Fred Hupprich was interviewed on January 7, 1994 by Margaret Van Cleve in Fairbanks, Alaska. In this first part of a two-part interview, Fred talks about growing up in Nenana, the railroad’s role in the community, railroad jobs, and working as a trucker. He also talks about life in Nenana, the Native population, celebration of holidays and recreation, construction and re-location of the sternwheeler Nenana, World War II in Alaska, and hauling freight and supplies.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Railroads of Alaska Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Jan 7, 1994
Narrator(s): Fred Hupprich
Interviewer(s): Margaret Van Cleve
Transcriber: Carol McCue
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
His early life in Nenana
His family's transfer service in Nenana
The school in Nenana and some of his pranks
The Native village near Nenana and the Episcopal mission
The steamer Nenana
Transfers from the sternwheelers to the railroad
Working for the NC Company and recreational activities
Some mischievous pranks on the railroad
Economic activity in the region
Stores in Nenana and the Alaska Railroad's presence in Nenana
The big fire in downtown Nenana
Springtime floods in Nenana and the Nenana Ice Classic
Blowing up the railroad's powder shack
Social events and celebrations in Nenana
Jack Coghill's movie theater
The inaugural trip for the steamer Nenana and moving the steamer to Fairbanks
Moving to Fairbanks and his many different jobs
Military activity during WWII in the Interior
Travel on the Alaska Highway shortly after it was constructed
Working for Bobby Mitchell and driving the Richardson Highway
Driving the Richardson Highway, and winter problems
Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.
After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Today is January 7th, 1994. This is Margaret Van Cleve. I will be interviewing Fred Hupprich, a lifelong Alaskan who spent his early childhood in Nenana. Also present is his wife, Louella Hupprich. This tape is made possible by a grant from Igloo Number 4 Foundation, Pioneers of Alaska. We are recording in the Hupprich's home in Aurora Subdivision in Fairbanks.
So you lived in Nenana during a time that sternwheelers were still in existence along the Tanana and Nenana Rivers, the late 1920s, early '30s. Let's talk a little bit about your early childhood experiences as you remember them. Could you start by telling a little bit about your family, how your parents happened to be in Nenana or did they come to Fairbanks first before settling in Nenana?
FRED HUPPRICH: Yes, I can do that. My father came up prior to my mother by a few years, I don't know just how long, but he came with his father. His father was an engineer, a chief engineer on the sternwheelers that supplied the Tanana/Yukon Rivers in the early days. And he spent the summer up, and of course, freeze up came along, and put the boats away for the winter, why, my grandfather and dad to be went back Outside. And then the next spring they'd come back again.
Well, after the second year of this operation, why, my dad decided to stay in Alaska. And about that time they were building the Alaska Railroad, too, at the same time, so he got a job working on that. And during the wintertime, why, he got a job working in Nenana working in the fire hall. Him and several of his old buddies. And they had horses for running the fire carts around and stuff like that. So they had to maintain horses and and stuff like that.
Then during that time, why, my mother come on the scene. Oh, I don't know what year that was, but it was around 1918; I believe she was about 16, 17 years old. And the reason she came to the country, she came straight from Germany through New York, Ellis Island, and crossed the United States by train and steamship to Alaska.
Well, I believe that the Alaska Railroad had started a passenger service. This had to be in the early, oh, '18, '19, '20, somewhere in that area, '22, maybe. And her uncle was up here in the early country, he came through Dawson Creek or Dawson City. And his wife was a baker and concession type operation and she baked all over the country, and he worked his way into Fairbanks and he had a big bakery here and operated here.
He decided he needed help, and that's when he sent to Germany for my mother and her brother Henry. My mother's name was Elizabeth Rapholdt (phonetic) was their name, her maiden name. And then they came in to he decided to leave Fairbanks and start an operation, bakery and place down there in Nenana. That's when he had mother and her brother come in. So they come to Nenana. And of course, she worked in the bakery along with her brother and stuff.
Her brother didn't last too long. He only stayed a couple years and went back Outside. And mother stayed here. And of course, dad being a young man and mother being a young lady there in Nenana, they had bright eyes for each other, and got married. Well, this was probably in 1923, I believe. '23, maybe '24. And of course, I have started that started the family.
I had a brother named George which has passed away now. He was the oldest boy. Then Robert came along. And George was born in '24. Robert was born in '25. And I come along in 1926. Then a year later and all during this time I better back up a little bit here.
My father started a transfer service in Nenana probably a year before he married. And during the time we spent in Nenana, we always had the transfer service. We hauled wood, coal, and we put up 4 or 500 ton of ice.
Of course, this was later years when I was old enough to work and the other two boys. And my father then sort of turned the transfer business over to us boys, and he went to work for the Northern Commercial Company as a meat cutter and clerk and stuff like that. And us kids carried on the transfer business.
And of course, going to school and stuff like that all the time. Then after school, my mother would pack up a lunch and we'd head for the woods and go down and cut a cord or two of wood, and put them on the we had Model A trucks, two of them, and they'd haul about two cords each on the trucks, so we'd come home with four cords of wood. And then on weekends, if the train delivered a carload of coal in, why, we'd deliver that all over town. So that was our life as far as Nenana.
And of course, we had a lot of colorful deals going there with they had old parties around town, the pioneers would put on parties, and Friday evenings and stuff like that, and we'd go to dances and things like that. And then, let's see. I think what day year it was. My family kind of split up, and this was in 1943.
And mother and the two girls oh, I forgot to mention that she had two daughters after that. One was born in 1927, Martha, she's the oldest girl; and then Betty Elizabeth or Betty Lou came along in 1934.
LOUELLA HUPPRICH: '33.
FRED HUPPRICH: '33. And that's the side of our family, three boys and two girls. And of course, the family, mother and father, split up and we moved to Fairbanks. And I worked around here at odd jobs and went to school, and the two girls went to school here in Fairbanks. And mother was a clerk for the Northern Commercial Company in the store, in the grocery department.
And then on later years, why, of course, the two brothers got drafted during the early part of the war, 1943, '44, and then I come along and got drafted in '45, went through the service in Anchorage. And I was lucky. The war
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: The war was over before you ever shipped out.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. The war was almost over before I
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Could we back up a little bit and talk about some of your experiences in Nenana; for instance, school. What experiences did you have in the village schools in those days?
FRED HUPPRICH: We had -- our school's name was Franklin Kaleen School, and it's probably on the register someplace. I don't know whether they still call it that or not. But it was a big log building, and it had four rooms upstairs, four definite rooms upstairs for the classrooms. Downstairs was more like a big recreational room where we played during recesses and stuff. And they would have teachers come in from the states and live there and teach us and everything else.
And one year we were probably only about 10, 12 years old maybe, and we got all the boys lined up; and right across from the school was a vacant block, lot, but it was never built on. It had a lot of brush and stuff and trees in it. One year, particular year this winter, there was really lots of rabbits.
So we made a big drive through this woods and we must have picked up 25, 30 rabbits. And we drove them, and we had some girls keep the big doors open to the entrance to the schoolhouse. So we drove all these
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Rabbits? FRED HUPPRICH: --these rabbits right into the lower part of the school. Of course, they had stairways on each end of the rec room down below, and of course, the rabbits were hopping all in the classrooms and all over. And the principal wasn't too happy about that, or the teachers.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Disrupted the classroom a little.
FRED HUPPRICH: Then towards springtime, why, there was one other side of the schoolhouse, there was a big field which a farmer had, and he put up in wheat or grain or something like that. And before he ever put any crop in for this -- that summer, why, we'd get out in the spring and we'd dig holes in the ground and put 5 gallon cans or big gallon cans down in the ground with the tops level with the ground, and the field mice were just lousy with field mice around there. And of course, they'd run along and fall down in these cans.
Well, we'd have half a dozen mice or maybe, you know, quite a few. And we'd take these mice and put them in our pocket, and when we'd go to school, why, we'd turn them loose. We had a whole bunch of mice running around school. And then there was kind of a swampy area there and we'd go collect frogs. And we'd put these the old style desks were you sat behind them, and the whole top lifted up and you stored books underneath the top.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum. Ink well over on the right.
FRED HUPPRICH: We'd have that full of frogs and mice. And just raising Cain all the time. We were probably of the worst bunch of school children in the country.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Where was the school located in relationship, say, to the railroad station?
FRED HUPPRICH: Well, it would probably be probably one, two three blocks.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Is that upriver?
FRED HUPPRICH: No well, kind of upriver, yeah.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: By the church? FRED HUPPRICH: But it would be more inland from the river.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum. FRED HUPPRICH: And it's sitting it was sitting right in the exact spot the new schoolhouse is sitting on now.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh, the new school.
FRED HUPPRICH: They used the same area but they built a new school there, of course.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah. I've seen that. It's nice.
FRED HUPPRICH: But it sat right in the same spot that the new one is now. And but it was a tiny school for that neighborhood, you know.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Did it include high school as well, or was it just elementary school?
FRED HUPPRICH: No, it was all grades, all 12 grades. When I went to high school there, I only got I went to freshman year twice, because halfway through the school year, we were such a bad lot that the principal, he was also the high school teacher, quit and got out of the country. I guess he couldn't stand it or the pay wasn't enough, or something. But there was only eight of us in high school. That was all covering all four grades. This is just prior to the war. And so that you know. And there wasn't probably more than 50 kids in the whole school counting all 12 grades.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum. And some of your classmates must have been the Coghill brothers?
FRED HUPPRICH: Well, yes, all the Coghills. Of course, Bill and Bob, the older ones, were out out of school. I think I went to school with Jack, which he's a year older than I am. And the other two were out of high school by then and probably up here going to college. I believe they were.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum. Was Jack in on the frog collecting and
FRED HUPPRICH: Oh, you betcha. He was just as bad as the rest. And Jack
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: It wasn't just you and your brothers, then?
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. But then a lot of Native children went to school with us. It was, you know, not separated or anything, segregated.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So there was not a BIA school at all?
FRED HUPPRICH: At one time, I don't suppose there was more than five or six white children going to that school when I was there my last year or so.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So it was mostly Native. FRED HUPPRICH: And the rest of them were part Native and full Native and stuff. They were a wonderful bunch of kids, we were just full of mischief.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Now, I was going to ask you about the Native community. Did they live right in town or did they live out a ways?
FRED HUPPRICH: Oh, they had a village, yes, that was out of town just a little ways, and then they had a mission there. Of course, the mission had their own school. There was probably 30 mission children for all ages and all classes that lived up upriver from Nenana. It was a big building there, frame, all wood. And they had their own garden, greenhouses, and church and school, and
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Did they have an orphanage or a
FRED HUPPRICH: It was basically, that's what it was. It was run by the
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Episcopal.
FRED HUPPRICH: Episcopal Church, yes. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Now, was that
FRED HUPPRICH: Bishop Bentley. I don't know if people here probably would listen to this would recognize Bishop Bentley's name. He was the Bishop around Alaska. At that time, though, he was just the reverend preacher there at Nenana, and he run that mission and church. They had a church up at the mission, and then they had a Episcopal Church downtown, too.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh, so they were two different locations?
FRED HUPPRICH: Yes. And the church downtown, I think, got something happened to it, and then they moved, it was a log church up at the mission, they moved downtown, and today, it's still standing.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh, so that was originally from the mission.
FRED HUPPRICH: That was originally the mission church up there at Nenana.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum.
FRED HUPPRICH: And they moved it down to the Episcopal Church. And they had a sister, or not a -- yes, a sister, and also a missionary nurse living at this mission in Nenana. What the heck was the name of that mission.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Saint Mark's? FRED HUPPRICH: Saint Mark's. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Marks.
FRED HUPPRICH: Saint Mark's. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And I guess the missionary nurse was really the only medical person in the area?
FRED HUPPRICH: Right. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So did everybody go to see her?
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah, a lot of us kids, we'd get a cut or step on a nail or something, that's the first place we'd go is run up to the mission. And you know, they had a little infirmary there, or a little deal that they they had a couple beds in it, you know, and all the necessary equipment at that time to help take care of a person, you know.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum. FRED HUPPRICH: And stuff. And the nurse was well trained. And at one time, that's how Bob Coghill, Jack's brother's wife, first wife came to the country. She was a missionary nurse at St. Mark's mission, and Bob and her got together and fell in love and got married, and they were great people.
Then there's other things in Nenana that we were we were just full of mischief all the time. They had a marine, what they called a marine ways, it's same place that they built the Steamer Nenana. The Steamer Nenana was precut and loaded on steamship, and rail and then railroad cars in sooner in Seward, and hauled up to Nenana by rail, and they had a spur going into this what we called the marine ways, and haul that lumber. And there was an old timer by the name of Haggart Olson (phonetic). He was the master shipbuilder.
And he was in charge of putting this steamship together as a steamboat, Sternwheeler Nenana. And it took him a few years, but most of the wood was precut in Seattle, and then they put it all together like a big jigsaw puzzle there in Nenana.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah.
FRED HUPPRICH: Of course, they had a lot of cutting and fitting to do after they got things.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And did that employ a lot of local people?
FRED HUPPRICH: Yes, it employed quite a few local people, and most of them Fins and Swedes and Norwegians, you know.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: What about some of the Native people? Did they help?
FRED HUPPRICH: Oh, yes. They hired a lot of them. That was a big thing around Nenana in the early days, too, a lot of the Native people were good workers. And they worked for the railroad. And of course, at that time, the railroad, Alaska Railroad, owned that steamboat Nenana. Government owned. And of course, they worked on that in the summer, and then the -- what they call the section people, each railroad section had an 8, 10 people stationed on the railroad, which were about 8 to 10 miles apart.
And they maintained the road bed, the railroad bed, dandy dancing on the ties, that means, you know, putting new ties in and packing them down. And most of these were Native, oh, a lot of white people, too. All the foremen were white people, but a lot of the Natives. And they've done a lot of work, all up and down the river.
And then in the wintertime, a lot of Natives would contract with the government, go down and cut wood for the steamboats all along the river. They had wood camps where the boat would pull in and load up with 8, 10 cords of wood, enough to burn to get down the river to the next big stop, you know.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: This is specifically for the Nenana, then?
FRED HUPPRICH: No. For all MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Or just any.
FRED HUPPRICH: all steamboats. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: All steamboats.
FRED HUPPRICH: There was boats out of Dawson City and Whitehorse that come down.
This is another thing. In the early days that I can remember as a child, they had what they called a round robin. That's what we called it. The steamship would leave Seattle, ocean going steamship with 50, 60 passengers or more, well, say a hundred passengers. All right. It leaves Seattle and power up to Skagway.
And then these passengers, half of them would get on the railroad train at Skagway and the other half would stay on the steamship. Well, it continued on to Seward. And the ones at Skagway got off, they got off and rode the narrow gauge railroad to Whitehorse. And they had two or three sternwheelers there. One in particular was the Steamer Yukon.
And there's many more prior to my time, but the Steamer Yukon and -- was in my mind now. And it would take about 50 tourists on that in the staterooms and stuff. They had they'd sternwheel it all the way down the Yukon and stop at Eagle and Circle City and Fort Yukon, and then come all the way down to the mouth of the Yukon, which -- or mouth of the Tanana, then they'd turn and come up the Tanana River to Nenana.
And at the same time, this Nenana is an exchange point again. All the ones that went to Seward come up the Alaska Railroad to Fairbanks, and then backtracked to the timewise, backtracked to Nenana to meet the sternwheeler. And all the 50 that come through Seward would go back on the sternwheeler to Whitehorse and catch the train back to Skagway. And then the other ones would get on the railroad and go come up to Fairbanks and then back to Seward, get on the boat and go back home.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh, so they had each had their their boat ride and their train ride.
FRED HUPPRICH: Right. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh, I wish we still had that in existence.
FRED HUPPRICH: When I was a kid, then, I'd service these sternwheelers. See, the Nenana was never a tourist boat. It was just a work boat. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Strictly a work boat.
FRED HUPPRICH: But they had a number of staterooms, 15, 20 staterooms, and they just carried passengers between Marshall and Nenana for all the villages along that way. That's the way most people traveled in the early days, they waited for the steamer. But back again to my job was we put up 4 or 500 ton of ice every winter, and a big ice house, thick walls about 2 feet thick with sawdust and stuff, no refrigeration. Just sawdust. And we'd store it in levels and then put sawdust all around each cake.
Well, in the summertime we contracted with the steamboats to furnish ice. And on each steamboat, they had a room that was really thick walled and everything. And we'd put in 2 to 3 ton of ice in these little cool rooms they got. And this is what these these boats used for cocktails, lemonade, whatever they wanted to use it for, ice cream or whatever.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: This was with your transport business? FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: As part of that. FRED HUPPRICH: This is the Alaska Transfer Number 1. That's that truck right there. That picture
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh, this picture. FRED HUPPRICH: That was one of our trucks.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Only one. FRED HUPPRICH: And that's the three boys and father. That's my father there.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Standing with his foot on the running board?
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah, uh hum. And then George has got his hand up to his face. And then me and then Bob.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Aha. And that looks like about 1920
FRED HUPPRICH: Well, that well, that truck was a 1926 model, I think. Of course, that's probably about 1931 or '2 right in there. And that's back up to the railroad depot.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh, the yes. FRED HUPPRICH: In existence now.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: In existence now.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yes. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And is a historic register.
FRED HUPPRICH: Which is now a historical MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And also a very nice museum.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. Very good. Very good.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Sounds like you were pretty busy most of the time working, but did you have any time for recreation?
FRED HUPPRICH: Oh, you bet. We always played baseball out in the middle of the street. Of course, our family, we only had about two or three vehicles in the whole town. We had three of them, two Model A trucks, and in later years we had a Chevrolet truck. But we had a '37 Plymouth pickup.
And part of my job, too, we had the only pickup in town, so I got the job of making grocery deliveries for the NC Company, twice a day; once ten o'clock in the morning, and once at three o'clock in the afternoon. And the people would come down, order their groceries from the store, dad and me, if I'm working in the store, would pack them into boxes, then I'd back up, load them, and maybe six, eight deliveries around town, into the pickup, and haul them, deliver them to the people that ordered them. And it's done. That was a source of income for me and stuff that I did.
But like I say, we all had bicycles and we rode them around town. And -- and there was lots of rec we seemed to be busy all the time with recreation. We'd be up about two miles out of town was that old gravel pit we used for a swimming pool. And we were out there just about every night in the warm summer nights. And then that big hill across from Nenana, why, we'd be over there playing, we'd have to either borrow a boat or walk across the river bridge, which we've done many times, get up and walk across the railroad bridge and go play on the hill and stuff like that.
And a little few years, the older boys, they got ahold of a houseboat and we rebuilt that. And we got an old car engine out of an old car there, it was a milk wagon, and we put that in the boat and we'd go puttering around there and hijack our fish out of the Mission fish wheel and go up it was a nice houseboat. We had cooking utensils and everything on it. We'd go up and cook a big well, of course, we'd go raid a garden someplace and get some potatoes and turnips and go MARGARET VAN CLEVE: A little subsistence living.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. Oh, it was great. And then in the falltime we'd take it downriver which was about six, eight miles downriver to a lake called Lender Lake. And duck hunting, and we'd go down to that. And then we'd have to go up a little slough to get to the lake, about a half a mile or so. They had a nice cabin there to live in and we'd go duck hunting morning, noon, and night, and get a bunch of ducks. And then sometimes we'd get a bull moose out there on the lake that happened by. And we'd nail him and bring him home with us, too.
But many, many things there. But we were pretty mischievous on a lot of little deals, too. We played pranks against the Alaska Railroad all the time. I remember several of us, the approach to the railroad bridge there in Nenana is kind of it's on a slight grade, climbing up to it. Well, we got ahold of a bucket of grease one time, and we went up there and we greased about 100 feet of railroad track.
Well, the train was making an approach to the bridge and taking a run at that and he got partway up, and the drive wheels on the locomotive got into that grease and he just spun out and he couldn't go no place. Well, that scared we didn't realize the bad thing we'd done done. And we played it pretty cool around Nenana for quite awhile because the section they called out the section crew to go up there with gasoline and wash all them rails to get the grease off of them.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Did they have a pretty good idea who had done it?
FRED HUPPRICH: Oh, no, they couldn't blame it on anybody, really, because
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: That was the first and the last time you did that?
FRED HUPPRICH: Oh, no, no, we done many other things to the Alaska Railroad. It was fun being a kid, but we never destroyed anything, it's just that we had a lot of fun.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Imagination. FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. You know, we'd borrow their what they call little flat cars. They pulled them behind speeders on the section crew, hauling ties or railroad iron, and out to their job when they were working out on the railroad.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Are those the things that you
FRED HUPPRICH: No, that's a three wheeler pup speeder.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh. FRED HUPPRICH: We -- we borrowed one of them one time, too, the three of us went fishing. It was out three miles out to Fish Creek from town, going south on the railroad. And we just hated to walk, so we'd just go borrow
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Free transportation. FRED HUPPRICH: And stuff like that. Borrow their speeders and...
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah, sounds like you didn't lack for activities, if you
FRED HUPPRICH: No, we were this is all the kids. The Wright brothers, the Coghills, the Robinsons. That was another family that lived in Nenana that we grew up with, although they left probably in early early '40s. Their father was the manager, the power plant manager at Mount McKinley National Park. They'd move down there in the summers. Well, then they decided to close the park line at Nenana, and when the winter or summer season was over at McKinley Park, they sent their father down to Anchorage to work in the power house down there. And this is for Alaska Railroad.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Let's see, the power house is part of the NC Company?
FRED HUPPRICH: No, not in Nenana. It belonged to the Alaska Railroad.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh, I see.
FRED HUPPRICH: And they supplied just electricity and steam heat and power for the Alaska Railroad buildings themselves.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: But not for the rest of the town? FRED HUPPRICH: Not for the rest of the town.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: What did people do about electricity?
FRED HUPPRICH: Well, we had all our own city power plant. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum.
FRED HUPPRICH: And it was owned by a person by the name of Henry Kaiser. And his son is still alive and living in Anchorage. His name is Henry Kaiser, too, and would have a lot of history of Alaska in that area. And his sister, Lena, she -- Lena Dewey, she lives up on Chena Ridge. And they lived just basically next door to us there in Nenana. And they got a little bit of Native in them, but they are beautiful people and being a lot of history, if you ever get a chance to interview her, why
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So it sounds like there was really quite a bit of employment in Nenana.
FRED HUPPRICH: Well, just mostly during -- during the summer months, due to the Alaska Railroad hauling freight up to be put on the sternwheelers to be hauled down the river. See, down the river, there was lots of mining. And a lot of that freight went through Nenana to get to the mining communities on the Yukon and Tanana. Well, not so much Tanana, but the Yukon. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: The Yukon.
FRED HUPPRICH: Down around Ruby, and then up the Iditarod River and up the Koyukuk River, and places like that. And they hauled fuel by drums down that way, and then that's how they got their equipment in, tractors and draglines and even food stuff. And they'd have to -- to take it off the railroad box cars and stuff and then transport it over to the to the barges that the steamboats pushed, and haul the freight down that way.
And these were wood burning steamboats, so they you know, there was just lots of labor for anybody that wanted to work. Of course, you were only working was getting 3 or $4 a day plus keep, you know.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: This is working for the steam --
FRED HUPPRICH: For the railroad.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Railroad.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. Uh hum.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Which would either be -- FRED HUPPRICH: Because the biggest part of our employment there in that community was Alaska Railroad. Then there was lots of trapping in the wintertime. That was kind of a a main stopping off point for trappers over in the Kantishna country and, well, all the rivers.
And when the steamboats stopped running, then the dog teams started running, you know. And everybody down the river had dog teams and stuff, so they'd come into Nenana with 10, 15 dogs, with two sleds, and load up their winter supply of trapping stuff. And and a lot of them came in during -- over the Christmas and New Year's holiday to get grub and sell their furs, and then they'd go back to the trapline.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So it really was a hub for a pretty large area.
FRED HUPPRICH: Oh, it was a hub, yeah. And just like Fairbanks was the end of the rail in the early days, and they brought all that material and equipment and stuff for mining, which is the backbone of Fairbanks was mining, you know. And quite a bit of trapping out of here, too. And then early enough in the early days, why, the airplane got started, too, which took the trappers out to the Bush and they'd make a date to come out and drop them some eggs or whatever. That's one job I had when just before I got drafted into the Army. I was working for Alaska Airlines and I got to fly out on many trips. And then we'd have orders for trappers, and the pilot knew right where the trapper's cabin was, and he says, okay, Fred, kick it out the door.
So I'd kick his mail and his eggs and some fresh stuff that was available and stuff like that, and we'd fly over his his trappers cabin and kick it out the door, and it
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: You must have packed the eggs quite well to
FRED HUPPRICH: Oh, yes. In fact MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Or did you have a little parachute or something?
FRED HUPPRICH: No, we didn't. The first time I did it, why, I packed eggs what I thought was pretty good, but when he come in from his trapline with his dogs, why, he he got ahold of us and he said, well, please don't send any more eggs because they are all scrambled when I get them. So I said, we'll send you some eggs.
So I got ahold of a brand new gallon can, and I cracked all the eggs, put them into the gallon can, and there must have been three dozen eggs or so, and put a top back on it and sealed it all and still wrapped it in a bunch of in a box with a bunch of what was cut up newspaper. I forget what they call that stuff. Seltzer or something like that. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Shredded newspaper.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah, shredded newspaper, I packed it in the box and that and then I'd kick it out that way. He says that worked fine. He got lots of eggs, and then he divided them up, I guess, or whatever, and froze them.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh, and then thawed them out as he needed them? FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah, and thawed them out as he needed them.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So you had the Northern Commercial Store, and also Coghills had a store?
FRED HUPPRICH: Well well, let's go back there and talk about Nenana itself. When I was raised around there, we had, let's see, NC Company, which was a chain store, they had stores all over Alaska, it was a pretty good sized company. But then individual operators, like Coghill's store, Fowler's store, Hagstrom's (phonetic) store, and a guy by the name of Louie Hammel (phonetic).
These were five stores there now, and they were all the same kind of stores. They all sold groceries, they all sold clothing, and some hardware. And the later years, back, say, '38, '9, '40, a law Alaska passed a law where they had to have their booze separate store from the -- the main store. And
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: In a separate building or a separate room? FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah, it was going to be attached but it was a separate room with an outdoor
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Entrance? FRED HUPPRICH: entrance. So and these were all in competition with each other.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: I was going to say.
FRED HUPPRICH: And there wasn't really that many people in Alaska in Nenana at that time.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: What do you think the population would have been at that time? Probably more than now?
FRED HUPPRICH: Oh, I oh, no. No.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh. FRED HUPPRICH: Well, at one time before my time there, Nenana probably had a population of 6 - 7,000 people.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: That was during the construction period.
FRED HUPPRICH: Coming from the railroad and that. But after that it dropped down quite a bit. The railroad had a big big operation there. They had a hospital and two or three dormitories, and then they put up a number of 8, 10 houses for their higher up personnel, you know
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum. FRED HUPPRICH: Like railroad agents and
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah. FRED HUPPRICH: stuff like that. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Foremen and some
FRED HUPPRICH: Foremen and stuff like that that lived in these nice homes. And they put in a sewer system and a water system. And part of the downtown business district in Nenana had had them facilities because all the time I was raised there in Nenana, why, we had running water in the house and hot air furnaces, wood burning but hot air or coal, and sewer system where everything was indoors.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: I was going to ask you about that. FRED HUPPRICH: We were living right downtown, you know, we were on the main streets all the time of our lives. My dad was a fire chief there and police chief during the -- just part time; I mean, it was just a title. And our shop and garage was big enough to hold the fire equipment, so we kept the fire equipment in our garage in the early days.
And like I say, it was all modern and everything else. And -- and we had the transportation that we didn't have any fire trucks, they were just a hose cart and a chemical cart that we towed behind a vehicle or they used to tow them with horses in the early days, and then when we got vehicles, well, we can tow them behind it.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Tow behind it. FRED HUPPRICH: Behind the pickup or Model A truck or wherever. And there was maybe only a half a dozen fire hydrants in the main part of town. Out of town you just forgot everything, you just went out there with a little chemical cart and tried to put it out.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Did you have any bad fires during the winter?
FRED HUPPRICH: Oh well, let's see.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Any that really threatened Nenana? FRED HUPPRICH: Not really bad fires. There was probably two or three, but we had a whole block burn down there one time. And this was in October of, I think, 1935; '34, '35, right in there. It burned the whole block. At that time, it took a number of restaurants, it took my mother's uncle's store, Coghill's store, our store, and a couple other buildings here, too.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: This would be on the main street? FRED HUPPRICH: It was right on the main street. And it's the block that's right now where the community center's sitting on, that's on the riverside end of the block, and then it goes all the way to the other end where that Tortilla Lodge is sitting.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum. FRED HUPPRICH: Well, from that lodge back down to the community center, that whole block went, although there was a the first part of it was a vacant lot, a couple vacant lots in there. But then it was solid buildings all the way down to the other street where the lodge was sitting down there.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Do they know what caused that fire? FRED HUPPRICH: Gosh, I don't know.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: But they were all wooden buildings? FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Definitely. All wooden.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And then all together, so there
FRED HUPPRICH: Right, all just stacked like MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Like a domino.
FRED HUPPRICH: you know.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So there's no concrete wall to
FRED HUPPRICH: No. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: to act as a fire break.
FRED HUPPRICH: We never had any concrete in Nenana except for maybe the railroad depot's basement, and everything else was wood cribbed and wooden sidewalks. There wasn't a cement sidewalk nowhere to be found in Nenana.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah. Dry wood goes up quickly, too.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. I remember we had several floods down there in the springtime, and we'd be paddling around and using the sidewalks for rafts, us kids, pushing them around, you know, because they were just like a raft.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So they were not big sections, maybe
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah well, no, they'd break up in maybe 10 foot long sections by well, some of the sidewalks in front of the stores were probably 10, 12 feet wide, you know.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum. FRED HUPPRICH: And we'd just use them as rafts. And a lot of kids had canoes and stuff like that.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: You probably didn't use lifejackets?
FRED HUPPRICH: No. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Never heard of them.
FRED HUPPRICH: Didn't know what a lifejacket was. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah.
FRED HUPPRICH: But I know we used a canoe to school that spring when we had the flood. The school was still going when the flood came along.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So these were usually breakup floods that you had?
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. And in springtime, too, after we got to be about 14 years old, we got a chance to work on the Nenana Ice Pool. And they'd let us out of school, some of the older kids, and to do the typing and sorting of tickets for the Nenana Ice Classic.
And my father was manager of that several different times, the Nenana Ice Classic. I probably watched that river go out, oh, dozens of times over the course of the years. And I even go down now if I get a chance to watch it go out and stuff. I won the Nenana Ice Pool twice, but not on a pool. Not while I was in Nenana, while I was here in Fairbanks.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: While you were here in Fairbanks. I was going to say, you'd have a slight edge having lived there and observed it going out.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. But I was on that pool twice with different pools and stuff. Didn't win very much, though. Most I ever got out of it was $392.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Well, that would pay for your tickets a few times over.
FRED HUPPRICH: Well, yeah.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Well, that's been in existence for quite awhile.
FRED HUPPRICH: 19
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: '17 or so?
FRED HUPPRICH: Well, 1915, somewhere.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Somewhere around there. FRED HUPPRICH: '16, '18. Somewhere.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah, that's the oldest one in Alaska, so...
FRED HUPPRICH: It got started when they were building that Alaska Railroad bridge. There was a big construction outfit there building the Alaska Railroad bridge, and I believe that's probably about the time they started. It was railroad crews that actually started the guessing game on the Tanana River there.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Certainly it's been something that people have enjoyed participating since. FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah.
FRED HUPPRICH: Go ahead and ask some more questions, and then I'll yeah, there was another little thing I'd like to mention, being devilish boys down in Nenana. We had another boy or two boys, we were over playing there, across from Nenana itself, there was an island over there.
And then just below the island on the mainland was the railroad had a powder shack. And it was probably 10 feet square all made out of sheet iron deal. And it was just a place where they stored black powder for various things that they needed blasting powder for.
Well, we got over there and and we could see where one of the corners of the tin was pulled aside a little bit, so we pulled it a little more and we got in there and here's a whole bunch of 40, 50 pound kegs of black powder.
So we proceeded to think we were blasting professionals or something, so we got one of these cans and unbeknown, the bottom was rusted out. And we picked it up and started carrying it out, and we carried it to about, oh, a couple hundred feet away from the main powder shack.
Well, we got to where we were going to blast this tree out. Why, we dug a hole under the tree and packed the powder in and all this and that, and then let a line of powder way out about 40 feet and struck a match.
Well, it went back and it poofed the tree out a little bit, didn't do much good, but then all of a sudden it started burning over what's going from the trail of powder we left when we put
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So it went back towards the shack.
FRED HUPPRICH: Went back to the shack. And we were far enough away all right, and all of a sudden that shack just blew sheet iron all over. And we made our way back to town very carefully; and as far as I know to this day, they don't know who done it or how it happened or whatever.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Spontaneous combustion.
FRED HUPPRICH: Well, I guess you could blame it on, I guess. But that scared me, from then on I didn't do very many more pranks.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: You were through greasing the tracks down
FRED HUPPRICH: Greasing the tracks.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: and taking powder. FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Well, another thing I wanted to ask you about, you mentioned that the town had well, I guess the bottom story of the school would have been used for some social events in town?
FRED HUPPRICH: Yes, it did, at times they did have little get togethers down there. And of course, it was just all a wood floor, there was no concrete in that building at all. It was mostly log, and then, of course, finished on the inside with I don't know what they used in them days. Beaver board or something, paint it up nice and stuff.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum. What is beaver board?
FRED HUPPRICH: It's a compressed type of board made out of a composition of some type, 4 by 8 sheets, about a quarter inch thick. And they call it a hard board today.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Sort of like plywood, but more FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah, it was just molded together and pressed together with a certain amount of glue and sawdust or something like that.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And for holidays, did you have any town gatherings, Christmas parties?
FRED HUPPRICH: Oh, boy, you betcha. We go back to well, Fourth of July was the main holiday for kids and people down in Nenana. And of course, it's like a lot of communities in Alaska in the early days, Nenana, maybe Fairbanks, but Tanana and Ruby and Galena, and well, all over the country, Eagle, Alaska, they the community put out cans all of in all the stores, and they'd put Kids' Benefit Fund Fourth of July, probably.
I don't know how some of them done it, but in Nenana they did. And all the old timers would come along and drop a couple quarters or a dollar bill or silver dollars in these cans, they built up quite a fund.
Well, they'd use that money for foot races, three legged race, just running race, slow race, bicycle races, and any other kind, and then a sawdust pile with coins in it, everybody dove into and looking for coins. And they'd have quite a deal there.
Well, prior to all this coming about on the Fourth of July, why, along with my family and mother, why, we'd put up about 50 gallons of ice cream. And we had a big ice cream mixer and, of course, we had access to the ice house. And the store across, NC Store was just across the street from us, so we got all our supplies and we made all our ice cream out of canned milk, stuff like that. And we had a two and a half gallon mixer.
Well, I'd jack the truck up the back wheel, and the mixer had a big wheel on it so I could hold the freezer up against the truck wheel tire and it would turn the freezer just because it just got too tiresome
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Too long to hand crank. FRED HUPPRICH: for one man to crank it by hand taking turns. And we'd make vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, and put it up in big gallon coffee cans or two gallon coffee cans, whatever they were, and they would NC would freeze it for us. They'd put it in their freezer.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So you would do this a few days ahead of time?
FRED HUPPRICH: Oh, a couple weeks ahead of time. And at the same time we'd bottle up homemade root beer and make popcorn balls and whatever concessions we could think of. And then right out in front of our building in Nenana, why, we'd set up this concession and mom would run it for us for a nickel for an ice cream cone or whatever they charged. I forget. Nickel for a bottle or two bits or whatever.
And of course, us boys would be out there in competition with the rest of the kids running races and riding the bicycle, excuse me, bicycle and things like this. Festivities. And that would be one get together for that the men would have tug a wars for beer, you know, and things like this. There was lots for what you call them to do.
But getting back to there was other recreation deals. Like I say, the Pioneer Lodge would put on card parties, and then there was a woman's group. I don't know what they called it, the mitten group or hen party of some kind. And they'd put on a card deal where they'd play cards for from probably about seven o'clock until nine o'clock, and then they'd put the card tables and everything away, and they'd have a meal or sandwiches and that kind of stuff, and then they would have a dance. And that would go until late hours of the night.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: This is all part of the Fourth of July? FRED HUPPRICH: No, different.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh, this was separate. FRED HUPPRICH: Different weekends, during the winter, mostly during the winter they would have these card parties and stuff. But in the summertime, other than the Fourth of July, I can't remember too much as far as the whole group, the whole town getting together for something.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Did you have a a local movie theatre?
FRED HUPPRICH: Yes, we did. And this goes back to Jack Coghill. Prior to him, there wasn't there was movies there, and I can't recall who run it, but the later years, Jack as a real young teenager took over. And he got ahold of the projectors and stuff from whoever had it, and then he ordered film in and run the the theatre there.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And that would be on weekends? FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. Mostly just weekends.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum. FRED HUPPRICH: Yes. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And where was that held?
FRED HUPPRICH: Well, for a while, we owned the building that had a theatre in it, and of course, prior to my time there it was pretty nice, but then it dropped out after the town kind of went quiet because all the construction was over with and stuff.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum. FRED HUPPRICH: And then Jack come along and rejuvenated it. Or somebody else did, and then Jack took over shortly after that. And he run the movie theatre for quite some time until my father tore our building down and then Jack moved into the Pioneer Lodge, which is still standing there, and although the roof was caved in from snow load now, but they are, I guess, supposed to tear it down here any time now.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: That's on the main street? FRED HUPPRICH: That's right on the main street, the big black and white building right there.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum. I can't recall, is it on the right side as you go towards the
FRED HUPPRICH: As you're walking towards the depot, it would be on the right side.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Okay. I think I know where it is.
FRED HUPPRICH: Just this side of one of the bars there. You know. And well, let's see. There's I've got to stop and think.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh, one thing I have to ask you before we leave Nenana, did you ever ride on the Riverboat Nenana?
FRED HUPPRICH: Yes, that's a story in itself, almost. We watched the progress as children there of the building of the Steamer Nenana, and it took I forget how many months it took to build it, but maybe it took about a year to build it from the time they started until they finished. And I believe it was 1934 when it was launched. And I remember as a child, we sat up on the railroad bridge waiting for them to launch it.
And of course, it's sitting on sideways, and it slid down the marine ways, the greased butter boards, like a pallet sitting down there, and the boat sat on that, and the whole thing slid into the river.
And I remember it just about caused a tidal wave there when the outer edge hit the river. It sprayed water way up in a wave as high as this ceiling here. All across the river. And see, everybody was taking pictures and oohing and ahhing and all that, you know.
And then that was over with. And then a few days later, after they got the steam going and the wheel turning and checking out all the odds and ends on it and stuff, they took the whole town of Nenana, or anybody that wanted to go, on an excursion trip. And we left Nenana from the dock. It was quite a few people on it, and they turn pointed upriver, they turned the boat around and started downriver, and oh, about halfway down, some problem arose with some machinery, so they tied up there for a while.
So they figured that was a good time to feed everybody. And they had one of the nicest feeds that I could remember as a child. They had fresh fish and vegetables and two or three different types of meat and sausages and just a whole everything, you know. And then pies, cakes, lemonades, and I don't know whether they didn't have Kool Aid at that time, but there was other types of soft drinks and stuff. And no booze onboard but there was a bunch of kids running around on them decks. It's funny we didn't lose any overboard.
But anyway, they got the boat repaired and finished the trip. We we were probably on the water about eight hours, I would guess. I can't really remember, but during the breakdown and then continuing on down to Minto and then turning around and coming back to Nenana, why, it's probably an eight hour trip. I remember getting back about midnight and I wasn't used to being up that late.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: This would have been in June or July or was it later in the season?
FRED HUPPRICH: Boy. What month it was, I I'm not sure, but I would guess it was in fairly early in the
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: In the summer? FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah, in the summer.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And I guess Captain Adams was the
FRED HUPPRICH: Captain Adams was the initial pilot, I believe. And, well, there was
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: There was Charles Adams, who was the same person who dropped Barnette off in Fairbanks. I think he was the first captain.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And then his nephew was
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: the last captain.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. Yeah. And then there was, oh, they had quite a few captains and pilots on the river steamers, like they had the Barry Kay and the Steamer Alice, and so many of them boats, I can't remember all of them that plied the waters back and forth.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So that trip that you took on the Nenana was free, then?
FRED HUPPRICH: Yes. It was just MARGARET VAN CLEVE: It was kind of a gift for the people.
FRED HUPPRICH: excursion for the town of Nenana to show them appreciation.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And then who did all the food? The various families in town?
FRED HUPPRICH: No, I think it was all prepared by railroad employees. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh.
FRED HUPPRICH: Because the boat was all ready to put in service, so they had it all stocked with everything, you know, and all the utensils and the bedding, and it was just beautiful, you know. It was a very brand new boat. And then the steamboat got back to Nenana, and of course, went right straight to work pushing barges up and down the river. But this was in the early days now, and at one time, they took that one winter they took or fall, late fall, they took the Steamer Nenana to Whitehorse, and they gave the government, I guess, gave a contract to Whitehorse to pull it up on their ways down there where they could work on it, and they put a whole new planked hull on it. And that spring that winter. And then that spring, they launched it and brought it back to Nenana.
From my knowledge, I don't believe they ever plied the waters pushing barges or anything. It sat in Nenana for quite some time until the City of Fairbanks, I guess Chamber of Commerce and other people got ahold of it and brought it into for a tourist attraction in Fairbanks.
Well, they made a slip on the the Chena River down there close to where the city power plant is now, and it was moved into there. And then we blocked the back in and it floated in water there until the in a kind of a little pond until the water leaked out and the river dropped. Anyway, it sat there for a number of years until this Alaska Centennial come along, and they thought, well, we'll just put that in a park down where Alaskaland is now.
So Walt Wigger (phonetic) and I got the job of moving it from that mooring down to where it was going to be put into the Alaskaland lot, and which is probably, oh, a half a mile downriver. So we floated it, we opened the back end and floated it down using a couple tractors to anchor it down and let it down easy because no power or anything, just drifted.
And the slip was built down in Alaskaland where it's been moved since, but the first slip is where Walt and I put it. And I always figured I was the last one to steer the wheel on it, on the water and moving it down into that Alaskaland spot. So that's about the size of the Steamer Nenana.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah. And it's been there ever since. FRED HUPPRICH: And it's been there ever since. Although the Historical Society, they made a historical monument out of it and got lots of funds to put it in the shape it is today, which is marvelous.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So it looks as good as it did FRED HUPPRICH: Yes.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: the day it was marked. FRED HUPPRICH: They moved it a little more back toward the center of Alaskaland. Ghemm Company had that job, and it's sitting on good concrete foundations and looks wonderful.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah. It's quite an attraction to Alaskaland. FRED HUPPRICH: Yes.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So you spent your first 16 years in Nenana and then moved to Fairbanks?
FRED HUPPRICH: Yes. The I that 1943, we were more or less out of the transfer business in Nenana because of very few people left there, really, and not much of a business, down to probably one or two stores, and nobody needed ice anymore. And of course, fuel oil come on the scene and not much wood, so we just kind of disbanded the Alaska Transfer.
Well, that summer I went to work for the Civil Aeronautics Authority building airports, and I was working down at Summit on the Alaska Railroad and driving a Cat and trucks and stuff, and just 16 years old. Then that fall, I left down there, quit in time to go to school in Nenana. Well, I got to Nenana and found out mother and sisters were living in Fairbanks, so I said, well, that's the place for me, too. So I said I'll go up there and go to school.
Well, I got into school up here but I was so far behind everybody else, losing a couple years in Nenana, and yeah, going to school here in Fairbanks, why, I was so far behind that I decided, well, the family was having hard times and I couldn't depend on mother to bring out home all the living support, so I'd better go out and go to work.
So I went out and got a job hauling wood, back to my old way of making a living for a couple of old woodcutters around here, and various other jobs, until spring come along, and then I got a chance to go out on some other trucking jobs working for different people and stuff like that.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Who did you work for?
FRED HUPPRICH: Well, the old woodcutter was a guy by the name of Pete Smith. And he was a sold wood to all the people in town here, just hauled wood and sold it to different customers. And there was another one named Quintal Polini (phonetic). Don't ask me how to spell that name.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Just guess on it.
FRED HUPPRICH: He was another woodcutter and wood hauler and had a wood yard or they brought wood in from the woods and stored it on that yard, and then when somebody wanted a cord of wood, they'd load it up and hauled it. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So this would be right in town?
FRED HUPPRICH: Right here in Fairbanks, yeah. And then later that year I got a job with Alaska Road Commission. And they were at that year putting a lift on the Moose Creek dike, which was a dike built out there to protect the city of Fairbanks so that the Pile Driver Slough and everything fed into the Chena River, which would cause flooding in the spring just about every year. Well, they put that dike in to hold that back, which helped quite a bit on the town of Fairbanks.
Well, I got a job out there that winter in '43, the winter of '43, helping driving truck and running equipment out there, and still just 16 years old, but I I think we were supposed to be a little older working for the Road Commission, but they overlooked that.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: If you could drive a truck, that was good enough for them.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah, good enough for them. So then I got to done with that job in the springtime, and I guess I probably just laid around for a couple of months, and until other things opened up. And then I got a job driving truck from Fairbanks to Whitehorse and back hauling cement, bags of cement for the government that summer. And then just kind of carried on that way the rest of my life. I didn't get a chance to go back and finish school, but
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Well, I guess at the time you were working for the Road Commission, of course, a lot of men were in the military, so was there quite a shortage of manpower?
FRED HUPPRICH: That's right. That's one reason it was a little easier for us kids to to go to work; and in fact, the years, '43, '4, '5, '6 and so on, why, that's the first place school kids headed after they got out of school in the springtime was over to the Alaska Road Commission because they're pretty sure of getting a job driving trucks and stuff because they had a lot of roads to repair. All gravel roads and frost boils coming out, so they would have to haul gravel in there and fill them up and stuff, so all the kids got a chance to go to work.
And then in the early days, like that, they called the Alaska Road Commission a school for the young and a home for the old, you know. So -- because that's what they had, all young kids out of school driving truck; and then all the old timers, they were doing the blasting and the dump men and some of the more better jobs, why, and a place where the old timers lived because they couldn't get into the Army or they didn't draft them.
And of course, there was a lot of government work around here. They were building Ladd Field at that time, and you know, Eielson Air Force Base, they were building that. In fact, I got to work out there one summer hauling blacktop paving the runway out there. And that was for Alaska Freightlines.
I worked for them one winter hauling gravel from Fox, tailing pile gravel into Ladd Field during the wintertime, and they were using that for a base on a lot of buildings, so it was a good, heavy gravel, and held up the buildings like that. So
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So you saw quite a bit of early construction in
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. And they had one month or so during them times, why, when I was off work someplace, well, then, I got a chance to drive a truck to Valdez and back and haul some barrels of asphalt for different locations along the highway where the government was building runways for emergency runways and stuff during the war.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: During the war.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. Gulkana and Big Delta, Tanacross, and places like that where they put in nice runways for war deals and emergency strips and stuff.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum. And of course, at that time, the Lend Lease planes were coming through Fairbanks.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. I can remember sitting on the end of the runway at Ladd Field and watching them planes come and go that the -- that the Americans brought to Fairbanks, and then the Russians picked up here and flew to Russia. Why, they'd come racing down the runway and they wouldn't bother pulling back on the stick, they'd just lift their wheels up and they'd start flying.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: The Russians? FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. And it used to be some of them, after they lifted their wheels, the airplane dropped a little bit; of course, the propellers, the tips of the propellers hit the pavement, so they piled a few of them up, too.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So those planes didn't sit on the ground very long?
FRED HUPPRICH: No. They they went
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Got up here and now they are ready to put the next team on?
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. There were a few of the old ferry pilots, they had women, a lot of women ferrying the planes up. Celia Hunter was one of them, and some other girls around there.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Ginny Woods. FRED HUPPRICH: Woods, I think.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah. A lot of them came up here when we
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. That's what they've done to get to the country, they
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Ferry pilots. FRED HUPPRICH: were ferry pilots. Yep.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: I guess with the influx of all the military personnel, there must have been some shortages in town? Do you remember
FRED HUPPRICH: As far oh, yes. They had a ration ration department where they rationed sugar, tires, lots -- lots of things like that. Women couldn't even find a silk sock in the whole state or in the whole territory at that time, you know.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Well, I heard FRED HUPPRICH: I think silk was used for something on an airplane.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Or parachutes. FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah, parachutes and stuff like this.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Or I heard a lot of Russians bought a lot of the so called luxury items.
FRED HUPPRICH: Oh, yeah. My mother at the time was a clerk in the NC Store, and the Russians used to just come in there and buy cigarettes and candy and just -- they'd just load every plane that left Fairbanks was loaded up with goodies, you know, that they got here to take back home to their sweethearts back there, you know. Socks and candy and cigarettes and whatever else they could get.
Another big item was cosmetics for their women, lipsticks and all that kind of stuff. I remember mom talking about that that they'd just buy the whole store out of them fancy things, you know, for the women.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So they would run out of items like that quite frequently?
FRED HUPPRICH: Oh, yes, then they would start rationing and stuff like that. I remember the good old days when we could buy a -- well, after I got drafted, I know we bought cigarettes for 50 cents a carton, which was a pretty good deal in them days.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And that would be how many packs? Probably about 8?
FRED HUPPRICH: 20 packs. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh, 20?
FRED HUPPRICH: Or 10 packs to a carton. Yeah. Uh hum. And things like that. So you know, in the early days around Fairbanks was good days because you never seen many robberies or anything like that around Fairbanks. Even with the GIs around here, they were all pretty good boys, and you know, they didn't cause much trouble to anybody.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: You know, and I guess if there was anybody that caused a problem, they were given a what's it called, a blue ticket?
FRED HUPPRICH: Well yeah. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Have you heard of that?
FRED HUPPRICH: Well, that was prior to the Army, yeah. If he was a bad actor, then the marshal would give him a blue ticket out of town. But the MP's were walked with our own police force in town, walked together, so they could both judge the guy's character.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: You know, so there's quite a bit of cooperation between the military and the town?
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah, cooperation between the two, and that's why nobody got into too much trouble around here, you know. Once in awhile you might get a GI and a and a civilian into a little
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Bar brawl? FRED HUPPRICH: fisticuff or something like that, you know.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So you were travelling on on the Alaska Highway, I guess early on, just shortly after it was constructed. You mentioned going to Whitehorse.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yes. I got the chance to go down there a couple trips is all. And
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh. Yeah. So you would go down to Whitehorse?
FRED HUPPRICH: Yes. We'd they were it was pretty tough road at that time. It I think '40 summer of '44, I think, was the year I was hauling freight out of there. I was using a truck that belonged to George Nervous (phonetic). And I remember that trip, it would take 10 days to make a trip because it was gravel roads and you had a lot of flat tires, and carried about 5 to 6 ton on the on the back of a ton and a half truck, and you'd get into them mud holes and stuff and have to get your truck pulled through with a tractor and stuff like that.
But one interesting little thing down there, being not too well educated, I made a trip down there and got loaded up, and then we stayed in a barracks down there, and it cost us two bits a night for the bed and two bits a meal. And so I was leaving Whitehorse coming north, and I stopped in the town of Whitehorse. And I'm going to I said to myself I'm going in here in this nice restaurant and have a good breakfast before I leave.
So I went in there and ordered my ham and eggs, sat down, I had them, ate them, picked up the check, walked to the cash register and gave her a $20 American bill. And she in turn gave me a $20 Canadian bill back. And I said, what's going on here? How come you're doing this? I says, don't I owe you for the meal? Well, I didn't think about
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh, the exchange. FRED HUPPRICH: Canadian money being different and the exchange on the dollar. So at that time it was 10 cents on the dollar, I guess, and the meal was, I think, $2 for the ham and egg breakfast, or something like that. Anyway, I know I got I gave them a $20 bill American one and I got a $20 Canadian back, and a free
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh, you thought you got a free meal.
FRED HUPPRICH: free meal, free breakfast, but it was due to the exchange. And then started back up the road. And then, of course, you had washouts on the road and you have to wait a few hours here, a few hours there. And I was lucky I met another driver there that was driving another truck about the same size as mine, and we got to be buddies, so he he had been on the road a lot longer than I had, so he showed me a lot of the kinks and the things to do to get home safely, stuff, so which was a good deal.
And after that, then, I don't know what I done. Different jobs all around working for different companies and stuff, but in the later years, after the war was over and stuff, I got a job for Mitchell with Mitchell Truck and Tractor Service. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: That's Bobby Mitchell?
FRED HUPPRICH: Bobby Mitchell, yeah. And Clyde Geraghty. They were partners in this Mitchell Truck and Tractor Service. And Bobby was something like the Alaska Road Commission. He gave a break to every young kid in town that wanted to work, and and learn something, and he -- he was like a father to us. And Clyde was the mechanic, and Bob was the mouthpiece; he told us what to do and where to go and when to do it, and then taught us how to skim Cat the right way and how to drive truck.
And he put us to work. And of course, we worked in town quite a bit with dump trucks, hauling gravel, and then tractors and dig basements and landscape and putting in sewer systems and moving houses. And at the same time, he had all this going on in town, he also had a truck running out of Valdez hauling freight to different stores in town, like the the old Market Basket and Lavery's Grocery and, oh, other outfits, construction outfits.
I remember I was still working for them back in 1949, I think it was, that he got the contract for hauling all the steel for the Northward Building. And that went from '49 to '51 or so during the construction. But all the steel came out of Valdez, and we hauled it by by truck, by truck out of Valdez. And then we Reid Martin had the contract for building the Northward Building, and all that steel, like I say, was many, many trips out of Valdez.
I drove made a trip every three days. It would take about a day down and a day back, and then a day overrun on each side to grease and change oil and work on the truck and get some sleep and change clothes and shower and stuff, but every three days, we were making a trip.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And this was year around? FRED HUPPRICH: No, no.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Just in the summer? FRED HUPPRICH: Just the summer because at that time, the Valdez Trail, which we called then, was closed in the wintertime, what they call Thompson Pass, and then Isabel Pass, they were both closed during the winter.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: What shape was the road in, in the summers?
FRED HUPPRICH: It was all gravel road, except that same year, a number of contractors were rebuilding it out of Fairbanks here, the first part, oh, down through from here to Harding Lake was a contract, and then so on.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: This is to pave it? FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah, to pave it, rebuild it, reconstruction and and to put pavement on it. But and then they didn't start working out of Valdez to paving it for several years later. They just took it in sections. So a lot of our hauling was on gravel roads, so we had a lot of flat tires. I remember having 13 flat tires in one trip. And I had repair equipment right along with me.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So you must have had quite a lot of rubber patches. FRED HUPPRICH: Oh, you betcha. We carried everything with us. Air compressor, I mean, run off the truck, air compressor; and tools to break the tire down and patches and boots and stuff to put back in.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: What about gasoline? Did you carry your own fuel to get down?
FRED HUPPRICH: Well, yeah, usually, the tanks on the trucks were big enough to carry enough to go each way. We'd have to fuel here before we left to go south, and then
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Fuel in Valdez. FRED HUPPRICH: fuel in Valdez to get back again. And we always carried enough to make that trip.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Did you have any other mechanical problems?
FRED HUPPRICH: Oh, yes. We'd break fan belts and break axles a generator would go out or a starter wouldn't work or sometimes the whole engine would blow up and you'd have to these were days when we had we were pulling trailers, they weren't hauling right on the back of a truck, we were pulling semis. So if you met your partner, one of your own equipment trucks for the same outfit, he'd pull a dead truck out from underneath the trailer and he would hook up and finish the trip. And then a lot of times we'd either tow that truck to town and get it fixed or or use
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Somebody bring a spare?
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah, we'd use some of the services down the highway to get in their garage and stuff to fix it right there.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So there were a few of places along the highway?
FRED HUPPRICH: Oh, yeah, there was a number of places to stop about every 50
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Old roadhouses.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah, old roadhouses, like there was the Tiekel Roadhouse, Tonsina Roadhouse, Copper Center Roadhouse, Junction Inn. Let's see. Sourdough Roadhouse. Then Meyers Roadhouse. Then Paxson's Roadhouse. Then you could go on up the road to Rapids Roadhouse, and then you'd get to Big Delta. And then from Big Delta you could go on into Silver Fox Lodge. There was a couple other little places along the road there just for sandwiches and stuff. And then pretty much on into town. So everything was in
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: A day's or FRED HUPPRICH: Well, 50 miles apart. You know.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah, a day's drive by horse and buggy.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. That's right. A lot of them. But there's lots of roadhouses that were closed down and just old and fallen down. Oh, gosh, there was Beale's Cache, there was several other roadhouses, I can't quite recall them right now. McKellum was a roadhouse. And
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: I guess Rika's Roadhouse was still in operation then.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. Yeah, she was.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And it was Rika herself that was running it at that time?
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah, at that time. Boy, just I didn't that was the ferry, it used to be across the Tanana River before they had the bridge in, was just probably a year prior to my or two years prior to my starting to work on the Alaska High or the Richardson Highway as far as driving.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So you went across the bridge most of the time?
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah. Most of my travel. I don't recall ever going across that ferry. But boy, there is some if you want to get ahold of somebody that really knows the highway, it would be Gene Rogge.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Rogge. Yeah, I've heard about the
FRED HUPPRICH: If you can get ahold of him
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Hering controversy. FRED HUPPRICH: He's been in the business a lot longer than I have, and you know, he come up here in 1926, '28, somewhere in there.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Somewhere in there. FRED HUPPRICH: '28. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah.
FRED HUPPRICH: Was in the trucking business just about all his life.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Did you ever work with him? FRED HUPPRICH: Well, I never did work for him, but I worked with him, you know, I mean, we'd sit and have breakfast or dinners or stuff at all the roadhouses because he had his own business and driving his own trucks.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum. FRED HUPPRICH: And we'd meet at a roadhouse and sit down and have dinner.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So I guess all the truckers knew one another? FRED HUPPRICH: Oh, yeah, we all knew each other.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah, and they all helped each other even if you were competitors.
FRED HUPPRICH: Helped each other change tires and whatever. Yeah. And then after the roads were set up where you could run all winter year around, then, you know, why, there was a lot of work to do, you know, keeping your truck going, winterized, and then keeping your chains, tire chains in good shape so you could put them on and off when you had to use them, you know. And some days it was 35, 40 below, a lot of times you wouldn't need chains because it was cold and crisp and it
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Good traction. Yeah.
FRED HUPPRICH: Good traction. Yeah. But then if it was snowing, and you had a fresh snow of 2 or 3, 4 inches, well, then, you better put chains on because you know it's warm because it's snowing.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Snowing. Right.
FRED HUPPRICH: And you start up one of those hills with 20 ton on or 25 ton, some of them, why, you better make sure you go to the top; otherwise, you'd spin out and slide right back down the hill. Which it's
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Would be just like FRED HUPPRICH: done to me several times.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: It'd be like that train down in Nenana, grease on the railroad tracks.
FRED HUPPRICH: They slipped back down in the summertime.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So the year around trucking operation didn't really start until the early to mid '50s?
FRED HUPPRICH: Right. Well, there was a year back up a little bit. There was a year of 1948, '49, that I got a job with Alaska Freightlines driving truck out of Seattle on mail, and then a lot of the freight came into Dawson Creek, British Columbia. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh, at the beginning of the highway.
FRED HUPPRICH: Yeah, the train come up that far. So the military was or Alaska Freightline was hauling most of the freight for the military. Fort Richardson, Ladd Field, and Eielson, and Big Delta, and stuff like that, which was all foods, frozen stuff. And we hauled dynamite, bombs, and ammunition, and hardware, everything. Whatever they wanted to ship. And we hauled to all the air bases and stuff like that.
Why, that was in the winter of '48 and '49. And two drivers on the truck we called sleeper truck because we had a sleeper cab on the back of it where you could sleep while the other drive. We drove 24 hours a day.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum. FRED HUPPRICH: And so I done that for all one winter. And that was in '48, '49.
MARGARET VAN CLEVE: '49. FRED HUPPRICH: And then like I say, I jumped around quite a bit between Mitchell Truck and Tractor, Alaska Freightlin