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Back in the old days...

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  • Back in the old days...

    I would like to honor the Alaskans of the past by learning how they lived back in the "old days". Knowledge of those days is fading with the passage of time. That's to be expected. But perhaps on this thread we can save and preserve some of what the old-timers knew and what they did.

    I've somewhat arbitrarily chosen 1975 as the end of the "old days". It's the year the Trans Alaska Pipeline construction began. Much in the state has changed since then, but the years up to 1975 are still recent enough that there are many Alaskans who remember them.

    1) Let's keep the posts on these topics: bush or village living in the "old days" up until 1975.

    2) First hand stories, recollections, reminiscences are best usually beginning with: "I remember when..."

    3) Second hand stories can be good too: "My tough-as-nails grandpa used to tell me about how..."

    Here are some sample topics:

    How often people left the bush to visit civilization.
    If hunting and fishing were easier or harder then and why.
    What proportion of people failed to make it through a season or a year, and returned to civilization.
    If village life was much more common than living alone or in small groups.
    How many families there were.
    When chainsaw use became common.
    Whether growing food was practical.
    How people defended food in gardens from wildlife.
    If anybody even grew food in gardens.
    If people often bartered instead of using cash.
    Whether cabins were smaller.
    How most cabins were built: to last or to be abandoned.
    What happened to those who fell through river ice.
    What people did to treat themselves for injuries or sickness.
    If bush dwellers were tougher then or not and why.

    Of course, there are endless topics from the "old days". Don't be limited by these. Let's keep the three points listed above in mind though, so that this thread can be successful.

  • #2
    Oh the stories that could be told, lol. I came up here in 64 at the age of 4, and things were harder, but easier at that time.

    I'll have to post on this thread at another time as I have a head cold right now. (good thread)


    • #3
      How most cabins were built: to last or to be abandoned?

      This concept interests me as I run across the ruins of cabins and compare the construction techniques of those ruins to modern log cabins. When I see a pole and sod roof collapsed in on itself I can't help but think that the builder would have seen that coming, but probably did not have any other means, being unable to haul in sheets of metal and rolls of tar paper? I also deduce that the pole and sod roof probably lasted as long as the cabin was in use, and was quite possibly abandoned for better trapping/mining grounds well before the demise of the roof.

      The same thing with setting sill logs directly on the ground or chinking the logs with moss instead of doing a full length lateral scribe fit. I know as I raced the clock in a remote area, my concern would be with the coming winter, and not whether the cabin would be here in 20 years.

      Just my speculation though as I wasn't there:-)

      I wonder how many people grew food in gardens? Potatoes are relatively fire and forget (heck they grow in your pantry) and a good source of starches.

      Good thread, looking forward to hearing some more insight...


      • #4
        The homesteaders that built across from our cabin on the lake were tough as nails and they build to last. They started out in the mid fifties by homesteading two parcels before they were married. Both were pilots and their place included a landing strip that he used to used to commute to his business in Anchorage. While I am not sure what they started with, the homestead that we were familiar with when we bought our place included a massive main house, plus several large out buildings. They also had a beautiful lawn that was several acres and ran down to the lake. They were "off the grid" until about 4 years ago so lived there for better than 50 years with no utilities.

        I always wondered how they put the lawn in since everything in that area below the top 4 or 5 inches is gravel. When she passed away, a story about her told how she would take the kids to school every morning and then stop by and load the trunk of her car with top soil and empty it out at the homestead and spread it around. I can't even begin to imagine how many loads that took.


        • #5
          Originally posted by rifleman View Post
          Whether cabins were smaller.
          How most cabins were built: to last or to be abandoned.
          Well lets go back a hundred years or so, folks not in the few towns would build log cabins. The better builders were Scandinavians. Finns and Swedes that possessed old world skills and could put up a place quicker than you might imagine. Once the walls were up they would whipsaw lumber for the flooring and ceiling with a two man crosscut in a saw pit or on a platform.
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          The roofing would be hand split shingles made from the straightest grain spruce they could find.
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          But moving on in time...when frame construction became common with the homesteaders of the forties and fifties they didn't borrow money to build their places because work was not steady. They usually started with a small frame cabin and added onto to it if they had a good season commercial fishing or whatever livelihood they pursued. They weren't built to any code but to whatever the builders pocketbook at the time would allow. People didn't go into debt like they do today.

          The towns were different though, frame construction was common a hundred years ago in those places. Historical photos of the larger towns, before Anchorage was born in 1915, such as Seward and Seldovia show lots of frame homes and buildings. But most of the homesteaders were out of towns. Anyone with a completed home when I was young was considered rich.


          • #6
            The things that stand out to me growing up on a homestead...

            There was a innocence about it. I never really knew how innocent we were, unworldly, until I went outside to college. Now that was an eye opener being out in the real world for a while. Don't get me wrong, boys will be boys growing up but I really didn't understand evil very well until I left the state. I think the innocence could be traced back to living on an isolated property with a greater community we knew around us. As all small communities everything centered around the school and activities there.

            The lack of outside influence. With no electricity for several years there was no tv which led to people spending a lot of time visiting. People would come live with us for days and days and visit and we did the same. When it was just us, there were lots of card games by coleman lantern night after night.

            Everybody knew everybody for quite a wide range. And that was true into the early 1970's. When we would go into town or driving from Soldotna to Happy Valley I would know almost everyone I saw and I could name every homestead along the highway. Well, back then it was a gravel road south of Soldotna. Now I go into Soldotna and I hardly see anyone I know, and the ones I do see are looking pretty old. Not everyone ages well unfortunately.

            We lived by the seasons. And I expect a lot of folks here on this forum still do that because they fish and hunt. But I remember doing things just because it was the season...planting, fishing, clamming, hunting, firewood, berry picking, etc. When it was time to harvest thats what everyone did.

            After summers...I always looked forward to going back to school. We didn't have running water so it got a little old taking a bath out of a bucket on the stove. Man, that first hot shower each fall was like heaven. On the homestead it was my job to get water. I would go down to the river and pack it back up to the cabin in buckets. Later, the state put in an artesian well down by the bridge so we would drive up there and pack it back. I've drank many years out of the Kasilof R. and Tustumena L. and never filtered a drop.

            Nobody locked their doors back then, that didn't start until later when the population grew.

            I remember growing up on moose steak and fried potatoes with white gravy and every once in a while blueberry cobbler. My moms 83 now, last year she asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I told her a homemade blueberry cobbler just like she made in the old days.


            • #7
              I graduated from a class of 13 students. Pretty small huh ? The kids at school ranged between Anchor Point all the way up to Kasilof. Whats funny is I was in a job interview one time and they asked me about my high school activities and I told them I was the senior class president. Well they liked that for sure and all of them were scribbling something down on a piece of paper about it...I just didn't bother to tell them it was a class of 13. haha. I got the job.


              • #8
                I graduated from a class of 13 students.
                So did I, in 1987 and one of those was an exchange student from Germany. Susitna Valley High draws students from 60 miles of Parks Highway as well as the 15 miles of the Talkeetna Spur Rd.
                Bunny Boots and Bearcats: Utility Sled Mayhem


                • #9
                  Some more reflections on homestead life...

                  You didn't throw away much. You saw value in junk items. Very little was trash. If you needed a piece of wire or a bolt and a nut you went down and stripped it off a vehicle that didn't run any more and recycled it. Not because you were green, but because there was no money.

                  There were no dumps back then that I know of. If it was totally useless each homestead would have a place on them they threw things away at, which usually attracted black bears.

                  The adults were pretty active in keeping us entertained during the long winter, summers took care of themselves. I know this sounds kinda corny, but they would have square dances for us down at the school. Actually it was a lot of fun. Dosey do and promenade left. They would also show movies for us in a community building. I think the first movie I saw was in 1960 in soldotna at the quonset hut. We used to shovel off the snow in the winter from the Kasilof River and ice skate in the dark. In soldotna they put up a tow rope and we would ski down a hill on old military surplus skis. I think they still call that ski hill road that goes to the wildlife refuge headquarters. Back then, it was the only road south of soldotna, the highway took a new path.

                  When we finally did get phones, it was a party line. Which means people could pick up and listen in to the conversation. So you had to be careful what you said, especially if you were talking to your girl.

                  Commercial fishing ruled. Sport fishing has been around a long, long time but in the 60's it was nothing compared to commercial fishing. Traffic on the Kenai was practically non-existent. It was in the 70's that sport fishing really took off.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Rock_skipper View Post
                    Oh the stories that could be told, lol. I came up here in 64 at the age of 4, and things were harder, but easier at that time.

                    I'll have to post on this thread at another time as I have a head cold right now. (good thread)
                    Rock skipper: I hope you're getting to feel better. I'm looking forward to reading a story from you about the old days or a story from people you were fortunate to have known.


                    • #11
                      tustumena lake: Thanks for your outstanding posts. I hope you'll consider adding another story, observation, or anecdote from time to time as something comes to mind. I am curious about the kind of planting your family and neighbors used to do in the old days.

                      There are quite a few old timers who I've read on these Alaska Outdoor Forums. Anything you'd care to reminisce about would be avidly read. And for those under 40, don't forget the stories you heard from old-timers are also valuable.

                      Remember, the sample topics at the beginning of this thread are suggested examples. There is almost no end to the possibilities. In fact another topic just occurred to me: how did people get around? On foot, snowshoes, snowmachines, propeller-driven boats (before jet boats), canoes, airplanes, etc? Did people travel a little or a lot, seasonally, or year-round?

                      Whether a couple of paragraphs, or a couple of sentences, it would all be welcome!


                      • #12
                        In 1969 while living on Kodiak Island, the best thing I could get was when I went to town and bought a 1/2 gallon of liquid milk, the taste was great. Most of the time we had powdered milk. I lived on the West side of the Island and the plane was the only way to get to town. To take the boat would have been to far for the skiff we had, we could not carry enough fuel to make it. We used to go seal hunting around the set nets to help keep the nets from getting torn up by the seals. We would put a person out on a rock at low tide so we had firm footing to shoot the seals, if you watch thru the scope and shot when the seal took a big breath just before going under, the seal would float. We also had a grappling hook if it sank. Some times the tide would come in before we got picked up off the rock and the water would get knee deep, standing a few hundred yards off shore. My buddies would circle the rock sometimes and wait till the hip boots were almost ready to get soaked, then they would come and pick us up. Many nights we would sleep on the beach with just a blanket, behind a log. One time the brown bear kept getting into the food locker, so I took a broom and hit the bear on the rump to scare it out of the area. Finally the fish and game had to come and dart it and take it to another small Island, on the way over in the skiff the bear started to wake up, we made a mad dash to the shore, thru the bear out on the beach and got out of there. He did not like the rough treatment, but what else should you do with a waking bear in a skiff. Many more stories to be told.


                        • #13
                          Awesome stories! Please keep them coming!!!


                          • #14
                            The old days are still here in Alaska if you get off the highway. Outhouses and hauling water is still normal to many with little store bought food.
                            Now left only to be a turd in the forrest and the circle will be complete.Use me as I have used you


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