Alaska News

Nenana Ice Classic still on as tripod moves, but not far enough

The ice went out in Nenana Thursday evening and the tripod moved, but not far enough to trip the clock. That means the guessing game continues as of early evening.

The Nenana Ice Classic isn't over until the tripod moves 100 feet and trips a cable which stops the clock. The tripod had tipped over Monday afternoon, but remained stuck in the ice at about a 45-degree angle until Thursday evening.

The water level on the Tanana River rose about a foot or more over the last couple of days, a key factor in pushing the ice out. Sometimes the ice breaks up in a dramatic fashion, but this year it has been a more subtle process.

After the tripod moves far enough to trip the clock, the winners of the $330,330 jackpot will not be known for some time, as the process of recording the guesses continues in the civic center in Nenana, where dozens of residents are working daily to catalog the times and enter them into computer terminals.

Ice Classic manager Cherrie Forness said Thursday it may take a week or more to finish the job.

The tripod is attached to a tower on shore with wire and plastic ropes. The heart of the system is an old mechanism, the details of which have changed little over many decades.

There is a complicated pulley system attached to the tower that includes a large bucket of rocks that acts as a counterweight inside the tower.

The tripod weighs many hundreds of pounds and to keep it from pulling the tower over there is a separate line that is cut by a heavy meat cleaver.

In 1947, reporter Georg Myers described it this way:

"Here is how the Rube Goldberg-like apparatus works. When the ice goes out, the tripod begins to move downstream. It pulls on the rope and raises the bucket of rocks. When it has moved 100 feet downstream, the official distance, then the pin is pulled out of the gadget holding up the meat cleaver; the cleaver drops, cutting the rope holding the rocks, tripping the clock and recording the time."

There are two hand-wound clocks to record the time.

The tripod moved enough to trip the rope that released the cleaver, which fell and sliced the main rope, but at least one of the secondary ropes did not move far enough to pull the pin on the clock.

"The tripod's sitting there in an ice jam," Forness said at 9 p.m. Thursday. "We don't think it's going to go the rest of the way out tonight, but as soon as that one rope gets pulled taut, it will release it and stop the clock."

She said that something similar has happened in the past, with the tripod tipping over and floating toward the river bank. She said the tripod moved about 50 feet, but also moved toward the shore.

The rope and the tripod remained under 24-hour guard as night fell.