“This is the story of a woman who actually does a man’s job in this war,” stated the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in a 1943 series on U.S. Army Engineers in Alaska during World War II. The woman was Rusty Dow, a female truck driver. She was one of a group of women who worked at important jobs for the engineers in the Alaska Defense Command. But according to one account, “only Rusty, with the kindly blue eyes and the unruly red hair and the khaki coveralls, drives an engineer mail truck through the ruts and roads and forts of Alaska.” For Rusty, who came to the frozen north in 1934 and eventually married a former Dartmouth College ski champion, her job with the engineers seemed a perfect fit. “They get lots done,” Rusty declared, “when the going’s hardest.”
At first there were many skeptics that a woman could fill this man’s job, but Rusty persisted and drove through blizzards, over dog trails, and on primitive roads with no accidents. Within months nearly everyone recognized and greeted her. Lt. Gen. Simon Buckner, commanding general in Alaska, often stopped to chat and proclaimed Rusty “a real sourdough.”
In 1944 Rusty gained distinction as the first woman to drive the entire length of the Alaska Highway. Driving a truck loaded with five tons of cement, Rusty made the trip in just seven days, covering the 1,560 miles from Fairbanks to Dawson Creek at better than 200 miles a day.
Today the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ workforce includes more than 5,500 employees in wage grade positions. Of these, 175 are women who work in jobs from welder to lock and dam operator, electrician to ship operator.