For our second night in Fairbanks, we had arranged for us to stay at the Aurora Express Bed & Breakfast. The accommodation here is made up of old train carriages from the Alaskan Railway system. Four blue and yellow carriages were owned by the National Park Service but they didn’t have the funds to do anything with them. Two were sent to a transportation museum and two were bought by Mike and Sue Wilson of Fairbanks, who got a real bargain when they bought the two old-style Alaska Railroad cars for only $1 each – if you don’t count the transportation bill. It cost them more than $20,000 to move the two railroad cars to Fairbanks, where they already owned a caboose. Mike and Sue have carefully restored the carriages, a number of which have been themed and named to suit their characters; such as the “Immaculate Conception” and the “Bordello”.
Our carriage, the “National Emblem”, a 1956 Pullman private sleeper car was significantly more sedate. We had possession of the whole 85 feet of carriage, including 4 private sleeping compartments. The original features of the Pullman car had been kept pretty much intact, which we thought was more interesting than sleeping in a bordello!!! The other fantastic thing about the Aurora Express B&B is the breakfasts which are served up canteen-style at 8:00 am on the dot in the dedicated dining car. The food was hot and very, very tasty.
As we were departing our lovely railroad car at the Aurora Express B&B, I went in to see Mike and Sue to settle our account. Their house is a small A-frame affair and the living area is like a taxidermists storage room, full of stuffed hunting trophies. What caught my attention most was a huge adult polar bear standing over 10 feet tall on its hind legs. At the base of the bear by its feet is a picture of Sue’s face, completely battered and bruised with the caption ” I fought the bear and the bear lost!”. Obviously curious, I asked the meaning (I can be somewhat slow!). Sue had been working in a restaurant in Barrow, on the north coast of Alaska, and had gone out one morning to put some rubbish into a dumpster (or “skip” for those British people reading this!). Unfortunately, her visit coincided with the visit of a hungry polar bear who probably decided she looked tastier than the scraps of food she was dumping and proceeded to attack her! Luckily for Sue, a colleague was at hand, and even luckier he had a rifle and proceeded to kill the polar bear (this is the sad part of the story). The damage to Sue’s face and body were horrific – still has a hole in her skull as a constant reminder of her near-death experience, but she has more or less fully recovered and as a trophy of her great escape the remains of that same bear are now there for all to see in her living room. Great story … and a reminder to be careful when throwing out the rubbish! Of course, I had to share this story and ushered in Karen, Jack and Emily to see the bear and hear the tale. Sue was kind enough to oblige with an encore, and as an epilogue to her performance, she rather grimly allowed Jack and Emily to push their fingers into the hole in her scalp.
Best time to visit Fairbanks
The best time to visit Fairbanks is from July to August. Shoulder seasons, including May to June and August through September, are also ideal. Although peak season brings the highest accommodation rates and the largest crowds of the year, it also welcomes the warmest weather, with average temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees. You can save money and still enjoy pleasant, cool climes in the late spring and early fall. For the lowest rates, visit during the offseason, which begins after Labor Day and runs through Memorial Day. If your main objective is to see the northern lights, the late fall and winter are peak viewing times.