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Fred Elvsaas, Interview 1, Part 2

This is a continuation of the interview with Fred Elvsaas on August 8, 2008 by Charles Mobley for the Seldovia Sewer and Water Monitoring -- Archeological Monitoring Project at Fred's home in Seldovia, Alaska. In this second part of a two part interview, Fred talks about the 1964 Alaska Earthquake and the changes to Seldovia with reconstruction after the earthquake. He also talks about his father-in-law, Dad Ritchie.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2008-21_PT.2

Project: Seldovia
Date of Interview: Aug 8, 2008
Narrator(s): Fred Elvsaas
Interviewer(s): Charles Mobley
Transcriber: Jan Yaeger
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Institute of Museum and Library Services, National Park Service, Seldovia Village Tribe
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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1964 Alaska Earthquake damage and tidal wave

Boardwalk flooding after the earthquake and tidal wave

Post-earthquake reconstruction

Canneries moving out of Seldovia

Construction of new dock and of new water system

Changes in Seldovia after the earthquake

Possible economic development projects

Changes in the fishery

Recreation and tourism opportunities

Future of Seldovia

Native history of the area

Describing Dad Ritchie

Ritchie making money off miners

Ritchie coming to Seldovia, and having a fox farm on Yukon Island

Ritchie building the Cook Inlet Packing Company cannery building and his own home

Ritchie's creative projects, and getting electricity in his home

Ritchie buying up property in Seldovia (Holstrom kid) and having rentals

Ritchie's old age and death

Ritchie's contributions to Seldovia

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FRED ELVSAAS: I'm old enough now, I can remember anything, whether it happened or not. CHARLES MOBLEY: Yeah?

FRED ELVSAAS: And who's to say different, now? But --

CHARLES MOBLEY: Okay. We're back on.

FRED ELVSAAS: Okay. Well, on the earthquake shaking and all the kids hanging on to me, and looking in the slough, the tide was out. But the water was squirting up, you know, three and four feet. Just water fountains all over.

And I was thinking, you know, that the ground in the slough was going to break. But it didn't. It just kept rolling and rolling.

And looking at the bridge, the yellow bridge, it was swaying every direction. I don't know how that thing held together.

But there was a man on the bridge trying to get off. And every time he'd get close to the end, it would knock him back.

And -- and, but the thing that was really scary about it was it lasted so long. It kept going on and on and on. And, you know, something had to happen. It just terrified everybody. And -- but it didn't.

And, of course, finally it stopped. But nobody felt real safe.

And I checked all over my house. It was on piling and wood beams instead of timbers to hold it up. I went down in my basement. And everything was fine as could be. No problem. And my shop and dock at that time was a different one than I built now. And everything was fine. Nothing was wrong.

I got all those kids back home to their moms and so forth and they came looking for the kids. And so after it was over, nothing happened.

Well, then we started getting reports that the big tidal wave in Prince William Sound. And that it was raising hell over there and had destroyed Valdez and so forth.

And about eight o'clock, they said the tidal wave's coming here. So I gathered up my family and took them up to the schoolhouse. It was the only -- which was the armory at that time, the gym, for the territorial school.

And I went up there and I talked to the principal and I asked him, I said, "What have you got to store water in?" And he said, "Well," he said, "I don't have anything." He said, "Why would I want to store water?" And I said, "Well, if the pipeline breaks or is broken, and we don't get water, we're going to be hurting. And you've got a lot of toilets here and a lot of people. And the place is full of people."

And so I and some other guys, we took garbage cans that they had and start filling with water. And -- huh, I don't know what he did, after we all went home, with those cans full of water.

But anyway, he just didn't seem a bit concerned. It wasn't his problem. He was fine in the school and that was it. And I can't remember his name or anything, but I was real upset about that.

Well, then the wave came in at low water, and it came right over the breakwater. And it came in, and it would go from low water to high water in twenty minutes.

CHARLES MOBLEY: So you watched it?

FRED ELVSAAS: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I went down and I had to -- I had a boat out in the harbor. And I went down and the water would come up on the boardwalk, so I'd get off. Everybody would get off the boardwalk, 'cause you didn't know how -- when it was going to stop.

And sometimes it'd come in just a little and other times it'd come in quite strong. And if you look at the breakwater today, you can see about two, three feet of rock that's different than the original breakwater. That was added after the -- because the water came right over and through the -- just poured through the opening.

And it -- the worst thing of that was it stirred up all the mud. And all the sewage from Seldovia's -- drain -- sewer lines -- it was rotten. I mean, it was a terrible smell. But after awhile, that went away as the tide flushed it out.

But it broke up some of the boat floats. And I had gone back up to be with my family for a bit, and a guy come running and he said, the tide -- tidal wave had flushed everything out and wrecked my boat and it was up on the beach over here and so forth.

And I went down and looked off the boardwalk when the wave went down. And my boat was out there. You couldn't get to it 'cause the floats had washed out between, but it was tied to its own float. There was three piling there and it was just sitting there.

I could hear the engine though. I kept the Lister engine running in the wintertime while I was crabbing, just for heat, And I could hear the engine running fine out there.

I said, "Oh heck, with the fuel. There's nothing I can do about it." The next day I took a skiff and went out there to check the boat and it was fine. There was nothing wrong with my boat.

And so I went back and about two o'clock in the morning, I took my family home. And the tide was still surging back and forth, so we kept -- you know, we stayed up all night. And put the kids to bed.

And you just didn't know, 'cause sometime it'd come in just a little bit and other times it'd come in quite a bit. Well, then it come to high water, and it flooded my shop. I had forty inches of water in my shop. I marked it.

And -- and, of course, the boardwalk was flooding. So then (voices in background; dog barking) the thing then was the town, we got busy, and we sandbagged the boardwalk to hold it down so it wouldn't float away.

'Cause the fall tides, the big tides were coming, and the town had settled. And we didn't know it at the time, but we settled four feet. So that meant every big tide would flood the boardwalk.

And if you look at those pictures of the boardwalk with the sandbags and so forth, you can see, you know, what we were looking at. And then on the small tides everything was fine. No problem.

And so after awhile, the crab plants were operating and then they said they can't let the salmon plants operate because all the coliforms of all the sewer outfalls were coming in with the tide. (voices in background)

And so then, of course, Urban Renewal came. And Urban Renewal really split the town. Half the town was for it and half was against it.

And you know, the fish plant operators and so forth, they were very much for it. The older people and the people that liked the way Seldovia was didn't want change.

And I was on the city council at the time. And my view was, you know, we can't continue like this. The plants will shut down. We'll never get money to build the boardwalk higher. They're offering to bring in fill.

And one of the things that really bothered me was the planners that came. They showed a nice view of Seldovia. They took an overview and made a nice model and showed all these nice buildings along the streets and so forth and everything.

And when we asked, is this what the government will do? Well, sure. You know, no problem. What they didn't explain was that the buildings they showed were not part of Urban Renewal. They were just going to redo the land. And the sewer and water and pave the roads.

Which in itself was a healthy project. But in turn, we were going to lose everything we had.

So I was all for it, because I could see it. And I even offered my dock and shop if they wanted to do a demonstration project, 'cause I'm flooding every high tide.

And I'm the guy that didn't get anything. They didn't come to me. I had to redo my own building.

But anyhow, it worked out that Urban Renewal came in. We insisted on taking a vote and the Feds, I believe it was ASHAM (phonetic) if I remember right, running the project, said the vote doesn't matter. You know, it's up to the city council.

Well, the council was split. So we agreed in the council that what the people voted for was what we'll do. And we had a tremendous vote. And people came in and signed their name and voted. So nobody got to vote twice.

I sat through the whole election. Just to be sure that there was nothing funny going on. And so did some other members.

And the vote was for Urban Renewal, but not by a heck of a lot. But -- so we decided to go ahead.

By this time, the canneries were shutting down. You know, they're moving their equipment out. They're -- they're just and -- once Urban Renewal was approved, they got paid for it. But they all moved to Kodiak. Those that stayed.

Now the Cook Inlet Packing Company was converted to a -- from Estus' Cannery, he sold to Sutterlin-Wendt, who put a shrimp plant in, and they did storage and his.

So he was out of the picture, but Sutterlin-Wendt had it and he moved his operation. And they had big shrimp peelers and so forth.

And -- and the -- Wakefields was the only plant that stayed. They built after the earthquake here. Unfortunately, they built with wood and the steam from cooking the crab affected the wood a lot. A lot of wood rots developed in the plant.

But then we -- the old Anderson Dock would flood, which was the city dock at the time. And so we got the new ferry dock built, the city dock. And that worked out pretty good.

At the time, that we were trying to decide on the dock, I wanted them to build a sheetpile dock and fill it. And the engineers said they could do that, but it was faster to build a pile dock. And we needed a dock desperately.

And after we got the pile dock built the way it is, then Frank Nyman from Tryck Nyman Hayes was the engineers. He was a friend of mine, and he told me, he said, "We could have done that sheetpile dock a heck of lot cheaper." But -- it was no skin off of the city's nose. At that time, it was federal money and people were willing to spend it crazily.

CHARLES MOBLEY: How much did it cost, all told?

FRED ELVSAAS: I don't recall, but I think it was in the neighborhood of five million. Which in those days was, you know, like thirty million today.

But Frank Nyman was the city engineer, and I met him by chance, when I lived across the bridge. It was pouring, pouring down rain. Just terrible rainstorm. I looked down on the beach below my dock, and here's two guys with a survey instrument and a rod. Just soaking, soaking wet.

And I hollered down, I said "What are you doing?" And he said, "We're make -- surveying tideland surveys." And you know, why? I said, "Come on up and dry out."

And my wife had just baked cinnamon rolls. So he came in. And Charlie Tryck was his partner.

And they came in and we took some of their stuff and put in the dryer to -- I had a gas dryer then. And he never forgot that, you know. All through the years, he always remembered when -- they were just starting out, you know. Two guys and all they owned was that instrument and rod.

And they got this contract, and you know, they only get paid if they do it. And it was miserable weather. But he said, he never tasted cinnamon rolls so good as that day in those rain.

And -- but you know, through the years, he was a good friend of mine. He developed and designed a lot of the water system that's being replaced. And a lot of it that was not so good before the earthquake, we had changed.

The original water system was wood-stave pipe and he changed -- But, when the wood-stave pipe was going out, and it wasn't big enough to start with. We went to steel pipe and he did designs.

And when it came to servicing the boardwalk, then, instead of going through the dirt and the back of the boardwalk, with long service lines, they went under the boardwalk, before this earthquake, with insulated pipe.

And it worked very well until the earthquake. Then it all got rusted and so forth, and contamination was a problem. But he did a lot of that type of work for the city.

And in those days, and I don't know that it's changed much, but engineers would get a contract and make the application for a grant. And of course, if you don't get the grant, you don't have to pay the engineer.

Well, most of those days, it was relatively easy to get a grant, and so they'd get paid. And it worked to the benefit of everybody. And we went along with that route.

And then in later years, some of the designs weren't that great. As time went by. It's just like today. See, now we got more, newer pipes and so forth coming in, I hope. And whatever happens. It's changed with time.

And -- but Frank Nyman designed the dock through a subcontractor that did dock designs and they did -- you know, the dock's a good dock. But it's still sitting on steel piling. And Seldovia Bay is full of electrolysis.

These new buoys that they're putting out, where the standpipes in the channel, with a light on top? One of them fell over already. You know, eaten up.

And, you know, those things happen. They changed all the -- or most of the harbor dock piling, from wood, creosote wood to steel. There's this great thing about creosote in the water anymore. This is old creosote. It doesn't bleed out.

It was doing great. It would be there for years. The old Anderson Dock, all those years, it still would be standing. But now they got steel pipe, defective welds, and electrolysis. So in a few years, they'll be changing that.

And -- but, you know, it takes learning, I guess and so --

But Seldovia Bay, especially the harbor, has a tremendous amount of electrolysis, electricity going through it. Boats, steel boats with generators, are grounded to the hulls to make this effect. Some are AC generators, some are DC generators, some have positive current, some have negative currents, and all of this makes things go crazy in the harbor.

But time will tell what happens there.

But the earthquake brought a tremendous amount of change in that a lot of people left Seldovia. All the plant people, the managers, the superintendents, the workers, they all moved to Kodiak. Some stayed to work at Wakefields.

And Lowell Wakefield was the only one that said Seldovia was a good place for him, and he was going to stay here.

And they did well in Kodiak. There was no question about that. They got everything new and so forth. But had they stayed here, and had we not had Urban Renewal, they would have really been hurting.

And at that time, the crab fishing was on the downslide. The salmon fishing was disappearing in the local area. And for a plant to operate here, they'd have to bring in fish from Prince William Sound and Kodiak and upper Cook Inlet.

And so even with that, the logistics of bringing a van from Homer to Seldovia and back to Homer with product is just an additional six hundred dollars that they just don't need to be doing if they were in a place like Kodiak or Kenai where the vans run back and forth on a daily basis.

So, you know, for survival, they had to move. Unfortunately, you know, we went to timbering and we went to herring fishing, and we went to salmon fishing, we went to crab fishing.

We used to have plants doing some salt cod. I salted cod for a few years until I realized I was making ten cents an hour.

And, you know, all these things happened. And now, Seldovia's developed into a more of a recreation, second-home-type town. And, you know, we have the tour boats bringing people in daily. And some people enjoy that and like it and see that as a future. Others say, you know, they come here and they don't buy nothing so why should we have them?

And it's change. Some people like change, some don't. And I think you have to keep changing and adapt to it.

But the idea of having a fish plant in Seldovia, which is one of the things the city says they want on that property of theirs that was the Wakefield Cannery, is pie in the sky. If you built the most modern plant there, where would you get the product?

There's two commercial fishermen in Seldovia Bay. I have the third license, but I use my fish myself. And I don't sell to their buyers and so forth.

But there's no crab fishing. There's no tanner crab fishing. There's no king crab fishing. And halibut fishing is, you know, best sold in Homer because of the buyers and the markets and all the infrastructure with the fresh markets in Anchorage and so forth.

And you wouldn't have that here in Seldovia. If you brought halibut here, it would have to be frozen. Which means the price would be down and it's --

Through the years, Seldovia has changed and changed and changed and changed. And I suspect that's going to be the future of Seldovia.

At some point, somebody's going to build an upscale lodge in the area. It might be up in the bay, it might be up in the hills. But, you know, the right people, like the Princess Lodge-type organizations, if they do that, that will be a big change in Seldovia.

And it would be something that splits people's opinions. But it's in the future. It's going to happen sometime.

When they had the oil leases out in lower southern Cook Inlet, I met with the industry several times about logistics for the platforms and the drilling rigs. If they hit, they would need a lot of water.

And our corporation has Seldovia River. We could supply that water. It would not take much to put a line down into deep water to where boats could get water.

If need be, we could fill up all or part of the lagoon across the bay and make a staging area, which is basically out of sight and out of mind for people that like to come here for recreation and so forth.

You know, it's very much like, say, Nikiski operations as compared to Soldotna. You know, people that work up there live in Soldotna, but they don't see the industry and they're not near it.

And it's needed for the platforms, but they haven't found anything in this area yet. So that may be in the future. It's hard to tell. But it's not a bad future.

The other thing is, more and more, they need water in Japan. Ships are taking water from Sitka to Japan right now. And we have a creek up here at Barabara Creek that would be ideal for running a hose out, gravity-fed, to a buoy out, right off the mouth of the river, where ships could come in and tap into the water.

And all they need to do is fill their tanks and go. But I see that as potential for the area.

It's -- you know, we're never going to have a large airport like Anchorage or Kenai or Fairbanks. But in some point, they're going to upgrade the airport, so it will make it more accessible to fly in traffic.

Right now, we have the gravel airstrip, and it's not the greatest for airplanes. But it's fine for the local air taxis. You know, they have a pretty fair handle on the traffic and they do a good service.

But at some point, it needs to be upgraded.

And so, the future of Seldovia, I think, is pretty bright. There's many things that could be done with the marine areas. The charter boats is something, but charter boats in time will fade down, too.

You know, that -- they're like everything: there's too many. And -- but there's ideal bay here for scuba diving. If somebody sets up a project taking scuba divers out.

And even hard-hat diving is not out of the question. At Port Graham, on the reef there, they found the wreck of that first shipwreck in Alaska, with the cannon and so forth.

Who knows what's in the bottom of these bays until you look? I know at one time there was divers picked up a lot of anchors in the bay. And they salvaged them at the cannery. But that was back in the fifties.

And, you know, a lot has happened since then. But there's a lot of things, if we don't get over-regulated with regulations. You know, that's one thing that really concerns me.

You know, we get these initiatives. They sound great. But they're harmful to industry and to progress and to the future.

When I grew up, everybody wanted to be a fisherman. You know, it was -- you had to work in the cannery to make a few dollars and you had to work on the boats to make a few dollars. But the end goal for most of the people in my generation was to have a boat, and catch fish.

And I wound up owning several boats through the years, and I think that it was a pretty good life at the time.

But to own a big boat now would really be a hassle. The product's just not here.

And in the days of the salmon canning, when I was young, they would catch the fish and put it in boats and barges and bring it into the canneries. And sometimes the canneries would be so full with fish, it would take them three and four days to get to canning the fish.

So they were, you know, not first quality. And -- but they were, you know, sufficient for canned salmon. But they -- the workers that had to work with them had a real struggle getting them in the can.

And now, today's markets and so forth would never handle fish like that. But in turn we don't have that big amounts. You know, it's dropped down tremendously.

One of the things I see for Seldovia Bay -- been something I've talked about for a long time, is to build a nice glass-bottomed boat. An ordinary open dory-type boat with a glass insert and a couple of spotlights on it.

And one of the nice things there would be, you could go up and around the bay, and see all the octopus swimming at night. You don't see them in the daytime. You also would see the salmon and so forth. Other things we could try --

CHARLES MOBLEY: There a lot of octopus out here?

FRED ELVSAAS: Oh, the bay's got a lot of them. You know, most of them are the smaller ones, and then they go out deeper as they get bigger. But there are some large ones, also, but --


FRED ELVSAAS: I would say a six, seven foot spread would be a pretty big one for Seldovia Bay. 'Cause you've got to get out into the deeper water where -- As they get bigger, they've got to search for more and more food.

But -- but that would just be a novel thing. And, you know, if you had a glass insert that went down in the water, but you could pull it up to clean it, you know, just have a hole in the boat, like, type thing, and a couple of lights so you could flood the lights on the bottom, and it would be a wonderful thing.

And other things, you know, like the guided hikes and so forth, things like that, that will all come in time. Seldovia's a natural for it.

We've got a great amount of timber here that does very well because we have the ocean here and moisture, and we don't have the drying out like the forest fires up in the interior and that type of stuff. There's -- even on clear days, there's moisture in the air.

So I think that the future is great. It just takes people to do it.

And I also notice through the years, that very seldom does somebody living in Seldovia come up with something that happens. It's somebody that comes in with an idea and with funding.

And now with the Tribe and the Corporation in operation, there's no reason that it couldn't be done local. But in the past years, you know, the Tribe and the Corporation were practically just an idea. And it was impossible to do.

It just like all the fish plants and the cold storage and the reduction plant and the halibut, it all was outside money. I hear talk about the Pebble Mine and outside money and foreign money. Foreign money built Alaska.

Sure, American money through our federal programs keeps it going. But it's the foreign interests that started it, you know.

And you know, a lot's owed to the Russians, even though we never like them. And that's just the way it goes.

And if we didn't have the Spanish in Alaska, we wouldn't have all the Prince William Sound names. Like Cordova.

And -- but change is okay, you know? And I like it. I like to see progress.

I just feel bad about seeing some of these towns and villages just stagnate and die, you know? And I don't think Seldovia will ever be a ghost town. Somebody will always discover Alaska.

And discover little Seldovia. They'll find us. Like we've been lost for years. So basically that's the best I can tell you.

CHARLES MOBLEY: That's a really good start to ending, right there. You took us right up to the present and even into the future. I've got one question. FRED ELVSAAS: Uh-huh?

CHARLES MOBLEY: Just a minor question. Have there ever been any stone tools or anything like that found in the village area here?

FRED ELVSAAS: People have found them, and so forth. Now, when ANCSA (Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act) came about, one of the things that they wanted was the 14(h) program.

And we looked at that and we decided that if we had to -- the old village site as a 14(h) site, they'd dig it up. And the people that's buried there and the slide that came down, and the old barabaras that's gone now, just let them rest.

CHARLES MOBLEY: What slide are you referring to?

FRED ELVSAAS: There was a rock slide on the back side of the village up there. The village is here in the mountains right here, you know.

Most coastal villages are hanging onto the back side of a mountain. And near a fish stream. It just, you know, it was survival.

The other thing is there was never a large village up there. Some barabaras were there. There was some here on the slough. There was some down on Fourth of July Creek. There was one when I was kid, we used to go down to --

CHARLES MOBLEY: Where on the slough here?

FRED ELVSAAS: They lived -- they lived here, by the creek. There was people lived where the airport is now.

My grandmother knew people that lived there. And I was trying to think if there was any down there. I don't believe so. I think they were up here.

And then out, out by the Outside Beach, that midden that Susan Springer found, and there's some interesting stuff there. There's quite a lot of stuff yet to be dug there, but we decided it was best to leave it.

Across the bay on Hoen's Spit, there was a couple barabaras over there. Now, I don't really know why they were there, unless they were for traveling, because there's no fish there.

Most people lived where there was fish. And mussels. If you look at the middens, look at all the mussel shells. And they had to live many days on mussels.

And then, up Kachemak at Barabara Creek was some barabaras at the mouth of the creek. McDonald Spit, there was some in there. Jakolof. McKeon Creek. Arsenty Romanof had one there. Was still there.

I was trying to show it to, oh, Janet Klein. And what's the - Peter Zollar, is that -- CHARLES MOBLEY: That's right, Zollars.

FRED ELVSAAS: Yeah, yeah. 'Cause I sat in the barabara, because it opened right down to some potholes where there was ducks. And I was moose hunting and duck hunting up there.

And I used to go up with my skiff and get moose in the wintertime. When the season was closed was the best time to hunt.

And then they couldn't find it. And I pointed out on the point of the land coming from the little slough into McKoen's proper, it was right there.

So I flew up one day with Larry Thompson and I said, fly me over the old barabara up there. And we went up and it's completely washed away. Everything. The ground is changed.

The little hill that was there is all gone. It's all gravel bed now. And so -- and there was some old stuff laying around there, but -- there was a -- what I thought they tried to make an oil lamp out of, which was really a rock that had a low spot in it. And it looked like it was hardly worth saving cause I had a good oil lamp up the inlet at the fish camp and somebody needed it more than me, I guess. And it disappeared.

But there was further up at Reuben Beebe's place, up in the Homer side and Cottonwood Creek. And Cottonwood Creek was used both by the Aleuts and the Indians, and they would meet at Yukon Island and so forth.

And when Dad Ritchie had a fox farm on Yukon Island, he traded with the Natives that lived right in where Anisom Point is, Sunshine Point, Anisom's old place. There were several barabaras there before Anisom homestead -- that Native allotment there.

And you know, right in that Eldred Passage, the king crab used to pile up in the spring, you know. The Young crab. And the people would snag them with hooks. And go out in the bidarkas and snag them.

And Dad Ritchie was a pretty good shot. He was a Quaker, from Pennsylvania. And so they liked to take him to the Homer side, where Miller's Landing now and the airport, and shoot caribou. There was caribou there at the time.

And in turn they would give him dried fish. You know, the down side was, when they got there, they wanted to stay there long enough to dry and smoke some of the meat and what-not, and he wanted to go home, cause he had his fox farm.

But he always worked something out with them and that's how he fed his foxes was by -- he didn't feed them caribou meat, he fed them dried fish.

CHARLES MOBLEY: Did you remember him? Did you meet him?

FRED ELVSAAS: He was my wife's stepfather. Yeah. Very well. He died in our house. He had a stroke on the boardwalk.

CHARLES MOBLEY: What was he like?

FRED ELVSAAS: He was very, very correct. He never swore, he never drank, he never smoked. He left Pennsylvania. He had a mule that refused to pull the plow.

And his father and mother had gave him ten acres of land with the hopes that he'd marry a good Quaker girl and so forth. And -- and he also worked their farm.

And one day, he had a .22 rifle, which most Quakers didn't have any, and this mule just wouldn't go. And he tried plowing, and so at noon he went in to eat, and he told the mule, he said, "You know, after lunch you better plow or I'll have to do something."

And the mule would not plow. So he took a shovel, he dug a hole right there, and he shot the mule and buried it.

And his folks had a big fit over that. They lived fairly close to him.

And so he said, "Well, I'm going west." And he told me all this himself. So he went west and he wound up in Portland, Oregon.

And he heard a lot about Alaska and so forth, so he went to Seattle and got on a ship. And he got on a ship that was going from Seattle clear to Dutch Harbor on to Nome. With cargo.

And he said it cost $25.00 to get on the ship. But you had to work with hauling cargo at every port. Wherever they stopped.

So you could get off anywheres. You could get off in Juneau or Nome. It didn't matter to the ship.

And so he worked. And the ship stopped off at Tyonek, and offloaded, and then they had to go up to Ladd Landing and offload.

And he said they were there -- he said there was fish by the thousands going by the ship and the beach and people were just dip-netting them off the beach.

And he said there was coal all over the beach. And he said it looked like the ideal place.

So he went to shore and talked to Chief Chickalusion, the older Chickalusion. And he said yeah, he said, you can -- "You can stay here. You got to build your own house."

So he had his tools and he built a little log house. And he put a canvas roof over the logs to keep it dry. And he wintered in Tyonek.

CHARLES MOBLEY: What year was that?

FRED ELVSAAS: That was about -- the year before the discovery of gold in Hope.

CHARLES MOBLEY: So 1897, should be? FRED ELVSAAS: Some right in there. And --

CHARLES MOBLEY: What was his full name?

FRED ELVSAAS: Ulysses Sidney. Uysses Sidney -- what was -- he -- U. S. S. Ritchie. U -- He had two "s"s in his name so I don't remember the other name.

But it was like Ulysses Sidney Grant, you know, but -- or U. S. S. Grant, but it wasn't.

CHARLES MOBLEY: Sherman? Sheridan? FRED ELVSAAS: It could have been. CHARLES MOBLEY: Yeah.

FRED ELVSAAS: But his -- his second name is Sidney and my stepson, my wife's oldest son, his middle name is Sidney. Because of this.

But anyway. You know, he said, he got the cabin built. He said, by then it's freezing out. And he said, well, he decided to put up some fish, but the fish run's gone.

And then he decided he better pack up coal, off the beach, and it's all froze to the beach. He said, he had one heck of a time.

And -- but he made it through the winter by building a few log cabins for some of the people and cutting firewood for them. They had lots of coal in the summertime and so forth, but they never seemed to store ahead.

And -- but the other problem that arose was everybody had a daughter they thought he should marry. You know, he was a young, tall man at that time and --


FRED ELVSAAS: In the spring, when the ship came, he heard about the gold strike at Hope. And Sunrise. So that ship that stopped at Tyonek that time was going on up into Turnagain Arm.

So he got on the ship. And went. And so he worked the goldstrike. But he didn't mine gold.

He always said he mined the miners. He built little seven by seven foot cabins, provided a tarp for a roof, and a Yukon stove with stovepipe, and a bunk with the wire frame on the bunk, for one hundred dollars. Which was an awful lot of money in those days.

And he made more money than the miners did. He said that that's when he saw the real problem with mining is not finding the ore and not keeping the ore. It's alcohol.

Wherever there's miners, there's alcohol. And when there's alcohols, they lose their gold. One way or the other.

And so, he then -- they were building the Alaska Railroad. No, not at that point, that was later. He cut ties for -- for the railroad. (Phone rings)

CHARLES MOBLEY: So, you were talking about Dad Ritchie and he was -- miners lose their money and --

FRED ELVSAAS: Oh, yeah, he went to Hope, and also to Sunrise. He worked both places. Building cabins for the miners. And he did quite well.

And then he went to Knik. There was a lot of outfitting going on up into the Interior. At Knik, and -- Knik was the start of the Iditarod trail into the mining district.

But he teamed up with some other men. There was eight of them altogether, he said. And they went up towards Fairbanks, which was most likely toward the George Parks Highway. In that area. Walking up that way.

And they were working for a company that hired them to look for traces of gold in creeks and areas like that to see if they could find -- primarily nuggets was what they were looking for.

And so that meant that when they found a creek that their foreman thought was a good creek, they'd be wading out in the water.

And they would take their clothes off and just work in their long underwear with their shoes because boots were not, you know, wouldn't work. They were in too deep a water. Very cold, he said.

And -- but as they walked, each man had to pack something. One packed a tent, and one packed a stove and stuff like that.

And Dad had to pack a sack of beans, along with some other stuff on his pack. But he said they never stopped long enough to cook the beans.

They walked all the way up to Fairbanks, into that mining areas around Fairbanks, but there was so much competition of people looking for staking claims and so forth, so then they turned and came down what's now the Richardson Highway.

And they went to Valdez, and they were trying to find a lot of gold in the Valdez Creek. They'd heard that there was gold there, but their -- they didn't turn up anything worth staking.

So, when they got to Valdez, they got paid off and the -- and -- the company disbanded. But he still had the sack of beans.

And so he got paid off and he had the sack of beans and he sat and wondered what to do, you know. He didn't want to stay around Valdez. It seemed to be raining a lot.

He said it was wet all the time and the streets were muddy and so forth. And he saw this woman walking along with a kid, and he asked somebody, who is that?

And he said, this woman, she's trying raise enough money to go Outside. Her husband got killed in a mining accident.

So he went over and he took the sack of beans to her, and he asked her, "Would you like a sack of beans?" And she said, "Yeah, but I can't buy nothing. I can't. He said, no, you can have them. He said, I've packed them from Knik to Fairbanks to Valdez. He said, I'm happy to give them to you.

So, he said in later years, he would think, he wished he'd remembered her name. You know, because it was such a good thing that -- being a good Quaker, he felt he did a good deed.

And so then he got on a ship that went to Seward. And he got to Seward and it was the hub of the railroad and it was a tremendous amount of bars and whorehouses and so forth. And he didn't think he wanted to be in that atmosphere so a boat was going to Seldovia and Homer, and he got on that boat and he got off in Seldovia.

And that's how he wound up in the Kachemak Bay country. And then later he started a fox farm on Yukon Island. And he actually got a ninety-nine year lease from the government on Yukon Island.

But he said he never did anything with it. He just -- you know, in those days, people settled where they wanted to settle. And he said he just wrote to the land office or whatever and they sent him a form. He filled it out and he got a letter back saying that, you know, he had a hundred and sixty acres on Yukon Island.

The island's bigger than that. So he didn't get the outside where the seal grounds are. Where the Natives hunted the seals. And he was kind of happy about that, because it never bothered them.

And other than the area around where the house was down on the spit on Yukon Island, he didn't go in the back woods. He got beach wood for firewood. He didn't like to cut down trees needlessly.

And he lived there and he said, he got to thinking. He had married a woman at the time, and had a son, and he said, you know, I'm out on this island, and the only thing I got is foxes, he said.

And he said, if I don't sell the fur, I don't make any money. And the market doesn't look good to him.

More and more fox farms were going up in Alaska all over the place. So he sold the fox farm. He sold the whole thing for $3000 to Tollak Ollestadt. And -- CHARLES MOBLEY: Tollak? FRED ELVSAAS: Tollak. T-O-L-L-A-K.

CHARLES MOBLEY: What was the last name again?

FRED ELVSAAS: Ollestadt. O-L-L-E-S-T-A-D-T. And some spell it S-T-E-A-D. Ollestadt. So anyway, he moved into Seldovia then. And decided to build a house for himself, which he did. A log home.

And then, about a year after that, the fox boom bust. And so he got out in time.

And he built his home and Estus was building the Cook Inlet Packing Company. And they had come in and built a dock, and they had some canning equipment on the dock. And they canned some fish.

But it was pretty crude. And he made a contract with Mr. Ritchie to build the cannery building. Which was substantial. Was a nice cannery building. And he said, you build it as the mill will cut the lumber. He had a contract with -- I don't know if it was Keller's mill or the other mills. But one of the mills.

So they had to deliver the lumber. And so he told them he wanted the frame. Framing material first. And they cut it. And so the cannery building run out on the dock, right over the dock. But he built the side toward the slough, this side, first.

This was right about where the harbor master building is. Just -- no, the other side of the harbor. Where that barn-looking building is. Right about there. And so --

So then the next year, he built the other half. They moved the machinery into the first half. So the end result was the cannery was always -- the machinery was on one half and the warehousing was on the other half.

Initially, Mr. Estus wanted the cannery out on the dock where he could dump the fish guts and so forth and have the warehouse next to boardwalk, where he had access to the city dock and so forth.

And -- and so Dad, Mr. Ritchie, he built that and then he did other contracts for other canneries and building homes and so --

He never worked a day in his life for wages. He was very proud of that. But in turn, he didn't qualify for Social Security. And so he never got it. He just had his own money.

And then after that, he built himself a nice home, which was covered with shingles. He shingled it. The roof and the walls and everything. It was one of the first shingle homes in Seldovia.

And he built the tower on -- by this living room. With the pull-down stairs and so forth and up in the tower he had all the windows. All windows around.

So he could go up there and sunbathe. And he said he finished the tower and he was so happy, and the next spring they built the BIA school building and the kids could look in his tower. (laughter)

So he never got the use of his tower. And he always laughed about that. He said, I should have went up one more story. But --

CHARLES MOBLEY: This was your father-in-law? FRED ELVSAAS: Huh?

CHARLES MOBLEY: You were related to him? FRED ELVSAAS: He -- my wife was his stepdaughter. CHARLES MOBLEY: Okay.

FRED ELVSAAS: And -- but he -- George's mother, his son, she was a Native woman that died and they don't know why. Just one day she died.

And she wasn't that old, he said. But -- but, he said she didn't feel good and she laid down and went to bed and died.

And so Dad was the undertaker for awhile here. And he put in that water system I told you about. That ran down to the Chambers' store and Judge Chambers' house.

And he always had a real clear mind. Even after his stroke. He was somewhat of an environmentalist, also. You know, he didn't like to cut down trees needlessly.

And when he put in his running water, he built a septic tank for his toilet. He put in an indoor toilet, but he kept using his outside toilet, his outhouse.

He thought that was more fitting with nature. But then in his kitchen sink, he put a drain down and he dug a six by six square hole about three foot deep. And he lined it with rough lumber. And then inside he put rough lumber.

And so when he drained, the soap would stick on the lumber. And it didn't go into the soil.

And so once a year, he would take the lid off this thing, and he would change the boards. I did it a couple times for him, when he was old.

And he always wanted to get this lumber with the most splinters. It gathered more grease.

And so I said, "What do we do with the old boards?" He said, "Well, he said, I'll dry them and burn them." And he did. He'd dry them for about a year and then he'd set fire in his garden and burn them up.

And so he took care of the detergents and soap water and so forth in his own, own mind. He didn't have no engineering thing to show him how to do it.

And so when electricity came to Seldovia, he was one of the first ones that wanted electricity. So they brought it into his house.

In later years, the power company decided to -- instead of giving him the electricity through the front on his house, they would take it from the pole in the back of his house to a meter. And that was the first meters in Seldovia. Cause in the old days, you paid $2.50 a month and you got electricity.

So they put it in, and Fred Munson was the electrician for the power company at that time. And so here he comes in and he hooks up some lights and so forth and Dad said, "Well, what do I do about the power coming in here? It's just a light to my living room."

And Fred told him, "Just leave it there." He said, "You know, it's not on the meter. And why worry about it?" So he did. He had electricity two ways into his house.

So my wife -- we lived in a log house next to him, his original log house, when we first got married. And he would tell her to come over and iron, to make the meter spin a little bit so he could pay the minimum.

But he basically spent his days in the living room, reading newspapers and listening to shortwave radio from San Francisco. They had a twenty-hour-type news station there, like CNN now.

And he followed the war all the way through, you know, and he knew everything, all the battles that were going on and he was very interested in that.

And he said, you know, he said, "I don't like that Roosevelt." He said, "I don't think he's doing right. But I know he's going to win the war." He said, "I have to give the man credit even though I don't like him."

And from Dad Ritchie, that was quite a statement.

He had some rentals, and I did work for him on rentals. And I lived over there, after I bought that place, and we moved from his place. And up on the hill above me was a little, what was called a half-a-house, owned by a guy named Paul Holstrom. They called him Kid Holstrom because his dad was Paul Holstrom, too.

And after his dad died, he worked, but he was -- he'd gone to school a little bit and he was fairly smart.

And he went to Dad and told Dad, he said, "I need to make a will." He was about forty-some years old. And so he did. They drafted up a will.

And he went down to the commissioner at the time and had it recorded. You know, nobody did that in those days. And Kid Holstrom -- our lagoon used to freeze, and people would go up there skating, and fish whiting, through the ice. It was a lot of whiting up there in the wintertime.

And Holstrom kid went early. About, like, end of November. The ice wasn't thick enough. He fell through and drowned.

And so then the commissioner at the time decided to sell the house. You know, Holstrom kid, he had a daughter in Seward that nobody seemed to know much about. But Dad Ritchie knew. Had her address and everything.

And the commissioner, she decides to sell the house. Well, a storekeeper wanted to buy the house to sell to a guy who wanted to move here from Snug Harbor. And he was thinking he could buy it for a couple hundred dollars and sell it for a little more.

And the house was -- and the property was, with ten feet around it, was appraised at $200.

And so it was snowing and cold and miserable and the commissioner, she just insisted that the sale be held on the steps of the house. And the steps were about that wide.

So one day she went there and about four other guys that were interested in buying the house. Even though it was only eight foot wide, and twenty-four foot -- eight foot long and twenty-four foot wide, because it was built like this but he never finished the rest of it. He just boarded it off and lived in that.

And it was always called a half-a-house. Even -- it wasn't even a half a house.

But anyway, they started the bidding. And Dad was there, standing there. And he was pretty old by then and he told me, you know, you come up with me and walk with me.

And so they're -- they're bidding and they get up to about three, four hundred dollars. And Dad said, "I'll bid $400." Well, the storekeeper went $450. Dad said, "I'll go $600." He went up to $800.

And the storekeeper quit. And everybody else quit and said, you know, there's nothing worth $800 in Seldovia.

I bought my whole outfit for $3500 and it was a two-story house and a shop and a garage and basement and dock and everything.

And so he paid off eight one hundred dollar bills. And just surprised everybody. Told the commissioner, make the title and give it to Gladys, my wife.

And everybody was just, what the heck's going on here? So he told me, he said, "She's got the key." And he said, "Go in there now and light the stove and warm the place up."

He said, "A lot of groceries in the house." Holstrom kid had just bought a bunch of groceries for the winter. And so he said, "We'll walk down to your house." And I said, "Okay." We went down and he drank a cup of tea with us and warmed up.

And he said, "You know, I'm going to go home now. But the storekeeper's going to come up. He's going to call you." We'd just had the telephone put in. "And he's going to offer you money for this." He said, "He'll probably offer you about three, four hundred dollars." He said, "And it's pretty hard to turn down that kind of money, in any case." He said, "You know, the place ain't worth $200."

He said, "But, you just tell them that Mr. Ritchie said we can't sell it." And so I walked him home. And took him home.

I come back home and we were eating dinner and sure enough, the phone rang. And we got an offer.

And we must have had three calls from the storekeeper saying, you know, you got to make that available so somebody can move. We need people in Seldovia.

And we need a good man -- whatever his name was, was going to come to Seldovia.

So we never sold it. I fixed it up and I added on to it and then later I sold it -- I -- to my stepson.

I changed the whole configuration of the house and put running water in and all that. And then right down here was another place. He bought that and he gave it to Gladys. He said, "I can get rental income, $50 a month," he said, "but I don't need it."

He said. "It's better for you to have it." So she took it, and so we kind of wound up in the rental business for awhile. Because of Dad.

And so he knew all these people, but when he was at the house, he said, "I have a list of all the groceries Holstrom kid bought two weeks ago." He said his winter's supply of groceries there. He said, "I'll bet you," he said, "the sled is gone."

He looked around and the Holstrom kid had a sled with a pole on it. And he said, "The sled is gone." He said, "I know the marshal took stuff out of the house." And Holstrom kid had a couple of guns.

He said, "You tell him that I want that back in the house." And he said, "He's going to say there was one gun," he said, "but there's two guns." He said, "I know both of them."

One was a thirty-thirty and one was a twenty-two.

And he said, "If there any question, tell him I have the will, and it's notarized." He said, and the commissioner read it in the -- in the recording book.

And she read it at the place, you know, that he willed everything to his daughter, see. And so she was going to send the money to the daughter. And she did.

And so I went up to the marshal's house and he lived right over here. And he says. "Well, no," he said, "I don't have anything." And I said, "Well, how come his sled is here in your yard?"

"Oh yeah, yeah." He said, "Well, I took some canned milk so it wouldn't freeze." And there was about four cases.

And then he said, "Oh," he said, "there's -- here's a case of fruit. Canned peaches." And forget what else. There was a couple other items.

So I took them to my house. And I went and told Dad. I said, "Well, I took them to the house and I got them sitting in the living room." He said, "Oh," he said, "you go up to that house and take all of that stuff home." He said, "You can have it," he said.

So I did. It was a big help to me. You know, I had seven kids raising.

And so you know, Dad was real good. He was an excellent carpenter. But he was getting old. He was in his eighties.

And so he liked to walk. And he would walk to the post office, which was down where that English Drive is about now. Just, just -- actually, right below where Gillick's house is, there. Was where the post office was.

And so he would go up to the post office and he'd stop and pick up the newspaper at the store if they had it.

And he was walking back home and he got about half way home. He was right by the cannery and down he fell. Paralyzed one half, a stroke.

And some people took him up to the hospital and, of course, they called Gladys and we went and he could hardly talk.

And he told Gladys, he says, "I can't stay here. I'll die." He said, "I want to go home."

Well, we couldn't take him home because there was nobody to take care of him. And we had a doctor, but no nurse.

And that was going to run into tremendous -- so we brought him home to our house and made one of the bedrooms for him. And he lived about a year and he got to where he could talk pretty good.

But one day, he just -- I was up the Inlet, just moved up to get the fish camp opened up and come get my family. But Gladys couldn't leave him and he said, "Well," he said, "I'm really hurting. I'm tired." And he went to sleep and he never woke up.

And so we buried him. Yeah, up in the cemetery. And he was just one great fellow. CHARLES MOBLEY: Mm-hm.

FRED ELVSAAS: You know. But he always was so proud of walking straight. He didn't like to see people hunched over and so forth. He didn't think there was any reason for that.

And in turn, I was pretty careful when I walked with him. I walked up straight, too.

And you know, he did a lot for Seldovia. Now that was in the days people don't remember. You know, he built cannery buildings. He built the additions to canneries and he built warehouses and he built homes.

And he was a perfectionist. It had to be right, you know. He just didn't like this idea of not doing right. And, let's see.

Mr. Estus, when he started canning, he just dumped the fish guts off the dock. And Dad told him, he said, "You know, you're going to pollute your own plant."

And they started what was called gurry scows. They'd run the gurry, the fish guts, down in the thing and tow it out in the harbor just no different that the halibut thing now.

But it was -- it was timbers and a bottom and two gates. And when you get out in the bay, you pull the gates up and the tug would tow it and flush all the gurry out. And it would go.

And they always tried to do it at the high tide so it went out. That in turn brought a lot of halibut into Seldovia. You know, that was --

Nowadays, you see all this fancy environmental regulations. You got to grind the fish guts. Which is too small for the halibut. You know, and it's basically lost.

Where before, it went right into the food chain. And, you know, and I don't see the good that all that does, but somebody's happy and somebody got a job keeping track of who grinds what and all that.

And I guess that's, again, progress. See, so progress is great. Change is great. But sometimes, some people have funny ideas.

And so with that, that's the story of me and Dad Ritchie and --

CHARLES MOBLEY: That's wonderful. FRED ELVSAAS: And --

CHARLES MOBLEY: That's just wonderful. FRED ELVSAAS: So. CHARLES MOBLEY: I'll turn the tape off.