Sam Lightwood was interviewed by Bill Schneider and David Krupa on October 21, 1993 at his homestead in Kenny Lake, Alaska. His wife, Marian, was present during the interview, but didn't talk on tape. Sam made his living homesteading, teaching, and running a local newspaper. Marian taught school at Kenny Lake for many years before retiring. Their post and beam construction house and the impressive homestead is a tribute to the Lightwood's skill and perseverance. In this first part of a two part interview, Sam talks about what brought the Lightwoods to Kenny Lake and about the community spirit that makes this area special.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Wrangell-St.Elias National Park
Date of Interview: Oct 21, 1993
Narrator(s): Sam Lightwood
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider, David Krupa
Transcriber: Sue Beck
People Present: Marian Lightwood
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Sam Lightwood's background prior to 1950
How Sam Lightwood worked as a teacher, then left Alaska during the Korean War
Sam Lightwood's return to Alaska in 1956
Sam Lightwood's experience with Native Alaskans
Getting a teaching job at Chignik Lagoon through the Department of Education
State schools versus BIA schools, and his acceptance into the Chignik Lagoon community
The move to Kenny Lake in 1961 and the schools of the area
Communication with the Department of Education
Homesteading at Kenny Lake
Children and work
Description of the 1964 Alaska Earthquake
The move from Kenny Lake to Washington State
Being a school teacher in Washington, working on the Grand Coulee Dam Expansion, and buying homes
Finding a good place to raise their kids
Their return to Alaska, and the distribution of chores on the homestead
The change in prices of various farm goods, and building the roof on Sam's barn
What Sam has learned from local conditions
The 1930's fire and using logs to build his barn
How they count miles on the highway
Early homesteaders in the area and value of the land
Kenny Lake Community League and building the community hall
The cooperative spirit among homesteaders
The Kenny Lake school, hockey, and the attitude toward local government
Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.
After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. Today is October 21, 1993. I’m Bill Schneider. Dave Krupa’s here, too. And we have the pleasure today of doing an interview with Samuel F. Lightwood and Marian Lightwood. And we’re at their place, which is about 6.5 Mile on the Edgerton Road. So thank you both for having us here.
And, Sam, let’s back up and if you would, tell us a little bit about your family and growing up and what life was like.
SAM LIGHTWOOD: One of the questions in relation to that is often, "Well, why did you come to Alaska?" I grew up in Pennsylvania and the Depression was on.
There was news -- talk of the Matanuska Colony Project, I remember, in our household. Whether that inspired my brother’s interest or not, I don’t know. But the -- our family farm had long since been lost in the Depression.
My father’s name was originally Lichtenwallner, a good Pennsylvania Dutch name, who had a real reverence for land. But he had lost it.
While my father never took much of an interest that I know of in the idea, my brother was. And when he -- when he got out of the Army in ’46, he came to Alaska, and he entered in the University of Alaska.
He wanted me to join him on this venture, but I was too comfortably fixed at Millersville State Teachers College at Pennsylvania to want to make the change. It would’ve been quite a radical change, and I wasn’t quite confident enough to venture that far away.
But it wasn’t long afterwards that I did join him. After I graduated from college there were no jobs. I really wasn’t intrigued with the idea of teaching.
So I came to Alaska and Anchorage in 1950. Arriving on steamship, taking the train to Anchorage since there was no road then, and spent a year trying to avoid working for the military, because I had a Quaker background and we -- I accepted that philosophy and refusal to participate in the military.
So that being in Anchorage in 1950 and not wanting to work for the military left the job opportunities extremely limited. So finally, after a few weeks fighting forest fire, I was accepted to a teaching position at Hooper Bay. The Bureau of Indian Affairs school out there.
So I made use of my teaching certificate there by teaching second, third, and fourth graders. About thirty of ‘em. Back in 1951 to ‘2, the school year.
Next school year, I was transferred to White Mountain, which was a boarding school. Very small boarding school up there east of Nome a little bit.
That school was scheduled to be closed, and with the Korean War busily going on at that time I was faced with the decision as to military service.
And I elected alternative service and was accepted by my draft board to serve my time with the American Friends Service Committee on a work project, which happened to be in Mexico. I spent a year there.
We were helping communities with, oh, projects of their choice and desire. One of the best projects was helping the building -- community build a school. A two-room school.
And they had the philosophy there that if the community built a school, the state of Mexico, whatever state it happened to be, would furnish a teacher or teachers for them.
That was expected to be two years, but some of the Quakers pulled some strings. I think they were not too happy with me. I was a little older than most of their campers.
So they managed to get the draft board to recognize the work that I had done with the Bureau of Indian Affairs as part of the alternative service. So I came back to Pennsylvania, looked around for jobs again, and there were none.
But I attempted a teaching job which was out of my range. It didn’t last the entire year. I didn’t last the entire year.
So I was very happy to return to Alaska when I found an opening in the BLM as a rodman or chainman on a survey crew. So I -- then my second round in Alaska started at Ketchikan.
Worked up to various spots and ended up at Manley Hot Springs during the end of the summer. I have a few sketches in the other room that I made on pastel from Manley Hot Springs at that time.
So then I settled into Anchorage and went to work for an architect. I just walked into the office. Architecture was the thing I always wanted to do.
I wanted to be an architect, but it cost too much to go to architectural school. That’s why I became a teacher. It was cheaper. But cheaper is cheaper.
Teachers at that time were making two thousand a year. And my job that -- in -- that I -- my only teaching in the Lower 48 was a half year, and it happened to be in Maryland on the eastern shore, and at that time they were paying two thousand. That was in 1955.
So I was back up here in the spring of ‘56 and working for the architect and met Marian about that time. During those years.
But the -- working -- being a draftsman in the architect’s office was very, very confining. We were on forty-four-hour weeks, which meant we didn’t get very complete weekends.
But there wasn’t much to do in Anchorage at that time. You -- although you could go to Big Lake if you knew somebody that had a cabin up there or you could become a member of the ski club, but I wasn’t sure I could get down the hill on a pair of boards, and I didn’t want the expense either.
I was making about $2.80 an hour then. I think the minimum wage for Alaska was two bucks at that time. But gradually I got small increases.
But the lure of the real Alaska took over and I went to Caribou Creek to help Ben Hitchcock -- Jim Hitchcock complete some contracts because Ben had died.
I would visit up there and I talked to Ben a lot. He was building cabins, and after his -- he died, his widow, Kay Hitchcock, and her son, Jim, encouraged me to come help with the completion of some contracts that Ben Hitchcock was obligated to fulfill.
One of them being a cabin for the Girl Scout camp at Togo Woods, south of Wasilla. That was always interesting, laborious, entertaining, but totally unprofitable.
And so I went back to the architect’s for a while. But then we had some more work to do, so I quit the architect and went to building cabins.
And it was at that time that I ran into my first experience dealing with Natives, who were -- I think it was Walter Charley and Markel Ewan.
Markel’s now dead, but he lived up at Gakona, and he was down there helping a little bit. And then after I moved up here, I ran into them again.
The experience at Caribou Creek, since I was pretty urban and civilized from the Lower 48, gave me the confidence that I could homestead. But on the way, I did some more teaching.
We got through with a contract of building a nice lodge for the Girl Scouts, having made up for a terrible loss we took on building a cabin in the Fairbanks area, so we ended up zero with the balance sheet.
So I walked into the State Department of Education office, the regional office in Anchorage, and said, “Hey, do you need a teacher?”
And I had a long, scrubby beard and kind of grubby clothes on, and at that time the department was run by -- there were three employees in the office for the State Department of Education in Anchorage. One was the office manager, George Keefe. Another was -- can’t remember her name, and the guy who was in charge of buildings. The three of them had an office there.
The woman looked at me and went up and down and she called through the door to George, and said, “Hey, we have an opening out there at Chignik, don’t we? Chignik Lagoon. Maybe he could do.”
And she said, “Well, we like to project to the -- an image of propriety and civilization to the children in our school, so that you would have -- we would want you to shave your beard.”
Well, at that time you didn’t question anything like that. If it was a job, you shaved your beard, which I promptly did and went out there and put in the completion of the year.
It took me three weeks to get there because we were flying on a Beaver from Anchorage down and weather kept interrupting us. I was hired, I think, on the fifth of January and finally got there on the thirty-first -- or thirtieth. Started school the next day. Sorted everybody out.
And the school enrollment jumped while I was there because I wasn’t a hunter or a fisherman. I taught school.
And I got the kids to reading, and the parents appreciated that and they told their friends and I went from about nineteen to twenty-four kids, which kept me pretty busy.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And Marian was along with you then?
SAM LIGHTWOOD: No. Marian and I were writing letters to each other. And then when I came back from then, Marian and I married. And we got the lucky position of being teaching couple for Girdwood.
And then Marian was expecting that year, and the following summer our child was to be born and they said, “Well, we can’t let you to stay here because we only have housing for a couple and that would mean we’d have to find housing and there isn’t any for another teacher. So how about Kenny Lake?” Since Marian wasn’t going to teach.
Well, I wanted to go to Nikolai or someplace out there in the Lime Hills. And they said, “Well, we don’t have housing for a couple out there, and anyway how would you take care of a baby out there?” And I said, “Well, the Natives do it. Why couldn’t we?” “Well, that’s different.”
So, you see the attitudes were a little racist when it came to the Department of Education. However, it was felt that the State, which was still in the transition you might say from the territorial school system, was much more concerned about education than the BIA was.
We just dealt with education. If there was a health problem, well, it was the community’s problem. It wasn’t our school problem.
So that we were able to concentrate more on education, I think, than they did in the BIA schools.
Chignik Lagoon, though, where I taught, was, you would say, a hundred percent Native, but at that time when an area was discovered in need of a school, the State was much quicker to get a school in there, and it was kind of a competition that way. Who got the school in there first, well, then they ran it.
And the State was always a little more innovative than the BIA in setting up a school. I’m not sure how long the school had been there, but the guy that I succeeded had left at Thanksgiving.
One of the local fishermen, in celebrating and welcoming the man to the community, got him a little flustered banging on the door late at night one night and arriving in with his bottle and inviting the schoolteacher to a drink was a little bit more than that guy could handle, but I took it in my stride.
Laid his -- He laid his gun on the table or whatever and we talked about this and that and everything until he was satisfied that I was gonna pass his inspection and he left.
I got along pretty well out there because there was a -- there was a poker game that went on. Well, I’m no poker game player whatsoever, but I thought it would be fun to get in on it. And after I lost a little money, then I was okay, too. That was great.
I didn’t bother to go to any more, 'cause I wasn’t up -- I didn’t care. I don’t like to lose money anyway.
But after that I always heard all about the poker games from the kids. They knew that I was okay. They could talk about things.
We came up here to Kenny Lake because there wasn’t any choice then. It was Kenny Lake or nothing. And we were told it was a modern school.
We’d been by though and looked in the windows on one of our adventuresome trips, because our honeymoon was spent exploring this part of the state. And we could see that the school didn’t have electricity, although apparently there was a light plant. But there was no indication of a water system of any sort, which proved to be true.
I had nineteen -- again I started out with about nineteen, and the area was -- people were coming into homestead. It was filling up with homesteaders, so again there was an increase in enrollment.
And I was told that it was called a -- a school for a teacher and a half. And I said -- well, I thought, "Well, I hope either the enrollment drops before I get there or it increases mightily so that we can have two teachers."
And having moved in here with the enthusiasm that everybody had for homesteading, I could see that there was a great cohesiveness and cooperative spirit going on amongst the homesteaders, and that appealed to me very much.
Our school population here in Kenny Lake was divided between Natives and whites, about one third, two thirds.
We were a state school while Copper Center was a BIA school. Glennallen was far away and small. It had about a two-teacher elementary school. Copper had two teachers. This was one. Gakona had two teachers.
And we had a little teachers’ association here. But then as now, the teachers could never quite find their way to Kenny Lake. The people from Gakona could. Glennallen had a small -- didn’t they have a small high school school at that time, Marian?
MARIAN LIGHTWOOD: They’d just gotten it.
SAM LIGHTWOOD: They’d just started it. I believe teachers from the Catholic school were also involved in that teachers’ association. It seems to me we’d meet over there.
But it was much more of an association rather than a lobbying or a -- a power group as it is more or less today.
At that time, we had no phones, no electricity, and any communication with the Department of Education was by letter, which was great because you could do all kinds of things before there was an exchange of letters.
We -- actually we didn’t even have postal delivery. Our mail came to Copper Center, you know, and waited there until somebody picked it up.
And now and then somebody would drop by and stick their head in the schoolhouse door and say, “Here’s your mail.” And hand you a whole fistful of mail. And you don’t know whether -- what you got. Whether you had it all or how long it’d been sittin’ around in their pickup truck. So we’d get mail about once a week, hit or miss.
I had one visit from the supervisors at that time. And they complained about the floor being dirty. Well, I said, “The kids do the janitorial work because we don’t have any money for school supplies. So we use the money that would’ve been paid to the janitor to buy books. And also we’re helping the community league,” which had formed, “and they don’t have any money to buy supplies with for their building project. So the women scrub the place once a month and the kids do the cleaning in between time.”
Well, that was -- that kind of silenced ‘em. They didn’t say any more about that.
BILL SCHNEIDER: What year was that that you came to Kenny Lake again?
SAM LIGHTWOOD: I came in ‘61 and taught ‘61–‘62. And this, as I said, looked like a good place to homestead. I’d always had that in the back of my mind.
The -- we have a high -- a soil high in calcium, a calcareous soil, which reduces the need for lime. It’s the kind of country called limestone country that we had back in Pennsylvania. So you can get good crops without having to spend the money on lime.
So I looked around. The land on the old road, which was not the old road then, it was just from about Mile --Richardson Highway down to about Mile 12 on the old road was in University of Alaska land, and you couldn’t homestead on that.
You could homestead from here down to the Tonsina River. But then they came up with a power reserve, so you couldn’t homestead anything below fourteen hundred feet.
Well, that put a block to everything, because our elevation here is about fourteen hundred. Then they reduced it to a thousand feet, which meant you couldn’t homestead in the river bottom and you couldn’t homestead all the way back to the bluff.
And then I still wasn’t all that well acquainted with power equipment and how you build a road, nor did anybody else want to move back from the road, so they all homesteaded along the road.
And I noticed this place behind the lake that didn’t seem to be taken up. So I -- I staked on that in February of ‘62. And you had a year to -- after you staked it, you had a year to get back onto it to live there.
So exactly one year later, I started living here in a 8 x 16 shed, which I had built the year before and floated across the lake on barrels and pulled up on the shore over here.
And that was the first house we had. And I had -- by that time we had two kids and I immediately -- (phone interrupts)
BILL SCHNEIDER: So you had two kids at that time?
SAMUEL LIGHTWOOD: Yeah. The one who had been born was about six months old.
And, actually, before Marian came up I had framed in a 20 x 18 addition to the house so that we were feeling pretty smug that we -- in March there, we had a house that was larger than many and lighter with lots of windows than many of the homesteaders’ houses or people who had trailers. Trailers at that time were generally eight feet wide and very dark.
So then I proceeded to become part of the community. Homesteading, picking up whatever work I could.
At one time, I think I was doing the janitorial work at school and hauling water. Both jobs together produced eighty dollars a month. Two dollars a day for janitorial and two dollars a day for hauling the water, which meant going to one of the lodges nearby and running the water from their hose, which they had to accommodate homesteaders, into some fifty-five gallon barrels on the back of my truck and driving up to school and using a transfer pump to pump them into barrels that stood in the hall at the school.
And at school, they dipped the water out of the barrels with dippers or whatever for washing. They didn’t do much washing, however.
The drinking water was then usually provided in a different container. They had milk cans for that.
One of my notorious projects when I had been teacher was to install four barrels overhead in the hallway of the school, so that they would have a gravity system. They didn’t have to dip the water out of the barrels. But it collected the dust that settled into the barrels when the kids were roaming around the hallway.
About that time -- then the next year we had the earthquake, which had ramifications that affected everybody in every -- in many ways. We didn’t have much damage here because we’re sitting -- at that time we figured we were sitting on a large pad of frozen soil.
But from subsequent events we determined that maybe it was just a big pad of clay rather than being frozen.
One of the interesting things that happened, as the earth shook, the water in the lakes or the soft mud under the river bottoms shook like a bowl full of Jell-O and opened up. And as the cracks closed together, it would -- it squirted mud into the air. So you had these ridges of black mud on top of the snow, because there -- we still had a good bit of snow on March 27.
Nobody forgets March 27, 1964 as THE date.
We -- our third child was born just about ten days before the earthquake, which makes it easy to remember what his birthdate year was. It seems to be easier to remember the earthquake than the year that any of the kids were born. We only had one earthquake, We had three kids.
And that -- I’d always heard there was a lot of noise associated with the earthquake. But we were doing the wash, Marian and I. Her mother was here, also. And the light plant was -- made so much noise we couldn’t hear whether there was any noise associated with the earthquake or not.
But we had been accustomed to earthquakes right along, so it was not unusual to feel the earthquake happen at two o’clock in the afternoon.
But this one just kept going and going and going, and I began to fear for the integrity of the house or whether the windows would be shattered because of the tremendous amount of rolling that was going on. But we survived.
The only thing that happened was some of the ranks of wood fell over in the woodshed. Maybe that attests to my building skill. But other people didn’t lose anything either.
One person who built a house that was partially vertical logs lost a window, where the shear racked it so that the glass shattered, but otherwise there wasn’t any destruction. Oh, things falling off the shelves.
By that time, we had the house pretty comfortable with, oh, two bedrooms upstairs and the main room, and the entry would have a sauna in it. And I had -- was getting fields cleared and working on the barn.
We just had a little one-lunger light plant that sat out in the yard under a box like a dog house. Whenever we wanted to do something, like I wanted to run Skilsaw or Marian wanted to do the wash, we’d go out and pull the rope on it.
But things were a little grim, we might say. I think we called each other Misery and Poverty, because we didn’t have enough money to live on. So when Marian’s mother -- father offered to have me work on the ranch, we accepted it, because I could see that the family was suffering somewhat from the limitations of the homestead.
By that time, we’d put in our three years required, three years and a little more, so that we had the title to the homestead. And we just left it.
Took what we could in the little tiny trailer I had and went down there and ended up working for her father about four months. And then in -- but he paid very little. It was ten dollars a day plus beef and housing. It was about par for it in 196 -- 1950 -- '60 -- '66.
We homesteaded here in spring of ’63. We went down there in May of ’66.
And then they said, “Hey, they need a teacher over here.” At that time, teacher -- there were the formalities of hiring teachers in most small districts was very informal, and if they had a live one with a certificate? Hey, they’d hire him. They didn’t bother to advertise it.
So I spent two very successful years teaching fifth and sixth grade in that community. But that was also a community where they didn’t like to have tenured teachers, the law being two years. They pretty well wiped it out the year -- the last year I was there.
But it was a good-old-boy network and the superintendent said, “Hey, we got a good job for you. It’ll suit you to a T. It’s just everything you like to teach right down here in the next town.” But I’d had it.
And I went to work on the Grand Coulee Dam expansion as a carpenter. They had a small carpenters’ union there that was easy to get into if you were a resident. And I knew a good bit about carpentry. I learned a lot more there. And continued at that off and on then, until 1973 when we returned.
In the meantime, I acquired an old house down there and did a historic preservation job, only neither the law nor the concept was well known at that time.
And I acquired a second house for us to live in, having burnt down a house. So I lived in -- we lived in four -- three different houses and I acquired a fourth in that little town.
You could -- you could buy an eight-room house on a city lot with city sewer and water for two thousand dollars or twenty-five hundred.
The first house we bought was -- it was pretty good. It was a two-story one and it had been fixed up pretty much, and it was thirty-three hundred. That’s the one that burned. Marian didn’t like it. It was right on Main Street and had some nice big trees in it for a town in the middle of the desert.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. We were in the midst of the houses down in Washington.
SAM LIGHTWOOD: Well, we were looking for a better place to bring up our kids, because we weren’t too happy with the attitudes of that rather smug farm community.
When it appeared that I might take over from my father-in-law to farm, I was part of the -- potentially, the elite of the town. When I became a schoolteacher, it was kind of so-so. But when I was merely a carpenter and didn’t always work steadily, well, that put us in a little different category.
We were looking at an alternative communities at that time. Looked in British Columbia because we still had the Vietnam War raging at a terrible rate and the concern about America’s policies. And ‘68 wasn’t too far -- we weren’t far past ‘68 with the terrible events that were taking place.
And -- but we looked in Canada, and I didn’t seem to have the resources, nor did I see how I had enough experience to be a farmer to find -- to be comfortable there.
One of the communities we looked at was called Argenta. There was a Quaker school, a small Quaker school there. But I really never figured out how I’d tie into it very well.
We looked back in Pennsylvania, but I had cousins who grew up in rural Pennsylvania. It would’ve been very nice to live in the vicinity where my mother was. We could’ve acquainted the children with our -- the Lightwood side of the family and the Newman side. My mother was a Newman.
And since we had already lived in Washington for a number of years, but I looked at the education available. There was a dual system in Pennsylvania. There’s private schools and public schools.
If you want a good education, you generally have to go to a private school, unless you happen to be in a pretty large community. There I think the schools weren’t so bad. It depended on what community it was and what the industries of that community wanted their school to provide.
And I knew that the language of rural Pennsylvania was abominable. They -- there was too much, oh, bad grammar, bad pronunciation, a limitation. And I don’t know what they did in schools so that the kids didn’t learn much.
We also noticed the physical condition of the kids when we would visit. My mother lived in a house next to the -- a grade school there, and we had a sort of a casual attitude toward elementary school, so sometimes we would vacation while school was on.
And our kids were so superior to them, just having grown up on the homestead as far as physically -- coordination, their physical handling. And we looked -- compared them to what we saw there, and it would’ve been unfortunate to have put our kids in the schools as I knew them and saw them in Pennsylvania.
So actually we came to Alaska knowing that rural though it may be, isolated though it is, the schools were generally better here in Alaska than -- than I saw.
So that was one of the reasons we came back.
And we named the place "The Last Resort" because we’d looked all over the Lower 48, so to speak, and so this was the last resort as a place to raise the kids.
So we returned somewhat in the same frame of mind that we left. We got here, and I said, “I don’t know whether we want to go through with this again.” Because here we were faced with the same limited way of making a living.
It was impossible to decently have the man in the family away making a living while the woman is on the homestead. There’s just too much physical work, too many complications of living that a woman has too much of a trouble handling.
We had known when we were here before of the woman who was trying to run a lodge while her husband was off trapping. She managed to live in two houses that burned down around her and had -- it was just too much work.
Most of the families here had a husband who was here and there and off and on again, and it wasn’t too bad. So when a position was opened for a teacher at the school, I urged Marian to take it and I said, “I’ll be the house-husband.”
And I did a lot of the housekeeping, get the kids ready for school, helped with the wash and cleaning. And as I recall, though, Marian usually got supper. And then the kids and I generally did the dishes in the evening.
But I then was here to work on the woodpile and build the house, and we started up with animals shortly thereafter.
Actually, we brought five animals up from Washington with us, because I had -- we had bought a milk cow at one point down there, kept her in town. That didn’t endear us to too many people in town.
Then we had a bunch of chickens in the backyard and some ducks. And I’d pasture the cow, with the permission of the owner, on various vacant lots around town, which made the neighbors looking out on that lot quite irate.
As I was working on my house at the other side of town -- the town was a half a mile square -- I’d put the cow on a lead rope and I’d lead her down and tie her to a tree or a tether in the yard to mow the lawn while I was working on the house.
So I carried those homestead attitudes. But then also I somewhat learned as a child back in Pennsylvania, because when other people -- kids were going to camp, we were too poor for that sort of thing and I’d get shifted off to some relative, and the nearest neighbors would be some dirt-poor family nearby.
So I learned the frugality of such things. I was walking home from the store one day with a neighbor man, and there was a piece of two-by-four lying along the road about eighteen inches long. He picked it up and carried it all the way and said, “That’s a good piece of firewood.”
And I thought, "Gee, that’s interesting." But, of course, I’d grown up in the suburbs of a city where you never saw a loose piece of anything.
So here we were back with Marian teaching school, and I was trying to get the farm developed, to get the fields cleared and planted, and keeping -- getting a hay supply, milking the cow and selling --
We sold milk and eggs. Known as "bootleg milk," because there’s no -- it’s not legal to sell raw milk, but we did it anyway. We were selling it for two dollars a gallon. And that rate is still not changed too much. That was in 1967–68. No, is that right? No, we came back in ’73. So it was about ’75.
This is twenty years later, and milk now sells at three dollars a gallon locally, which milk in the stores hasn’t gone up a whole lot either in that period of time.
Eggs were a dollar a dozen when I was selling ‘em, and when we first homesteaded, we got chickens about the first summer and I was selling them at dollar a dozen. That was the going rate. Now I sell them at the door at two dollars a dozen. So that’s from ‘64 to ‘93. That's only that much of a change, where the price of our gasoline has gone from, oh, thirty-five cents a gallon to a dollar thirty-five. I’m talking about bulk pretty much.
A piece of plywood was two and a -- two and a quarter. Now it’s twelve bucks for the same three-eighths plywood, which I was making roofs out of.
My barn is -- was built then back in the first spell of being here. The roof was put on in ’65. And the roof is still there today, And it’s simply made out of plywood, and it hardly leaks.
We're a relatively dry climate here. And then I found that if you do use a plywood roof, like shingles, don’t stain them. Because the stain seals the pores on the wood and when the rain hits it, the leaks don’t -- the holes don’t swell up.
You leave it natural so when the rain hits it, the wood fibers swell up and it won’t leak. If you paint it, the wood -- the water just goes through the holes ‘cause there’s, you know, bridges made by the swelling fibers.
I learned a lot on those local things and local conditions over the years that I’ve been here. People first said, “Well, you can’t keep cows. The bears will eat the calves.” We never have any trouble. We were -- never even seen moose.
I think that the odor of the cows is repulsive to these wild animals. They have never become accustomed to them, so we never -- rarely see moose.
We used to see the moose out on the lake, because the muskrats would come and make push-ups to keep their waterholes open. There’d be a mound of lake weeds pushed up. That’s the cat playing with a toy.
And the moose would come out on the lake to eat those push-ups. But with the drop in the water level of the lake -- and that’s another story and mystery of the area, why the lakes are drying up so. It’s a question much debated, but nobody professional has taken an interest in it.
We used to see the moose out there on that. There are no longer any muskrat in the lakes. Though there are moose in the area, they don’t come by here.
The rabbits were very, very high in those early years. You could actually go out and shoot rabbits by moonlight. They were so plentiful, they’d just sit. If you missed them with a .22, they’d sit there and wait while you took aim again and plugged them again.
But in the last few years there’ve been no rabbits at all. And instead of cycling as they’re supposed to, it’s just been a steady decline from the peak years of about early ‘70s. And that’s the same period in which the water level in the lake has declined.
This area was burned over, they tell me, in the 19 -- about 1930, 1929 or ‘30. When we came here there were still a lot of snags from the fire-killed trees, making good firewood, and where you got big ones enough for building logs with.
They weren’t the real big logs, but they were adequate to make a log. You could get a log that would taper from six inches to maybe ten inches, or you’d have one that was twelve inches on the butt end. So you can make a fair house out of logs.
I always wanted to build with logs. I did get my barn built out of ‘em, which I hand-hewed in the old eastern fashion. Smooth on the inside and outside, so that if I wanted to seal them or put siding on the outside to make it warmer and better windproof, the surface was already smooth.
And by hewing them flat on both sides, it makes it much easier putting your doors and windows, because you don’t have to do any facing. You got the whole log faced.
People remark on that I used the dovetailed corners. Because if you’re gonna hew them, then you don’t need to have your logs stick out, and if you don’t have a foot of log sticking out on each corner, you’ve saved two feet of log on every run, and you don’t enter this opportunity for rot to take place.
Even though I have very low, short eaves on the barn and the rain does hit the corners, I have no rot yet on the corners of the barn and it’s thirty years old.
Logs are very good for farm buildings because the animals can kick on them. The chickens won’t eat the insulation. And they’re sturdy and they insulate.
Well, now you might have some more specific questions.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, can you recall some of the old-timers that were here when you started it all off, and people that we should remember and have part of the record?
SAM LIGHTWOOD: Well, I remember Nick Lincoln most fondly. He was one of the first people I met when I came out here to teach school.
And I was confronted with a Witte light plant and I had no idea how you handle a Witte light plant, so Nick Lincoln came down and showed me how to start it. It was really very simple.
And he had kids in school. He and Ina Lincoln lived about one mile from the school. His mother-in-law lived across the road. She was known as Grandma George. Nick’s wife, Ina, is Grandma George’s daughter. And Nick and Ina are living in Copper Center somewhere.
And Ina’s sister Emma, Emma Bell, is still living in Kenny Lake on the new road at about Mile 1. Emma’s husband worked for the highway department.
I’m not sure whether Nick worked for the highway department then, too, or not. But he was a carpenter, and his house was one of the nicest in Kenny Lake. He had built it. It was neatly varnished logs. Nice, facing south.
He had a number of kids in school and was one of those who were active in establishing the school here.
I’m not sure -- I’ve never known the exact date the school was started, but at that time the State would furnish a teacher if the community built a building. They put together a real ramshackle place. It was still in existence when I came here.
But they soon moved the school to the enclosed porch of a homestead house nearby. That homestead was Cler and -- well, the name slips me at the moment, but it’ll come back.
Oborn’s. Cler (Clermont) Oborn and -- what was her name? (Gwynne) They had four kids, and Nick had about four in school or five. He had a couple of older girls who, I think, are still living in the area, but I don’t remember what their names are.
They tell me they moved down here to Kenny Lake to get away from the efforts of control that they felt were imposed in the Native community in Copper Center. But I think Grandma George had lived here a long time before that.
They were -- of course, they preceded the homesteaders of the ‘60s who came in here. The Oborns also preceded them. He was a pilot and flew into the ground or the mountain or something some years before I got here.
One of the children was still here, but he was no longer of school age when I came.
Another family was Tom Newton. He and his wife homesteaded at about Mile 10. It was -- well, Mile 10.
They had different designation on the miles because when we first came here, they counted the miles from Chitina. Then they counted ‘em from the Edgerton Highway on the old road. Now they count ‘em from the Richardson Highway on the old road. Now they count ‘em from the Richardson Highway counting the new road. So we’ve had the different numbers.
Generally, numbers now are on the new road.
The school was fourteen miles from the Richardson Highway. At the junction of the old and new Edgerton Highway was the original school site. They moved it down to Mile 5.5 on the new Edgerton in 1967, because they had been unsuccessful in drilling a well at the school and they figured, well, that’s some State land over there. We’ll try again.
If we can get water, we’ll move the school. They got water and they moved the school.
BILL SCHNEIDER: How are we to understand the homesteaders? What attracted them to the area? How did they -- how did they get here?
SAM LIGHTWOOD: Well, in the ‘60s things weren’t so great in the country as far as economically goes, and I think there was an interest in farming or at least in possible speculation -- of land speculation for those that came.
But after they got here, they discovered land had very little value in Alaska. People tended not to homestead in 1960, because they said, “What use is it? If anybody wants a piece of land, they can just go get a piece from the BLM. They’re not going to buy it from me.”
Shortly after that time, homesteads were valued for 160 acres at about $2000. There was one that was forfeited here. It was an illegal arrangement but a guy by the name of Bob Petties. He and his wife, Laverne, homesteaded here in the ‘50s and they were going to raise barley.
The attraction was that we had the good soil. It was a calcareous clay underlaying loess soil. Wind that had been blown up from the river valleys of the Chitina and the Copper River and laid over here.
It was very good potential for the production of barley, but our season is a little short.
He worked quite hard and got eighty acres cleared, and it was very great hardship on the family. He had -- six kids? Some of ‘em, most of ‘em, were in school when here, and they were a very serious and hard-working family. But he couldn’t make it. He wasn’t able to harvest barley in time to pay off his debts. And he had an arrangement whereby somebody else picked up the homestead as soon as he got patent to it.
And the debt that he owed was only $2000, or $2500. That homestead then was sold shortly thereafter for -- by shortly, I mean maybe within five years. For $40,000.
So he put the work in on it, but he didn’t make anything on it. The real estate man made the money.
But a near -- another nearby homestead was bought out by Tom Ross, who was one of the first homesteaders to come in here about ’59 or ‘60. He bought a neighbor out for $2000.
The neighbor was Joe DeMonde. Joe DeMonde was a veteran, and all he had to do was live here for seven months, which he did. He got his 160 acres, so he hadn’t put much into it.
And so people homesteaded if they really were interested in farming, and a number of them were. During the time we were gone, a guy came up here and brought a half a barge load or a car load of farm equipment in here and sold to all the people who are doing it.
And the soil conservation sub-district obtained equipment to lease out. They had a Cat and discs and a welder and some other equipment that the homesteaders could rent at a nominal rate to get their fields cleared.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So there was encouragement?
SAM LIGHTWOOD: Yeah. It was rather subtle though. There was little federal money to help with the soil conservation district. They got a loan, I believe, to buy the equipment.
At the same time, the community had a focus group called the Kenny Lake Community League, and they had their building completed and it was a good place to meet, independent of having to bother with the school facilities.
The hall was built 24 x 40 feet inside. I was involved in the planning of it. But doing teaching, I didn’t get involved in much of the building.
That was Governor Egan’s effort. We got all these people homesteading up here and there wasn’t any means of support. So he said to anybody -- sort of to the public in general, “If you have a project, and you have -- that you want us to fund, we will give you money up to $5000 to pay $2.00 an hour to the men working on it, so that they will have enough to feed their families. But we will -- none of that money may go for materials.”
So the guy had a sawmill down there, and the men cut the trees and hauled them in, and he let ‘em use the sawmill, and they’d have potluck suppers and so forth to raise the money to buy the gas to run the sawmill.
The Catholics had the school, Copper Valley School, and they had been collecting surplus material, and they gave us windows and tar paper. And I don’t know where we got the nails. But that’s how the community hall was built. And it took ‘em quite a few years to do it.
And we had a great big hundred-gallon barrel stove in there. That’s a good-size stove, a hundred gallons. And that -- fire that up in there. But, it was always a hassle. Who’s bringing the wood for this week’s meeting?
BILL SCHNEIDER: Let me ask you about the cooperative spirit. You’ve mentioned that a couple times.
SAM LIGHTWOOD: I think that was brought in by a couple of the homesteaders who -- one of the family in particular was Howard and Fran Kibble. They had lived in Idaho, I believe, and her father had homesteaded in Idaho. And they were used to the idea of getting together to raise money with such things as potluck suppers or dime-a-slice pie socials or other things.
And one of the things we devised around here to raise money was the men’s baking contest. The theory being that women -- the women were often away and the men had to have been self -- for self-preservation had learned to cook a little bit.
So it was an honor system. The men would bake something at home and bring it. And then it would be judged by the women and then it would be auctioned off.
And then everything was set out and everybody could have a taste of it. So you might buy a pie that was particularly good, but you would find that when you went to go home there was only one slice of it left.
Later they got a little organized so that everybody else didn’t eat up what you had bought. I can’t remember. Maybe it was because there was such a quantity of it.
But men would bring in bread and cookies and cakes and pies and all sorts of things. And it would raise quite a bit of money because of the auctioning.
But as the need for money dissipated, that is, as the government began to pump more money in, the cooperativeness of this community waned very much. It was very much destroyed by the amount of money that came in.
One of the first things that came in was this revenue-sharing for $25,000. And after the League got $25,000 to pay the light bill with and the oil bill and other things, there wasn’t any need to raise money.
Another thing that was started by Dave Brown, or others, in the period while we were gone was what they called the Snow-a-rama, which was snowmachine races. And they’d make a track out on the lake. The hall was right facing the lake. At that time, it was only a stone’s throw from the road to the water, and now the lake has receded.
And, anyway, they’d make a track on the lake, and the spectators would all line up. And all the different categories of snowmachine, and they’d go roaring off. And I allowed them to have about a five-mile race that came down on my lane and all around and wandered around, so that they would have the start and finish on the lake. It didn’t have to cross the highway anywhere.
It was the building of the community hall -- the school was very small, and one of the reasons for building it was when we wanted to have a program at school, there just wasn’t room in the schoolroom for all the people to get in there.
While a room 24 x 40 feet wasn’t a whole lot bigger than the 24 x 28 feet of the school building, it did relieve it.
And at that time, they started to have the Halloween party at the school -- at the hall -- because the school wasn’t big enough. And that persisted until just a few years ago. Now, of course, we have a gym at school.
One of the notorious things about Kenny Lake has been hockey. Well, the State, until the oil money hit, had no money to build schools with, so we never had any indoor play area in Kenny Lake. There was never a building in which the kids could play basketball.
And for some reason or other, it wasn’t a sport -- As common and as popular as it was throughout Alaska, it was never a popular sport in Kenny Lake. No one ever laid out a basketball court outdoors nor had one indoors.
But hockey was the thing. We had the lake.
After we got the new school up there with a well, it was easy to flood a rink. So hockey was what Kenny Lake became famous for.
And that lasted until there was a -- what we should say -- a turmoil in the school district. And the school administration and the board, we might say, devastated or destroyed Kenny Lake. Or attempted to destroy Kenny Lake School for what reasons, I don’t know, unless maybe I was running a newspaper and was writing editorials about the school administration.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, you’ve seen a lot of changes in the management over time of this area.
SAM LIGHTWOOD: One of the things people pride themselves on is the independence of it. And I remember one time in the League we were -- the idea of local government was being brought up.
And we had a meeting to hear about it. And the community was -- was about to tar and feather me because I had the audacity to ask information. "What is there about local government?" They didn’t even want to hear about it.
Whether -- regardless of what the laws or ramifications were, they didn’t want to even talk about it.
So the fact that I would suggest that -- I was chairman of the League that we have a meeting to hear about state government put me on everybody’s list as being that tax-and-spend Democrat who’s gonna put us in a local government.