GOLD! GOLD! GOLD!
... Was the impetus to build the White Pass & Yukon Route (WP&YR). In 1896, George Carmack and his two Indian guides Skookum Jim and Charlie Dawson discovered a couple of flakes of gold in Bonanza Creek in the Klondike. This gold was certainly hardly enough to fill a used cartridge of a Winchester, but it was enough to unleash an unbelievable stampede: the Klondike Gold Rush. Sir Thomas Tancrede, an investor from London, and Michael J. Heney, an experienced railroad builder, met to facilitate the arduous transport of freight and people in this inhospitable region. Tancrede initially expressed his doubt that the railroad could surmount the coastal mountains, but Heney was of a different opinion: “Give me enough dynamite and labor, and I’ll build a railroad to Hell.” Thus was the White Pass & Yukon Railroad Company founded in April of 1898.
This rail line was certainly viewed by many as an impossible task, but as early as 26 months later it had achieved the following. 35,000 workers with picks and shovels as well as 405 tons of black powder fought their way through the coastal mountains despite the harsh climate and the dangerous terrain to create one of the most impressive narrow gauge railroads (914 km / 571 miles) in the world. It climbs from sea level in Skagway up a good 873 meters / 2,720 feet in only 32 kilometers / 20 miles to White Pass with grades of almost 3.9%. The construction crews finally met up on July 29, 1900 in Carcross, where a golden spike was driven in a festive celebration. The 177.7 kilometer / 111 mile line from Skagway in the American territory of Alaska up to the Canadian Whitehorse (Yukon Territory) was complete. However, the highpoint of the Klondike Gold Rush was already past when the railroad was put into operation. Yet the WP&YR lived on, because the mining now concentrated increasingly on silver, copper, and lead. It was even a pioneer in container service in that it introduced the first container train in the world in 1956. Its tentative end was not sealed until the closing of numerous mines in 1982, and the closing of the line took place on October 7 of the same year. Yet the WP&YR reinvented itself as early as 1988 as a tourist attraction since more and more cruise ships were docking in Skagway, and tourism began to boom in the area. At first, the railroad ran again between Skagway and White Pass. From 1992 on it went to Bennett and from 2007 on finally to Carcross. Twenty diesel-electric locomotives from ALCO and GE are currently available for operations as well as 82 restored and copied passenger cars and two steam locomotives.