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 it".
mother, Kathy (Furness) Walker, was born in Cambridge, England.
Her father played the violin and worked in a brick factory until
he lost part of his arm in a work accident; after that, he earned
money playing a barrel organ on a 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 Airlines.
Ollie Walker and Kathleen Furness
Cambridge, England 1945
Tragedies Prompt a New Start in Alaska
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 she 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, but 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 day.
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.
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; there were just too
many bad memories for her there. He agreed and sent her a return
ticket aboard the S. S. America, which landed at Ellis Island late
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
alley in Anchorage.
the early 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.
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.
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.
original First Baptist Church of Birchwood
was on the old Glenn Highway, just past the 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
Elementary opened in 1951 on the Old Glenn Highway. When I
started 1st grade there, in 1956, Chugiak Elementary consisted of two school
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.
second grade teacher was Miss Saupe; third grade teacher
was Mrs. May; fourth grade teacher was Miss Eggleston; fifth grade
teacher was Mrs. Goldie Pettit and my sixth grad teacher was Mr.
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 our school lunches.
Swanson came to Alaska in 1940 and married Margaret Boucher
in 1941. After military service in 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 military surplus buildings... set them up on school property and rented
them to the school.
Swanson's Collie dog would occasionally come over to the school playground
to "visit" with us kids during noon recess,
which Mr. Swanson didn't approve of. So he would walk over to the school, yelling and waving a board at the poor dog to make him go home. I don't know which upset him more, the disobedient dog or the jeering students (we all wanted the dog to stay and play).
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,
Golden 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, junior and senior high school kids had to go to school 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.
do 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 phone. 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.
1955, my mother became a U.S. Citizen so, together, 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.
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 mountains 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 west 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.
In 1958, 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 to live in 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. 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, but occasionally local families, who were down on their luck, lived in our barn in the summer. One of my third grade classmates, Gale Gibson and her family, lived in our barn for a while after their house burned down.
the years, besides the pigs, we had goats, dozens of guinea
hens (for the eggs), rabbits, 40 sled dogs and we even had
a mule and a cow one summer.
The Sled Dogs
sled dogs were dads passion. He made all his own (race and
freight) dog 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 dog sleds. The soft/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
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.
and dad were charter members of the Chugiak Dog Mushing
Association and some of those first meetings were held in
our living room. Dad raced his dogs in the Anchorage
Fur Rendezvous, the track on Tudor Road and on the weekends 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 1 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. They were always a lot of fun to watch and cheer for.
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
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.
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.
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.
the dog had 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.
husky/greyhound 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 years.
Homestead Finally Gets Running Water
don't remember anyone (in our neighborhood)
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".
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
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.
"blasting day", mom wrapped us kids in
a big blanket and put us under the kitchen table, just
in case something went awry with the dynamite. Of course,
the table we were under was right next to a huge window,
but I guess they didn't think that far ahead.
neighbor, Bob Aubrey helped dad drill holes into the bedrock
and fill them with sticks of dynamite, then they lit the fuses
and ran like crazy. The blast, shot rock dust over 100' into the
air; mom recorded the whole thing with her Kodak movie camera.
new well produced lots of water that had to be piped up the
100' embankment to the house. To do that, Dad built an (above
ground) wooden box, with insulation and heat tapes wrapped around
the water pipes to keep them from freezing during the winter months.
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
earliest birthday party guest lists (copied
from my baby book 1950-1955), read like an early Chugiak
*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 Cafree Family
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).
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
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 politics.
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.
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.
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 after that.
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.
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 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
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
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 a secretary at Iditarod Elementary School in Wasilla
and her husband, Jake Wright, was the Wasilla Fire Chief.......small
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.
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 the 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.
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.
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).
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
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 noticed that my hands had started to hurt 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.
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
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.
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.
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)!!
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 an 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 fishing ........ you should too!!"
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. Click
here to see my story about Dottie Cochran.
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.
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. He also made and sold a comical souvenir called 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 the Eagle River Shopping Center. 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.
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
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
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 bar/lounge).
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.
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 and made LOUD
sizzling noises. Stacks of glass dinner plates
crashed to the floor and 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.
I remember 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.
Outdoors, you 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 minutes straight!!
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.
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.
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
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 needed a hand, broke fish & game laws
(when it was necessary) and participated in many “firsts”
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.