Lasting Impressions of a Summer Vacation


Our chickens are coming home to roost in Iraq. The slaughter and disruption of so many people’s lives is incomprehensible to us. I cannot imagine the terror of cruise missiles and tanks sweeping across our country by some super power because we have a dictatorial leader from which we need to be saved.


I’m not sure how I came to doubt such big government excess. Our experiences and upbringing shape us all in different ways, so we should always consider the source of any information. With that in mind, this column will tell the story of my summer of 1976. It helped shape my opinions in “The Alternative.”


Lumber prices were in the dumps in 1976. I was a choker setter at the time. I ran around putting cables around logs so they could be pulled out of the woods. With job prospects looking grim (and a thirst for adventure), I decided to go up to Southeastern Alaska.


I flew Alaska Airlines to Ketchikan in April soon after a similar jet had run off the end of a runway. Unfortunately, I was a month too early for the logging season. I did odd jobs around Ketchikan trying to stretch the $100 I brought for a grub-stake. Soon I got a job on a 37-foot salmon fishing boat. The owner and I headed to Juneau with a fridge full of rotten food. I don’t think I’ve ever met a bigger jerk before or since. We had a 12-foot following sea that tossed that little cork around and nearly made me seasick for the first time in my life.


I felt some guilt for leaving the guy without help but there are two sides to every story. Maybe he appreciated my replacement more or maybe he sold his boat and went to work as a prison guard.


When we arrived in Juneau I went to the state Job Service office and found a job with Erickson Air-Crane, who was clearing a right-of-way for a power line from a hydro-electric plant. They had completed the line along a ridge-top a year earlier but it blew down. The Army Corps of Engineers doesn’t take advice from mere mortals about 100 mile-per-hour winds with five feet of wet snow. They think they know better, like Donald Rumsfeld.


When we arrived at the site we came upon a guy in fatigues with a Homelite trying to saw off roots in dirt and rocks. He was cursing the poor saw because it wouldn’t cut with teeth like BBs. Anyway, we were laid off after two and a half days because the support barge wasn’t there yet. The boss didn’t like me much because I had worked for Columbia Helicopters before and he never called me back. Columbia and Erickson were rivals, each claiming to be the first successful helicopter loggers.


Juneau was an interesting place. Tourists and bureaucrats flourished there but it wasn’t like other Alaskan towns. There was no industry. I stayed in the Franklin Hotel for a couple of nights. It smelled of Pine Sol disinfectant and had a plywood door on a common bathroom. Then the money ran out and I camped in my down sleeping bag and tent in a canyon with avalanches rumbling all night. The cold drizzle never let up and everything I had was wet. I would go to the bakery and library to warm up.


I called my dad, who sent $50. I had heard there was the best deal on a meal at the Baranof Hotel. I followed the instructions. Get a table for one. Order a seafood chowder to start. They brought a five story relish tray and a huge mounded-up bowl of chowder with French bread and real butter. I was stuffed and honestly said, “I can’t hold any more.” Five dollars filled a shrunken stomach. I tear up to think what a blessing this was. I wonder if the manager knew of his charity.


Next, I caught the ferry to Sitka. I put my name in at Job Service. Employers depended on that pool of workers to simplify hiring in the frontier environment. I moved into a ranch style house with all linoleum floors that was The Salvation Army. A more appropriate name could not exist. Within a week I was on a float plane (with plywood doors!) heading to Rowan Bay to work for Bud Brown Logging.


Logging camp was an experience in itself and must wait for another day to tell. But it was a good example of how central planning can work. It works when all parties consent. We all gained from the work done there, not like what we did to Iraq.





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