2017 marks the 75th Anniversary of the construction of the Alaska Highway connecting Dawson Creek, British Columbia and Fairbanks, Alaska, a road that twists and turns 1,500 miles through some of the most desolate and unforgiving terrain in North America. What better way to celebrate the road’s birthday than to drive it from one end to the other – which is exactly what 30 vintage Jeep owners from across the United States and Canada plan to do. Gathering at Alaska Highway milepost 0 in Dawson Creek in late July, these intrepid adventurers in their pre-1970 Jeeps will head off on a journey through the Great White North.
North to Alaska
Three groups of vintage Jeeps, one each from the East Coast, Midwest, and West Coast of the U.S., will travel under the auspices of a group leader to Dawson Creek to meet up with other participants and well-wishers from Canada. The adventure along the Alaskan Highway is estimated to take five days, with overnight stops in Fort Nelson, Watson Lake, Whitehorse, and Beaver Creek before arriving in Fairbanks. Once in Fairbanks, participants may choose to explore Alaska further, or to return home on their own.
A trip of this magnitude in a Jeep at least 47 years old won’t be a high-speed jaunt with the air conditioning and the sound system cranked up. Vintage Jeeps are not known for their luxurious comfort accommodations and some don’t handle higher speeds all that well. For this reason, the maximum travel speed of the Alaska or Rust Caravan will be limited to 50 mph. At that speed the round trip travel time will be three to four weeks, depending on the return route. Considering that the highway is still very rugged and passing trucks are likely to kick up debris that could nick the paint and chip the windshield of any Jeep, this trip is not for the faint of heart. But vintage Jeepers are an adventurous lot, and a few nicks and scratches are a small price to pay for a great adventure.
Like many car-related ideas, the trip to Alaska had its origin late at night in a garage with two vintage Jeep zealots, Bill Reiss and Henry Welch, talking about places their Jeeps had taken them. As fate would have it, one had been to 48 states and the other 49, but neither had been to Alaska. The idea of going to Alaska took root and was further discussed with mutual friend and fellow vintage Jeep fanatic, David Eilers. When they realized that 2017 marked the 75th Anniversary of the Alaska Highway and the 150th year of confederation for Canada, that settled it – the vintage Jeepers could satisfy their wanderlust while honoring both the Alaska Highway and Canada. The trip was on and the word spread among vintage Jeep enthusiasts.
The diversity of the vintage Jeep community will be well represented on the trip amongst the participants, as well as the vehicles. The common interest in vintage Jeeps will keep all of the Jeepers pulling together and helping each other out of the difficulties that will inevitably arise. Fortunately, the Jeep was designed from the beginning to move men and materiel over unimproved terrain, and their simple, rugged design and sturdy construction will facilitate any on-the-trail repairs. As of this writing, participating Jeeps include several 1947 and 1948 CJ-2As, a Slat Grille MB, a 1965 Gladiator J-3000, a 1953 Jeep Wagon, a DJ-3A, and several CJ-3s.
Legendary Jeep adventure saluted
For many Jeepers, the Caravan will mark their first time on the Alaska Highway – but one participant, Mr. Hugo Vidal, has made this journey before as part of a legendary adventure. In 1955 Mr. Vidal, along with friends Charles Paulo and Jan Stekly, at the time Boy Scouts in São Paulo, Brazil, planned and undertook a journey in their specially prepared Jeep CJ-3B that remains a travel legend. The trio embarked on an adventure to attend the Eighth World Scouting Jamboree in Niagara Falls, Ontario. It was the first time the World Jamboree was to be held in North America, and while other Scouts were flying to the event, Hugo Vidal and his friends planned a bigger adventure – they would drive. After a year of planning, the trio left São Paulo on April 2, 1955, and drove their trusty Jeep from Brazil to Niagara Falls for the Scout Jamboree, but that was just the beginning. Following the Jamboree, they continued their drive through the U.S. and Canada, including driving the Alaska Highway from one end to the other to tour Alaska. They returned to São Paulo on April 14, 1956 after covering an astounding 44,739 miles.
Mr. Vidal is now 84 years old, still living in Brazil and will be joining the Alaska or Rust Caravan with his son Fernando, who resides in Florida. They will be driving a more modern Jeep in deference to Mr. Vidal’s age and comfort that, as a salute to Mr. Vidal’s legendary trip, will have an exterior wrap to match the green and yellow paint scheme of the trio’s original Jeep. We tip our hats to Mr. Vidal for his truly remarkable journey sixty-two years ago and wish him all the best as he relives a part of his incredible youthful adventure with his son.
For any questions you may have, or for the latest information about the caravan, please visit the Alaska or Rust Caravan website. During the trip, David Eilers will provide daily caravan updates on his website, eWillys.com.
Correspondence with David Eilers
Alaska or Rust 2017 – http://www.alaskaorrust.com/
eWillys – http://www.ewillys.com/
Dawson Creek – http://www.hellobc.com/dawson-creek.aspx
Photos by: Jadecolour and David Eilers