on the Alaskan Highway
by Ron Proctor
(San Francisco, California, USA)
VW bus in front of Summit Motel
It was December, 1972 when I was 22 and traveling out of Alaska on the Alaskan Highway in a Volkswagen bus.
I was being discharged from the US Army and had orders to report to Ft. Lewis Washington in 8 days, on Dec 11.
I had received approval to drive my vehicle to the discharge station in Washington state.
Since it was the middle of winter, icy, windy and snowy conditions existed during the route.
Typically, there was no shoulder on the road and snow would be built up 3 to 4 feet in some places along the Alaskan Highway, especially in the Yukon and northern British Columbia provinces.
I left Fairbanks on Monday, December 4th at 6 am and traveled the Richardson Highway south-east towards the Canadian border.
1 got as far as 35 miles from Haines Junction (200 miles from the Alaskan border) when the bus quit working - no apparent reason. I spent the cold night near Kluane Lake, off the side of the road.
The next day I tried to get the engine to start, but was not successful.
A truck driver stopped and towed me to a gas station in Haines Junction.
The mechanic got the bus running and I drove 100 miles to Whitehorse, Yukon, where I had another gas station mechanic work on the bus.
The next day, Thursday, with the bus working again, I traveled along Route 97 - now in British Columbia - 400 miles to Liard Hot Springs where I planned to spend the night after 7 1/2 hours of driving.
It was then that I heard an unusual noise coming from generator. This was very disturbing news.
On Friday morning, without any road services in the area, I began to very carefully drive the bus from the Hot Springs and got as far as milepost 462 at the town of Toad River.
At the gas station there, a mechanic gave me the grim news: the generator had blown and the fan belt which cooled the engine burned off. He knew a mechanic at Summit Lake, 35 miles south of Toad River, who had a Volkswagen generator and arranged for it to be delivered the following day.
On Saturday the generator was installed but an oil leak subsequently developed. Nothing further could be done at Toad River so I got a tow to Summit Lake (elevation 4,250 ft. and the highest point on the Alaska Highway.) where the engine could be pulled out for examination.
On Sunday, the owner/mechanic at the Summit Motel, Cafe, and Esso gas station - Albert Genier - reported that there was a crack in the engine block and there was nothing else to do except replace the engine (a 40 horsepower, 1200 series). Very bad news; I was stranded.
So, by Monday, Dec. 11th - one week after leaving Fairbanks - I waited at the Summit Motel for a ride to Fort Nelson, the next town south where there was a jet airport. A driver was available later in the day and I rode out with him.
The next day, Tuesday, I flew from the jet airport at Ft. Nelson to Seattle and made it to my Ft Lewis discharge appointment; 2 days late (I notified the Army discharge office that I was going to be reporting late).
In summary, I had to abandon my VW bus behind the gas station at milepost 400 of the Alaskan Highway at the Summit Motel and Café, British Columbia.
It was still there the following summer when I drove back with another van to retrieve engine and other belongings.
I wonder today (August 2020) if the engine-less VW bus is still there, at milepost 400, Summit Lake, 48 years later.
Can you imagine driving the Alaska Highway back in 1947?
Carola Gough did and she kept an amazing diary/
Check out her ALCAN Diary
What are your memories of traveling the Alaska Highway?