The Clam Gulch Tower is shown in this photo taken Sunday.
Photo by Judy Johnson
Clam Gulch Tower is sort of a historical monument. It was part of a national defense network called the White Alice Communication System (WACS). The Army Corp of Engineers surveyed the site and Morrison Knudsen Corp. (MK) built the tower. Western Electric Co. installed the antenna and power supply.
Construction occurred from 1955 to ’56 and Clam Gulch Tower was put in service March 30, 1957. It stands 275 feet high next to a 1,250 square foot building. The latter houses a generator.
The tower was built on Bill Bosworth’s homestead. He came to Alaska with Per Osmar in 1948, but had sold out to Wayne and Trudy Webb by 1955.
When groundwork started the government didn’t bother to notify the owners. Wayne came down and put up a “no trespassing” sign for them. Later, MK representatives told him he could have a shed they had built on site. Unfortunately, when Wayne went to move the shed, it was already gone. The missing shed is all the compensation The Webbs received for land lost to the tower.
Per Osmar was an “oiler” who serviced ground clearing equipment. He walked to work from his home and store about a mile away. Per remembers Pete Shadura as being in charge of the dozer work. For a short time Larry Fleckenstein worked on the next phase of construction. Bud Keener replaced Fleckenstein and became a foreman for MK. He was in charge of putting up the building and making the concrete foundation for the tower.
“I got a trailer in Anchorage and moved my wife and two little kids down there,” Bud said.
Rich McLaughlin was one of five workers who labored under Bud’s direction. “After we got done they gave me cement blocks, nails, and the plywood left over from the cement forms,” Bud reported. “I used those things on my house at Clam Gulch.” Wally Lahndt was a Kasilof homesteader and a plumber who also worked on the White Alice buildings.
Alaska eventually had 71 WACS sites vital to national defense, although the whole system was obsolete by 1966. Up-and-coming satellites threatened to make white elephants of the White Alice towers. In 1967 Congress passed the Alaska Communications System Disposal Act. RCA Alaska won the bid to receive the Clam Gulch tower in 1969. However, by the time the transfer of title was made (1983), RCA had become Alascom Inc.
In the 1980s the state of Alaska used the Clam Gulch Tower for providing Anchorage television signals to the Kenai Peninsula. Brian Nolan, then co-owner of South Central Communications, climbed to the top of the tower many times to work on the television system. “It used to take me eight minutes to climb the ladder,” said Nolan.
The White Alice towers were economic generators that came just ahead of oil and gas discoveries on the Kenai Peninsula. While their original purpose has been outmoded, the Clam Gulch Tower continues to function as a communications asset, a landmark and an eye rest.
This column was provided by Brent Johnson with the Kasilof Historical Society.
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