Bison, Kayaks, and Natural Gas Platforms
Unusual cargo taken in stride by Alaska’s transportation companies
By Vanessa Orr

ransportation companies in Alaska are used to facing all sorts of challenges, from tricky weather and remote locations to short delivery windows—but no matter the obstacle or the cargo, they take great pride in getting things where they need to go.

Case in point: a few years ago, Matson found itself moving a more traditional form of transportation. An Alutiiq kayak, estimated to be built in or before 1869, was discovered in storage at Harvard’s Peabody Museum. The museum agreed to loan the forty-pound, split-prow kayak (created with humpback whale sinew, hair, wool yarn, wood, plant fiber cordage, and spruce root) to the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak for a period of ten years—the only problem was getting it there.

It took several years for the kayak, which needed to first be restored, to make the 5,000-mile trip. The Matson Foundation provided a $5,000 grant toward the vessel’s preservation and then offered an in-kind donation of free shipping. Transported across the United States on a truck in an 18-foot custom crate, it then traveled on a Matson ship from Tacoma to Kodiak before arriving at the Alutiiq Museum.

And this is not the first “antique” that has made its way through Alaska. Lynden Air Cargo once transported a ninety-two-year-old Tin Lizzie—a vintage Model T that was discovered nestled in the back of a warehouse in Nome. Its owners wanted it transported to Anchorage, which required the services of a Lynden Air Cargo Hercules aircraft.

Crowley’s Marine Solutions Team faced a more modern-day challenge when it was hired as the prime contractor to ship and install a natural gas production platform and underwater pipeline for Furie Operating Alaska. Known as the Kitchen Lights project, the two-year undertaking—which employed more than 500 workers and up to twenty support vessels during the process—faced a plethora of engineering and transportation challenges.

Taco Bell decided to surprise the 6,200 residents of Bethel by flying a Taco Bell truck to the area filled with 30,000 pounds of food and cooking gear. Forty Taco Bell employees also made the journey to dish up tacos to the elated village.


Doritos Locos Tacos Truck
Taco Bell decided to surprise the 6,200 residents of Bethel by flying a Taco Bell truck to the area filled with 30,000 pounds of food and cooking gear. Forty Taco Bell employees also made the journey to dish up tacos to the elated village.


“This was not your everyday type of project,” says Crowley Vice President Johan Sperling. “It was a large project with many components, and it required a company that was familiar with Cook Inlet, where the tide rises so much that it creates treacherous currents. For anyone not familiar with the area, it would have been almost impossible.”

Tides in Cook Inlet can rise and fall by up to 35 feet every six hours, and changing currents make it even more hazardous to those working in the area.

“I think the most surprising part to me was how long it took to get people who had never been in Alaska to understand how different Cook Inlet is from other places around the world,” says Sperling of the project that employed a number of foreign subcontractors. “When they think of America, they think of New York skyscrapers and heavily populated urban environments. It took a long time to get them comfortable in this space.”

One of the first challenges facing those working on the project was outfitting Crowley’s Ninilchik, a regular barge, to make it a pipe-laying barge that could handle the assembly of nearly 16 miles of 10-inch, concrete-coated pipe. Then the company had to figure out a way to transport the monopod and chassis—part of the production platform—on a large offshore barge because the monopod had to remain vertical for the entire route.

“We had to move it from Texas through the Gulf of Mexico, through the Panama Canal, and up to Seattle where it stayed for months,” says Sperling.

The monopod was then moved across the Gulf of Alaska to Cook Inlet. “The main issue was making sure that the monopod didn’t topple over and destroy the barge because it didn’t have the biggest base; it was actually pretty narrow, in comparison to size and weight,” Sperling explains.

Once in Cook Inlet, special mooring arrangements had to be designed, and with slack tide lasting for only thirty minutes at a time, it was especially difficult to lift the monopod to position it over the central pole—a process handled with great intricacy by two 1,000-ton cranes.

“Anything involving the running of the tide and the current had to be specially considered, keeping in mind moving anchors and divers and vessels,” Sperling says.

All told, the transport and installation of the Kitchen Lights project required the coordination of two 8,000 HP anchor handling tugs, four offshore supply vessels, two dive support vessels, a crew boat, several offshore and harbor towing vessels, a number of barges, security vessels, and a landing craft.

According to Rick Bendix, marketing and business development manager for Alaska Airlines Cargo, transportation professionals never know quite what they’ll be moving when working for a company that flies to and from the Last Frontier.

“We transferred several shelter animals that were abandoned during the California wildfires so that they could be adopted in other states, including Alaska,” he says, adding that the airline has also transported bees, eagles, reindeer, bears, seals, mini horses, baby moose, and a tarantula. “We also moved three goats, a pig, and seven chickens in separate kennels to Seattle for a family relocating to New York.”

When a cruise ship didn’t get its delivery of milk in Seattle in time for departure, Alaska Airlines ran a charter freighter flight—full of 35,000 pounds of the liquid—up to Juneau to meet the cruise ship when it got into port. The carrier also transports lab samples from Alaska to specialized testing facilities in other parts of the country and brings lifesaving medicines and treatments into Alaska daily.

On a number of occasions, Alaska Airlines has moved band and stage equipment for prominent musical groups performing in Juneau and Anchorage. “These are always challenging jobs; not only due to the volume of the shipments but because of the critical nature of needing everything to arrive on time,” Bendix says. “If there is no equipment, there is no show.”

Having been in business for more than a century, it’s no wonder that Lynden and its subsidiaries have transported a wealth of unusual items, including moving 100 wood bison from Girdwood to remote Shageluk to reintroduce the species to an area where they once roamed.

It took Lynden Air Cargo, Alaska West Express, and Alaska Marine Lines (AML) working together to move the animals, each of which weighs between 1,200 and 2,000 pounds. The bison were transported in retrofitted Conex boxes (donated by AML and Container Specialties of Alaska) that held seven animals each. They were trucked from Portage to Anchorage and then loaded into Lynden Air Cargo’s Hercules aircraft for the one-hour flight.

“We have always been a niche operator, but this made our Top 10 list of unusual moves,” says Jim Davis, Lynden Air Cargo vice president of commercial operations.

The animals arrived healthy and have since begun to breed, making this one of the state’s most impressive conservation—and transportation—efforts.

Lynden has also transported unusual objects to well-known and not so well-known destinations.

In 2015 Lynden transported a 74-foot Christmas tree from the Chugach National Forest to Washington, DC, making stops in ten communities along the way. The two-week, 4,000-mile expedition took place by land and sea in order to get the tree to the nation’s capital in time for the official tree lighting in December.

Lynden Air Cargo once transported a ninety-two-year-old Tin Lizzie, a vintage Model T that was discovered in the back of a warehouse in Nome, to Anchorage in a LAC Hercules aircraft.


Ninety-Two-Year-Old Tin Lizzie vintage model
Lynden Air Cargo once transported a ninety-two-year-old Tin Lizzie, a vintage Model T that was discovered in the back of a warehouse in Nome, to Anchorage in a LAC Hercules aircraft.


Despite a journey that included 100 mile-per-hour winds and 50-foot waves between the Port of Anchorage and Tacoma, Washington, the tree arrived safely in the Lower 48 where it was loaded into a specially decaled Kenworth T680 truck, driven by Lynden driver John Schank, who at the time had logged more than 5 million miles on the road, accident-free, in almost four decades of driving.

And this is not the first time that Lynden made a large crowd happy. At one time it was rumored that Taco Bell was moving into Bethel, but the town was dismayed when it was revealed the story was a hoax. Making full use of Lynden’s logistics expertise, Taco Bell decided to surprise the 6,200 village residents with tacos.

Sworn to secrecy, Lynden moved 950 pounds of seasoned beef, 500 pounds of sour cream, 300 pounds of tomatoes, 300 pounds of lettuce, 150 pounds of cheddar cheese, and 10,000 taco shells, along with refrigerators, heating units, and cooking utensils, via a Lynden Air Cargo Hercules. The more than 30,000 pounds of food and gear—and forty Taco Bell employees—were flown from Anchorage to Bethel (only accessible by air or sea) and, much to the delight of residents, Taco Bell arrived in Bethel.

AML and LTI Inc., both members of the Lynden family of companies, have also had their share of unusual cargo. The companies provided free transportation for a ceremonial totem pole—created to replace an ancestral totem pole originally located in Glacier Bay—from Bellingham, Washington, to Hoonah.

In order to transport the 11-foot, 2,000-pound pole, it first had to be secured on a trailer for the ride to Washington where it was moved by forklift into a container for the journey to Seattle. It was then transferred onto a barge to Southeast and later transferred from barge to barge to make the final leg to Hoonah.

AML also helped deliver a life-size bronze statue of the late Senator Ted Stevens from Cordova to Seattle and then on to Oregon before bringing it back to Anchorage for its unveiling at the eponymous Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

The clay form was designed by Cordova-based artist Joan Bugbee-Jackson and had to be shipped to Oregon for bronzing before it could make the trip back to Alaska. In addition to moving the statue itself, Lynden worked with US Customs and Border Protection to secure the shipment of materials from China that were used in the background of the statue.

Coordinating and executing international shipments is nothing new for the company; Lynden Air Cargo joined the ranks of operators that have traveled to all seven continents when it transported supplies in support of an Italian research team on expedition in the Antarctic. Supplies were shipped from Christchurch, New Zealand, to Mario Zucchelli Station in Italy and then to Phoenix Field at McMurdo Station in Terra Deca, Antarctica.

While the supplies were unusual enough—including two Squirrel helicopters on each trip—so was the distance. Terra Deca Bay is about 2,000 miles and seven hours from Christchurch, and Phoenix Field is another 300 miles further south, which required an augmented crew, as well as a loadmaster and mechanic.

Far smaller and yet just as critical, Lynden International helped transport human blood samples from a clinical trial in West Africa to the United States and Europe for testing. To keep samples frozen and stable requires using Liquid Nitrogen Dry (LN2) shipping containers that maintain a temperature of -150˚C for up to ten days.

“Each LN2 shipper can accommodate up to 405 2-milliliter vials and is equipped with a GPS-temperature sensor. We can monitor the temperature and see exactly where the unit is anywhere in the world,” says Phil Maxson, Lynden International’s director of international operations, adding that the company handles more than 400 shipments annually in and out of Africa for various government and non-governmental organizations.

No matter the cargo, Alaska’s transportation companies are up to the challenge, connecting people and places with the things they need—one baby moose at a time.