75th Anniversary of the Alaska Highway
A Coffee Table Book and Production Celebrating Our Great Achievement
From War to Alaska:
75 Years of Putting One Foot in Front of the Other
By Virginia Carraway Stark and additional authors
Produced by StarkLight Press in conjunction with the StarkLight Players, The Songwriters of The Peace, The Dawson Creek Arts Gallery, The Peace Liard Arts Council and the South Peace Community Arts Council, this celebration of northern heroes is sure to inspire young and old alike with the vibrancy of our history in the north!
The original definitive guidebook to the Alaska Highway was published in 1949. The Alaska Highway was one of Canada’s largest contributions to World War 2 but it was nearly completely shrouded in secrecy. The path that it took was designed to optimize hooking up with key points of military importance. It is thanks to the Alaska Highway that American Fighter planes had a jumping off point into the USSR to fight Germany and its allies. A key point to winning the war and fighting against Japan’s ingress into North America’s West coast.
Because of the secrecy and its strategic importance there is still little known about the work, struggles and dramas that played out during the all important building of a highway that had been proposed since 1920. 75 Years of Putting One Foot in Front of Another strives to pull off the shroud of secrecy and to make the story available to the world.
So secret was the mission that built the Alaska Highway that many of the residents who have lived along the road their entire life are unaware of the origins of the road. Without the Alaska Highway the world north of Prince George would have remained a nearly uninhabited wasteland. The first engineers who planned the building of the road traveled by dogsled to map out the terrain and plan the best mode of attacking the enormous endeavor they were charged with.
The original highway was much longer than the modern highway, or than in this artist’s conception of how straight and easy a road would be to build through such harsh, unbroken landscape.
With the loops necessary to reach remote military outposts and with improved technology the road was streamlined into a modern road for transport and for tourists who want to enjoy this gateway to the hard to reach State of Alaska. Transportation, fuel costs and rubber were at a premium and how to get resources to the troops was one of the largest hurdles Generals faced. The Alaska Highway solved many of these problems.
The Alaska Highway was one of the most diverse projects of the war. 10,000 men were initially sent to begin working on the road that would start off as more of a rutted trail than as what we now consider to be a highway. Pontoon bridges served in place of stable, modern bridges in the haste to build the road that would play silent but key roles in an Ally victory. About a third of the American Soldiers sent to work on the road were black.
Perhaps as remarkable, one of the lead engineers was a woman! ‘Rusty’ Dow, nicknamed for her auborn hair asked for the challenging assignment herself.
‘Without the ruffles and stiff stuff that is the usual decorum between a general and one of his workers, “Rusty” Dow sat cross-legged in the office of the late Simon Buckner, Jr. She told the commanding General of Alaska Defense Command in World War II, “There are two places I want to drive a truck: the Burma Road and the new ALCAN Highway.”
“I can do nothing about the Burma Road,” the general told the auburn-haired truck driver. “The ALCAN might be different,” he said to the woman in coveralls, driver for the Anchorage Corps of Engineers. (The Great Lander Shopping News, October 1975)’
Upon receiving her orders on June 1, 1944, Rusty was ecstatic and the following was her reaction in her own words:
“Immediately I put in an appearance at the major’s desk. We have been informed that you wish to drive the Alcan highway said he. Yessir I stammered. Well here are your travel orders, approved by General Buckner. Report to Merrill Field in two hours where you will take a plane to Fairbanks. Upon arrival there report to North West Service Command, from whom you will receive further orders.
Yessir – I was able to reply weakly thinking of just how much preparation I could make in two hours.
But evening found me reporting to my new assignment at Fairbanks with a clean pair of G.I. coveralls under my arm, and my toothbrush and pair of pliers and a screwdriver in my pocket.”
The event was published the next day in The Anchorage Daily Times. An excited reporter got word of the story before she boarded her plane and was able to conduct a quick interview with her. The headline read: “‘Rusty’ Dow To Drive Highway: Will Be First Woman Piloting Military Road”
“‘I don’t know what it’s all about,’ Mrs. Dow said in her rushed interview between gathering her few things together. ‘But I do know it’s going to give me the biggest thrill of my life.’
Rusty was a true hero and a role model for women and men to look up to. Born in Texas, her name was Benzie Ola ‘Rusty’ Scott, her maiden name was changed to Dow when she married years later. She was one of the first of the lady Two years later, Texas-born trucker Benzie Ola “Rusty” Scott packed up her two-ton Chevy and traveled first to California and then was deployed to Alaska.
Only a few years after Amelia Earheart broke stereotypes wide open, Rusty started on her own rash of stereotype blasting. Rusty Dow had a big line of firsts under her belt: first woman truck driver in the territory, first woman to drive trucks for Alaska’s Fort Richardson, first woman to drive the newly constructed Alaska Highway, first woman to drive through the Whittier tunnel.
Rusty Dow in her iconic Studebaker driving the Alaska Highway.
She wasn’t the only woman to be deeply involved in the highway, its construction, maintenance and the health and transportation of the many people who contributed to its building.
75 years of Putting One Foot in Front of the Other focuses on the firsts that are what we, as Mile 0 are all about. We are the starting point for The Alaska Highway and so much more. This lineage is going to be celebrated between the covers of this beautifully formatted coffee table book as well as on stage as Rusty Dow and other key players come to life for the first time in the modern era.
Even though we start with ‘firsts’, 75 Years of Putting One Foot in Front of Another celebrates endings as well. This wasn’t just something we started, it was something we finished and in doing so, we contributed to keeping the world free.
Dawson Creek Art Gallery Archives/Photos