In the 1950’s Fairbanks was still mostly a dirt road town. Having dry dusty streets was problematic over the years, especially with the advent of the car. As automobile technology developed, bigger machines kicked up more and more dust on the dry days, making life in the city core miserable during dry spells. During the summer months everything both inside and outside was covered in this street dust. In the 1940’s a few of the main streets did get paved, however the vast majority of them were not. Today’s Nugget is about how the city worked on a dust reduction campaign during post war era:
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, April 9, 1952
CITY PLANS ANTI-DUST CAMPAIGN
Fairbanks hay-fever sufferers will not be made miserable by dust from the unpaved streets this summer if plans for controlling the dust, now under way by city official, are successful.
These plans include applying 60,000 pounds of a new type of dust control product manufactured by the American Bituminous company of Portland, Oregon. City manager Evan Peterson was authorized by the city council at its last regular meeting, to order the material for application this year.
Cost of the material, delivered in Fairbanks, was not to exceed $3,000, the council ordered. The ultimate success of the new material was not guaranteed by Peterson when he presented the plan to the council, but council members appeared to believe that it would at least be a good experiment for that amount of money.
Dusty streets have for years plagued Fairbanksans during the summer months. Dirt from the streets had filtered into homes causing housewives continual problems.
Previous attempts at controlling dust on the streets met with little success. City finances cannot cover complete paving of the streets in the city at this time. Temporary dust control measures seem to be the best answer to the problem, council members feel.
Peterson investigated the new material on a recent trip to Portland. At the refinery there he received assurance that the new material would work here.
The new material, an asphalt emulsion, was tried on streets in Austin, Texas, with good results, according to a report by Noble E. Latson assistant director of public works for that city. It was originally tried on a few unpaved streets in that city but results were so good that the program was extended to nearly all unpaved residential streets.
As described by Peterson, the 60,000 gallons of emulsion will be mixed with water, 75 gallons of emulsion to 1,000 gallons of water, before spreading on the streets. The streets are to be prepared by grading and possibly rolling before application of the mixture. The material will pack into the surface with traffic.
The resulting surface is then expected to be free from dust for some time. Spraying with water once or twice during the rest of the summer is expected to rejuvenate the surface and hold down dust.
Road surfaces treated with the asphalt emulsion are said to resemble penetration pavement, according to the Austin report. Peterson emphasized, however, that the treatment was in not way a substitute for pavement.
“This new treatment is a dust control agent and not a pavement. It is of only temporary nature and will not substitute for our much needed paving program,” he told the council.
In reply to this statement, council member Mrs. Myra Rank seemed to sum up the feeling of the rest of the council. “It looks like a good experiment for that amount of money,” she said.
Cost of the completed dust control program is expected to be about ten cents per square yard, Peterson estimated. The same cost in Austin, Texas was four cents for the same area. The increased cost here is the result of shipping charges and high Alaskan costs, he explained.
Two carloads of the emulsion, 60,000 pounds, delivered in Fairbanks is expected to cost $2,785. This amount of material sells for $1,062 at the refinery just outside Portland, Oregon.
Peterson, in summing up the problem before the council, told them that he knows of not other way in which the city may effectively control the dust for that small amount of money.
Note: By the 1960’s the Federal Government began pumping millions of dollars into cleaning up American municipalities and upgrading infrastructure. Fairbanks greatly benefitted from those Federal programs and by 1970, most of Fairbanks had modern sanitation and streets. It is also interesting to note that just about the time the last of the streets got paved, the practice of spraying emulsion for dust control was outlawed, because it was viewed as an environmental hazard.
This congelative History Nugget has been proudly brought to you by Men’s Igloo No. 4 and Women’s Igloo No. 8 of the Pioneers of Alaska, who would like to remind you that History Nuggets are posted every Monday to our website at pioneersofalaskafairbanks.org.