Anchorage resident and Alaska Railroad author Kenneth C. Brovald, 71, died of heart and kidney failure Jan. 23, 2000, at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.
A memorial service will be at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Jewel Lake Parish, 3833 Strawberry Road. His ashes will be interred in the Seattle area.
Mr. Brovald was born Jan. 15, 1929, in rural New Effington, S.D., and graduated from high school in Rosholt, S.D.
He attended telegraph school in Minneapolis, Minn., and went to work for the Chicago Northwestern Railroad as a telegrapher and station agent in 1949. He worked for CNW Railroad stations in several locations in the United States, the Cottonbelt Railroad in Los Angeles, The Association of American Railroads and the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad in Seattle. During this period he attended night school and correspondence courses and received a bachelor of laws degree from LaSalle Extension University.
In 1975, he came to Alaska as transportation coordinator for Fluor Engineers to transport materials for the building of the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline. When the pipeline was completed, he worked for BP/Sohio in transportation until 1981. Mr. Brovald then owned and operated the Alaska Treasure Shop on Fourth Avenue from 1982- 1990- when he retired and devoted his time to writing.
He authored "Alaska's Wilderness Rails" and numerous magazine articles on the Alaska Railroad and other U.S. railroads.
His family said: "Ken loved railroads, trains, books, travel (especially by train) and his family. He was full of life and wit with a sense of humor. He was fun to be with. He was an incredible fountain of knowledge concerning railroading. He had a very independent and feisty nature and made many life-long friends."
Mr. Brovald was a member of Jewel Lake Parish and the Military Society of Model Railroad Engineers.
He is survived by his wife of nearly 50 years, Arlene (Osborn) Brovald; sons, Russell K. Brovald and, Scott Brovald and his wife, Cindy; granddaughters, Nicole and Leah Brovald; brothers, Curtis and Jim Brovald; sisters, Delores Quaal and Arvilla Ostby; and stepbrothers and stepsisters.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Nettie and Arthur Brovald; stepfather, Frank Navratil; and brother, Dennis Brovald.
Memorial donations may be made to the American Diabetes Association, 801 W. Fireweed Lane, Suite 103, Anchorage 99503 or to the Alaska Kidney Foundation, 4160 Tudor Centre Road, Anchorage 99508.
Cremation arrangements were handled by Alaska Cremation Center.
Man's love of railroad remembered
Anchorage Daily News
August 18, 2001
By S. Jane Szabo
A bench made of a few wooden planks might seem like a simple thing.
But the Train Watching Bench dedicated July 31 represents the lifetime of both a country, America; and a man, Ken C. Brovald.
The planks in Brovald's life were railroad ties -- his life revolved around the world of trains. That's why his wife and friends dedicated the Train Watching Bench in the memory of Brovald, who died Jan. 23 last year.
Brovald grew up loving trains, according to his wife, Arlene. For a small-town boy from the Midwest, they represented the larger world and, on a personal level, adventure and possibility.
"Growing up in North Dakota, the shriek of a train whistle was a signal to view the world," is found in a collection of Brovald's folksy testimonials to trains. "Once I heard it, my imagination would not rest."
Fun in the Dakotas in the 1940s meant hanging out at the depot. Brovald was intrigued with the telegraph, and that developed into his career.
Between 1948 and 1959, he worked in dozens of depots in the Midwest, running the telegraph.
Arlene described their years working the "extra board," with Chicago Northwestern Railroad, when Ken substituted as a telegraph operator. It was a lifestyle of living in rooming houses, small-town hotels or even the depots themselves.
"We cooked hot dogs, pork and beans and coffee on the potbelly stove in the depot and slept on an Army cot," she said. Ken eventually got a permanent job and worked for Chesapeake and Ohio, St. Louis Southwestern Railway and the Association of American Railroads during his 24-year railroad career.
References to the American past are like dust in the interstices of a biographical sketch of his life that his wife wrote: cream cans, radio abolishing telegraph jobs, the 40-hour work week, night school, the extra-board, bidding for positions, copying telegraph at 15 words per minute. It's the bio of a grandparent's generation, where every kid wanted an American Flyer model train for Christmas, where every dime was hard-fought.
Alaska was the end of the line in Brovald's train career. He and his wife came here in the mid-'70s, after their sons, Russ and Scott, were grown. He came to work in transportation on the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.
In 1981, he bought a gift store, Alaska Treasure Shop, on Fourth Avenue, that he ran for about 10 years.
But the clickity-clack of the rails continued to haunt Brovald, or as his wife puts it, "Train men are a breed all in themselves."
Brovald installed an S gauge Alaska Railroad model layout that ran around the shop. He sold hand-painted Alaska Railroad model trains there. Brovald spent the quiet days going through photographs and created a book called "Alaska's Wilderness Rails." He also wrote several articles and another book, "Silent Towns on the Prairie." During his life, he rode Amtrak, Canadian Rails, the TransSiberian Railroad and the Indian Pacific in Australia.
Brovald went full time with his interest after selling the gift shop and retiring in 1990. He worked on his model trains, both S gauge and HO gauge, and developed a large library of railroad books.
He installed train pictures and posters in the stairwell at the family's Jewel Lake-area home, along with an alarm clock and phone with train whistles. He gathered other knickknacks and wore an engineer's cap sometimes. He collected an estimated 1,000 train books that Arlene is in the process of selling.
When Brovald wasn't reading or writing about trains, he'd talk about them with his friends in the Military Society of Model Railroad Engineers. When he wasn't reading, writing or talking about them, he was listening to hear them coming down the track.
"Toward the end, he was hard of hearing, but a train whistle, he could hear for miles in the middle of the night. He could hear the trains going across Dimond over there. Whenever he heard them, I wouldn't even know one was near. He'd pull off to the side of the road and we'd have to wait to see it go by."
Arlene Brovald decided to make a tribute to her husband and his interest. The bench was the idea of a friend, Heather Calkins, whose 9-year-old son once enjoyed Brovald's trains. Calkins had a dream about Brovald after he died that inspired the bench project.
"He'd come to her and said he was OK and that he'd like to have a place where people could watch trains," Brovald said. The idea took off and gained enthusiasm among Brovald's fellow model trainers, members of his Jewel Lake Carrs coffee klatch and other friends. The organizers had to jump through various municipal hoops to do the project, but finally it was ready for the dedication.
About 40 people turned out on a warm, cloudy day for the dedication, which included bagpipe music, dedication by the Revs. Jim and Kay Shock of Jewel Lake Parish, readings from Brovald's train aphorisms and a railroad prayer.
"A train came as we were about to begin, and after it was over another one came," Arlene Brovald said.
Arlene says she goes downtown to the bench often. "When a
train goes by, everybody runs to watch -- little kids, big kids, everybody.
There are coal trains, gravel trains, the Whittier train. There's always somebody
sitting on the bench. We get to chatting, and I tell them, That's my husband's
bench.' You get a neat conversation going -- usually about trains."