When you move from a lush environment to a desert, your first impression is that it is bleak and lifeless — then, as you spend time there, the colors seem to emerge, and you spot life popping up everywhere as you never expected. I’ve been having a similar happy experience with the Woodrow Johansen Papers.
Woody Johansen was an engineer for the Alaska Road Commission, which from 1920 to 1956 built and maintained automobile-accessible roads, including the Richardson, Steese, and Elliott Highways. (An edited interview with Johansen is part of Project Jukebox’s history of the Dalton Highway.)
At first, I just saw a bunch of dull pictures of bridges, road-graders, and construction sites. It’s been a pleasure, though, to examine the Johansen photos in preparation for putting descriptive information about them on Alaska’s Digital Archives. I’m getting an amazing glimpse into the infrastructure of Interior Alaska — heavens, how much work went into making the state accessible! — and a fun look also at what my town of Fairbanks used to be like. For example, did you know about the Graehl pedestrian bridge across Noyes Slough? I’m told that it connected Slater St. and Front St., where today there are only dead ends. It tickles me to see the Minnie St. bridge, connecting to dirt roads where hardly anything was built.
Only 219 photos (out of about 1,100) have full descriptions up, but they’re all online, and I’m working slowly through them. Take a virtual drive through the history of our roads. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I have.