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Railroads in Alaska primary sources

This guide lists collections of publicly accessible primary source material related to railroads in Alaska.

Railroads in Alaska

This guide contains collections of primary source material relating to railroads in Alaska, held by archives, libraries, and museums across the state. The guide is divided into pages for different railroads, including the Alaska Railroad, the Copper River and Northwestern Railway, and the White Pass and Yukon Railroad. This guide is not comprehensive and may not include every collection containing primary source material relating to railroads in Alaska.

Click on the linked collection names for more detailed collection descriptions. Not every collection has a detailed description online, and it may be necessary to contact the institution that owns a collection for more information.

Selected items related to railroads in Alaska from many of the institutions represented in this guide have been digitized and added to Alaska's Digital Archives. You can use the search box at the top right of the homepage to search for these materials.

If you represent an institution that holds primary source materials related to railroads in Alaska and would like to see them included in this guide, please contact the UAA/APU Consortium Library Archives and Special Collections.  

Alaska Railroad collections

Alaska State Archives

  •  A8: ​Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. RG226: Alaska Railroad Corporation; 1908-1984.  Records of the Alaska Railroad Corporation.

Alaska State Library Historical Collections

Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center Archives

UAA/APU Consortium Library Archives and Special Collections

  • Alaska-Pacific Consolidated Mining Company records; 1885-1989.  HMC-0023.  The Alaska-Pacific Consolidated Mining Company ran Independence Mine at Hatcher Pass and other gold mines in the Willow Creek Mining District. Some of their records consist of the Alaska Railroad, Pacific Railway Supply Co. and Railway Express Agency subject files and shipping records of the mining company’s supplies on the Alaska Railway.
  • Lelon E. Alexander papers; 1940-1997, bulk 1942-1957. HMC-1231. Photographs of a soldier with the 714th Railway Operating Battalion, which operated the Alaska Railroad from 1943 to 1945.
  • Joseph J. Burgess photographs; circa 1943-1945. HMC-1230. Photographs of a lieutenant with the 714th Railway Operating Battalion, which operated the Alaska Railroad from 1943 to 1945.
  • Commonwealth North records; 1979-2007.  HMC-0992.  Commonwealth North (CWN) acts as a non-partisan group funded by individual memberships and private sector funds. There are CWN research materials, report committee files and publication files on the railroad, including The New Alaska Railroad and The Alaska Railroad and its Future.
  • Katharine Crittenden papers; 1978-2005. HMC-1075. Correspondence and research files for Crittenden’s book, Get Mears!, a biography of Colonel Frederick Mears, principal engineer of the Alaska Railroad.
  • Frederick John Date papers; 1833- 1976.  HMC-0379.  This collection consists of papers, publications, photographs, and artifacts relating to Fred Date's life and activities in Alaska. There is an Alaska Railroad booklet, which contains employee work rules, a Corps of Engineers field manual, and a mining law manual.
  • Charles S. Harvard papers; 1901-1975.  HMC-0425.  The collection includes a ledger and field books containing Harvard’s railroad and tide notes, and his publications relating to railroad construction, correspondence with Alaska Railroad employers, and maps that depict top-rail profiles and grade changes of Alaska Railroad lines.
  • Terry Martin papers; 1962-1998.  HMC-0169.  Terry Martin was elected to the Alaska House of Representatives from 1978 through 1998, and founded the Boys Clubs of Alaska and also served as its Executive Director. His papers include Alaska Railroad Corporation correspondence, bill files, and reports.
  • Frederick Mears family papers, 1878-1941.  HMC-1063.  Colonel Frederick Mears was principal engineer of the Alaska Railroad. The papers include clippings regarding Mears’ work on the railroad and photographs of the construction of the Alaska Railroad.
  • Earl Plumb family papers; 1927-1964. HMC-1124. Papers documenting Alaskan residents’ life in McKinley Park, Nenana and Anchorage. Earl Plumb worked for the railroad, rivers steamers on the Tanana, and as a radio operator.
  • Potter Section House records; 1980, 1986.  HMC-0204.  The Potter Section House was built in 1929 on Potter Creek at mile 100.6 on the Alaska Railroad to house section foreman and the crew. The collection consists of a copy of a report recommending the preservation and reuse of the Potter Section House, written by the Municipal Historic Landmarks Preservation Committee. There is also a Potter Section House "Site Development Plan" and two site maps created by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Recreation. 
  • Jerome F. Sheldon papers; 1992-1995.  HMC-0220.  Jerome Sheldon worked as a public relations officer for the Alaska Railroad. In this collection are Railroad Alaska correspondence, reports, pamphlets, and a share certificate. There is also Railway development correspondence, as well as articles, pamphlets, and photographs.
  • Harold Strandberg papers; 1923-1985.  HMC-237.  Harold Strandberg was the Vice President and Secretary of Strandberg and Sons, Inc. a mining corporation, and served as the Anchorage Port Commissioner. Among the records are an application for withdrawal by the Alaska Railroad, dated 1962, and Alaska Railroad Land leasing, also from 1962.
  • Benjamin B. Talley papers; 1925-2002.  HMC-0241.  Benjamin Talley was an officer in the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, receiving his commission in 1926. Talley kept daily logs, written during the period in which he was in charge of construction in Yakutat (October to December 1940) and while he was the Officer-in-Charge of Alaskan Construction (January 1941 to June 1943). His daily logs often discuss railroad construction and inspections.
  • Walter Todd diaries; 1915-1918.  HMC-0998.  Walter Todd worked as a surveyor for the Alaska Engineering Commission's Alaska railroad project from 1915 to 1918, primarily at the Potter Creek area south through Portage Valley. He kept daily diaries, writing about the construction of the Alaska Railroad, socializing, and the weather.
  • United States. Department of The Interior. Alaska Railroad. War records; 1943-1945.  HMC-0275. The Alaska Railroad was used by the army to transport military personnel, supplies, and construction materials between Seward, Whittier, Anchorage, and Fairbanks. The collection consists of a xerographic copy of a report on the activities. There is also a set of 15 negatives and contact prints made from the photographs in the report.
  • Elmer Williams photographs; 1939-1956.  HMC-0569.  Elmer Williams was a locomotive engineer with the Alaska Railroad from 1946 to 1951. The majority of the photographs are of Elmer Williams and his family; however there are photographs of railroad personnel, scenes along the Alaskan Railroad, train locomotives, and railway depots.

University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska and Polar Regions Collections and Archives Alaska Film Archives

  • Alaska history nuggets. 2004. AAF-661. Programs subjects include Alaska Territorial Guard, Bristol Bay Salmon Fleet, Drinking Water, Early Gold Mining, Good Friday Earthquake, Fishwheels, Overland train, Trans-Alaska Pipeline construction, Alaska Railroad construction, Reindeer Herding, Commercial Salmon Traps, Alaska Statehood, and Commercial Whaling.
  • Alaska On Line: Red Boucher interviews experts about various Alaskan Issues. 2001. AAF-9156. Part 4: Alaska On Line TV show, with Red Boucher interviewing former governor Bill Sheffield, president of the Alaska Railroad, about his administration and the challenges facing the railroad.
  • The Alaska Railroad “A ride into history”. 1985. AAF-9671.
  • Alaska Railroad and Alaska towns, McKinley Park and Nome, Richardson Highway travel, Salmon traps and Commercial Fishing, McKinley Park animals. Between 1939 and 1949. AAF-1290 – AAF- 1294. Photographs include Alaska Railroad activity includes steam engines, people outside of passenger car, the loop below Anchorage, railroad agent, and summer and winter railroad activity. Other material including planes, scenic views and village life.
  • Alaska Railroad, Southcentral Alaska, Southeast Alaska, and UAF. 1953 and 1959. AAF-1096. Images include unloading freight from an Alaska Railroad train, train travel as seen from inside the engine, scenic and aerial photographs, photographs depicting day to day life.
  • Alaskan railroad. 1945-1955. AAF-305. This film is an overview of the Alaska Railroad. Images include brief views of Seward, Fairbanks, Anchorage, Mount McKinley National Park, and the Matanuska Valley.
  • Alaska review 24. 1979. AAF-4969, 0006-24 3/4”. Reporters Mark Weller and Judithann Roberts review the development of Alaska's railroads. Reporter Mark O. Badger examines the role of railroads in Alaska's economy, and future prospects for the Alaska Railroad. Reporter Eric Eckholm explores hardships facing the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad. Those interviewed include: Mike Kopcha, Alaska Railroad engineer; Bill Dorcy, Alaska Railroad general manager; Daniel Alex, president of Eklutna, Inc.; Red Swanson, Juneau lobbyist; Athol Rytallack of the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad in Whitehorse; an unidentified railroad worker in Skagway; and Everett Hamme, job steward for the Teamsters union at Skagway. Program contains views of historical photographs of Alaska railroads, Alaska Railroad cars and engines, railworkers and train conductors, Whitehorse, and White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad winter operations.
  • Alaska review 29. 1979. AAF-4974, 0006-29 3/4”. In the first segment, reporter Mark Weller explores Whittier's potential to become a major Alaskan port. Those interviewed include: William Dorcy, Alaska Railroad general manager; Cecil Zeigler, Whittier mayor; Ross Knight, businessman; and U.S. Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska. Program contains views of the Alaska Railroad tunnels near Whittier, government-built buildings at Whittier, and ports at Whittier, Anchorage, Seward, and Kenai.
  • Anchorage, Valdez and Seward after 1964 Alaska Earthquake. Between 1960 and 1969. AAF-11852.  Earthquake aftermath scenes at Seward include the Seward railroad dock area wreckage. Also includes footage of other earthquake aftermath scenes.
  • Barrow student trip, Alaska railroad at Fairbanks. Between 1972 and 1977. AAF- 1870. Contains images of Barrow students waiting at the Alaska Railroad depot in Fairbanks, scenes of railroad cars and engines in light snow, interior views of the depot, students boarding the train, train from engines to caboose departing station, and brief overview of coal bunkers in distance.
  • Glaciers, Seward, Alaska Railroad. 1936. AAF-311. Summary: Images include unidentified glaciers, Seward street scenes, people depart Seward on Alaska Railroad train with steam engine, views of railroad tracks along right-of-way, and brief view of Matanuska Colony.
  • KTVF news stories from 1973. 1973. AAF-6030. Governor Keith Miller drives golden spike in Alaska Railroad rededication ceremony at the Tanana River Bridge at Nenana (7/15/73). Other news stories from 1973.
  • KTVF news stories, landfill, Equinox Marathon, election day. 1972. AAF- 6016. Alaska Railroad track construction (story is titled "Spur") (October 10, 1972) (silent). Other news stories from 1972.
  • Senator Gruening talks with James Pinkerton, Dr. George Rogers, and Ted Fitch. Between 1961 and 1967. AAF-2091 — AAF-2093. Part 3 (AAF-2093) (1967) Senator Gruening interviews author Ted Fitch about possibilities for expansion of the Alaska Railroad.
  • UAF, Matanuska Colony, Alaska Railroad. 1934-1938. AAF-348. Includes images of a specialized car driving on the Alaska railroad tracks following the train, summer construction and tent city at the Matanuska Colony, Palmer Post office and Valley Cafe, fire at the Alaska Telegraph Station building, wheat harvest at the University of Alaska Experimental Station, fish counter on stream, hydraulic mining.

University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska and Polar Regions Collections and Archives Historical Manuscript Collections

For more detailed collection descriptions, please visit StarArchives, the catalog for archival collections at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and search for the collections using the search box on the main page.

  • Abbey Family Papers, 1886-1987. USUAFV6-198. The Woodbury Abbey Photographs consist of 125 images, many of them taken while Woodbury Abbey worked on the Alaska Railroad Survey and construction crew based in Nenana, Alaska.
  • Alaska Engineering Commission Photographs, 1915 and undated. USUAFV6-955. This collection contains 4 digital copy prints. Three are photos taken by Sydney Laurence for the Alaska Engineering Commission of material storage yards for construction of the Alaska Railroad, September 1915. The fourth image is an undated photograph of Wonder Lake, Broad Pass taken by H. G. Kaiser.
  • Alaska Railroad Collection. 1920s-[ongoing]. USUAFV3-281. Consists of financial records, images, and other materials relating to the Alaska Railroad Corporation.
  • Alaska Railroad Collection Photographs. n.d. USUAFV6-843. Microfiche #11 contains photographs of the Alaska Railroad by various photographers.
  • Alaska Railroad World War II Photographs, circa 1943. USUAFV6-901. Contains 161 images of Alaska Railroad operations, engines, buildings and tracks, military personnel who maintained the railroad and their quarters and buildings, and cities and towns along the route of the railroad.
  • Alaska Railways Photograph Album. Ca. 1914-1917. USUAFV6-292. Consists of one album with 24 black and white photographs taken by P. S. Hunt. Subjects include buildings and activities in Anchorage, homesteads, farms and ranches, as well as railroad track, railroad bridges, railroad construction and landscapes along the various routes of the U.S. Government Railroad in southcentral Alaska. 
  • Angier Family Papers, ca. 1918-1922, 1954 (Angier, Estelle; Angier, Walter; Alaska Engineering commission Photo Album of Alaska Railroad). USUAFV6-3. The Angier Family Papers consist of the Alaska-related papers and photographs of Walter E. Angier and his daughter M. Estelle. Walter Angier's material encompasses photographs and diary notes during his time in Alaska where he was involved with the construction of a bridge for the Alaska Railroad over the Tanana River in Nenana, Alaska.
  • Blote, Martin Photograph Collection. 1915-1917. USUAFV6-818. This photograph collection depicts construction of the sections of the Alaska Railroad.
  • John Burdick Alaska Railroad collection, 1947-1952. USUAFV6-367. Consists of one volume of blueline drawings titled "Standard Plans, Ballast and Track Work" (Alaska Railroad Engineering Dept., R. A. Sharood, Chief Engineer), with drawings dated 1947-1952, and two photocopies of "Standard Office & Field Practice and Trackwork Data" (Alaska Railroad, Office of the Chief Engineer, 10 May 1949).
  • Johnson, Albert Photographs. 1905-1919. USUAFV5-43. Consists of images of the early communities of Fairbanks, Nenana, and Nome. Subjects include agricultural pursuits around Fairbanks, studio portraits, dog teams, gold mining, railroad construction, and the Native people involved in a variety of day-to-day activities. Johnson also worked in Alaska as an official government photographer for the Alaska Engineering Commission from 1916-1918.
  • Falcon Joslin papers, 1897-1928. USUAFV195. Contains information about proposed legislation for the Alaska Railroad.
  • Knudtson Family Papers, 1919-1941, 1932-1940 [bulk]. USUAFV6-783. Contain letters written by Theodore Knudtson to his sister, Carrie G. Knudtson. The correspondence describes his life in Alaska; his activities as a miner and trapper; his work on the railroad, and the Nenana Ice Classic. Knudtson worked in the Fairbanks, Alaska area.
  • Charles Loran Mason Papers, 1917-1962; bulk 1920s. USUAFV6-879. Personal Papers of Charles L. Mason including photographs, album, maps, passes, letters and a booklet. The bulk of the materials relate to the Alaska Engineering Commission and the construction and operation of the Alaska Railroad.
  • Eugene M. McCracken papers, 1922-1966. USUAF213.  Papers reflect McCracken's diverse interests. They include extensive files on Alaskan and northern railroads, pipe organs, and antique automobiles, as well as McCracken's personal papers and correspondence, a baby book, photographs, and a scrapbook.
  • Col. Frederick C. Mears Engineering drawings. 1862-1938. Col. Mears was appointed Chief Engineer of both the Alaska and Panama railroads and the bulk of his papers pertain to these two projects.
  • Frederick C. Mears Papers 1899-1938. USUAF216. The Frederick C. Mears papers contain maps, blueprints, printed articles, photographs, reports and other materials related to engineering projects that Mears was engaged in, such as the Panama Railroad, and the Alaska Railroad.
  • Frank W. Mondell’s Alaska Engineering Commission Photograph Album, 1916-1917. USUAFV6-969. Contains 113 Alaskan Engineering Commission photographs of the building of the Alaska Railroad, dated July 1916 to October 1917. The photographs depict the construction of the railway, towns through which the route passed, and camps for the workers.
  • William B. Spearman photographs, ca. 1904- ca. 1917. USUAFV6-580. Contains materials regarding the construction of the Alaska Railroad in the Turnagain Arm section. Approximately 75 photographs of the railroad construction were taken by Spearman while he was an employee. 
  • Alaska Railroad. 1908-present. Blueprints depict proposed designs for railroad components and structures built throughout Alaska. Drawings illustrate bridges, trestles, ties, locomotive parts, and railroad cars as well as power plants, machine shops, snowsheds, round houses, engine houses, car repair shops, docks, construction camps, and depots. 
  • Troseth, Anton C. "Tony" Photograph Collection [microfiche]. ca. 1900-1929. USUAFV5-106. The bulk of the collection features pictures of construction of the Alaska Railroad, transportation and roadhouses, telegraph, dog teams, wild animals and hunting, Yukon and Dawson scenes, Healy River Coal Corporation, and mining companies and mining claims in the Yukon and in Fairbanks region.
  • U.S. Army. Office of the Chief of Engineers. Record Group 77. Index and Selected Alaskan Records. 1894-1942. USUAF637. Microfiche #27 contains index, list of finding aids, list of accessions and locations, and preliminary index for Record Group 77, Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers. Sit also contains selected records from Record Group 77 relating to the Alaska Railroad.
  • O. W. Waldrip photograph collection, 1910-1920. USUAFV6-102. Consists of twenty black-and-white photographs and real-photo postcards. Fifteen of the photos depict equipment, housing, personnel, and construction activities during construction of the Alaska Railroad, particularly at Hurricane Gulch, in 1919-1920.
  • Wilson, William Henry Collection. 1914-1977. USUAF345. Contains materials relating to Wilson's book, Railroad in the Clouds (1977), about the Alaska Railroad in the age of steam (1914-1945): galley proofs, research notes, photocopied research material, and copies of photographs from various sources. 

Credits

Institute of Museum and Library Services

This guide is supported in whole or in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Alaska State Library.