Crooked Road: The Story of the Alaska Highway

By Sculle, Keith A. | Material Culture, Fall 2017 | Go to article overview

Crooked Road: The Story of the Alaska Highway


Sculle, Keith A., Material Culture


Crooked Road: The Story of the Alaska Highway By David A. Remley Fairbanks: AK. University of Alaska, 2008. xvii + 253 pp. 22 halftones, 3 line drawings, 1 map, notes, and index (paper), ISBN 9781602230378.

Heavily based on lengthy quotations of oral sources and lacking a thesis asserted at the book's beginning, this book might seem to deserve less attention among scholars than a work of standard academic format Indeed, the preface is an elaborate disclosure of how the book evolved from the author's personal life, as if this book were a literary expression And the author again grounds the second preface accompanying this 2008 edition in his personal life, this time, in a dedication to the respondents, many since deceased, who made this book possible . As this book unfolds, however, appreciation grows for the subject's importance, which is well-grounded in sources, not only the respondents', but in archival paper sources listed chapter by chapter (but not footnoted) at the book's end . These notes are expanded into often lengthy discussions of their own .

Part One opens with a 1910 quotation from Robert Perry, the first North Pole explorer, alluding to the attraction to traveling to the North . After this vague beckoning, chapter one embodies descriptions of various people and circumstances attending travel along the Alaska Highway in August 1973 and ends when the author discloses in the last sentence that he was among them . A year earlier, 31 years before "the pioneer Alcan Highway approached completion" (p . 13), the American and Canadian administrators had created a plan for the road's construction as a life-and-death necessity for Alaska and Canada at the beginning of World War II, when Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor implied that empire's ambitious reach . Chapter two is opened with Canada's commitment to help build the road because President Roosevelt could "give no reassurance" that the United States could block an attack on Alaska . Thus, Remley's roundabout introductory narrative stages the reader's personalized admission to the subject as opposed to a more linear chronology

A tote road, road building jargon for a road to carry supplies, was completed in late 1942 on 1,400 miles between Dawson Creek, British Columbia, and the Richardson Highway south of Delta Junction, Alaska . It took 1,221 miles to reach Alaska Interspersed through the building description are such seemingly mundane matters as food . For example, "[t]he Americans learned to appreciate the traditional Canadian winter-trail hot drink, tea . There was no coffee" (p . 35) . Different cultures also distinguished the Americans from the Canadians; the former using much equipment and exercising considerable sophisticated engineering while the Canadians, questioning of American plans, were intuitive, tenacious, and counted on humor. In this example of cultural group distinctions along the highway, rare detailed evidence is gathered that often eludes material culture studies Remley dwells on one Canadian family at work on the highway to assert that they embodied Frederick Jackson Turner's thesis about frontier life in North America, continually ready to adopt new ways . In the big picture, it was differences between the American and Canadian governments, however, that had daunted the highway's completion since the late 1920s . War forced its achievement .

Remley goes on to describe that achievement but not without another narrative beginning, if only briefly, with trails ancients made across North America, and proceeding in greater depth to the nineteenth-century trading companies, elaborating on the paths to the Gold Rush, commercial aircraft beginning in the 1920s, and dogs - the latter two "absolutely certain transportation and companionship in the back country" (p . 109) . The reader will easily conclude that the Alaska Highway was no latter-day novelty Canada feared American domination as a consequence of the highway's construction even though the United States' military was not interested, since the more southern Aleutian chain and Alaska Peninsula appeared strategic . …

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