Trip down memory gravel strip

Historian Hershberger offers look at peninsula’s past

Posted: Sunday, February 12, 2006

At a local history presentation in Kasilof on Thursday night, almost as much of the history presented walked in on its own two feet as was displayed in the slide show.

Audience members chimed in, pointing out landmarks they remembered as slides presented pictures from as far back as the late 1940s, and a member of the audience was identified as the hero who rescued two victims of a Kasilof plane crash in 1977.

“It screwed itself right into the ground,” said Al Hershberger, who presented the history slide show at the McLane Center.

Hershberger displayed photographs of the wrecked twin engine plane that had been carrying fish and then identified the hero in the audience.

George Jackinsky, who has lived in Kasilof for 45 years, said the plane was still burning when he crawled through the cargo door and over the fish to grab and pull the two victims to safety.

“They were alive and they are still alive today ... thanks to George,” Hershberger said.

The presentation also featured photographs illustrating Alaska’s natural wonders and in some cases how they have changed. Hershberger displayed mostly recent photographs of Skilak and Tustumena Glaciers and with the help of audience members recalled the geographical features that marked points from which the glaciers had retreated since the late 1940s.

In the case of the Tustumena Glacier, everyone seemed to agree that the once-looming blue face of the glacier had retreated both horizontally and vertically.

“What impressed me is that the glacier was higher than this,” Hershberger said. “(Now) there’s no face to see there.”

Photographs of the Tustumena Glacier reminded Hershberger of a prospecting story, in which he and a friend found radiation near the glacier’s base.

“Back in the ‘50s the buzzword was uranium,” Hershberger said.

Hershberger and his friend flew around “prospecting for hot spots,” and located one as they flew over the flats at the base of the glacier. But when they searched for it on the ground, it was nowhere to be found.

“There was radiation there and there probably still is,” he said.

Hershberger also shared a rare natural phenomena he captured with his camera in Kenai in 1950.

The mother-of-pearl cloud caught hovering over the peninsula also is known as a nacreous cloud, a high-altitude cloud that forms in the stratosphere where there normally is too little moisture for clouds to form. As documented by Hershberger’s photographs, nacreous clouds display a dazzling show of luminescence after dusk. Due to the cloud’s high altitude, the nacreous can capture and reflect light long after the sun sinks below the horizon.

As an employee for the Alaska Road Commission from 1948 to 1951, Hershberger also offered a detailed account of the early evolution of the peninsula’s mud and gravel roadways to the highways that string together today’s garland of mushrooming peninsula communities.

One audience member recalled that the road commission had once been nicknamed the “road commotion.”

“It was probably meant to be derogatory, but we took it affectionately,” Hershberger said as the audience chuckled.

Photographs from the late 1940s and early 1950s showed tractors struggling through mud to grade roadways and aerial photographs showed roads barely cracking into thickly forested terrain.

Current aerial photographs compared with aerial photographs more than 50 years old illustrated the sometimes shocking transformations that have occurred on the peninsula. In a photograph of Soldotna taken in 1951 only a few signs of development predominated, including a dirt strip that looked like a large garden plot but was identified as a landing strip for airplanes, and the Sterling Highway punctuated by shadows stretching from trees that have since been cleared for homes, businesses and parking lots.

Thursday’s presentation was the third in a series of four local history presentations Hershberger is giving. The final presentation will be at 1 p.m. today downstairs at the United Methodist Church of the New Covenant in Kenai. It is open to the public.



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