Taking A Drive

To the End of the Road in 1948

I’m not sure why the mind wanders so much to the past when you age, but it does. The older I get the easier it seems to remember what happened decades ago and the harder it is to remember what happened yesterday!

My friend Paki came by one day early last summer and took me out for brunch at the Picnic Club in Girdwood. The weather was clear and sunny so the drive from Anchorage along Turnagain Arm was beautiful, and it was great to get out of the house.

As we drove to Girdwood my mind slipped back to 1948. The new highway to Seward was under construction (it was not completed until 1951) and my dad’s sister and mom’s parents were visiting us from California. We’d moved to Anchorage in 1946 and had not seen them for two years.

Dad suggested we drive “to the end of the road” (which was in the general area of Potter’s Marsh and Rabbit Creek back then) to see how the highway work was progressing. We got there and for some reason no work was being done, but it was obvious they were dealing with a real mess between the muskeg and the quicksand-like clay. One excavating machine was tilted over and there was slop everywhere. When they were considering a bridge across Turnagain Arm instead of going around the long way, they discovered that the glacial clay in the Arm is over 600 feet deep in places!

As a young kid (5-6 years old) I was always attracted to what I called “steam shovels.” I often managed to talk my way into the cabs with the operators while they worked. I spent hours in the cab of the one that dug all the sewer lines along 9th and 10th Street back in the early ‘50s. I remember one driver insisted I turn my head and close my eyes from time to time after he let me up in the cab with him. It took me a few days to discover he was taking swigs of whiskey from a bottle he kept hidden under the seat!

Anyway—I wanted to get out of the car and go over to the “steam shovel” and check it out. My aunt was a very prim and proper lady, but for some reason she said, “I’ll get out with Denny (that’s me) and walk with him.” She was dressed (as all ladies were when they left the house back in those days) in a dress, nylons, etc. She got out with me and I ran over to the machine and started climbing up into it. She called for me to be careful and started making her way toward me.

Well, she was not aware of the pitfalls of walking in areas where there was muskeg and sloppy clay and she ended up stepping in the wrong place and losing both of her shoes in the muck! Oh dear, was she upset. She kind of shrieked and started doing sloppy, slow-motion, suction-dance maneuvers. When I saw her I thought it was so funny I started laughing up a storm—definitely NOT the correct response! She got upset with me (for some reason it was not funny to her) and my parents chewed me out. But you know what? Even though that happened 70 years ago, I still laugh when I think about it.

The second memory involves my grandpa on this same outing. He walked over to Rabbit Creek and saw all the salmon in it. He called Grandma over and while they were “oohing and ahhing” he just reached down and pulled a large red salmon out of the stream with his hand. He was so excited! He insisted that Grandma take a picture of him and his fish with her box camera. When they got back to California and developed the film, he showed that photo to everyone and told them how he had caught the fish! The sad thing is that nobody believed him! They simply could not imagine that many fish being in a stream, let alone someone being able to reach in and grab one. That fish gave Grandpa a day of excitement and years of frustration.

Well, so much for my time-travel event—it just made that pleasant drive with my friend Paki along Turnagain Arm even more enjoyable.

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