By Clark Fair
State Trooper Wayne Haggerty may have thought a prank was being pulled on him when he arrived at the Ace of Clubs cocktail bar in Soldotna, expecting to find a corpse. According to Leo Creary, he found no body where it was supposed to be, so he went in the bar, which today is the Maverick, to find out what the deal was.
Inside, he looked for and located Paul “Mississippi” Bierdeman, who was having a drink and chatting with other patrons. According to Creary, their conversation was short and to the point.
“Haggerty come in and wanted to know where this body was he’d found, and Paul said, ‘Well, he’s out there in the bed of my truck.’ Wayne said, ‘No, he’s not. I just looked.’ They went out and looked, and sure enough, there wasn’t anything there.”
Although they were concerned at the moment, the problem with the body had actually begun earlier in the evening.
It was midwinter of about 1964 and bitterly cold. Bierdeman, who ran the Laundromat at the River Terrace Trailer Court, had driven south to Homer to tend to some business. On the way back north, he was cruising through the Kasilof area at about 9 or 10 p.m. when he spotted what appeared to be a man sitting on a snowbank along the side of the road. So he stopped to investigate and see if he could lend a hand.
The man was dead.
“The guy was basically froze, sitting there on the snowbank,” Creary said. “I don’t remember who he was. The story was, he was inebriated and he got that far and probably sat down to rest and fell asleep or something.”
Bierdeman lifted the body and set it in the bed of his pickup, and then he drove on to Soldotna to report the death to the authorities. Since few people owned telephones in those days, he pulled into the Ace of Clubs parking lot and went indoors to have a drink and make a call to the troopers.
After Haggerty later demonstrated to Bierdeman that his “cargo” had disappeared, the two men climbed into Haggerty’s patrol car and headed south. They didn’t have to go far — just across the Kenai River bridge.
“Here’s the guy kind of sitting right in the middle of the road,” Creary said. “When Paul had come into town, he’d hit a little frost heave, and the guy just raised up and he drove out from underneath him. And he just sat in the road there for a while.”
Fortunately for the dead man, traffic in those days was not particularly heavy.
Haggerty took charge of the body. Then Bierdeman, said Creary, probably returned to the bar, and for a few days the frozen man was a hot topic in that establishment.
Vandals may have forgotten punch line
When vandals disabled most of the school buses in Soldotna on a cold January night in 1972, they may have thought they were clever, but they had overlooked one obvious drawback to their actions.
On the night of Tuesday, Jan. 11, two individuals parked a vehicle on the far side of the chain-link fence that surrounded the bus lot behind the bowling alley in town. As determined by Soldotna Police Chief Charlie Decker — who examined the clear tracks they had left in the snow at the site of their crime — they cut a hole in the fence and climbed through. They then walked among the buses, cutting off heating-cable connections so that the buses would not start Wednesday morning.
Decker postulated that the vandals might have believed they would be gaining an extra day off from school through their actions. They were correct — up to a point. Since not enough buses could be started the following morning, school in Soldotna was, indeed, canceled.
In fact, since someone in Kenai — Decker thought it might be the same pair — also jerked out the heating cables on one of the buses serving that city’s schools, attendance for some students in Kenai was also disrupted.
Burton Carver, the area bus contractor, said that repairs would cost hundreds of dollars. The police announced that they had a lead and were asking for more information. And the school district reminded students that schools were required by the state to make up missed days, and it was thought most likely that the makeup day would be plucked from an upcoming vacation period — say, Easter or spring break.
Modernity, 1973 style
The central Kenai Peninsula had seen nothing like this before, according to reports in the local newspapers. B&B Independent Bi-Lo Food Stores reopened in grand style in Soldotna on Aug. 9, 1973 — only five months after groundbreaking plans were announced in March, and only four months after the old store became a victim of arson and burned to the ground in April.
The new store, about where The Fitness Place is today, boasted 16,800 square feet of floor space under the roof of the largest clear-span building in Alaska. Other improvements included more than 300 lineal feet of grocery shelves and more than 300 feet of produce, frozen foods and dairy products.
B&B, under the direction of owner/operator Doyle Jowers, would be the first area grocery to offer takeout food. It would also feature a “gossip corner” with a coffee bar, and more than 1 acre of paved parking.
Finally, according to one story, “meat packaging, weighing and labeling (would be) handled on an endless belt machine that is controlled by a computer.”
What would Charles Dickens think?
This is a William P. Frith painting of Charles Dickens’ Dolly Varden character from the novel, “Barnaby Rudge.” The 19th century painting is featured online on David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page.
Dolly Varden (Salvelinus malma) — the char that we call a trout — swim throughout the Kenai River system and, along with their cousins the Arctic char, inhabit hundreds of lakes and streams throughout Southcentral Alaska. It is perhaps their ubiquitous nature that causes residents to take their unusual name for granted.
We have Charles Dickens to thank for that appellation, although he never knew anything about the naming since he was dead when the dubbing occurred. Dickens died in 1870, and the first recorded use of “Dolly Varden” as the name for a fish occurred just a few years later.
Dolly Varden — before it was the name of a fish — was the name of a character in the Dickens novel “Barnaby Rudge,” originally published in serialized installments between February and November 1841. Dolly was the attractive young daughter of Gabriel Varden, an honest town locksmith and a key character in the novel, and she was known particularly for her style of dress, which actually spawned a “Dolly Varden fashion craze” in England in the 1870s.
Chapter 19 of “Barnaby Rudge” describes Dolly this way:
“As to Dolly, there she was again, the very pink and pattern of good looks, in a smart little cherry-coloured mantle, with a hood of the same drawn over her head, and upon the top of that hood, a little straw hat trimmed with cherry-coloured ribbons, and worn the merest trifle on one side — just enough in short to make it the wickedest and most provoking head-dress that ever malicious milliner devised.”
Dolly Varden the fish can be equally colorful, particularly at spawning time. The sides of a Dolly Varden range from a muddy gray to an olive green and are speckled with yellowish to pinkish-yellow spots. The belly of a Dolly tends to be white, except during spawning time, when it can transform into brilliant shades from pink to red or from yellow to orange. The pectoral and pelvic fins of the Dolly have white front ridges and range from pale to brilliant pink or orange.
According to several reports, Western pioneers in America found this unfamiliar but colorful “trout” and named it after Dickens’ creation.