Chapter Eleven-Alaska:1929

In the early summer of 1929 we started out in the big Nash, which incidentally, I ran 86,000 miles, from Howell to the West Coast, going by way of Texas and U.S. Highway 80. We stopped briefly at Long Beach to call on Allie. As far back as 1925, his business gone, his aunt’s dead, and his children scattered, he had come out to live with his youngest daughter Minnie, in California. Tarrying there but a short time, we proceeded to Seattle, where stored the Nash, and thence, in some detail, I have recorded the following: we left the Seattle dock at 9:00PM, June 4th, to the strains of Aloha, by the boats orchestra on the upper deck; and watched the lights of the city fade away for 1-1/2 hours until we reached the open sound, then repaired to our cute little cabin for a good nights rest.

Next day we had our first dinner aboard, alongside wooded mountains slipping by, some of them snow covered, treading our way up what they called the “Inside Passage”, comparatively free from rough water. We dropped anchor frequently to wait out the occasional fog, at such times the night resounded with the noise of the throaty foghorns.

We docked first at Ketchikan; next at Wrangell; hit Petersburg on the 8th; and, at Douglas, opposite Juneau, to discharge 20 tons of empty tin salmon cans, 1500 cases; then into Juneau, the capital of the territory, on the 9th. The little city, then 4000, is spectacularly situated in a semi-circle, backed by towering mountain ranges, with streets up and down hill, and open space at a premium. While here we had time to be driven out several miles on the only road, to view a glacier at work. I t was out here that was located their only dairy, and limited field cultivation. It was in Juneau that we saw the first street pavements in Alaska. Indeed, some of the towns were built on pilings above the water floored with heavy planks. June 10th we docked at Skagway, the end of the sea voyage.

To continue the months duration of our trip in such intimate details as the preceding paragraphs would spin out this writing to an impossible length, so, from here on I will try to simply generalize, and mention certain highlights in our adventures. I have complete written records in minute detail, but it will suffice if I quote from memory.

It was our aim to patronize every method of transportation available in the territory, and this we did, with one exception, sometimes requiring us to double on our tracks. The exception was the airplane. For this we contracted to view the midnight sun but lost out. The dog team in this section had been superseded, so we were not tempted by that primitive mode of travel.

The Alaska Railroad operated by the U. S. government, running from Seward, the coast terminal, to Fairbanks, in the interior, something over 400 miles, we traversed twice, with a stopover at McKinley Park, from which we took a rough ride in a company car, an early vintage Packard, to show us, he said, what a car could do. The route was up the bed of a shallow creek, through underbrush, about 20 miles to a camp maintained by the company, through a wild game country. There a dandy feed awaited us, which we ate and enjoyed, though 9:00 o’clock and trip back ahead, but still broad daylight. On the trip we saw grizzly bears and herds of deer, and many lesser wild animals.

One of the most interesting travel experiences was our week or more on the Yukon River, slowly nosing our way down the 1000 miles or more from where we boarded the boat at Whitehorse, to where we left it at the river confluence with the Tanana, to nearby Fairbanks. In this entire interesting voyage, sometimes very shallow, we got stuck twice. We pushed a barge ahead of us, to Fort Yukon, where it was detached and unloaded, it being the first spring supplies for the resident people of several hundred persons. Among the freight received was the first automobile ever seen in the town.

There was but one so-called street in Fort Yukon and that was the long road paralleling the river, backed by the motley collection of houses around and about the adjoining residence district. I was amusing to see the boys and dogs following the car as it sped about, honking its horn, which frightened its following so that the confusion was intensified.

This river was the old stamping ground of Rex Beach and his writings. At one inconsequential landing we made, we were directed to a house, perhaps 50 rods or more from the dock, where Beach wrote some of his stories. Daisy and I walked out there and prowled about the premises and picked up a small earthen jar, which we appropriated, as it had evidently been discarded. We have that jar yet as a keepsake. Numbers of amusing incidents occurred while we were on the Yukon. In crossing the International Line, a revenue inspector came aboard and searched the boat for liquor. Some he found, others he didn’t find. A favorite place to hide their contraband was to sink it to the bottom of the slop jar, until the inspector had gone, and then recover it. One man concealed his bottle in the firewood pile in the engine room, but it was discovered, and the attendant was innocent and would not lie to protest his patron, though he had been paid $5 to do it.

Daisy and I had passable protection against mosquitoes, but others didn’t have, especially the women. The pests were voracious, and every time the boat stopped and drew up to the bank to take on a load of wood, they would fairly eat up their victims. The women wore gloves and facemasks and would protect their calves by winding toilet paper about their legs.

In that country the river is the only highway, and any trapper or wayfarer caught in the woods can make his way to the riverbank and signal any passing boat, which must stop and take him on. That is the law of the land, rigidly enforced. A man so appeared as our boat came into view up the river, and signaled, and we veered to the bank and took him aboard. He proved to be a Dr. Runnells, from Seattle, who spent each season up in these wilds, ministering to the natives, and he was now on his way out and home. When the boat docked at Seattle, after he and we had gotten on the last leg homeward, it was touching to witness the meeting between him and his wife and family, after 6 months in the wilderness. I had become well acquainted with the doctor, and it was renewed in Seattle. I went with him to the fair at Puyallup, of which he was the health inspector, and he passed me in as his assistant. He invited me to his house to see some of the native handiwork he had amassed in his years in Alaska. One curiosity was a bone chain perhaps 16 inches long, carved, link by link, from a single mastodon tusk.

We spent some time in Anchorage, the largest town in Alaska then as it is now. It was there we inspected the stock of a fur dealer who was liquidating his stock, where I bought Daisy’s seal coat, and two black bear hides, and a wolverine hide. This city was headquarters of the Alaska Railroad, and an official picked us up and drove us all around. They raised the most glorious gardens here, as they did everywhere, in things that would mature in 90 days, with practically continuous sunshine. Their tomatoes, and strawberries, for instance, put to shame for size anything that we produce in California. Even along the shores, as we came up along the coast, at every minor stop we made the passengers, in time permitted would go ashore and pick those luscious raspberries and blackberries.

We made side trips on the Copper and Northwestern Railroad spur out to a producing copper works I think it was Kennecutt. Another side trip was over to the resort of Atlin Lake. From here we went out to what they called Discovery, to witness pick and shovel mining. At another point we inspected the methods of placer mining, where a terrific head of water from 20 miles away in the mountains lead that high water pressure down with such force and power that it will tear down mountains, and the dirt, so released, will be diverted through wood sluices, where the heavy gold particles will fall to the bottom and be recovered.

Another gold recovery operation is effective and final, but destructive to the landscape. It is the dredging system, which simplified means that a huge unit travels up the bottom of a stream believed to contain gold, dredging up material several feet deep from the bed of the stream believed to contain gold, dredging up material several feet deep from the bed of the stream as it creeps slowly along, and processing the material as it goes, resulting in perhaps a solid brick of gold or more every week. We saw one of these outfits at work on the Klondike River, and this outfit had 7 men to man it. It is no job for the tyro, but experienced engineers. We were taken through the whole works, and an original basin of gold, just as recovered from the dredged material I could hardly lift. But the track they leave behind, in the operation is not comparable to anything less than h__l.

Another phase as Alaska life we wanted to investigate was salmon industry. In fact, I became so imbued with the spirit of the subject and the life romance of the raw product, that I threatened to write a book thereon, but never got at it. The habits of the fish itself are captivating and no less so are the economic story, in its preparation for human consumption. As our big Alaska boats plied up and down the coast, one of the main excuses for the existence of these boats was the salmon packing plants scattered mostly on some remote point or bay, where we called to either bring in raw tin and other materials to make cans, crates etc., or to take the packed product out.

At one of these canneries we had ample time to go through the works and see the entire process of the fishermen bringing in their catch by the boatload, to its intricate processing up to the time of labeling and crating 24 or 48 to a crate and shipping. This latter process, when we docked at a cannery, usually took the better part of a night to load the biggest consignment I recall slated for arrival of our boat being 40,000 cases. I enjoyed these operations quite as well as anything connected with our trip. Through the entire process rigid sanitary measures are in force, so one need never feel squeamish about canned salmon. I don’t know just what the limit is, but it must not be more than a certain number of hours must elapse from the live fish to the canned product. The King Salmon is the aristocrat of the species and attains a weight of 50 pounds up, and is never served or seen in the ordinary hotel in the states. However, it was served on our boat as a regular item of fare.

I have left to the last our trip down to Richardson Highway, from Fairbanks to tidewater at Valdez or Chitina, a 300 mile jaunt, in good station wagon, but mostly unimproved roads, crossing stony river washes, going between straight up snow banks, crossing rivers by hand operated cables, etc., with two road houses or overnight stands to break up the run. One time a back bear lunged across the road not 20 feet in front of us. By the way, the roadhouses served to take in the little city of Sitka, which was the Old Russian capital, replete with its totem poles, missions, cemeteries, and other remains of the Old Russian regime. We passed the Taku Glacier.

On this highway we came across a couple of young women who were hiking, we later called on one of them, living in Seattle. Have exchanged Christmas Cards for years. She is now in Long Beach, staying with he aged infirm father, and we are expecting a call from her shortly. Thus endeth a very enjoyable 60-day vacation in Alaska.

After docking at Seattle, the first thing was to retrieve our Nash from storage and then repair about 8 miles out toward Bellingham, on Woodland Park Avenue, to check in at The National Auto Village, the same motel where we had stayed before. The next day we went down on the bus to participate in the formal opening of The Bon Marche, an immense mercantile structure 250X350 feet, covering a whole block, and having show windows on four streets.

Returning to camp, we made ready for a weeks tour we proposed to make up into British Columbia, storing our belongings with the National Auto people. We entered Canada through the Bellingham gateway, and our travels carried us to Calgary, and as for North as Edmonton; and as far East as Regina, renamed from its original Rat Portage. Here we ran into a convention of Scottish Highlanders in full regalia, and putting on quite a show. The Canadian Rockies, and resort section of Lake Louise were appealing, but we did not spend too much time there. It was getting late in the season, and the distant ridges were covered with snow.

The feature that impressed me most in this great country was the expanse of the wheat lands, covering thousands of square miles of the yellow grain, just ready for harvest, which was going on, with those giant combination machines. It really was an inspiring sight to look across those miles of undulating fields.

Again entering the United States, and gaining our auto home, the first thing we did was to go down town to the P.O., and get out accumulated mail. We found plenty of it and of major importance. Both boys had written us that they had dissolved partnership, Winfield continuing the business and Francis and wife going to California, to engage in other lines of endeavor, that being Helen’s home state, indeed, they were already on their way. As soon as we could make letter contact, we found that they had taken temporary quarters in Pomona.

As soon as we vacated the National Auto Home we toured down the coast, but first, before leaving the Seattle area we called on John McPherson and wife, formerly from Howell, but he was now manager of a large clothing store in Seattle. Daisy and I went out to their home, from which John and I, in my car, went out to the golf grounds that he was affiliated with and had a game or two. They lived comfortably in a basement, fitted up to the Queen’s taste and used sawdust to fuel their furnace, as that is the most plentiful commodity that the Seattle area has to furnish, at practically no cost except the expense of getting rid of it.