Lyle Cronk was interviewed on August 5, 2014 by Leslie McCartney and Barbara Cellarius at his home in Northway, Alaska. In this interview, Lyle talks about working for the Federal Aviation Administration at the airport in Northway, changes in the community, and hunting and trapping in the area and in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. He also talks about gardening, the 2002 Earthquake that damaged the area, and changes in the weather he has observed through the years.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Wrangell-St.Elias National Park
Date of Interview: Aug 5, 2014
Narrator(s): Lyle Cronk
Interviewer(s): Barbara Cellarius, Leslie McCartney
Transcriber: Sue Beck
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Coming to Alaska
Changes in Northway over time
Effect of the shut-down of the airport
Northway fire department
Hunting and trapping in the area
Working in the rock business
Flying with local pilots
Businesses along the highway
Working at the airport
Changes over the years
The earthquake in 2002
Changes in the weather over the years
Using the boat on the river
Gardening in Northway
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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So today’s August the 5th, 2004 (really was 2014). I’m Leslie McCartney. We’re with Lyle Cronk here in Northway in his home. And we’re with Barbara Cellarius. Thanks, Lyle, for participating today.
LYLE CRONK: Well, you’re welcome. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Good! So, we’ll start out. Tell us a little about yourself. Where were you originally from, and --
LYLE CRONK: Originally born upstate New York. Raised on a little farm up there and when I turned my eighteenth birthday, I joined the Air Force. And I came to Alaska originally in 1962. And when I left Alaska in 1963, I knew I was comin’ back. And it took me ten years and a trip to ‘Nam, but I made it back.
And the FAA sent me -- I got hired with the FAA after I retired, and they sent me out here. They could have sent me other places, but they didn’t have housing big enough for my family.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So they sent you right to Northway then, did they?
LYLE CRONK: Right to Northway from Anchorage. LESLIE McCARTNEY: And how many -- how large is your family?
LYLE CRONK: I have six kids. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. So you needed a big house?
LYLE CRONK: And, you know, I could have left here many years ago, but my wife, the kids -- we all liked it. So I -- I just stayed here and retired here. Built my house up here on the hill and just flat enjoy life now.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: You got a lovely looking garden outside.
LYLE CRONK: Oh, yes. Diane and I work hard on that garden.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Sure. Yeah. Yeah. So when did you retire?
LYLE CRONK: Uh -- 1998. So I spent my -- I -- I -- I spent my whole -- whole twenty years here. Other than the last two winters; I had to spend my time in Fairbanks ‘cause the station was closed. But, you know, it didn’t bother me. It worked -- we worked 6 ten -- or 8 tens. And I had six days off, so I’d come home every ten days.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. LYLE CRONK: So it worked out. And during the summer I stayed down here. I -- I worked the station. And so.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: And now it’s only open part of the year, isn’t it? The station?
LYLE CRONK: Yep. Well, when I was -- the last three years it was open from May -- or from March to October, and they’ve even cut it down since then. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.
LYLE CRONK: And we’re open -- it’s only open during daylight hours. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. LYLE CRONK: So.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So how old were your children then when you came up here?
LYLE CRONK: Well, my oldest -- let’s see. Matt would have been, oh, sixteen. And my youngest would have been about four.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: And so they went to school here in Northway?
LYLE CRONK: They went -- well, all of them graduated but one. She graduated from Tetlin.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh! Why from Tetlin? Did they have to move over that way?
LYLE CRONK: No. She was -- she had a boyfriend over there. And at that time, you know, girls got their mind set, so. So.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: She graduated.
LYLE CRONK: She graduated. Well, that’s what I told her. It was either you graduate or you’re staying here. Because you’re going to graduate here. So. But she said that she would graduate, so I said, “Oh. Okay.” I wanted her to be happy, but doesn’t always work out.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. So how many people were in town then when you moved here?
LYLE CRONK: Oh, my gosh, there must have been two hundred fifty, three hundred people when we got here. Actually, there was three -- three distinct villages as the State calls it. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh!
LYLE CRONK: The State has it designated as the Northway Indian village. Then there was the Northway airport and the Northway junction. And now, of course, the airport air --I mean, the airport -- there’re nobody. So all you’ve got basically is the Indian village and the junction up here. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.
LYLE CRONK: And more people now live up here than in the village.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: And why would you say that -- that swap happened? I mean, was this just been --?
LYLE CRONK: Well, the swap happened right -- soon as the Northway natives decided to subdivide -- they vowed -- they said they always wanted to have good teachers and people stay here. Okay? Well, it’s like I told Rosie Maher. She was the head of the Northway natives at the time. I said, “People aren’t gonna stay here and rent.” You’ve got to put up some land that they can buy where they can build their own place.
And so, it took three years, but that’s what they did. They subdivided this hillside and we were able to buy into it. And that’s how I got my place. And so. And -- and you know, it -- soon as that happened, then other people -- you know, lot of them had their allotments all along the highway anyways.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right. LYLE CRONK: And then they started building too. And so they started moving up here.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: And what year was that then, Lyle?
LYLE CRONK: Originally I think they -- they started subdividing in ’82 and they put a -- land up in ’83. ‘Cause I bought my lot in ’83. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.
LYLE CRONK: So. And that -- that first year I came and -- actually it was ’84 -- I figured out where I was gonna put the house, dug out for the foundation, and -- and it took me another two years after that to find a bank or somebody that would loan me the money. Because I lived out here, they didn’t want to talk to you.
And the bank that I did business with -- they just made me so damn mad that I just took all my money out and went with Alaska USA, and the Northern Schools Credit Union is the one that loaned me the money. But I had to have my brother cosign for me. Oh, yeah! Even though I was makin’ a lot of money a month. I had to drop my Air Force retirement and FAA pay. Didn’t matter. And still doesn’t matter. That’s what’s so ridiculous about the whole thing.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. BARBARA CELLARIUS: The living in the rural -- LYLE CRONK: Yeah.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: -- rural Alaska. LESLIE McCARTNEY: -- you were renting --
LYLE CRONK: I -- yeah. I lived in the FAA compound at the airport. The FAA had their own housing down there, so all of us that was in FAA lived there.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: And when did they close the airport down?
LYLE CRONK: Lud -- let’s see. Lud took it back -- well, Moody had it. Lud sold it to Moody. Moody rented it out or leased it out to a woman and her family. This must have been back about 2005, somethin’ like that -- somewhere, well, somewhere in that area.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: That sounds about right. LESLIE McCARTNEY: About ten years ago?
LYLE CRONK: And then she -- she got kinda -- cancer and she had to get out of it. And they left and Moody took it back and then Lud repossessed it from Moody. And Lud was going to keep it open -- and he spent a lot of money in here when he first took it back -- and found out that he wasn’t gonna get that money back.
And so he just said no. No more. And that must have been ‘06 or ’07 -- 2006 or ‘07. And that’s about the time -- you know back in that -- about the time it closed, right around in there. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. Yep.
LYLE CRONK: And it’s -- it’s been closed ever since. The State’s been tryin’ to get somebody to -- to lease it. But they’re too stupid for -- pardon me for saying that -- but they’re too -- too stupid to realize that a person is not going to buy a -- a lot that you say that is -- it’s contaminated.
What it -- and that you’re gonna be held responsible to clean it up, when it’s done by the military. And they said, well, because the well is down in the hangar, both lots have to go together. Well, no. Why not just put the lodge lot up and say there’s no water available; you’ll have to drill your own well. And they won’t do that. So.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So loss of a lot of employment for people.
LYLE CRONK: Oh, not only the employment, but the safety factor for these aircraft comin’. ‘Cause it’s still a port of entry. The only thing you can do is go through customs, right?
LYLE CRONK: Yes. Yeah. Mm-hm. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Boy!
LYLE CRONK: But, you know, that’s the way it is.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So how -- yeah -- so -- so we’ve talked about employment and safety. Are there other ways that the airport closing down has affected folks living in this area?
LYLE CRONK: Well, it wasn’t only the airport. Fact that there’s no jobs here whatsoever. Other than those that work for the corporation or work for the village council. That’s strictly it. And kids are findin’ out that welfare ain’t --ain’t everything that it’s banked up to be. And so they’ve taken -- got the notion finally that, hey, we need to work so we have money for our families.
And so the only place -- what you can do -- is to move out. And that’s what they’ve done. They still have their ties and everything with the community here and they come back all the time, but they live -- Fairbanks or wherever, Tok or wherever. And, you know, that was actually a smart move on their part.
That generation would have been -- oh, those that got out of high school the end of the ‘80s, beginning of the ‘90s, and all -- most of the ‘90s. And even -- even into the -- the 2000s. They’re doin’ the same thing, ‘cause they know there’s nothing here. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.
LYLE CRONK: And the -- the kids -- some of the kids, I won’t say all of them -- some of ‘em are realizing how important the education is also.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: For their children.
LYLE CRONK: Yeah. Yeah. Like mine. I got three -- or four granddaughters. All four of them will have graduated from Mount Edgecumbe. I’ve got one. She -- it’s her senior year now. She’s just going back for it, and I’ve got her youngest sister says she’s going down there as a junior, which will -- I mean as a freshman, which will be next year. And the other two already out. So.
They realize that, hey, our school can’t give ‘em what they need! And there -- no way possible is -- it is ever going -- It started out when we got here, we had a hundred -- about a hundred twenty kids in the school. It made a difference ‘cause with that many kids, you gotta have the teachers. You gotta have the programs. Well, as time when on, the student population decreased and decreased.
We kept losing teachers and -- and we had to close down programs. And like now I think -- I don’t think we have any highschoolers at all. They’re all junior high or elementary. So we’re -- we’re down -- probably down to three teachers this year. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.
LYLE CRONK: And there will be -- oh, I should imagine twenty-five, maybe thirty at the most kids. So. And these kids. I -- I -- to me it’s just that they’re actin’ just like they’re goin’ back to what it was when we first got here and with not givin’ a damn. Not caring. Because kids -- if they don’t learn nothing in school -- they don’t want to learn nothing in school. You know, tell a teacher, “I don’t have to learn that.” The parents don’t care. So what are you, you know, what you gonna do?
LESLIE McCARTNEY: We were talking earlier with Tom about there’s --the fire department doesn’t even exist here anymore -- LYLE CRONK: Not any more. LESLIE McCARTNEY: -- now.
LYLE CRONK: I got tired of that. I was the chief for -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh! Were you?
LYLE CRONK: Uh-huh. Originally, it was started up -- Jim Burton and Al Nowland started it, and then they both moved before they got everything set up. And so then I got the paperwork and I started it and got it all goin’, and -- with Rosie. And then we finally got everything set up, got the money and where we could build a fire hall and get a fire truck and everything, and -- and we got -- well, we had about ten members, but all volunteers.
You know, everybody has another job. But got so that nobody give a damn. A fire -- you -- you could count on -- on one hand you could count everybody that’d show up. And you knew every one of them. Nobody else would come. So over the years, you know, the State wouldn’t cut us any slack on the rent lot and they said, Well you’ve got to respond to an aircraft accident or air -- well, if we’ve gotta respond -- if you’re gonna make us respond, then we should get a cut on our rent. Our lot -- lot rent should be for nothing. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right.
LYLE KRONK: And then, of course, required to have insurance and, hell, we’ve got no way of getting money. And we just fought ‘em for I -- I don’t know. Me and the secretary must have fought ‘em for ten years, and we finally -- finally both got tired of it and said no. And so I signed everything over to the village council. Because we just got tired. And now they have what they call a Code Red. Somewhere down in the village. Well, I’ve never seen it.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: And what does that mean? LYLE CRONK: It’s everything that you need for a fire on a trailer. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Mm-hm. Okay.
LYLE CRONK: I -- I don’t know whether it has enough water or not, but you can always take a water truck out. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LYLE CRONK: Because that’s five thousand gallons. And that’s it. We’ve been fortunate. We haven’t had any fires in a long, long time. With the new housing and everything, you know, it’s -- it’s been pretty good.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Safer. Safer stoves, safer chimneys.
LYLE CRONK: Yes. Well, that -- that was the main problem. With the old -- old villages, the old cabins, you know, they’ve been there for so many years, I mean. It was just like a tinderbox. And the old stoves, they weren’t -- they weren’t regular stoves. They were little, small barrel stoves. And you could see right straight through the side of ‘em. And so, yeah, now it’s -- you know, the --the new plumbing and everything else and it works. It has worked. ‘Cause I don’t like to go to fires.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So did you hunt and trap anywhere around here -- LYLE CRONK: Oh, yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: -- Lyle? Where did you go?
LYLE CRONK: Well, I -- right opposite -- right across the airport from where I lived. You know, nobody else trapped down there. I checked before I went out, ‘cause I don’t infringe on anybody. I was born up -- I was brought up that way. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LYLE CRONK: And so nobody trapped over there, so I, you know, asked the locals if I could and -- sure. Go ahead. I just had about a mile circle out there. And I’d run it. Didn’t matter. And -- and that’s where I took my boys out. My two older ones, they -- they didn’t care about it, but my youngest one did. You know Mike.
So, he’s the -- he’s the trapper and he still does it today. And -- but I told him. I said, “Hey! You gotta walk that trap -- you gotta walk that line at least once a week.” And I said, “Ain’t nothin’s -- Well, I don’t feel like it. No. That ain’t gonna work.” That’s (inaudible). Nine years old, he -- he’d walked that line by himself, just a mile circle, and come back. And so I’m very proud of him.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: How did -- how did you learn how to trap? Is it something you learned here? Or did --
LYLE CRONK: No, no. I learned it back home. See, we lived on a farm out in the country in upstate New York. And there was eight of us kids. And so we had a big family and what you got is what you ate. What you raised in your garden -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right.
LYLE CRONK: Mother canned that. The fish -- we had -- the suckers used to run just like the salmon do up here. And so we were always down spearin’ suckers. And in summertime, you know, when the crick would get low and -- and the mudbanks was up, then we’d get the turtles. Big -- great big old snappin’ turtles.
We’d take them and -- and Mother would take care of the meat and the stuff on them, and everything like that. But that’s where we (inaudible). But my brother in Fairbanks, he did it more than I did. I wasn’t really into that. But I learned out there. But Allen was the big one. He -- he was the trapper. So --
BARBARA CELLARIUS: And then when you came up here, then you --?
LYLE CRONK: Well, I said, well now is the time to get back into it and teach my sons, so that’s what I did.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So what did you used to get on your trapline mostly?
LYLE CRONK: Oh, mostly fox. Matter of fact, Mike took a -- I was quite proud of him -- I set -- put a -- a fox set out, and he had taken a trap ‘cause he seen some mink signs and set for got a mink and got a mink his first thing, so I was very proud of him. But, you know, just fox. Mostly fox, coyote. Once in a while you might -- might get a -- a lynx. And -- and a mink. That was it. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.
LYLE CRONK: And, of course, in springtime then you got muskrats. I let him trap muskrats all over up here. And then we’d go out shootin’ ‘em too. So.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Have they declined in population over the years? LYLE CRONK: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. LYLE CRONK: Yeah. Bigtime.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: From overhunting or just -- anybody know why?
LYLE CRONK: Yeah. From floodin’ out. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Floodin’ out.
LYLE CRONK: See we flooded so much out here, that it just wipes them right out.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. Too much water.
LYLE CRONK: Yes. Yes. Too much water. LESLIE McCARTNEY: And they need shallow water.
LYLE CRONK: Yep. And they need shallow water and they need grass. Because that’s what they eat. They’re vegetarian. So that’s why they’re good to eat. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: And would you -- do you have a sense -- is the flooding from the climate changing or something else?
LYLE CRONK: No. The -- the flooding here is -- is basically due to a lot of rain and, like, Mark Creek Slough is changed and comes down through Fish Lake. That’s -- that’s not from -- from the climate change. That’s just from Mother Nature making it -- cutting a channel. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right. Right.
LYLE KRONK: During the flood season. And so that’s changed it. Other than that, most of this stuff is just from a lot of water out there in the valley. Moose Creek hardly ever comes up, but I’ve seen it up -- way up on the runway, almost to the hangar. And it -- that -- it was all because of rain and snow and the heavy snow out there in the -- in the Black Hills.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So the Black Hills are -- is that between here and the Mentastas? Or between here and -- between here and the Nutzotins? LYLE CRONK: Yes.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay. LYLE KRONK: That’s -- the Black Hills are the first line of hills about fifteen miles out. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay. LYLE CRONK: Yeah.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So did you have traplines anywhere else? LYLE CRONK: No. LESLIE McCARTNEY: That was just -- that was it.
LYLE CRONK: That was the only one I had -- was that right around there. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. Right.
LYLE CRONK: So. Now -- but after Michael -- when he got done college and he came back started teachin’, then he set up a line -- one of his friends had a line that ran from the airport all the way to the Black Hills. And so he used to run that once a week. And, you know, once in a while if he got busy I’d run it for him. That was just something I could do. So.
But it was fun. But I know better now than to go out there like that and do it by myself. That was -- and, you know, I was ten -- fifteen years younger. That was different. You know, I could walk back in from that.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: If something happened -- LYLE CRONK: Yeah. But now --
LESLIE McCARTNEY: You have a team of dogs you’d go out with or did you walk it? LYLE CRONK: I took snowmachine. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Snowmachine.
LYLE CRONK: Yeah. And they’re -- a breakdown? Yeah, they’re famous for it. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yep. LYLE: So.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: How ‘bout hunting?
LYLE CRONK: Oh, I’ve hunted around here off and on all the time.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Where do you usually go?
LYLE CRONK: I don’t want to tell my secrets. No, everybody knows I go down Scottie Creek. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay.
LYLE CRONK: Desper, Scottie Creek. That’s where I love to hunt. I’ve hunted that for probably twenty-five years. And, hey. I haven’t got a moose all the time but it’s -- it’s fun down there. And I don’t have to have a moose every year. It’s just that -- I go down -- go down there for five to ten days and -- and just stay and -- and have fun.
Caribou. Used to go out here when -- after the refuge opened up we’d go out here and -- and they’d start comin’ back, we’d hunt here. But I’ve got caribou off in Chicken Creek too. When I’ve been up there. When it was still open. Wasn’t many caribou there, but you could get ‘em.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Hm. And so did -- LYLE CRONK: And now I road hunt.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Do you go down to Nabesna? Nabesna Road? Or more around here?
LYLE CRONK: No, no. This -- this highway here. I’ve gotta be close by where I can make -- get to a telephone and make sure I can call somebody to come help me.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: -- come help. It is a lot of work.
LYLE CRONK: Yes, it is. Yep. But I’ve got two young lads. They’ve told me. They said, “If you get a moose during moose season, you just holler.”
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Well, that’s good. LYLE CRONK: “And we’ll -- we’ll come and help you.” LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Now are any of your grandchildren nearby?
LYLE CRONK: Nope. Tok. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh?. LYLE CRONK: Everybody’s in Tok. Tok, Delta and Wasilla.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay. LYLE CRONK: And Fairbanks.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So nobody stayed in Northway. LYLE CRONK: No.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Otherwise you’d just take them hunting with you.
LYLE CRONK: Well, I’ve wanted to but, you know, it’s just too far from them. Yeah. So.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Tok’s not that far away, but still. LYLE CRONK: Well, hey. It’s still an hour drive. LESLIE McCARTNEY: That’s right.
LYLE CRONK: Then they’ve gotta drive back an hour, too. So.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yep. Far enough. Yeah. So we -- we’re just talking before we turned the recorder on, about the geology. You’ve got all kinds of rocks. Tell us how you got into the -- the rock business.
LYLE KRONK: I -- originally I didn’t know anything about rocks. And I -- when I was in the Air Force, I was sent TDY down to Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico. That was right after I came back from Clark Air Base. And they were -- they’d call up to New York National Guard and everything for -- for Vietnam, and they were -- had a whole bunch of other squadrons comin’ in, and so they needed air traffic controllers.
And so I was sent down there, and on my off duty time I didn’t have anything to do. So, I started wanderin’ around base and I found the hobby shop and went in, and there was a lapidary shop. And I -- finally I met the old guy and he’s -- I said, “Is this your job -- your whole job?” And he said, “Oh, no.” He said, “I’m a professor at the University of New Mexico, Geology.
And he said, “I just do this for the fun of it.” I said, “Oh.” So he took me aside and showed me how to cut and polish and do everything, and -- And now, in the Air Force I, you know, I didn’t really want all that stuff ‘cause every -- you’re movin’ so often.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right. It’s kinda -- heavy things to be hauling.
YLE CRONK: Yeah. So I just waited. And when I got up here I said, “Now -- now’s the time. And so I -- I think it was -- ‘96 is when I bought my first slab saw. I was going down to Oregon to my brother’s place, so I -- I had it shipped there and picked it up and brought it back up with me.
And so over the years I’ve just kept goin’ at it. And sometimes I really get a -- a hankerin’ to get in there, and I’ll -- I’ll polish some and -- I just made my two -- two of my granddaughters a moose -- moose-horn buckle with a big cabochon stone in the middle of it. And they really look nice. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LYLE KRONK: And so, now I -- now I was trying to make it -- a business of it, but I just never had -- I was pure lazy. Put it that way. I’ll be honest. I was lazy.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: On the business end. On the business part.
LYLE CRONK: Yes. On the business part of it. Because it wasn’t a business to me. It was my hobby and something I enjoyed doing. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.
LYLE CRONK: And I didn’t want to have to do it because I had to make a living. And so I just said the hell with it.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So do you go out -- you get a lot of samples? I know you said that you buy a lot of rocks from the internet. LYLE CRONK: Well, I -- yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: What do -- what do you get locally?
LYLE CRONK: Basically locally, only if I can get out to Ptarmigan, I can get obsidian and that’s about the only thing I try for. Like I said, the quartz that -- that I get up here, they’re all crystals, so there ain’t much I can do with them -- as far as that’s concerned, so. Most everything I get is -- I get off the internet.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. And then you’d said you’d found some amethyst here, too.
LYLE CRONK: Oh, I found a little bit, but not enough to do -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Nothing --?
LYLE CRONK: No. No. I’ve been toy -- toying with the idea of goin’ down to that pit. I roughly know where they got ‘em from -- and start diggin’. Just to see if I can find anything. You know. But right now it’s -- I’m trying to remodel upstairs and everything, so I just don’t have that time.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So when you polished all the stones, were you tryin’ to sell them as polished stones or as jewelry or --?
LYLE CRONK: Well, when I was doin’ it, I was tryin’ to make jewelry out of ‘em. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.
LYLE CRONK: And now if -- if you wanted some polished stones, I’d -- I’d give you a quart of ‘em. I don’t care. You know, it’s -- it’s -- there’s so much beauty in there to look at, so I just like other people to have the beauty to look at too. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.
LYLE CRONK: So. I was told that -- I’ve got a lot of slabs that I’ve made. And I was told that you’ve gotta have a -- a -- a flat polisher for ‘em. I said, “No, you don’t.” I put ‘em right in the tumbler. And I’ve only broke one. And I’ve polished a lot of slabs. Matter of fact, each of those tumblers out there have three or four slabs in it right now.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Do you put the slab plus other --?
LYLE CRONK: Plus small, round rocks. BARBARA CELLARIUS: So that -- so that they’re not just by themselves --
LYLE CRONK: In the first -- my first grind I just put rocks in the polisher and the slabs. My second one I’ll go ahead and run in some -- what they call plastic beads to buffer it. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right.
LYLE CRONK: And same thing with the polish, just to buffer it. And it does a beautiful job. But I wouldn’t trade for nothin’. No. Well, -- I haven’t even -- past week -- I just started ‘em again two days ago.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh. How long does it take to polish?
LYLE CRONK: If you run ‘em twenty-four hours a day, you can -- each cycle is about a week. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh!
LYLE CRONK: But I don’t like my things runnin’ at night. So I shut ‘em down. And so I run ‘em about two weeks. On each: first grind, second grind, pre and then polish. So it takes me, give -- give or take, it’ll take me a couple months. I’m never in a hurry. Life is too short.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So you talked about -- you’ve talked about Ptarmigan Lake. You’ve talked about Chicken Creek. LYLE CRONK: Mm?
BARBARA CELLARIUS: How -- how do you -- how have you gotten down there and --?
LYLE CRONK: I’ve flown. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Did you fly yourself?
LYLE CRONK: No. No. I’ve been -- I was an air traffic controller for thirty-eight years. I saw too many stupid people in airplanes that were pilots. I never -- No. I -- I love to fly, and I only fly with people I trust. Like Lud, Jim Moody, Urban Rahoi and Overly. Those are the only four people I fly with. Well, I’ll fly with Lavalle and them -- those guys with Fortymile Air anywhere. But other than that? No.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: People -- yeah. LYLE CRONK: People I know.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: It’s better to fly with --
LYLE CRONK: Yeah. You betcha. Even Urban, like today. He’s still a licensed driver. Passes the physical. And he’s what? Ninety-six? LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah, he’s get -- at least --
BARBARA CELLARIUS: At least ninety-two. LESLIE McCARTNEY: At least ninety-two, because -- LYLE CRONK: No. LESLIE McCARTNEY: I would -- ninety-four?
LYLE CRONK: Ninety-five last time I talked to him this year.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: The last time I met him it was the day he just -- he just got his physical. LYLE CRONK: Yeah.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: And that was about a year ago.
LYLE CRONK: Yeah. He was supposed to be goin’ down to San Diego this summer. They invited him down -- what was it to fly --? Damn! I don’t know. I -- I wanna say they were gonna teach him how to fly the P51 Mustang. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay.
LYLE CRONK: And he was really lookin’ forward to that. Really looking forward to that. Last year they -- he got to fly the B-17 and the B-29.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. That he used to fly during World War II. LYLE CRONK: Yep. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. LYLE CRONK: Yeah.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: I don’t think they let him take it up, but they let ‘m -- LYLE CRONK: Oh yeah!
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Did they let him take it up? LYLE CRONK: They let him take it up and land.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Really? LYLE CRONK: Yes.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Wow. They told him to come back when he was a hundred and they’d do it again. LYLE CRONK: Yep. And he’ll -- He’ll make it.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: I’m sure he will. LYLE CRONK: He will make it. I can’t -- I -- I just don’t understand how the old man keeps goin’. And I would not like to try to work a days beside him. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh.
LYLE CRONK: Not even today at his age. No. BARBARA CELLARIUS: He’s --
LESLIE McCARTNEY: You been out to his lodge? BARBARA CELLARIUS: -- impressive. LYLE CRONK: Oh yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LYLE CRONK: I used -- when Riley was out there, I’d go out and stay a week and -- and stuff with Riley. During the winter. We’d go ride a horse or we’d ride snowmachines and what have you. Just for the fun of it. I didn’t have nothin’ else to do here. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. LYLE KRONK: So.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So you -- you met these pilots because they were flying in and out of the airport?
LYLE CRONK: Yep. That’s how I met ‘em all. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay.
LYLE CRONK: Yep. And I met a lot of good people from the Lower 48. And they come back every year, you know, and -- and make a point to stop and see me. And, of course, we all get older so I’ve noticed there -- drastic drops of people.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Few and farther between -- the visits?
LYLE CRONK: Yep. Now none of ‘em -- I’m -- matter of fact, I do see one of them down in Oregon when I go down to my brother’s place down there. I do. He lives only about twenty miles away from my brother and knows my brother. So. I do get to see him.
And so it -- that’s pretty good. But all the other of those guys from New York and what-have-you that I met, you know -- They’ve all -- well, hell they were middle age when I first met ‘em and after ten, fifteen years, you know, that’s -- they’re now up in -- up in age.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. LYLE CRONK: They stopped flying.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: When you first came here, too, Lyle, was there -- there a number of businesses along the highway?
LYLE CRONK: There was nothin’. LESLIE McCARTNEY: There was nothing here when you came here? LYLE CRONK: No.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: When you first moved? So there was no businesses along the highway?
LYLE CRONK: Well, I take it back. Wrangellview. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. That was the --
LYLE CRONK: That’s the -- that was the only gas station there was, and the lodge. Which was right there. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.
LYLE CRONK: Run by Gene Spry and his family. And -- oh, I can’t remember the guy that used to own Border City. Matt was his first name. LESLIE McCARTNEY: And it was open.
LYLE CRONK: Yeah. Well, he just had a little tiny store there and you could get beer if you wanted and -- and stuff and that was it. Then after he sold it, that’s -- that’s when they -- they built it up and made it a big place.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: ‘Cause it seems -- it seemed to us driving around that there’s a lot of places along the road that are boarded up or abandoned. So was that things that developed after you arrived?
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Or they were gone before you arrived.
LYLE CRONK: Well, Scottie Creek was gone before I got here. The next one this way -- that’s where your new information center is by that lake. That was still here. But when the refuge took over, they burned it to the ground. They burnt the old building, the old lodge and everything. Burn it down in beautiful condition.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: What lodge was that? Sorry.
LYLE CRONK: Seaton’s. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Seaton’s. LYLE CRONK: Seaton’s Roadhouse. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh, that one.
LYLE CRONK: Yep. That was a good building, but the -- the refuge people burned it to the ground to get rid of it. It made me mad, but what the hell can you do? And then from there to Gene’s there was nothing.
Other than a highway camp -- the old highway camp they had. And then they built -- they moved up here where they’re at now. But the old highway camp, they had housing and everything, and everybody lived right there with them. Just like the FAA did. So.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: How many people worked at the airport then? When you -- when you first came or when you first --?
LYLE CRONK: Holy smokes! LESLIE McCARTNEY: -- sounds like a pretty big operation.
LYLE CRONK: We had -- let me think. One, two, three -- four, five, six, seven. We had seven controllers, and there was one, two, three. There were four electronics techs.
The state trooper lived in the -- in the same area as we did. And then down at the airport -- that’s when Floyd Miller had it -- he and his family were there. And he had about three or four people workin’ for him.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Was that like at the lodge and the -- the restaurant --?
LYLE CRONK: Yeah. He owned everything down there. Yeah.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So seven controllers. Did you run 24/7 then? LYLE CRONK: Oh yeah! LESLIE McCARTNEY: Eh. LYLE CRONK: Oh yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LYLE CRONK: We had -- we -- we didn’t cut our hours till 1995. We ran twenty-four hours a day. And they were boring.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So not a whole lot of customers?
LYLE CRONK: Well, no. It -- especially in wintertime. When it was cold out. We -- it was boring because quite often you didn’t talk to nobody but yourself. You might get an oddball pilot goin’ across -- ask for, say, Kennedy air -- Kennedy weather. But most the time, you didn’t get to talk to nobody. It was just pure boring. You had to have hobbies.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. And how ‘bout a customs office?
LYLE CRONK: At that time -- originally they started out -- they didn’t have a customs office. Actually, before I got here they had one that was run in -- at the post office, which was the backside of the old store.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay. LYLE CRONK: Okay. Then the post office built their new one. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right.
LYLE CRONK: And customs didn’t have it. And so they basically ran it out of the flight service station. And when they first brought a guy up, he stayed in -- they got one of the FAA houses and he stayed in that. And then he left and they sent a young lad up and they brought up a house trailer. I don’t know. Do you remember where the old school was down at the airport? Okay, just this side of the FAA there’s a concrete pad over there.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay. LYLE CRONK: That was the old school. They set up a house trailer behind that. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay.
LYLE CRONK: For their customs. And then he left and they only had the guy come in for the summer that stayed there, and then during the winter they’d come in from the port. And then they finally decided -- well, we had -- we need a customs office. And so the only place they could -- they were gonna -- they built one originally in the old school.
And for whatever reason, whether the State rent was too high or what, they stopped that and didn’t have anything. Then they -- Lud built them one and then that was in the end of the trailers down there -- the office -- what they call Office 9.
And that was there for many, many years. And then when Moody got it, they wanted another. They wanted to get out of that old trailer, so he built ‘em one in the yellow building down there. Met all their specs and everything for security and what have you. And then when they -- they just said -- well, it was too much. We -- we’re spending money. We ain’t got nobody down there. So they closed it down.
Took all the stuff out. And now they come in from the border. They have the pilots -- well, when a pilot files a flight plan from Canada, he files with flight service in Fairbanks. Flight service calls ‘em.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So they know --
LYLE CRONK: They know, and they have to have at least an hour’s notice.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So that somebody’s actually there at the airport then?
LYLE CRONK: They’re supposed to be here at the airport. They never are.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. But just to know that there’s a plane that could be going over -- in case it runs into trouble, it could land there?
LYLE CRONK: Oh, no, no. No. If -- if they’re notified they’re gonna land here anyways for customs. They wanna clear customs here.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So the customs officer is still here then?
LYLE CRONK: Yeah. The -- but he comes in from the port. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Port. LYLE CRONK: Yeah. Drives in.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Now I understand. Yeah. LYLE CRONK: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LYLE CRONK: So. Lot of changes over the years. And even now -- even now, like I talk to the wife, “Well, don’t you wanna go to Tok where the kids are?” “Well, no. This is our house. This is where I’m gonna die.” I say, “Well, I guess I’ll die here too.”
LESLIE McCARTNEY: What other big changes then, Lyle?
LYLE CRONK: Well, since then, not a whole -- well, refuge more -- more than anything. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LYLE CRONK: They‘ve came in and started up a lot of stuff. Oh, there’s the -- the younger generation has tried to do some things. The culture week that they have up at Ten Mile. That’s taken on quite a bit -- much more so than what it was when we got here. ‘Cause they used to have a day or two.
You know, and I used to go up there, and now I don’t care. I think now it’s for two weeks that they have it up there. And, you know, look at how the highway’s built up now. We have housing all along the highway, which was -- wasn’t here before. And so. That’s probably the way it’ll stay.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: And the road going down to Northway when you moved here. Was it still the dirt track or was it already --?
LYLE CRONK: Oh, no. It was dirt. It was -- Fish -- Fish Creek Bridge was one way. It was only single lane bridge. Talk about mud. You don’t know what mud is. Not until you come in breakup down on at that road. We used to plant trees in the middle of the road. It was that bad. You bet -- better carry a chain along with you, because you’re gonna get stuck. And somebody’ll come along and pull you out. But you’re gonna get stuck. And it was terrible!
BARBARA CELLARIUS: And you’d have to travel that to get to work? LYLE CRONK: Well, not initially.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Well, right. Not when you were --
LYLE CRONK: Yeah. But when I came out -- yeah. But then they -- they’d already tried to rebuild it. It so it was in much better condition. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay.
LYLE CRONK: But I did. I -- I would -- I been the telephone person here since 1978. And I ran it every single day. When I wasn’t workin’ at the FAA, I worked for the phone company. And I’ve -- I’ve spent many hours on this road in a mudhole.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So you say you’re the telephone guy. You’re the guy puttin’ up the lines or --?
LYLE CRONK: I installed phones. I fixed phones. I did everything. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.
LYLE CRONK: If the lines broke, I put ‘em up.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: And when did the phone lines come into town? Was there a --
LYLE CRONK: Well, they were here when I got here. Yeah. See, I don’t know what company had ‘em long time ago. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LYLE CRONK: Well, ACS is what they called ‘em. That was -- not the same ACS company. It was a air -- I think it was a military service originally that put ‘em up. That’s the only lines we had -- was the eight metal lines like you have at the border? That’s what came all the way through here and all the way to the airport. We had nothing else.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So the phones went to the airport but not necessarily to people’s houses when you got here?
LYLE CRONK: Oh, no. There was only one vill -- phone in the village. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay.
LYLE CRONK: That was a pay phone. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right.
LYLE CRONK: They didn’t get phones in there until -- oh, probably mid eighty-five, eighty-six -- something like that before we started runnin’ ‘em down. And then, of course, people started, “Well, we can have phones in the house?” So then everybody started. So then they had to run cables down through the power line, and that’s when we started puttin’ ‘em and everybody in the village would get ‘em. But, no. Even up here in the highway. You only had eight customers. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay.
LYLE CRONK: ‘Cause there was eight -- eight -- eight pair of lines. That’s all. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right. Right.
LYLE CRONK: And so if you wanted, they had what they call a CMA system. You could -- there was eight channels on there or radio frequencies, and so you could hook eight people up on one pair of lines. And that’s what we went to. And then they finally started laying some cables because they wanted to get rid of all this other wiring. So we laid cables and buried cables. But I’ve gone through the whole thing.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So then when did they really build the road and chip it so that it was much, much better for travelling in and out?
LYLE CRONK: Let me think. They started -- they remodeled this road -- started originally in ‘83. And so it must have been about ‘80 -- ‘85, ‘86 they started doing some work on the -- on the road. Well, they’d -- they’d worked on the road for a long time. That spot just after the Fish Creek Bridge where you come out of the water? Well, that spot right there used to sink, and they’ve dumped hundreds of loads --
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So it -- so it just -- like, they dump it. It sinks. They have to dump more on it --
LYLE CRONK: Every year they had to dump more and more and more stuff in there. They don’t know why. So. But then their first job of doing it, it wasn’t bad. It did help out tremendously on the mudholes in the breakup. And then they finally said -- well, they got money. ‘Cause we had complained a lot. And they started really getting into it, and then they -- they built up a good basic for the road. And they -- after that, the earthquake destroyed it, of course.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: The one in 2002? LYLE CRONK: Yep. Yep.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: I hadn’t realized there was that much impact up here.
LYLE CRONK: Oh! Well I’ve got pictures of it.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Oh, I believe you. I believe you.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Was there a lot of structural damage to buildings or was it just basically --?
LYLE CRONK: Basically land. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Land. LYLE CRONK: The airport. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Slides --
LYLE CRONK: Well, it destroyed the airport. It was closed. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Did it?
LYLE CRONK: Oh, yeah. You want to see some pictures of it? LESLIE McCARTNEY: I do.
LYLE CRONK: -- see if I can get there without -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Here. Let me take that off of you.
LYLE CRONK: But there wasn’t that much damage done to the houses.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. It was just -- LYLE CRONK: But it was just basically the land, ‘cause that way’s straight east.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So is the fault pretty close to here then?
LYLE CRONK: I don’t know where it’s at. I don’t think so. I think the -- the way the fault comes is out of a -- a -- a -- it came out from Denali -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right.
LYLE CRONK: -- and shot straight eastward. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right. It is -- it was the Tushanda fault.
LYLE CRONK: I have no idea where it’s at. BARBARA CELLARIUS: -- through the park.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So basically the only earthquake that you’ve heard about going through here? Like, was there any stories of, like -- I mean --
LYLE CRONK: I’ve felt other tremors and stuff like that. But, no. Nothing like -- I didn’t even know that had come through. I was comin’ back from Haines. I didn’t even feel it -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.
LYLE CRONK: -- until I got to customs and customs told me. I said, “Oh. Well, okay.”
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So what did it do at the airport?
LYLE KRONK: Well, let’s just see some of the -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: I saw the land pictures--
LYLE CRONK: No. Just keep goin’. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. LYLE KRONK: The airport’s there. That’s part of the airport right there.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right there on the runway. LYLE CRONK: Yeah.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Wow. It’s just a huge crack going right across it.
LYLE CRONK: Just keep goin’. See all this. It -- it shifted up and down. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay.
LYLE CRONK: Those are ridges that weren’t there before. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh my! Hunh.
LYLE CRONK: You’ll see where -- yeah -- that’s -- that was right down the middle.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So have they ever repaired this? LYLE CRONK: Oh yeah. They came down that fall and shortened it up to three thousand feet and made it, you know, dirt.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So it was at least something that was usable? LYLE CRONK: Yes. Right. See, that’s down along --
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Those are really interesting. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Big sinkholes.
LYLE CRONK: And then, what? Three, four years ago? Five years ago? They put it back to the same original length. Fifty-one hundred feet. They dug it out and repacked stuff and brought a compactor in and compacted it and -- and now it’s back up to five thousand feet.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: And these are big sinkholes?
LYLE CRONK: Yeah! Well, that’s where -- if it looks like a volcano? LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah!
LYLE CRONK: It was blown out of the ground. It was water coming out of the ground. They said there was one by the corner of the lodge. They said the water went up fifty feet. See, that’s the bad thing about here. This whole valley’s underlying on -- is -- is -- I like -- well, I can’t use that word. It’s -- it’s mud. Put it that way. And so as soon as you shake it up, it becomes like jelly.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Do you mind if I scan a few of these -- LYLE CRONK: No. LESLIE McCARTNEY: -- Lyle? After the interview. LYLE CRONK: Go ahead. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. I’ll do that afterwards. Thank you.
LYLE CRONK: You know, I know full well that -- that this had to be a -- we’re now three hundred feet higher than what we -- what this land originally was. When we drilled Roy -- Roy Sam’s well down by Moose Creek. At three hundred feet we blew it. And there was sticks and stuff coming out of the water. So we know that originally -- that’s right -- over the years.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Something’s gone up and then subsidence has gone down. LYLE KRONK: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. LYLE KRONK: So. (inaudible)
LYLE KRONK: But -- oh, yeah.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah. I hadn’t realized there was so much damage here in Northway. LYLE KRONK: Oh yeah, yeah.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: I know, you know, I’ve talked to folks in Slana and Mentasta.
LYLE KRONK: Oh yeah, that was destroyed. I’ve got some -- I can’t find ‘em. I was just gonna show -- ‘cause I got pictures of -- of the Tok cut-off. And displaced? I mean, like this. You see a tractor-trailer sittin’ in there. Oh, yeah. There was one in there. But, oh yeah. It -- I mean huge shifts sheared right off the side of the road and gone. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Wow.
LYLE KRONK: But, you know, this house sits on bedrock. And --
LESLIE McCARTNEY: And the village? Down in the village, it was okay?
LYLE CRONK: Now -- it dropped stuff off the shelves and stuff like that, but as far as the house was concerned? No. The lodge? Didn’t hurt -- I mean, the community center? It -- it -- it -- it broke, you know, sheet rock.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. LYLE CRONK: But that was it. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. LYLE CRONK: It didn’t hurt the building itself at all. And I don’t -- no buildings were destroyed whatsoever.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. BARBARA CELLARIUS: So I’m trying to think if there’s --
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Me, too. So you haven’t traveled -- we asked you already, and you haven’t traveled really down -- or hunted down -- into the parks or anything like that? Or have you been into the Wrangell–St. Elias Parks?
LYLE CRONK: Only from Ptarmigan. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Only from Ptarmigan.
LYLE CRONK: Well, I’ve driven in the -- the Slana road. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Nabesna Road, yeah.
LYLE CRONK: Other than that, no. I’ve never been in. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. Yeah. LYLE KRONK: Nope. LESLIE McCARTNEY: I'm trying to think too if there's anything else.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Anything else you can think to tell us, just about -- life -- your life in Northway and how -- LYLE CRONK: Life here is great. BARBARA CELLARIUS: -- things have changed over the years?
LYLE CRONK: With what’s going on in our country right now, I’m in the best spot I could ever be. I don’t want to go no place else. I don’t mind the cold. I do mind the heat in the summertime. ‘Cause it gets hot out here, and it bothers my asthma something fierce. But other than that, no. I -- I would -- like I say, I’ll die here.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: That’s interesting, Lyle, (LM says “Roy”) that you’re saying that you don’t mind the cold, but do you find that it’s not as cold as it used to be in the wintertime?
LYLE CRONK: It’s just as cold! LESLIE McCARTNEY: You think it’s just as cold?
LYLE CRONK: Oh hell, yes! LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. LYLE CRONK: Well, I’ll take it back.
Our first winter here, it hit –71.4 below zero at the airport. And Diane and I walked from our house down to the lodge just for a cup of coffee. It was on the ninth of February of 1979.
Yep. Well, yeah, it’s -- no, it -- it doesn’t hit seventy below. No, it doesn’t. Now why, I have no idea. But it -- hey! Forty-five, fifty, sixty below? It -- it -- it still hits it. Up here there’s a good ten degree difference between here and of the airport.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Really! LYLE CRONK: At least ten. Oh, yeah.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Up or down? You mean colder here? LYLE CRONK: We’re warmer. LESLIE McCARTNEY: You’re warmer --
LYLE CRONK: We’re warmer, yeah. Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LYLE CRONK: All you do -- gotta do is go down the airport, look at the chimney. See where the smoke is leveling off at. That’s the temperature inversion. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.
LYLE CRONK: Above that temp -- it’s warmer. Yep. And I don’t know whether you’ve noticed it, I have several times flying -- when you’re flying along, you look at the mountains? There ain’t no mountains. Cut right off. That’s really a -- a fascinating phenomena to see that. But, you know, I love the river. I don’t go on it by myself anymore, ‘cause I’m not dumb.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Do you use -- did you used to boat the river quite a bit?
LYLE CRONK: Oh, my God, yes. I’ve had -- I had a little sixteen-foot flat bottom with thirty-five horse. And that’s what we took moose hunting. Me, my hunting partner’s -- his wife. I’d probably take one of my kids with me. And if we got a moose, all of the -- all the camp gear and everything was in that boat. Everything we took with us was in that boat. And I -- I’ve carried five people, moose, all camp gear out of there.
Come down from Scottie Creek all the way to the steel bridge. Because that’s -- and sometimes you can’t get back up Desper. And so, your only choice is to come downriver. Yeah. I used to run it all the time. And I -- back then I -- you know, I didn’t mind going in by myself. ‘Cause I knew I could walk out and what have you. But now, no. It’s -- it’s -- it’s a lot different since I’ve grown up a little bit.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Did a lot of people use boats, then, when they went hunting?
LYLE CRONK: Just about everybody. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Did they. LYLE CRONK: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Well, the -- a lot -- lot of them hunting Ten Mile. Well, usually you can’t get in there except by river. The trail that they’ve got -- I don’t know how bad it is. I’ve never been in on it. But I know before, they said it was always awful muddy. And so they -- there’s always ten, twelve boats upriver.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Hm. What about fishing? Did you do a lot of fishing?
LYLE CRONK: Always up the Scottie Creek. Never any in between. Oh, I set winter lines down here at the mouth of Moose Creek. I set my set lines for burbot. Other than that, I don’t fish around here. At the airport we used to every once in a while go out -- there’s a little slough off the end of the runway. We go for grayling.
There’re beautiful grayling in there. But grayling, the only way a grayling’s any good is if you got a frying pan with you -- build a fire right then and there. That’s -- that’s the only way they’re any good. So -- but I go to Scottie Creek and up there for pike. And that’s it. And I’ve got to get up there. I’ve -- it’s been a long time since I’ve been up there.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Do you have a cabin up there? LYLE CRONK: No. LESLIE McCARTNEY: No.
LYLE CRONK: I tell you -- well, my daughter-in-law’s father had a tent cabin up there and, you know, a Spatz, the blue one? It’s down on Scottie Creek just above the eagle’s nest.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay. I’m not super familiar with the area.
LYLE CRONK: Oh, okay. Alright. BARBARA CELLARIUS: I mean I know where Scottie Creek is. LYLE CRONK: Yeah. BARBARA CELLARIUS: But that’s about it.
LYLE CRONK: But -- and we been trying to keep that up so we have a place down there, but between the bears and everything and not using it, it’s starting really -- to fall down. And so Mike and I were talkin’ about getting some two-by-sixes and going down to rebuild it. Re -- the frame and everything and puttin’ new canvas and stuff onto it. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.
LYLE CRONK: But we just never seem to get time to do it. But that’s the only spot. Other than that, we always carried our own tents. Live in a tent for eight -- eight to ten days. So. Run -- well, with -- with my little boat I can never -- never go up to Mirror Creek because it was too shallow. But with with my jet boat I’ve been ten miles above Mirror Creek. I can go that far. I only need -- going with -- I only need two inches of water with my big boat. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.
LYLE CRONK: But it’s so beautiful up there, too. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Is it?
LYLE CRONK: Yeah. I go up there and sit down and stop that boat on the bank and -- and, my God, you know, just sit there and look at it. Matter of fact, my last trip up there we saw two grizzlies, two sows, and two -- each of ‘em had two cubs within three hundred yards of each other. They both swam -- well, they were swimming the river.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Mm-hm. You’re just looking on the map, Barbara, to see where it is?
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah. So here’s Scottie Creek and then Mirror Creek’s down here.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. So it’s all enclosed in the Tetlin Wildlife Refuge.
LYLE CRONK: Yeah. Oh, yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: It’s all part of that.
LYLE CRONK: There are some -- there are some private inholdings in there. Matter of fact, Wino, he had told me before he died that I could build a cabin on his place if I wanted to, but I knew if I did it would become a Wino camp and stuff, and I didn’t want that, so I never bothered to. ‘Cause you can look at the mouth of Scottie Creek down there on the other side. That was Wino and Ada. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Oh, huh.
LYLE CRONK: And then go up to Mud Lake behind the eagle’s nest. That was Wino and Ada. It was just become -- they never bothered to pick up nothing. And it used to make me mad. You know, they trashed it. There’s no need for that.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: When the refuge went in, did that have an impact on how people used the land? LYLE CRONK: Not them. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh. LYLE CRONK: Not them.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: But anybody else?
LYLE CRONK: Well, no. It really didn’t impact us at all. Because they’ve never stopped us. And, you know, we’ve always made sure, even before they came in, that we picked up our trash and stuff. We never left nothing there.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Leave no trace of camping.
LYLE CRONK: No way. Everything we take can we bring out. And so -- and that’s -- that’s the way I was brought up. So.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So have you always had a garden?
LYLE CRONK: Ever since I’ve been up here. You betcha.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Didn’t garden in upstate New York? You must have -- LYLE CRONK: Oh, we did on the farm. Yes. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LYLE CRONK: But that -- I hated it then. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Of course, you did! All farm kids hate --
LYLE CRONK: Well, sure! You know, when you have to. Now this is because I want to. It’s a difference.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: And you know in some of the other communities, there have been gardens.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Big gardens. BARBARA CELLARIUS: But I haven’t really seen other gardens here in Northway.
LYLE CRONK: There -- there are very few. Now, Sherry and Glen down below us -- they’ve got a garden. I think Steve -- Steve’s mom’s got his garden over on his. Becky used to have one, but she doesn’t plant hers anymore.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: More people up -- up here than down --
LYLE CRONK: Oh, yeah. Because down there -- we used to. The FAA had a garden out back. All of us, we had a section in that garden and it -- stuff didn’t -- it was just awful ground. Cold ground temperatures down there. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right.
LYLE CRONK: Yeah. Lot -- you know, and -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: More close to the permafrost.
LYLE CRONK: Your root crops -- they did pretty darn -- darn good. But carrots didn’t like it. Beets didn’t like it. Potatoes did good. Beans didn’t like it at all, and peas. They didn’t like it.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Your cabbage plant families?
LYLE CRONK: Yeah. They love it. That’s root crops. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. LYLE CRONK: They loved it. The cooler, the better. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LYLE CRONK: But yeah, we -- we had always had a garden down there for that. Didn’t have to, but I always said -- I like fresh food.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: And did there -- was there any gardens down in the actual village of Northway -- no.
LYLE CRONK: They tried a couple of times. I don’t remember where they --they started the -- the tribe one right before the community hall was built. It was up there. They -- some of the people did grow some good stuff, but other people would go out and steal ‘em. And so, you know, then people said, “Well I’m not going to plant it for them.”
And so they stopped it -- stopped doing it at all. Then they started it down here by Kelly’s place. That’s the first house on the left as you’re going down the road. Just past his place they had tilled that bank up in there, and there was a few people that planted in there. But I don’t know why -- they just lost interest in it. Just let it go back to the nature. But I -- no, I just -- I enjoy it. It’s something I like to do. I like the veggies and she likes the flowers.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Perfect match.
LYLE CRONK: Yeah. Yep. Oh, I like flowers, too. But -- don’t get me wrong. I -- I do. ‘Cause I plant ‘em in the garden. If I got any space left over, I’ll plant flowers.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: They bring in the bees.
LYLE CRONK: I don’t have any problem with bees. I don’t know where they come from, but I don’t have any problem with bees.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. Anything else, Lyle, you can think of to tell us about the community? Changes you’ve seen -- or since you’ve been here?
LYLE CRONK: No. No, not really. I -- just that I’m not gonna move.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: You like it here.
LYLE CRONK: I love it here. LESLIE McCARTNEY: You’ve given us a great snapshot of -- of the community. Definitely.
LYLE CRONK: I love it here. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LYLE CRONK: And, you know, the people at FAA could never understand that. They -- they -- because I came out of Anchorage to here. And they said, “Well, two years you can come back to Anchorage.” And I look at him and I -- why would I wanna do that? And the more I stayed here -- I said, “I really don’t want to do that.” And I was worried that the FAA was gonna close this place and I was gonna be forced to. That bothered me tremendously.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: You managed to retire out to here, didn’t you? LYLE CRONK: Thank God, I did. Yes. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LYLE CRONK: As soon as I got eligible, I was gone. Matter of fact, I was elig --eligible six months before I did. But I wanted to spend the summer down here because I was --I got more money. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.
LYLE CRONK: That was per diem that was non-taxable. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh, right.
LYLE CRONK: And so. And then I was due to move on the first of October and instead I moved on the thirtieth of September and retired that same day. So. Now it’s -- it is actually a good place, but you have to like the cold. If you don’t like the cold, then you better have some hobbies inside. I’ve got a hundred hobbies.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: What else do you do?
LYLE CRONK: Oh, I’m -- I’m a stamp collector. Most of those stamps -- most of themstamps are in the gun vault. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LYLE CRONK: I don’t have any guns in the vault. I got stamps. But I -- I also do leather work. I cut and polished stones. Well -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LYLE CRONK: Hell, a dozen different things. I go up and help her with her jigsaw puzzles. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Life’s busy.
LYLE CRONK: You gotta do something. If you get tired, you just sit back in a chair and take a nap. Fifteen minutes later, you’re back up. That’s what’s nice about life.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Well, thank you, Lyle.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Thank you very much. LESLIE McCARTNEY: You’ve given us a wonderful glimpse of life here.
LYLE CRONK: You’re quite welcome. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Thank you so much.