Michael "Mike" Miller was interviewed on February 3, 2016 by Jan Yaeger at the Seldovia Museum in Seldovia, Alaska. In this first part of a two part interview, Mike talks about growing up in Seldovia, and about his father, Dick Miller, who was a bush pilot and then a police officer in Seldovia. Mike shares childhood memories of playing on skiffs, trapping, hunting, and building cabins. He also talks about changes to Seldovia after the Urban Renewal program after the 1964 Earthquake, about some of the people of Seldovia, as well as about his career as a commercial fisherman and some of the boats he worked on and people he worked with.
Digital Asset Information
Date of Interview: Feb 3, 2016
Narrator(s): Michael "Mike" Miller
Interviewer(s): Jan Yaeger
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
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His family coming to Seldovia and his father being a bush pilot
Flying career of his father, Dick Miller
His dad learning to fly, early jobs, and coming to Alaska
His mother, Grace Miller, marriage, early years in Seldovia, and moving to California
Fishing and working for Fleming "Slim" Giles
Other people he fished for in Seldovia, Prince William Sound, and Kodiak
Fishing with his own boat, and set net fishing
Changes in Seldovia from Urban Renewal program, and some houses and families who lived there
Childhood memories of playing with skiffs, and finding an old cross at the Russian graveyard
Building cabins as kids, and one burning down
Crabbing and fishing as a kid, and selling his catch to Squeaky Anderson and Sam Selvog
Squeaky Anderson and yellow paint
Changes in the fishery and closure of canneries
Tyndle Lipke and businesses on the boardwalk
Frank Raby, and owing him money
Working in the warehouse, and story about Wildcat Albert trying to take rope
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JAN YAEGER: It is Wednesday, February 3, 2016 and this is Jan Yaeger. I'm speaking with Mike Miller of Seldovia in the Seldovia Museum and this is a recording for the Seldovia Village Tribe's "In Our Own Words Project."
And Mike, can you just talk a little bit about your family coming to Seldovia?
MIKE MILLER: Yeah, my father was a bush pilot and he'd been flying up in Anchorage from 1937 'til 1945. And in 1945, there was a fellow that lived in Kenai by the name of Harry White that had a Waco. I don’t remember the number designation of the airplane. It was a double winger with a inside cabin and all that.
And so he and dad made a deal that dad would fly the airplane here out of Seldovia for that summer anyway.
And so we came down -- I was four years old. We came down in May -- the latter part of May, first part of June. And we lived for that first part of the summer in the old Beachcomber Hotel in a hotel room there. And Mom had a hotplate and cooked our meals and so forth.
And dad had the airplane on a running line right down on the beach in front of the hotel. And it was quite busy in those days because there was what, four canneries, and all of them salmon canneries going strong. And, you know, they -- flying people in.
Well, actually what opened this all up at the time, as I understand it, was that they had put that causeway across the lagoon over in Homer, creating Beluga Lake, and that gave an opportunity to fly, ‘cause there was no field here. There was -- it was only saltwater landings.
And he had to have a place over there to land, and so when they put that causeway in and created the lake then he was able to land on the water over there and the water over here.
And I don’t even know if they had a field originally at that time in Homer, if there was an actual airport.
But, so, yeah, he started flying here then and as I say we lived part of the summer at the Beachcomber, and then my folks bought, oh, I can’t think of his name right now. A fellow’s place at the other end of town, down right where Gordy Giles lives now.
And we lived there from there until 1956, and my dad died of cancer and we moved Outside.
But all the years that he flew -- he actually only flew from, I looking it up today, only from 1945 until 1950. And 1950, he quit flying.
What happened was that he was doing quite well in here. He flew Harry White’s airplane for two seasons, and then I don’t know what their parting of their ways was. Harry needed the airplane or something,
so dad got his own airplane, which was a Stinson, a big radial engine Stinson. I don’t remember the number designation on that either, but big airplane on floats.
And the first year he had it here, or maybe it was the second year, he was hauling gasoline up to -- up to Jakolof Bay. And -- the -- the road was in at that time from there up to Red Mountain dam or Red Mountain mine, excuse me.
And he was hauling gas drums in for the -- not drums but five-gallon cans in Blazo boxes or whatever, wooden boxes.
And so he landed in Jakolof Bay and taxied up to the beach. And there was a cabin there, and he went up to -- was just got off the airplane, was gonna get off and go up and get this guy to come down and give him a hand unloading the gas, and the airplane exploded.
Something about the engine, I don’t know, backfired or did something and all of a sudden a big spark and boom and it was -- the airplane just burned up immediately.
So that was his -- the only airplane while he flew here that was his and only his.
And then after that happened, he flew for a fellow here by the name of -- he -- I can’t remember his name either right now, but he had the Standard Oil dock. Herr, Earl Herr and --
JAN YAEGER: Do you know how to spell that, by any chance? MIKE MILLER: Pardon?
JAN YAEGER: Do you know how to spell Herr by any chance? MIKE MILLER: Yeah, H-E-R-R. JAN YAEGER: Okay, thank you.
MIKE MILLER: And so he bought an airplane -- that airplane was a Seabee Republic, which was a amphibious aircraft, and dad flew that for a couple of years. And he didn’t like that airplane at all. It just was underpowered and he just -- he didn’t like it.
But anyway, he talked to Earl Herr about it and Earl said, well, you know, he wanted to get another airplane. Earl said, well, he didn’t know if he wanted to go into it or not.
So they sold it to another fellow, a pilot here in Seldovia, Merrill Hennington (phonetic). Merrill Hennington was a commercial fisherman who had a 70 some foot vessel and a couple of seine skiffs and he fished in Chignik area, but he lived here.
And he -- as I say, he was a pilot and he had another brother that was a pilot, and so they bought that airplane and they used it one year down in -- in Chignik and -- and then Merrill built a hangar that he could taxi right up out of the water into, right in front of the old Russian graveyard.
And in the middle of the winter, we had a big storm one time with a big high tide and the airplane disappeared right out of the hangar, which was open on the side. There was no big doors. It was just underneath the -- open -- you know, big open door situation where you taxied up into.
And the airplane was gone. They never found another trace of it. And -- that was the, as I say, the third airplane that my dad flew here.
And then he and Carl, after -- Well, before that plane was lost actually, he got into business with Carl Nordenson, who was --
and Carl at the time was a commercial fisherman here, had his family here, Grace and Carl Nordenson. And he also at the time owned the Linwood Bar.
And so he financed dad, or -- didn’t finance him, they went together as partners and bought a Tri-Pacer at the time. So a little three seater.
And they flew -- they were the only ones here for some while, and then Alaska Airlines moved in on them.
And dad used to fly over to Homer for eight dollars one way, eight dollars. And so Alaska Airlines came in and dropped the price down to six dollars. And they couldn’t make it at six dollars, so they quit.
And dad, you know, flying was like his whole life. He just was -- he'd learned to fly down in a flying school in Santa Maria, California, and his father paid for his flying lessons. He went to a military flying school down there.
And his father had a piece of property in a little town called La Honda that was down in the redwoods near the coast south of San Francisco.
And he told -- dad was a pretty good carpenter and he was 18, 19 years old, and he told dad if he would build him a house down there, he would send him to flying school.
So dad built this -- and it’s still down there today. It’s built out of redwood logs. It’s just a beautiful place. So dad put that together and -- and then he went to flying school.
After he got out of flying school, how he got up to Alaska -- there was one of the fellows he learned to fly with was a guy by the name of Ed Leavitt, and they were both pretty adventurous, and dad -- in the meantime had -- he and my mother had gotten married.
And he worked -- they couldn’t find any flying jobs. It was during the Depression and so forth.
So they both -- Ed and my dad both went to work on the Oakland Bay Bridge. And they worked on that one until that was completed, and then they worked on -- on the Golden Gate.
And dad was -- he was on a barge down below the Golden Gate and they were lifting some timbers up, or some steel, and it fell down and crushed his toes. And so that was the end of him. He wasn’t doing that any more.
So both he and Ed quit and they went to Seattle and got on a boat that was a local boat here called The Discovery. It was a mail boat that used to run out of Seward and go up the -- up Cook Inlet.
I don’t know if it went to Kodiak and different places, but I know it ran up to Anchorage and so forth. It was a mail boat.
And -- so they came. It was brand new. And so they sailed up to Seward in it and went up and they couldn’t find a flying job up here. That was in 1937.
And so they ended up getting a job in a place called Candle, up on the north side of the Seward Peninsula. And there was quite a bit of gold mining going in there and they got a job putting in roads, you know, access roads into the mines.
And worked there that summer, and then the next summer dad came up again. Ed didn’t come up, but dad came up and got a job flying out of Anchorage.
And -- and that’s what he was doing all the time ‘til he came down here.
Another little thing about him is that during the years that we were in Anchorage -- that he was in Anchorage, from 1938 until 1945, when he came down here, he taught 19 -- just under 2,000 people to fly.
So a lot of those old pilots that, you know, had learned from my dad, and -- including, now this is another one, I can’t remember names right off the bat, but the glacier pilot that used to fly up all the time out of Talkeetna up into -- up into the Denali.
JAN YAEGER: Don Sheldon?
MIKE MILLER: Yeah, that’s him, yep. My dad taught him when he was 17 years old in 1941. JAN YAEGER: Wow. That’s amazing.
MIKE MILLER: Yeah, so, that’s one that I noticed. And there was a Shellabarger was another guy that was very well known and he had a place up in Skwentna.
But, I mean, there’s just all sorts of people that knew him well, you know, that he was a pilot. And -- and then we moved down here like I say.
JAN YAEGER: And what was your dad’s name?
MIKE MILLER: Dick. Dick Miller, yeah, Richard. Richard W. Miller, but he went by Dick.
JAN YAEGER: And your mother’s name was?
MIKE MILLER: Is Grace Miller. She didn’t have a middle name.
My mother was -- actually my mother was not from Califor -- my dad was -- was born in San Francisco and he was raised in Marin County -- in -- well, Bothell Road was the name of it. Was up by Fairfax, north of San Francisco.
And my mother was actually raised on a farm in Utah. She was -- come from Mormon stock back there, although she wasn’t a practicing Mormon, but she --
she had a cousin that had -- after graduated from high school had somehow gotten to San Francisco area, and -- and she married my dad’s brother, older brother.
And so they invited my mother to come and my mother worked in San Rafael, California, which is just in -- Marin County there, too, as a telephone operator for long distance operator for a few years while they were there.
And then -- Oh, let’s see, they got married, and dad had already built that house down there at La Honda.
And so while dad was working on the Golden Gate Bridge, or the Oakland Bay Bridge first, they moved down to La Honda and stayed in the house that he built and mom stayed down there and dad would just go down on the weekends and, you know, he lives in San Francisco some place during the weekdays so --
They were, you know, they were well established there in that area before they came up here. Mom really didn’t want to leave. She loved it down there, but dad had this adventurous streak, you know, and --
but and she came here and she got along real well in Seldovia, but, you know, after, you know, we lived here for I don’t know how many years and she was kind of a, not a big city girl, but she was interested in other things than here.
So she was kind of glad to move back out and we moved out after dad died, out to San Francisco area, back to Mill Valley, California, and got a place down there.
She rented a place and we lived there for a number of years. And -- Well, in fact, she stayed there until she died in 1979.
But going back on that stuff, thinking about it, I was fifteen when he died, and we just left Seldovia, you know.
I mean, there was -- really was not much going on here. There was a crab cannery and there was some salmon fishing in the summertime, but it was really slow years, you know. There wasn’t much going on. And wasn’t much money.
Mom worked in the store with -- Frank Raby’s store for a number of years. And she'd worked in Tyndle Lipke’s dress shop before that.
And so when dad died, he had -- was able to leave $285 a month for myself, $285 a month for my sister, and $285 a month for my mother. And that’s what we lived on. (Laughter)
It’s amazing to think of that, you know. That was in 1956 and it was enough, a little bit here and there, you know, and I did some yard work and mom did some sewing and that sort of thing.
And my sister was eight years younger than me, so -- or seven years younger, so she was pretty small, but we managed to eke out a living down there.
And I’d come up and -- the first year I didn’t -- I didn’t come back up, I stayed. He died in May and I stayed there through the summer.
But the next year I got a job back up here fishing and actually it was with Gordy Giles’ dad and -- and Gordon. And Gordy and I, we fished -- we were fishing in Kodiak. And we did that for a couple of years.
And then -- so I’d go down and go to school and I’d come back up and fish, you know, back and forth.
And in fact, mom came back up one year and she and my sister came up and we all went down with Slim Giles down to mainland at Kodiak and fished down there.
And she was the cook and, you know, took care of all that -- care of the business and we all went fishing so --
JAN YAEGER: Slim was Gordy’s dad?
MIKE MILLER: Gordy’s dad, yeah, yeah. Fleming Giles, but we all called him Slim. Hard working man, but --
JAN YAEGER: Do you remember the name of the boat that he had?
MIKE MILLER: He had a landing craft called the -- the Beachcomber. There was another landing craft here. Well, there was a couple of them, but the other one was Calhoun.
Earl Calhoun had one called the Ski Dunk and he was into freighting and both of them were -- Slim was -- did some freighting and he also --
Slim also had a sawmill down in Portlock, or Port Chatham. And I used to go down with him, he and Gordy, down there in the fall, we’d go -- before we'd start school and, you know, cut up a bunch of timber and lumber.
One time we went down with him and helped him tow a bunch of logs in from Windy Bay up into there with his -- and he had two little 25 horsepower -- boy, I can’t remember the name of the engines, but that was the slowest boat I have ever been on in my life.
JAN YAEGER: Twenty-five horsepower? MIKE MILLER: Twenty-five horsepower.
JAN YAEGER: On -- on how big a boat? MIKE MILLER: It was 55 feet long. But I --
JAN YAEGER: And towing quite a bit, as well? MIKE MILLER: Oh, yeah. JAN YAEGER: Yeah, that would be slow.
MIKE MILLER: And then towing those logs, I mean, all you did was give them steerage way and just work with the tide, you know.
Yeah, that was really -- that was really quite a rig. I think most of the time it only -- if it -- wide open would only do about five knots, five, five and a half knots, but --
JAN YAEGER: Without towing anything?
MIKE MILLER: Yeah, without towing anything. And then you were going backwards unless you had the tide going with you, you know.
But, yeah, I had some good times with him and -- And then, oh, let me see, 19 -- I came up here for, let’s see, with Gordy and Slim two years,
and then the next year I came up with and met a guy that had a boat here in Seldovia. We called him -- his name was George Johnson. We called him Turkey George Johnson ‘cause he -- when he laughed, he sounded like a turkey. Well, whatever noise a turkey make? Gobble, gobble, gobble.
But he had a little boat and I seined salmon for -- with him down in Kodiak the third time I came back after my dad passed away.
And then -- and then I started fishing out of Prince William Sound and in Kodiak and coming up, I’d go up to -- from San Francisco, I’d go up to Bellingham and get on a salmon tender there and come north. And I did that for a couple of years.
Sometimes working on the tender through the summer and other times coming -- working my way up and then going fishing and then going back down in a tender.
So I was -- Seldovia wasn’t in my loop in those days, you know, for quite a while.
And then -- Emil Vinberg, another local fellow here, was running a boat for Harry Kruth and it was a power scow that Harry had just bought from a fellow in Seward.
And we took the boat down to -- it was the Bessie M was the name of it.
And we took it down to Seattle and rebuilt it all and turned it into a crab boat and then brought it back up. And we stopped in Seldovia that year and that was the year after the earthquake, so that would have been in ’65.
And -- pretty sure it was ’65, yeah, ’65. And we stopped in Seldovia for a couple of days briefly and then went out and kept fishing out westward all the way to Adak.
And -- and so I did that -- I was on that circuit for a number of years and I -- not with Emil, but began fishing out of Kodiak.
And I lived in Kodiak for a number of years, and then in 1970, I believe, I started running another boat that -- it was a tender out of Seattle that I brought up and tendered for herring in Prince William Sound.
And then salmon tendering there, and then fished the boat for tanner crab in the wintertime in Kodiak after I had fished the king crab season in Kodiak and then went back to Prince William Sound and fished there.
And I did that for -- until 1972, and then I ran a boat for Petersburg Fisheries. It was called the Viking Queen, big steel scow out of Petersburg.
And I fished that in Prince William Sound -- or outside of Prince William Sound for tanners.
And then I moved over here to Seldovia or outside -- I should say Cook Inlet and fishing for tanners there in the spring.
And then I got reintroduced into Seldovia again and that was -- by that time it was 1972, yeah.
And the company was having a new boat built. They'd just ordered a new boat built and asked if I would like to be a partner with them, so I did, and that was the Independence then.
We had the boat built down in Blaine, Washington, and I brought it up and fished it between -- well, all over actually, but was first I was headquartered out of Seward and then we -- for one year and then we moved the boat over here.
But I fished, you know, in the Bering Sea and Dutch Harbor and Cook Inlet and Kodiak and all over. Prince William Sound, for a number of years I had it for.
Oh, and we fished, you know, and we tendered and tendered salmon and herring and fished king crab and tanner crab and halibut and black cod and gray cod, and, you know, anything you can do to make a dollar.
JAN YAEGER: Yeah, I think when you got a boat that size, you got to keep it working, right.
MIKE MILLER: You got keep it working, yeah, you bet.
And, you know, and then I did that all up until 19 -- or no, 2011, and then sold it to my engineer Dick Yingling and Lisa, and they’ve had it ever since and seem to be doing fine with it.
And in the meantime, I’m -- Allison, my oldest daughter, and I both have set net permits and we established some sites up on the other side of Barabara Point, between there and the base of MacDonald Spit.
And we've been fishing that for what -- four or five years now.
And so I -- she’s supposed to be the main one and I’m just supposed to be helping out, but, you know, she had another little boy and so that kinda curtails her being there all the time and --
and so I’ve been more active in it than I probably really want to be or have been for the last couple of years.
So, maybe one more year I’ll stay in it and then hopefully Leif will be big enough that she won’t -- he won’t need her all the time and I’ll be able to go do something else.
JAN YAEGER: Yeah, he’s about two now?
MIKE MILLER: Yeah, he’ll be -- yeah, he’ll be two in April. Yeah, end of April, yeah, so --
JAN YAEGER: You mentioned you came back here in 1965, just real briefly. MIKE MILLER: Uh-huh.
JAN YAEGER: Had Urban Renewal started at that time?
MIKE MILLER: Oh, yeah. Well, no, excuse me. They hadn’t at that time. They hadn’t started to tear the town down.
The -- I remember it was kind of odd to me because when I left Seldovia, the entrance to the boat harbor was down, well, right in front here.
And when I came back, they had a ramp that went up what they call Shortley’s Corner, which is right off the end of Cap’s Hill. At Shortley’s Corner down Cap’s Hill, yeah.
And, of course, the harbor had grown a little bit and they’d changed somewhat. But no, they hadn’t started to tear the town down yet.
And then I was gone from it for quite a while and then when I came back in ’75, I believe, ’74 or ’75, I don’t remember.
I think ’74 was the first time I came back for just a short period of time, a couple of days, while I was fishing out in front. And by that time, yeah, everything had changed, you know, been torn down and flattened out and started to rebuild.
But there wasn’t really that much that was on the flat in those days, as I remember it. I remember for sure that the -- where the store is, the old store down there. That building was there, I believe, and there was another one that was -- sat across from it, the Polar Bar, was in. And the cannery wasn’t -- was still -- was there, yeah.
JAN YAEGER: The Wakefield Cannery?
MIKE MILLER: The Wakefield Cannery was there, yeah. And, of course, the old -- the old fuel dock was still there and the new one, of course. I was trying to think of my way back downtown.
JAN YAEGER: You said the old fuel dock. Was that the Anderson Dock that they just took down a few years ago?
MIKE MILLER: Yeah, right, right, that's the Anderson Dock, yeah, yeah.
And as you try to think back just what was here when I came back, it's kind of hard to.
I know that -- what they call it, the Multi-Purpose Room and all of that wasn’t there. And, of course, this wasn’t here. It's kind of hard to place what all was and what wasn’t, you know. JAN YAEGER: Yeah.
MIKE MILLER: Take a while to think about it.
JAN YAEGER: Had you heard just from communicating with people, you probably knew what had happened in Seldovia? MIKE MILLER: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, sure, yeah.
JAN YAEGER: Do you remember what it felt like to actually see it for the first time afterward?
MIKE MILLER: Oh, I was just very sad, very sad, you know. It was just -- when I did come back in ’65, it was still all the same, but there was, you know, there was -- sand bags all over the boardwalk to keep it from floating away.
But everything was all pretty much the way that I had left it here in ’56, although, you know, there was a few changes all right. But things didn’t change too much in those days so.
But, yeah, it was really sad to come back and see it the next time with everything all torn down and changed. And, of course, I'd seen pictures of, you know, where they'd been raising the buildings and that sort of thing, but yeah.
It -- it -- it really -- Seldovia was -- and it still is a special place, but it was something unbelievable in those days.
For a kid to grow up here and have the freedoms that we did and -- there's just nothing like it. God, I just -- when I was big enough, we used to take off and on the weekends when the school was out in the wintertime and we’d go up the head of the bay and trap for marten and things like that, you know. Just have ourselves a good time and always busy doing something continually.
JAN YAEGER: At the head of Seldovia Bay, right?
MIKE MILLER: At the head of Seldovia Bay, yeah, up Seldovia River.
And I don’t think I'd ever walked up to Seldovia Lake by that time, but I'd been up there quite a ways.
And up to where the trail went over and went into Port Graham. I know I’d been there a number of times because Nordenson -- Carl Nordenson had an old cabin up there, an old trapping cabin that had been abandoned for a number of years, but he’d been there in the earlier days, you know.
But there’re so -- so many things that -- that when we came that I heard that had been changed, like where we lived, as I say, down there in that --
Well, the beach down there where Gordon Giles lives down in front of, that’s where we lived. Right between Gordon Giles’ house and -- and -- well, it would be Elaine Giles’ house. In -- right in between was our place.
And then when we left here in 1956, Elaine moved into that house, her and her kids, and husband, and they lived there for a number of years, but the foundation was getting really bad and all of that.
So then the boys built a house alongside of that one. But when we first came in 1945 -- we lived in that area in between, and the house --
I just remembered the name of the person that owned that house that the folks bought it from and his name was Jimmy St. Cloud.
And I don’t remember his -- his wife’s name, but they were also from -- what in the world is the name of that river that's up alongside of the Yenta.
I can’t think of it right now, but so the folks bought that house from them in 1945 for $6,000.
And when they bought it, there was that house and then down the beach front was another house and there was a fellow by the name of Patty Patterson lived there and he was a old retired fox farmer.
And he had been partners with a fellow by the name of Harry Linheart (phonetic) and the two them had this fox farm up in Bear Cove.
So when we first came to Seldovia, old Patty lived down there and he was pretty stove up, you know, he had arth -- rheumatism, they called it in the old days, you know.
And he was, you know, had a tough time kind of getting around there and I think he only lasted for maybe about a year after we'd moved in there and then he passed away.
And then another family came to town. They were the Hallsteads, and they -- they had -- it was just a little cabin.
It was just a, oh, it was -- it had a -- like a -- what they call a kalidor (like an arctic entryway attached to the outside of the house, perhaps based on the Russian word, koridor) going in where you could store all your wood and stuff under and be just outside the front door, you know, or outside the -- just outside the front door, and then you went into a combination kitchen.
Yeah, it was a small kitchen and dining room, I guess. And then there was a little sitting room off of that and a very small bedroom.
And so when the Hallsteads came, they had two boys and two daughters, and then the couple, the married couple, Opal and Earl was their names, and they all lived in that little tiny place there for a couple of years, you know.
I don’t know how in the world they did it, but they sure did.
And then they moved on elsewhere in town later after they got, you know, got their grubstake or whatever it was, you know, but that was quite a place.
And then, so, when dad died and we moved Outside, mom rented the place to the Giles or Elaine there for oh, a couple, three, four years, I guess, and then ended up selling it to them, you know.
And -- but I remember when she was renting it to them, she was renting it for $35 a month. (Laughter) That all helped out and helped the $285 a month, but yeah, something. Yeah.
JAN YAEGER: So what are some of your other memories from being a kid here besides going up and trapping and so on?
MIKE MILLER: Oh, we used to just have -- we had skiffs, of course, and -- or had access to them.
We were always on the water and I was from that end of town, you know, and people like Harry Yuth was -- Harry was about a year and a half older than me, but we -- we played together a lot.
We did a lot of things together. He had a skiff and I had an old trap skiff and so we’d pretend like we were pirates and so forth.
And we’d put a, you know, sheet sail up and we’d meet out here and we’d get side by side and we’d sword fight. Oh, we’d just, you know.
We’d have three or four kids from either end of town, you know, and the skiffs for this and just had a heck of a good time.
And that was one of the big things, being in a skiff and going over.
And then I had -- I had another real light little skiff that I’d gotten from somebody, just a small thing. It was plywood and I could drag it up and down the beach by myself.
And I had this big old collie dog. We called him Sniffer. His -- he had distemper when he was a pup and when he’d breathe, his nose would go kind of sideways like that, was odd, so we called him Sniffer.
But, you know, in the summertime, I would -- I would be so -- when -- so full of business, I just had to get out and do things.
And I’d get up at four o’clock in the morning, daybreak, you know, in the summertime. Four o’clock in the morning and grab that skiff and the dog and drag it down the beach and the skiff would -- the dog would jump in the skiff with me and we’d row all over.
We’d go across the bay. ‘Course, I didn’t want my folks to know. They didn’t want me going and doing that.
JAN YAEGER: You go across, like, Hoen’s Lagoon?
MIKE MILLER: Over to Hoen’s Lagoon, yeah, and play around over there and then come back and -- you know.
It was just -- it was, everything was just a big adventure. It was just amazing.
I remember one time talking about the old -- we talked a little -- said -- mentioned a little bit ago the old Russian graveyard.
And, you know, it was really overgrown and it was really in tough shape, but there was a lot of the wooden crosses, they’d rot off at the base and then they’d fall over and they’d lay there.
Well, we used to go, when we were kids, and we used to go dig around in that graveyard and there was the wild rice grew in there. Stinky rice or whatever you call it.
And, you know, so some of the old people like old -- sure, Olga Balashoff, you know, she liked that. So we’d go and dig it for her and take it up to her.
And one time we were fooling around in there and one of the -- we found one of these crosses that had fallen down. So we picked it up and took it over the top of the boardwalk and went down on the beach and we were playing on the beach there and we had this cross.
So we went down to where the wet sand was and we laid the cross down and we packed sand all around it, the whole outline, you know, so it was -- And right --
It wasn’t long after we got it done and, you know, we didn’t have anything malicious in mind or anything. We were just kids playing.
And here comes Father Shadura down over the hill from -- from -- what do they call it, Kirby’s Hill. And he came down there towards and he looked down there and he says, "What are you boys doing?" "Oh, we’re playing, Father."
He says, "What you got there? You got cross?" "Oh, no, Father, we -- no, no." He says, "You make very nice cross." "Yes, Father."
You know, and just scared to death that he was gonna come down and find we had that cross. ‘Cause then, we -- course, we realized that we’d -- musta really done something wrong, you know.
But as it was he just kind of hmm, you know, and then walked on and (Laughter) left us alone.
But that was one of our -- and the other thing that we used to do when we were kids was build cabins. Oh, that was a big thing to build a cabin.
Harry Yuth usually had one going down this end of town and I usually had one down at the other end.
We’d build ‘em and, you know, and then we’d get a big idea of something else so we’d tear ‘em down and use the materials out of the first one and move it someplace else and build another one.
I got about -- I guess I was about thirteen or fourteen and my dad was a cop, by this time, and I had a cabin that was down on the beach that we tore apart and took up on the hill right up where Tall Trees is now.
And there was a little cut-out there where the Peterson family, the -- one of the oldest boys there, had put a little tent cabin up or something up there years before me.
There was a little flat spot up there so I went up and built another cabin. Took all this and built a cabin up there.
And then we’d go up there and spend the weekends up there during school and so forth and --
And like I said I was about thirteen or fourteen and I don’t know, my dad was the cop and I know he -- he got kinda upset about something.
I don’t know what it was, but one weekend while we took off, there was three or four of us had camped out there or stayed up at the cabin that night and we had a little wood stove in -- a little potbelly wood stove and so forth.
And we took off and went up the head of Seldovia Bay. We were gonna go up and do a little trapping and when we came back the cabin was burnt down.
And my dad said, "Well," he says, "Your cabin burned down." "Oh, yeah, really?" He said, "You leave a fire going in it?" I said, "I don’t think so."
He said, "I told you -- he says, "I told you never to leave a fire going in there when you're gone." And I said, "Well, I’m sorry. I don’t think we did. I think I put it out."
Well, we figured out later on that he went and burnt the place down. So that was one of the things.
It was just too -- we were having too much fun in there. I won’t say what all we were doing. (Laughter)
JAN YAEGER: So when you’d go up to the head of Seldovia Bay, would you take your skiffs up there or take the beaches at low tide or -- ?
MIKE MILLER: No, it was in the wintertime so we walked up there then, you know. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
MIKE MILLER: Just walk along the cliff faces or along the beaches or whatever and go up there.
Yeah, but a lot of times we took -- and oh, the bay was so -- was full of Dungeness crab in those days.
We used to take our skiffs and go up to Raby’s Spit and we’d have -- well, we were -- by this time we had little outboards, you know, five horsepower outboard.
And we’d go up there and one guy would run the skiff and the other would sit up in the bow with a pugh, fish pugh on a stick, you know, and tied onto a stick.
And you’d look over the bow and get under the shade of -- like, the sun would be shining like behind the boat and so you’d have a shaded area down there and you could see Dungeness.
Stick ‘em and throw ‘em in a Blazo box, you know. And we’d get all sorts of Dungeness and bring 'em home that way and give 'em away, you know.
And we used to go to -- up the -- up to Fish Creek, by the airport, and get humpies out of there and occasional dog salmon and take them down to Squeaky.
Squeaky had the cannery here and -- he’d -- you know, he’d humor us. He’d pay us a nickel apiece for ‘em or something, you know. (Laughter) Yeah, yeah, he was good about that.
And then the king crab fishing actually started here and after salmon fishing went -- got to be so bad in the early -- well, no, it was about ’53, I guess, ’50 -- there was -- had been some fooling around, but it actually started getting to be a real fisheries here in -- ’52, ’53, ’54 -- ’5, I think was --
’53 and ’54 were about the last good salmon years, then there was a big crash there for a while and that’s when the salmon -- crab canneries really started up and -- there was -- people needed bait.
And so what I did, I got some salmon web and I strung it down underneath Squeaky’s cannery where it was right alongside of the scow that -- where they dumped all of the shells and all the guts and everything of the crabs down in there.
And so the fish would circulate down around there and I’d catch bullheads. Not -- excuse me, not bullheads, tom cod.
And one guy, oh, Selvog, Sam Selvog, I can’t remember the name of his boat, but he -- he liked tom cod. Everybody else wanted herring, but he liked tom cod for some reason and he’d give me a nickel apiece for my tom cod.
So every day, you know, after school and before school, a lot of time, I’d go down there and catch some tom cod.
And it was cold. It was in the wintertime, so they’d just -- I’d put them in the box and they’d kind of freeze up.
And when fishing got really good, well, then I’d run with the skiff and take ‘em down to our house and stick ‘em in the snowbank down there and cover ‘em up so the dogs and everything couldn’t get at ‘em and get a little backlog of fish to sell to Sam Selvog, you know.
And then in the spring we got -- there was an old fellow here by the name of Ed Fieldahl, and Ed Fieldahl had been around for years and he had a little gillnet -- herring gillnet that he’d had stored in his warehouse for years and years and when he saw us fooling around, he says you know, I got this gillnet.
So it was towards the spring by this time, and so we took it down and tied it to the corner of the -- of the gurry scow and then ran it across over to CIP Packing, which cannery had been shut down for a number of years.
And no sooner did we get it across there, the herring hit the thing and sunk it. I mean there was so much herring and we didn’t know what to do.
And -- so the area where it was would go dry at low tide. And so old Ed says, "Well, I show you boys. "
And so we went to his place and he had some sheets of plywood and he cut up these like paddles that he drove nails in at a diagonal and like a rake, you know.
And then we waited ‘til the tide went out and we went down with these paddles and he showed us how to work them and we went and just -- we were dragging the fish right out of the nets like that and put them in boxes.
And, you know, it was quite a thrill. It was really something to catch all those fish and sell them all.
So we always had something going on around here, you know.
Yeah. And only one time do I remember -- at that time I was about, like I say, dad died when I was fifteen, but I did go -- well, one time -- was just before school started in the fall.
Sonny Halverson and I and his stepdad, Ray Sweeney, went up to China Poot for moose hunting. And we got up there, went up back up in behind Neptune Bay there or one of those, whatever they call it.
And got up there too high and the boat went dry and the big tides. It started receding and left us up there and we never did get any moose, but we hunted almost every day.
And we didn’t have any way of making any communications back to Seldovia, you know, and we got in that -- I think it was the night -- I don’t remember how many days we were up there, but by the time we finally got off, it was just -- school had just started, you know.
And I remember my mother and dad were just having fits because they didn’t know whatever happened to us, you know. But we made it back all right. (Laughter) Yeah. Quite the days.
JAN YAEGER: You mentioned a couple of people that I -- I've heard their names quite a bit, but I don’t know much about them. Squeaky Anderson being one. MIKE MILLER: Squeaky, oh, yeah. JAN YAEGER: Yeah. Obviously a big name in Seldovia.
MIKE MILLER: Oh, yeah. Squeaky was quite a guy. He -- the -- I learned a bit more -- I didn’t know much about him at the time. I was a little kid, but I knew that he was -- in Alaska he was a -- he was a war hero, you know.
He was a supply -- he became -- from just being a fisherman to becoming a rear admiral of the U. S. Navy Retired or something and he was -- they called him the beach boss.
And he -- before World War II he had always been in the fishing business in Alaska, and mostly it was around Kodiak. He had a little floating processor down there that he’d operated and so forth.
And I just -- I don’t know even to this day what all he encompassed and what all he did, but, you know, he ended up back here in Seldovia and after being the beach master and the supply master of all of the landings and everything that he did out in the Aleutian Chain and --
He was just a short little fat guy with this squeaky, high squeaky voice, and I mean, it just whistled. His voice whistled, it was so squeaky.
And, but a great old guy, you know. He -- he had all of this military -- this was after World War II, and he had all these -- military this and military that and he had --
like the whole town he painted -- he had some kind of a -- it was a yellow colored paint. It wasn’t a bright yellow. It was kind of like a, I don’t know, a real pale yellow that was some kind of a surplus paint that he'd gotten from the military.
And he had -- he painted the whole town yellow, I mean anything that was Squeaky’s was yellow, you know. The cannery was yellow. The boats were yellow. The tenders were yellow.
And, oh, it was really something, but that was -- that was his mark.
JAN YAEGER: Didn’t he have some of the first drift gillnetters in Cook Inlet? Was that him? MIKE MILLER: Oh, he could have.
JAN YAEGER: Okay. ‘Cause I remember hearing something about them being a particular color. MIKE MILLER: Yeah. JAN YAEGER: That might be exactly why.
MIKE MILLER: Well, it -- it -- you know, I can’t really remember who all started, you know. The guys were --
Most of the boats around here when I was real small were just pieces of junk, you know. Rounded up a piece here and there, that’s about what it was, you know.
And then -- and then some time there in the forties, you know, probably in the late forties, people started bringing boats.
Well, no, there was a couple of guys that built boats here. There was some skiff builders. There was George Cook and there was old man Olssen and on the other side of the slough.
And they -- they -- old man Olssen also built a couple of boats. The Ophelia and the John Adams were built here in Seldovia.
And -- but then the Lawrence Olssen was another one that built a couple of boats here. These are the combination seiner drifters, you know, that you’re speaking of.
And then Squeaky did, though, he had -- he brought a lot of ‘em up from Seattle.
Oh, another boat builder here was Nelson -- Charlie Boy -- Charlie Nelson. He -- Broad Ax Charlie, they called him. And he built a lot of boats for Squeaky.
So -- so what would happen is that in the wintertime after these guys got fishing, a lot of them that had the capability would build boats.
And then to supplement that even, then Squeaky and some of these other, AYR and different canneries, they’d -- they’d have boats built out in Seattle and brought up here on the Alaska Steamship in the spring, you know.
So you had boats flowing from -- rebuilt the fleet, though, in nothing flat.
It didn’t take very long and had a whole new fleet when the fishing really got good. And then everything was whoop, just took a big dive.
By the time we left here in ’56, I don’t think there was even one cannery operating. I know there wasn’t -- operating for salmon here.
There was -- what did they call it? Not a combine, but consolidation. They -- all the canneries in the southern part of the area all consolidated and processed in Port Graham. That was the only cannery that was open.
And that would have been from like 1955, ’56, ’54, ’55, ’56, around in there. And I think they did operate here in ’54. I’m not so sure about ’55 or ’56, though.
But, yeah, they just -- that’s what they did. They just consolidated everything to keep the cost down.
And then things -- what happened -- there was no market for -- the Japanese weren’t really in the game in those days, you know. And then they started coming in and wanting roe and that’s what really started picking things up.
It was like they were getting -- the processors were getting enough for the roe that it was pulling them all right out of the hole, you know.
And there was a joke about before, you know, you catch the fish and you make the money on the roe, you may as well throw the fish away. That’s about what it’s worth because they didn’t get hardly anything for the fish.
Of course, the fishermen themselves, they didn’t -- it didn’t make any difference. You still got the low price, but it was, yeah, it was really a lifesaver. That really changed the fisheries around.
JAN YAEGER: And that was about what years, would you say?
MIKE MILLER: Well, that would've been probably ’57, ’58, around in there, you know. The Japane -- I don’t -- Seldovia they weren’t, but I don’t remember if they had them down in Port Graham either.
I know in Kodiak, during those times -- I was down there in, you know, ’57, ‘58, ’59 and every cannery down there had a contingence of Japanese that were salting the cod -- I mean, the roe in little wooden boxes, you know.
They wanted to have their own -- wanted to have their own people do it. It had to be done their special way. (Laughter) Which was good. Yeah, so I know we covered quite a bit of ground.
JAN YAEGER: We did, yes, thank you. How about -- you mentioned your mom worked for both Tyndle Lipke and Frank Raby? Do you remember much about them?
MIKE MILLER: Yeah, yeah, I do. I remember -- I remember the Lipkes very well. I remember her. I remember --
JAN YAEGER: And Tyndle is Adam’s second wife? Is that right? MIKE MILLER: Adam’s -- You know, I don’t know. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
MIKE MILLER: I mean, I’ve read that book that you’ve got here, but I didn’t remember. It’s been a while so I didn’t remember how they talked about, if they talked about her at all in that book. I don’t know if that was her or not.
JAN YAEGER: And I don’t know off the top of my head either.
MIKE MILLER: Yeah, I can’t remember. As far as I knew, you know, I always thought that they were the original ones, yeah.
But, yeah, they, you know, he had the telegraph office and -- she -- her first store that she had, as I remember it, there was a fellow by the name of Baltazar that had a store directly across from the old Surf Club Bar.
It was on the inside of the boardwalk and right alongside of Colberg’s bakery, which they lived in and cooked in their own -- in the bakery there.
But Baltazar went out of -- he -- I can’t remember if he died or what, but Tyndle then took over that building for a while and had her store there.
And then they built a new place which was right on the boardwalk, right -- right near their home anyway. Their home was -- where are we here? Their home was right over here, and it was right about here someplace.
JAN YAEGER: I've always sort of assumed it was right around where Lipke Lane is now.
MIKE MILLER: Yeah, yeah, that’s right. Yeah, Lipke Lane, that’s where it was. Yeah.
And so she built a new place there and I think it had apartments upstairs there. I remember two apartments upstairs and then the store down below.
And mom worked for her for, I don’t know, three, four years and then got a job working for --
JAN YAEGER: Frank Raby? MIKE MILLER: Frank Raby, excuse me, thank you.
JAN YAEGER: And that was Charlie Sharp’s store before, right? MIKE MILLER: Yeah, it was Charlie Sharp’s. JAN YAEGER: And then Frank Raby bought it?
MIKE MILLER: Yeah. Uh-huh. And that was -- Charlie Sharp and H. S. Young were side by side. And then H. S. Young, he had a heart attack or, I can’t remember, it was either a heart attack or a monstrous stroke or something and died.
And then Frank Raby came -- how did that work? I think Frank -- I’m pretty sure that Frank --
Well, I know that he got together with Winnie Raby, or Winnie Young, and kind of took over the store. He was a -- Frank was a fox farmer from up on Raby Spit and that -- ‘course, the fox farming had gone sphew, down the tube.
And, you know, but I do remember him -- I remember Charlie Sharp. I remember being in there a lot of times in the store with Charlie Sharp.
And then I -- there was a transition from there. Charlie was gone and -- Frank Raby had built this connection between the two stores. A walkway that -- between the two of them and then it was all Frank’s, so --
JAN YAEGER: And that was -- wasn’t that right by the breakwater, kind of where the -- MIKE MILLER: Uh-uh. JAN YAEGER: -- the old market building is now?
MIKE MILLER: Right, that's just about right where it would be, yeah.
Yeah, in fact, the breakwater was -- originally was a reef. That -- that breakwater there was originally it was a reef that ran right out from H. S. Young’s.
JAN YAEGER: Was a natural reef? MIKE MILLER: Natural reef, yeah, and then they just poured rock on top of it. Yeah.
JAN YAEGER: So what was Frank Raby like?
MIKE MILLER: Oh, he was, yeah, a little Jewish guy. (Laughter) He, you know, he was quite a little guy.
I like to tell you one story about him. Mom worked for him for a number of years, you know, and then when my -- when my dad died, we moved Outside.
The first year I came, no, let’s see, what year was it? It was the year I -- the second year I -- the third year I think it was.
When I came back, I went fishing with this guy called Tricky George Johnson down in Kodiak, and we had a terrible season.
But anyway, I told my mom when we were -- before I left California, I said, "Mom, do we owe anybody money in Seldovia or anything? Is there any way I could help out or anything?"
And she says, "Well, you know," she says, "We owe Frank Raby $150." She says, "If you could pay him off that would sure be a big relief from my mind, you know."
And I said, "Sure, you bet, you know." And anyway, I made $400 that season.
And so we came to Seldovia and -- to put the boat away, and I went down and saw Frank and -- I was 18 years old, I believe.
And I said, "Frank, mom said that we owe you some money and I’d like to take care of it, you know."
"Oh, yeah, okay, fine," he said. And so he went back in the office and he come out and he had a bill, 400, or no, $300.
And I said, "Well, I think she said it was less than that." "No, no, this is what it is, you know."
So I had cash and I gave him $300 and I had $100 left for my whole season.
So I left. I got on the tender and we ran down to Bellingham, Washington and returned -- put the tender up for the winter and then I hitchhiked back down to California and that was my summer. (Laughter) It was the worst one I ever had.
JAN YAEGER: And what did your mom say when you said, well, Frank said it was this much?
MIKE MILLER: When I told her, oh, she says, "Oh that Frank. Oh that Frank," she says. (Laughter)
But no, Frank was -- Frank was a good guy, I mean other than that. He was -- he was always good to mom, he really was.
She really liked working down there for him and -- and Mervin Brun was -- was Frank’s right-hand man. He did all the stocking and whatever, you know.
And he was really good at what he did and was always up all the time and joking and laughing and just a great guy to work with. She really liked him.
And -- and let’s see, the other ones that worked down there, I remember,was Opal Hallstead worked there. And she was the wife of that couple that lived in the place there. Earl and her.
And then they moved out and moved up to, gee, I can’t remember, up to Kenai, I believe, after they left here.
And oh, boy, Alice Nutbeem worked there for a while with mom, and I think Elaine Giles worked there with her for a bit before mom left, too.
And I think that’s about all I can remember that worked there.
There -- there’s some interesting things about that. One summer, or one fall, I guess, before I started school, they gave me a job down there for a while helping -- I don’t remember just what it was.
I was probably thirteen years old, I think. And -- so it was helping -- it was helping Mervin move stuff around in the warehouse and so forth.
And the other thing is, too, that, you know, in those days, there was a counter and the clerks were all behind the counter and so when you come in you’d have your grocery list or you’d just go up to the clerk and say well this is what I want, and the clerk would run around and get everything in the store and round it all up.
And, you know, like there was flour in the bins and there was bean in the -- beans and, you know, it’s just a great old store.
And -- and then there was a big old stove in the middle of it. Everybody sat around and -- talked and so forth.
But a lot of the stuff was out in the warehouse, and so they used me as a runner to run out to the warehouse and get stuff and bring it in.
And this one time I went out to the warehouse and I heard this odd sound. It was "hur, hur, hur, hur, hur." What in the world is that? I’m looking around and I couldn’t -- and finally I said I don’t know.
And so I went out and I -- going back in -- I picked up whatever I had to do and I was going back in the store and I run across Mervin, and I say, "Hey, Mervin," I said, "There’s a real odd sound out in the warehouse out there. Maybe you better go check it out."
He said, "Well come, on let’s go." So we went in there.
And what it was was there was a coil of line of, you know, in those days they didn’t have these fancy polypropylene and all that. It was just an old hemp rope, you know, and it was in a bag, like.
And this coil was disappearing and it was going down through a crack, down into -- under the dock.
And so we went out -- there was a -- you went out to the dock and there was an outhouse there that was overhanging on the dock and then not too far from the outhouse was a ladder that went down to the beach.
And when the tide was out you could get down to the beach that way, but the tide was way in. So Mervin ran out there and he ran down there and he looked in there and here’s this old guy, his name was Wildcat Albert.
And he lived over in the lagoon on the other side over -- not in the lagoon itself, but where the little -- where the Native Association built those cabins up there.
And he lived over there by himself and he had a still over there, and, I mean, he made home brew and that sort of stuff, you know.
But he was sitting down there in his skiff. The tide was in and he pulled his skiff up there and he was sitting in there and he was pulling this line down, coiling it up in the bottom of his skiff, you know.
And Mervin hollered over and "Wildcat, Wildcat, you get over here," you know.
And so Wildcat, he kind of rowed over there in his skiff. He says, "Come up this ladder here," and he said -- now how was it, he -- the line hadn’t come all the way out yet. But he could -- It wasn’t that far away.
And he came over to us and -- and -- so Mervin had him come up the ladder and go up on top and coil the line back into the warehouse again, you know. (Laughter) Funny old guy.
JAN YAEGER: He thought he was getting a pretty good deal there for a minute.
MIKE MILLER: Oh, yeah, he thought he was doing a great deal there.
That’s the way all the coils used to come in those days. You cut the lines off around them and then you'd take the end. It was on the bottom and how did you do it?
Flip it over upside down and bring it down through the center or something. I can’t remember exactly how you do it, but that way it wouldn’t be all kinked up when you pulled it off, you know. So, yeah.