108 years ago, Fairbanks had only one fuel source and that was wood. We did not have coal or heating oil until after the Alaska Railroad was completed in the 1920’s. Wood was used for power generation as well as heat. By 1913 most of the city core area was heated with steam supplied by the Northern Commercial Power Plant which burned wood as fuel. Individual homes and business located on the other side of the river all burned wood. Fairbanks used copious amounts of wood in stoves and boilers as this article reflects:

Fairbanks Sunday Times February 9, 1913

CITY’S WOOD BILL TOTALS $112,000 ($3,129,087 in today’s dollars)

One hundred and twelve thousand dollars goes up in smoke in Fairbanks each year under present conditions. The money represents between 12,000 and 14,000 cords of birch and spruce wood, cut from five to seven miles from town and hauled by sleds to the hungry stoves and furnaces in the city.

From George A. Coleman, manager of the Northern Commercial company, the Times was able to obtain figures yesterday for a review of the wood situation for the Fairbanks District.

“There is no danger of a wood famine in the Fairbanks district for some years to come,” said Mr. Coleman, in discussing the supply question. “For the last two-or three-years people have been telling me that we were due to run out of wood. Many predicted that the fast depletion of the wooded sidehills meant nothing but substitution of fuel for Fairbanks, but I, for one, think that there is enough timber within a seven-mile radius of Fairbanks to supply the camp for at least three more years to come. The persons who predicted fuel famines for us failed to consider that when the hauling radius was increased by a mile, the available wooded area was increased by many times in proportion, so that it has taken more time for the area within the last radius to be deforested than the areas within easier access of the city. Then again, if it becomes unfeasible to haul wood to the city from the neighboring hills, we always have the river wood to fall back upon. The upper Chena valleys are heavily wooded with timber suitable for fuel, and it is easy to raft this wood downstream to Fairbanks during the summer.”

At the present time there are over a hundred teams engaged in hauling wood to the city. All the teams are not working at one time, as some are off to the creeks after a few days of hauling to the city. Over fifty are engaged in daily work between Fairbanks and the surrounding country at this time, and many are the loads of wood that enter the city each afternoon and evening.

In good hauling weather, when the temperature is not below 15 below zero, the sleds hauled by big teams are loaded with from three to four cords of wood. In colder weather, the loads are decreased accordingly.

The weight of a cord of dry spruce wood is 2,800 pounds, while the weight of a cord of dry birch wood is 3,400 pounds. The weight of a cord of mixed wood is reckoned as 3,000 pounds.

Between 12,500 and 14,000 cords of wood are hauled to the city each year, says Mr. Coleman, of which about half is spruce and half birch wood. As the average cost per cord of wood is $8, the annual fuel bill of Fairbanks totals in the neighborhood of $112,000 All of this is hauled from five to seven miles by teams.

Most of the N.C. wood is hauled by private teamster, although some has been moved by the Parkin- Pinkerton Caterpillar traction engine. Figured in weight, the Northern Commercial company burns 25,500,000 pounds of wood each year, while the rest of the town burns up 16,500,00 pounds, making a grand total of 42,000,000 pounds of wood at an average cost of less than three-tenths of a cent per pound.

Note: One year later in 1914 there was an article published that said the wood supply on the upper Chena was almost depleted. The wood had been cut for a mile on each side of the river from Fairbanks all the way up to the North Fork of the Chena River near Chena Hot Springs. Fairbanks suffered what was known as the “wood famine.” It meant that woodcutters had to go further and further away to get wood to supply the building and burning needs of Fairbanks and the surrounding creek communities.

This burning History Nugget has been proudly brought to you by the Fairbanks Igloos of the Pioneers of Alaska, and you can view more History Nuggets on our website at pioneersofalaskafairbanks.org.

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