On Alaska' s Hurricane Train

It was how the West was won, then and now. CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone rides the route of the Hurricane Train in Alaska, where people flag down the train to the last frontier.
It's called the Hurricane train only because Hurricane Gulch is at the end of the line. The Hurricane is neither fast nor powerful. And as it rattles through the Alaskan bush, it's almost always late. But those who climb aboard wouldn't have it any other way.

Dwayne Frank is the conductor on the Hurricane, the last flag-stop train in Alaska.

His partner, engineer Mike Davis, has been working on the Alaska railway for 25 years. Around every corner Davis has to be ready to bring the train to a quick stop whenever someone wanders up to the track and flags it down.

"We've got a kind of schedule. We're not supposed to go by certain places till a certain [time elapses]." He adds: "Well we're always behind so they're always waiting."

It's a good thing the passengers don't mind because many of them are heavily armed. Most live in isolated cabins where bears are their closest neighbors. There are no roads, no automobiles; there is only the train.

"Thirteen miles from Hurricane Gulch. I've walked it when I've missed the train," says Kathy Hoag.

"We carry newspapers; we carry mail," Davis says.
"We throw the mail off the train."

The Hurricane has been loaded with building material and boats - and enough supplies to see a wilderness homesteader through the winter. It probably sells more tickets for dogs than any train in America.

"There's hardly anywhere in the lower 48 that you can get a train, I mean, that's like this, " says one passenger, adding, "You can't take your dogs; you can't have your own beer."

Many people who live in Alaska moved from the lower 48 states in search of wilderness and adventure. This little train is perhaps no different; when it was first built in the 1950s, it ran up and down a commuter line in Chicago.

"It's tough to keep [the engines] going; they're so old...1950," says Davis.

But somehow the Hurricane does keep going, four days a week in summer, two in the winter. It's public transit on the last frontier.

Since the train runs on two engines instead of four, "We've got an excuse for being late," Davis says.

Whatever it takes, the Hurricane provides a service that goes back to the days when the railroad was just about the only road in Alaska.


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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