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The Kee Bird and the Alcan

by Murray Lundberg

History of the Alaska Highway

      One of the real pleasures I get from running this site is getting letters from people who used to live here. Lately, several have been from men who worked on the Alcan (now the Alaska Highway). The memories of their adventure all seem to be very clear, and one thing features in every letter - they all remember The Cold!

      In Truck Tracks, a commemorative book presented to Northwest Service Command employees, Captain Richard Neuberger recalled the weather during the winter of 1942:
      At Whitehorse temperature dropped to 63° below. It was 55° below at Dawson Creek, and a chillling 69° below at the Donjek River on the Alaska Highway. In my barracks niche, the day we ran out of stove oil, my shaving lotion congealed. The cold clawed at you with steel-like talons.

      But throughout, the men and women kept working, and apparently even kept a sense of humour. A mascot was invented by someone whose name has been lost - a mascot that is fondly remembered by all who heard his cry in their dreams. In honour of everyone who worked on the highway, I present for your amusement:

                    The Kee Bird

You have heard the wail of the siren,
      As an ambulance sped down the street,
And mayhap you've heard the lion's deep roar
      Down in Africa's grim desert heat.

Or the piercing cry of the tiger
      At night as he stalks his prey,
Or the locomotive's high shrill whistle
      As it sped through the night on its way.

But these sounds sink to a whisper -
      You've heard naught, I assure you,
Till I've told you of the blood-curdling cry of the Kee Bird
      In the Arctic's cruel frigid night.

This bird looks just like a buzzard,
      It's large, it's hideous, it's bold,
In the night as it circles the North Pole
      Crying "Kee, Kee, Keerist but it's cold!"

The Eskimos tucked away in their igloos
      Toss fretfully in their sleep,
While the Huskies asleep in a snowbank
      Start burrowing way down deep.

For this cry is so awe-inspiring
      It freezes the blood I'm told,
As the Kee bird flies in the Arctic,
      Crying "Kee, Kee, Keerist but it's cold!"

The Mounties abroad in their dog sleds,
      Visting these wards of the Crown
Often hear this cry and stare skywards
      With a fierce and sullen frown.

For odd things happen in the Arctic
      And many weird tales they have told,
But their voices drop to a whisper
      At the cry "Kee, Kee, Keerist but it's cold!"

And many brave men on this base site -
      Strong and bold, from a Northwestern State,
Are taking the first train back to Homeland
      To forget this fierce bird's song of hate.

They can 'take it', it seems, in the daytime,
      But when the midnight hour is tolled,
They cover their heads in a shameless fright
      Crying "Kee, Kee, Keerist but it's cold!"

So back to he States they are going
      To sleep in a real bed, as of old,
To slip their strong arms 'round their loved one,
      Her fair slender form to enfold.

Then off to sleep in warm comfort
      And wifey's soft hand they will hold,
To wake, terrorized by a "Kee Bird" nightmare,
      And the cry "Kee, Kee, Keerist but it's cold!"

The Kee Bird, mascot of the 
Alcan Highway construction crews