Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Differentiating between the Pre-64 and Post-64 Winchester Model 94s by Joe Miller

This photo essay was intended to help those who are not familiar with the external differences between the Pre-64 and Post-64 Winchester Model 94s. These pictures will show the differences in the screws, the triggers, some of the machining changes, the carriers, and the shapes of the receivers.

I've created a legend to match the letters that identify the various features that are different between the two vintages. It should be self explanatory.

A - Angles & Contours or Upper Edges of Receiver, Step at Front of Bolt
B - Angles & Contours of Lower Edges of Receiver
C - Round or oval cut to rear of blot face surrounding extractor, machine cuts on sides of front end of bolt.
D - Link pin retaining screw - pre-64
E - Link pin - pre-64
F - Finger lever link screw - pre-64
G - Finger lever pin - post-64
H - Finger lever pin stop screw; small pre-64 - larger post-64
I - Cartridge guide screws; threads from inside pre-64, thread from outside post-64
J - Hammer screw: larger head pre-64
K - Hammer/link screw post-64
L - Firing pin retaining pin omitted on post-64
M - Spring cover screw
N - Carrier screw; 2 used pre-64
O - Carrier screw; 1 used post-64
P - Spring cover; machined pre-64, stamped post-64
Q - Carrier spring screw
R - Trigger; machined pre-64, cast post-64

-Joe Miller-

Monday, August 30, 2010

From Buck Elliott

Just remember that pressure is always and only relative to the resistance of the system in place to contain it... If the pressure does not exceed strength of the containment apparatus, all is well. The Freedom Arms .454 revolver has a built-in 100%+ safety factor - that is, it will contain pressures in excess of 100% overload. That said - DON'T try to find out how much or how high that is... We did succeed in breaking a .454 at F.A., but only after much tedious loading and firing of ammunition no one could conceivably load by accident or mistake. The gun never did "blow up," it just finally "broke..."

In my own .454 levergun tests, back in the late '80s, we did manage to ruin a few Winchester '94s, and one Marlin 336. The Marlin failed after the fewest rounds of factory-equivalent ammo, digesting only a handful of rounds (somewhere short of 20, if memory serves...) before the action would no longer lock up safely or securely.

Next to fall was a brand-new Winchester '94 Big-Bore AE, which stretched and flowed like taffy, as the bolt tried to climb up the locking lug and out of the top of the receiver, peening the lug recesses in the receiver terribly, and noticeably stretching the right side wall of the receiver. In their infinite wisdom, Winchester (USRAC) beefed up the receiver in the wrong place, while cutting ALL the strength out of the right receiver wall, to allow for their ill-conceived "angle ejection" modification. The '94 that performed best in my testing was a well-used carbine, made in the 1920s. It was still tight and crisp when we screwed the .454 barrel into it, but even it became dangerous and unserviceable in fewer than 50 rounds.

The whole point of the testing was to prove to various and sundry doubters that the 1894 Winchester was NOT a suitable platform for the powerful .454 Casull round - and WHY. The guns used (and used up...) in the tests were donated to the cause by those very Doubting Thomases...! It doesn't get much better than that.

BTW, the same Sharon barrel was used in all the tests, and it emerged unscathed. It was finally rethreaded and rechambered to .45 Colt and installed in a Browning '92, where it still resides -- a 24", octagon beauty.

The 1894 and 1895 Winchesters are NOT particularly strong actions, having llooooooonnnnngg receiver walls and angled, rear locking bolts. In short, physics and geometry are against them from the outset. As mentioned above, the '94 AE suffers the further indignity of having the only strengthening metal available to it REMOVED to make way for the abominable ejection system.

The '86/M-71 and '92 Winchesters are by far the strongest of the "traditional" lever actions, with the nod going to the '86/71, with its square-to-bore vertical lockup, which situates the lugs about 2/3 the distance back from the breech-face as compared to a '94 or '95. The '86's receiver walls are robust and not chopped up or hollowed out as are those on the '94, in particular.

The new Browning/Winchester 1886 and Model 71 are virtually identical offerings, made of good, through-hardened steel, and will serve as the basis for some VERY powerful loading.

Be careful, and don't try this at home...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Shooter's Library - A Start

_ "The Gun and Its Development" by W. W. Greener
_ "Successful Handgun Hunting" by Phil Johnston
_ "Action Shooting, Cowboy Style" by John Taffin
_ "Pet Loads" by Ken Waters
_ "Sixguns" by Elmer Keith
_ "Hell, I Was There!" by Elmer Keith
_ "Gun Notes Vol 1" by Elmer Keith
_ "Gun Notes Vol 2" by Elmer Keith
_ "No Second Place Winner" by Bill Jordan
_ "Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting" by Ed McGivern
_ "The Standard Catalog of Smith and Wesson" by Jim Supica
_ "Book of the 44" by John Taffin
_ "Big Bore Handguns" by John Taffin
_ "Big Bore Sixguns" by John Taffin
_ "Single Action Sixguns" by John Taffin
_ "Handgun Hunting and Hunting Handguns" by Gary Reeder
_ "Hunting for Handgunners" by Kelly and J. D. Jones
_ "The Custom Revolver" by Hamilton Bowen
_ "The Rifle in America" by Captain Philip Burdette Sharpe
_ "Hatcher's Notebook" by MG Julian S. Hatcher
_ "Handgun Hunting" by George Nonte and Lee Jurras
_ "Colt Firearms" by James E. Serven
_ "A Study of the Colt Single Action Army Revolver" by John A., & Ron Graham and C. Kenneth Moore Kopec
_ "History of the Colt Revolver" by Charles T. Haven and Frank A. Belden
_ "Colt's Single Action Army Revolver" by "Doc" O'Meara
_ "The Story of Colt's Revolver" by William B. Edwards
_ "Winchester's 30-30: Model 94, the Rifle America Loves" by Sam Fadala
_ "Ruger and His Guns" by R. L. Wilson
_ "Trapdoor Springfield: The United States Springfield Single-Shot Rifle" by M. D. "Bud" Waite and B. D. Ernst

Saturday, August 28, 2010

.32 H&R Magnum

The .32 Harrington & Richardson Magnum cartridge was announced in 1983. I guess I'm one of the nuts that had to have one but alas, the availability of money to scratch that itch wasn't available. I'm kinda glad I waited. Eventually, a Ruger Single-Six did come my way.

The .32 H&R was the latest in the evolutionary chain from percussion pistol to rimfire to centerfire using what was a .310" bore (.319" groove diameter hence the close enough .32 appellation for cartridges) that developed into today's guns with .311" groove diameters (and .308" in the Thompson Center made Contender barrels). From .32 Rimfires to .32 S&W to .32 S&W Long to .32 H&R (and now to the .327 Federal) the evolution continued as more and more was expected of the little .31 or .32 caliber revolvers.

In 1984, H&R's partner in the project, Federal, cataloged only a 95 gr. LSWC at 1030 fps load. In 1985 a second load using a 85 gr. JHP at 1100 fps was introduced. The second load gets the accuracy award in my revolver. While these loads (which better the .38 Special standard 158 gr. load) were apparently intended for self-defense applications in the H&R double-action revolvers (since discontinued), they do make pretty good small game loads. Yes, they are more than what is needed for head shooting squirrels and rabbits, but they are better for ground hogs and feral/former pets as well as foxes and coyotes (within about 50 yards).

I thought I'd carry mine when I'm just out wandering around as it would deal with any small game or any two-legged varmints with which I might have a problem. I also figured that it would be a great cartridge to play with at the loading bench.

The .311-.312" bullets work fine. In fact, the bullets for the .32 S&W Long and the .32-20 (.32 WCF) will work fine in this cartridge.

Factory LSWC95 gr.unknown-1010 fps225 fpe
Factory JHP85 gr.unknown-1120 fps230 fpe

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Lost Master - Robert W. Service

The Lost Master

“And when I come to die, “ he said,
“Ye shall not lay me out in state,
Nor leave your laurels at my head,
Nor cause your men of speech orate;
Nor monument your gift shall be,
Nor column in the Hall of Fame;
But just the line ye grave for me:
‘He played the game.’”

So when his glorious task was done,
It was not of the fame we thought;
It was not of his battles won,
But of the pride with which he fought;
But of his zest, his ringing laugh,
His trenchant scorn of praise or blame:
And so we graved his epitaph,
“He played the game.”

And so we, too, in humbler ways
Went forth to fight the fight anew,
And heeding neither blame nor praise,
We held the course he set us true.
And we, too, find the fighting sweet;
And we, too fight for fighting’s sake;
And though we go down in defeat,
And though our stormy hearts may break,
We will not do our master shame:
We’ll play the game, please God,
We’ll play the game.

Robert W. Service

Thursday, August 26, 2010

In Honor of the Mad Piper - Bill Millin

Via Lawdog we are informed of the passing on 17 August 2010 of Piper Bill Millin, piper for Lord Lovat at Pegasus Bridge.

It is men such as these that we should emulate in our own lives.

Obituary: Bill Millin, piper
Published Date: 20 August 2010

Bill Millin, piper.
Born: 14 July, 1922, in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Died: 17 August, 2010, in Torbay, Devon, aged 88.

On Sword Beach during the D-Day Normandy landings in 1944, as German troops opened fire on his comrades, Bill Millin marched up and down along the shore playing Highland Laddie on his bagpipes.

William Millin was the eldest son of Mr and Mrs John Millin. The family crossed the Atlantic in 1925, settling in Shettleston, Glasgow. They lived on Gilmerton Street and Millin was educated at Budhill School, Shettleston. He played the bagpipes in the Boys' Brigade band before joining the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders as a piper and a commando. His first public piping session was in 1940, an event run to raise funds for the construction of a Spitfire.

Millin, as his mother put it, "was always a good fighter", hence his position as Piper of the 1st Special Service Brigade (redesignated, 1st Commando Brigade in December 1944), a commando unit. The unit consisted of some of the toughest men from the Army and the Royal Marines, all of whom were trained in wilderness survival, close combat, navigation, weapons, demolition and crucially, amphibious assaults.

On 6 June, 1944 Millin, along with his fellow commandoes approached Sword Beach, Normandy as part of the D-Day landings which would see the largest amphibious invasion of all time as 160,000 troops entered France to fight the Nazis.

1st Special Service Brigade was commanded by Brigadier Simon Fraser, the 15th Lord Lovat. Lovat was a passionate and patriotic Scot, and Millin was his personal piper. Lovat was also a fan of the Scottish tradition whereby a piper played his comrades into battle, a tradition banned by the military hierarchy. However, as Lovat not quite factually pointed out: "That was the English Army."

Millin climbed aboard his landing craft with 21 men, including Lovat, and sat as the vessel followed the course of the Hamble River out toward the Solent. He was in the leading boat and Lovat had asked him to play the troops out in to open sea. As they sailed up the Hamble Millin piped The Road to the Isles. He stood proud on the bowsprit as the music was pumped through the loudhailer. As the thousands of transport craft gathered for the mass assault on the French beaches, Millin's pipes could be heard above all else. As the sea became rougher and the craft less stable Millin stopped piping and the Channel crossing began.

Following a fitful night's sleep, the men made their way to the deck and prepared for what, for some, would be the last charge of their short lives. Millin recalled an air of calm aboard their small craft: "Everyone was behaving normally, I mean checking their kit, putting their kit on… We all got up on deck and we stood in the freezing wind watching the shoreline.

Then the order came to get ashore, and no one was shouting that they were afraid or shouting that they were going to kill all these Germans. All people wanted really was to get off."

Millin followed Lovat, watching the tall man crash into the waves, and then watched a man behind take a bullet to the face and sink. Millin saw that as a sign to hurry along and he launched himself into the waves. As his kilt (a 100-year-old one his father had worn in the Great War) rose up he started piping Highland Laddie.

Once Millin had finished that first tune Lovat requested another. "Well, when I looked round - the noise and people lying about shouting and the smoke, the crump of mortars, I said to myself, 'Well, you must be joking surely.' He said, "What was that?" and he said 'Would you mind giving us a tune?' 'Well, what tune would you like, Sir?' 'How about The Road to the Isles?' 'Now, would you want me to walk up and down, sir?' 'Yes. That would be nice. Yes, walk up and down.'"

What transpired has since gone down in military history as an iconic moment. Millin strode up and down the beach piping rallying tunes for his friends. The Germans were perplexed by the sight and did not shoot at him.

As the troops moved inland Millin found himself almost alone on the beach, but as he had not been told to stop playing he ran up and followed the men, playing them all the way to Pegasus Bridge, piping Blue Bonnets Over the Border.

On 10 June, Millins's luck ran out; although he wasn't shot himself, his bagpipes were hit by shrapnel and their war came to an end. In 2001 those same pipes, along with his family kilt, commando beret and knife, the military kit of the "mad piper", were donated to the National War Museum of Scotland.

Following the war Millin was offered employment on the Lovat estate, but grew restless and joined a theatre, where he played his pipes, before retraining as a mental health worker in the late 1950s. He spent the rest of his working life as a care worker, moving to Devon in 1963 and frequently returned to pay his respects the friends who lost their lives in Normandy.

In 1962 a film, The Longest Day, told Millin's incredible story. He was played by Pipe Major Laspee, the Queen Mother's official piper. Millin suffered a stroke in 2003 and had been living in a nursing home in Dawlish since. There is currently a fundraising campaign to construct a bronze statue on Sword Beach to commemorate Millin's heroics on 6 June, 1944.

William "Bill" Millin's wife Margaret predeceased him and he is survived by their son John.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Music Videos

With the conversion of the other blog to purely political/cultural correction/advocation, this is the place now to post music videos. All music videos will go in this one post and I'll edit it as necessary...

And then Paul M_______ turned me on to this one and I had to include it.

Lead to this via a link to the Zac Brown Band's "Free"..

Thanks to the Jimmy P.

Time for another update and at the top of the list are the Oak Ridge Boys...

Well, what do you know. It is about time for an update of the music post and who is brought to my attention than Joey and Rory, "Heart of the Wood".

First up is Joey and Rory doing Freebird...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

28 Gauge Shotgun

Introduced by the American firm of Parker Bros. in 1903, the nominal bore diameter of the 28 gauge is .550 inch. It has proven to be quite effective on both upland game and clay targets. Small bore skeet, for which the 28 gauge is legal, has kept the 28 alive. Upland hunters appreciate the 28 gauge gun's light weight and quick handling. 28 gauge shells are 2 3/4 inches in length, selection is limited, and all are loaded with lead shot (so the 28 gauge is not legal for migratory waterfowl).

I have one 28 gauge shotgun in the form of a barrel for my Thompson Center Contender. It is a lot of fun and the whole gun weighs about 4 lbs loaded. It works well for putting up dove and quail or woods walking for squirrel, rabbit and maybe even grouse. It might make a better garden gun than the .410 bore.

Ammo for the 28 ga. is more expensive than it should be because it isn't produced in quantities sufficient to bring down component prices. However, it is much more widely available than just 6-7 years ago. In my area it seems that most gun shops have at least a box or two always available. If I was shooting skeet I would reload it but there's hardly a reason to do so for the few shells I expend from my single-shot gun.

Winchester Ammunition win super-x high brass game ld 28ga

Remington Ammunition rem 28053 28ga #9 2.75 .75oz tgt st
REM 28053 28GA #9   TGT

Winchester Ammunition win ammo aa supersport sporting cla

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sam Griesbaum

I didn't know where to post this but you've got to see Sam Griesbaum.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A small place to live...

I have been thinking about downsizing. What do we really need?
- a public area, aka living room and dining area
- a kitchen
- a bathroom (likely TWO (2))!
- a laundry area
- sleeping area(s) (again, likely TWO (2))
- an office/gun room
- heat/cooling
- outside space for dog, garden, vehicles, maybe small shop
- lap pool like the Endless Pool

So what would it take to make this?  What sort of building would be most comfortable (stone, frame, log)? Basement? Multiple stories? Super insulated?

I've liked the http://www.deltechomes.com/ for quite a while.  The idea of the self-supporting roof design and "round" house both appeal.   It is something like a yurt but more permanent. 

- "Katrina" homes plans
- Deltec Homes
- Monolithic Dome

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The .357 Maximum Conversions of Leverguns

Typically the conversation begins thusly...
I'm fairly new to the Winchesters and levers in general. On the NEF forum many have re-chambered their 357 Mag single shot rifles to .357 Maximum.

I realize the differences in the two type of guns and cartridges, but was wondering if anyone knew if a 357 Mag Winchester could chamber and eject the 357 Maximum? The Max is .315" longer overall.
The conversation then goes into the various .357/.38 cartridges and on and on...

I have a Max albeit in an other rifle (a Contender Carbine). With my background I am often asked for the "final word" on the subject.

I wouldn't mess with a perfectly good Winchester, unless you're positive the .357 Maximum has some kind of inherent qualities that improves it's performance over the .357 Magnum which I think is perfectly adequate in a rifle. Further, there are advantages to a rifle so chambered as compared to one chambered for the .357 Maximum. Increased power isn't always a better choice. Yes, the .357 Max can be loaded to approximate the .35 Remington but it is just cheaper to get the Marlin .35 Remington chambered rifle. Why not just get a .35 Remington? Because you can't shoot the .357 Magnum or .38 Special in it. The Magnum in a rifle approximates the Maximum in a pistol/revolver. The pressures are about the same for the .357 Mag and Max (SAAMI spec for the 357 Max is 40k psi, 5k more than the 357 Mag.) so overpressure is not an issue and the case head is the same, so bolt thrust is not an issue either.

I know of one person who converted a Marlin 1894C several years ago. The .357 Max cartridge is so long that by the time the action is opened up you get a very long (100 degrees?) rough lever throw. His would fire .38 Special, .357 Magnum, and .357 Maximum interchangeably but only if the lever is operated quickly and briskly. The Marlin M1894 had the lever throw increased because the bolt has to retract farther in order to clear the extra length of the loaded .357 Maximum round. That shooter did not feel that the expense was justified by the firearm's performance.

One shooter ordered a new Winchester 94 for this very project. The Winchester action is plenty long with room to spare. His view was that the .357 Maximum was operating at the same pressures as a .357 Magnum, the larger case of the Max allows for more powder, and will give more power than the magnum. It was supposed that the longer 94 action will make all the difference. Probably all that will be necessary is to run a 357 Max finish reamer in the chamber and take a file to the shoulder on the cartridge follower. Tycer L____ reports that his Winchester 94 .357 Magnum would actually accept .360 Dan Wesson ammunition. The .360 DW runs pretty close to .357 Maximum performance, but not quite.

It is true that most hunters do not handload, and it is reasonable to start a youngster on a gun with light .38 Special ammo and work up to some heavy Buffalo Bore, Cor-Bon, or Grizzly .357 Magnum or Maximum for hunting. There are no really light recoiling .30-30 loads for the non-handloader, but there are plenty of .38 Specials out there, at low cost. It could even double as a small game gun with wadcutters, and is excellent for self defense. As the child grows older and taller, a thick recoil pad can be added to increase the length of pull to the normal 13 1/2 inches.

Paco Kelly once responded with this...
and later...

it was worth it... the efficiency of the cartridge and the velocity gain are significant... different gunsmiths will charge different prices... but it should be upper limit $150....paco
As I noted in my article on my Contender carbine, the straight wall case and ability to use carbide dies gave substantial advantage in case life and no need for sizing lube.

In my Max I can just get (with Lil'Gun) 2000 fps with 200 gr. bullets and 2150 fps with 180 gr. bullets. That is "max"ed out! Every rifle is different but I think that those fellows getting 2000 fps with 200 gr. bullets and H110/W296 are smokin' commo wire. Some are even using 2-4" shorter barrels than I am. I can't get those results (or even close) with H110/W296 without signs of excessive pressure.

It doesn't make sense that the MAG should come close to MAX performance and it doesn't in my rifle. I get 1650+ fps from the 180 gr. Rem SJHP and for 2000 fps must go to the 158 gr. (I used the XTP but the Gold Dot will do it as well).

One thing one can do, albeit at similar expense, is to rebarrel a .44 Mag 1894 to .357 Bain and Davis. This cartridge will give similar ballistic performance when compared to the .357 Max but not without effort. It is rightly saved as discussion for another time.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ruger MKIII 22/45 RP

Catalog Number: P512MKIIIRP | Model Number: 10140 | Caliber: .22 LR
Material: Alloy Steel Finish: Blued
Rear Sight: Adjustable Front Sight: Fixed
Barrel Length: 5.50" Barrel Style: Bull
Length: 9.50" Height: 5.40"
Width: 1.00" Weight: 33.00 oz.
Twist: 1:16" RH Grooves: 6
Capacity: 10 Grip Frame: Zytel Polymer
MA Approved & Certified: No CA Approved: No
    Suggested Retail: $380.00    
I've been thinking I'd like to get one of these. I like that it has the 1911 grip frame angle, that it is .22 and that the grip panels have greater girth than the old style .22/45. What I don't like is the lock or that it takes different magazines than the MKII. Still, it should last the rest of my life. Then again, do I need another .22 LR pistol?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bailey's Trials

Our dog Bailey is a Miniature Schnauzer. This is a wonderful breed known as a great companion dogs. Bailey was born 20 April 2000 and we've had her since she was 8-weeks old. She's been spayed, has a lipoma, and has had some dental work. This spring after we returned from the NRA Annual Meeting she began to show signs of change in her urinary habits. We attributed that to how she was treated at the boarding animal hospital and were none too pleased. Then, she suddenly became lethargic and we took her to her vet.

The vet immediately noted that she had a fever and took steps to rehydrate her but could not find a reason for the fever. I supposed an infection but the doctor wouldn't commit to any reason. The fever passed and Bailey seemed better. She needed to have updated vaccinations and some dental work and this was done. She seemed ok for about 4 days after that. Then she began to rapidly change habits, needing to pee more and more frequently and then to have "accidents". Nana took her to the vet and they refused to handle her not even to help in getting a urine sample. I took her back to the vet, demanded and got a sample cup, produced a sample in about 3 minutes and I told them that I wanted her well and to do what was necessary. They evaluated the urine sample without looking at the dog and prescribed Zeniquin for 10 days. After 4 days she seemed to be slightly improved and still having faith in the vet Nana and I departed on the Alaska trip.

While gone, Bailey boarded with our daughter in McLean. She administered the complete course of Zeniquin and Bailey seemed better but was more and more incontinent. When Bailey returned home late on the 15th it was obvious she was in distress as she had to urinate within minutes of taking water and every 30-45 minutes. I decided to take her to another vet.

Bailey's Bladder Stone (1 of 3)
On Monday, the 16th, I took her to the new vet. I had urine and fecal samples and told them to do what had to be done to determine what was wrong. By 10:30 they had determined that Bailey had 3 bladder stones the largest of which was golf-ball sized and these were filling her bladder. Surgery was the only option. Surgery was done that day and the stones removed. The vet told me that her bladder wall was 1/4" thick when it should be the thickness of a sheet of construction paper. The largest stone was indeed the size of a ping-pong or golf ball.

I have to admit to complete ignorance on this subject. I had no idea and had never had any experience with this condition. I feel badly for not having taken Bailey to another vet earlier. I am extremely disappointed in her old vet. It seems to me that any EXPERIENCED and COMPETENT veterinary practice should be able to handle any dog and have identified the condition without any more difficulty than did Bailey's new vet.  Her old vet did neither.

Bailey seems to be doing well now. In the course of this experience she has lost 12% of her starting body weight and her lipoma is almost undetectable. She seems to be healing and is able to go through the night without urinating. She doesn't seem to have blood in her urine (although some might be expected). However, I take her out every 2 hours, watch her water intake so that she's not putting too much pressure on her bladder, carry her up and down stairs and watch her closely to ensure that she doesn't damage her stitches at the incision site (center line of her belly). She really, really doesn't like the e-collar. Consequently I have to watch her constantly for the time being. Stitches come out in 10-14 days but she might have months of recovery time. We'll have to wait and see.

8/20/2010 10:30 PM

Bailey has been doing really well (knock on wood). She is obviously more comfortable. Her incision seems to be healing properly. Her urination and defecation activity seems to be returning to normal in as much as we are allowing it. We are taking her out for a walk every two hours except for night-time sleep (11PM to 6AM). Her energy level is up. We have to watch her because of that. She isn't working at the incision (yet). She isn't balking at medication and getting it on time. I am really pleased so far.

Our new vet is Commonwealth Veterinary Clinic in Fishersville/Waynesboro, VA.

Monday, August 16, 2010

This summer's "adventure"...

... in celebration of 25 years of wedded bliss with Mrs. Hobie was to Alaska and back.

The trip really began with our dog, Bailey, being picked up for the 2 weeks by our oldest daughter.  We had been planning this for months (one might even say for years) and had asked her to board Bailey before the dog got sick.  Bailey was still sick when we left but on Zeniquin for a urinary tract infection (we've now discovered that her problem was LARGE bladder stones).  We also bought a new camera which was used to capture the images shown here.

1 August, 0630 we got on the bus to Dulles to fly to Anchorage via Dallas.  Delayed in Dallas for 5 hours, we were up about 24 hours straight before meeting our tour director and hitting the sack for 3-4 hours sleep.  I hate air travel, more on my thoughts about that later... 

2 August we boarded the train for Denali National Park.  We almost immediately entered Elmendorf -Richardson where we were silent as the tracks were the site of a July 28th C-17 crash.  Plane wreckage was still on either side of the tracks and investigators were going through the wreckage as we passed.  No photos for obvious reasons.

The train car was an observation type with dining room below.  We ate breakfast of eggs and reindeer sausage on-board which was absolutely delicious.  The train "guide" was Ingrid a school teacher with a wicked sense of humor and attitude.  She was both informative and funny.  Went right by Wasilla Lake where Sarah and Todd Palin have their house.  We checked into our lodge at Denali and it was pretty nice. We explored the area and had a good time before thankfully hitting the sack for a real rest.

Cow Moose - she had no calf
3 August we took the Tundra Wilderness Tour.  Entrance into the park proper is controlled and limited and 75% of the visitors don't get to see Mt. McKinley (Denali) due to weather conditions/cloud cover.  We had a beautiful day and saw some beautiful things including McKinley, moose, caribou, Dall sheep, ptarmigan, snowshoe hare, and bears.

The ride is an upgraded school bus and our driver had an obvious and infectious enthusiasm.  He takes this job every summer just for the opportunity to go into the park!  He was also very sharp-eyed and spotted game a lot further away than I could.  Of course he knows what to look for and how the animals contrast with the background.  It is amazing to me, being raised in the Appalachians, how the scale is so different and how far away one can see game.  Much different even from California and Texas.  The bus was also fitted with a camera which could zoom in quite a bit and display the images on video screens in the bus.  This was a big help to many on the tour. 

Mt. McKinley/Denali
Despite being in a national park, I was a bit surprised at how much game was in the immediate vicinity of this one road.  However, everyone really liked that we could see these animals.  The bus rocked a bit as people went from side to side of the bus trying to get their photographs!

When we got to our bus's mandatory turn-around point we stopped for photos of Mt. McKinley.  According to several sources 25% or less of visitors to the park actually get to see Mt. McKinley.  This photo was taken from a point 32 miles away from the mountain.  The photo simply can't do it justice.  It is simply astounding.   We were very lucky to get this view without even a few clouds.  Later tours that day were greeted with a mountain-top in clouds.  We were very lucky indeed.  As I've said, we had to turn-around here, all too soon, and head back. 

Momma Bear with 2 Cubs
 We still hadn't seen any bears and the guide was almost apologetic.  While coming off Polychrome he spotted this momma bear way down in the valley across the river.  There were also 3 hikers down in the valley and she was headed their way (They didn't meet).  We watched as she and her cubs crossed the river and gamboled down the river-bed.  My camera has a 7X zoom and this was as good a photo as I could get.  They were quite far away.  Of course EVERYONE was very excited.  We were then too soon out of the park even though we saw other animals on the way out. 

Linda and I went back to the lodge and walked around a bit, and rested, before heading out to Cabin Nite.  This was an interesting dinner theater combining all-you-can-eat spare ribs (and more) served family style and Robert Service's "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" with audience participation.  I thought it was pretty enjoyable.

By the way, price seemed to be on everyone's mind even though so many paid the prices asked.  I have to wonder why one would pay to travel all the way to Alaska and then quibble over the cost of something you'd like to see, do or have that isn't even half of one percent of what you spent to get there.  Some call it the tourist tax but there is extra cost due to extra transportation expense which one can understand after traveling to and in Alaska for a bit.

4 Aug we awoke and went to our Horse-Drawn Covered Wagon - Breakfast.  Another "excursion" we didn't know quite what to expect but my sister-in-law and her husband had enjoyed their dinner by the same folks and so we took the chance.  It was quite interesting but not for quite the reason one might expect.

James Bright
As so often happens, the most interesting part of visiting new places is the people you meet.  Our "guide" and "server" was one James Bright.  A local lad with a band, Slave II Nothing, and big dreams but a practical approach to life (he's applied for a job at THE coal mine because it is the source of a year-round job).  James is only 24 but he explained Alaskan economics very well indeed.  He also pointedly commented on how radical environmentalism is costing Alaskans in high electric bills and lack of jobs. 

Breakfast was good as well.  Eggs, sausage (reindeer sausage) gravy on biscuits, flapjacks, blueberry muffins, hot chocolate, OJ and all the food cooked on a grill by a fellow who looked like a refugee from 1967 but cooked well!

This afternoon we boarded the train again for Fairbanks.  As we left we got a view of the rafters.  On the way we had dinner.  Of the four options one was prime rib.  I expected a rather moderate slice but when served it seemed to be about 1½ pounds.  Oh my but was it good.  All at our table had it and it was universally praised. 

I should take a moment to mention that service in all places was given with a smile.  These are great folks that Holland-America hires.  They aren't like some we know.  They work hard with little apparent supervision. 

Concentrating on making it pay...
We arrived in Fairbanks and a bit of rest before the 5th.  First thing after breakfast we were gone to the Eldorado Gold Mine and doing some panning.  This was a lot fun and included a short "ride" through a mine.  After that they take you to the sluice, explain that and then take you to the panning area and hand you a bag of pay dirt to pan out.  It was quite a lot of fun and we panned out 13 grains from pay dirt provided. We did have some intermittent rain but no problems.  One of the good things about this stop was the free chocolate chip cookies. 

Result from 4 pans...
We then went to historic Gold Dredge No. 8 and had a lunch of beef stew before heading down the Alaska Highway by bus to Tok, AK with a stopover in North Pole. The dredge's are huge and were brought in to get the "last" bit of gold from the land.  Apparently they were pretty good at it.  However, sometimes they missed the really large nuggets.  We were told that a softball sized nugget was found in tailings outside Dawson City by visitors but I can't find any report on-line to which I can link.  So, I don't know if that is true but...  It would be exciting, wouldn't it?  Dredges changed the courses of rivers such as the Yukon several times as they moved up and down the river valleys. 

On the way to Tok we stopped at Rika's Roadhouse in Delta Junction, AKTok wasn't too big but it was a good rest stop.  The hotel (all the hotels were Westmark owned by Holland-America) reminded me of the 1960s.  It was comfortable but more rustic than currently the norm in the lower-48.  Dinner and breakfast were excellent.

6 August we were supposed to journey to remote Eagle, then cruise the mighty Yukon River aboard the stern-wheeler Yukon Queen (lunch incl.) to Dawson City.  This began the adventure part of the trip.

Beaver Creek Rendezvous
Alaska, at least this area, had been "enjoying" a very rainy July and roads had been washed out and repaired.  On our way we discovered that the road between Chicken and Eagle had been washed out.  We were planning to take the more southern route direct to Dawson City and then have a short excursion on the Yukon Queen.  Unfortunately, while in Chicken, we discovered that that road had been washed out as well.  So, we had to back track and were driven to Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory, Canada for the night.  We weren't going to get 2 nights in Dawson City but Holland-America did right by us paying for all meals including the Beaver Creek Rendezvous (more beef stew and roasted chicken).  The locals hadn't been expecting us but turned to the task and made our stay very pleasant. 
Beaver Creek Entertainment...

Still, we didn't know quite what was going to happen.  Happily, Holland-America did right by us (unlike some others might have done) and FLEW us into Dawson City.  Not just us, but at least 4 bus-loads which we knew of that were affected by the wash-outs.  We think that is pretty good as they could have just said they were sorry and bussed us to Whitehorse. 

On 7 August we flew into Dawson City, YT.  It is a neat little place.  If you want you can visit Robert Service's cabin.  They have a museum, pretty interesting, and then there are all the touristy things such as the casino, Diamond Tooth Gertie's.  We went there and saw the show and my better half proved she was by winning $22 at the slots.  I never win and have, as a result, learned to not waste my time playing games of chance. 

The five-fingers on the Yukon River
On 8 August we were on our way to Whitehorse.  We stopped at Moose Creek Lodge for a break and, later, to see the Five Fingers rapids.  Not the safest place on the Yukon River, a couple of the "fingers" (i.e. big rocks) were removed to lessen the danger to river travelers.

We then got to have lunch and later see the "Frantic Follies" which are actually performed in  Whitehorse at the downtown Westmark hotel.  It was entertaining and mostly kid safe.  I don't know that dance hall girls are really kid safe but some people think so and these are all that terrible.  There are a couple of double-entendres in the show.

The next day, 9 Aug, we continued along the Klondike Trail by coach, past Emerald Lake,  to Carcross and the White Pass train to historic Lake Bennett (lunch incl.) then to Skagway, AK.  Lunch was the best beef stew of the tour followed by the best apple pie I've ever had.  I love apple pie, I eat all I can and, yes, this was the best.  Oh, and the sourdough bread was good, too.  
View from the Chilkoot Trail down Lake Bennett

After lunch we had a bit of a walk-about and I got the accompanying photo plus one of me standing on the Chilkoot Trail. Too cool!  We then re-boarded the train for Skagway and were bussed over to our hotel.

It is a bit windy in Skagway and, except for Glacier Bay, colder than anywhere else in the 14-day trip.

We also boarded the ship, the Zuiderdam, on the 10th.  Quite a ship.  Quite an experience to board as well.  They run you through a process as exhaustive and as complicated as any I saw in service but they have got it down and were done within an hour.  It was after we boarded that we went to the "musher's camp" to see Huskies and ride on a dog "sled".  The dogs were plentiful, the guide attractive, the people friendly and the puppies cute.  The camp is located in Dyea, the beginning of the Chilkoot Trail, and only a 30-minute drive from Skagway.  Aside from the ride and puppies (when are dogs NOT fun?) we saw the salmon running in the stream/creek and a brown bear feeding on them.

Brown bear salmon fishing in Dyea, AK
This part was particularly interesting because, of course, the people running the operation have some liability concerns.  They didn't want us to get hurt.  So, to look as intimidating as possible to a bear, they tried to get us to walk in a bunched up group back to the bus.  This didn't work.  At least one of us (guess who) got a photo but I got the shot because there were faster and slower (much) walkers in the group.  Frankly, we weren't too worried, the bear wanted to EAT.  I guess he wasn't all that different from the rest of us on the tour!

That evening the ship departed for Glacier Bay which promised to be an interesting experience.  This time was the coldest of the trip and a lined wind-breaker was a necessity for most (but not all) passengers.  I layered with a hoodie and my light rain-jacket and was comfy.  The day started foggy and got clearer as we approached the upper end of the bay and the glaciers.

Margarie Glacier
The glaciers themselves were quite interesting.  The Margarie Glacier's appearance is deceiving.  The face is 250 feet high with another 100 feet below the water level.  It advances at rate of 5-6 feet per day.  Yes, it "calved" or dropped ice off the face while we watched.

We also learned that the Johns Hopkins and Grand Pacific Glaciers were advancing.  This contradicts, yet again, what we're told about disappearing glaciers.  We also learned that in 1760 the Grand Pacific Glacier extended to the mouth of Glacier Bay and had a face 1000 feet high.  Retreating glaciers, if they are a problem, are not a new phenomenon. 

Then we left for Ketchikan, AK and put in at almost exactly 10 am on the 12th.  Ketchikan is a neat place being on an island and only accessible by sea or air.  We weren't there long but we had a good time.  First thing we had a go at the Tongass Trading Company (the dock store, right on the pier) and then we took an "excursion" to the Saxman Native Village and saw some totem poles and learned about their construction and the symbology.  Then we went to the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show.  It might be considered a bit hokey but was great fun.  Wood, axes and power tools are nearly as much fun as puppies!  We also went to the Discovery Center which is operated by the U.S. Forest Service (dad would be proud) and looked at their displays regarding the coastal rain forest.  By 5:00 it was time to board again and head for Vancouver.

After all that, Vancouver was a bit of a let down.  After all, this is where we got off and left for home.  I'll leave out the gory details but from the time we reported for disembarkation until we were sitting in the Vancouver airport awaiting our plane took 3 hours of non-stop fun with Canadian and U.S. Customs as well as checking of bags.  Then our plane was delayed 4 hours and we missed our connector at O'Hare so that we arrived back in Dulles a full 8-hours late.  Little did we know that the excitement wasn't over!