Traveling Alaska before the airplane

Posted: Friday, March 31, 2006

On the WaterfrontBy Elton Engstrom

In January of this year my family enjoyed a seven-day cruise in the Caribbean on the Norwegian Sun. In one of the common rooms there was a display of old time steamship memorabilia. One of the items was an ashtray with the imprint Canadian Pacific and the ship's name the "Empress of Scotland."

This brought back memories of how people used to travel to and from Alaska before the age of the airplane.

Recently John Vavalis of Juneau gave my son, Allan, a thick ream of old newspapers from the Alaska Daily Empire for the entire year of 1921. What a great newspaper it was, filled with all the news of the world and Alaska. This was before radio and television, so people got all their knowledge of the day's events from the paper.

On page six of the March 22, 1921 edition, there are advertisements for ship sailings: the Canadian Pacific "Princess Mary" departing Juneau March 31; the Alaska Steamship Company "Jefferson" on March 28; "The Alemeda" on April 3; "Northwestern" on April 12; the Admiralty Line, Pacific Steamship Company the "City of Seattle" on March 28; and the "Admiral Watson" on March 29. It was almost as if we had daily service to Seattle.

A good friend of my mom and dad was agent of the Admiralty Line for Douglas. His name was Guy Smith. He and his wife ran the drug store on the corner across from Louie's Bar. He used to let the young kids in the 1940s read the comic books without interruption.

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In 1956, I went down to the Juneau docks to talk to the Canadian Pacific agent about a ticket to Europe. I don't remember how I got to Seattle. I may have flown, but I recall vividly my 3-day train trip from Vancouver to Montreal, and then my 8-day boat ride from Montreal to Liverpool on the "Empress of Scotland."

I shared a room with three other fellows. From Liverpool I took the train to London where I stayed a couple of days, and then by train to Harwich, across the English Channel by boat, and train again in the early evening from the Hoek from Holland. The next morning I reached Freiburg, Germany, where I attended classes at the University of Freiburg during the winter of 1956-57.

On the way home in the spring of 1957, I flew all the way. The world of travel was changing from steamships to airplanes.

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