Grannie Annie: Sleepers Trailer Court and cross-country skiing

The kids from the M&M trailer court - most of them going barefoot.

Sleepers Trailer Court and winter skiing at North Kenai Elementary, 1968


There were lots of comments about the story of Sleepers Trailer Court.

Nadine Gabbett wrote that it was her husband, Claude’s “CAT” — bulldozer — that cleared the Sleeper Trailer Court property. The “CAT” later was sold to Bill Fields, who owns Kenai Neon Signs. That same CAT was instrumental in keeping the Swanson River fire of 1969 from spreading any farther than it did. Claude Gabbett and Danny Johnson spent many hours and days on their CATS on the fire that started at Swanson River by a careless camper. It ended up on both sides of Rounds Road and clear to the inlet at Boulder Point to the right of Arness Dock. The kids and I were at Betty and Gene Coulters’ homestead at the end of Rounds Road painting a wooden dory (boat). What an experience that was! I wrote about this earlier.

Nadine continues that the road from Kenai was gravel by the time they started building their house. She worked in Kenai at Carr’s when they were starting to build the road in 1966. She said she drove her car in second gear most of the way to and from town because of the sand and gravel they were using on the road. Ila Davidson was working at Tanglewood and was going to quit so Nadine asked for her job because it was a lot closer to where they lived. She worked there for three years. During that time, Betty Coulter and Mim Taurianin also worked there. They had to pump gas and even change headlights until Galen Grey hired Pastor Ray Ernst to do those jobs!

Claude and son Ron built their house. They had moved to Kenai in February of 1965 and lived in the apartments behind old Superior Building Supply on what is now Redoubt Ave. This is in the vicinity of where the old bowling alley was and is now Doyle’s Trucking and the yellow transmission building on the corner of Wildwood, going to the prsison and the storage unit and Peg and Roy’s Laudromat. Wildwood was originally a big busy Air Force Station.

That summer they moved to Chishom home at the back end of Island Lake. It was too cold to stay there in the winter. It had big windows in front and was heated with barrell stoves. They moved to the Walker house on the bluff for the winter and then moved back to the Chishom house for the summer. It later burned down. The Gabbetts got the property at Mile 25 from Mr. Sleeper in exchange for the use of the CAT. They had two old trailers that they camped in while the house was being built. At that time Harry Drew had the laundromat just over the hill and that is where they bathed, got water and washed clothes. I believe this is across from BJ Hughes. There is a big sign that says Lunches now and the phone company building.

Nadine adds that I was taxing her memory and wished that she would have kept better records. Don’t we all!

Thank you Nadine!

And this note from my cousin Jerry Webb:

“I would like to add a little footnote to your story: I was the thoughtful father that put up that swing rope in the tree at Sleepers Trailer court for my kids. My trailer was at the very end and the trees were beside it. I had Mike and Monte, my two oldest sons, with me as they were going to North Kenai School. One of my boat captains (Angelo Ducker) made the rope with knots in it for my boys to play on. I took it home and put it up for them. It was always a big attraction for the whole trailer court kids. They especially like to swing on it when the snow was deep. They would swing out and turn loose, falling into the snow, as it was three or four feet deep.”

Thank you Jerry.

Jack rented a very nice trailer with a tip-out and an enclosed wanigan (entry way) on the side, behind M&M Market. The trailer court was a big long expanse of dirt, volcanic ash, dust, rocks, gravel, and potholes. It had electricity, water and sewer and lots of little kids and dogs to play with. There was no sense in telling the kids to “stay clean.” They loved to play in the warm dirt and go barefoot. I felt sorry for the mothers that wanted their kids to stay clean and not get dirty! Some of those poor mothers did not adjust and ended up going “back home.”

I enrolled the kids in North Kenai Elementary. I volunteered to help as they were short of teachers with all the influx of families from the “South 48.” I was assigned the waiting room to the principal’s office with the title of Special Ed Teacher, for kids who were having a hard time adjusting to the life in Alaska. Me too! We met every morning for reading. I made forever friends with those little kids and loved what I was doing.

When it snowed Wally Sidback wanted to teach the whole school how to ski. However there were no skis! I do not know if Wally found the Army skis or Alice Miller. They were surplus skis that the Army did not want anymore. The only problem was that they had about 5 coats of different colored paint on them. The first layer was white, second layer was blue and the last two were green. We used a ton of paint stripper to get all the paint off the skis. We used the “barn” at Millers Hideaway — now gone — to redo them. Oh my goodness it was cold in there! After the paint was stripped, we sawed 6 to 8 inches off the back of each ski so they would be easier for little kids to handle. Then we sanded them down, sealed with varnish and drilled holes to reattached the bindings. We had about 30 sets of skis.

The day we delivered them to the school Mr.Sidback taught the kids to wax them. The next afternoon a group of about 20 older kids strapped on skis, over-dressed in warm clothes, snow pants, gloves and hats. With the help of Mr. Sidback, me and lots of helper-mothers, we shoved off down a snowy trail. I had skied but once in my life, getting shoved down the bunny hill in Colorado, I screaming all the way to the bottom. That was the end of my skiing career.

Cross-country skiing requires your feet and skis straight in front of you. I walk like a duck! I am sure you get the picture. I was not alone. Some of the kids took off after Mr. Sidback, but there were lots of us that never made it farther than 20 yards. Twisted skis with feet attached fell over, needed help getting up. Laughing kids, mad kids, crying kids, kids buried in snow — what a sight! I was of no help whatsoever, so I finally took my skis off and helped everyone else. The other helpers on the trail got the way-ward skiers up on the skis — only to have them slowly fall over again. I still laugh at this picture as Wally Sidback and the rest of the kids disappeared down the snowy trail. Some kids slowly mastered the cross-country ski method. Sorry to say I worked at it all winter and never mastered it.

The next afternoon was a different set of kids and a repeat of the same story. Wally persisted and formed several teams and a challenge to ski 5 miles to Halbouty and back. They would received a 10 mile shoulder patch. I am proud to say, my daughter Gail, received one of these. She worked hard and became a very strong cross-country skier. This helped her much later in life when she lived on the Homestead of the Coulters at Boulder Point. She snow-shoed and skied in and out of there often.

Wally held skiing lessons all winter until the snow dissapeared. He instilled persistance and the love of cross-country skiing in a lot of “South 48” kids.

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


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