Old Iron Wherever Yukon Find It

Engine collector Alan Nowell takes Explorer Scouts on the adventure of a lifetime over Chilkoot Pass and find a relic of the Klondike Gold Rush era

| March/April 1999

Explorer Scouts headed by Miami, Fla., engine collector Alan Nowell, second from right in the photo, stumbled across this gold rush era engine/winch combination last June while hiking the remote historic 1898 Chilkoot Trail. The challenging trail runs from near Skagway, Alaska, to Lake Bennett, British Columbia, Canada. Pictured with the engine near the summit of Chilkoot Pass are from left: Eagle Scouts Mathew Nugent, Thomas Rodzewicz and Life Scout Carlos Rodriguez, Florida Flywheeler and Explorer Scout Advisor Alan Nowell, and expedition co-leader and Associate Advisor Kaatje  Bernabei, all of Miami.

Unlike these modern day backpackers with their 35- to 40-pound load, original Stampeders were required by the Northwest Mounted Police to pack in "a ton of goods" or a year's supply of food and equipment before they were allowed to continue to the gold fields. Most hauled the necessary gear in the middle of winter in multiple trips over this treacherous pyramid-steep trail.

That same winter enterprising entrepreneurs used winch engine equipment such as this to power elaborate tramways to haul the Stampeders' gear for a fee. The next year trail, tram, human and pack animal torture was replaced overnight following the remarkable 18-month rushed construction of the still running narrow gage railroad. The White Pass & Yukon Rail Road bypassed and rendered obsolete, this beautiful but grueling mountain trail.

Rusty iron fever replaced gold fever as our group picked its way past this winch and hundreds of other relics poking out of the rocks and snow even in June. Here near the summit the group paused briefly before rushing to negotiate the snow covered pass and avalanche area before the day's sun got too warm. (Note: Hiker at right is resting against a snow bank).

Here they could pause only for a quick look and a photo. Unfortunately there was little time to hunt for an identification plate, ignition system or mixer/fuel system. Note long rocker arms and what appears to be a front mount cooling or fuel tank. The flywheels appear to be "modular" and have bolted sections and "spokes" apparently to be packed in by mule piece by piece to be assembled at the site. The entire engine/winch combination looks to be a handmade one-of-a-kind and is in remarkable shape considering it's sat for 100 winters!

Men's Journal Magazine calls the Chilkoot "the meanest 33 miles in North America." It is jointly managed by the U. S. National Park Service and Parks Canada. It is also known as the world's longest museum. Sections are strewn with artifacts and relics abandoned during the gold rush passage of more than 20,000 "Stampeders" in 1897-98. Now very few hikers each year are permitted to use this magnificently scenic and historical trail. At trail's end, the original gold seekers built boats over the winter and launched at ice-out time to begin 400-mile ride on the Yukon River leading eventually to Dawson and the Klondike gold fields.