Few of the boys of Arendtsville Vocational High School had traveled beyond the borders of Adams County, but in a short time during the summer of 1937, they had visited two countries, traveled through 19 states and territories, swam in two oceans, and were getting ready to sail on an ocean.
They boys had traveled a southern route across the country with their teacher, Edwin Rice, but now they were in Vancouver, British Columbia. There, they boarded the steamship, Prince Rupert. Since the group was traveling on a shoestring budget, they had booked passage on the freight deck. It was cramped quarters. The boys slept in bunk beds and the rooms had no windows, “but we could see out when the doors opened,” Wayne Criswell said in “The Journey of a Lifetime Summer 1937” an unpublished article Criswell told to James Wego.
The ship sailed up the inside passage headed toward Alaska. At times the sea was rough and some of the boys realized that they were prone to seasickness. Rice wrote in a letter to The Gettysburg Times, “’Bud’ McDonald says he does not wish me any bad luck but he wishes that I would get sick so he and the others could laugh.”
By and large, the boys enjoyed the voyage. “The ship had a real theater where we saw a live program of singing and readings. Fancy stuff!” Criswell wrote.
The first stop on the voyage was at Ocean Falls where they toured the Pacific Paper Mills and saw how paper was made from the trees being cut down until the finished produce came out of the machines.
In Alaska, the Prince Rupert docked among Navy destroyers at Ketchikon. “The immigration officer made us prove that we weren’t foreigners trying to sneak into a United States Territory,” Criswell wrote. Alaska wouldn’t become state until 1959.
The Prince Rupert’s next stop was in Juneau. This town amazed Criswell who noted that a portion of the town was built over water on wooden pilings because there wasn’t enough room at the base of the mountains.
He delighted in how long the days were in Alaska. “It was funny to be awake late in the night (like 11:00 P.M.) and have enough daylight for reading the paper,” Criswell said. It was only dark for three or four hours a day.
The third Alaskan stop was in Skagway where all of the streets were dirt roads and the sidewalks were boardwalks. Being agriculture students, the boys took note of the fruits and vegetables displayed in shop windows, which were “two or three times the size of those we grow at home.”
Sighting a nearby glacier truly let the boys know that they were in a foreign land, despite the fact that it was part of the United States. “The steamer blew its loud and sharp whistle, making part of the glacier break off and fall into the sea,” Criswell said.
Another new sight was the influence of the Eskimos that could be seen around Skagway in totem poles, carvings, and brightly colored outfits.
The boys also took a short ride out to where gold was shipped from the Alaskan mines and miners purchased new supplies.
“The gold rush must have been exciting,” Criswell mused.
While there, they decided to stretch their legs and take a hike. Skagway is surrounded by mountains and they were told that a beautiful lake could be found midway up.
“We walked up to this lake and it was pretty nice,” Rice wrote. “Back of the lake was a high water fall with a lake high up above, we wondered what it looked like from the other lake.”
They started up the mountain again. Five of the boys tired too quickly and turned back. The rest made it to the second lake after about 90 minutes of climbing. They were now above the tree line and there was snow on the ground.
“Looking to the north we could see the sea with the little town below,” Rice wrote. “The shore line is covered with trees and above the trees are snow-capped mountains stretching away to the north and east.” He added that it was the second-most-beautiful sight that he saw on the trip.
As the boys sailed back to the Vancouver, they boys visited the Frazer River Valley and watched the Indians there dry salmon on racks in preparation for the winter.
They took some time to fish and Rice even caught his first fish. “The fish seemed very willing to be caught. Almost as fast as a line was thrown in, a fish was on it,” Rice wrote.
The group once more boarded the truck they had specially equipped for the journey and set off once again across the United States, this time taking a northern route.