WE GET TO MEET THE GERMAN LADY JULY 1967
Sleepers Trailer Court was carved out of the woods on the Spur Highway between Island Lake Road and the North Peninsula Recreation Center (once the North Kenai Elementary School) by a big bull-dozer run by Mr. Sleeper. It was rocky and bumpy but it was a place to put trailers for all the oil field families that were arriving to work on the oil rigs in Cook Inlet and the Swanson River oil field. There was no housing available and you either ordered a trailer from Mr. Penny who brought them up on barges from California or you towed your own travel trailer across the country, through Canada on some very rough roads through Alaska and very rough roads again and on to the Kenai Peninsula (more rough un-paved roads.) Sleepers had running water and self-contained log sewage cribs for trailers. It grew into a large sized trailer park with families from all over the United States. At one time in grade school we counted children from 46 states that were starting school that fall. Sleepers Trailer Court was established the year before and there were trailers in the court from many different regions of the country.
I still can remember the warm, sunny days that lasted 18 to 20 hours a day. Most of the families were from the southern states. Kids played until they fell down tired. They played in the dirt and dust and discovered a strawberry patch behind the trailer court. (Strawberries in Alaska! No!) They climbed trees, swung in a rope swing put up by a thoughtful father. They rode bicycles, which were shared, through the rocks and the gravel and made new friends.
The next morning, young gals with small children, married to welders and roustabout’s came to greet me and the kids. We sat on lawn chairs in front of the trailers and watched the kids play as we got acquainted while our men were at work. When the hard working young men came home at night they packed up their families and headed for the nearest fishing hole, which was Swanson River and Bishop Creek. The road beyond Halbouty was a one lane dirt trail. We bounced and banged around in the dust and dirt in our old Willis Jeep until we got to the fishing hole at Bishop Creek. Some went on up Swanson River. There was no bridge at Swanson River at that time.
Jack and many others warned us about bears and moose as we walked through the tall grass. Jack walked ahead with the fishing gear. All of the sudden this big black “bear” came running down through the trail and because the grass was so tall, all we could see was something big and black running at us! I let out a scream, grabbed one of my kids, as the other two passed me going the other way towards safety. Someone behind me yelled its Ken’s dog it’s-- just a dog! NO ONE absolutely NO ONE told me there was a dog as big as a bear running around! Ken Rice of Ken’s Auto owned a big big black shaggy dog that looked just like a bear and he was just coming to greet us and play along in the tall grass. My heart started beating again as we were covered with licks and slobber from a dog named… what else? BEAR! The terror I felt as the ‘bear-dog’ leaped through the grass has stuck with me forever!
Oh and yes, we all got lots of salmon. My first taste of grilled salmon was absolutely awesome for this old ranch gal that had eaten beef and potatoes all her life. I loved the warm Alaska days that melted into night for a few hours. I loved the friendly people and most of all I loved grilled salmon-I still do! We had been in Alaska two days and met lots of people and had great fun.
The next day someone herded the kids and me into a car and we went to see Cook Inlet at Arness Dock. The view was awesome and still is - the water and waves breaking on the beach was terrifying to this land lubber, but most beautiful. I had never in my life seen that much water! My first impression of Cook Inlet, the snow topped mountains across the water and the clear blue warm skies will forever be engraved in my mind. I LOVED ALASKA!! I was here to stay!!
We had so much going on – I had not unpacked the suitcases or hung up clothes. As I unpacked I opened up a closet door to hang up clothes. The closet was full of women’s clothes and shoes. “OH uuh”…Jack said – “they are on vacation and we will have to find another place to live in about three days.” “Have you lived here all this time?” I asked. “Well, yes, her husband works on seismograph trails up on the north slope.” “Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked He just looked at me and never said a word! I grabbed the Jeep keys – closed up the suitcases, put my kids in the Jeep. I ground the pour thing into gear and we headed up the road to the only grocery store in north Kenai that included a Post Office. I asked if there were any rooms or a trailer available in the area. She pointed to the numerous sheets of paper on the wall of the post office. She said this one just became available two days ago. You just go up the road and about ¼ of a mile, to a large yellow trailer on the left hand side of the road. Her name is Helen. I had just met another good friend but at the time unknowingly. She was the post master of the little post office. Her name was Betty Coulter.
We chugged up the dirt road and found the large yellow trailer. I pulled in and got out and knocked on the door. The door flew open. The big German lady said “Yess-vat you vant?” It was the loud German lady that had pounded on the door of the motel room in Kenai wanting her propane tank back. I almost ran! My pounding heart revved up as I said “I-I-I need a place to rent.” She shouted “VELL, you come to the right place – you gots kids I see.” Yes three. She said “Vell, I do so too. Come, I show you nice clean trailer and it has a vasher and dryer all in one.”
I was beginning to like her friendliness. We looked at the trailer and I said I would take it. She said it was “$40.00 NOW.” I paid her and she gave me the keys with an invitation to let my “tree” kids play with her “tree” kids and to come for coffee anytime.
I pried the little fingers of the kids from the bar on the back of the front seat of the Jeep and scooted them inside the spotlessly clean trailer. We settled in. And this is how I met Helen and became good friends with her and her husband. They were very kind to the “Pour Voomen with tree kids in Alaska vissout a man.” The next day I went looking for work.
I also met my other very good friend in that little trailer court of “tree” trailers. I was curling my hair, setting on the couch, randomly putting in rollers and sticking tooth picks in the rollers to keep them in place. My neighbor in the next trailer had just moved in and she knocked on the door to introduce herself and have a cup of coffee. She sat down as I was about to finish rolling of my hair. All of a sudden, she jumped up and shouted. “Oh for goodness sakes… let me put those rollers in your hair. THAT looks awful!!” She took the curlers and toothpicks out of my hair and professionally rolled my hair. She said she was a beautician and that her name was Jo Anne. She became my very good close friend. Her girl Dawn and boy Jay played with my kids. She cut and curled my hair for many years until she moved to Washington. We also have other things in common such as sewing and quilting. We made several quilts and blankets together.
I cooked out of coffee cans and old worn out hand me down pans the first month as I had not packed ANY of the cooking utensils, dishes or silverware. I regretted this un-thinking move, as I wanted to save postage so I just figured I could BUY cooking pots and pans in Kenai. Nope! You had to drive all the way to Anchorage for such luxuries. I was given salmon and moose and good advice about berries, collecting mushrooms, where to buy fresh milk and what you could plant in Alaska. I settled in the make Alaska our home.
I also met and became forever friends with Leatha who lived in a trailer court where “The Pines” is located now. Leatha baked and cooked all the time. She shared her baked goods with us. If she baked one loaf of bread for her family she also baked one to give to us. She baked cakes and cookies and shared. I learned a lesson from her. Sharing! Jo Anne, Leatha and I still communicate after 40-some years. I had been in Alaska less than a month and had made forever friends. This is the end of this series of how me and the kids arrived to Alaska. I found work at Offshore Fabricators and was making more money than I had ever dreamed of. Jack and I tried one more time to keep the family together and he rented a trailer behind what now is M&M Market. I enrolled the kids in North Kenai Elementary and volunteered to be a teacher’s helper in my spare time. Late in November I had enough money to fly the kids and me back to Colorado for Thanksgiving and we stayed for Christmas. I flew back to Kenai and in January of 1968 I filed for divorce. This closes this chapter of our beginning life in Alaska.
I became a Teachers Helper, Wally Sidback teaching kids to ski on cut-down Army skis that my new friend Alice and a few more friends refinished after stripping several layers of paint, sanding and cutting the ends off, varnishing and reattaching the bindings.