Shorty Gustafson Wasilla Alaska .
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SHORTY GUSTAFSON

By Coleen Mielke
2022

When you ask the old-timers in Wasilla about "Shorty" Gustafson, you will instantly see a smile;
the kind of smile that hints a good story is next. His friends described him as happy, musical, colorful,
hard working and adventurous, but most of all,  they say, "he was a real character".
 
 
"Shorty" Gustafson
1887-1970

Gustaf Emil "Shorty" Gustafson was a diminutive 5' 1" tall and, in spite of missing some fingers, he played a "mean mandolin" and loved to sing. He immigrated from Sweden in 1907 and staked a 320 acre homestead in the Valley in 1916. By todays landmarks, it was near the intersection of the Seward Meridian and the Parks Hwy.
His cabin sat about where the Sears store is today.

Mark Fritzler told me: "Dad said, Shorty and my grandfather hand dug an 80' well on the property line between their two cabins, but never hit water, so Shorty dismantled his cabin and pulled it to Wasilla with some draft horses and rebuilt it near Main Street and added a 2nd story to it; he lived in the top story and had a auto repair shop on the bottom  level.
 
Shorty was known as a "man of many interests". He was growing oats commercially by 1918; he bought a motorcycle in 1921 and had a "motor sled" in 1922. He was fur trapping in Eska in 1924 and he bought a "Tin Lizzie" in 1925.
In 1927, Shorty had a contract to harvest 1,500 tons of ice (from Wasilla Lake) for the Alaska Railroad. It took him and a helper 8 days to complete the contract, at $2 a ton. The following year, he built a gasoline powered ice saw and towed it out onto Wasilla Lake, where he was able to harvest the ice twice as fast.

 
Shorty's Ice Saw

In 1929, Shorty bought an old Caterpillar from the railroad for $500 and used it to plow winter snow and haul freight up to the mines.

One of Shorty's "inventions" was a 1/2 HP gasoline engine that he used to charge batteries with. It was a big success and solved the ever present "dead battery" problems that plagued "downtown" Wasilla before electricity arrived.

In 1932, Shorty took flying lessons in an open cockpit biplane at Star Air Services in Anchorage. He enjoyed flying so much that he bought his own Aeronca C-3, which he used to fly people from the mines to Anchorage and back. Legend has it, that on one of those trips, he made an extremely hard landing that ruined his propeller,
so Shorty carved a wooden replacement; it worked well for years.

In the spring of 1937, Shorty worked as a dozer operator for the Fern Mine and in 1940, he set up his own prospect on Craigie Creek, but had little success.

In 1943, Shorty told everyone that he lost his car in a "booze deal gone bad". After that, he repaired an old abandoned Ford truck and attached a homemade snow plow which he used to clear the roads around Wasilla.
 
The "kids" (now old-timers) in Wasilla said they liked Shorty because he was "always doing something interesting". Some of the boys remember sneaking into his garage to play with the tools. Larry Teeland told me "Shorty had a motorcycle once and we all used to peek through his downstairs window to try and catch a glimpse of it, but it was really dark down there. I actually saw it out in the sunshine once; it was blue and had some kind of package holder for tools. I also remember there used to be a metal frame laying in the grass by Shorty's house" Larry said,  "Someone told me that it was the remains of a plane he tried to build."

Everyone I talked to, had a different "Shorty Story", but there was one thing they all remembered fondly, and that was Shorty playing his mandolin and singing his "Cheechako" song at every community gathering; it was a real crowd-pleaser.

This is the song that everyone remembers Shorty singing...

To get the full effect of his strong Swedish accent (that everyone loved),
I've changed all of the "W's" to "V's" and the "Th" sounds to a "D" sound


CHEECHAKO
by Shorty Gustafson

Vee are among da dousands dat have come up nord,
seeking a fortune but partly for sport.

Vee boarded da steamer, our bags put avay,
and landed in Seward da nineteed of May.

Varr do day come from and varr do day go.
Day must have places dat vee don't know.

You got to have your bacon and your beans dat's all,
and crawl into your cabin ven da snow begins to fall.

If you alvays been a failure, now here is your chance,
come to da Walley and get yourself a ranch.

Dare's gold in da mountains and fields of coal,
and rabbits in da woods, dat's vut vee verr told.

Make your home in Alaska and put it in your mind,
dat hunting, fishing and trapping up here is surely fine.

Dare's moose in da timber and fish in da bay,
and sheep in da mountains, dat's vut day say.

If you don't like Alaska, and you don't like da style
just bundle up your parcels and be gone wid a smile.

Dare's a train go-in to Seward, so hop on your vay,
but dis is vut you'll hear all da sourdoughs say:

Varr do day come from and varr do day go.
Day must have places dat vee don't know.

Da boats are leaving Seward, so be happy on your vay,
Dare is no one to hold you, if you don't vant to stay.

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In the spring of 1965, Shorty Gustafson moved to the Sitka Pioneer Home; he died there in 1970,
and is buried in the Pioneer Home Cemetery in Sitka, he was 83 years old.

END


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