Alaskan life was different in 1967. The state population was just over 100,000 and Anchorage seemed remote compared to what I was used to. From the beginning it was obvious that Alaska was different, because here, people really needed each other to make it. Life moved slower, but our family quickly grew to love the Last Frontier.
On the day of our trip, we arrived early at the Historic Anchorage Depot. We waited in an atmosphere that was a strange contrast to the bustle of big airports. Passengers spoke in hushed voices as if they knew something special was about to begin.
A few minutes later a voice boomed “All Aboard,” and Conductor Steve Culver, a 40-year railroad veteran, set our adventure in motion. He kept passengers informed, entertained and, of course, safe.
The passengers are as fascinating as the crew, and just as easy to talk to. Some were traveling to Wasilla, some to Talkeetna, and a few would get off in remote areas. In Talkeetna, we stopped to pick up a group from Taiwan on an Aurora viewing tour. This is a flagstop train, which means the train will stop to let people on or off wherever they ask. A few miles past the Talkeetna depot popular Alaska author and illustrator Shannon Cartwright, and her dog Coda, boarded the train to pick up her mail and sign books for passengers.
Besides bringing mail and supplies to residents along the railbelt, Steve tosses a newspaper every day to 77-year-old Rudy Musiel. He tries to place the paper on the porch, quite a feat when the train is moving at 40 miles per hour.
As I sat, watching the countryside slide by, I never thought “How much longer till we get there?” It was always “What are we going to see next?” or “What will the next story be?” Each experience blended into the next so smoothly that the concept of time seemed foreign. I reflected on my experience and realized that riding the Alaska Railroad was a way to capture a little of old-time Alaska and the frontier spirit that everyone who visits gets to see.
To plan your visit, contact the Alaska Railroad at (800) 544-0552, or visit AlaskaRailroad.com/wintertours where you will find schedules, fares and winter getaway packages featuring aurora borealis viewing, world champion ice sculptures, native culture and more.