From left to right, Carl, David, Elsie and Johnny Seaman are shown in this 1953 photo on their homestead in Nikiski. Note the couples refrigeration shelf above the doorway.
Photo provided by Elsie Seaman
The Seaman family moved from San Diego to the woods north of Kenai, in what is now Nikiski in August 1952.
As a city girl I had always taken for granted the necessities of life, such as shelter, heat, light, plumbing, communication, etc.
None of them were “taken for granted” by homesteaders. Those who went through the process know how we coped, but for the Gen X-er who might wonder, here is how we did:
· Shelter The first must-have. The ideal was a cozy log cabin, but that was slow and labor-intensive. Some of us built rough lumber cabins, some of Firtex and poles and some in a tent with surround walls.
· Heat The universal was a barrel stove. This consisted of a 55-gallon drum, laid on its side, bolted to metal legs, and having a door in front for inserting wood and removing ashes and a hole on top to insert a stovepipe. Innovators sometimes used a barrel on a barrel to capture escaping heat. Or a flat grid on top of the round so that a kettle could rest on top.
Most used a Blazo can as a baffle where the stovepipe went through the roof. Barrel stoves gulped wood like starving dragons, but they put out many BTUs, so many that sometimes the door would-be opened, even in freezing weather, to cool things down. (Any would be pioneers can still obtain kits.)
· Light Candles, kerosene lamps and Coleman lanterns. The latter required a mesh mantle to be tied to the gas outlet and then burned, so the mantle ended up as an ashen, fragile net that shattered at the least jar and emitted light in spurts instead of steady radiance. Electric bulbs (1961, thanks to HEA) were a glorious dawn.
· Plumbing As the joke goes, we had running water if we ran up from the lake with our buckets full. Digging wells were a priority. Snow could be melted but as it took 12 inches of snow to yield an inch of water, this was not a good option. Water in, waste out. Dish water and such was tossed out the door. Human waste meant a long, cold trek to the outhouse. Comfort-lovers kept a toilet seat warming to carry out for comfort. There also was the ubiquitous chamber pot.
· Refrigeration No problem seven months of the year. A box outside a window or a shelf over an outside porch sufficed the rest of the time. (Well-covered or the “camp robbers” had a feast.) Some enterprising folks stored lake ice in sawdust for a summer cooler.
· Cooking Wood stove, kerosene stove, or pump-up Coleman camp stove with a tin oven. We ate hearty meals of fish, moose stew, homemade bread, beans, potatoes and pancakes with Mapleine syrup.
· Communication Go visit the neighbors. No TV, telephones or newspapers and mail only when someone went to town. Reading material circulated constantly, everything from True Detective to Dickens classics. Nearly everyone had a battery-operated radio on which we listened to other Alaskans’ comings and goings on Mukluk Telegraph.
Homesteading was a challenge and an achievement, but we were young and vigorous. Now I am content to reminisce about those days while enjoying all the comforts of urbanization.
This column was provided by Elsie Seaman for the Kenai Historical Society.
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