Category Archives: Almanac

Almanac: Stamp of approval — 1st postmaster fondly recalls Soldotna life

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part story about two of Soldotna’s earliest settlers — Howard and Maxine Lee. Last week, Part One followed the Lees from their World War II naval involvement to their earliest homesteading efforts in the first half of 1948. Part Two begins later in 1948 and reveals how the Lees integrated into fledgling Soldotna society, and how their adventure in Alaska abruptly ended. The documents used for the Lees’ quotes in this story were provided by the Soldotna Historical Society.

Photo courtesy of the KPC Historical Photo Archive. Howard and Maxine Lee pose with their children, Karen and Michael, next to their Soldotna homestead cabin in 1950.

Photo courtesy of the KPC Historical Photo Archive. Howard and Maxine Lee pose with their children, Karen and Michael, next to their Soldotna homestead cabin in 1950.

By Clark Fair

Redoubt Reporter

Although much of early homesteading life required more sweat equity than capital, most residents near the highway junction that would later be called Soldotna sought ways to bring in extra income. The Lancashire family raised chickens and began clearing land for farming. The Mullen family also raised chickens and created a large garden so they could sell vegetables. Many locals tried their hand at commercial fishing.

In 1948, Howard and Maxine Lee opened a general store in the back of their 60-by-30-foot Quonset hut on their Soldotna homestead.

“My childhood was involved to a large extent in my family’s grocery business,” Howard said. “I wrote a wholesaler in Seattle and put in an order.”

He erected shelves in the back half of the Quonset and found a trucker in Seward who would haul his first load of merchandise to Soldotna.

“We marked prices very low since we had no overhead and we were ignorant,” said Maxine, who was pregnant at the time with their son, Michael. “We sold out in no time, so we reordered. This time there was a huge storm and the barge sank.”

The merchandise had been insured, but they had to pay new shipping costs when they reordered. Later, the wholesaler informed the Lees that they needed a business license, which could not be acquired locally. Almost as quickly as they had begun, the Lees were out of the grocery business.

They stayed plenty busy, however.

Most days, Howard walked two miles to the Lancashire homestead to work with Larry on his portable sawmill, trimming local timber for house logs, first to replace the Lancashires’ wall tent and then the Lees’ Quonset hut.

In 1949, as Howard and Maxine’s new home neared completion, the Lees dug their own well. As usual, their memoirs vary on the details.

Maxine remembered the effort this way:

“Howard dug a well. It was either 18 or 20 feet deep — I forget. After it was about six feet deep, he rigged up a pulley system. He filled a bucket with dirt and gravel, yelled at me, then raised it up. I got it and dumped it around new cabin to serve as ground insulation. We were finally emancipated (from hauling water) when the well pump arrived from Seward and we pumped up real water from our own well.”

Howard recalled it differently:

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Almanac: Lees leave a postmark — Homesteaders have big impact in short time in Soldotna

Photo courtesy of Michael Lee. Newlyweds Howard and Maxine Lee pose, in uniform, after their 1945 marriage in a chapel in Vero Beach, Florida.

Photo courtesy of Michael Lee. Newlyweds Howard and Maxine Lee pose, in uniform, after their 1945 marriage in a chapel in Vero Beach, Florida.

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part story about two of Soldotna’s earliest settlers — Howard and Maxine Lee. Next week, Part Two will reveal how the Lees integrated into fledgling Soldotna society, and how their time in Alaska abruptly ended. The documents used for the Lees’ quotes in this story were provided by the Soldotna Historical Society.

By Clark Fair

Redoubt Reporter

In 1945, Irvin Howard Lee and Thelma Maxine McLaughlin pledged their undying love to each other in holy matrimony. Six years later, despite those vows and the romance of an Alaska adventure together, their love had expired.

Early in 1951, Maxine quit her job, packed up her two children and left Howard alone on their Soldotna homestead. She bolted from Alaska, returned to college, earned a teaching certificate, filed for divorce, split the Soldotna property with Howard and eventually entered into a second, happier and much longer-lasting marriage.

Howard, meanwhile, tried to tough it out in Soldotna, but his interest soon shifted elsewhere. By November, he had left Alaska and began working construction in various parts of the country. In March 1952, the lure of further adventure inspired him to re-enlist in the military and accept deployment in Korea.

Originally from San Francisco, Howard died at age 75 in 1999. Maxine, who hailed from Pocatello, Idaho, died last month, just one week shy of her 95th birthday.

Although their physical presence in Soldotna was fleeting, both Howard and Maxine helped shape the community, and their legacy lives on in the land and the home they left behind.

Decades after their departure from Soldotna, Howard and Maxine wrote brief but colorful memoirs of their time together in Alaska. Howard’s undated writing — in which he never mentions Maxine by name, referring to her only as “my wife” — is titled “Reminiscent Ramblings of Early Soldatna.” Maxine’s untitled writing is dated Sept. 7, 2003. Perhaps like Howard and Maxine themselves, those reminiscences do not always agree.

Both Maxine and Howard served with the U.S. Navy in World War II. An aviator and later an experimental night fighter pilot instructor, Howard was stationed at Vero Beach, Florida, when he wed Maxine, a member of the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), which was at that time the women’s branch of the U.S. Naval Reserve.

After their daughter, Karen, was born, the Lees were becoming “increasingly disenchanted with the regimental life in the Navy” and were seeking some form of escape, according to Maxine. Howard also recalled “very trying circumstances,” but he recounted them with greater clarity.

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Almanac: Short-timer, long legacy — Howard Binkley has joking title of area’s 1st realtor

Photo by Ray Sandstrom, courtesy of the Kenai Peninsula Historical Photo Repository. Howard J. Binkley poses in 1952 in front of a log house on his homestead property in Soldotna. The two-story structure had a propane cookstove complemented by a good woodpile. Early in the 21st century, this structure was moved to a location off East Redoubt Avenue and was nicely restored. Binkley spent only a handful of years in this home before returning to his native Pennsylvania.

Photo by Ray Sandstrom, courtesy of the Kenai Peninsula Historical Photo Repository. Howard J. Binkley poses in 1952 in front of a log house on his homestead property in Soldotna. The two-story structure had a propane cookstove complemented by a good woodpile. Early in the 21st century, this structure was moved to a location off East Redoubt Avenue and was nicely restored. Binkley spent only a handful of years in this home before returning to his native Pennsylvania.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

Author’s note: Sometimes tracking down local history is akin to prospecting with a gold pan — many attempts may yield only a few flakes. Occasionally, though, a small nugget appears. Tracking down the nuggets in this story would have been impossible without the generosity of many individuals, particularly Al Hershberger, Barbara Jewell and Brent Johnson.

In May 1947, when 40-year-old Howard Binkley first arrived in what would someday be called Soldotna, one of his primary concerns was safety. “I built a cache first and slept on it. Was afraid of bears,” he recalled in a 1964 letter. “It’s a wonder I never fell off.”

Fortunately, Binkley kept his balance, even as he slumbered, and was able to stake the very first 160-acre Soldotna parcel — a move that would benefit settlers and commercial enterprises for decades to come.

Intent on homesteading, Binkley had traveled from Anchorage. After a railroad ride to Moose Pass he likely came on foot, over a muddy, earth-scraped path destined to become the Sterling Highway. He discovered that two men had beaten him to the area, brothers Marcus and Alexander Bodnar, by a matter of a few weeks. Alex was staking a tract of land at Big Eddy on the Kenai River, while Marcus had selected a riverside property adjacent to the spot where the Alaska Road Commission would erect a bridge the following summer.

The land Binkley selected straddled the new highway. South of the highway today, Binkley’s homestead encompasses everything from the western edge of Soldotna Creek Park to the David Douthit Memorial Bridge, including the present-day sites of Arby’s, Dairy Queen, Blazy Mall, Riverside House, Johnson Tire, Hooligans, Odie’s Deli and First National Bank of Alaska.

North of the highway, the homestead’s roughly L-shaped perimeter includes the current sites of Soldotna United Methodist Church, Safeway, McDonald’s, the Peninsula Center Mall, Kaladi Brothers, the police and fire departments, Wells Fargo and the Maverick Bar.

One of the first homesteaders to receive patent to his land, Binkley also became the first to subdivide. He was particularly generous to nonhomesteading families, and he simplified the real estate process for them.

“Since there were no surveyors in the area, Binkley told prospective buyers to just go select a piece and mark it with tape on the trees,” wrote longtime Soldotna resident Marge Mullen for the Kenai Peninsula Historical Photo Repository.

When Binkley left Alaska in the mid- to late 1950s, he sold off all his remaining lots. The original homestead he left behind now consists of more than 150 individual parcels, including several (with improvements) valued at more than a million dollars. Small wonder that he is sometimes referred to jokingly as “Soldotna’s first realtor.”

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Almanac: Hello again, Dolly —  Book recalls life, voice of pioneering homesteader

dolly Immigrant's Daughter coverBy Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

Dolly Farnsworth was, in her own words, “in a blind fury.” Grabbing a rifle, she headed for the door.

It was the summer of 1954 in Soldotna. While husband, Jack, worked nearby at the site of their Y Service Station, Dolly was inside their home, tending to their infant twin daughters when she heard a vehicle crunching along the graveled and seldom-traveled Sterling Highway. Wondering if it might be someone she knew, she turned away from the girls and toward the window.

About 200 feet away, a car she did not recognize pulled up next to the station, where Jack had been piling tools and equipment he hoped to salvage after a recent fire. Dolly was perplexed to see four men emerge from the car, open their trunk, and begin filling it with Jack’s salvage items.

The next thing she noticed was Jack approaching the men suddenly, a large bung wrench dangling from one hand.

“What the hell do you think you are doing?” Jack yelled.

The men continued filling their trunk. One of them took a step toward Jack.

And inside Dolly, a switch flipped.

She was already angry about the fire, an act of arson that had burned to the ground Soldotna’s first gas station and destroyed a $6,000 Farnsworth investment. That someone would then steal from the ruins and threaten her husband brought her simmering anger rapidly to a boil.

Leaving the babies on the bed, her hands suddenly wielding a Remington 30.06, she raced outside.

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Almanac: McKinley: Bad name evoking bad decisions

Photo courtesy of whitehouse.gov. William McKinley, the 25th president of the United States.

Photo courtesy of whitehouse.gov. William McKinley, the 25th president of the United States.

By Brent Johnson, for the Redoubt Reporter

The name “McKinley” is out in Alaska. That’s appropriate for two reasons. First, the mountain’s Koyukon Athabascan name was always better because it meant “the high one.” Second, President McKinley’s reputation in Alaska is low. Here’s why:

There once was a crook named Alexander Mackenzie, who was a Republican national committeeman from North Dakota. In 1883, McKenzie succeeded in getting the capitol of Dakota Territory moved from Yankton to Bismark, where he owned property.

McKenzie had an ear for money and learned of the gold strike in Nome. And he heard that foreigners (often called “the three lucky Swedes”) had filed first and got the best claims. McKenzie thought he could use an irritant against immigrants to steal their good fortune.

Turns out that two of the foreigners were already naturalized citizens, and also that the mining laws allowed for foreigners to participate. So McKenzie tried to change the laws to gain an opportunity to seize the mother lode based on race. When that effort failed, he simply took the law into his own hands.

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Lot lines to discern — Before Kenai could grow, Uncle Sam needed to be in the know

Image courtesy of Shana Loshbaugh. The original townsite map of what is now known as Old Town Kenai was created by surveyor Elliott Pearson, starting in 1951 and revised in 1954. The village of Kenai developed before modern-day subdivision standards came to Alaska. Note that the spit of land seen bottom left has now largely eroded with the crumbling bluff above the mouth of the Kenai River.

Image courtesy of Shana Loshbaugh. The original townsite map of what is now known as Old Town Kenai was created by surveyor Elliott Pearson, starting in 1951 and revised in 1954. The village of Kenai developed before modern-day subdivision standards came to Alaska. Note that the spit of land seen bottom left has now largely eroded with the crumbling bluff above the mouth of the Kenai River.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Joanna Hollier moved to Kenai long before it gained its “Village with a Past, City with a Future” motto. Before it was even a city, when the village’s past was the present. When Old Town Kenai was just Kenai.

“I came here in August of ’46, and there was no roads. I mean, no getting around with cars and what not. So we were more or less out there in old town, or Kenai — it was just called Kenai at that time — was downtown at that time,” she said.

Hollier came to town to work with the Civil Aeronautics Administration, the precursor to the Federal Aviation Administration, and has lived here through the town’s most dramatic period of change, as described by historian Shana Loshbaugh at a meeting of the Kenai Historical Society on Sunday at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.

“Back in the early part of the 20th century, Kenai was basically an offroad Native village, like so many in Alaska still are,” Loshbaugh said. “It had a lot of Russian influence, the big industry in the area was the canneries. But really very different from what we have today. There were a lot of changes that started about 1940 to 1960, which is really when Kenai morphed from the village to city. As of the time of the beginning of World War II, you can see Kenai was pretty isolated, didn’t have a good port, no roads. The 20th century, however, was slowly coming to Kenai.”

Hollier worked for one of the biggest agents of change in Kenai — aviation. In 1926, the first plane came to Kenai, and the first “airstrip” was established in 1937.

“And basically little planes could land on the road just over here on Overland Drive,” Loshbaugh said.

The village got airmail service in 1930, though by the end of the ’30s mail service stopped because the community was seen as too small, and residents had to go to Kasilof for their mail.

But World War II was brewing, and the federal government saw Alaska as an integral part.

“Now, the war is when the changes really started happening in this area,” Loshbaugh said. “When the United States was not part of the war effort there were a lot of national leaders who really had a premonition that the U.S. was going to get dragged into it and there were also people who recognized the strategic importance of Alaska so they started sending federal resources to Alaska and ramping up for a potential war effort in this area.”

In March 1941, the military reserved a huge chunk of land — two to three square miles — just outside the Kenai village site, from the bluff adjacent to where the Kenai Senior Citizens Center is now, out into the wetlands north of town. In December, Pearl Harbor was attacked, and the U.S. officially joined the fight. In 1942, the CAA built a 5,000-foot airstrip in Kenai, which has turned into the airport we have today. It didn’t end up having much role in the war effort, but had a huge role in transforming Kenai.

“It was the war that brought this airfield to Kenai and it was set up to be a major airport that they could use in an emergency situation,” Loshbaugh said. “So that’s basically what Kenai got out of World War II was the airstrip. And when the Air Force and the military wound down and the war ended the airstrip stayed, and by 1945 the descriptions show that the Civil Aeronautics Administration that ran it was one of the major employers in the Village of Kenai.”

Road access was the next big change for the then-little community. In 1946, surveying for the Sterling Highway began, and the road was dedicated in 1950, with the Kenai Spur Highway completed not long after.

“At that point the population of Kenai in the official census in 1950 was 321. That’s less than 10 more than had been 10 years before, so Kenai was still a little bitty place at that point, but things were on the move. Next thing they get electricity,” Loshbaugh said.

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Grave concern — Volunteers undertake cemetery preservation

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Tracy Miller, president of the Totem Tracers genealogical society, examines the remains of the Kasilof Boat Harbor Cemetery. The group is trying to preserve the site and expound on its history.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Tracy Miller, president of the Totem Tracers genealogical society, examines the remains of the Kasilof Boat Harbor Cemetery. The group is trying to preserve the site and expound on its history.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Up until about a year ago, you wouldn’t think there was anything special about the seemingly vacant lot along the last bend of Kasilof Beach Road before reaching the north beach of the river mouth.

But there’s more than just untamed grass sprinkled with trees and wildflowers, and littered with trash, toilet paper flags and other evidence of the illicit camping and vandalism that’s plagued the area during fishing season. There are indications of habitation that have stood for a century, but without intervention, won’t be standing for much longer.

That’s where Tracy Miller and the Totem Tracers genealogical society come in. The group has taken it upon itself to preserve the old Kasilof Boat Harbor Cemetery before the little-known burial site is lost to all but history.

“It’s an abandoned cemetery, it needed some help. These people, their headstones were made well enough that somebody cared enough for it to last over time. So I think that our generation at least should pick up and make sure that maybe they’ll last another 50 years, or 100 years,” Miller said.

In the late 1970s, the Totem Tracers set out to catalog all graves on the Kenai Peninsula, from Hope to Homer, and produced a book of their findings in 1983, which was updated in 2004.

“The genealogical society, we like dead people,” Miller said. “We like the history of it. We get a lot of local people trying to find relatives, and we’re hoping to be able to at least give them a little bit of help.”

The project unearthed a lot of interesting history, and one of the most intriguing finds was the Kasilof burial site. There are four century-old graves surrounded by wood picket fences, with 5-foot-tall, rounded, cedar plank-grave markers affixed to the fences, bearing raised lettering still legible today.

The oldest says, “In memory of William Freeman, a native of Finland. Aged 65 years. Died Sept. 30, 1906.” Next is Alex Benson, of Sweden, who died at age 38 on May 6, 1907. Harry Mason, of Norway, died June 4, 1915, at age 67.

A grave marker from the cemetery made its way to storage in the anthropology lab at Kenai Peninsula College after it was apparently stolen from the site.

A grave marker from the cemetery made its way to storage in the anthropology lab at Kenai Peninsula College after it was apparently stolen from the site.

The fourth marker is no longer at the site. It’s believed to have been stolen around 1980, and was discovered in a ditch around 1990. Soldotna Police found it and it ended up with Dr. Alan Boraas, anthropology professor at Kenai Peninsula College, who has been storing it in the school’s anthropology lab. It reads, “In memory of Fred Sandel, a native of Finland, aged 70, died Oct. 9, 1925.”

Another marker was documented in the book, as well — a long, thin board that is thought to mark a mass grave of Chinese men. And one newer grave, for Peter Bates Walker, born May 10, 1935, died Oct. 31, 1982, who lived next to the cemetery, also is at the site.

Other than Bates being noted as “Good father, husband, friend,” there is no further information about those buried beneath the markers. No epitaphs to hint at who they were, what happened to them, or why four Scandinavians and an undetermined number of Chinese men were living, much less buried, in Kasilof around the turn of the century.

The Totem Tracers don’t know much for sure, but they’d like to find out. First, though, this summer, they’d like to preserve the history, and then in the winter start working on the mystery.

“It’s history and I have a fascination for cemeteries, genealogy. I just want to know who these people were,” Miller said.

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Stake a claim — Soldotna holds title at end of U.S. homesteading era

Map courtesy of Bureau of Land Management. This map shows in red all homesteads in Alaska from 1898-1988, from a 2012 brochure, “History of Alaska Homesteading,” released by the Bureau of Land Management to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Homestead Act of 1862.

Map courtesy of Bureau of Land Management. This map shows in red all homesteads in Alaska from 1898-1988, from a 2012 brochure, “History of Alaska Homesteading,” released by the Bureau of Land Management to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Homestead Act of 1862.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Shana Loshbaugh came to the Kenai Peninsula under circumstances familiar to many who settled here before her. She moved up from the Lower 48 to live with her husband, Doug, in 1981, looking for opportunity and adventure, being immediately awed by the natural landscape, and taking a little longer to discover the greater nature of the place.

“I think it’s just full of surprises. When I first came here I was like a lot of people, ‘Oh, beautiful wilderness and animals and pristine nature,’ sort of the pretty face of the Kenai Peninsula. And then I started finding things that maybe didn’t quite make sense and started asking more questions,” she said. “I just gradually over time became obsessed with Kenai Peninsula history when I realized it was so interesting and so little of it had been actually pulled together and made public and published in accessible ways, and so I started digging around and the more I learn about it, the more interesting it gets.”

Loshbaugh, who holds a doctorate degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in environmental history and now lives in Anchor Point, wanted a piece of the peninsula to call her own. In that regard she was a lot like the settlers about which she was speaking at the Kenai Historical Society meeting on Sunday at the Nikiski Senior Center. Her presentation was on homesteading on the Kenai Peninsula, and she had some experts in the room.

“Let me ask a question, though, with this group of people, how many people in this room were homesteaders?”

About 10 people in the packed conference room raised their hands.

“So I don’t know if I can tell you anything you don’t already know about this, but for the other folks in the room … ,” she began.

Owning a piece of the Kenai Peninsula hasn’t always been as straightforward as a real estate purchase is today. Back when the U.S. bought Alaska from Russia in 1867, the matter was complicated.

“Who owned the Kenai? Well, technically the federal government owned it. Why? Because they bought it from the Tsarist government, which claimed that they owned it. This of course was a big surprise to lot of the people that actually lived in Alaska, who didn’t have anything to do with either of these governments,” Loshbaugh said.

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View from Out West: New Skilak book not quite a breeze

Winds of Skilak cover 1By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter My expectations rise when I spy a memoir concerning one of my favorite places. I anticipate a good story, historical references, familiar landscapes and, I hope, new insights. Perhaps it was those heightened expectations that prompted the overall disappointment I felt recently in reading “Winds of Skilak.” The front cover of Bonnie Rose Ward’s 2013 memoir promises, “A Tale of True Grit, True Love and Survival in the Alaskan Wilderness.” And while the 390 pages between the covers deliver on much of that promise, they do so in mostly pedestrian, occasionally cloying prose that omits certain details and displays prominently the teary-eyed heart of the author. When I learned of this book a few months ago, I shopped for it almost immediately. I was excited to delve into an adventure on Skilak Lake. I’ve spent considerable time on and around the lake, and know that Skilak, while beautiful, can be cantankerous, even dangerous. I have enjoyed hiking and exploring the woods, drainages and mountains around its perimeter, and I’ve also avidly investigated the history of the area. Years ago, I read Ada White Sharples’ occasionally sanctimonious 1961 memoir, “Two Against the North,” about the mistake-prone attempt she and her husband, Jack, made to live on Skilak’s southern shore in the late 1930s. I had also interviewed Val Anderson about how his parents, Hjalmar (Andy) and Jessie Anderson, had homesteaded Caribou Island in 1924. When the Andersons homesteaded the 159 ¼-acre island, they were truly forging a home from the wilderness. Soldotna and Sterling did not yet exist. Cooper Landing, accessible by foot trail only, lay far upstream, above the Kenai River canyon, and the village of Kenai lay 50 miles downstream. Construction of the Sterling Highway was more than two decades away. No road of any kind led to the lake. At the mouth of Cottonwood Creek, on the southern shore, according to an unpublished manuscript by Catherine Cassidy and Gary Titus, big game guides Hank Lucas and Bill Kaiser had begun a fox farm in 1915. After Kaiser’s departure in 1922, Lucas had hooked up with George Nelson, and by 1935 they had established a hunting lodge at that location. Other than occasional hunters, however, the lake had few visitors. Most, according to Titus and Cassidy, were like the Fairbanks retirees Mr. and Mrs. G.W. Keys, who in 1934 attempted to create a home in Egyptian Bay on the northern shore. After spending a summer building a log cabin in the protected cove, they apparently found life on the lake too tough and abandoned their new home. Life wasn’t much easier for the ill-prepared Sharpleses, and they might not have survived their first winter on the lake without assistance from the Andersons. Still, they did persevere at a time when lake residents were few and guided hunters and fishermen were still rare. Continue reading

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View From Out West: Life lived large — Troyer leaves lasting legacy on terrain, traveling partners

Photo by Calvin Fair, courtesy of Clark Fair. Will and Janeice Fair (now Amick) pause along the trail into the East Creek drainage in 1981.

Photo by Calvin Fair, courtesy of Clark Fair. Will and Janeice Fair (now Amick) pause along the trail into the East Creek drainage in 1981.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

What I recall most were his energetic, rollicking stories and his booming, hearty laugh. I also recall his alpine hat, often canted slightly backward, his love of fruit pie and a good after-dinner nap, and, primarily, the hunting trips he took with my father.

Almost as far back as I can remember, Will Troyer, who died Sept. 21, less than two weeks shy of his 89th birthday, was part of my father’s life. For more than four decades Dad and Will were devoted friends.

Although they hadn’t known each other back when they were boys, both had been Hoosiers, raised in the same part of the state, and they reminisced fondly about growing up in Indiana. In their early days together in Alaska — between hiking, hunting and fishing together — they strategized in tandem for the preservation of Alaska wilderness through the Kenai Conservation Society. They also united our families in a bond of friendship that has stretched across the years.

Photo by Calvin Fair, courtesy of Clark Fair . Troyer, Clark Fair (back to camera), Troyer’s son Eric, and one of Troyer’s early English setters rest after reaching Devil’s Pass in the Chugach Mountains prior to hunting for ptarmigan in 1971.

Photo by Calvin Fair, courtesy of Clark Fair . Troyer, Clark Fair (back to camera), Troyer’s son Eric, and one of Troyer’s early English setters rest after reaching Devil’s Pass in the Chugach Mountains prior to hunting for ptarmigan in 1971.

Our family met Will’s (wife, LuRue, and three children, Janice, Eric and Teresa) through the Kenai Methodist Church in about 1963, when the Troyers moved from Kodiak so Will could become the manager of the Kenai National Moose Range. A self-proclaimed “Amish/Mennonite farm boy,” Will spent 30 years working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service before retiring in 1981. Unlike many refuge managers today, Will continued to work in the field, flying aerial moose surveys and performing numerous other duties outside of the office.

He is largely responsible for the names of perhaps 200 lowland lakes on today’s Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, and he personally hand-cut many of the original portages on the refuge’s extensive canoe system. For the Park Service, he traveled widely across the state. After the Exxon Valdez oil spill, he assisted in damage assessment on Cook Inlet beaches, and in recent years he published three memoirs about his life.

Photo by Calvin Fair, courtesy of Clark Fair. Will and one of his setters catch a nap during an exhausting moose-packing session in 1972.

Photo by Calvin Fair, courtesy of Clark Fair. Will and one of his setters catch a nap during an exhausting moose-packing session in 1972.

Will had the resonating kind of voice that even my hard-of-hearing father could easily discern. Dad often found it unnecessary to turn up the volume on the telephone when Will would call about another outing. He didn’t need his hearing aids when Will was regaling us with stories around the dinner table.

With fond hearts for the out-of-doors, Dad and Will planned adventures together, continuing even after the Troyers moved away from the Kenai Peninsula. Their outings increased in the 1980s when Will and LuRue moved back, establishing their retirement home off Bean Creek Road in Cooper Landing.

For years, even when Dad was in his 60s and Will was in his 70s, they tromped down woodsy trails along Swanson River Road to stalk tasty grouse and took annual trips together to the rolling wheat fields of North Dakota to flush pheasants from the grain.

They also made frequent pilgrimages to Kodiak Island to bust through alders after nimble deer, and they climbed with their English setters into the upper drainages of Shaft Creek, East Creek and Devil’s Creek to blast at ptarmigan bolting from scattered copses of willow.

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Almanac: Memories rise in sweet visit — Betty Crocker’s niece explores family’s long-ago roots in Kasilof

By Brent Johnson
For the Redoubt Reporter

Photo courtesy of Shirley Crocker. Gay Crocker Pados, of Australia, visited her Kasilof roots recently.

Photo courtesy of Shirley Crocker. Gay Crocker Pados, of Australia, visited her Kasilof roots recently.

Betty Crocker’s niece was in for a sweet treat herself during a visit to Kasilof on Sept. 9. Gay Crocker Pados, 57, of Australia, is the daughter of Betty Crocker’s twin brother, Bill. Though Betty and Bill were born in Kasilof in 1935, the last time one of them had been here is about 15 years ago, when Betty came back for a couple years.
Betty, it must be told, is not connected to the brand of baking mixes sharing her name. But her life was genuine, whereas the name brand was created from scratch in 1921 — the name “Betty” sounding cheery and all-American, while Crocker was the last name of a director of the Washburn Crosby Company, which originally developed the brand.
For Kasilof, the Crocker story starts in the fall of 1924. That’s when 19-year-old Ardith “Slim” Crocker arrived. He was from Everett, Washington, but his parents, George Milton Crocker and Katrina Kryger Crocker, divorced about 1917, when Slim was 12. For some reason Slim went to Tustumena Lake and appears there on snowshoes in the Andrew Berg diary entry of Jan. 17, 1925. Berg, a big-game guide whose diary has been crafted into a book, called him, “The slim biscuit shooter.” Such a refined name indicates the men had met earlier. Slim himself wrote in his memorabilia that he stayed at Kasilof the winter of 1924-25.
Slim returned in the fall of 1927 and spent the ensuing winter working for Archie and Enid McLane. Archie was a farmer who often cut poles for fish traps during the winter. In 1928, Slim began building his house beside the Kasilof River, at the site where a little cabin stood. It was the original cabin of Pete Jensen and Pete Madson, who had worked for surveyors setting section corners and quarter corners in areas between Homer and Kenai from 1917 to 1920. Jensen and Madson settled in Kasilof to fox farm. Also in 1928, Slim went to work for the Alaska Guides Association as a big-game guide.

Photo from the Betty Crocker collection. Jessie Parsons stands in the doorway of “Miss Mac’s Lunch Room” in 1915, which was the start of Parsons Hotel in Anchorage.

Photo from the Betty Crocker collection. Jessie Parsons stands in the doorway of “Miss Mac’s Lunch Room” in 1915, which was the start of Parsons Hotel in Anchorage.

For the foundation of his house, Slim used pipe that turn-of-the-century gold miners had left by Indian Creek on Tustumena Lake. For three winters, 1928 through 1930, Archie McLane used a horse-drawn bobsled to bring logs to Slim’s home site. Then Abe Erickson, a Kasilof fox farmer and set-netter, built the house. He had the help of a couple local men in that endeavor. The 1930 census found Slim in Kasilof and listed his occupation as “trapper.”
In activities as a guide, Slim often stayed at the Parsons Hotel in Anchorage and flew with Frank Dorbandt, a famous Alaska pioneer aviator. Fred and Jessie Parsons began their hotel in 1915. Jessie was from Australia, and in 1931 she sent for her niece, 18-year-old Alice May Duncombe. Alice rode over on the Ventura and landed at San Francisco before continuing to Anchorage. She met Slim at the hotel and married him Dec. 28, 1931.

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View From Out West: Home in stead? Head bump, rough road molded author

Photo courtesy of Clark Fair. Old-school equipment was the only way to roll in homestead days, such as this rig used to dig a well on the Fair homestead in the 1960s.

Photo courtesy of Clark Fair. Old-school equipment was the only way to roll in homestead days, such as this rig used to dig a well on the Fair homestead in the 1960s.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter
Perhaps it should never have happened, but who’s to say?
It did happen, thus laying firmly into place a solid brick in the foundation of my character. Without this event, I am not the man I am today.
Even now, as I live in Dillingham on a high bluff above Nushagak Bay and remote from the Alaska road system, many of my actions and sensibilities are still governed by a half century of homestead life and the topography of the Kenai Peninsula.
If one man, whom I never knew, had not been bonked on the head all those many years ago, I might be writing, and living, a different story altogether.
I first learned of the event from the people next door.
Out on the homestead, Dan and Mary France were our neighbors — a mile away by gravel road, perhaps half that distance straight through the woods — for half a century. They’re still neighbors to our property, but no Fairs are currently living there. Renters occupy my old house, and my mother has sold her place and another small patch of woods on the other side of my parcel.
Dan and Mary actually were there before we even arrived in Soldotna in October 1960. They had moved onto their own 80-acre homestead in 1959 while Dad was still a dentist for the Army in Whittier, and it wasn’t until early spring 1962 that we moved from a Soldotna trailer court to our new home (which was separated from the Frances’ by the old Dave Thomas homestead).
For years, when I was a kid, I used to roam through the mix of black spruce, quaking aspen, cottonwood and paper birch on the remnants of a narrow, muddy, twisting old road that Dad had always called Dave’s Road — he had told me it was the route into the homesteads before Chas Foster built Forest Lane, which is the point of access used today.
Dave’s Road now is just broken pieces of mostly overgrown trail intersecting fields, driveways, nearby subdivisions and powerlines. In the fall in the old days, we tromped along its passageway in search of snowshoe hares and spruce grouse. In the winter, we employed it as a cross-country ski route. And on some summer days, we would drive our old Ford tractor down the road in search of spruce or birch trees to drag home and cut up for firewood.
Generally speaking, I don’t think about that old road much these days. But when I was visiting Dan and Mary a few years back, they offhandedly mentioned a guy named Stan Nelson and how he’d made this road. I asked for more information because I’d never heard of him.
Turns out that Stan Nelson was the original owner of the homestead on which I’ve lived nearly my entire life. It further turns out that because one day he gave up on his dream of homesteading, my family reaped the benefits. And the direction of my life settled on a 166-acre patch of ground stretching from a mixed-growth forest on a 200-foot riverine bluff to the banks of the Kenai River itself.

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