FAIRBANKS — Alaskans Patty Peirsol and Jane and Chris Haigh, owners of the historic dredge at Chatanika destroyed by fire Saturday, said they hope to hear from the two people who reported the fire to the staff at the Chatanika Lodge or anyone who knows more about the situation.

“We purchased the dredge to preserve it for ourselves and the community,” Peirsol said Sunday about the dredge they have owned for more than 15 years.

She said they are devastated at the loss. Anyone with information is asked to call her at 479-8668.

Peirsol, a Fairbanks architect, said they really don’t know how the fire started and are hoping to find a more definitive explanation than the account in the newspaper Sunday about a spark from moving a pulley that ignited the dredge.

Jane Haigh, a former Fairbanks resident, is a history professor at the Kenai campus of the University of Alaska Anchorage.

The Haighs and Peirsol formed the Chatanika Dredge Co. and bought the dredge and 50 acres of tailings from the Alaska Gold Co. in the 1990s.

“The idea really was to preserve it, not to restore it as a tourist attraction, but to preserve it because dredges are so fundamental to the history of Fairbanks,” Haigh said in a phone interview.

The dredge, built in the 1920s, was one of those used by the Fairbanks Exploration Co. to process gravel and gold on a large scale for more than 30 years.

Peirsol and Haigh said they have not had major problems with vandalism over the years, though the amount of graffiti has increased. Haigh said as a practical matter it was impossible to keep people off the dredge, but those who went to look at it treated the enormous gold-extracting machine with respect.

“For the most part, people going in there were in awe of it,” Haigh said.

One of the annual events at the dredge since 1998 is the spring “Poetry at the Dredge” gathering in the spring.


ROUND THE WORLD: The 1908 auto race from New York to Paris was one of the more unlikely events in American history.

The original idea was to drive from the United States through Canada and cross Alaska in the winter on the ice and snow, proceeding over the Bering Strait in winter.

For obvious reasons, it didn’t work out that way, but some of the motorists did make it to Paris, completing a trip that many people thought was impossible.

I wrote a book about this 20 years ago, “Hard Driving: The 1908 Auto Race from New York to Paris.” While I spent several years researching the race, I am always interested in learning more about it and have been asked to introduce Jeff Mahl at the event.

On Tuesday, the great grandson of the driver of the American car is to give a one-man presentation at the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks.

Mahl narrates the race in character as Schuster, relying on stories that the driver told his children and grandchildren, as well as historical accounts of the journey.  

Museum historian Nancy DeWitt said she saw Mahl’s presentation a few years ago, describing it as riveting and entertaining.

“He really makes you feel like you’re along for the ride,” she said.

Mahl is to give his presentation at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the museum. Admission is free with the museum fee of $10 for the general public. For more information, call DeWitt at 458-6112.


TAKE A HIKE: Fairbanks Kiwanis is sponsoring a community hike Aug. 17 to support the fight against neonatal tetanus.

The “Kiwanis Hike to Save a Life” is from noon to 3 p.m. at the cross-country ski trails. Hikers can register at fairbankskiwanis.org. Cost is $25 for adults, $15 for kids 5-12 and free for those younger than 5. Registration includes a free T-shirt, food, games and more.


BACKPACK GIVE-AWAY: Churches and other groups in North Pole are hoping to put to the “World’s Biggest Backup Give-Away” from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 10 next to Santa Claus House

“The purpose of this event is to provide, at no cost to local families, backpacks and school supplies to every K-12th grade student in the greater North Pole area. Based on the data we have secured from our local schools, we expect to serve close to 5,000 students,” the organizers say.

“Why? Simply, we know school supplies are needed tools to equip students for success, and its our intent to support and unite our community’s students, families, teachers, and schools through this outreach by providing our students with the basic resources (backpack and school supplies) needed to be successful in school.

“Through this, we also aim to lessen the burden placed on teachers to provide these supplies through their personal or classroom budgets, and to support our schools by ensuring all students have the physical tools needed to fully participate in the classroom environment.”

The churches are looking for donations and there are drop-off centers at the North Pole Worship Center, North Pole Assembly of God, at Forbes Storage in North Pole and at the Mt. McKinley branch in North Pole.


EIELSON CONTRACT: A joint venture by DMS American Mechanical of Fairbanks won a $10.3 million federal contract to rebuild Fire Station No. 1 on Eielson Air Force Base.


SENATE VISIT: Washington U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell is scheduled to visit Fairbanks on Friday for a fundraiser for Sen. Mark Begich and the Alaska Democratic Party.

Dermot Cole can be reached at cole@newsminer.com or 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMdermot.