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Growing Up On The Old Glenn Highway
1950-1968   Chugiak, Alaska


"As I Remember It"

By Coleen (Walker) Mielke 2016

Protected by Copyscape

 

I recently found 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.

The people,I mention below, were all early Chugiak homesteaders and 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".

~~~

An Introduction To My Family

My father, Ollie Walker, was the son of German-Russian immigrant farmers in North Dakota. My mother, Kathy (Furness) Walker, was born in Cambridge, England.

Dad was the 9th of 11 children raised on the farm. He had an 8th grade education and was drafted into the Army in March of 1942. After boot camp, he was stationed at Bassingbourn, England where he worked as an Army switchboard operator for the duration of World War II.

Mom and dad met at a dance club, in Cambridge and dated off and on until 1945, when the Army sent dad back to America. He tried his hand at farming for a year, then sold his livestock and went back to England to find mom. After a 4 week courtship, they were married (1/2/1947) and flew back to the United States aboard American Overseas Airlines.

folks

Tragedies Prompt a New Start in Alaska

My folks bought a small house in Ashley, North Dakota (near his parents) and dad got a job at a hardware store. Eight months later, tragedy struck when he accidentally killed a little girl with his car. Newspaper articles reported that she and her grandfather were walking a team of horses from one farm to another (on a narrow dirt road), when dad approached them with his car. He later told authorities that he thought he could get around the team by driving down into the ditch on the opposite side of the road. Unfortunately, as he was about to pass the team, the little girl panicked and ran across the road and directly into the path of his car. Her name was Geraldine Harter and she was only 10; she died later that day.

Four months after Geraldine's death, tragedy touched my parents once again. Mom gave birth on Christmas Eve of 1947. The baby died two days later from aspiration pneumonia; 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, dad built the babies coffin and hand dug the grave at the Ashley City Cemetery, himself.

Mom told me that after the baby died, she felt sad, isolated and terribly homesick. That spring, she went back to England and lived with her family in Cambridge for six months; she never told any of them about the death of her baby.

In the fall of 1948, mom wrote to dad and told him 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.

Dad sold their small house and paid for mom's return ticket aboard the S.S. America which landed in New York on 11/11/1948.  While she was in route, dad set up house in Wahpeton, North Dakota and enrolled in a trade school for auto body repair.

In March of 1950, dad finished school and they moved to Alaska; I was born in Anchorage two months later.

Alaska, A New Start

My folks said they came to Alaska because they heard of jobs and free land. Their first home was a tiny apartment behind the Stop & Shop Grocery in Mt. View. It was originally a large wooden packing crate (from the military base) which someone converted into a rental. Dad found a temporary job as a laborer on Elmendorf Air Force Base and had a second job as a pin setter at a Govt. Hill bowling alley.

Moving to Chugiak

In the late spring of 1950, mom and dad bought half an acre of land at mile 18½ (of the Old Glenn Highway) from Gib & Eileen Reid and built a tiny one room log cabin on it. Four children soon followed, all born at the old Providence Hospital at Ninth and L Street in Anchorage: I was born in 1950; my sister Debbie was born in 1952; my brother Terry was born in 1955 and my sister Sherrie was born in 1957.

Life in the new community of Chugiak was primitive but they liked the area and it was open to homesteading. That summer, dad got a full time Civil Service job (auto body repair) on Fort Richardson Army Base; a job he would keep for the next 25 years.

The Homestead

Dad filed an application with the Land Office for a 160 acre homestead patent in May of 1950. He was told that applicants had to live on AND farm the land for five years before the patent would be approved, so they sold their little cabin at mile 18½....moved onto the homestead at mile 17½.....planted potatoes, raised chickens and bought a bulldozer to clear the land.

Instead of building from scratch, dad moved a small used building onto the homestead in 1950. Over the years, he connected other old buildings and eventually built a second story over the whole thing. It was a small house, by today's standards, but we were comfortable. We hauled drinking water from a nearby creek and heated with oil which dad bought near Ship Creek and trucked out to the homestead in 55 gallon drums.

In the early 1950's, before supermarkets moved into the area, the locals bought the bulk of their groceries from Anchorage or the military base. However, there were a few tiny stores in Chugiak that offered canned and frozen food in a pinch, like Swanee Slopes, Moose Horn Trading Post and Allen's Grocery in Peters Creek. The privately owned stores let people carry a tab until payday, and the goods were expensive.

Church

1952-1958, my parents were members of the First Baptist Church in Anchorage, pastored by Felton Griffin. In 1960, they joined the First Baptist Church of Eagle River, pastored by E.C. Chron. In about 1963, they became charter members the First Baptist Church of Birchwood, pastored by George Kesterman and later Bob Chadwick.

The 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 W.W.II military surplus building and the church members (that I can recall) were the Walker's, the Sawyer's, the Landreth's, Heagle's, Jones, Carawan's, Christines, Kroeners's, Moore's, Johnson's, Hughes, Fretwell's and the Tyson's.

When the church moved to its present day location, near the North Birchwood Loop overpass, the old church building was sold to Ted Sadler who used it as his first Alaska store where they sold new and used furniture.

Off To Grade School

Chugiak Elementary opened in 1951 on the Old Glenn Highway and was over-crowded soon after. Overflow classes were held in surplus Army buildings and Quonset huts on the school grounds.

I started first grade in 1956, my teacher was Miss Rowland (married name Waterman) and the first day of school, we were all lined up and given DPT shots. Several of us had serious skin reactions and Mrs. Emmert (the principals wife) told mom it was because the nurse had used the same syringe for everyone.....times have certainly changed.

My second grade teacher was Miss Saupe and our class was held in the Methodist Church across the street from the school; my third grade teacher was Mrs. May; fourth grade teacher was Miss Eggleston (married name Aske); fifth grade teacher was Mrs. Golden Pettit and my sixth grade teacher was Mr. Kerr.

Mrs. Tofson and Paul Swanson's sister, "Penn" Lee (her real name was Henrietta) were in charge of the school cafeteria. Penn was a legendary baker and people STILL (nearly 60 years later) talk about the delicious bread rolls she made for us.

Paul Swanson (who came to Alaska in 1940) owned the Post Office across the street from the school. Every day, his Collie dog came over to the playground during noon recess and every day, he would come over and chase the old dog home by waving a board at him. I don't know which upset Mr. Swanson more, the disobedient dog, or the jeering kids on the playground (we all wanted the dog to stay and play). It was rumored that Mr. Swanson's offending board had a big nail on it, but I never saw it.

In 1962, school boundaries were changed and I (very reluctantly) attended 7th and 8th grade in Eagle River. My teachers were Mr. Rouse, Mrs. Carol Connell, Mrs. Golden Pettit (again) and Natalie Brooks was our music teacher. I was a cheerleader for the Eagle River Rams (in the 7th grade) and I was on an (after school) girls softball team; our coach was Karen Missle who lived on Lower Fire Lake.

I attended Chugiak High School, in 1964, the first year it opened and graduated from CHS in 1968; our class was the first group of students to attend all 12 grades without having to leave Chugiak/Eagle River (before 1964, kids had to go to school in Anchorage).

Telephones

I do not recall what year telephones were installed in Chugiak, but I know it must have been in the late 1950’s. Our first phone number started with "HO" followed by 4 numbers (the HO stood for homestead). Before "real phones" arrived, my parents and three other neighbors had an unofficial homestead phone system. They strung surplus Army wire between 4 homesteads and hooked up World War II, EE-8 Army field phones. The field phone had a standard receiver, which hung from the side of a ten pound canvas covered battery pack base and had a hand crank that  powered a 100 volt ringing generator. One full revolution of the hand crank (which took some strength) meant everyone on the system would hear the same ring on their field phone. Supposedly, each family had its own designated number of rings, but realistically, any time the phone rang, everyone on the system answered and listened in. The other families connected to OUR phone line were the Robert Schoonmaker's, the Robert Aubrey's and the Hank Aust's. The system worked well except for when moose accidentally tromped down the cable between homes.


WW II EE8 Army Field Phone

British War Brides In Chugiak

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. Many afternoons were spent with these English friends, laughing, chatting (in their best English accents) and reminiscing about England.

Homestead Life

In the spring of 1954, my parents assumed they had fulfilled all requirements to receive the patent to their 160 acre homestead. To their shock, the patent office informed them of a technicality that would cost them over half of their acreage.

According to the homestead act, a person could only apply for one continuous parcel of land. Since the Glenn Highway ran through one end of my parents homestead, it was technically TWO pieces of land and they would have to choose which side of the highway they wanted to apply for. After much thought, mom and dad decided to file for the smaller parcel that lay up against the mountains because their house was already on it and because it bordered Fire Creek. They released their claim to the other 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 she went back to Vanover’s and got another baby pig. Two summers later, our pigs had 11 piglets of their own.

The little piglets were a lot of fun to watch. Dad built a small shed for them to live in and put up a spruce pole fence to keep them corralled. They grew quickly and that fall, dad decided they needed to go into the freezer (huge shock for us kids). He hired a fellow dog musher named Joe Traversie to butcher the pigs. 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 seal fur trim. Joe and Gladys were janitors at Chugiak High School when it opened in 1964; they were great people and tough as nails. Gladys had a son named Eddie Sarren who 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 20' x 20' 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 a billion spiders). The travel trailer was used to store dog harnesses, rigging, extra dog chains and 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 or at least store their belongings there. One of my third grade classmates, Gale Gibson and her family, lived in our barn for a while after their house burned down.

Over the years, besides the pigs, we had goats, dozens of guinea hens (for the eggs), lots of rabbits, forty sled dogs and we even had a mule and a cow one summer.

The Sled Dogs

The sled dogs were dads passion. He made all his own (race and freight) dog sleds, harnesses and rigging. In the early days, 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. When the rawhide dried, it shrunk and tightened even more, yet it remained strong and flexible.

In the winter, the sled dogs were fed an easily digestible mixture of oats, meat and tallow scraps that dad cooked up in a big vat on an outdoor propane burner. A dog friendly butcher at the Piggly Wiggly store in Anchorage, gave dad garbage cans full of meat trimmings every weekend (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 many of those first meetings were held in our living room. Dad raced in the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous and at the Tozier Track on Tudor Road. He also raced a few times in Fairbanks, and on 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. There was also 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 child with the fastest time (without off of the sled) won a small trophy. It was always a lot of fun to watch.

In the late 1950's, dad had an evening ritual of harnessing 9-11 dogs to the sled and taking them on a run from our house down to Beach Lake and back. I enjoyed going with him, and sat in the sled under a ton of blankets, with only my red cheeks and frozen nose exposed. My all time favorite memory of my father happened on one of those evening rides. I remember it was a very cold night and the sky was perfectly still with a super bright moon. I asked him what made the snow sparkle in the moonlight and I've never forgotten his answer: "those sparkles are diamonds in the snow", thanks dad.

To this day, it is easy to recall the sound of the sled runners breaking through the snow crust.....I can hear dad's piercing whistle commands to his dogs.....his insistent "gee" and "haw" commands and the occasional loud crack of his 16' braided leather whip.

Although dad did not win any dog races, he did very well in the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous weight pulling competition. In 1958 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.

dog team
   Photo courtesy of Mike Reid

In 1964, the Chugiak Dog Mushers Association sponsored Nickolai Pavilla and Sinkna Hurd, two Eskimo racers from Kasigluk (near Bethel) who wanted to compete in the Anchorage Fur Rondy. They had never been away from the village before and while they stayed at our house, they watched  television for the first time.

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 a moving truck and 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 suspended dog was then able to exercise for several hours a day without putting weight on his hips. He was a funny looking dog.....long legs, with a skinny body and droopy ears. Why dad hung the injured dog in MY bedroom, I'm not sure, but I didn't mind. The unorthodox treatment worked well and Pluto went on to join the rest of the team.

Dad's experimental husky/greyhound dogs were very fast; he clocked them at 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 my parents 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 race marshal for many years.

The Homestead Finally Gets Running Water

I don't remember anyone (in our neighborhood) that had running water in the early days. My parents hauled water (1950-1958) from from a creek that ran near the Parksville Coffee Shop. In the summer it was easy to fill our five gallon "Jerry cans" (as dad 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 can under the pipe.



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. As for bathrooms on the homestead; outhouses and indoor "honey buckts" were the norm.

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 "plan" was to dig a well beside Fire Creek which was at the bottom of a 100' bluff behind our house. After several days of digging near the creek bed (and getting no water), dad decided to blast the hole with dynamite.

On "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.

Our neighbor, Bob Aubrey and my father drilled holes into the bedrock and filled them with sticks of dynamite, then 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.

The new well produced lots of water that had to be piped back up the 100' embankment to the house. Dad built an, above ground, wooden box to encase the water pipe and filled it with insulation and a heating tape to keep it from freezing during the winter months. Every other winter, or so, 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 birthday party guest lists (copied from my baby book 1950-1955), read like an early Chugiak telephone directory (except there were no telephones in early Chugiak):

Billy Cairns
Olga Johnson
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 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, who 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 shot to death in 1962 while loading a rifle into his truck. The next people to live in that house were John and Dorothy Liska.  Mr. Liska was a taxidermist and raised honey bees; he later went into politics.

North of the Lamay/Liska house is Athanasius Street where the St. John Orthodox Church is. When I was growing up, that road had no name and there was a big gravel pit on it. Only three families lived on that road in the late 50's and early 60's: 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 house).

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.  The Hutchinson's 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 Yadie's kitchen. The Hutchinson's had a son named Archie who was an Anchorage City Police officer for many years. 

In 1952, my parents sold five acres on the south end of the homestead to Bob & Susie Aubrey who came to Alaska in 1951. Bob was in the military and had a shop in his basement where he sold eyeglasses. I got my first pair of glasses 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 eye glass shop was decorated with Japanese souvenirs, including a dried and inflated puffer fish that hung on strings from the ceiling.

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 after that.

In 1962, the Aubrey family moved to mile 22½ of the Old Glenn Highway. Their new home was once the Candle Light Inn. After that, they moved to King Mountain and we lost contact with them. Their son Robbie died from smoke inhalation during a fire at University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1968.

In the mid 1950’s, my parents sold five acres, on the north end of the homestead, to Hank and Pat Aust. By today's landmarks, the Aust driveway is a street called Del's Lane and the old Aust home site is now owned by the 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 his land ended and Setters land started. He named the little road (which was only about a half block long), New Market Road, after the name of the street in Cambridge, England where my mother was born. In 1965, my folks sold a small corner of the homestead (just south of the Aubrey's) to Dr. 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 and her daughters sold them at my school for 50¢.

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 dirt "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 it 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 old gray boards and their floor was smooth brown dirt. I don't recall a stove of any kind although there must have been one because the girls’ clothes faintly smelled like a wood fire; Their home was very dark, although I do remember a lantern on a table. Mrs. Mosquito was a short, sturdy Native 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.

Heading North from Our Homestead

Just north of our driveway was Del’s Drive Inn, or I should say, the empty shell of 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” 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 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, and just before Moose Horn Lodge, was a small green house, originally built by Simon and Bobbie Media in the late 1940's. In the 1950’s it was owned by former Matanuska Colonists, Einar and Inez Huseby, good friends of my parents. They were wonderful people who had exotic birds and ran a laundry/steam bath at that location. The post office was also there for a short time.

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 café, hot showers and post office boxes; Jim ran the gas pump and had a tow truck. The McDowell’s made everyone feel welcome and the lodge always smelled like good food and strong coffee. Long after the McDowell's were gone, Moose Horn became aschool  bus garage and later yet, it was turned into apartments.  The building burned to the ground 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. It was called Parksville and it was a big success due to Justine's pies and Cloyce's business sense. By  today's landmarks, the coffee shop would sit in the driveway of the Klondike Concrete Co.

At mile 20, there was a small log building on the right side of the Old Glenn Highway called the Spring Creek Lodge. Vernon and Alma Haik built the lodge with logs they harvested from the Goat Creek area; the diner opened in 1949. The Haik's had three children, Vernon Jr., Beverly and Joan.

The Chugiak VFW Hall (at about mile 21) was a military surplus building that housed bingo games and dances in the 1950's; the Chugiak Senior Center and apartments occupy that location today. Just north of the VFW Hall, was where the Chugiak Benefit Association held its annual spring carnival. The whole community attended for three days of motorcycle races, games, food booths and beauty contests; Les Fetrow was Chu-Chu the carnival clown.

Before the North Birchwood Loop overpass was built, the old 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 Loop followed a sharp ridge back towards its present day route (except it used to run right on the edge of the bluff).

Also on that bluff, was the 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 old appliances, vehicles, dead animals, moose hides and everything in between. The dump spread from the edge of the road (sometimes ON the road) and continued down over the bluff for several hundred feet. It 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 would push the majority of it over the ridge and set it on fire (but that didn't happen very often). 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. Gracie was a very tiny person who smiled constantly. In the early 1950's, they opened a "drive-in" hamburger and ice cream shop at mile 22; they called it the Dari Delight and it was a popular destination. Today, the Dairy 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 and Elsie was my 4-H leader; she was a wonderful lady. 

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 homestead.

Heading South From Our Homestead

Today, there is an old dilapidated building sitting at the mile 17 summit of the Old Glenn Highway; when I was a kid, it was known as Fire Lake Lodge. Ken Laughlin homesteaded that area in 1935 and built a cabin on it in 1937. He sold hotdogs and hamburgers to the road construction crews that were building the Glenn Highway from Palmer to Anchorage. Myron and Vesta Merriman bought the land from Laughlin and Jim and Lillian Polyefko bought it from the Merriman's in 1950. In it's hay day, the lodge was a thriving "hang out" that served drinks and dinner (and a weekend movie) to locals and military men from Fort Richardson. The lodge burned down in 1954 after Mrs. Polyefko tried to "tune up" the heating system by using a double dose of Red Devil soot remover.

The lodge was rebuilt and sold, but by 1964 it was the private residence for the Bruton family (they had a son named Roy Bruton and foster son named Ted Adkins). Later yet, it was a Jehovah Witness Church.

Just south of the lodge was Ralph Rollins’ gas station; 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. Pat and Mickey Earles lived off of that road and were very good friends with my parents. They came to Alaska in 1951 and moved to Upper Fire Lake in 1957. Pat was a quiet man with a wonderful sense of humor and Mickey was warm and motherly; they were great people and a big part of my childhood. Mickey baked a lot of bread and I used to watch her endlessly in the kitchen; 55+ years later, I still use her method to form my bread rolls. Their children were Patsy, Larry, Peggy, Janice, Fred, Ricky, Danny and Tim. In the late 1950's Pat and Mickey (and three of their kids) 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-hotel, built by Walter and Marion Bowen; they had 3 daughters: 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 Glenn Highway. Nora's plan was to sell candy to the bus loads of tourists who ate at the Parksville Coffee Shop. When the coffee shop burned down in 1953, Nora let the Parks family live in her candy store building and she opened a different 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 fishing ........ you should too!!"

Another colorful family friend was Dottie Cochran. She was very loud and swore like a sailor. She dressed in men's Hawaiian shirts and wore her 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.

Fred Bustrin, known locally as "Chief Chugiak", was a local artist and jewelry maker. In about 1960, he opened a jewelry shop on the north end of our homestead.  Fred 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 liked to paint and was quite good at it. He also made gold nugget jewelry and a variety of other tourist type trinkets out of forget-me-not flowers cast in clear resin.  Fred paid neighborhood kids 50¢ a coffee can for "moose nuggets in perfect condition", and he used them to make novelty earrings and necklaces as well as a very popular item called a "moosequito".  A "moosequito" was an oversized mosquito made out of varnished moose "nuggets" with porcupine quills for the legs and an oversized stinger; he sold hundreds of them to tourists every summer.  His partner was a small quiet man named Fred Reising. The two were affectionately known as Big Fred and Little Freddie.

Eagle River

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.

On the corner of the Eagle River Homestead Road (today it is called 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 Eagle River kids because it had an excellent penny candy counter and was close to the elementary school. The O. J. 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.

Before the existence of  today's divided highway (that bypasses Eagle River and Chugiak), the old (two lane) Glenn Highway used run right through the heart of Eagle River, Chugiak, Peters Creek and up against the edge of Mirror Lake without a single stop sign.

The old Glenn Highway, where it crossed the Eagle River Bridge, used to be very narrow, a lot steeper and had no lighting. In the winter, when that section of road was icy, the traffic sort of "policed itself". By that, I mean the cars would come to a complete stop, at the top of the hill (in both directions), and wait for the car in front of them 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 up the other side, on their first try, and had to back down that treacherous grade; it was definitely "white knuckle driving" since few cars had four wheel drive and none of us had studded tires.

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" which was a bar/lounge at the bowling alley.

About 1966, mom 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.


The Earthquake

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/feel a deep rumble that sounded like an excavator 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, causing a huge boil over. 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 simultaneously light up in all ten bowling lanes.

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 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 Mr. Ryan, through the large plate glass windows that divided his tavern from the main bowling alley. He had both arms stretched out, valiantly trying to stop dozens of liquor bottles from sliding off of his counters; his eyes were as big as saucers. Once outdoors, the first thing I noticed was the absence of everyday noises, it was deathly quiet.....no cars, no machinery, no construction sounds, no dogs barking or people noises of any kind. All I could hear was the deep rumble coming from the earth and the sound of overhead electrical lines making a zinging noise as the wildly tilting power poles caused the lines to alternate from very slack to very taut. The earth was moving so violently that it was very hard to stand up and I steadied myself by keeping my feet far apart and flexing my knees like shock absorbers; it seemed like the shaking would never stop!!  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 doors sprung open and released Mr. Ryan. The earthquake shook for over four minutes!!

After the earthquake, the bowling alley was set up as a refuge for people that needed a place to stay. Mom sent me down to the 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 broken, the isles were knee deep in fallen merchandise; the store smelled of broken pickle jars and it was all dark and VERY 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 in 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".

The earthquake happened on a Good Friday, so schools were closed and no one was hurt 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, a few wells that went dry and other minor damage.

An End To Homesteading

In 1968, my parents sold 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. The 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 needed a hand, broke fish & game laws (when it was necessary) and participated in many “firsts” for Chugiak.

In 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 re-married and lived in Florida and California; he died in 2007. I sure wish I had asked them a lot more questions about their early days in Chugiak.





This is a (very rough) sketch of the
Chugiak neighborhood
I grew up in  (1950-1968)
"As I   remember It"

 

 


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Written by:
Coleen (Walker) Mielke
coleen@mtaonline.net  

  

 

 

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