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Passage to Prudhoe (1969)

KPRC-TV

Sound | 1969

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  •  KPRC News Director Ray Miller aboard the SS Manhattan as it navigates the Northwest Passage, a sea route to the Pacific Ocean through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago 
  •  Oil field at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska 
  •  Stanley Haas, a vice president of the Humble Oil and Refining Company and project director of the Manhattan expedition 
  •  The SS Manhattan docks in Chester, Pennsylvania, where Humble oversaw a six-month modification program to prepare the ship for the Arctic voyage 
  •  Colos Bennett, chief engineer of the Manhattan for Humble 
  •  Traversing the icy waters surrounding the Canadian Arctic Archipelago 
  •  Captain Roger Steward 
  •  The tanker grinds to a halt in an ice flow near Viscount Melville Sound on September 8 
  •  Haas draws conclusions from the experience 
  •  Carl Thenemann, the Manhattan’s radio officer 
  •  The John H. MacDonald and the Northwind escort the Manhattan through the passage 
  •  M’Clure Strait 
  •  After stalling in an ice flow on the strait, experts strategize how to break free and backtrack to an alternate southern route 
  •  An image of the tiger mascot for Humble’s Esso and Enco regional brands adorns the Manhattan 
  •  The Manhattan reaches open water on September 14, becoming the first commercial vessel to traverse the Northwest Passage 
  •  Haas assesses the journey and what it means for the feasibility of the sea route 
  •  A helicopter delivers a ceremonial barrel of crude oil for transport back to the east coast 
  •  Humble did not seek permission from the Canadian government to traverse the Northwest Passage, arguing the route qualified as an international waterway. Prime Minster Pierre Trudeau of Canada assigned the MacDonald to assert “stewardship, if not sovereignty” over the passage, avoiding direct confrontation with the US while also establishing a strategy for de facto control based on questions of environmental protection and maritime safety regulation.  
 
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  • About the video
  • Ray Miller Ray Miller
  • Frank Dobbs Frank Dobbs
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Produced by Ray Miller for KPRC News, this 1969 television documentary chronicles the historic voyage of the SS Manhattan through the Northwest Passage. On March 12, 1968, the Houston-based Humble Oil and Refining Company confirmed the presence of oil on Alaska’s North Slope. The company then began planning how to transport crude oil produced by the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field to the continental United States and beyond. Humble developed two strategies. The first, a joint venture with ARCO and British Petroleum, envisioned a pipeline route from Prudhoe Bay to the southern port city of Valdez for subsequent ocean shipment to markets along the US west coast. The second, proposed by Humble Vice President Stanley Haas, imagined an additional sea route through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago to the US east coast. The latter would require tanker ships to traverse the icy waters of the Northwest Passage. On August 26, the SS Manhattan—fresh from a six-month modification program to turn the ordinary tanker into an icebreaker—departed a shipyard in Chester, Pennsylvania, for Prudhoe Bay. Humble commissioned the $52-million expedition to test the operational and economic feasibility of the maritime route. Entering the Amundsen Gulf on September 14, the Manhattan became the first commercial vessel to successfully traverse the Northwest Passage. A KPRC news crew was aboard to document the ship’s historic journey through the frozen Arctic. The resulting television special, entitled Passage to Prudhoe, aired on Houston’s Channel 2 on November 8, 1969. Frank Q. Dobbs was named 1969 Newsfilm Cameraman of the Year for his photography. While the expedition received international attention, Humble suspended its icebreaking tanker project on October 21, 1970, to focus on the pipeline alternative. Construction on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System was completed in 1977.
Newsman Ray Miller (1919 - 2008) began his broadcasting career in 1938 in his home town of Fort Worth. He relocated to Houston soon thereafter, where he joined KPRC Radio. When KPRC purchased Houston’s first television station in 1951, Miller adopted the burgeoning medium, eventually winning a Peabody Award. In 1969, Miller created The Eyes of Texas, a regional television series examining all things Texas. On the air for 30 years, the series became Houston’s longest-running local television program. Miller retired in 1979, serving as news director at both KPRC Radio and KPRC-TV for over 40 years. During his decades-long tenure at KPRC, Miller mentored a number of journalists, including Dan Rather and former US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. 
 
After retiring from television production, Miller became a local historian, writing several books and travel guides about historic attractions in Houston and Galveston. He also worked with the Harris County Historical Commission to secure markers for numerous sites. 
A native Houstonian, Frank Q. Dobbs (1939 - 2006) began his lifelong career in filmmaking as a cameraman for KPRC-TV. Eventually serving as director of the Channel 2 Special Projects Division, Dobbs produced more than two dozen documentary films for the station. He was named 1969 Newsfilm Cameraman of the Year for his work on the KPRC special, Passage to Prudhoe. In 1969, Dobbs and KPRC News Director Ray Miller created The Eyes of Texas, a regional television series examining all things Texas. On the air for 30 years, the series became Houston’s longest-running local television program. 
 
While maintaining his professional relationship with KPRC, Dobbs also pursued a career as an independent filmmaker. He wrote, directed, and produced various projects for film and television, including Enter the Devil (1972), Hotwire (1980), and Uphill All the Way (1986). Dobbs also produced two mini-series developed by famed Texan novelist and screenwriter Larry McMurtry: Streets of Laredo (1995) and Dead Man’s Walk (1996). For the Houston-based production company MFC Films, he co-wrote and directed the CBS special Houston: The Legend of Texas (1986), winning a Bronze Wrangler trophy. Dobbs won several other accolades, including two Emmys and a place in the Motion Picture Hall of Fame.