Mary Brown was interviewed on June 11, 2018 by Anjuli Grantham at the Bristol Bay Historical Society’s museum in Naknek, Alaska. In this interview, Mary talks about her experience working in various Alaska canneries starting in 1976, and most specifically about working at the <NN> Cannery at South Naknek, Alaska. She talks about the different types of jobs she did, including on the slime line, in the Egg House, in the office and the laundry, different types of workers and how they got along with each other, and segregation among the work force. She describes the cannery, including the mess hall, the bunkhouses, and the hospital. She also discusses the system of mail delivery, work hours, the local fishermen, the economics of the fishery and fish prices, and the shift in ownership from Alaska Packers Association (APA) to Trident Seafoods.
Digital Asset Information
Project: <NN> Cannery History Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Jun 11, 2018
Narrator(s): Mary Brown
Interviewer(s): Anjuli Grantham
Transcriber: Emily Mueller
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First job as cannery worker in Larsen Bay, Alaska
Working at crab cannery in Dutch Harbor, Alaska
Working at cannery in Uganik Bay, Alaska and getting sick
Segregation in bunkhouses and mess halls,a nd variation in the food
Female foreman, and living quarters for foremen
Medical care at the cannery
Coming to work at cannery in South Naknek
Mail delivery system for the cannery
First perceptions of cannery in South Naknek
Girls' bunkhouse, ratio of men to women, and women's jobs
Office jobs, and new employee intake procedures
Independent fishermen and role of cash buyers
Typical day on the job as driver and mail person
Job of the outside foreman (Beach Gang Boss), and job hierarchy
Types of people picked up at the airport
Working in the laundry at the cannery
Description of the interior layout of the laundry building
Working too hard
Strike at the cannery, and unrest among fishermen over price of fish
Typical day on the job as a laundry worker, and integration of races
Meeting and marrying her husband, and settling in South Naknek
Problems with obtaining a drift net fishing permit, and switching to set net fishing
Balancing set net fishing with working at the cannery, and selling fish harvest to canneries
System for being paid for cannery work
Changing canneries and jobs
Quitting cannery work, and continuing to fish
Changes in cannery ownership
Changes in the cannery workforce and the buildings
Use of wicker baskets for carrying laundry, risk of fire, and lack of fire safety at the cannery
Benefits of cannery work, including friendships, seasonal nature of the work, being in a beautiful location, and being able to enjoy the outdoors
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ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. Well, thank you, Mary, for meeting with me today. My name is Anjuli Grantham, I’m here with Mary Brown. It’s June 11th, 2018. MARY BROWN: Mm-hm. ANJULI GRANTHAM: And we’re at the Bristol Bay Historical Society’s museum in Naknek, Alaska. And this interview is taking part as a portion of the NN Cannery History Project.
So, Mary, if you could begin just by introducing yourself. Tell us your name, where you’re from, and kinda just basic facts like that. MARY BROWN: Okay. I’m Mary Brown, and I grew up in Blaine, Washington. My dad was in the Service, so we ended up there. That was the last place he was stationed, and I got there when I was eight years old. I was born in Japan, and lived over on the East Coast numerous years, and then we came to Blaine. And then we settled there and that’s where he retired. And that’s where I graduated from high school.
And after high school I started going -- coming up to Alaska. And there’s a big Alaska Packers plant at Semiahmoo Spit, and I went there and applied for a job. And I was working at Denny’s at the time. And me and my girlfriend decided to go sign up and -- ‘cause numerous kids at the school said they made lots of money to -- at the cannery. So, they all traveled. Everbod -- You know, so rumor has it, that’s what it was.
So, during the summer -- we got hired in July, and we ended up going to Larsen Bay. And that’s where it started, as I started as a slimer. My girlfriend, she worked in the Egg House. So, it was interesting. It was only three weeks long. It was towards the end of the season. And it was quite a eye-opener for a person that’s been living in Blaine for a long time. So --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: What year was it that -- that you got your start? MARY BROWN: Oh, in 1976. ANJULI GRANTHAM: And that was the year you graduated from high school then? MARY BROWN: Yes, uh huh.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, what was -- thinking about growing up in Blaine -- MARY BROWN: Oh, you have -- you’ve got a mosquito. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Oh, thank you. Growing up in Blaine and having the APA cannery there, what sort of reputation, or what sort of -- What did people think about being a cannery worker when -- in Blaine, when you were growing up, do you know? MARY BROWN: You know, I really never hung out with any of the cannery people over there, because that was on the other side of the Spit. You know, it was over in town. I lived right across from the high school after my dad retired from the Base, when I was, like, twelve. And so -- don’t really have too much recollection.
I’m pretty sure that Sylvia Metivier was the one that interviewed me or hired me, or took my application anyway. But, I got to know her real well from working in the office. And she also worked at the Blaine office, her and her husband, so --
But I didn’t have too -- too much communication with -- in fact, I didn’t have any communication, other than hearing stuff from the kids. You know, from school.
But my mom did work there off and on when the can -- when the cans come from Alaska on the tender, they bring it to the -- there, to the Semiahmoo plant and they go through the dented cans before it got labeled. So, she would help when they needed -- when they needed her, you know. But mostly she was just a part -- not part time, just you know, seasonal or whatever they needed. So --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So did you think that you were gonna be working in Blaine when you went to the office to get hired, or were you hoping to be sent to Alaska? MARY BROWN: Oh, I was hoping to sen -- be sent to Alaska. ‘Cause I never -- never traveled. You know, like when I was a kid, my dad pretty much drove everywhere. We moved from, you know, like, from New York to California. We drove. And he -- he wasn’t into planes or anything like that.
So, and in -- we just -- the only time we flew was from Japan. So, I’d never been really on a plane after that, you know? That I could remember. So -- so, it was an adventure.
My first plane ride was coming up from Seattle to Anchorage. And then, to -- in a big plane, like a, I don’t know what it was, a 7 -- it must have been a 747 or something like that. Then I got into a smaller plane, in Anchorage to King Salmon. Then we got into a float plane, you know, one of those Gooses. Never had any idea we’d be doing all that to get to Larsen Bay.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, you flew to King Salmon to get to Larsen Bay? MARY BROWN: Oh, no, I’m sorry. Not King Salmon. Where was it? Was it King Salmon? We had to have -- No, we flo -- flew to Kodiak, sorry. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay, okay. MARY BROWN: Flew to Kodiak. ANJULI GRANTHAM: I -- ‘cause I was like, that would be -- that’s a really interesting trip to -- to try to make it to Larsen Bay. MARY BROWN: Yeah. No, but we did -- you know, PenAir did have a Goose (Grumman Goose amphibious airplane), but, you know, yeah. But we used to do that, too, when I worked at PenAir. We used to fly over to Kodiak.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, were you a union member then? MARY BROWN: Yes. I did join the union, and they had a sign-up at the Local 37. And I don’t recall too much after that. I mean, as I remember, when I went to Uganik the n -- two years later, I remember, they gave us money for travel. You know, like $100 in case we get stuck somewhere, we have some cash.
And just signing up, you know. And, also you have your rights. You know, if you’re a -- of Oriental descent or anything like that, then you -- you have -- you’re allowed to eat in a different mess hall if you like. You know, ‘cause you’re supposed to have your rice. I’m not sure if it’s twice a day or three times a day, something like that. So, anyway. So, I -- but other than that, that’s all I remember, is going to Seattle. Hurry up, come back.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: I see, so you went to Seattle to -- MARY BROWN: And get ready to get our tickets and all that kind of stuff, yeah. ANJULI GRANTHAM: And was that also -- The first year, when you went to Larsen Bay, were you a member of the union, or was it too late in the season? MARY BROWN: You know, it was -- I remember bein’ in the union, but I don’t recall going to the union. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: You know. I think they just probably made us sign all the papers when we got up here, you know. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm. Mm-hm.
MARY BROWN: But it -- it was all so new, and everything was -- I mean, it was like being a tourist, you know. Flying into this place and land on this little spit, and there’s this old, you know, hill in between the cannery and the spit, and the -- you know.
Anyway, there was a big old graveyard where there -- somebody -- they’d either drowned or -- not really sure how they -- you know. But I know I have pictures somewhere. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Frenchie's, I think they call it. Frenchie's. MARY BROWN: Oh, really? ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. Or some -- something like that.
MARY BROWN: Yeah, and it’s a cute little village, Larsen Bay was. I remember walking all along the beaches. It's beautiful beaches and stuff. And people were all real nice. And we had the cannery store and the mess hall, and the different houses.
And we lived in “The Ritz.” And also, there was “The Hilton,” and there was a few other ones, but I don’t recall all of ‘em. But, old bunkhouses, you know, and --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Was Larsen Bay segregated still? MARY BROWN: Um, it was. You know, I don’t really recall a segregation. I remember all the fishermen -- I didn’t see too many, you know, Filipinos or anything like that. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: So, it was all, pretty much kids, you know.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm. Mm-hm. So just the one mess hall -- MARY BROWN: Uh-huh. ANJULI GRANTHAM: -- to feed everyone? MARY BROWN: Yep. Yep.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, after that first summer of sliming, what was it that inspired you to continue with cannery work? MARY BROWN: Well, the money did. That was one thing. We didn’t work long hours because it was towards the end of the season. We had a couple days, you know, one day off. You had --
you got paid eight hours a day, and then anything after eight hours was your own overtime, you know, that was unattached. And if the -- if the season wasn’t good, they still guaranteed you, I think it was $2,000. So -- but -- we -- I still made over that. And, even with not a lot of overtime.
And, it was -- it was fun. We had a good time. And me and my girlfriend I went to school with, we ended up -- I ended up going -- I found out another girlfriend signed up, so we ended up splitting, because she was in the Egg House and we were all both in the slimers, you know, so -- It was different schedules, so she would be off later, and so it -- it was kind of a conflict of sleeping and that kind of stuff.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. So that -- after that first short season, you went back to Blaine then, or -- MARY BROWN: Yes. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. MARY BROWN: Uh huh. Yeah.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: And then -- And then immediately started thinking about doing Alaska again, or what was your -- ? MARY BROWN: Yeah. Well, what I’d do is I’d go home, and I’d either -- Let’s see, what did I do after that? I went to -- I went to coll -- I went to a fashion merchandising college. Talked into that. One of my friends did. So, I went to that.
And, in ‘77 -- well, when springtime starts happening, I'd say, well -- I’d start calling canneries. Ask ‘em if they would send you up for -- for free, you know. Housing and food is taken care of. And how much, guaranteed, you know? How much work. And if all those things were answered right, then I’d -- I’d, you know, go check ‘em out and put my application in.
So, the next year, in ’77, I went to Dutch Harbor. And then, did the crab season. Tanner crab and shrimp. And then, September came around and I didn't want to stay a couple more months. It was a six-month contract, and I broke my contract.
Usually I don't quit, but there was a lot of things going on there, and I -- I wanted to go. You know, there's -- there's -- there was stabbings, and -- just, you know, the employee-foreman, kind of, interaction I didn't like. There was --
Back in those days, a lot of the girls would go, um, be ladies of the night, you know, kind of thing. And, you know, there was -- it was really a wild and woolly place back then. And the Elbow Room. So, it was really crazy.
But, still, all-in-all, I went back a few -- a way long time after, after they built the bridge and everything and -- and I just -- it's -- trying to recall the paths that I would take and -- 'cause we lived -- it was -- everything was processed on the ship that was docked, you know. But, we lived on land. But there’re still bunks in the -- in the ship for people. But -- But we lived in a co-ed type of dorm thing. But it was a --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: And was that a crab cannery? Or -- MARY BROWN: Yeah. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. MARY BROWN: Vita Seafoods. And they -- What they did was they processed Tanner crab. They'd either brine 'em in -- raw, after they butched 'em, or they would cook 'em, and then they'd shrink wrap 'em. That's what we used to do, was --
after they got cooked they were in these huge cages. And they would bring 'em over and cool 'em, and then they'd -- we'd have to take 'em -- you know, the crabs have these little lips after the shell -- the top shell got popped off. So, you'd -- you'd ta -- grab 'em by the lip and rip the lip off and throw 'em in the washer, 'cause they always have that green slimy stuff over it, or --
Anyway, so they'd go through the washer. Then -- then it'd go lined up on a little conveyor. And if there's any legs missing -- everybody had all these missing legs, you know. They'd fit it in there and then it'd get into a little shrink wrap thing, and off to the freezer. You know, after it got shrink-wrapped. Labeled, everything. Ready to go.
And then, if they didn't do that, they would -- a lot of the stuff would get down into another hold, down below the next floor. And we would throw all the crab down there. And then it'd be in these big huge troughs of icy water. And you'd grab the -- I remember goin’ there. And you'd have -- you'd stand in front of a blade, and you'd just sit there and cut 'em all out, and get the meat out of it. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Oh. MARY BROWN: And then they pack whole boxes of meat. It was really good, and I ate lots.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, in that whole process, what was your job? MARY BROWN: Well, they had you do everything, pretty much. When I first started there, I -- they put me in a smaller ship called “The Viceroy.” And we did Tanner crab -- we did fish, a lot. Some -- you had to be in a black light and there's, you know, all sorts of -- there's worms. Stuff, you know.
So, you pick 'em out and all that. And before they got processed -- after they've got filleted, you gotta go through the black light, pick all them out. So --
And then, I don't remember doing any crab there. I didn't stay very long there because my girlfriend was on the big ship, which was -- they're kinda tied in but they were -- this group was a little more relaxed than this group over here.
And I liked it, being down there, but I moved over here. And it was a little more rowdier over here. And a lot more interaction with Koreans and Chinese and East Indians and stuff like that. It was everybody. ANJULI GRANTHAM: The other processing workers? MARY BROWN: Yes, yeah.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm. Were most people being recruited outta Seattle for th -- that sort of work, too, or -- MARY BROWN: Yeah, that's where I got my job, was in Seattle. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: So -- I gotta (inaudible). But -- Yeah it’s --
I never met anybody from there, you know. I met everybody when we got there. And my girlfriend was already there, 'cause I was still tryin’ to finish school. So -- I never did get my paperwork from the school. You know, 'cause I left early. So -- and --
Anyway, when I'd come back in the fall time I al -- usually go look for a job down in Bellingham or somethin’ and -- And then, when springtime comes around, there I go again, you know. Do the same process.
So the next year, in 1978, I went to Uganik Bay and worked for New England Fish Company. And then, I packed eggs. That was very long season, for me, and I ended up getting pretty sick at the end. I found out I had mono. And I didn't get better.
Once I got home -- I got on the first plane. I asked the foreman if I could leave and she said -- on the first plane, and I -- she said no problem. But it was from June to through almost the end of August. And towards the end I was feeling pretty bad. So, I got mono and I didn't recover until almost December. So, that bad. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Wow. MARY BROWN: And, so, I had a hard time.
I didn't want to go -- leave the house, you know, 'cause I'd been so sick. And I lost about twenty pounds. And that was no fun. I didn't like that one. I never heard of it -- and there's no shots. You have to sleep. And that's all you do, is sleep. And you can’t eat. You can’t hold nothin’ down. It’s weird. It’s just constant rejection, you know.
So, it just took a long process to get that -- get back on -- outside there.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: And so, that was 1978? Or -- MARY BROWN: '78. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. MARY BROWN: Mm-hm.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Was U -- Uganik, was that still segregated in '78 when you were there? MARY BROWN: Yes. Uh-huh. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Could you describe that? MARY BROWN: Well, all I know is that -- I don't know -- necessarily know if they had a Filipino bunkhouse like they did over in South Naknek. But, the mess hall was segregated.
So, if I didn't like what was goin’ on over here at the ma -- well, we called it the Machinist's Mess Hall, then I'd go over there. But usually I'd go over at like mug up at night, 'cause they'd always have leftover stuff. And you walk in, and the smells are so different, you know, than in the other mess hall. But still, all the food was good, you know.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: What was the difference in food? MARY BROWN: Oh, just, you know, the rice, the way they prepare it. And then they eat lots of pickles, and some of 'em are pretty stinky, but they -- they may smell stinky, but they taste really good. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: So -- so, it's -- it’s just like the stuff I eat at home with my mom, you know.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Was everyone welcome to go to whichever mess hall? MARY BROWN: No. No, you had to be -- They didn't want everybody there. They want -- If you were of Oriental descent, you know, they said I'm -- I'm allowed to do that. And -- ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: So, I -- they okayed me to do that. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: So --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Were other Filipinos or -- or Japanese people or other Asians allowed to go to the Mechanic's (Machinist's) Mess Hall to eat, or -- MARY BROWN: You know -- ANJULI GRANTHAM: -- was that just a one-way road? MARY BROWN: I didn't see too many. It was one way for me, but I didn't see too many over -- ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: You know. So, it was mostly over there. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: They -- They stayed over there. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm.
MARY BROWN: So -- And that's where I met that Somi (sp?) Domingo. And then, he -- he was always watching over the Filipinos, make sure, you know, everything was goin’ okay. But they were all cannery people.
‘Cause I worked in the Egg House, so it was mostly girls and the Japanese. And we had two companies. And I can’t remember who the second was. I remember Toshoku and -- not really sure what the other one was. But they were --
One group of Japanese were very nice. But the other group was mean. And -- And kind of made your job hard, you know. And picked on people. So, we picked on them a couple times. And some of the things we did, probably -- I shouldn't say. But we -- we put things in their -- so -- this is off the record.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Well, don't -- don't worry about it then. Um, the -- f -- you mentioned that -- you said "she" when you were talking about a foreman. MARY BROWN: Oh yeah. She was -- It was a girl. She was a -- ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. MARY BROWN: Yeah. Which was the first time I've seen a girl foreman. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Yeah -- MARY BROWN: You know.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: And was she foreman of the Egg House, or -- ? MARY BROWN: She was a foreman -- kind of the overall head foreman. Ki -- 'Cause, kinda looked over everybody.
So, it wasn't a really big plant, 'cause, you know, it was just right up against the mountain. But, it was -- it was fun. We had a good time there, you know.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Do you remember the name of the foreman? MARY BROWN: No, I don't. No, I don't. ANJULI GRANTHAM: It's really interesting, 'cause I don't think I've ever heard before of a female foreman at that time. MARY BROWN: Yeah, that's -- Yeah. Well, up in -- I mean, over at Alaska Packers, there was numerous foremans. But they made the hospital into a girl's -- a foreman's shack for the women. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm. MARY BROWN: And -- But that was later. That wasn't right when I got there.
'Cause the hospital was the hospital when I was there, for the first couple years. Well, the first year.
The second year, it ended up being the bookkeeper's house. 'Cause he had numerous dogs. He brought these Lhasa Apso's. And his wife. And it was a very interesting bookkeeper. She -- and, she -- her name was Sida (sp?), was his wife's name. So she said -- when she introduces herself, she says, "Hi, my name's Sida." You know, like side-a-beef. And I -- And I go, "Oh my goodness." ANJULI GRANTHAM: That's so funny.
MARY BROWN: But they were particular about people cleaning their room. So, after a while, I was the only one that was allowed to go in there. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm, mm-hm.
MARY BROWN: And then after that, he didn't come back after that year. And so, they ended up making that into a foreman's shack. It never became a hospital after that. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay.
MARY BROWN: The first year was interesting, 'cause we had a -- a nurse, almost like a -- like a "M*A*S*H" nurse type of thing. You know, like "M*A*S*H"? She dressed like that, you know. And I remember picking up people, you know, takin' 'em to the airport from the -- from the clinic and stuff.
And one guy, I remember from PAF. They brought him over and she checked him out. And he had cut his fingers off with the -- the -- you know, the cross -- the saw. The radial arm saw. And so then all the fingers were in the bag and they were -- we’d taken 'em, and he says, "I knew I was gonna do that again." So, he hadn't done it -- he had done it again before. I mean he had done it before. Which was really strange. I was like, okay. But that was one incident.
And one time the kids from -- we were cruisin' around the dock -- the clin -- the clinic -- the health aid came and got me, and we were looking for kids. And they were all over around the dock area in the cannery. Couldn't figure out what happened.
But they got into something, and they were passed out everywhere, you know. One was passed out in between the Fish House -- the, the -- the screen door, you know. The screen door was open, but he was just right there. And I can't recall where we picked up the other ones. But they were here and there, and then we picked 'em all up and then she -- the health aid -- went and said something in Yupik, and those kids straight -- looked straight up and sat straight up, and they didn't say a word.
So, I don't know what she's told 'em, but she's -- she, you know -- they knew they were in big trouble. ANJULI GRANTHAM: They were cannery workers? MARY BROWN: No, they weren't. They were just some kids in the village. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm, I see. MARY BROWN: They weren't cannery workers. They were probably not even, you know, sixteen, you know. A lot of 'em were under that. So, it was strange.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, what happened -- you got mono, you left Uganik. MARY BROWN: Right. ANJULI GRANTHAM: What -- what -- what happened to bring you to -- MARY BROWN: Bristol Bay? ANJULI GRANTHAM: -- Bristol Bay. Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: Well, let's see. It's 70 -- My girlfriends were all going to Western. And, I went to -- which is Wash -- Western Washington, you know, in Bellingham. And so, I went to a party and I met this guy who goes to Alaska. And he's -- he was on "The Lois." He got me a j -- you know, he told me to apply.
So, in '79 -- I had a pretty good job in Blaine working at this podiatry place. And after I got the mono, you know. And I got numerous raises, and I -- I did finish work for orthodics and stuff.
They had -- there was -- there was only two in the -- in the U.S. and one was in Blaine, that made all these things. So, we'd get tons of stuff from all the different foot doctors and they'd make casts, and then we'd make different things to apply to the person's needs, you know. Some were even stub feet. Heel spurs, that kind of stuff, you know, so --
So anyway, I got my job. I applied at Alaska Packers, and I don't even know if I talked to Gary, but I know I -- I remember going to the office. And then -- in Seattle.
And then, they flew me up. And they never told me that once I got to King Salmon, that I had to take another plane. So, the only plane that I was used to going on was Kodiak Western, 'cause -- from Kodiak, you know. And so, I went over to Kodiak, and he says, "Oh no, you don't wanna go with me, I'm -- you have to go with PenAir." So, I had to take my bags over to PenAir.
And then I get over there, and they flew me in, dropped me off. And it always seems like it's dinnertime, or somethin'. Some kinda mealtime. And a van came out, looked at me, and left. I go -- and then I go, well, I don't know where to go, you know. I'm here, in the middle of the runway, you know, in this little shack. And the road Y’s down the way, ‘cause I’d looked.
And I says, well, I don’t know which way to go. You know, they didn't tell me anything. Back in those days, no phones, no cell phones, no nothing. So, I waited. And then, the van came back again and picked me up.
And -- And that's when I started in the office. They took me to the bunkhouse -- girls' bunkhouse, and got me in there and set up, and then I went to work in the office.
And my main job was to be the airporter. But, the way the planes ran, I was never there to be a receptionist. Very rarely.
And also, at that time, my boyfriend was out in the hook on the tender, and Bill, my husband, that I met up there, he was a carpenter and he was remodeling the office. And so, we got to know each other that way. That's how I met him.
And they used to have daiquiri parties. So, he invited me to a daiquiri party. And that's where it all started. ANJULI GRANTHAM: What year was that? MARY BROWN: That was in 1979. ANJULI GRANTHAM: That was your first year in South Naknek? MARY BROWN: Yep. Yep.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: And did you know that you were going to be working in the office? Is that the job you applied for? MARY BROWN: Yes. Well, it was a receptionist. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. MARY BROWN: That's what it was for. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: But they didn't tell me I was gonna be driving, you know. And it was a -- that was a very main part of my job, was that. And the mail.
I handled all the mail for the company. So, I took the outgoing mail to the post office, and -- and when the -- when we had a full crew on there, it was -- it'd be a couple hours in the morning. You know, I'd have all the letters and stuff, but I'd also have cans that were going to the -- to get tested. You know, the -- for quality control. So, I had numerous boxes of canned salmon. And -- That would go out.
And then in the -- in the -- later in the afternoon, before they closed, I had -- you know, it took a couple of hours, 'cause I had lots of packages. And then I'd take the van, and I'd deliver the mail to the office, and then go back down to the cannery and put all the mail in that little mailroom. And then if anybody had packages, then I had to write little package slips.
And it got to be a little hard to deal -- because it was a small office, all the packages were, you know, cluttering. And so, after a couple of -- like in -- was it '70 -- '80, they moved me to the laundry. And then I could stack my packages on a shelf, and people could come there and not be too -- interfering with the other office work, you know. ANJULI GRANTHAM: I see. MARY BROWN: So, it worked out better that way.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, you would go to the South Naknek post office to pick up all the mail for the cannery? MARY BROWN: Right. Uh-huh. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. MARY BROWN: Yep. ANJULI GRANTHAM: What was the cannery's address? MARY BROWN: Oh, gosh. 264? Box 264, I think it was.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm. And so, f -- there'd be, I mean, hundreds of letters probably -- MARY BROWN: Yes. ANJULI GRANTHAM: -- a day, huh? MARY BROWN: Bags, you know. I mean, I've had bags of letters.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: How would you sort it? By bunkhouse, by alphabetical order? I mean, how would you deal with this bulk of mail? MARY BROWN: Boy, I tell ya, I'd just grab 'em and just 'A, B, C', you know, that way. Their last name. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. MARY BROWN: Yeah. ANJULI GRANTHAM: And so, people would come up then, and sa -- and you’d know their name, and you'd be able to give them a letter, or how did -- MARY BROWN: Oh no. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Did they have a -- MARY BROWN: No, they had in -- in the -- in that one bunkhouse that used to be the old office, I assume, because it was a big building just off -- before the White House. And there was a little mail room, and then the -- the -- there's a office type of building. They never used it. It was just storage and stuff.
And then underneath was a "warm room," they called it. I think it was. And that's -- they stick all their stuff that they didn't want to freeze. And they kept it -- it was like really super insulated. So, all the radios would go down there, and stuff like that.
And -- But, the -- They had just the big mailbox. Open boxes, with the A through Z, you know. And you could post notes, if you wanted to, on the walls and stuff. There was plenty of room for that. It was just walk in, and there's the boxes, you know.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: I see. And so it's like, A is a box, MARY BROWN: Uh-huh. ANJULI GRANTHAM: And B is a box MARY BROWN: Right. ANJULI GRANTHAM: C is a box. MARY BROWN: Right. ANJULI GRANTHAM: And so, people come in and they'd go to their last name? MARY BROWN: Yeah. Yep. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. MARY BROWN: Yeah. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: Yeah, it was pretty basic. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm. Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: And back in those days, nobody stole your mail. Usually. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm, Mm-hm. And then did you have a second -- and then you had a place for packages, too. MARY BROWN: Right. Right.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, then, when you moved to the laundry, you just ke -- keep the packages in the laundry -- MARY BROWN: Right. ANJULI GRANTHAM: -- and people continued to go to the post office for their -- MARY BROWN: Yeah. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. MARY BROWN: For their letters, yes. ANJULI GRANTHAM: That's -- that's interesting. Good to know.
So, tell me about your first perceptions of the cannery. MARY BROWN: As far as? ANJULI GRANTHAM: That first summer. What -- What do you remember? About how it looked, how it felt, how it smelled, or sounds. I mean, what -- MARY BROWN: It was -- ANJULI GRANTHAM: What comes to mind from that summer? MARY BROWN: It was -- Well, you know, you get -- When they first start that generator house, you know, to get everything going for the cannery, it's loud. And when you walk around it, it is also loud. But -- It -- You -- It just blends into the area, and you don't really realize it until when they turn it off, and everybody's going home, that it's really quiet, you know, And it -- And it's hard to get used to.
But -- Just, all the hubbub and all the people, and the boats, you know, goin' back and forth on the water, and -- And, it was -- It was very interesting.
And lots of Italians, and they're all, you know, talking loud, and -- And -- And I remember good food. Lots of good food they make. I've had -- They made this -- some kind of a thing they put on the steaks. It's almost like a -- like a chimichuri or something, they call it. And god, it was good.
And this guy named Rooster -- what was his last name? I think his sons still fish over on this side. I can't re -- recall the last name, but I'll -- I'll think of it. But, he -- they would make it.
And we've had all sorts of different Italian things to eat, before. One time, we had pizza. They made a French bread dough, and they put it in one of those electric skillets with the -- just the tomato sauce. And they had salted salmon, and chopped garlic, and cheese -- parmesan cheese, and oregano, I think it was. And they, you know, did it in layers, and then after that, oh my gosh. That and lots a wine.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: That was served in the mess hall? MARY BROWN: No, huh-uh. We had that in the bunkhouse. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. MARY BROWN: You know, in the fishermen's bunkhouse. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Uh-huh. MARY BROWN: You know, 'cause I'd be hanging out with my husband, and he's lives in the fishermen's bunkhouse. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm. MARY BROWN: He's -- part-time he was carpenter, part -- you know, after a certain time he got ready for fishing. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm.
MARY BROWN: So, his dad and his brother, and -- Well, his dad has -- had his own room, and his brother lived with him. So --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Where did you live that first summer? MARY BROWN: In the girls' bunkhouse. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. MARY BROWN: And, it's the separate one over there by the winter watchmen house.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: How many girls were in a room, or how many women and -- and how many women in a bunkhouse? MARY BROWN: Four in rooms. You know. But it was a big room. And the first year I was with a -- a waitress, and I don't recall having anybody else. Just me and her. And then -- Her name was Roseanne. And then the other one -- or Roxanne. Roseanne?
And then, one year, I remember there was a couple other gals from Blaine. And -- I went to school with, but they were younger. They came up and worked in the kitchen and stuff. And so, we all lived together in the room there. So, there was four of us there. It was really -- it was fun, though.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: And how many women do you think were in the bunkhouse in total? MARY BROWN: Oh gosh, there was a lot of 'em. 'Cause every room had at least two to four. So -- And there's, gosh, I'd say at least ten, twelve rooms. It was full.
And then they had -- other bunkhouses had like, one story was the -- you know, one floor level was the girls, and the upstairs was the boys, or vice versa. Somethin' like that. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Hm-mm. MARY BROWN: But mostly the girls lived all in that girls' bunkhouse. Mostly .
ANJULI GRANTHAM: If that -- Those first years, what was the -- was it like a -- a ratio of men to women that was about the same, as far as the cannery crew or -- MARY BROWN: No. ANJULI GRANTHAM: -- or what would you say that was? MARY BROWN: No, it'd be -- I'd say, maybe a fifth? You know. So, girls were a commodity, you know. You know.
And so, when I got there, it was just me and the bookkeeper for probably at least a couple weeks, you know, so -- ANJULI GRANTHAM: Because it was early in the year? MARY BROWN: Early. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. MARY BROWN: Yeah, it was my -- It was May. So, nobody usually started to show up 'til mid-May, or towards -- closer to June, when they get ready for the cannery. But --
And then you've got your kitchen crew. But sometimes the kitchen crew has their own rooms in the back, depending on who it was. I can't recall who the kitchen crew was back then.
But I know Becky, my friend that lives here in Naknek, she was -- worked in the kitchen at one time. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Becky -- ? MARY BROWN: Savill (sp?). Well, Cauthrin (sp?) back then. And -- or maybe -- Yeah, Cauthrin. Anyway, she worked there as --
But, she was also a machinist at one point, too. I'd seen her in coveralls workin’ in the cannery, where -- with the cans -- canning machines. So.
But I never wandered up through that machinery stuff when they were busy, 'cause it was so noisy and everybody’s so busy. And I was so busy. 'Cause I was always at the airport, it seemed like. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm. Hm-mm. MARY BROWN: You know. So --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: What sort of jobs were -- when you -- thinking about '79. You said like, one-fifth or so of the employees were women. What were the women jobs? MARY BROWN: Well -- Well, like I said, the kitchen, the cannery when you'd load lids, or when they come -- when the fish come into the cans and they put extra fish in there to bring to weight. Those gals did that. It was -- I -- I rarely saw men in there.
And then, let's see. And then, of course, slimers. And the Egg House. Mostly Egg House would be women. I've never seen a guy pack eggs. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Why is that? MARY BROWN: I don't know. I don't know. Maybe the Japanese prefer it that way. It's hard to say. But I -- there was --
They had a really nice Japanese foreman that could speak English. He was -- And he was from Santa Barbara. But he became a really good friend of mine. Yuke (sp?). And he even came up to Blaine to -- to talk -- to see us. So --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: What was his full name? Do you remember? MARY BROWN: Yuke Yawada (sp?). And he was great. He was so nice. And he made visiting with him and the cannery -- being in the cannery a lot easier to be -- deal with, you know. When you have problems or anything. But it was fun. We had -- we had good visits.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: What were the office jobs? MARY BROWN: The office jobs was -- There was the fish clerk, the bookkeeper. There was another bookkeeper. Well, the fish clerk and the -- One did tickets and then the other one did the settlements, and that was Sylvia. Sylvia Metivier did the settlements with the fishermen.
And then, the one gal that I worked with, she did books, and it's just invoice stuff, you know. And all that other stuff that they have to log in.
And then they had another guy that was the main money man, I would assume. That's -- And that was like, that one year that I had to clean their rooms, was -- Oh, that's -- Hang on -- ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. Sorry. MARY BROWN: Okay.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, you mentioned also that Gary Johnson, the superintendent, was in the office, and so -- MARY BROWN: Yes. ANJULI GRANTHAM: -- that wasn't recording, just for that moment. MARY BROWN: Okay.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, since you picked people up from the airport, were you kind of like the intake person, in a way? Like h -- how -- you would -- When someone arrived at the cannery -- MARY BROWN: Uh-huh. ANJULI GRANTHAM: -- what -- what did they do? What was the -- MARY BROWN: Oh well, the protocol, I guess you could say, is I'd bring 'em to the office. They would check in. There'd always be paperwork. If they were an employee, of course, they had all that, you know, W-4's or whatever. Unless they'd filled them out in Seattle. But --
And the fishermen all had, you know, their fishermen packet, which had like their lease, you know, their boat storage information, their bunk rooms, all that kinda stuff. And --
And they also had invoices that they -- if they ordered through the company, all that stuff would be all in that file for each boat. And all their charges got in there and stuff.
And, usually, by the time they got their insurance and all that paperwork, they were already in debt about ten grand, you know, when they first hit that place.
And then after a while, over the years -- (Cracking noise) They used to eat for free, but then they -- they started makin’ 'em pay. So, it got -- it was a little different at the beginning, because they wanted 'em to pay for everything. But then after that it -- it just became meal tickets just for meals.
And the bunk -- they could eat -- mug up. They were trying to get 'em to pay for mug up at one point, too. So -- But they got that all straightened out.
But, it's changed. They used to feed 'em on the tenders, I heard. You know. You could go and deliver fish and, you know, use their facilities, and even wash clothes, or -- And have a meal. But not anymore.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, these fishermen, then, were independent fishermen. It's -- They weren't necessarily company fishermen by then? Or -- MARY BROWN: They were, in a sense, but they weren't, you know -- Unlike now where the -- the, you know, they got -- Some of 'em have loyalty programs, where you, you know, stick with them and -- because of the cash buyers back then. If you went to the cash buyers then you -- you got no loyalty bonus.
And sometimes, a lot of the times they'll -- they'll make you leave. You know, 'cause you're not loyal to the company.
So, it made a lot of tension, because the can -- the cash buyers sometimes weren't -- were fishing -- or buying fish right at the very first of the season. And a lotta times the cannery, you know, you come to the cannery. Well, lotta times you don't have a lot of money and -- at the -- in the springtime, because you're -- you've bought your nets and all that kinda stuff.
So, they want -- they want to go to the cash buyer just so they can have some cash. And the companies look down on that. And -- But they --
What the cash buyers did though -- but they were there for a short amount of time, got the fish first, and left when they got their quota. And then the rest of the season was -- is still plenty of fish.
And then in the falltime when the canneries would quit fishing -- accepting fish, then the cash buyers would come back sometimes then, and -- and buy the fall fish. And -- And the -- If they can make more money that way. And so, my husband did that, lotta -- lotta times.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Hm. What was a day in the life of Mary, back in -- MARY BROWN: Gosh. ANJULI GRANTHAM: -- 1979, 1980. MARY BROWN: It was -- It was hectic. Because, you know, you start at 8 o'clock, but, I mean, you know, the plane never stopped buzzing the cannery. It was all day.
Meals -- I mean, I've even had it, well, later on in life, it -- or in season -- or years -- it was three o'clock in the morning sometimes.
And, you know, no warning. You don't think about it. And I'm goin', "No way, I'm not goin' out there! Nobody said I had to go out there at three o'clock in the morning." You know, and you don't know. And sometimes they just fly over low. So, you never know.
But -- But back in those days, it was all through meals, everything. I dumped many meals, because it seemed like they always come that -- Because there's no phones. That was their only signal. And even -- Really, back then, buzzing the cannery was not -- it was looked down upon, because it's not really a FAA rule about, you know, doing that kinda stuff, you know. But that was the only signal we could -- you know, they could get, to where you knew there was gonna be somebody out there for ya.
But there was a lot of people out there. All the time. And I went out there, I'd say -- I -- at least -- at least ten times a day, you know. But it's only a mile out to the airport.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: And this is the new airstrip? MARY BROWN: No, it was the main airstrip. Which -- Right on the main runway. And that's where that little shack was. Was on the main runway. ANJULI GRANTHAM: The same place that we land now? MARY BROWN: No. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Oh, okay. MARY BROWN: It was on the main run -- where -- Where you land. That one. There's a cross strip now. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. MARY BROWN: But there was only one runway, and that was right -- that one long one. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. MARY BROWN: Yeah.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: And this isn't the one that's up -- up a hill a bit from the cannery, where they have a old winter watchman's shack by the dry scows? MARY BROWN: Oh. ANJULI GRANTHAM: It seems like there might be a -- MARY BROWN: There was a foreman shack up there. They called "The Love's Nest." ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm. MARY BROWN: And that was the main, outside foreman. That was Sylvia's husband's -- and Sylvia and her husband lived there. And he was the outside foreman. Robert Metivier.
And he -- And they lived on -- up above there. And, back then, there was a runway right there at the cannery. Every cannery had a runway. And -- But I only --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. And that was the one that you would drive to? MARY BROWN: No. Uh-uh. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Oh, okay. Okay. MARY BROWN: No, this one was the main one. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. Hm-mm. MARY BROWN: Yeah. 'Cause they started filling up all their extra stuff -- equipment, and all that kinda stuff -- started goin' -- Then it became "The Boneyard," they called it.
So -- But I did see one plane land there. And I seen some planes land below the cannery on the beach, which was interesting.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: What's the outside foreman? MARY BROWN: He oversees the whole cannery, you know. And then you've got the -- the -- you know, the Egg House foreman, you got the Fish House foreman, that kinda -- ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. So outside foreman -- MARY BROWN: So, he -- He takes care of like, the port engineers, and -- and all -- whatever's outside. The boats, you know, that kind of stuff. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Oh, okay. Outside of -- MARY BROWN: Uh, beach gang. ANJULI GRANTHAM: -- of a building. MARY BROWN: Yeah. ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, like, instead of being like, inside -- MARY BROWN: Inside, yeah. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay, got it. Mm-hm.
MARY BROWN: He's -- he's the guy that checks out everything like that. He takes care of the beach gang, and the -- and launching the boats, or the port engineers, and the fixing the boats, and --
He was also -- He was -- I think he was also a carpenter, too, so he would oversee the carpenters and -- and their projects, you know. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm.
So where does the -- What's the order of -- like, hierarchy, for the cannery when you're thinking about jobs? MARY BROWN: Let's see. Superintendent, foremans, then you've got the cookhouse and, let's see, you got the machinists. And -- 'Cause you had your separate machinist's.
You had the -- "The Blue Room," for -- for the office, you know, the superintendent and the higher ups. You had the Machinist's (Mess Hall), and that was where I ate. And the carpenters and all those. And the foremens. And then you had the whole mess hall, which was everybody else.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: How is it that you were able to eat with the machinists? Like, office counted as that? MARY BROWN: Yeah. Yeah, it was part of a -- You know, you had -- you had to be back a certain time, you go there. The kids, sometimes they didn't have to go back to work, you know, depending on how busy it was that time of the season. So.
And then the fishermen. They'd eat the -- also, with the cannery crew. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm. Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: So. But then after a while, when it got really busy, they'd let the -- they'd have to have the cannery crew eat first, and the fishermen would come later. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm. MARY BROWN: Like a half an hour later.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, in your van driving, was it usually cannery workers you were picking up, or were there some like really surprising visitors over the years? MARY BROWN: Um -- There wasn't too many surprising visitors. I'd have --
The QC guy would come in. And his name's Walt Cauthrin (sp?). That was Becky's dad. He oversaw all the quality control for the cannery for Alaska Packers. I -- he went to other canneries and check on things. So, he'd fly in every so often.
And then, they had -- sometimes we'd have spotter pilots. But that was a little later than '79. They would be there for herring. And spot herring.
There was some accidents and stuff, I remember, and -- One time I picked up one of those spotter pilots and he really stunk. But it was because he picked up a dead walrus on the way up.
'Cause I go, "Man, this guy, he hasn't had a shower in a while." You know. But it ended up -- He finally volunteered some information after the silence in the re -- in the van, you know. And told me what happened. He says, "It was really rotten." I says, "Yeah, I can smell it."
And then, just cannery kids, they'd come in, and they'd have their, you know, their boom box and stuff. Then the next thing you know you got the whole van bouncin' away, playing music and stuff comin' down the road.
And -- And it usually was like that goin' home, too, when they were leaving. But I haven't had too many surprise visits, you know. Noth -- No -- Nobody famous, that I can remember, you know.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, when you moved into the laundry, how was the laundry organized? Like, how many people worked there, what were their jobs, was there a like a head laundry person? MARY BROWN: Yes, yeah. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Could you describe that, please? MARY BROWN: Let's see. We had Shirley's sister-in-law Shelly, she worked there. And -- ANJULI GRANTHAM: What -- Shelly Zimin? MARY BROWN: Sal -- Shelly, yeah.
Her dad used to work for FE -- FAA. Davis. So -- So that's how she was here. And then she married Clyde. Junior's brother. And then -- I think they live in Anchorage or Wasilla or somethin' like that now.
And there was a couple other gals. When I first got there, there was all the different gals that I never really worked with, you know. And then, over the years, there was a rotation of people. But it was always Shirley. She was the main gal.
And then, me, and then whoever else happened to -- we could hire. And now -- Now, it's Jeanie (sp?), Jeanie Stuart (sp?). And she's -- She's awesome. She's one of my best friends. I really like her. And we spend many winters together. Her and her boyfriend.
But that -- That's it, you know. I can't think of anybody else. Then, we'd get the cannery kids, when they weren't busy, we'd try to get them to do some cleaning, too, but it didn't work very well. 'Cause they didn't like to -- They'd go -- They'd go up to the bunkhouse and sit in the common room and not do anything but just gab. You know, you'd catch 'em doin' that.
But -- But we didn't get too many good workers that way. In fact, some of the guys worked better than girls when it came to cleaning.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm. So, you moved into the laundry initially, it sounds like, because there wasn't enough space for all the packages. MARY BROWN: Right, and I was never there to be a receptionist. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay, mm-hm. MARY BROWN: So that was the main thing. Nobody in the front room to -- to tell people where -- what they, you know -- where to go, you know, what they -- And, they couldn't tell anybody what they needed, 'cause the desk was empty most of the time. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm, mm-hm. MARY BROWN: So --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: And so, how is it that you then came to do laundry duties, too? MARY BROWN: Well, they -- I'd helped do books, you know, helped paperwork and stuff like that when I was in the office. Whatever I could, you know, do.
And I did forget, there was one little room when you first entered that office. And that was where the fish clerk did all this fish -- you know, there was -- that was only -- young guy. And he did all the fish tickets. He logged in all the fish tickets. So --
But -- I don't know. They just had me -- I'm not real busy, you know, when it's at the beginning. So, instead of just sitting there doing little paperworks here and there, I'd be -- They're always busy in the laundry. You know, there's always things to get ready.
So, we had little laundry packets we all had, you know, with the sheets and towels and everything. So when people came, you just gave 'em that whole, you know, group of stuff, and have 'em write their name, check out, you know, that kind of thing.
And then, we had fishermen, when they came in, we did their clothe -- clothing. We would do their laundry. And they'd pay us for it.
And we did sleeping bags when the big machine would be going, when the steam got on. So, everybody would bring all their big stuff, even some of the village people would, you know. And they'd pay us. But --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Could you describe the laundry building? The -- What was hap -- MARY BROWN: Well, when -- You walk in, there was a big steam dryer on the left, and the -- the kitchen -- or, like a big laundry sink type thing. And then the -- a big extractor. And then, the big barrel washer.
And then we had a line -- we used -- we only had a couple washers and dryers. But then after a while it -- it increased. And -- And then, as years went on, we got tables, bigger tables, and -- folding tables and that kinda stuff.
But there was a big bedroom off to one side. And that's where I moved into. And so, that worked out real well, because I was there, the van was parked outside, and whenever I needed to, I'd just walk out and zoom. Down the road I went. ANJULI GRANTHAM: That -- MARY BROWN: Or down the cannery, or whatever.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Was that the first year that you did that? MARY BROWN: No. ANJULI GRANTHAM: That you moved -- MARY BROWN: Oh, the first year in the laundry, yeah. Mm-hm.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: What -- When did you transition to the laundry? MARY BROWN: Oh, in '81, I think it was. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: Yeah. So, it was -- Yeah, it had to have been '81. 'Cause I was in the office for two years. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Hm-mm. MARY BROWN: So -- That was nice. 'Cause it -- It helped a -- helped them -- the laundry gals out a lot, and it helped me out, 'cause I kept busy, and I like that. So -- One time I got was too busy.
One time, Shirley was -- her sister -- It was a strike year. Her sister got killed on the road. Bad car accident. She -- There was a bike or somethin' in the middle of the road and she swerved and she rolled her Jeep, and -- and she died. And she just had her baby -- had a baby, too. And Shirley was pregnant. And she miscarried. And so she di -- she had to leave work.
And that year, my husband didn't have a permit. His dad sold the permit out from under him. Drift net permit. And so, Gary (Johnson) kept him on as carpenter all summer, which helped us immensely.
But I was going through some anxieties because of all the stuff that was going on. And I was by myself in the laundry. All by myself. I had to take care of everything. And drive.
So, they tried to help with cannery kids and stuff, but it was -- it was middle -- you know, gettin' to be the middle of the season. So, it took me a while to get over that anxiety thing. It was a lot of going to the clinic, sitting there, you know, blood pressure. That kinda stuff. Trying to get it --
And my husband says, "Quit. If, you know, you can't handle it. You know, you gotta make yourself feel right about it,” so -- And he says just --
But then after a while, it got straight in my head, "You gotta go with the flow." Just try not to, you know, overthink things, you know, and it'll work out. So, after that, it was fine. But that one summer was very hectic.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: What summer was that? MARY BROWN: I think it was like, '82 or '83 -- I don't -- I can't even recall what the first --
It was the first time I ever seen it, where they had a strike. 'Cause the price was low. And so, they had a big gathering on the beach road, going down to the set nets and stuff. And blocked people from going fishing and stuff like that.
And sometimes it'd get to be a big party kind of thing, and so -- But I never went. I never knew what was going on, because I wasn't a set netter, I didn't fish. So --
And then there was usually -- You know, you got all the fish boats that don't fish, but you'll see the -- the other ones they call "scabs" go out there and -- boy. And I know -- You know, when I started set netting, I found out that when you go -- when you're a scab, people don't forget.
And this one family down the beach -- they -- they got picked on all the time. It was -- It was -- And you never saw anybody do it, you know. Like spray paint their truck or cut their running lines or somethin' like that. But it happens. It's weird.
But -- But no, I never -- I didn't -- I never did any scabbin' or anything like that. Because -- Just because I believe that the fishermen deserve a better price. You know, just from bein' a fisherman and watching what they have to deal with -- what they have to buy just to bring the cannery the fish. So --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: How -- How was that to -- to work for the cannery, and to understand that side of the operation, but then to be sympathetic with the strikers? Could you talk about -- a bit about that? MARY BROWN: Well, it's only because my husband was the -- you know, a fisherman. A drifter.
And, I didn't understand it for a while, you know, at the beginning, because there was no strike. I can't even recall what -- when the first one was.
But, I know in '92 -- '91, I think it was, there was a strike. And it was -- it was -- I think that's when Triton came in. Before -- Just before that.
And it was not good. I -- I felt there was a lot of issues that didn't get addressed, and -- and their -- a lot of times, some -- they'll just tell them to leave. Go find another market, you know.
And -- But the -- All of 'em are all in cahoots, you know. They all know what the price is gonna be. And for some reason, the more fish there is, the less money they wanna give. And it's, you know, more work, you know, and they can't keep up with it.
It's really hard to figure out their side of the story. Especially when they've got the middle man, where they -- when they sell the fish, you go to the market, you see twelve dollars, fifteen dollars for a fillet of fish, and you're getting a dollar, you know, Now.
I think the highest -- The highest I ever got -- seen was $2.50 for the fishermen. But there wasn't a lot of fish. But -- And then the next year, it turned to a dollar, and there was twice as much fish. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Was that 1988? MARY BROWN: ‘88, mm-hm. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm.
So, tell me about what the -- the job description of a laundry lady, or laundry person. MARY BROWN: Well, usually first thing, you'd come in -- Well, coffee. No. And then we have -- we just figure out what we gotta do. You know, every day is a bunkhouse change day. And the cannery kids come in and -- during lunchtime and change their sheets.
And there's -- that's usually about -- and same with the fishermen. And then -- But the other bunkhouses, like the machinists, the foreman shack, superintendent's, every one of 'em has a day that we go in and change their sheets.
And then every day we go and clean bathrooms. And -- And that's for all bunkhouses. Everybody. And then, there's other people that do the cannery bathrooms. Usually people that work in the Fish House. Some are -- Somebody's designated to do that. At least that’s -- that's the way I understood it, 'cause I never did 'em.
And that -- Just, do laundry. People -- Like I said, we did fishermen's clothes, we made packets ready for everybody. And there was a lotta sheets. Did orders, stocking. You know, 'cause you got mass laundry soaps and all that kinda stuff.
And then you had to make sure all the bunkhouses had all their supplies, and that way they can do all their stuff. But other than that, it was just every day wash, wash, wash, you know. So --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: What about the cannery crew’s laundry? How did they deal with that? MARY BROWN: They have -- Every bunkhouse has a washer/dryer. Only one washer and dryer, so you're really having to keep things moving if -- if they're there, you know. And then, I -- one or two washers and dryers.
But, you know, sometimes they have issues, and they don't -- can't use 'em. And then, we finally -- One year, they built a -- out of the Filipino bunk -- mess hall -- was sat vacant, they made that into a fishermen's washhouse-type thing, where they had showers and laundry.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Do you remember when that was? MARY BROWN: Gosh, that was probably '90 -- '88. Might be in '80s, late '80s, I'd say. You know. All the stuff --
All the dishes and pans and everything, they got taken out and made into a big laundry. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Was -- MARY BROWN: They really needed it. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Yes. Was the Filipino mess hall empty when you started? MARY BROWN: Yes. Yes.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, the cannery had been integrated by the time you started? MARY BROWN: Yes, as far as I know. I -- I can't -- I can't recall that thing ever going. Maybe my first year, but I really -- I don't remember it going. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: You know.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: And, when was it that you married Bill? MARY BROWN: '81. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. MARY BROWN: Yeah. ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, you started in '79 -- MARY BROWN: Uh-huh. ANJULI GRANTHAM: -- and, two years later you married a Naknek local? MARY BROWN: Yep. My husband.
He -- He's been here since he was a kid. You know, his dad was the winter watchman up at Diamond J. And then also, his mom and dad met down in Ugashik, when he -- his dad was a sailboat -- fishing in a sailboat, and she worked in a cookhouse.
And there was a cannery -- Wingard, I think it was. Ran by Wingard. I'm not really sure what company. But they -- For some reason, my husband said somethin' about they used the APA sailboats out of Pilot Point. That's where they stored 'em. So --
And then, I have some pictures of the conversions that they were also, you know, using for fishing.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm. So, was it Bill then that convinced you to come back after your first year and to continue at South Naknek? MARY BROWN: Oh, yeah. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Or how did that happen, that you -- MARY BROWN: I kept comin' back. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Because before you kept on goin' to different places, and -- MARY BROWN: Yeah. Well --
Yeah, it was Bill. Because you know, after the -- what was -- I was only there three weeks, and the boyfriend on the tender was out in the hook. And so, there wasn't too much love lost there, you know. I just told him what happened, and that was it. You know.
And he was -- He had a wandering eye all the time anyway. And I wanted to -- So, it didn't bother me.
And, my mom, she's always wondered about marrying a fisherman, because her dad was a fisherman, and her mom always told her, "Never marry a fisherman." And so, she didn't. But her dad was a fisherman. But --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: And is -- is your mother from Japan? MARY BROWN: In Japan. Yeah. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: Yeah. Yeah. And back in the war, the -- I think his boat got taken by the Russians. So --
But they lived in Hokkaido. And -- And her family still lives there. Well, some of -- most -- I'd say half of 'em are gone. But she's got a couple sisters still.
But sh -- she probably won't travel again back that way, because she's pretty old right now. But -- Yeah. Bill was the one that made me come back.
So we started living together right after that season, you know. And -- ANJULI GRANTHAM: In Washington? MARY BROWN: In Washington, yeah. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Or did you stay -- ? Okay. MARY BROWN: Yeah. In Washington. And then, we'd come back up. And --
Then after a while we -- we would stay later and Gary would let us stay in the girls' bunkhouse, and he did projects around -- I'm not really sure.
Sometimes we -- he went hunting and berry picking, you know, we did all that. And we were building a cabin down the beach. And started building.
And then, we ended up buying a house after a while. In '86, we bought a house. ANJULI GRANTHAM: In South Naknek -- MARY BROWN: Yep. ANJULI GRANTHAM: -- or Naknek? MARY BROWN: In South Naknek. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay, mm-hm. MARY BROWN: The little 1932 Sears and Roebuck kit house, that lived -- And it was --
The Pit (Bar) was right after -- You know, you come up from the cannery, The Pit was there. The bar, and -- The old bar. And then a big building -- old building in between. And then there was a little field, and then it was our little house.
And, in fact, one of the fishermen's wives that came up to the cannery to visit her husband, she was a painter. And she painted our house. And so, I've got a paint -- I've got her painting at -- at the house. And I really like it. She was -- She was a very nice lady. Melba.
And after a while, she would be like the house mother at the bunkhouse. It was nice. She was a really nice lady. And -- Not sure if they still fish, but they had a grandson that always come up. The it would be -- Melba and her husband, Ed, and then son Ed, Jr., and then the Randy. So, they were real nice.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So after you married Bill, did you both live in the laundry -- MARY BROWN: No. ANJULI GRANTHAM: -- bedroom? Or how -- What happened? MARY BROWN: No. He still had his bunkhouse and I still had mine, you know, 'cause -- And -- And then -- Yeah, we kept bunkhouses, you know.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So even though you were married, you could not share a room? MARY BROWN: No. We just -- you know, back and forth, you know. And -- And you got the boat. So --
And -- And then after that -- Well, when he quit fishin' -- I mean, when his father sold the permit out from under him, we foun -- we found one in the village that we could use on a transfer. And it was for hardship -- the gal was -- It was through a point system.
Back in the day, I guess if you bought so many licenses, like crew licenses and gear licenses and all that, that you accrued points with the entry commission, and you could get a permit for no money, you know. And so, that's how he got a set net.
And -- And that's how his dad got his permit. Well, he could of got his gill net permit, too, but he never -- he -- it was always promised to him, permit. So --
And then, somehow, they w -- he wanted to sell the permit, and -- But he gave Bill the boat. Which didn't work very well without a permit, so one of our friends in the village found one for us and helped us -- you know, administrated it for us.
And, there was a couple times where -- couple years where it was not there. 'Cause we'd come back in the f -- summertime, and the permit would be gone because they gambled it. You know, put it up for a poker game or somethin'. And -- Or somebody talked her into leasin' it to her.
But those two times that she had that happen -- or, we had that happen to us, she never got paid. So -- And she said that once the entry commission figured out if they -- it was gonna be given to her, because it was her son, he was applying for it. And he drowned.
But they let -- the entry commission let her use that as a hardships, 'cause she had no income. So -- So, she ga -- she got her 25 percent right off the top, no expenses. And -- And she was happy.
You know, but she was a drinker. And, towards the end when we were waiting, and thought that was the year that she was gonna sell it to us, her boyfriend killed her. Stabbed her. And so, that was the end of that permit.
And so, it just kinda like, it was tellin' him maybe can't go drifting. You know, and it was a lot more expensive to go than set net. So, I gave him back the set net permit, and he went set netting after that.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, you had the set net permit though? MARY BROWN: Yeah. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Where did you fish? MARY BROWN: Down at Johnson Hill. We have a cabin down there. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: And he built it out of one of the buildings that was falling down at Diamond O.
And Gary gave us a -- one of the buildings to tear down, so one Fall we spent all Fall hauling lumber out and stuff.
We had a winch on our truck, and we'd -- my husband was -- learned a lot from his dad, 'cause his dad was a pile buck and -- about pile driving and using winch lines and block and tackles and all that kinda stuff. To -- To be able to make it to where you could -- You don't need a lot of equipment, you just need to know how to rig those blocks up to -- to move the -- the stuff to your advantage, and not have to break your back, you know.
And we had a big flatbed, and we'd haul it down the beach. And it was, you know, eleven miles down that beach, and four -- over four cricks, and playing with the tide, too, to boot.
And the cabin -- There was a cabin when we first got there, and then we come back the next spring and it was gone. The whole thing was gone. And found out that Cliff Johnson drug it to Diamond O hill. Or they called dead -- "Dead Man's Hill."
And -- And that's where it stayed. And I -- Carl Zimin ended up buying it.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: This is -- Is this the one that you had built? MARY BROWN: We hadn't built it. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay, okay. This is the one that was there before. MARY BROWN: This was the original one. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: But -- So, we had to build it then.
And so, my husband started building that one. And it -- But it was quite a deal, because it's along the crick, and then you gotta go up the hill. And -- And there was --
We heard there was an old Fish and Game cabin there a long time ago. And down below, near the crick, there's a bank there, and we found all sorts of bottles and stuff. Like there was a little cabinet or somethin' stuck there. And -- So, we found all sorts of bottles and stuff there.
But -- It's -- I know there's some history down that way. You know, reindeer herders -- the -- I heard about one of the guys, his dad used to have a gold sluice down there, you know. And -- I don't know if they ever found anything. But -- It was -- I -- It was an -- I like going down the beach, it's really -- it's fun.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So what was the first year that you were set netting? MARY BROWN: In '88. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. And, how did you balance fishing with your work in the laundry? MARY BROWN: Well, my girlfriends were nice enough to help me out. And they would -- One would take over the driving and the other one would do the -- the mail.
And, lotta times, you know, the kids were already in -- in -- everybody's here -- in the cannery. So, there wasn't a lot of -- super lot of going out to the airport, but there was a lot of mail.
And a lot of laundry and -- and it -- and it was a little tight, but -- but there -- you know, everybody made it work.
And whenever I, you know, was off fishing, then I'd go right back to work, you know. I don't care if it was day or night, I'd just say, "Go home, I'm takin' over." You know.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So how -- How would that practically work? Like, you'd set your net, and then you'd go back to work, or just -- How -- MARY BROWN: No, I had to -- ANJULI GRANTHAM: Tell me about how that would -- MARY BROWN: No, it was -- Well, couldn't do it that way. Had to stay there and pick the net. You can't just leave. 'Cause you never know how much fish you're gonna get.
And you have to keep that net clean. So -- So we'd just -- just stay down there 'til it was done.
And then I'd haul my fish. Well, at that time, I was -- I was selling to Bumble Bee, because they had trucks that would come, so. And then I'd -- And then, after a while, Trident would -- or not -- Was it Trident?
Yeah, Trident would take fish. Set net fish. But you had to bring it to the cannery. Well, eleven miles down the beach, you know, and if you get a lot of fish, you can't do that. I tried it. I -- I think I took three or four thousand pounds, and it was all we could do.
And -- And then the tide was there again. So, it was -- it's -- It got to be really hard. And then also, a lot of wear and tear on -- on the truck.
Where they -- the -- Bumble Bee had those big like Army truck things. Like what AGS has. Alaska General Seafoods. The same ty -- type a truck. And they'd come and pick 'em up.
And they also had issues. Sometimes you'd have -- you'd be stuck down there and you'd throw all your fish in a tote, because they weren't there yet, but you had to get 'em outta the skiff. And you're sitting there waiting, and they don't come and they don't come. And the tide is going out, and then all -- the tide's coming back.
If you don't get that fish up out of the tide line. So sometimes you're moving those fish again up to a higher ground. And then you got the bears to worry about. So, it's -- it was ongoing.
But then after a while, you know, Bumble Bee quit -- quit their operation over there, and then that was the end of that. That's when we moved over here.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, you no longer were set netting at that point, or -- MARY BROWN: No, we -- we moved over to the Naknek side. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. MARY BROWN: Because there was no work, hardly, or anything, so --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, you moved -- you moved your fishing operation as well, over to here? MARY BROWN: Yes. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. MARY BROWN: Mm-hm. Yeah, it was too hard to live here and move over there, back and forth. And so -- We're thinking about goin' back over there, but -- ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: You know. We're just -- Right now, we're still in transition, still.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, all summer long, you would then spend some days doing set net work, and some days -- MARY BROWN: Yeah. ANJULI GRANTHAM: -- or --or gill net work, and some days at the off -- MARY BROWN: Office. ANJULI GRANTHAM: At the laundry? MARY BROWN: Yeah. Mm-hm. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Doing laundry work? MARY BROWN: Mm-hm.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: How were you paid, if you were working in the office or the laundry? Because -- Would you like -- clock in, clock out at the end of the day? 'Cause I -- MARY BROWN: We had timebooks. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. MARY BROWN: Mm-hm. ANJULI GRANTHAM: And so, did each persons keep their own timebook? MARY BROWN: Mm-hm. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. And so, you'd just -- MARY BROWN: And then you'd hand in your timebook.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, could you describe that? Like, would you hand it in every two weeks or, how did payment happen? MARY BROWN: You handed it in weekly. I think you -- I think you tore out the whites and kept the copies, you know. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. MARY BROWN: In a book. It was a book. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: So that's how it worked.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: I see, so then you were able to collect overtime, even though you weren't on the canning line necessarily, but you were working -- MARY BROWN: Right. Right. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. Okay. MARY BROWN: And sometimes I was -- I was -- Sometimes I'd get a agreement with Gary where I'd be on call. So, I'd get paid while I was waiting.
'Cause, I mean, if you knew people were coming or whatever, I mean it’s just like, you gotta sit there and wait. Might as well be doin' somethin'. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: Sometimes he didn't care if I was doin’ anything, you know. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: Just pretty easy-going that way, but I kept busy most of the time.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, how long did you continue to work doing the laundry slash office work, van work? When -- When did you stop? MARY BROWN: Oh, gosh. Well, that year that they had the strike. In '90s, you know, that's -- that's when we moved over because Gary didn't like me fishing. And -- Which I understand. It was a conflict in the job.
And then, Trident -- my husband was at a meeting, and everybody -- all the fishermen got together and they were all talkin’ and stuff, and they brought out some proposals. My husband said somethin' and the -- Chuck Bundrant didn't like it. So, he almost got -- he wanted us out, now. He wanted him out, now.
And Gary talked him into waitin' 'til the end of the season. 'Cause, I mean, we were already in debt, right? So, you make 'em leave now, then what, you know. I'm not paying you, you know, type of thing. Or somethin' like that.
But no, he let us stay 'til the end a season. So, then I got -- You know, when get --
And when you leave you get a separation notice for unemployment and all that. And so, mine says, "Mary will no longer fish during working hours." So, that was my indication to -- time to go. That was the end of the Alaska Packers experience, you know.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: And what year do you think that was? MARY BROWN: I thought it was like '91. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. MARY BROWN: You know. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm.
MARY BROWN: 'Cause in '92, we -- I have pictures of being at Bumble Bee in '92, so -- And they allowed me to go fishing.
I'd come up in the springtime and open all the bunkhouses up, help with the laundry lady, or wherever. I -- Sometimes, I even helped in the -- in the mess hall. And I did the bunkhouses, did the cleaning like I usually did.
And then they started puttin' me in the kitchen -- I mean, in the store. And I really liked workin’ in the store. Stocking, and all the people coming in and buying stuff.
And -- But other -- the -- When fishing got close to bein' ready, you know, like June, usually June 5th or somethin', we'll stop working and start gettin' ready for fishing. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm.
MARY BROWN: So -- And then in the Fall time, I'd go back again and close up all the bunkhouses. Everybody'd be gone. Just me and the winter watchmen there. And make sure everything's -- all the sheets and everything were out ofe bunkhouses, all the garbage.
Make sure everything, you know, got winterized, or if there was anything wrong, I'd tell the winter watchmen. And that's it.
And I got to come and go as I wanted, anytime. It didn't have to be all in one week, you know, every day. I just came when I wanted to come, you know. 'Cause --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: When did you start doing that? MARY BROWN: In '90 -- Well, '90 -- In the '90s. Yeah. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: We were there for -- We were there for quite a while, too.
But when they quit -- I -- I don't know if we were here -- We came over here in 2001. So, my husband had a do -- job as the foreman at the dock. And I was hoping that was gonna work out.
I got a job at PenAir. And he started in April, and I started in May. And then I worked for PenAir for ten years. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm.
MARY BROWN: And the dock -- the dock job didn't work out for him, and so he ended up starting -- still worked for HUD off and on. He did some HUD houses over on this side. Renovations and stuff like that. Remodels. And that worked out pretty good.
And he even got -- And we, you know, then he got chance to go to the -- Savik (sp?) and get trained. So, there's all that, you know, stuff goin' on. So, he -- he got his Building Maintenance and Repair, and you know, we'd take odds and ends courses, you know. If it pertained for fishing or anything like that. So --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: And you continued to fish through all of this? MARY BROWN: Mm-hm. Yeah. ANJULI GRANTHAM: And do you still? MARY BROWN: Yep. We still do. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm.
MARY BROWN: So it’s-- We're still undecided. We're getting older, we're getting a little tired. It's hard to find a good fishing partner, and we get along pretty good fishin'. We'd fished a little bit by our -- together when we were workin' at Bumble Bee.
And -- Because it -- it was hard -- When we had those strike years, and when we had in-river on the south side, it w -- Back in those days, it was the drifters and the set netters fishing at the same time. Now this -- Now, in the past, just recently, they -- they did set netter only and drifters only and it was way safer.
It was -- It's really -- It was really scary to go fishing back then. And trying to find sites, you're fighting with everybody. An -- And it was -- And you see the true side of a lotta people, and wonder, you know -- you know, why they're like that, you know, 'cause they -- they're not like that normally. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. Mm-hm.
MARY BROWN: But -- But I -- I didn't like fishing in-river. And then, you can't guarantee anything for your fishing partners, you know. You can bring 'em up and house 'em, feed 'em, and -- but they're -- you can't tell 'em what you're gonna get paid when you don't know yourself.
I -- I mean, this is the only place that I've ever seen where you come to work and you don't know what you're gonna get. I mean, when you get a job, you know what you're gonna get paid.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Because the price isn't established? MARY BROWN: Right. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: And -- And I -- For me, I’ve always thought that, you know, base price -- dollar. Start at a dollar.
I mean, look at -- everything's expanded, everything's gotten more expensive, but they haven't gone with the fish, you know.
So -- I mean, maybe back in the sailboat days, I think the prices weren't -- you know, they were kind of in conjunction. I -- I'm not really sure. Was it a dollar a fish, or was it -- so what would that make it, 20 cents a pound?
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Were you working for NN when Trident purchased the cannery? MARY BROWN: Yes. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Could you talk about the change from APA to Trident? MARY BROWN: It didn't -- Nobody seemed to change as far as people.
I mean, you know, the people in the office or the workers. It just seemed like -- It's just the name changed. Because it -- it also changed beforehand. It --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Oh, could you talk about that a bit? MARY BROWN: They changed to ConAgra. I couldn't tell you exact years or anything like that, but ConAgra came in one year, and then Sealaska. Before Trident. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm.
MARY BROWN: And then, I don't know if they were affiliated all with Del Monte, 'cause they were also affiliated with Alaska Packers. And -- So -- They w -- It just seemed like the name changed, but -- and, you know, maybe the payroll thing changed, but that's it, you know.
Once in a while we'll see the higher-ups from them. The ConAgra person. He was an interesting person. I didn't get along with him.
But the -- the other guys, Sealaska. That's when they started getting the helicopters and stuff, you know. And flying -- flying the fish, and flying parts out to the boats.
I mean, they had awesome, awesome service. You know, you'd break down, they would medevac a part to the boat, or to the tender. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Who -- Who would? MARY BROWN: The -- The company. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Trident, or -- ? MARY BROWN: Yeah. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: Oh, not Trident. Sealaska. Or, I think it started with Sealaska. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Oh. Okay, uh-huh.
MARY BROWN: Because I know that they -- I'm pretty sure that guy used to fly around and -- But Trident, they -- they also did. They had three or four different helicopter pilots that I remember. And then after that they -- we left. So, I don't know what happened after that.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, it sounds like you were at the NN Cannery from -- for like, fourteen -- thirteen, fourteen years, or -- ? MARY BROWN: It think it was at least twelve. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Okay. Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: It was twelve years.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. Hm-mm. And during those twelve years, what are some big changes or shifts that you noticed with the workforce? MARY BROWN: I know that they had a shift in the Filipino workforce at one point, because, well -- one thing was drugs. And really long hours.
Just -- I don't know, there were just some weird things were goin' on at that time, I noticed. And the -- And then they were worried about the mail.
And so, I had to be -- Towards the end, when they were startin' to leave, one -- I remember one group was really concerned about their boxes that they were gettin'. And I didn't know nothin' about it. Never even thought about it, you know. Until the cops came and got involved, you know.
And so, after that I'm not sure if they sti -- ha -- still have that kind of big crew like they used to. But back in the old days they had -- you had your Filipino foreman, and I know that those kids, sometimes they had to pay the foreman out of their wage. Something.
And then they'd have -- then I heard some -- you know, they had poker games. And sometimes some of those people lost their whole summer's -- you know. And they still had to work to pay it, you know.
It's -- It was strange. Somethin' totally -- that I'm not used to. But you don't see it if you're not living there.
So, you just -- this is things I heard. So, I don't know if they're true or super true, or if it's just scuttle, or what.
But -- Like mafia, almost, you know. You know, so -- I'm sure -- I'm sure th -- it's hard to say.
I know one guy that seemed like he was working twenty-four hours. So, I can't see how they can work twenty-four hours. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: You go bonky after twenty-four hours.
So -- Then, the girls -- I don't know -- Girls and fishermen. That, and they have that kinda deal.
And then bein' right next to the bar, that has a lot of influence on the workers. And I -- Other than that, the workforce -- it didn't -- I mean, it still kept going, but the people changed a little bit.
And the -- and -- and you noticed some of the things. And as you get older, you just don't get into the stuff that those guys get into, you know, so -- I just stay right in my little laundry area.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Hm-mm. What about changes at the cannery? To the buildings, to the process? MARY BROWN: Well, they did have some changes in the Fish House. They did -- They did a big fiberglass job. My husband did -- was part of that. Him and the one foreman -- carpenter foreman.
And the Ice House thing that came in, that was the -- a big step. You know, they had the big ice house for the fish, to keep 'em colder.
And then they had -- just changes in the dock, you know. Just like, renovations to the crane and all that. It was just --
But the boats kept getting bigger. And they were getting harder to -- to lift. And it's a cannery, it's old. Old wood. They give way.
I went through -- driving the van, I went through the -- a plank, and it was -- they got it fixed, but it was interesting, 'cause it broke right through and the -- popped that van up there like -- kinda like, hydraulicked me over, you know. And luckily it didn't damage anything.
But -- I used to drive through the thing -- you know, the cannery, the whole, the dock area and everything. 'Cause I'd deliver mail, and I'd deliver to the stock room, and -- just -- and picked up those boxes from QC, 'cause they're out in front by the beach gang boss. Beach gang area.
And so, I made my rounds through there all the time with the van. Even to the cookhouse, going down that little narrow chute.
And so -- 'Cause we hauled laundry down there and stuff, because we didn't have carts. We don't have the little Cushmans or anything like that. So, if we didn't have me to drive it down, then it's -- haul 'em in those big baskets, and they're heavy, you know.
Two or three loads of sheets is heavy, especially -- ANJULI GRANTHAM: Those wicker baskets? MARY BROWN: Yeah, those big wicker baskets. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm. MARY BROWN: So --
And you gotta be careful in the laundry when you put those things -- the hot laundry into the wicker baskets, 'cause -- 'cause it -- they can burst into flames. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Did you see that happen, ever? MARY BROWN: One time, I saw -- this was before I got into the laundry.
I saw a basket -- a burning basket come crashing out of a window in the laundry. 'Cause they took it from the steam dryer -- 'cause you don't need to -- the steam dryer's very hot, so you don't keep it in there longer than thirty minutes.
And even a propane dryer, you don't. You gotta check it. But all those sheets and stuff, they get so hot. And they put it into that basket and that basket caught on fire and they just threw it out the window.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, tell me about the -- 'cause, you know, you go to the cannery and there're fire hoses everywhere. Would you have fire drills? MARY BROWN: You know, I never saw a fire drill. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Hm. MARY BROWN: You know, and we never had any -- you know, how in school, you had the fire drills? I don't recall a fire drill. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Hm.
MARY BROWN: You know, or any kind of emergency thing. You know, like if you had an earthquake, or if -- something. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm.
MARY BROWN: So, they just -- I guess they just assumed you'd know what to do. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Or where to go. MARY BROWN: Have your fire extinguisher here, you know. So -- And we got lots of water.
But, you know, when you're working in chemicals and all that, that's -- that's a big thing, too, you know. It's -- 'Cause you can't throw water on some chemicals. And -- But --
And, you know, like, the fiberglassing that goes on down at the -- for the boats and all that kinda stuff, that's -- that's high -- high -- volatile. You know, very volatile, so --
I mean, how 'bout working in the cookhouse. That -- All those -- All that oil heat that's goin' on. Those big cookstoves and stuff like that. But they seem to manage. And I've never seem 'em on fire. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: Which is good. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. MARY BROWN: So --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, are there some memories, or some things about the cannery that you think are important for us to know and to -- and to document? MARY BROWN: Well, I know that there's a lot of times where you make a lotta good friends. You meet -- As you go along, you know.
And there's some -- sometimes you get some experiences, some good, some bad. And it happens everywhere, you know. Not just cannery.
But, it was just like a stepping stone in life to me, you know. Something to keep busy and make some money.
And it's not a normal job, but I like it the way it is, you know. I like the seasonal work. And I -- I don't like it bein' broke durin' the wintertime, but, you know, if there was -- if there's longer season it'd be a little bit better, but -- They --
As soon as the red season goes, then they don't wanna stick around for silvers or any of that. And those are just as good a fish, you know. But they -- there's that gap. There's always, like, two or three weeks.
So, what do you do with those people for two or three weeks? So, it's hard to keep 'em busy. That's when they always have problems, you know. They take their money and they go out to the bar, 'cause there's nothin' else to do. Unless they're nature people, you know.
But we used to go out and, you know, shoot guns and stuff like that. Go target prac -- practicing, or just go look at the bears at the dump.
You know, or go down to the beach, go clam digging. 'Cause they have clams right there off of Diamond O. Lots of rocks in the beach there, but there are clams there. And there's -- Like, there's over on this side.
And, just general -- I like just goin' out in the tundra, you know. 'Cause it's so pretty, all the wildflowers and all that. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm.
MARY BROWN: But it's definitely an experience. And I wouldn't -- I'd -- I'd recommend it to anybody -- want -- you know, right outta school. You know, find your niche, type thing. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm.
MARY BROWN: See if -- 'Cause I -- I know that a lotta people, when they come up here, they either like it or they don't like it. Usually there's not that middle ground, so --
You always wanna be back here. And in the springtime, you just think like -- when I was not living here year-round, you'd be antsy. March would come and you'd just wanna get ready.
And I don't know how it'd feel if I never came back, you know, so -- I just don't know. I haven't figured that one out yet. Came close this year. But only 'cause of family. Yeah. Have to take care of mom. But --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Was there anything else you wanna share about cannery life -- can -- or anything at all? MARY BROWN: I can't think of anything. I've got -- I know I have lots more things, and lots more pictures I could show you, but they're all down in Washington. A lot of 'em are.
And that's -- I think that's about it, for now. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Well thank you, Mary. MARY BROWN: Thanks. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Thank you so much. I'm gonna stop this.