Coleen (Walker) Mielke
I recently re-discovered an interview I did with my father in 1985. It reminded me that time is marching on (for all of us) and it is now MY turn to write about my own childhood in Chugiak, Alaska during the 1950's and 1960's. Where have the years gone?
people I mention below were all Chugiak pioneers
as well as family friends. The businesses I mention, thrived
during my childhood but no longer exist. Keep in mind
that this is an account written through the eyes of my
youth and may not be totally accurate, but it IS "How I Remember
My mother, Kathy (Furness)
Walker, was born in Cambridge, England. Her father worked in
a brick factory and played the violin until he lost part of his arm in
a work accident; after that, he was reduced to earning money by playing
a barrel organ on the street corner.
and dad met during WWII and dated off and on until late
1945 when the Army sent dad back to South Dakota. He leased
his cousins farm and tried his hand at farming for about a year,
but it didn't agree with him, so he sold his equipment and livestock
and went back to England to find mom. After a 4 week courtship, they
were married and flew back to the United States aboard American Overseas
Ollie Walker and Kathleen Furness
Cambridge, England 1945
Tragedies Prompt a New Start in Alaska
My folks rented a small
house in Ashley, North Dakota and dad worked at a hardware
store. Life was good in the tiny German speaking community, although
mom was very homesick for England. That first fall, tragedy struck
when dad was involved in an auto accident that resulted in the death of
a little girl. Police reports said that the girl and her grandfather were
walking a team of horses (from one farm to another) when my dad drove
up behind them with his car. He thought he could safely get around
the team by driving down into the ditch, on the opposite side
of the road. As his car was about to pass them, the little girl
panicked and ran across the road, directly into the path of dads car.
Her name was Geraldine Harter and she was only 10; she died later that
Three months after Geraldine's
death, tragedy touched my parents once again. Their first
baby (born Christmas Eve 1947) died two days later due to fluid
he inhaled during his birth; his name was David Oliver. My parents
were beyond devastated and blamed themselves for choosing
to have the baby at home rather than in a hospital. In anguish,
my dad built the babies coffin himself and hand dug the grave
at the Ashley City Cemetery.
It had been a traumatic
first year of marriage. Eight months after the baby died, mom went
back to England. Two months after that, she wrote and told dad that
she would consider coming back to America if he moved away
from the town of Ashley; she said that there were just too many
bad memories for her there. He agreed and sent mom a return ticket
aboard the S. S. America, which landed at Ellis Island late in 1948.
Mom and dad moved to Wahpeton,
North Dakota where dad enrolled in a trade school and learned
how to do auto body repair. When he graduated in March of 1950,
they moved to Alaska.
Alaska, A New Start
and dad chose Alaska because it promised good jobs and free
homestead land. Their first home was a tiny apartment
behind the Stop & Shop Grocery in Mt. View. The
"apartment" was actually a large wooden packing crate (surplus
from the military base) which someone had converted into a small
rental unit. Dad found a temporary job as a laborer on Elmendorf
Air Force Base and got a second job as a pin setter at a bowling
In the spring of 1950,
my folks built a tiny one room log cabin on half an acre of land
they bought from Gib and Eileen Reid at mile 18½ on the
Glenn Highway. I was born, that May, in the old Providence Hospital at
9th and L Street in Anchorage.
in the new community of Chugiak was primitive; it had
un-maintained, narrow dirt roads, no electricity, no running water,
no telephones, no doctors and no law enforcement, but it DID have
other homesteaders who were equally new to homesteading and more
than willing to help each other. That summer, dad found
a full time Civil Service job on Fort Richardson Army Base;
a job he would keep for the next 25 years.
Because mom wasn't an American citizen yet, dad filed an application (by himself) for a 160 acre homestead at mile 17½ on the Glenn Highway in May of 1950. In order to actually receive the patent, he had to stake the land; build a habitable dwelling; live on the land for 3 consecutive years and have no less than 1/8 of the land under cultivation.
They sold their little
cabin at mile 18½ and moved an old building onto
the proposed homestead at mile 17½. They planted potatoes,
raised chickens, hauled water from a nearby creek and bought
a bulldozer to clear the land.
Over the years, dad connected other old buildings to our "house" and eventually built a second story over the whole thing. The final house was tiny by today's standards, but we were comfortable. Three more children soon followed, all born in Anchorage. My sister Debbie was born in 1952; my brother Terry in 1955 and my sister Sherrie in 1957.
My father was raised in
the Evangelical Lutheran Church; my mother was raised in the Church
of England, so I'm not sure exactly how/why we ended up going to
Baptist Churches, but we did. We were members of the First Baptist Church
in Anchorage from 1952 to 1958, pastored by Felton Griffin.
In 1959, we joined the First Baptist Church of Eagle River,
pastored by E.C. Chron. In about 1963, we became charter members
of the First Baptist Church of Birchwood, pastored by George
Kesterman and later Bob Chadwick.
First Baptist Church of Birchwood was on
the old Glenn Highway, just past todays North Birchwood
Loop intersection. Services were held in an old military
surplus building and the charter members (that I recall) were
the Walker's, Sawyer's, Landreth's, Heagle's, Jones, Carawan's,
Christine's, Kroeners's, Moore's, Johnson's, Hughes, Fretwell's
and the Tyson's.
the new Birchwood Baptist Church was built (near
the North Birchwood Loop overpass) the old church building
was sold to Ted Sadler. He used it to sell new, used and re-upholstered
furniture; it was his first store in Alaska.
To Grade School
opened in 1951 on the Old Glenn Highway. When I started 1st grade there,
in 1956, Chugiak Elementary had two school buildings.
My 1st grade teacher was Miss
Rowland (married name Waterman). The first day of school,
we were all lined up and given DPT shots by the school nurse. Several
of us had serious skin reactions and Mrs. Emmert (the
principals wife) told mom it was probably because the
nurse had used the same syringe for everyone.....times
have certainly changed.
My second grade teacher
was Miss Saupe; third grade was Mrs. May; fourth grade was Miss
Eggleston; fifth grade was Mrs. Goldie Pettit and sixth grade was
Lorene Tofson and Henrietta "Penn"
(Swanson) Lee were in charge of the school cafeteria, where "road killed
moose" stew was occasionally on the menu. Penn was a legendary
baker and people STILL (60+ years later) talk about the delicious
bread rolls she made for school lunches.
Paul Swanson came to
Alaska in 1940 and married Margaret Boucher in 1941. After military service
during WWII, he built a home, a small store and a few tiny houses (near
the store) in Chugiak; he named the area "Swanee Slopes". When Chugiak Elementary
School was built in 1951 (across the road from Swanee Slopes), Swanson
rented the tiny houses to school teachers and drove the school bus. In 1955,
he opened a post office. As the elementary school population grew, Mr.
Swanson brought in military surplus quonset huts and buildings and rented
them to the school.
In 1962, the school
boundaries were changed and I (very reluctantly) attended
7th and 8th grade in the new Eagle River Elementary
School. My teachers were Ken Rouse, Carol Connell, Goldie
Pettit (again) and Natalie Brooks the music teacher.
In the 7th grade, I was a cheerleader for the Eagle River Rams
and in 8th grade I played on a girls softball team; our coach was
Karen Missle who lived on Lower Fire Lake.
attended Chugiak High School
the first year it opened in 1964 and graduated
from there in 1968; our graduating class was the first group
of students to attend all 12 grades in the Chugiak/Eagle
River area (before 1964, kids had to go to 7-12th grade in Anchorage).
The first year that Chugiak High School was open, our principal, Frank
Cline, (along with the principal of East High School) were killed in
an airplane accident at the top of Lake Clark Pass. It was a sad beginning
for the new school.
not recall what year telephones were first installed
in Chugiak, but it must have been in the late
1950’s. Our first real phone number started with "HO" followed
by 4 numbers (the HO stood for "homestead").
"real phones" arrived, lots of Chugiak families ran wires
to their closest neighbors and then hooked the wires to surplus
World War II, EE-8 Army field phones. The field phones
had a standard receiver, which hung from the side of a ten
pound, canvas covered, battery pack base. The base had a hand
crank on it that powered a 100 volt ringing generator. One
full revolution of the hand crank (which took quite a bit of strength,
as I remember) made all of the neighbors phones ring at the
same time. In theory, if someone wanted to talk to "family #1", the
caller would turn the hand crank once. If the caller wanted to talk to
"family #2" they would turn the hand crank twice....etc., but realistically,
any time the phone rang at all, everyone listened in. The families
connected to OUR phone line were the Robert Schoonmaker's, the Robert
Aubrey's and the Hank Aust's.
My mother was always homesick for England and nurtured friendships with other English war brides in the area, like Jo Cates, Daphne Monroe, Daisey Shetzle, Eileen Reid, Violet Hall, Edna Seabolt, Dorothy Liska, Myra Lehman and other names lost in time. Mom spent many afternoons with British friends, laughing, chatting and reminiscing about England.
In 1955, my mother became
a U.S. Citizen so, my folks went to the land office, thinking they
had fulfilled all of the requirements to receive a patent to their
160 acre homestead. To their shock and dismay, they found out they
only qualified for a fraction of the land that they filed for.
According to the Homestead Act, a person could only apply for one continuous piece of land. Since the Glenn Highway ran through one end of their homestead, the land office declared it was technically TWO pieces of land and they would have to decide which piece of land they wanted to apply for. After much thought, they decided to file for the smaller parcel that lay up against the mountain because our house was already on that side of the homestead and because it included a section of Fire Creek (a guaranteed source of water). They begrudgingly released their claim to the 100 acres that lay on the other side of the highway and were granted U. S. Patent No. 1152305 to the remaining 58.62 acres at mile 17½ of the Old Glenn Highway in 1955.
our family inadvertently went into pig
farming when JoAnn Vanover gave mom a baby pig
that was destined to be destroyed because it had
a crippled back leg. It wasn't long before mom went back
to Vanover’s and got a second baby pig. Two summers
later, our pigs had 11 piglets of their own.
The little pigs were a lot of fun for us kids to watch and of course we named them all. Dad built a small shed for the pigs and put up a spruce pole fence to keep them all corralled. They grew quickly and that fall, dad decided they needed to go into the freezer (huge shock for us kids). He arranged for a fellow dog musher named Joe Traversie to butcher the pigs in exchange for half of the meat. Joe was a Sioux Indian and his wife Gladys was an Inupiat Eskimo from Egavik on the coast of Norton Sound. She was an excellent skin sewer and made beautiful mukluks with moose hide soles and intricate fur trim. Joe and Gladys were janitors at Chugiak High School in the early years; they were great people who were tough as nails. Their foster son, Eddie Sarren, was in my class at school.
Our homestead fronted the Old Glenn Highway, from the northern tip of Upper Fire Lake, to (today's) Del’s Lane. The homestead consisted of our home, a large plot of potatoes, a Jamesway hut storage shed, a large pole barn, a small travel trailer, chicken coops, rabbit pens, a goat shed and the obligatory outhouse. The Jamesway hut was a 16’x32’ surplus military structure with a canvas skin over heavy wooden ribs and a pallet floor. It housed a big chest freezer, bales of hay and 50 lb. bags of oats for dads dog team (not to mention about a billion spiders). The travel trailer was used to store dog harnesses, rigging, extra dog chains and it doubled as the birthing place for our outdoor cat, Ginger. The pole barn was made of spruce poles, covered with corrugated aluminum sheeting and was about 15'x30'. It was primarily used for dry storage, and occasionally local families, who were down on their luck, stored stuff in there.
the years, besides the pigs, we had goats, dozens
of guinea hens, rabbits, 40 sled dogs and we even had a mule
and a cow one summer.
The Sled Dogs
Our sled dogs were dads
passion. He made his own sleds, harnesses and rigging. In the
early days, it seemed like we always had a five gallon bucket
of rawhide soaking in the house somewhere because dad
used it when he made the dog sleds. The soaked rawhide was threaded
through eyelet's drilled into the wooden pieces of the sled,
then wrapped around wooden joints and cinched tight. As the
rawhide dried, it shrunk and tightened even more, yet it remained
strong and flexible.
In the winter, the
dogs were fed an easily digestible mixture of oats, meat and tallow
scraps that dad cooked together in a big vat on an outdoor propane
burner. A "dog friendly" butcher at the Piggly Wiggly store in
Anchorage, gave dad 30-gallon metal garbage cans full of meat trimmings
every Friday (for free) as long as the cans were washed out before
they were brought back. Unfortunately, that became one of my jobs
and I hated it.
Mom and dad were
charter members of the Chugiak Dog Mushing Association
and some of those first meetings were held in our living room.
Dad participated in
the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous; the races on Tudor Road and on the weekend
races at Pippel’s Field in downtown Eagle River. I raced,
a few times (in the 3 dog class) but I wasn't very good at it because
the dogs were way too strong for me to control. The Pippel's Field races
also had a
one-dog class, reserved for the 4-6 year old kids. Their course was basically just a 50' circle (in the parking lot) and the little guys stood on the sled runners and hung on "for dear life", while their dog (usually someone's veteran lead dog) pulled them around the circle at breakneck speeds. The kid with the fastest time (without falling off of the sled) won a small trophy. That race was always a lot of fun to watch and cheer for.
In the late 1950's,
I thoroughly enjoyed dad's evening ritual of harnessing 7 or 8 dogs
to the sled and taking them on a run from our
house down to Beach Lake and back. I used to sit in the sled
under a ton of blankets, with only my red cheeks and frozen
nose exposed. My all time favorite memory of my Dad happened on
one of those evening rides when I was about 8 years old. It was a very
cold night and the sky was perfectly still with a super bright moon.
I asked dad what made the snow sparkle so bright in the moonlight and
I have never forgotten his answer: "those are diamonds in the snow",
I was BEYOND impressed, thanks for the memory Dad.
To this day, it is
still easy to recall the sound of the sled runners breaking
through the snow crust.....I can hear dad's piercing
whistles to the dogs.....his insistent "gee" and "haw" commands
and the occasional loud crack of his 16' braided
leather whip in the crisp air.
Although dad didn't
win any dog races, he did win trophies in the Anchorage
Fur Rendezvous weight pulling competition. In 1958
and 1959 he placed first in the single dog class when his lead
dog, Yukon, pulled 1,198 pounds (from a dead stop) and his wheel
dog, Skipper, placed 2nd place, pulling 1,188 pounds. He also won
1st place in the three dog pull (with Yukon, Skipper and Ghost), pulling
2,350 pounds; he was so proud of those trophies.
Towards the end of dads
dog mushing days, he starting breeding
sled dogs to sell. He had big plans to cross-breed
the standard husky with a greyhound, hoping to produce
a super fast race dog. One summer, one of his "experimental dogs",
a young male named Pluto, jumped out of our moving truck and badly
injured his back and hips. When the dog recovered
enough to move around a little, dad made a harness
contraption and suspended him from the ceiling of my bedroom.
The dog was then able to exercise for several hours
a day without putting weight on his joints. He was a funny looking
dog...long legs, with a skinny body and droopy ears. The
unorthodox treatment worked well and "Pluto" went on to run again.
dogs were very fast; he clocked them at an
easy 16 miles per hour, but they didn't have much
endurance, so he didn't pursue the new breed for long. Myron
and Shirley Gavin were good friends of our family and they bought
a lot of puppies from dad when Shirley first started racing
dogs; they lived in a subdivision behind Steven's gas station
in Peters Creek. Shirley went on to be a very successful racer
and won first place in the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous Women's Race
in 1966, 1969 and 1970; Myron was a dog race Marshal for many
Homestead Finally Gets Running Water
don't remember any neighbors that had running
water in the early years. My parents hauled water
(1950-1959) from a creek that ran near the Parksville
Coffee Shop (near Moose Horn). In the summer dad filled our five
gallon metal "Jerry cans" (as he called them) from a pipe that
someone had put into the upper reaches of Parks Creek. On the downhill
end, they propped up the pipe so you could get your water cans
under the "water spout".
Filling those cans in the winter, was a little trickier. There was usually a spot in the creek that didn't freeze over and dad would lay, face down, on the ice and hold the water cans down in the water hole to fill them up, it was a bone chilling job I'm sure. As for bathrooms on the homestead; an outhouse and an indoor "honey bucket" was the norm until 1959. Our outhouse was a frightening thing to use, since it was precariously perched out over the edge of a bluff and was supported only by wobbly wooden poles. It had no front door and the "seat" was a built in bench with a (very uncomfortable) triangle hole cut into it. I'm not sure WHY it was a triangle, maybe that was easier to cut than a circle? Oh yes, it also had the obligatory Sears catalog for "clean up".
Having never lived
with regulation plumbing when I was young, I was in
seventh heaven when I entered 1st grade and discovered
that there was running water at school!! I never passed
up the opportunity to drink from the water fountain (even
if I wasn't thirsty); it was just such a novelty for me.
In 1959, my parents
decided to dig a well. Our homestead was
on a layer of topsoil over bedrock, so hand digging a well
was not an option. The next option was to dig a well beside
Fire Creek which was at the bottom of a 100' bluff right behind
our house. After several days of digging near the creek (and
getting no water), dad decided to try dynamite.
On "blasting day",
mom wrapped us kids in a big blanket and
put us under the kitchen table, just in case something
went wrong with the dynamite. Of course, the table we
were sitting under was right next to a huge window, but
I guess they didn't think that far ahead.
Dad and our Neighbor, Bob Aubrey,
drilled holes into the bedrock and filled them with sticks
of dynamite. Next, they lit the fuses and "ran like crazy" as Dad
recalled it. The blast, shot rock dust over 100' into the air;
mom recorded the whole thing with her Kodak movie camera.
The new well produced
lots of water that had to be piped up the 100' embankment
to the house. To protect the water pipes, Dad encased them in an (above
ground) wooden box filled with insulation and heat tapes. Once in a while,
the heat tapes would either fail and the pipes would freeze, or
they would overheat and catch the wooden box on fire, but it was
great tasting water and there was plenty of it.
Our Chugiak Neighbors
My earliest birthday
party guest lists (copied from my baby
book 1950-1955), read like an early
Chugiak telephone directory:
*Roger and Millie Ball and children Timmy and Ronnie
*Jim and Marie McDowell (they owned Moose Horn Trading Post)
*Paul and Margaret Swanson and children Martha and Steven (they owned Swanee Slopes)
*Les and Dottie Fetrow and children Sandy, Larry, Karla Rae and baby Mary
*The Sehm's Family
*The Hatcher's and children Bobby and Shirley
*Simon and Bobbie Media and children Simon, David and Paul
*Pat and Mickey Earles and children
*The Curry's and children Corky and Stevie
*Gib and Eileen Reid and children Mike, Doug and Brian
*The Gibson's and daughters Michael and Gale
*Burrell and Louise Frary and daughters Maureen and Star
*Allen and Rose Pearce and son Larry
*Aden and Jo Cates and children Kenneth, Pat and Denise
*Bob and Susie Aubrey and children Robbie, Audie and Rhonda
*Velda, Vesta and Bobby Land
*Jess and Doris Straight and children Linda, Stubby and Candy
*The Gunnell's and son Gregory
The neighbors that lived closest to our homestead were Robert & Lillian Schoonmaker. They lived on the hill at mile 18 (their house was later purchased by the Watkins family). Across the Old Glenn Highway from our house, lived Barry and Creatus Darby, the Welkers, Jerry & Leona Setters, the Darrell and Marie Gardner's, Denzel & Daisey Schetzel, Burrell & Louise Frary, Connie & Mary Brinson and Charlie & Jeanie Crane. They all lived on (or just off of) Darby Road. Burrell Frary and Charlie Crane grew up together in Montana and were close friends. The Frary's son ("Sonny") married Jerry and Leona Setters daughter (Wilma).
Just north of Darby
Road (and across from our homestead) was the beautiful
log home of Capt. James Lamay and his wife Janelle.
James (the son of Clarence Lamay of Eagle River) was
accidentally killed on a hunting trip to Lake Louise in 1962. They had
4 children: Kathleen 9, Jimmy 7, Rebecca Ann 3 and Suzanne 3.
The next people to live in that
log house were John and Dorothy Liska. Mr. Liska
was a taxidermist and raised honey bees; he later went into
North of the Lamay/Liska
house is Athanasius Street where the St. John Orthodox
Church is. When I was growing up, the road had no name and only
three families lived on it: the Cremin's (had 2 boys named Mitch and
Mike), the Radiskie's and the Despain's (the road dead ended just past
the Despain's house). I used to baby-sit for the Rediskie's and the Despain's.
Just north of Athanasius Street (on the same side of the road) was a tiny green house where Grant and Yadie Hutchinson lived; Yadie was my mothers best friend. They made home brew one summer and proudly displayed the finished product on a shelf in their kitchen. One day, while we were visiting, the heat from Yadie's oven (which was right under the display shelf) heated the beer bottles to the point of "explosion". One by one, they popped their caps (which hit the ceiling) as if they were on a sequential timer......fountains of beer foam cascaded all over their kitchen. The Hutchinson's had a son named Archie who was an Anchorage City Police officer for many years.
In 1951 Bob &
Susie Aubrey staked a 5 acre homesite next to our homestead. Bob
was in the military and had a shop at his house where
he made eye glasses. My first pair of glasses came from Mr. Aubrey
and they were "beauties" (metallic blue with "jewels" in the pointy
eyebrow corners)...I was so proud!! Before coming to Alaska, the
Aubrey's were stationed in Okinawa for a while, so Mr. Aubrey's shop was
decorated with Japanese souvenirs, including a dried and inflated
puffer fish that hung on a string from the ceiling. It's funny
the things you remember from childhood.
The Aubrey's had three
children, Robbie, Audie and Rhonda and we used to
play endlessly together while our parents visited and played
board games. One "traumatic" summer, my mother helped Mrs.
Aubrey butcher "a million" chickens. Robbie's job was to cut
the chickens heads off with an ax. That was the first time I
saw a (technically) dead animal run all over the yard; it totally
grossed me out. Once the headless chickens finally stopped flopping,
they were dunked into a 55 gallon drum of boiling water and then mom
and Susie pulled their feathers out, gutted them and hung the "corpses"
on a close line. Needless to say, I didn't eat chicken for a long time
In the mid 1950’s,
my parents sold five acres, on the
north end of our homestead, to Hank and Pat Aust.
By today's landmarks, the Aust driveway is now a street called
Del's Lane and the old Aust home site is now
owned by Kurt and Cassie Koehler.
In 1960, Jerry
Setters, who first lived on Darby
Road (in an old military quonset hut) bought 2½
acres of our homestead, just south of our house. That
is when dad put in a road to mark where our homestead ended and Setters
land started. He named the little road (which was only about a half
block long), Newmarket Road, after the name of the street
in Cambridge, England where my mother was born. In 1965, my folks
sold a small corner of our homestead (just south of the Aubrey's)
to Dr. Thomas Green, Eagle Rivers only doctor at the time.
In the summer of 1960,
two Native girls and their mother moved
into the neighborhood; their last name was Mosquito.
Their mother was an excellent skin sewer and
made beautifully beaded miniature mukluks and Eskimo
Yo-Yo's that she turned into zipper pulls that
her daughters sold at Chugiak Elementary for 50¢ each.
The Mosquito's lived
deep in the woods across the street from our house
(off of today's Darby Road). Their “house” was like nothing
I had ever seen before or since. It was just a "cave", dug
deep into the side of a hill. The "cave" was obviously
hand dug because the moss, plants and trees that grew around
(and on top of the hillside) were totally undisturbed.
The entrance to their “house” was made of unpeeled spruce
poles about 5’ tall and their door was an old tarp. The interior
walls were covered with dark boards and their floor was smooth
dirt. I don't recall a stove of any kind although there must
have been one because the girls’ clothes smelled very faintly
like a wood fire. Their home was quite dark, although I do remember
a lantern on a table. Mrs. Mosquito was a short, "sturdy" woman
who was all business and said very little. I have no idea where
they came from or where they went when they left....one day they
were just gone.
A stones throw north of
our driveway was Del’s Drive Inn, or I
should say, the empty shell of what used to be Del’s Drive
Inn. Originally owned by Sareefa Wright; it was
a 6’x 8’ (walk up) sandwich stand on the right side of the highway
at mile 17¾. In 1958, the “building” (which
was just a wood shell) was abandoned but still in good shape
and neighborhood kids (me included) used it as a playhouse.
I met Sareefa Wright, 35+ years later; she was the secretary
at Iditarod Elementary School in Wasilla and her husband, Jake
Wright, was the Wasilla Fire Chief.......small world.
At the intersection of South Birchwood Loop and mile 18 of the Old Glenn Highway, was Ralph Anderson's gas station. Ralph received patent to his land in 1957. He was quite an industrious businessman. He built the gas station, a small trailer court and a small restaurant (the Wheel-R-In) on his property. He sold gravel, pumped septic tanks and even ran for Governor against Bill Egan in 1970. Ralph and his wife Bernie had 9 children (all born at home): Danny, Ralph Jr. (nicknamed Andy), Polly, Patty, Peggy, Wendy, Paul, David & Russell (who died as a baby). (click here for more information on Ralph Anderson)
Heading north, from our house, on the Old Glenn Highway and just before Moose Horn Lodge, was a small green house, originally built in the late 1940's, by family friends, Simon and Bobbie Media. In the 1950’s it was owned by former Matanuska Colonists, Einar and Inez Huseby, also family friends. The Huseby's had exotic birds and ran a public laundry/steam bath at that location.
In the early 1950’s,
we got our mail and gasoline
from Moose Horn Lodge at mile 18½. The
lodge was owned by Jim
& Marie McDowell. Marie had a small café, hot showers and post office boxes; Jim ran the gas pump and had a tow truck. They made everyone feel welcome and the lodge was always very warm and smelled like good food and strong coffee. Long after the McDowell's were gone, Moose Horn became a school bus garage and later yet, it was turned into apartments. The building burned down in 2007.
A stones throw north
of Moose Horn, and on the same side
of the highway, was the home of Cloyce and Justine Parks.
They staked five acres (in 1945) that already had
a one room cabin on it (built by Harold Swank). In
1947, they staked another 5 acres and opened a coffee shop
which they built out of logs harvested from the Peters Creek
area; in 1948 they added a gas pump. They called it Parksville
and it was a big success due to Justine's great pies and Cloyce's
business sense. By today's landmarks, the coffee
shop would sit in the driveway of Klondike Concrete.
At mile 20, there was a small log building on the right side of the highway (heading north) called Spring Creek Lodge. Vernon and Alma Haik built the diner with logs they harvested from the Goat Creek area; it opened in 1949. The Haik's had three children, Vernon Jr., Beverly and Joan.
The Chugiak VFW Hall
(a military surplus building at about mile 21) hosted bingo
games and dances in the 1950's. Nora Collett (the Candy Kitchen
lady) manned the concession stand at the bingo games and sold small
bags of her homemade candy for 50¢. The VFW Hall used to sit
where the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center is today.
Just north of the VFW Hall, was where the Chugiak Benefit Association held its annual spring carnival during the 1950's. The whole community attended for three days of motorcycle races, games, food booths, beauty contests and to see Les Fetrow as Chu-Chu the carnival clown. The earnings went to local fire departments, the Boy Scouts and other civic groups.
Before the North Birchwood
Loop overpass was built, the
Birchwood Loop intersected the Old Glenn highway
at mile 21. Today, that intersection would be about
where the rear parking lot of the "new" Chugiak Elementary
School is. From the old mile 21 intersection, the Birchwood
Loop followed a sharp ridge, back towards its present day
route (except it used to run right along the edge of the bluff).
Also on that bluff,
was the infamous Birchwood "dump", a true eyesore and health
hazard that paralleled the road for several hundred feet.
It was a crude dumping ground for everything from household
garbage to broken appliances, dead vehicles, dead animals, moose
hides and everything in between. In 1962, a small dead whale was
dumped there. It died while being prepared for shipment to a lower
48 aquatic zoo and for some unknown reason, authorities dumped the whale
over the bluff at the Birchwood dump!! The dump had no regulations,
no fees and the only time the area was (sort of) cleaned up was when
the garbage spilled out onto the road, or the smell was so bad that
someone, with a bulldozer, pushed the majority of it over the ridge
and set it on fire. This horrendous dump was in full use until 1964!!
In 1945, Reece & Gracie Tatro filed for a homestead that included all of Mirror Lake. In the early years they raised geese and chickens which they sold in Anchorage and grew potatoes which they sold to Fort Richardson. I remember Gracie as a very short woman who smiled constantly. In the early 1950's, they opened a "Drive-In" hamburger and ice cream stand at mile 22; they called it the Dari Delight. It was a popular spot for many years and they eventually sold it to the Al Tanner family. Today, the Dari Delight has morphed into Bella Vista Pizza.
To the west of the Dari Delight, Russell and Elsie Oberg staked an 80 acre homestead and built a dairy farm. They had six children (Sheryll, Vonda, Diane, Valda, Jeannie and Lyle). One of my favorite memories of Elsie Oberg was when I was about 10 years old. We were all at the sled dog races on Pippel's field and she heard me say that my hands were hurting from the cold. She stood me close to her (face to face) and told me to put my freezing hands under her armpits as she wrapped her long black coat around both of us; I was warm in just a few minutes. It was such a motherly thing to do and 60+ years later, I still remember her kindness.
From the Dari Delight, still heading north on the Old Glenn Highway, was a store called Allen’s Grocery (owned by George Allen). It was built on a ridge, on the left side of the highway, just north of (today's) Mt. Eklutna Drive. Allen’s Grocery was tiny, but invaluable, since it was the only grocery store for miles around and because the Allen's let people charge until payday.
That is about as far
north as my memories take me.
Now, I will list the people and businesses I was
familiar with, heading south from our
One half mile south of my parents
homestead was a landmark that ALL Chugiak-ites should remember; it
was called the Fire Lake Lodge. The land was originally
owned by Kenneth Laughlin and the lodge started out as a hot-dog
stand in 1936. Over the years, a variety of people like the Merrimans,
the Polyefko's and Sally Anderson leased the lodge. In 1973 it
became a Jehovah Witness Church. Click
here to read my story about the Fire Lake Lodge.
Just south of the lodge
was a gas station owned by the Ralph Rollins family. I don't
know much about this family, but I do remember that
when you went into the station to pay for gas, Mrs. Rollins
had a skunk and a raven in her office.
South of Rollins gas
station was Fish Hatchery Road that went back up towards Upper
Fire Lake. Pat and Mickey Earles, who were great family friends,
lived off of that road. They came to Alaska in
1951 and moved to Fire Lake in 1957. Pat was a quiet man with
a wonderful sense of humor and Mickey was warm and friendly;
I remember watching her make bread.....I was fascinated. Their children
were Patsy, Larry, Peggy, Janice, Fred, Ricky,
Danny and Tim. In the late 1950's Pat and Mickey (and their three youngest boys) drove out to the states with my family. Four adults and 7 kids in our old station wagon, from Alaska to North Dakota (and back)!!
My mom used to visit
with Floss and Melba Charles at their
"Swap & Shop" (used furniture) store on the north
end of Eagle River, next to Jesse & Nella Wooten's
Tasty Freeze. Floss was married to Willie Charles and
they had 4 kids: Wade, Gayle, Tonia and Kelly. Melba
was married to Tony Charles (Willie's brother); they had
two sons (Terry and Forrest) and they lived about where CC SkiDoo
is today. Another business in that area (across from today's
McDonalds) was the Lamp Post Inn, an upscale, family style
restaurant, built by Walter and Marion Bowen; they had 4 daughters:
Shirley, Nancy, Janet and Patty. Marion later married David
Pippel, son of Walt and Melva Pippel.
A Few Colorful Characters
From My Childhood
My folks had some unique
friends in the early years of Chugiak. In no particular
order, I'll start with Nora Collett. Nora came
to Alaska in 1947 and found a job in an Anchorage candy shop
where she learned the trade. In about 1950, she built a candy
store on land owned by Cloyce and Justine Parks at mile 18½
on the old Glenn Highway. Nora's plan was to sell candy
to the bus loads of tourists who stopped at the Parksville
Coffee Shop. When the coffee shop burned down in 1953, Nora let
the Parks family live in her candy store and she opened a new store
in the Tommy Slanker building in Eagle River. Nora was a caustic
tongued woman with a heart of gold and she was famous for closing
her candy store and taping a paper sign on the door that said: "Gone
you should too!!"
Another colorful family
friend was Dottie Cochran. She was very loud, swore like
a sailor, dressed in men's Hawaiian shirts, and wore
her short hair heavily greased and combed straight back.
She walked like a man and jokingly threatened to steal everyone's
husband; but she was a great person with a wicked sense of humor.
here to see my story about Dottie Cochran.
In 1960, Fred Bustrin,
known locally as "Chief Chugiak", opened
a jewelry shop on the north end of our homestead. He
was a diabetic bachelor who owned a parrot and a cockatoo
(vestiges of a pet store he once owned in Anchorage).
My folks used to "baby-sit" Fred's birds when he went out
of town and we quickly learned that.....
not only did the cockatoo know a lot of curse words (much to the chagrin of my religious father), but the bird also knew how to undo the cage latch and let himself out.
Fred told tourists
he was from the village of Egegik, but in reality
he was born in Oregon. He made gold nugget jewelry
and a variety of other tourist type trinkets out of
forget-me-not flowers cast in clear resin. He also
made earrings and necklaces out of "moose nuggets" that he painted gold.
One of his more popular tourist trinkets was the "Moosequito" which
was an oversized mosquito made out of varnished moose nuggets with
porcupine quills for legs and an oversized stinger. He paid neighborhood
kids 50¢ for a full coffee can of moose nuggets in PERFECT condition.
In the heart of Eagle River was the Market Basket grocery store. In 1960, it was the only store, between Anchorage and Palmer, to have a full service meat counter. When the Market Basket store closed, it was replaced by Value City Grocery and after that closed, it became a Carr’s Grocery. Decades later, Carr’s Grocery built their big store (across the road) on Pippel’s field.
In down town Eagle River,
on the corner of Monte Road and the Old Glenn
Highway, was McGann’s Grocery. It was a very small
wooden structure that looked more like a house than
a store. It had two entrances; one for groceries and one
for the liquor store. The store was popular with kids
because it was close to Eagle River Elementary School AND it had the BEST
penny candy counter. The McGann family lived in the back
of the store and you often had to knock on their apartment door
(which was next to the bread shelf) and ask them if you could
pay for something.
Next to McGann's store (but on the other side of Monte Road) was the First Baptist Church (built in 1960-ish), probably the largest building in Eagle River at the time. My husband and I were married there in 1970.
the present day multi-lane Glenn Highway bypassed Eagle River
and Chugiak, the old (two lane) Glenn Highway went
from Anchorage, right through the heart of Eagle River and
Chugiak, and all the way to Palmer without a single stop sign or stop
light. Just south of Eagle River, the road went down a steep grade before
crossing the 2 lane Eagle River bridge, then back up the north steep grade.
This treacherous section
of road had NO street lights and in the winter, when the roads were
icy, the traffic basically "policed itself". By that, I mean that the
cars would come to a complete stop at the top of the hill (going north
AND south) and wait for the car (coming down the opposite grade)
to get over the bridge AND back up the other side, before making their
own bonsai attempt.
This cooperative measure began out of necessity, because some people did not make it safely up the other side (on their first try) and had to BACK DOWN that treacherous grade in the dark; it was definitely "white knuckle driving" since few cars had four wheel drive and none of us had studded tires in those days.
MOM GOES TO WORK
Between 1962 and 1964,
mom ran a snack bar in the Eagle River Bowling Alley
on Monte Road. Floyd Smith was the bowling alley manager,
Phyllis Stewart was the secretary, Denny Marquis
was the custodian and Lonnie Ryan owned the "The 300 Room" (the
In 1965, mom went back to school and earned an associates degree in social work and went to work with the Head Start Program. She also worked for the UAA Cooperative Extension Office, and finally, she worked for the Alaska State Public Assistance office in Eagle River; she retired in about 1980.
On March 27, 1964, I
was helping mom at the bowling alley snack bar when the "big
earthquake" hit. At first, I was not sure what was happening.
I could hear a deep rumble that sounded like
an excavator was pushing against the building. Within seconds,
all of the condiments above the snack bar cash register, bounced
off the shelf and landed in the deep fryer, making a LOUD sizzling-popping
noise. Next, the bowling pins all fell over, causing
the big orange (neon) Brunswick Crown logo’s (that indicated
a strike) to light up on all ten bowling lanes at once.
someone shouting "what the *#&$% is
that?" and Floyd Smith yelled back, "it's an earthquake!!"
The next heave knocked all of the bowling
balls off of their storage racks and that is when mom
decided we might be safer outside. As we ran out of the
building, I looked to my left and saw Lonnie Ryan through
the large plate glass windows that divided his tavern
from the main bowling alley. He had both arms stretched wide,
valiantly trying to stop dozens of liquor bottles from sliding
off of his counters; his eyes were as big as saucers.
could hear the earth rumble. Everything else was deathly quiet...no
cars, no machinery, no construction sounds, no dogs
barking or people noises of any kind. Just about the time I started
wondering if the shaking would EVER stop, I noticed the power poles
tilting wildly back and forth. As the lines alternated from very slack
to very taut, they made a zinging noise. The earth was moving so
violently that it was hard to stand up and I steadied myself
by keeping my feet far apart and flexing my knees like shock absorbers.
Mr. Ryan finally
gave up the fight to save his liquor bottles and tried to
exit the big glass bowling alley doors, but as he did,
the shifting building jammed the doors shut, leaving him
frantically banging on the glass with his fists.... sort of like
Dustin Hoffman in "The Graduate". Ten seconds later, the building
shifted again and the big glass doors sprung open and released
Mr. Ryan. The ground shook violently for four and a half
After the earthquake, the bowling alley was designated as a shelter for people that needed a place to stay. Mom sent me down to the nearby Value City grocery store to ask the manager if they could donate food for those who were gathering at the bowling alley. The store was a mess; the big plate glass windows were gone, the isles were knee deep in fallen merchandise; the whole store smelled like broken pickle jars and it was dark and deathly quiet. The manager generously donated lunch meat, bread, chips, milk, soda, ice and anything else that he could not keep without refrigeration. For the next three days, mom and her best friend, Yadie Hutchinson, made hundreds of sandwiches for people who were camping out on the floor of Mr. Ryan’s tavern.
Our house didn't suffer
very much damage during the
earthquake, just a few broken dishes and a gold
fish that sloshed out of its bowl. We had aftershocks for
days after the earthquake and, before each sizable tremor,
our sled dogs would start to howl in unison, as if to say
"here comes another one".
goodness the earthquake happened on a Good Friday
because schools were closed and no one was injured when
the gymnasium walls of the new Eagle River Elementary School
fell down. The people of Chugiak & Eagle River were
very lucky; most of the damage was limited to collapsed
chimneys and a few wells that went dry.
In 1968, I graduated
from Chugiak High School and went off to college. My parents sold most
of their homestead at mile 17½, to Jimmie &
Joyce Connell and moved to Anchorage. Dad retired from Fort
Richardson in 1975 and became a welder on the North Slope
until 1985. I heard that our old homestead house burned down in 2014.
My parents were good
people and like many other early
Chugiak pioneers, they worked hard, packed
water, battled the elements, lived paycheck to paycheck,
tried many "get rich quick" schemes, pitched in when neighbors
a hand, broke fish & game laws (when it was necessary) and participated in many “firsts” for Chugiak.
their “golden years”, mom and dad spent their winters
in Texas and summers in a small house they
built on the last slice of the old homestead. Mom died in
1992 and is buried at the Butte Cemetery. Dad died in 2007 and
is buried in California. I sure wish I had asked them a lot more
questions about their early days in Chugiak.