. Then you meet the railroad track and cross the river on a bridge barely wide enough to accommodate the tracks and a narrow road on each side of them for vehicles. As I started down the hill, the load we were carrying was pushing the truck hard. The engine is a Cummins 250 and it is to be run at 1,800 to 2,200 RPMs. If you push it over 2,200 RPMs the engine can fail. So as the RPMs increased, I would kick it up another gear. That would relieve the engine, but we would run a little faster each time I did that.
It was awfully windy and one of the truck flaps got to really flapping around, knocking the valve open on the air tank causing our brakes to overheat--now we didn’t have brakes! I knew once we got to the bottom of this hill, we were going to have to make a sharp turn onto the bridge. I’m kickin’ it up another gear—and another gear—and another gear. We’re picking up speed fast. Thinking we weren’t going to make it, I told Sylvia to jump while she had the chance but she wouldn’t do it. I have to give her a lot of credit—she never screamed.
We were going faster and faster down the hill and finally at the 15th gear, the truck reaches 2,800 RPMs. I expected it to blow any second. When we reached the sharp turn approaching that narrow, 9 foot wide lane, we were looking right down into the river. I made up my mind I was gonna put that truck across the bridge. Going through the turn, our rig leaned dangerously out, threatening to go over—but it held. The trailer cracked the whip behind us and I put her right into that slot—never even touched a mirror on either side. There were only inches. The truck got started down this lane and the trailer slid over and we blew out the two outside tires on the right side of it. The truck started slowing down when we got across the bridge. There was a dirt road going straight ahead. We went down that a couple of city blocks, finally coming to a stop. We pulled over to the side and just sat there and talked a little bit to regroup ourselves.
I said to Sylvia, “You know, I think maybe we should dig that bottle of whiskey out of the grub barrel. We haven’t had a drink in a week. Maybe we need one right now.” She thought that was a good idea and we each had a drink. We stayed put and slept there for the night.