Historic Military Vehicle Convoy Celebrates the Alaska Highway’s 70th Anniversary

Photo courtesy of Wendy Rowsam

Around 200 participants associated with the Military Vehicle Preservation Association will be kicking off a drive up the Alaska Highway on Saturday to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the highway’s construction. Wendy Rowsan is a logistics and public relations volunteer with the group. She says their first convoy was across the U.S from Washington DC to San Francisco.

“And we did that on the Lincoln highway in honor of the 90th anniversary of the transcontinental convoy which was a very famous convoy, Teddy Roosevelt participated in that convoy and it was really the precursor to the interstate travel system,” Rowsan said.

They decided the 70th anniversary of the Alaska Highway was a great next venture.

Rowsan says people have come from across the nation and Canada. One vehicle was shipped from Australia to join them.

Photo courtesy of Wendy Rowsam

“And one from Alaska. So, we’re all spread out, a number of people drove their vehicles here, so I’d say maybe a third to a half of the people on the convoy have already driven their vehicles anywhere from 1500 to 2000 miles to get here to start the convoy, so they’re all raring to go,” Rowsan said.

They will host a big kick off at mile marker zero on Friday night in Dawson Creek BC and start off early Saturday morning. They’ll travel 4100 miles in 27 days. The first stop will be in Chicken on the 15th and the next day on to Glenallen.

“We are in to Willow on August 17th, and that afternoon we’re going to take Hatcher pass. So everyone is very excited to drive that.  As you can imagine Historic military vehicles are very rugged and able to travel rougher roads and our guys like that type of driving, kind of the rougher the road the better for us so they think Hatcher Pass is going to be a lot of fun,” Rowsan said.

Seventy-seven military vehicles are making the trip.

“We have 33 that are World War Two era, 11 from the Korean war era, 17 Vietnam era vehicles and 14 from Desert Storm,” Rowsan said.

Spending weeks on the road in historic vehicles that were built for war efforts not luxury could be uncomfortable. Rowsam says there’s a wide range of restoration and modifications.

“We’re actually traveling in a 1942 Dodge WC21, which is sort of like a pick-up truck size. My husband has done all sorts of restoration and upgrades on it, and, in fact, I have seat heaters in my Dodge, even though it’s an open cab and we have no doors, when it rains you get wet and when it’s cold you get cold but that seat heater is gonna help,” Rowsan said.

Photo courtesy of Wendy Rowsam

Rowsam says there are 60 vets on the trip and 46 women with the group. She says they have some sponsorship for group meals but otherwise members saved for the trip and are funding their own travel.

“It’s one of those once in a lifetime things, and if you’re a collector of a historic military vehicle, the chance to drive the Alaska Highway is sort of one of the ultimates on your bucket list, because of all of the history there. You really can’t be a collector of a historic military vehicle without knowing what a significant role they played in the building of the highway and you can’t look at a photo of that whole construction project without seeing those one of those vehicles,” Rowsan said.

The convoy will end up in Delta Junction on August 21 where they will display their historic rides at the fairgrounds and take a group photo at the end of the highway marker. Rowsam says they anticipate being back in Dawson Creek on August 30.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 24 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori