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  • 2015 Ram ProMaster Roadtrek Zion Motorhome AlCan Highway Adventure

2015 Ram ProMaster Roadtrek Zion Motorhome AlCan Highway Adventure

1,500 Miles of American History

Lazelle Jones
Feb 14, 2016
Photographers: Lazelle Jones
First called the “Defense Highway to Alaska” and then the “AlCan Highway,” today it’s called the Alaska Highway. Originally 1,800 miles long, it’s been shortened to less than 1,500, but as it always has, it begins in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, and ends at Delta Junction, Alaska. Cobbled together in eight months as a tote road (a road for hauling supplies), this ribbon of dirt was wrestled away from glaciated basins, pinnacled mountain ranges, raging rivers, deep gorges, frozen tundra, boreal forests, and muskeg (swamps). A joint effort between the U.S. military and U.S. and Canadian civilian contractors, this highway remains an engineering and construction marvel.
Beginning in February 1942 (the 75th anniversary is quickly approaching), construction on the Highway commenced at several points: Delta Junction, Alaska; Whitehorse, Yukon; Watson Lake, Yukon; Fort Nelson, British Columbia; and Dawson Creek, British Columbia. The Alaska Highways would remain under the control of the U.S. military until it was turned over to the Canadian government in 1947. With the switch-backs and other treacherous parts of the original route now eliminated, it’s now paved for its entire length and is a major pathway for those wanting the experience of driving up to the Land of the Midnight Sun. RV enthusiasts love it, but what whetted our appetite is that this landscape is laced with vintage trucks, passenger vehicles, and heavy equipment from back when the highway was built. Many can be found in small museums and roadside exhibits, while untold amounts have been consumed and will remain forever hidden by the never-ending forest. A perfect fit for old truck and antique heavy equipment enthusiasts, we found the Alaska Highway to be a true bonanza.
Photo 2/28   |   007 2015 Ram Promaster Roadtrek Zion Motorhome
The vehicle we used for this adventure was the Class B Zion Motorhome by Roadtrek. This particular motorhome is designed and built on the Ram ProMaster chassis. As an all-new motorhome (Roadtrek is among the first to build a Class B motorhome on the ProMaster Chassis), the Zion proved on several different levels to be a good fit for this adventure. It combined real-time road and driving impressions of the ProMaster Chassis and a livability review of the Zion motorhome, and the trip afforded an opportunity to enjoy the creature and residential comforts that are integral to the luxury motorhome lifestyle.
Our odyssey cut across pristine, undisturbed wilderness in the provinces of British Columbia, the Yukon Territory, and Alaska, which made for a relaxing trip while we looking for the stray old vehicle. Long story short, the utility, enjoyment, and functionality the Zion delivered left nothing wanting. Roadtrek’s decision to build the affordable Zion Class B on the Ram ProMaster chassis was a good one.
The Ram ProMaster is a front-wheel-drive van platform, and because of this, the interior floor (front to rear aft of the cockpit) where the residential living area, galley, and permanent wet bath are located, is 6 inches closer to the ground than the interior floor of a conventional Class B motorhome where a ladder/rail type chassis is employed. This is because there is no front-to-rear drive train (transmission, driveshaft, rear axlehousing) that would otherwise need to be bridged, nor is there a separate frame thanks to the Ram’s unibody design. Because the interior floor features lower ingress and egress via the side sliding door, these transformations are uncomplicated. This closer-to-the-ground design also means the overall exterior height of the unit is lower, which yields additional benefits.
The transverse mounted 3.6L fuel-injected V-6 gasoline engine delivers 280 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque to a six-speed automatic transmission with dash-mounted shifter. This gives the Zion a towing capability of 2,000 pounds on top of its already impressive 9,550-pound gross vehicle weight rating.
Photo 3/28   |   004 2015 Ram Promaster Roadtrek Zion Motorhome
A 24-gallon fuel tank, combined with the V-6’s excellent fuel economy, yields a driving range of 500-plus miles, plenty sufficient to stay fueled up between gas-stops when driving across vast expanses such as those found in British Columbia and the Yukon. Over the total 2,500 miles covered (Edmonton, Alberta, to Anchorage, Alaska), the engine’s computer calculated the fuel economy to be 20.0 mpg, which is very respectable for a full-service luxury motorhome. It’s important to note that with an exterior height of 9 feet, 5 inches (with roof air conditioner), the interior height is not compromised thanks to the low floor. It’s 6 feet 2 inches high—plenty sufficient to accommodate most motorhome enthusiasts.
The overall exterior length of 20 feet, 9 inches meant that parking to enjoy dinner at one of the many excellent restaurants or visiting one of several museums in downtown Anchorage presented no problems. Facilitating the Zion’s maneuverability is the relatively narrow overall exterior width (6 feet, 11 inches without mirrors), which helps make navigating city streets feel very car-like.
Building The Highway
Completing the nearly 1,800 miles of primitive road in eight months required a huge quantity of heavy construction equipment. Everything had to be shipped by rail to Dawson Creek, then by riverboat up the Yukon River and down to Whitehorse, or by ship, then truck or rail from Anchorage to Delta, Alaska. Thirty thousand men worked on the highway, the majority of them being U.S. military personnel. It’s documented that 904 tractors and bulldozers, 2,790 dump trucks, 2,370 other kinds of trucks, 174 heavy shovels, 374 blade graders, 370 scrapers, and 4,120 miscellaneous pieces of heavy equipment were used during the highway’s construction. Today, when you visit Dawson Creek, Fort Saint John, Fort Nelson, Watson Lake, Whitehorse, and Big Delta Junction in Alaska, there are many pieces of this vintage equipment resting in museums alongside the road or rusting away out of sight and forgotten. This is the stuff history is made of!
Photo 4/28   |   028 2015 Ram Promaster Roadtrek Zion Motorhome
In February 1942 (literally overnight) thousands of U.S. soldiers arrived by railroad in the city of Dawson Creek. A sleepy little agriculture town in British Columbia, it was instantly transformed from being the end-of-the-line railroad town where grain elevators poked at the sky to a bustling city that was more like a wild west mining town following the discovery of gold. Early in 1942 huge tent cities and equipment depots sprang up in Dawson Creek. From here men and equipment had to be moved over an existing sled dog trail north to Fort Saint John before the spring thaw, for it was from Fort Saint John that the real trail blazing north to Fort Nelson would begin. The AlCan Highway would connect the towns and wilderness outposts already being used to ferry fighter aircraft from the plane factories in the U.S. up to Alaska where they were delivered to Russian pilots as part of the Lend Lease Program. From here, the Russian pilots would fly them across the Bering Strait to Russia. There are many layers to the effort of how the Allies doggedly engaged in WWII and this is one of those epic stories that often fall below the radar.
A good way to begin exploring the highway is to visit Mile Post 0 in Dawson Creek where the highway begins and then walk two blocks to the Alaska Highway House. At Pioneer Village, a mile outside of Dawson Creek heading up the highway, you’ll discover a 1939 International Harvester TD 19, a 1942 US Army Chevy 1.5 ton truck, and a 1942 International Harvester Open Cab fire truck, all used during the building of the AlCan and used for many years thereafter. There is also a Ford truck that came west in 1942 after the wheat harvest in Saskatchewan, which was then used to haul cargo up the highway during construction. Not around anymore, a US Army Dodge 4X4 was also called into service as a rolling chapel. Traveling 500 miles a week up and down the highway, it was driven by two chaplains who attended to the spiritual needs of the men along the way.
Photo 5/28   |   018 2015 Ram Promaster Roadtrek Zion Motorhome
The people who drove and operated the trucks, Jeeps, and heavy equipment are the hidden story behind this antique steel. One example was Benzie Ola “Rusty’ Dow, one of the few women to work on building the AlCan. In 1944, she was the first female truck driver to travel the entire length of the AlCan Highway, from Fairbanks to Dawson Creek. One must-see is the Fort Nelson Heritage Museum where Marl Brown exhibits and tells stories about how Detroit Iron tamed the north (Marl was a teenager during the building of the AlCan). At Whitehorse, the Yukon Transportation Museum exhibits not only dozers and trucks but also tells the story of the pilots who ferried the nearly 8,000 aircraft to Alaska for Russia during the Lend Lease program.
Across North America, ads were placed in newspapers and posters were plastered to buildings telling men there were jobs for those wanting to work on the highway. The ads told how the temperatures ranged from 90 to –70 degrees, and that swarms of insects would attack through clothing and were known to choke livestock to death. “Know this before applying,” these ads stated. “And if you can’t handle it, don’t apply.”
Photo 6/28   |   005 2015 Ram Promaster Roadtrek Zion Motorhome
Tent cities, canvas cots, dehydrated foods, and Army rations became the room and board for the U.S. military. In the press, the absence of women was referred as a “low chicken count.” Civilian truckers were paid by the ton-mile, leading many to over-load their trucks and drive at unsafe speeds with little sleep because the pay was excellent. One trucker’s first check was $700 for 3 weeks, which is roughly equivalent to $9,000 today. The cold was brutal and life threatening. One story is told about a truck coming into camp with five men on aboard, 3 in the cab and 2 wrapped in sleeping bags in the back. The two in the back were frozen to death. Transmissions and axles would quickly seize up because of the cold temperatures. To combat this, equipment operators filled tin cans with gasoline or fuel oil, put the cans under the axles and transmissions when the vehicle was parked, and set these on fire to keep the grease and oil inside from freezing. Truck builders like White and International Harvester proudly extolled in their advertising the reliability and prowess of their vehicles, noting their trucks had been proven during the building of the AlCan.
All told, there’s a wealth of interesting information and history on the Alaska-Canada Highway. With so much to see and do (and most of it hidden in inconspicuous roadside stops and small community museums), the only way to travel is to actually drive it. Our Zion made the perfect home base for our travels to this out-of-the-way historical attraction, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see it all in person.
2015 Ram ProMaster Zion Motorhome by Roadtrek
BASE PRICE: $87,906
PRICE AS TESTED: $ 96,044
MODEL: Zion
FLOOR PLAN: Seats up to 5, sleeps 2
CHASSIS: Ram ProMaster 3500
ENGINE: 3.6L, V6
HORESEPOWER: 280 TORQUE: 260 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic
AXLE RATIO: 3.86:1
TIRES: LT225/75R16
WHEELBASE: 159 inches
GCWR: 11,500 lbs
GVWR: 9,550 lbs
OCCUPANTS AND CARGO: 1,250 lbs
FRESH WATER CAPACITY: 37 gallons
HOLDING TANK CAPACITIES:
gray water — 22.8 gallons
black water — 9.6 gallons
FUEL CAPACITY: 24 gallons

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