Pioneer Potluck: Ben’s boat wreck at Big Lake

1972, Big Lake, Alaska


Ben and wife, Nadene and son, Robbie, moved to Alaska from Lubbock, Texas in the late 1960’s to cash in the oil pipe line. Ben was an excellent welder. He and Robbie adapted well to the work and fun in Alaska. Poor Nadene tagged along so she would not miss anything. Her job was to scream and scold. They all had the deep Texas accent. The jovial Ben with his ever and always stories, sent smiles to everyone he talked with.

Ben built flat bottom river boats in his “exter” time. We spent a lot of time at Big Lake in his boat, water skiing (not me!) picnicking and running around the lake visiting with all the other boaters on the lake.

We had spent a long week cruising around the lake and it was time to go home to Eagle River. Robbie, Ben’s youngest 16-year-old son, had been bugging Ben to let him load the boat on the trailer.

“Wall, I-uh, guess ya’ ain’t gonna larn no younger,” Ben said, continuing with instruction on how you load a boat on a trailer. “Now, son, ya’ circle round and line yr-self up with this here trailer hitch, give her a little goose, then shut her down and she’ll glide right in thar on that thar trailer. You be careful son.”  

Ben climbed on the trailer hitch, hooked up to the old-old “yallar” school bus that was Bens motor home, to get things ready for Robbie to glide the boat onto the trailer.  Robbie carefully circled around, lined up the boat, Ben guiding him with one hand, hanging on with the other hand. Robbie glided into position, getting ready to “give her a little goose.” Ben yelled, “yar a little crook-it.” Robbie thinks he said “back off” and in his confusion of trying to please his Dad, instead of pulling the throttle back, he pushed the throttle full forward.

The boat jumped out of the water, up onto the boat trailer, slightly sideways to the right, hit the back of Ben’s old yellar bus, glanced off and got wedged “catty-wompus” between the yellar bus and the trailer tire, the boat motor roaring wide open. Robbie finally got the motor shut down. That’s when we heard him screaming at the top of his lungs. “I kilt ma’ Dad!  I kilt ma’ Dad!  Oh! No! What did I do?  I kilt him – I kilt him!” 

Then he started sobbing uncontrollably with his head on the steering wheel of the boat. 

Nadene was in the bus, getting things locked down and ready to move out. She heard the loud ruckus and the boat slam into the back of the bus, jolting it forward. She came screaming out of the bus, scolding, “Wat ya’ all a-doin? Ya’ jest knocked me off ma’ feet ... Robbie! Shut up! How did ya’ do that?” 

Robbie looked at his Mom and started screaming “I kilt Dad – I just kilt Dad!” Nadene took off screaming around the back of the boat. “Whar is he, whar is he?” We were getting ready to get in our motor home just as all this took place and witnessed the boat flying through the air. We took off running for the back of the bus and trailer. Then I stopped, frozen in place, I did not want to see a dead body, especially Ben’s!
Nadene started screaming “Ben! Ben! Whar’ ya’ at?  Ben! Ben!” Nadine was screaming over and over at the top of her lungs, bent over looking for Ben.

A voice came from under the bus, “Shut up woman! Get me outta’ here!  Shut up Nadene!” We ran over and dropped down on our knees and looked under the bus at Ben screaming again “Shut up Nadene!” Robbie heard his Dad’s voice and leaned over the boat and threw up.

All of us on our knees, down between the trailer and the bus, grabbed Ben’s hand and started pulling him out. He was wedged under the bus, next to the exhaust pipe. As we were crawling backwards, I stated that “I think he’s OK.” Ben crawled out, rolled over and sat up. “Hell, yes, I’m OK! I jest need to kick start ma’ heart, and then I ma’ gonna’ kick that kid so hard he will be a wearin’ his ear on his butt!  Robbie, what ya trin’ to do ... kill off yr’ole Dad?”

Robbie turned totally to jelly, blubbering and crying, white as a sheet, trying to climb out of the boat. He was saying over and over, “I’m sorry Dad, I’m sorry Dad. Are ya’ OK?”

Ben looked at the white-faced, rubber legged Robbie, “Wall, ya’ know what? I bet I aint’ as scared as you are – huh?” Robbie grabbed his Dad and gave him a big hug and started crying all over again.

Ben had seen the boat come flying at him, he ducked just as the boat hit the trailer, knocking him to the ground so hard it wedged him under the bus.  Everyone was standing around in shock, when Ben said to Nadene, “Dang, woman, I gotta’ lose some weight. I got stuck tighter-n-wedge under there – Nadene! Stop crying – I’m OK!”

The stress level dropped and they proceeded to get the boat unwedged. It was sitting tilted sideways between the bus and the trailer. One of the many bystanders by then, suggested they just unhook the boat from the bus and let it fall. Ben was not too keen on that, because there was already some damage to the boat, but that is what they finally had to do. Then they pulled the boat backwards into position on the trailer and secured it with ropes and tie downs.

Poor Robbie stopped going with his Dad and his boat, and shortly after that, Ben and Nadene split up and she went back to Texas. She said there was too much excitement in Alaska and if she was gonna’ have a fatal heart attack, she wanted to be at home in Texas!

The series is written by a 44 year resident of Alaska, Ann Berg of Nikiski. Ann shares her collections of recipes from family and friends.  She has gathered recipes for more that 50 years.  Some are her own creation.  Her love of recipes and food came from her Mother, a self taught wonderful cook.

She hopes you enjoy the recipes and that the stories will bring a smile to your day.

Grannie Annie can be reached at 

Potato Salad with Reindeer Sausage

Reindeer sausage takes the place of kielbaso in Alaska. Made right in Anchorage and Indian Valley, it is a great tasting sausage usually fried for breakfast or sliced as a snack with cheese slices.

3 pounds of red russets or yellow Yukon Gold potatoes, cooked, cooled and peeled. 
1 cup reindeer sausage, (or smoky kielbasa) sliced and cut in 4ths.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tblsp yellow prepared mustard
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 tea salt
1/2 tea pepper
4 hard boiled eggs-chopped
1 cup celery sliced
1/2 cup onion
1/4 cup sweet pickle relish (or use dill relish)

Quickly stir fry reindeer sausage in hot skillet about 4 minutes.  Place in bowl with cubed potatoes, onion, celery, relish and eggs, salt and pepper.  Mix mayonnaise and sour cream, mustard and buttermilk.  Fold into potatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature, but is great chilled.

Potato Salad with Smoked Salmon Vinaigerette

We enjoy this in the fall made with New Potatoes

3 to 4 pounds of Red McClure or Yukon Gold potatoes-medium size- do not peel.
1 chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped black olives
1 cup of light olive oil
1/2 cup white or balsamic vinegar
2 tsp sugar or honey
1 tblsp minced fresh thyme or 1/4 crushed dry
4 cloves garlic minced
Salt and pepper
1 yellow or red pepper diced
3 to 4 oz smoked salmon diced

Cook unpeeled potatoes in salted water until tender but not mushy.  Drain and cut into eights.  Place in large bowl while still warm and stir in onions, olives, olive oil, vinegar, sugar, thyme, garlic and yellow or red pepper.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cover and chill in refrigerator over night for flavors to enhance.

At serving time sprinkle with smoked salmon and garnish with halves of cherry tomatoes.

Pepper Jack Biscuits

Heat oven to 425 degrees and adjust rack to upper middle.

1/8 cup Pepper Jack cheese, shredded
1 tblsp jalapeno
1 tblsp onion chopped
1/4 tea Cayenne pepper
2 tea sugar
2 tea baking powder
2 cups flour
1/2 tea salt
1 1/4 cups canned milk, whole milk, or cream – may need 1 to 2 tblsp more.

Stir with a fork the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar, cayenne.  Add the shredded cheese and jalapenos.  Stir to coat.  Add the milk.  Stir until dough forms, do not over work. 

Transfer to work surface and pat with hand to form a circle.  Cut with large biscuit cutter or pat into round pan.  Score the surface into wedges. 

Bake the rounds for 7 to 9 minutes. 

Bake the round 20 minutes.  Take out and sprinkle with additional shredded cheese. 

Serve hot with butter.

Campfire Cobbler

This can go in a crockpot at home.

Utensils you will need for the campfire is a Dutch oven or heavy deep pot with lid.

Pack with you:
1 can cherry pie filling
2 cans dice pears in juice or 2 cans of pineapple tidbits. 
1 yellow or white cake mix

Butter the Dutch oven and put over the lowest part of your heat source.

Pour in:
1 can of cherry pie filling
2 cans diced pears and the juice or pineapple

Pour the dry cake mix over top
Dot with butter
Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar

Lay 2 layers of paper towel under the lid to catch the moisture and put on lid.

Cook on slow fire for 2 to 3 hours – depends on how low you camp fire is – turn the cobbler every half hour.  May take longer.

Spoon out into dishes and enjoy!!