Cliff Steadman Got A National Award For Hauling Mail Under Coldest Conditions In North America

 The Copper Valley Postal Service Really Was Above And Beyond The Call Of Duty!

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Cliff Steadman and Garner Hamrick (Historic Photo)

Delivering Mail At Minus 83 Degrees In Alaska

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016
In the middle of a winter that hardly seems like winter at all – when El Nino is pumping up volleys of warm air into Alaska – it’s worth remembering that in the second half of the 1980’s we had a series of extremely cold winters.

During the frigid February of 1989, Cliff Steadman wrote me a letter from Palmer with this riveting story. His letter described an event in his mail-carrying days in the 1940’s when he carried the mail from Palmer to Chitina in the Copper River Valley.  Cliff writes of an earlier Alaska before plowed roads and modern cars, and of the desperate difficulties of winter roadside travel.

His letter also describes the strength and endurance of the Ahtna people, who are considered, by anthropologists, to have historically been among the strongest long-distance walkers on earth – under the harshest conditions.

Cliff Steadman wrote:

I Hauled The Mail From Palmer
Here it is February 8th, 1989, which reminds me of February 8th, 1947. This is a little bit of history that some of the old timers might remember and the younger people might like to see too.

I hauled the mail from Palmer for 16 years. I was carrying mail from Palmer to Glennallen, Gakona, Copper Center and down to Chitina. That February night I headed to Chitina. It was in the minus 70’s at Glennallen and Gakona. My partner, Clay Prewitt, was with me on this trip, to drive the ARC Cat dozer to clear 20 miles of road near Chitina for me.

We stayed at Copper Center that night and kept the truck engine running all night then left in the morning. Minus 80 degrees. (Fred Neeley’s vehicle run all night too; but it run out of oil. And ruined the motor.)

My partner and I headed out and got to Chitina about 3 or 4 pm. It had warmed up.  Minus 35 degrees. We refueled the tractor with diesel I brought for the occasion, got the tractor heated up, and started and let it run all night, covered with canvas.

The Next Morning We Put The Plumber’s Fire Pot Under It

The next morning, it was Minus 45 degrees, so we pulled the canvas off and started out. We couldn’t get much more
than 100 yards, and the tractor would die for fuel, so we put the plumber’s fire pot under it, and covered it with canvas again. Then in about one hour, it would start OK again.

When we were halfway to 5 Mile, someone walked past us, while we were waiting in the truck for the tractor to warm up again. When we got to 5 Mile, it was 5 pm, so we went back to Chitina after covering the tractor again. We had supper in Chitina, with O.A. Nelson.

Footprints In The Snow
I bought 5 gallons of Blazo for my heater in the van, and 5 gallons kerosene to limber up the tractor fuel. I stirred it up with a piece of 4 inch board for about 20 minutes. The big chunks seemed to be floating on top. I left the canvas around the engine and radiator. It ran good to 22 Mile, where we left the tractor at Jack Marshall’s place. The foot tracks of the man who had walked passed us were still going ahead of us, in the snow and into the dark.

When we passed Grandma George’s place, at 27 Mile, the man’s tracks were still going, towards Copper Center. When we got to Copper Center, 50 miles from Chitina, the foot tracks were going towards the village when we turned in to the Copper Center Roadhouse. Minus 83 degrees by the thermometer on the post in Pete Jordan’s yard at 1:30 am.

You Had To Keep Moving Or You’d Freeze
Later I saw Art Goodlataw, and something about his posture made me think of the person that we had followed for half a day and all night to Copper Center. So I asked Art if he was the one that passed us at 2 Mile Lake. He said, “Yes, whatever happened to you?” He thought he could catch a ride with us. I told him the trouble we had with the tractor.

I asked if he knew how cold it was. He said, “No.” Said he stopped at Grandma George’s and had a cup of tea, and from there to Copper Center it got colder. Said you had to keep moving, or you might freeze.

My partner, Clay, said later he had been called all kinds of liars, from people who didn’t believe this story, and it was impossible for anybody to walk 50 miles in that kind of weather.

Credit For A Feat Like That
The Post Office Department of the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Washington, DC. said I hauled the mail that February the farthest – in the coldest weather –  in the history of the North American Continent. But, I always had a warm spot in my heart for Art Goodlataw, and think he deserved credit for a feat like that – 50 miles in half a day, and all night. Art was 18 days less than eighteen years old that day. I would say he was one tough boy.

© 2016, Northcountry Communications Inc.

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