Local joins up for a historic Alaskan trek
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor spurred one of the greatest engineering feats in U.S. history: the construction of the 1,523-mile Alaska Highway, built to protect the rugged sub-arctic country from the enemy.
Harry “Mac” McCluskey, left, of Crescent City, and his son, Dan McCluskey, meet up before the excursion north. Del Norte Triplicate/Adam Spencer
To celebrate the 70th anniversary of its completion, military vehicle enthusiasts from across the country are descending upon the road’s starting point in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, forming a convoy.
Crescent City resident Harry “Mac” McCluskey prepared his 1942 military Jeep for the trek and waited for comrades, who arrived last week.
“I’ve been waiting three years for this trip,” McCluskey said. “I’ve got a bunch of good guys to go with.”
Mac’s son, Dan McCluskey, drove up from Southern California in his 1964 military ambulance, joined by other members of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association, which organized the convoy.
It will pass through vast stretches of wilderness that require carrying tanks of gasoline for some stretches. Stocked with surplus automotive tools and spare parts ranging from brake pads to spare axles, the crew is ready for almost any mechanical failure.
“Nothing we can’t fix,” said Robert Barrow of Bridgeville, standing next to his restored 1942 Ford GPW military jeep after arriving in Crescent City. Dave Aro of Millbrae will share the driving for what will be the longest trip ever tackled by Barrow’s rig.
A 1940s recruitment poster for highway workers best expresses the landscape’s extreme conditions:
“Men hired for this job will be required to work and live under the most extreme conditions imaginable. Temperature will range from 90 degrees above zero to 70 degrees below zero. Men will have to fight swamps, rivers, ice and cold. Mosquitoes, flies and gnats will not only be annoying but will cause bodily harm. If you are not prepared to work under these and similar conditions, do not apply.”
Other California crew members include Eric Lund and Paul and Janet DeNubilo from Thousand Oaks.
Everyone who met up in Crescent City had a Navy background.
“We’re all swabbies,” Aro said. “Well, one guy’s a swabbie, but we’re ground-pounders.”
After being diagnosed with cancer last November, Paul DeNubilo wasn’t sure if he could make the trip. He received his last medical clearance to go less than two weeks ago.
“I’m excited, because that means I’m alive,” he said. “It was either me or my ashes that was going on this trip.”
To make matters more difficult, the Willys MB jeep DeNubilo planned to take on the trip hit a wall at the last minute.
“The transmission made so much noise you couldn’t hear anyone speak,” he said.
Fortunately, DeNubilo’s friend loaned him his Ford GPW.
“Now that’s a friend,” he said.
On Saturday, the group headed north toward the starting point in Dawson Creek where 200 participants from the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France and Belgium will take part in the 4,100-mile round-trip journey. Starting day is next Friday.
“We’ve been practicing the language, eh?” joked DeNubilo.
Guns can’t be brought into Canada, so bears and mountain lions will have to be fended off with large canisters of pepper spray.
“That or outrun your co-driver,” Aro said.
“I just have to outrun Dad,” the younger McCluskey said.
The group hopes to keep friends and family updated via a blog: ericandmac.blogspot.com, and information about the convoy can also be found at the Military Vehicle Preservation Association’s website (mvpa.org).