Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Alaska RV Tour - Tour of SS Klondike, Whitehorse

While Consuelo stayed back at the Trek with the dogs, I joined Spike’s scheduled tour to go look at the stern wheeler SS Klondike. The boat is on display in a public Park at the edge of the Yukon River in downtown Whitehorse with tours conducted by Parks Canada (the equivalent of our US National Park Service).

The Klondike began her life in 1929 as a working boat to transport goods up and down the Yukon River between Whitehorse and Dawson City. By the 1930s, the gold rush in the Klondike was well over and there was less of a need to transport supplies, so the SS Klondike was converted over to carry passengers.

Parks Canada has preserved the Klondike in much of her original condition as a passenger stern wheeler and I was interested to see the galley kitchen with its enamelware pots, huge cook-stove and silver coffee urn.

The formal dining room for the first-class passengers was beautiful. But, we learned the third-class passengers received their meals crammed into a tiny little galley area with the crew. The first-class cabins on the upper decks were also quite interesting to look at. Each cabin contained a set of very narrow bunk beds - not even as wide as a twin bed. Most cabins had a sink and toiletry area in one corner and carpeting on the floor.

After going up top to look at the wheelhouse, we headed down below decks to check out the engine room. The Klondike was a steam driven stern wheeler and, as such, her lower deck housed a vast wood-burning furnace, intricate pipes and valves and giant pistons to turn the stern wheels.

I found it very interesting to learn that even though the Klondike was originally built for transport and she had lots and lots of storage space in her below decks area; she still didn’t have room to carry enough lumber (i.e. fuel) to make the entire trip from Whitehorse to Dawson City! So, she and all the other stern wheelers like her would travel north and stop at towns along the way to refuel. Many (if not most) of the towns along the Yukon River between Whitehorse and Dawson City originated as small lumbering operations to fuel the stern wheelers, and so most of the trees were stripped from the land around the river.

Here is one last thing our Parks Canada guide shared with us that we all thought was most fascinating: Back in the 1960s when Parks Canada decided to move the SS Klondike from the other side of town where she had last been docked when she was taken out of commission, the challenge was how to move her. They put logs across the main street of Whitehorse and lubricated them with thousands of gallon s of Palmolive dish soap. Then, they just slid her down the street and put her in the park. – That must have been quite a sight to see!

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