The Alaskan Oil Pipeline – A Tribute to Minute Planning

Thanks to Ice Road Truckers I’ve spent a decent amount of time learning about the far flung northern outpost of Prudhoe Bay and the one road that connects it to the outside world, The Dalton Highway. I never really stopped to think about the pipeline that gave birth to this stretch of road and how massive a undertaking it was for both man and machine. Once again I’ve had the good fortune to stumble across another vintage video that sheds some light on the construction of this engineering marvel. Let me run some facts across you to make the point crystal clear.

The steel pipe used in the construction of the pipeline was produced entirely in Japan. Each segment was 58 feet long, 48 inches in diameter and weighed 8 tons. Nearly 800 miles of pipe were need to transverse the distance between Prudhoe Bay and Prince William Sound. Fourteen specialized barges were constructed in both Japan, Hong Kong and the United States to transport over 5,000 segments of pipe. Each barge was wider and longer than your typical football field with 35 foot high stanchions. For those doing the math at home each barge held around 16 miles of pipe. Of the the fourteen barges four were towed fully loaded (40,000 ton!) from Japan by two ocean going tugs, the Apache and Seminole of the Pacific Inland Navigation Company. I haven’t been able to find any details about these two ships online other than one small blurb on the Apache. It was constructed in 1968 and was powered by two GM diesel engines producing 3,000 HP. I’ll let you guess the brand name on those monsters. I can only guess the Seminole had a similar setup. But I digress.

Once all the steel pipe for the project had been completed a flotiala of 40 barges and 20 tugboats assembled for the trek to the North Slope. By this point over 120,000 tons of steel and 67,000 tons of general cargo were on the move. Heading toward the Artic Circle the group encountered thick ice. This was to be expected and was planed for. Details of the project revel the armada was to wait until the ice cleared, usually no later than August 2nd. Yeah, that is not a mistype, August! Mother Nature did not cooperate fully forcing the barges to eventually pick their way through ice at speeds of one knot or less..

Eventually all the barges reached the unloading point and were met by two floating platforms each containing one 200 ton crane. Day and night crews worked to unload the pipe for transport to marshalling yards. One such location was 55 acres which made it large enough to contain 167 miles of pipe. Like I said, mind boggling.

The amount of effort that was expelled just to gather the materials necessary to start the construction of the pipeline only speaks to the massive scope that was the Trans Alaskan Pipeline System. All of this is wonderfully documented in the video shown below.

Here are a few select scenes worth keeping an eye out as they directly relate to my favorite topic, trucks! By no means are they the only parts worth watching. Try to watch the whole film. I think you will be entertained.

  • 1:50 – Kenworth oilfield truck hauling pipe up mountain pass
  • 6:54 – Neat looking 2 stroke powered Japenese truck
  • 19:05 – Great footage of more oilfield Kenworths hauling pipe
  • 19:54 – Kenworth hauling butt
  • 21:00 – More Kenworth hauling butt

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