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Soldotna homesteader sees plenty of changes

The good ol' days

Posted: Sunday, January 06, 2002

The Sterling Highway settlement where Anna Tachick arrived to make her home in 1951 had a name, even though it didn't show on any map. "Soldotna" had been painted on the visible end of a Quonset hut owned by Paul Nester. Little else could be seen along the tree-lined gravel road.

Anna, who celebrated her 90th birthday Nov. 14, has watched the community develop over the years. The changes have been many.

"They look at me as if I don't know what I'm talking about," the nonagenarian said of newcomers who ask what Soldotna was like when she first came. "They just can't imagine what it was like."

In the early 1950s, there were no conveniences like people have today. The closest grocery store was a small store in Kenai operated by Helen Jones.

Once a month, one of Anna's sons drove her to Homer where she would stock up on supplies.

"We took the back seat out of the car and loaded it from to top to bottom," she said.

Unlike modern times when the Sterling Highway is packed with unending streams of vehicles, "Sometimes a week or more would go by and we would see just one car going south toward Homer," Anna said.

 

Paul and Anna Tachick pose for a photo with their daughters Shirley and Arlene in Wisconsin in 1951 just before moving to Alaska.

As for the river, months would go by with no boats going back or forth.

In the early days, Anna ordered much of the family's needs, especially sewing material, out of the Sears and Roebuck catalog, with the merchandise arriving in two or three weeks. Often the firm substituted items for ones that were out of stock.

"With no stores, we kept whatever came and were glad to have it," Anna said.

The first post office, Anna recalled, was run by Mickey Faa. It was a small building and shelves were labeled with names of local families.

The building was left unlocked and people walked in and picked up their mail. In those days when people didn't bother locking their doors and left keys in vehicle ignitions, no one ever disturbed someone else's mail.

Mail from outside took two or three weeks to arrive. Letters sent by air came to the Kenai Post Office.

Getting to Soldotna was an adventure for Anna. It began as an ambition in 1927 when she and Paul Tachick were married. It was an ambition that was delayed by the Depression, World War II and the arrival of their seven children.

It also was delayed by friends and family members who asked "Why on Earth would anyone want to move someplace where grizzly bears might eat their children?"

Anna was raised on the farm her parents had homesteaded in a remote area of Wisconsin. The second eldest of 11 children, she learned at a young age to cook and sew. She also developed the other skills that would enable her to adapt to the harsh conditions of the Alaska frontier.

Following her marriage, she cooked for the lumberjacks at the Tachicks' sawmill and worked on the family farm. By 1951, Anna and Paul were living on a mint farm near Kennewick, Wash. It was that fall they decided to at last follow the north star.

 

Anna and her several children gathered to celebrate her 90th birthday in November. From left to right, standing, are Chuck, Bob, Wayne, Melvin and Roger. Sitting are Alene, Anna and Shirley.

The Tachicks packed their family and possessions in two vehicles and set out for Alaska via the Alaska Highway. The primitive road had been opened to civilian traffic just four years earlier and in 1951 was traveled by only the hardiest adventurers.

Paul drove the car with Anna, one son and two daughters inside. On the back seat were a box containing houseplants and a bird cage with two yellow canaries -- niceties the couple were unsure they'd find at their destination.

Son Bob, 19, drove a 2 1/2-ton Ford truck with his other two brothers riding beside him. In the back were all their worldly goods, including tools to clear the land, boxes of canned goods, a wood-burning cook stove, a treadle sewing machine and a gas-powered washing machine. A white German shepherd dog made the journey with them.

Before leaving Washington, the Tachicks learned that the only way to get to the Kenai Peninsula from Anchorage would be to load everything onto a train for Seward, then drive over the narrow gravel road to their destination.

In Anchorage, however, they were told that a road was being constructed along Turnagain Arm. Without asking for anyone's permission, they headed south on the morning of Nov. 1 and inched their way around heavy equipment, finally connecting with the Sterling Highway and arriving in the Soldotna area late that night.

Upon arrival, the Tachicks stayed with Dee and Bill Stock. Paul and Bill had worked together at Hanford, Wash. Dee, who had been cooking on a camp stove in their rustic home, was especially glad to see the newcomers, for in their truck was her new kitchen stove.

The Tachicks set about building a home. Anna picked out a wooded area south of the Kenai River bridge and it was purchased from Mac McGuire, a homesteader with a thick Irish brogue. They erected a 16-foot-by-34-foot army surplus tent, then Paul and sons Bob and Melvin began construction of a two-story house. Lumber was obtained from House's one-man sawmill.

The family moved in before Christmas.

Anna cooked on a wood stove and the house was heated for the first two winters by a wood-burning barrel stove Paul had made. There was no electricity. During the first winter, water was carried from McGuire's homestead, but the next year there was a well on the property, dug by hand by the Tachick sons.

There was no plumbing and the family relied on an outhouse. Daughter Shirley recalled "dashing out there in the middle of the night, only to find a moose sleeping against the door."

Laundry was done with the gas-powered washing machine the family brought with them. Wet clothes were hung to dry on a clothesline.

School-age children Roger, Wayne and Shirley attended the Kenai Territorial School in Kenai, which had an enrollment of fewer than 100 students. Daughter Arlene was 4. Eldest son Charles was in the Army, stationed in Japan, and joined the family after his discharge in 1953.

Although neighbors were few and far between, wildlife was plentiful.

 

The Tachick boys - Wayne, Bob, Roger, Chuck and Melvin have their picture taken in their yard by the Kenai River in the late 1950s.

The men of the family successfully hunted for moose, rabbits and bear.

Whenever Anna wanted fish for dinner, one of the children headed over to the river and within 15 minutes would return with a salmon.

Bob shot moose two years in a row near Slikok Creek. Melvin drove his military surplus Jeep across the swamps to haul the meat home. That swampy Jeep trail, which became popular with homesteaders, today is known as Kalifornsky Beach Road.

Paul was hired as a mechanic with the Alaska Road Commission. Anna planted a huge garden and raised vegetables for the family table. She also grew flowers each year. She enjoyed sewing, making the family's clothes.

In time, Charles and Melvin owned Tachick Freight Lines, hauling supplies and groceries from the Seward docks. Paul and Bob formed a construction company. Both businesses were near the house and when mealtime came, whoever was on the place was invited to eat. With a family of nine and several guests at many meals, it was not unusual for Anna to go through 100 pounds of flour in a week, baking breads, pies and cakes.

The family also owned Moose Horn Cabins, and many weeks during the summer Anna and her daughters washed about 100 sheets in a wringer washing machine. The sheets were dried outdoors on a line and ironed by hand.

By the time oil was discovered at Swanson River, the Tachicks had built seven two-bedroom houses as rental units.

The Tachicks sold their house by the bridge in 1978, moving into a new home they had built up the river on Paul Combs' old place. Paul Tachick died in 1979.

As her 90th birthday approaches, Anna tends her flower beds and greenhouse in the summer. A sunroom runs the length of her home, allowing her to grow flowers year-round.

One of her prize possessions is a mother-in-law plant, a continuation of the original that came with her to Alaska. A Christmas cactus given to her by "a gruff-speaking prospector in Seward" bursts forth each winter with more than 1,000 blossoms. Many people remember her for starts they received from both plants.

 

The Tachicks take a drive through Soldotna in 1952. "Soldotna" was painted on the visible end of a Quonset hut owned by Paul Nester where Arby's stands today.

Anna learned to crochet at the age of 5 and continues to turn out needlework.

"It keeps my hands from getting stiff," she said.

Now grown, Anna's seven children all live in Alaska. She has 15 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren. Many others lovingly insist they also are part of her family.

Looking back, Anna remembers that friends and family she left behind had worried about her well-being in the frontier community.

"Why should I worry?" she asks, "I had my husband and my family."

Those, one might add, plus a lot of spunk.

Shirley Kosto is Anna Tachick's daughter. She lives in Chugiak.



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