RAILDATE 2023.11.17

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The Weekly Poser: Where is this?

German locomotives AND post-War cars from around the world, presented side-by-side. Where is it?

Last week's Where is this?

Three weeks ago, the Weekly Poser was a railroad museum at a former Kennecott Copper Corp. mining town in Nevada. Continuing the theme, here is a 1925 map of a 196-mile railroad serving the Bonanza mine, the world's richest source of copper at the time, at what was then called "Kennecott". The map is woefully inaccurate - probably deliberately so - but can you work out where it was? The line was vastly expensive to construct when compared with the simple cross-desert Nevada line, and it only operated for a little over 30 years, but it made tons of money for Kennecott's stock-holders. The various proposed branches remained unbuilt. Where is it?

Answer: Copper River & Northwestern Railway, Alaska. Congratulations are due to the following for their correct answers: Peter Tisdale, Paul Hopper, Richard Maund, Dave Goodyear.

Less than 40 years after Alaska was purchased by the US from Russia, an ambitious scheme was launched to open up the interior from the south-east. Copper and high-quality anthracite coal were available to exploit. The initial 196-mile section eventually cost a staggering $25m, and was beset by problems with storms, ice break-up, an earthquake, but went on to yield a 50% profit for Kennecott's investors. A separate line was built from Controller Bay to exploit the anthracite but went bust by 1923.

The map shows Cordova in the wrong place. The intended port at Palm Point was swept away in 1907, and replaced by Cordova being on a totally different estuary. Crossing the Copper River estuary required a "Million Dollar" bridge (pictured) as just one of the 129 bridges built. These problems put paid to the Copper River becoming the primary way into central Alaska. Fairbanks was reached instead by the Alaska Railroad from Seward via Anchorage, which still operates. After closure in 1938 the trackbed became a summer-only road.

The mine at Kennecott was served by the town of McCarthy. The mine buildings themselves largely survive, protected by the remoteness of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

The late comedian Pete McCarthy (1951-2004) wrote a pleasing book The Road to McCarthy which culminated in him visiting McCarthy Alaska via this road.


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©  Matthew Shaw 2023