Thursday June 19, 2014

XalosIt is no sin to sleep in! Knowing I'd still be struggling from the after effects of surgery I inserted several down time buffers into the schedule. This morning I was able to get eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Terry and I met Alaska Railroad Track Operations Manager Dwight West for lunch at Xalos. We had first met Dwight in 2006 when he was assigned to be my railroad escort. It was pure magic and I will never forget all our adventures including chasing the rip rap train from Anchorage to Cantwell.

An interesting twist to all this is Dwight was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2007. He fought the good fight until October 31, 2012 when he had his bladder removed and a urostomy installed. On September 17, 2013 he saw my bladder cancer post and sent me an email saying, "I understand what you are going through and thought I’d offer you some support while you are traveling down this path. Please, if there is anything at all I can do to help you through this feel free to e-mail or call me, I know how scary this venture can be. I am in your corner." Dwight and I corresponded over the next few weeks and I decided to do a radical cystectomy with neobladder which means removal of the bladder, prostate, pelvic lymph nodes and create an artificial bladder using 18 inches of my small intestine. My surgery took place on October 28, 2013, almost a year after Dwight's operation.Fake outlet

It was great seeing Dwight again and we swapped stories about our surgeries, complications, support systems and recovery. As he had a urostomy and I a neobladder we compared pluses and minuses and both agreed we made the best decisions for ourselves. Just before departing Dwight gave us an Operation Lifesaver pin and wished us safe travels.

Whenever we are at a store or restaurant Terry would say, "Is there a geocache nearby?" Checking my smart phone I spotted one about 250 feet from Xalos so we strolled over to give it a look. As we've been caching for many years and have seen many of the creative tricks we immediately recognized the fake plastic conduit and outlet. Inside was a log sheet and we added our geocaching names (SM325 and Mrs. Amazing) and date to it. From Florida to Alaska to New York to California and every country around the world (except North Korea) the game is played the same way.

After Jim Dennis posted his version of the Healy Hotel shoot out on my website on December 15, 2000 Alaska Railroad locomotive engineer Frank Dewey contacted me and said that isn't exactly how the events went down. Frank was in the building when the shooting started and although he did not witness the melee he knew the details. Unfortunately, Frank never sent me his version so ever since I have been trying to collect as many of the pieces to the puzzle as possible.

During my 2012 visit I asked long time Alaska Railroad employee Curt Rudd what he knew. Although he didn't know much he said I should go straight to the source and ask biker Gerald "Pee Wee" Protzman himself and coincidentally he lived right there in Anchorage. Well, it took me awhile, but I finally tracked him down and called him on the phone. Sure, he would meet with me and discuss the details.

imageGerald met us at the door and lead us into his basement. Gerald hit me as just a regular guy. If I bumped into him on the street I wouldn't have had a clue he was a member of "The Brothers" motorcycle gang.

Gerald mentioned his father worked as a dock superintendant in Whittier and remembers growing up taking the train in and out of town.

In the late summer of 1976 the bikers were headed north to Fairbanks. They also had with them a blue and white bus with "Church of the Nazarene" painted on the side. They had planned to stay in Cantwell, but no rooms were available. When they got to Healy and checked at the hotel they discovered no rooms were available as well. Gerald decided to sleep in the bus. Sometime later someone came banging on the door of the bus. He was told fellow biker "Robot" had gotten shot in the stomach by an Alaska Railroad employee. Gerald immediately got out of the bus with his gun and entered the Healy Hotel bar. He said his body was slammed backward and he fell to the floor. He didn't know it at first, but he had just gotten shot in the arm with a .44 caliber gun. Gerald said he could see a guy was shooting from under the pool table. Gerald, Robot and two girls took off in a pick-up truck and sought treatment at the medic building. They were turned away. So they headed south and got a cabin. Eventually an ambulance came and took them both to a hospital in Fairbanks. Gerald went into surgery. Both he and "Robot" were released two or three days later.

Gerald said the shooting went on for about an hour after he left and eventually the Alaska State Troopers responded. I asked Gerald if he knew the name of the man who had shot "Robot" and initially it wouldn't come to him. When I said the name, "Hatmaker" Gerald lit up and said that was the name. I asked Gerald what had caused the gunfire in the first place, but he said he didn't know.

Gerald said he and Hatmaker (who shot "Robot") were both arrested for assault. An indictment came out of Fairbanks, but Gerald had already returned to California. He was pulled over by the police for something else and discovered the indictment. Gerald got an attorney, all charges were dropped and Alaska waived extradition. Gerald mentioned that Alaska Railroad workers were federal employees, the Healy Hotel was a federal building and that liquor was being served without a license.

Bikers Mike, Charlie and Tom were at the shooting. They are all still living and in the group.

As a final note Gerald said in 1982 the club became Hell's Angels. Before we left he pointed out a painting that an inmate at McNeil Island Penitentiary had done for him.

[Additional note: I recently sent Gerald my interview write-up in the mail and he called me in October saying it looked good. He said next time I am in Alaska he will set me up to interview another member of The Brothers who saw the entire episode through to the end.]

image"All I want is peace, love, understanding and a chocolate bar bigger than my head." - Anonymous Chocoholic. Alaska Wild Berry Products has several chocolate bars bigger than my head so I felt the urge to go. Truthfully, I had visited on a previous trip, but wanted Terry to experience the same euphoria I had. "From Peter Eden's vision, Homer artist Mike Sirl designed and built this 'Chocolate Waterfall.' The falls incorporates over 3000 pounds of chocolate, authentic copper candy kettles, and a specially built warming and mixing system. The chocolate gushes out of the fountain head, cascades down the kettles, then settles in the swirling chocolate pool. The chocolate itself is donated by the Peter's Chocolate Division of Nestle Foods and Guittard Chocolate Company." It is said to be the World's Largest Chocolate Fountain.

No visit is complete without seeing the giant slabs of chocolate. We asked permission to handle them and were given a smiling head nod. In doing so we were also able to "find" a "virtual" geocache. I looked up and down the rows for a chocolate motorcycle for Gerald Protzman as an appreciation gift, but failed to find one. I guess I should have checked the Chocolate Vault as they have several to chose from. Knowing this was Alaska I figured I would stumble upon some chocolate covered salmon in one of the isles. Nope. However, they did have chocolate bacon!

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"Man does not live by trains alone," Alaska Railroad locomotive engineer Frank Dewey said back in July of 2008. He then proceeded to drive me to Lake Hood and opened my eyes up to a fascinating world of float planes. I loved this so much that I wanted Terry to see it as well.

Alaskans are the most wing-worthy of the 50 states given that 1 in 60 have pilot's license and 1 in 70 own a plane. Unsurprisingly, the Lake Hood/Lake Spenard complex is the busiest float plane base in the world, averaging almost 200 operations a day. To add to the excitement, a narrow canal connects the two lakes and many pilots will take off and land right before your eyes. Terry loved watching the planes as well and we vowed to someday return take on of these flights.

Before we left I told Terry I had snagged a geocache here in 2012 and she should "find" it as well. I got her to within 25 feet of the hide and she knew right away where to look. She pulled off the cap of the fence post and found the container glued inside of it.

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    Geocache under fence post cap

It is interesting how my website brings people together. On January 3, 2007 a gentleman by the name of David Blazejewski sent me an email saying, "Just wanted to drop you a quick note to say how much I enjoy your web site. You are one seriously dedicated railfan to put together a site like this! It has actually been very informative as I am presently debating whether or not to accept a position with the ARR." Dave did accept that position and we became good friends over the years. On this trip he and his partner Cass had invited Terry and I to their Anchorage Government Hill home for a true Alaskan cookout. Yes, he made me an offer I couldn't refuse!

Dave had also invited his friend Frank Keller and his girlfriend Janie Reed. Frank had come to Alaska at Dave's urging and eventually landed a job with the Alaska Railroad. Dave and Frank just love to poke fun at each other. Both claim to be the better photographer and argue vehemently about their photos. The one thing they did agree on is my photos look like crap. I explained that I do not need to take good photos as I had each of them at my disposal to provide drop dead awesome snapshots. After their laughter subsided I explained I was merely documenting my trips the easiest and least time consuming way I knew how. The weather usually was not my friend, but I always played the cards I'd been dealt. I wanted website visitors to feel like they could duplicate the photos I had taken when they visited Alaska.

Soon Cass started bringing out the food. Halibut, salmon, rolls, corn on the cob, shish kabob and ice cream. Terry and I were seated at the best restaurant in town! Alaska Railroad employee Curt Rudd eventually stopped by and greet me by saying, "Welcome home!"

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After we had stuffed ourselves full, Blaze and Cass took Terry and I on a tour of the area. We drove out to a location where brand new homes overlooked the Anchorage rail yard. Blaze elbowed me and said this would be the perfect home for a railfan like me as I could spend my evenings in a lawn chair with a telephoto lens snapping photo after photo. This was pretty tempting!

Leaving the newest homes we drove a short distance to the oldest homes on Government Hill. Blaze parked his truck near a city park and we made a short walk to a clearing in the woods. We ended our evening with a lovely view of Mount Susitna (Sleeping Lady) and the Port of Anchorage tank farm.


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