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Pioneer Potluck: The 4th of July and Watermelon

Posted: March 12, 2013 - 3:26pm  |  Updated: March 13, 2013 - 7:59am

North Kenai aka North Roaders Now Nikiski, Alaska 1968 to 1975

With great helpful suggestions from Linda Laughridge, Nadine Gabbett. Susan Jordan, Dolores Wik, Jeri Wik and David Bateman and Grannie Annie. What great memory we had of this wonderful event.

 

Because this is a part of North Kenai-Nikiski history, I would like to acknowledge the fun-loving gals and some guys who started Kiddie Days to raise money for toys for all the North Road kids. They are remembered with love and laughter. They dressed up in costumes of the gold rush, dance hall, bag-lady era and put on many plays and skits throughout Kenai, Soldotna. They even went to Whittier to raise money for all the little kids, mostly grade school, running around playing in the dirt with no big toys.

The mode of transportation of getting from bar to bar was a school bus driven by Betty Johnson. The bus was stolen in Whittier and later recovered. Probably all in good fun! (Can you imagine a school bus “now-a- days” hauling a bunch of clown dressed, loud singing gals and guys from bar to bar? The bus sat out in front of the bar until they got the skits done and the donations collected and then drove on to the next bar.) The trip to Whittier was, of course, through the dark tunnel on the train. On the trip coming home through the tunnel someone hollered “anyone seen Curly?” Everyone looked around in the darkness but no one saw Curly. So with big discussions and some arguing, they decided when they got the end of the tunnel they would have to turn around and go back to get Curly. As they came through the tunnel and making plans to go back, Curly popped up after lying in his seat all that time, he said one more time… “anyone seen Curly?” It was just Curly playing a joke

I must mention here that Betty Coulter used her bus to go from bar to bar to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Some times it was a very LONG day!! These excursions on the school bus were on week ends and NO kids were involved or allowed.

This group of fun-loving gals and guys from the Hunger Hut, mostly headed by Mary Bonnell and Thelma McConnell also included Iris Duncan, Barbara Brinkerhoff, (who played grandma dancing around and then she would fall down like she was very tired- always ended up with bruises from her antics) and Liz Helle, Bobby and Byron Blair. (If I left anybody out let me know.) Georgia the pharmacist played a sheriff. Mary had long red clown shoes shaped like tennis shoes that were her trade mark. Olie Helle dressed like a baby in diapers until Big John – all of 7 foot 6 (more or less) took over the job. They used a bed sheet for the diaper!

They met at the Hunger Hut, owned by Frank and Elsie Moore. Elsie cooked great food and Frank tended bar which included jokes and more jokes and lots of laughter. At one time the Hunger Hut was a meeting place for men looking for work. Their families came along because it was the only meeting place in the area which included a place to eat, Curly the barbershop and Burnett the CPA. No phones in those days!!! Kids played indoors if it was raining and outdoors in the parking lot in the sun and dirt, while neighbors and friends caught up with the news of the day, some gossip and “jawed” about where the next job was going to start. Great friendships developed from those meetings and continue to this day.

I imagine the idea for Kiddie Days started because of all the kids that were running in and out of the Hunger Hut, while the dads were finding where the next work would begin and moms were catching up with the latest trends and gossip. Mostly the job market was word of mouth and you were hired on the spot. If you were a new comer and asked where the jobs were – they would say go to the Hunger Hut. The employers who were looking for welders, helpers and laborers, all went to the Huger Hut to find there next employees. No resumes involved!! How times have changed!!

This happy – sometime raunchy, group was playfully named the Pussy Posse. They started their tours in the month of May. The first year was 1968 (we think!) I do know that was the first year the kids and I attended the Kiddie Days at Bishop Creek was on Fathers Day in June. Susan, David and Gail won bikes among other toys. They had to compete for prizes and usually any kid that joined in got a prize. No kid went home empty handed, but one thing for sure – they were muddy, wet, full of hot dogs and marshmallows and happy. The moms and dads that ran the games made sure each kid left with a bike, tricycle or wagon or toys of some kind and a smile. Games were greased pole, one year a greased pig – straw stacks with dollar bills mixed in… sawdust piles with quarters and other coins, sack races and a tug of war for the adults.

A large rope from one of the tugboats was strung across Bishop Creek for tug of war. Usually guys on one side and gals on the other. Speedy Tolloff knowing he was going to get wet-smartly put his billfold in his shirt pocket along with his watch, thinking he would only get his bottom half wet – not so – when you were pulled into the creek, you went all the way in and sometimes under! Speedy admitted that the smart move did not save his belongings from getting wet. Nadine Gabbett said she got pulled in too – probably the same time I was pulled in. The creek is deep, steep banks and COLD! By that time of year the sun was out almost 24 hours a day – and so you eventually got dry and warm.

The food was awesome and plentiful. Mary Bonell and Linda made potato salad by the gallons. Linda says the used a whole hen house full of eggs and bushels of potatoes. All was mixed “by hand” of course. Weaver Brothers brought out a flat bed trailer and a band played all day and into the night. The bikes and toys were stored in another van from some other trucking company. The oil platform contractors, the oil companies, the tugboat operators, the pipe yards and anyone in the oil industry were represented and helpful in one way or the other by setting up the games and money contributed to the cost of the prizes.

Sadly all of the fun and companionship came to a halt when two years in a row in, about 1974 and 1975, the day before Kiddie Days, motor homes and RV’s from Anchorage, Fairbanks, Valdez and some as far away as California, came and parked, lining the road into Bishop Creek on both sides for about a mile. They participated in some of the games, hauled away toys, bikes, money and heaping plates of food that was meant for kids and families of the North Road. The next year Earle and Jack owners of Bishop Creek shut it down because of that reason. There was months of planning involved and it was a tough decision I sure do miss those days and the friends I made.

 

Most of the families that moved here were from the southern states and the very thing (thang) that they all missed the most was watermelon. I suppose the idea hatched at the Hunger Hut as someone was bringing up a big empty belly-dump truck from Texas. He piled it high with watermelon and headed up the highway to Alaska – thinking he would be the hero of North Kenai. The roads through the states were paved – but the road through Canada and into Beaver Creek and on down the highway to Anchorage and Kenai Peninsula were not paved. The roads in Canada were known for their “wash board roads” also filled with pot holes, graveled with rocks big as baseballs. Just miles and miles of ripples in the road that jarred your teeth and bones to what you thought would be dust by the time you got to your destination. The happy Texan pulled into the Hunger Hut parking lot – with watermelon juice dripping out of every hole in the belly dump. He pulled back the tarp. There were not very many whole watermelons left, mostly mush. He did hand out pieces of intact watermelon to all the people and kids gathered around. It sure tasted good, even though they were broken in small pieces. Kids stood under the truck and held there hand in a cup and slurped up the watermelon juice that was running out. So much for his money making operation!

 

If anyone would like to add to the stories please contact me at 394-0044 or 776-5405 or any e-mail at anninalaska@gci.net. I know that I have left out part and pieces and some for good reason. Awwhh the good ol’ days!! Thanks to all who helped put this article together.

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