The Fairbanks Coal Bunkers

The Fairbanks Coal Bunkers in Fairbanks, Alaska was a large 54 feet tall, 196 feet long wooden structure. It had a total of 26 coal chutes for dispensing coal into trucks. It was built in 1932 and played an important role in the history of Fairbanks.
 
  

  Temporary Photo addition: Click here to see photos of Nordale School and Denali School.
There will be a Fairbanks school bond election on October 8. The fate of these 2 schools hangs in the balance. (Update: The October 8, 2002 election has come and gone, but these Nordale and Denali school photos will be kept on this website for a while longer.)
 Now, what follows below has to do with the Fairbanks Coal Bunkers (not schools).
 

                                                    Photo by Michael L. Dorsey   1996
 
 In 1996, as coal sales diminished, it was decided that the structure would be torn down so as to make room for the expansion of a nearby retail lumber business.
    Some historical preservationists would like to save a piece of it.

 
 
 


 


Click image to see full size 
 

 
 

    Contents

Click on the picture below to see a full size cutaway view of a section of the Coal Bunkers.

 
 

Brief Summary

Local citizens, interested in historical preservation, tried to save the structure in place. 

The lumber company insisted that the structure must be removed, but agreed to donate the structure to the preservationists with the stipulation that it be removed by April 30, 1997. 

 The historical preservation people, carefully dismantled the structure and moved the pieces across the street. They (The Friends of the Coal Bunkers group) were hoping to rebuild it in that general area. 

The coal bunkers group was unable to secure the site where they had wanted to rebuild the bunkers. 

They then looked favorably on a proposal to build a 73 feet long piece of the coal bunkers on a different nearby site. 

They are hoping to secure the support necessary to accomplish this. They would welcome any ideas for helping to preserve a portion of the coal bunkers on this or any other site.

2005 Update: We no longer have 73 feet of Coal Bunkers. All we have is is a piece that is 14 feet long and 24 feet wide and 29 feet tall. This small section has only 1 chute opening per side (total of 2 coal chute openings). But we still want to set up what we have. We will have to rebuild the corrugated metal house on top. We plan to build a model of the original 196 foot long bunkers and have it displayed upstairs.



 

Introductory Background Note

The Fairbanks Coal Bunkers was a unique and architecturally interesting structure. It was an important part of our Fairbanks, history and has provided coal to heat our homes and businesses for many decades. The Coal Bunkers was a symbol of how we and our ancestors lived, and helped us to reflect upon our progress.

 First, Fairbanks was in the wood burning age. In the 1920's, we graduated into the coal burning age. Now, we are in the oil burning age. Possibly, in the future, we may rely on natural gas as our primary source of heat.

The Coal Bunkers should be preserved

At the turn of the century, there were many wooden post and beam type coal handling structures. But over the years, practically all of them have been removed and lost to history. They have been replaced by structures of concrete and steel.

The Fairbanks Coal Bunkers may be the last of its kind. Many tourists appreciate seeing unique structures like this in a frontier type town.

Fairbanks has a dry, cold climate with no termites. The coal bunkers is structurally sound, and with proper care, should be able to last for hundreds of years. Our great great great grandchildren will thank us if we can save it.

The Coal Bunkers, which was built in 1932, was located at 270 Illinois Street. Next door, on the north side of the original bunker site, lumber selling operations have been going on for decades. For many years, Fairbanks Lumber Supply operated their business there at 272 Illinois Street. They went out of business in about 1988. In approximately 1989, OK Lumber Company moved to 272 Illinois Street from their former location at 4 Mile Old Steese Highway.




 

History (1932...)


Photo-Courtesy Candy Waugaman
1932 Sept. 28, 1932 May 19, 1933

 
 

Courtesy Candy Waugaman


 


 

Mechanical Explanation

Photo by Michael L. Dorsey     1996
 
 
   Originally, there was a long, wooden, inclined railroad ramp, that led up to the upper part of the Coal Bunkers.
   A steam locomotive would push coal cars up into the 'house' area of the coal bunkers, where they would dump their load.
   In about 1962, the ramp was removed and replaced with an electric powered, steel conveyor system.
   The original railroad tracks in the upper part of the coal bunkers were left intact, but were never used again.
   In the newer coal delivery system, the railroad coal cars would be parked on ground level track, at about 70 feet from the west end of the coal bunkers. They would then dump their coal into a concrete pit in the ground. A long steel inclined conveyor would then move the coal from the pit, to the upper part of the coal bunkers.
    The inclined conveyor would then dump the coal onto another long conveyor. This second conveyor was located inside the upper 'house' area of the coal bunkers. It was horizontal and roughly 150 feet long. Photo by Michael L. Dorsey    1996
 
 
    By opening and closing various slide trays, that were built into the conveyor structure, coal could be dropped down into any one of several coal storage compartments.
   The photo shows one of the slide tray doors in the pulled out position. This has created an opening in the steel plate "floor" of the upper level of the horizontal conveyor. The conveyor "pusher blades" would push the coal along the steel plate "floor". But when the coal came to the opening, it would fall down into the coal compartment below.
                               Photo by Randolph S. Griffin     1997
 
 

                                                                                                                      *Source: From information obtained by Janine Dorsey
 

Past Owners of the Fairbanks Coal Bunkers (1932 - 1996)*

1932-1953    Healy River Coal Corporation
1953-1960    Suntrana Mining Company Inc.
1961-1975    Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc.
1975-1981    Mark Ringstad
1981-1995    Alaska Construction & Mining Equipment, Inc.
1995-1996    John Reeves


  Chronology (1996, 1997)

 Summer 1996
Co-owner of OK Lumber, Mr. Kruckenberg, buys the Coal Bunkers structure. OK Lumber would also like to lease the strip of ground that the Bunkers sits on, from the Alaska Railroad Corp.

OK Lumber would like the bunkers removed so that they can expand their business.

Since OK Lumber now owns the structure, they have the right to do with the Coal Bunkers as they please.

Oct. 27, 1996
                OK Lumber starts to dismantle the Coal Bunkers.
                Local citizens interested in historical preservation ask OK Lumber to
                please hold off on tearing down the Coal Bunkers.
         On Nov. 10, 1996, an ad appears in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, expressing concern
                    about the proposed destruction of the Coal Bunkers and other historic sites.  The ad
                    is signed by 315 citizens, and was placed in the newspaper by Patti Skondovitch and others.
Nov. 1996 Nov. 20, 1996 Dec. 1996 April 1997 April 10, 1997
The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly passes a resolution supporting the historic preservation and relocation of the Coal Bunkers. The resolution respectfully requests that the Alaska Railroad grant a special use permit, so that the Coal Bunkers can be moved onto their land on the south side of Phillips Field Road.
(The resolution was introduced by assembly member Nancy Webb.)
April 25, 1997

May 4, 1997

May 7, 1997 May 10, 1997 Late May, 1997 July 12, 1997 July 15, 1997

Photo Album: Chronological disassembly of the Coal Bunkers

 

  

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Thank you list

Many volunteers helped to disassemble and move the Coal Bunkers in an effort to try to save it from complete destruction. A partial list of all those that helped is mentioned here:
 
  • Don McPhee
  • Liz McPhee
  • Patty Peirsol
  • Patti Skondovitch
  • Alfred Skondovitch
  • Janine Dorsey
  • Dave Lyons
  • Ken Murray
  • Nancy Webb
  • Jack Williams
  • Bryan Borjesson
  • Walt Coty
  • Evelyn Melville
  • Donna Krier
  • Bruce Haldeman
  • Tracy Johnson
  • Dave Lazenby
  • Renee Blahuta
  • Clark Milne
  • Rufas Bunch
  • Brenda May
  • Curt Gleeson
  • Ronan Short
  • Jane Haigh
  • Chris Haigh
  • Pete Bowers
  • Martin Gutoski
  • ....and many others who helped (apologies are offered for not mentioning them specifically at this time).

    1997 Activities (after disassembly)

    The Friends of the Coal Bunkers group, then worked on consolidating the various pieces of the Bunkers at the storage site, across the street from where the structure had been taken down.

    During the next few months, The Friends of the Coal Bunkers worked on a site plan which incorporated the Coal bunkers into a larger overall concept involving a "multimodal transportation center" with an "Old Town Fairbanks" historical theme. Their site plan specified that the bunkers should be reerected next to where the pieces are stored, and about 200 feet to the north of the Alaska Railroad passenger depot. However, The Alaska Railroad had offered the site only as a temporary, 1 year storage area for the pieces.

    In an effort to persuade the railroad on the merits of the concept, the Friends group negotiated with the Railroad for a period of time.

    1998 Events

     Ultimately, the Railroad remained with their contention that they had other plans for the property.

    Early on, however, the Railroad has indicated a willingness to consider the possibility of leasing another nearby piece of railroad property to the coal bunker group. This property is on the west side of Driveway Street and south of Phillips Field road and is about 500 feet from where the Coal Bunkers originally stood.
    The Railroad extended the deadline for removing the Coal Bunker pieces from their land, to July 22, 1998.
        The Friends of the Coal Bunkers group (chairperson: Patricia Peirsol), was a separate ad hoc organization that operated under the nonprofit designation of the Fairbanks Historical Preservation Foundation.  It was the FHP Foundation that actually owned the coal bunker pieces.
      


      

    More Recent Owners of the Coal Bunkers
    Summer 1996 - Nov. 1996 OK Lumber
    Nov. 1996 - July 1998 Fairbanks Historical Preservation Foundation
    July 1998 - DCT House Moving and General Contractors
    2003~ Alaska Railroad
    March 30, 2004 Randy Bryner
                                     In an effort to meet the deadline, the FHP Foundation solicited bids from people who could remove the Bunkers from the Railroads' land. The Friends group formed a new non-profit group called Alaska Historic Properties Inc. Alaska Historic Properties submitted a bid proposal to the Fairbanks Historical Preservation Foundation. Several bids were submitted.

    Ultimately, in mid July of 1998, the FHP Foundation accepted the bid from DCT House Moving and General Contractors. The FHP Foundation transferred ownership of the Bunker pieces to DCT. It was felt that DCT was best equipped to accomplish the task of removing the bunkers. (c.f. Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, July 17, 1998, A-7)

     Most of the Coal Bunkers will be fully disassembled so that its' valuable timbers can be used for other purposes.
    However DCT has expressed a willingness to consider donating a 73 feet long portion of the Coal Bunkers (the east end) to the Alaska Historic Properties Inc. non-profit group. Alaska Historic properties would like to reerect the 73 feet long section of the bunkers, as a coal bunker monument to the history of coal in Fairbanks. They would like to erect it on the west side of Driveway Street and South of Phillips Field Rd and about 500 feet from where the original 196 feet long Coal Bunkers once stood.
        In December 1998, DCT moved the pieces that make up the 73 feet long portion, from behind the Garden Island Party Store, to a new location further west on Phillips Field Road.
     

    1999 Events

    2001 Events

    2002 Events

    2004

    We are very sorry to hear the news that David B.Thompson has passed away at 38, on March 6, 2004 due to a tragic ultralight accident. Dave was a great guy and donated his time, energy and expertise to moving the Coal Bunker sections in 1997 and again in 1998. The obituary is in the March 24, 2004 Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
    Dave and his wife were the team that made up DCT House Moving and General Contractors. We are grateful to both of them for all of their efforts. Dave also moved OK Lumber's big 140 feet long warehouse in 1999. 


    Thank you List (2004)
    In 2004 we accomplished the moving of a small section of the coal bunkers from Phillips Field Road to the City's cable storage yard. A number of people helped in this endeavor and we are grateful to them:

    Randy Bryner (donated Bunker section)
    Leonard Taylor
    OK Lumber / Ace Hardware
    Borough and City officials (helped with storage site)
    Stan Zelinski
    Jane Haigh
    Chris Haigh
    Dan Osborne
    Patty Peirsol
    Bill Stringer
    Kelly Hegarty
    Clark Milne
    Tim Sharp
    Abe Milne
    Grifford Steel
    Anne Hopper
    Bill Chase
    Mark Fejas
    Martin Gutoski
    Patti & Alf Skondovitch
    Our apologies to any that we may have forgotten to add to the list..
     

    2006

    The Friends of the Coal Bunkers group, offers to donate the last remaining section of the Fairbanks Coal Bunkers to Gold Dredge # 8 which is located at 1755 North Old Steese Highway, 8 miles north of Fairbanks, Alaska. 
    Gold Dredge #8 has agreed that they would preserve this piece of the Coal Bunkers at their site, which is a very nice tourist attraction. 
       With the help of Rich Kruckenberg (owner of OK Lumber, Ace Hardware), a lowboy tractor trailer rig, is used to transport the coal bunker to the Gold Dredge #8 parking lot on the night of August 22, 2006.


    2005 Update: The proposals below are out of date. The amount of Coal Bunkers shown below no longer exists. All we have now is a small section with only 1 chute opening per side (total of 2 chute openings).

    A Proposal (One of several possibilities.)

    Coal Bunker Monument
    To the History of Coal in Fairbanks


     
    Click on picture to see full size. (130 KB)

    Extra windows are shown in this drawing. 
    This design is just one possibility. 
    There are and will be other ideas. 
    The original Coal Bunkers had no windows, except 
    for one set,  high up on the east end wall.

    Click here for a different view (a look at the 
    opposite side)

     

    Constructed from a piece (the east end) of the original 196 feet long Coal Bunkers structure. 

    The original structure was built in 1932 by Cap Lathrop of the Healy River Coal Corporation. It was the one building in Fairbanks that had railroad tracks upstairs. 

      Proposed location: South of Phillips Field road and west of Driveway street, and about 500 feet from the original Coal Bunkers location. {Update (July 9. 2002): This "Proposal" was written during the last millenium (1999), and it looks like the Bunkers may not be able to be set up at this Phillips Field Road location. See "2002 events" for some updated possibilities.

      Future Uses: If the 1600 square feet upstairs area was insulated and heated, there could be many year round uses. Part of the upstairs could be reserved for photographs and a model showing how the original Coal Bunkers looked. 

     There should also be information on the history of the Railroad and the history of the Healy coal fields. [Before the introduction of coal and rail to Fairbanks, much of the surrounding area had become deforested due to wood fuel requirements.]


    Click on picture to see 
    full size.
    Thumbnail 37 foot  long color drawing
    Another Possible Proposal is to erect only a 37 foot long piece of the Coal Bunkers. The part containing the original Coal Bunker stairs (see drawing of 73 foot piece above)would not be used. Instead, a new set of stairs, that adhere to the current building codes would be built. The new stairs could be situated at one end of the Coal Bunkers. Or if it was desired to maintain the smallest footprint, the new stairs could be made to go up through the inner part of the coal bunker structure.
       The advantage of the smaller section is that it could be erected more easily and could be of interest to tourists sooner. It is small enough, so that if it ever had to be moved, it could be put on rollers or wheels and moved in its erected and upright state. However, the upper corrogated metal "house" section would probably have to be taken off if it had to slip under any overhead powerlines. 

    The unique massive timber architecture will be of interest to many tourists. Windows upstairs would afford a good view of that part of town.

     Timing: This monument should be erected prior to the upcoming Fairbanks Centennial, during which time we will be celebrating and recognizing our heritage. (Update: It is now 2004, and the Fairbanks Centennial was in 2003)

    Should we save a piece of the Coal Bunkers for posterity? If such a timber structure is to be preserved, Fairbanks is a good place to do it. Fairbanks has a dry, cold climate with no termites. With proper care, this section of the Coal Bunkers could last for hundreds of years.

     The coal bunkers once located in Anchorage, Nenana, Cordova, and Skagway are now gone. The Fairbanks Coal Bunkers remains as the last structure of its type in Alaska.

    Randy Griffin
    PO Box 73653
    Fairbanks, Alaska 99707
    email:  webmaster@coalbunkers.com

     
    Back to Table of Contents

    Much of the material in this web site, was originally in a June 1997 pamphlet (by RSG).
    In Sep. 1998, the pamphlet was converted into a web site, using  the good web design
    services at Fairbanks Internet Mall (www.sketers.com).
    Later (April 1999), additions and changes were made directly by Randy S. Griffin, to the original web site.