Railroad Brats

by Sherry Hetzler

Growing up a Railroad brat…..

We have all heard about military brats, so I kind of think my little brother and I would be considered railroad brats since we were basically raised along the Alaskan Railroad tracks. Our two older brothers lived with Grandma and went to school in the winters, but spent summers with the rest of us.

According to what family has told me I was a little over three years old when we first went to Alaska, Steve would have been about nine months old. I am not sure which section house we went to first, I have a lot of vague memories from the start, and I know we were at several different ones until I was nine.
I am guessing Dad must have been a relief foreman at first as there were seemingly so many. Hurricane, Sherman, Honolulu, Broad Pass, Gold Creek, Lakeview, Birchwood, and Johnson, Seward in which order I can't say for sure, but it seems like Sherman, Honolulu, Lakeview, Birchwood, Johnson and Seward were the order of the last ones. I know I can describe some of the houses, but some are only vague memories. Fire, bears, lots and lots of snow, G.I.'s and trains, gas cars, eggs, airplanes, are all there.

I have a picture of Mom holding Steve in front of the Curry hotel, and there was another of just Mom later on also in front of the hotel. The first one had to have been 1949 the year we went to Alaska, as Steve doesn't look old enough to be walking on his own.

I think it was at Hurricane that my Dad and two older brothers had a major war. I remember watching them in the crew's quarters, and all of a sudden the boys both jumped on Dad. And as big as they were (the older boys are 12 and 15 years older then I am), Dad literally whopped them both. I have no idea what that was about, just that the boys were beating on my Daddy and I was crying. I remember Mom hushing me and getting me ready for bed and tears running down her face too. According to my eldest brother (Ed) that never happened…like heck. I think it was also at Hurricane that the second brother (Jerry) and one of the younger crew members had gotten permission to stay at an old trapper's cabin just up the tracks from the section on an overnight camp out. It seems like the condition was that the crew man had better be up and ready to go to work with the rest of the crew in the morning. Need I say the boys didn't show up? Mom who was also the section cook where ever we were was delegated to go after the boys apparently since I remember her and I walking down the tracks with Steve between us.

When we got close to the cabin Mom called to the boys and we could hear them hollering back to watch out for the bear. Must not have been any sight of bear, or Mom wouldn't have walked up to that cabin with us two little kids. Inside that cabin was ripped to pieces, everything tossed and or broken really a mess. And the boys? Up in the loft as far back from the edge as they could get. During the night a bear had broken into the cabin probably smelling the food the boys took, and they swore they barely made it up the ladder (which the bear also knocked over) safely.

I only remember being a Broad Pass as a visitor, possibly so that Dad could talk to that foreman about the section. I know it was the first time I knew for sure there were other kids up there as they had a daughter a couple years older than I was.

Sherman looms largest in my memory. We were told from the beginning if you see a great big dog you get into the house. It was my job to keep an eye out for those great big "dogs" and get Steve inside if I saw one on our side of the Susitna River. Jerry had a husky named Nipper who slept on an old bear hide under the gas car shed, and he was terrified of bears. When he started barking from as far under that shed as he could get we knew it was time to get inside.

The gas car / tool shed was next to the tracks on the south side of the house, and the outhouse and later the generator shed set down near the steep bank that was at the back of the house with a long boardwalk leading to the house itself. The front of the house faced the tracks, and there was a coal shed in front of it on the north side. As you entered the front door, there was Daddy's office built under the stairs that went to the crew quarters on the second floor. Down the hall from that was where the phone hung on the wall, and a stove, and the big laundry tubs and Mom's wringer washer. At the end of the hall was a big room that held the family living room area, a big table, and the kitchen and pantry. Bedrooms were on the front south side of the house. I don't believe there was electricity when we first got there and Dad bought (or the railroad did) a generator and built the shed and wired the house. Later, Mom also taught me school lessons in a corner of the great room. Steve and I were in the first bedroom, and that's where he bottle broke himself I think, back then all baby bottles were glass (and I have a scar on my lip to prove it), and he would drink his bottle and whap it on the crib rail and break it including the last one. I remember also that at one of the first sections he would share his bottle with a bear cub. Mom said he would take a drink and then give the cub a drink too. Obviously there were several men on the crews, and quite a few were native Alaskans. One of the crews' mothers made parkas for both of us kids just like she would have for her own children. I know the parents paid for them, but how much I don't know, but there were matching mukluk's too, and little hand carved Eskimo dolls with parkas and a dog sled.

I know days when the grocery orders came in a member of the crew stayed at the house and helped Mom get things put away either in the attic storage area or in the pantry. This one particular time, there was a case of eggs. Probably 20 dozens of eggs. Steve was walking pretty well then. I would guess he liked hearing Mom break all those eggs every morning, so he decided to help.

He laid dozens of eggs on the pantry floor while Mom was busy with whatever chore and then he walked on them. I do believe his diaper got dusted and he was put to bed for a nap. I got to do the dirty deed and tell Mom what he was doing when she sent me to see.

Mom was pretty upset still when Dad and the crew got in and she told him what had happened. They pretty much had to buy that broken case of eggs by replacing it.

Usually when breakfast was over and the crew was having the last cup of coffee before heading out Mom would take us kids out to feed the squirrels. Well this particular morning we heard the squirrel scratching at the screen door and Mom opened the back door and let me and Steve unto the back porch first. It was real up close and personal when I looked up at the biggest brown bear I never wanted to be that close to. That sucker filled the entire doorway. How Mom got the two of us back inside the house and slammed the door is beyond me. Talk about a spooked crew, the whole section was armed within minutes and they chased after that hungry for pancakes bear for hours. Never caught up with it either.

And then there was the trains, it was a big deal for us to go out and wave at the engineers and whoever else on the freight trains, and sometimes they would toss us candy from the engine as they roared by. And a passenger train was arm waving heaven. I think we probably thought everyone lived on those trains and they went by just so we could wave.

Of course everything was bought in bulk, including medicines and that entire sort of thing.

Imagine our delight when one day Steve and I found this great big chocolate bar in Mom's medicine drawer. I am not sure how much we ate, before Mom caught us. But let me tell you we spent a whole lot of time running to the outhouse because it was EX-LAX.

Another time Mom was getting us ready to go out to the outhouse, and she let me go ahead first while she finished getting Steve buttoned up and I came right back in to tell her that Daddy's little house was on fire. Remember I said the generator shed was next to the outhouse? Well you could say they were a lost cause, both buildings. Now here you have a woman with two really small children, a fire, and the crew probably at least half a mile from where she was. Some choice, leave the kids and hope they stayed on the tracks, leave them in the house attached to the fire by a boardwalk, or run and scream and let the kids follow. Yet we were taught never to go beyond the last of the sheds alone. I think we were more upset over having wet ourselves then having the shed and outhouse burn. Actually we were lucky that the brush on the bank didn't catch and the whole section burn.

One winter there must have been a lot of snow, because there was a huge amount of it in the front where the crew and dad cleared the walkways to the tracks and the stuff that got thrown up by the plow trains as they roared past. It was so high, that Dad and one or more of the crew made us a huge igloo (the only one I ever saw). Actually they hollowed out that big bank of snow after it got all crusty frozen and it was big enough inside not only for us to play out of the weather, but Dad could stand up inside and he was 6'2" tall. It was really neat when the sunshine would turn the whole thing into a glistening castle. I know we both cried when it finally melted.

And there was this tree. Why when the land was cleared I suppose for the section buildings this one lone pine or fir was left is beyond me, but in every movie Dad took at Sherman there was that silly tree.

And the bush pilots, those men were NUTS! They would buzz the section or the crew if they saw them on the tracks and then land their planes on the far bank of the Susitna River. And someone would go across in the rowboat that was there and bring them to the house. I don't recall now which one it was that made a really bad landing, and he broke his airplane. I believe he hit a boulder and that broke off the wheel, and it tipped and broke a wing too. I do know Dad had it on one of his movies, whether it was the after or during I am no longer sure.

Illness didn't seem to be a big problem probably because we were pretty much isolated at the sections. I just don't remember getting sick there like we did when we moved closer to people. Mom had an infected tooth one time and before it was over, she was totally paralyzed from the infection. I remember Dad cooking, and someone taking care of her and fetching and carrying and watching Steve. We spent a lot of time playing next to her bed before they got her on the train to see a dentist and get that tooth fixed. I am guessing that Dad probably called the military medics from Ft. Hurricane to see what they could do and possibly they gave her antibiotics. When we went down to the lower 48 for the funerals of grandparents, we came home with measles the first time and chicken pox the next time. That's also where I learned the when someone else upchucks so do I. And I do to this day, every time. Something to do with rough flights and a pregnant lady who would get sick and I would right along with her. I don't recall anyone else getting injured or ill other then that. At least not at Sherman.

Trips into town were always some kind of adventure. We got to ride on the train and talk to the conductors who waved at us, and there were lots of people, even kids.

The first time I saw anyone possibly die, I was about four and a half, looking out the window of the Palace Hotel in Anchorage. There were two men standing across the street and they were arguing, even I knew they were fighting. Then one of the men poked something at the other one and he fell down and got blood all over the snow.

Lord did my mother have a major fit. I thought it was pretty cool because there were policemen and lights and sirens and Mom made me go to bed. The stores were awesome to us, the lights and all the stuff we had absolutely no use for.

Train wrecks? Oh yes, some I remember from Dad's movies, whole trains all over the edge of the tracks. I seem to recall at least four derailments, some because of "warped" rails due to the sun and temperature changes, some were moose that fought the train, and it seems like at least one that was partially caught under an avalanche at 21 mile. Seems like one happened because a siding switch hadn't been thrown properly. And then there were the waterfalls that froze across the tracks. I don't know why I think Dad used dynamite once, and it seems like they had something burning in a barrel that someone had to go check on every so often to keep the ice buildup off the rails.

Always we were with our parents. I remember trying to keep up with Dad when we went for walks to check this or that on the line. Except sometimes we would be put to bed and one of the crew or our older brothers would stay with us so Mom and Dad could go Bug Hunting. Hated that, I wanted to go too.
I started school at home with the Calvert course school. It was something Mom ordered from who knows where. She taught both of us kids to read, do math and almost write right up until it was time for me to start the third grade. Neither of my parents went to a formal school past the third grade, and Mom was afraid that she couldn't teach me beyond that which is why when I was nine we moved south to Lakeview. Both were avid readers though and taught themselves many things throughout their lives.

From Sherman it seems like we loaded all our furniture and belongings into part of a box car and went to Honolulu.

Honolulu…..I am not sure when we went there, or if there were other sections in between, but it was the last one it seems up north of Anchorage. I know we went to Fairbanks one winter and learned about ice fog. That was really impressive and bloody cold too, even with our parkas and mukluks. Seems like a couple of the crew became fairly close to the family there too.

I am not sure but it also seemed like the Army boys from Ft Hurricane were frequent visitors not only at Honolulu, but at another section. I know Dad had gotten into photography really big at Sherman I think, and he would take photos of a lot of those men for them to send home.

Dad had at least two still cameras, and the movie camera, and there are a whole lot of photos of Steve and me from practice shots he took while learning about these cameras. One became known as the bean camera. Mom would always pack a lunch for the crew to take if they were going further from the house then a mile or so, and there was always something hot, like bean soup in her big mixing bowl, covered with foil and wrapped in a big towel. Guess Dad laid that little camera on top of the bean soup one day and somehow it wound up in the soup. He took that camera apart, and cleaned it and put it back together and used it for many years afterwards. When he would send one of us for a camera we would ask which one the big one or the bean camera. The big one was a press camera, like the reporters used. It took a dive too, off the Hurricane Gulch Bridge, all the way to the bottom. Broke that baby all to bits, but Dad climbed all the way down and found every little bit of it. I am sure he probably had to get some parts from the company, but he had it forever too.

I recall being invited to Ft Hurricane to watch movies, they would even get cartoons and Disney type of movies for us kids, probably most of the crew went with us, but I can't swear to that. The Army would come to the section and they would play cards and visit several times a month or so it seems.
They were still using the Steam engines when we went to Honolulu, and it was pretty cool getting to run through the steam as it poured out of the bottom vents I suppose of the gigantic engines. At any rate I remember the big round looking water tower that was there when we first moved there. It burnt one night it seemed like forever. And of course so did the sheds next to it. It also seems like they had gotten the new tower partly built and it burnt also. I kind of think in both cases those towers had some extra help to get them burning. I know the second fire Dad had taken a movie of, but it was lost in ‘64.
And there was Ernie's cabin up on the hill just about a half mile from the section house.

I remember Mom saying it was a beautiful cabin, he had peeled all the logs, and varnished them and it was a woman's dream home (well for Alaska it was). Everything was really neat and clean and all clear varnished everywhere. But apparently the woman of Ernie's dreams decided she didn't love him enough to move to the middle of nowhere and refused to marry him. I know the cabin was visible from the back of the sections house, there were movies of that too, the night he got drunk and doused it in gasoline and lit it up. Fortunately he had cleared around the cabin and even put in a big flower bed with flowers for his lady, so there was no danger of forest fire.

It was a really cold windy probably a blizzard night when Ft Hurricane went up in smoke.

The Army had a troop stationed there to protect the bridge from the RUSSIANS. Lord did that ever scare a little kid, I really expected giant mean people, until I met my first Russian. It was basically a tent city type of set up, with one or two Quonset huts for the offices or cook shack and rec. hall. And huge guns that always were manned (I think).

Anyhow someone was having trouble with keeping his tent stove going and opened the door and threw gas into the hot stove. I remember the phone ringing and Dad and the crew flying out the door putting on coats as they ran.

As I understand it, only the two Quonset huts survived the fire. They brought the injured to the section because I suppose we had electric and warmth and at least Dad knew what to do for the burned men as he had been badly burnt before I was born when his gas boat blew up in Seattle or Tacoma. I seem to remember sitting beside one of those men and holding his hand and I couldn't have been more then seven maybe eight.

It seems like the worse burnt man or men were packed in snow and a lot of them were crying something awful. I think they sent out a special to get those injured men in to the hospitals, though I couldn't tell you if they sent the train from Anchorage or Fairbanks. I know it was a night from hell for all of them. I don't think the medic's drugs were burnt at least not all of them, but that's also not something I am sure of. I suppose it was a shock to me to see grown men cry and carry on like I know they did. These guys were probably all pretty young themselves, maybe early 20's at the most. One had both hands bandaged, and held them up a lot. I have often wondered how many of those men survived those burns. I suppose the worst may not have.

Moose didn't seem to be much of a problem, not like the bears anyway. But there was one who decided to camp on the boardwalk between the section house and the outhouse. He liked the cleared path I guess, and since it was a fairly high walkway and the snow was level with it, there had to have been a lot of snow that winter. I kind of think maybe he wound up as dinner after a day or so of not being able to go out the back door.

But until Lakeview that was the only moose I remember causing a problem.

For some reason Jerry was with us that winter, and he skied all over the area around the section. Mom had gotten us little skies for Christmas that year, and we skied just like Jerry, we even had our own little hills and we had a blast going down like the speed of whatever the heck it was. Well, Steve and I were pretty small kids, not much weight to either of us. We stayed on the surface of the snow easily. Jerry being older and much heavier would sometimes break though the surface, especially where the sun had hit the snow. Our hills unknown to Jerry was actually buck brush the wild shrubs that was everywhere. He decided because we were actually going from one little hill to the top of another that this looked like fun so he tried it too. Need I say they put him on the train to Anchorage because he broke through one of our hills and broke his leg? We were pretty upset that he broke our hill too.

Ernie had a dog, a St. Bernard, and that dog was our favorite toy. On grocery days, we would get the boxes and pile them as high as we could and then Steve and I would crawl into a couple of boxes and call Hiram. That dog would bound into those boxes like a big snowplow to rescue us kids from who knows what. Over and over until those boxes were totally demolished.

Steve got a tricycle that same Christmas we got the skis and it was pretty hard for him to ride it on the ground, so he took it out the back door onto the boardwalk to the outhouse. I don't know how many times he didn't make the whole length of the boardwalk before he finally put the front tire in between the middle boards and then he couldn't fall over the edge anymore. Sure shredded that front tire though. Before he was though with that trike there was no rubber whatsoever left on that rim.

Mike Shelby was one of the crew at the Honolulu section, and one time I heard him tell my Dad, I am in love with your wife. Hey now, that's my mommy. I am not sure exactly what else was said, I was probably not supposed to be where I was and got myself into trouble yet again. But whatever happened, he seemed to be good friends with both parents and when he would go to town on leave, he always brought Mom a box of candy when he came back and each of us a toy or something. And later when we moved south he would spend at least part of his vacation with us. He was probably the only crew member as big as my Dad, those two together would pick up things that would take four of the rest of the crew to move.

As I said I used to walk the tracks with Dad, surely a pain in his whatever, since I really wasn't very big, but he would let me walk with him anyhow. If you have ever looked at the ties, you know those spaces between them are not really all that big, but I was small enough I could lay between the ties and just brush them on either side. Well, one night Dad wanted to walk the Hurricane Gulch Bridge, and I begged to go with him. Mom had a fit, but Dad said let her go. Before we got to any open part he told me I had to hold his hand really tight. Oh My God In Heaven! Scared me silly, it was a really really long way down to the bottom, nothing like the other bridges. Its really a wonder Dad's fingers didn't fall off I squeezed them so hard. I discovered then I have a definite fear of heights.

It seems to me about this time one of the bush pilots had gone down too, and a party was sent out from the crew to see if they could find him. I don't recall who it was nor if they ever located the downed plane.

And then there was Lakeview…..

I know it seemed like there was always "company". I suspect that meant anyone not already living at the section, or at least working there. I remember the car coming down the tracks, and pulling into the sidings or just stopping in front. We thought it was pretty cool that the man could put his car on the tracks like a train.

Of course the pilots, trappers or whatever that stopped by occasionally. Probably foremen from up or down the tracks, and of course the military men.
On one occasion and neither Steve nor I remember which section it was at one of those Military men saved my baby brother from a bear. I had totally forgotten the incident, until he reminded me this summer. How it happened I have no idea. Apparently Steve was playing his own game and I was closer to the house doing my thing, or inside he didn't remember either, but there were at least two "Army" guys out there. Why we don't know, possibly playing a game of catch, but they were there. At any rate Steve says that all of a sudden one of those guys told him to stand very very still, and because of our learning so young that we had to obey something like that, he did. Somehow a bear had gotten into the yard area undetected until it was right by Steve. Then on of those brave young men edged his way between Steve and that bear, and I suppose the other one either worked his way into the house for gun backup or I was told to go in and get Dad and a gun for bear. Somehow those details are gone, probably due to fear. More then likely since it was summer the bear wasn't hungry, just nosey or curious about what was going on. Quite possibly it was just as surprised as the rest of us. What happened then we aren't sure, the bear was either frightened off, or possibly shot. Back then it was people first critter last.

I know Mom's dad came to visit when we were at Sherman, Dad and his movies, recorded that. Mom always told the story about Grandpa Shultz swearing he wouldn't eat bear meat, and making a big thing about it. Then complimenting her on the "pork" roast she served for dinner that evening. Of course that pork was bear, and he just couldn't believe it. He never said anymore about bear meat either. It seems like Dad's Mom came up once when we were up north, but it's a vague memory I can't be sure.

Possibly that's where the story came from that I had refused another ear of canned corn on the cob (my favorite) cause I didn't want to get fat like Grandma…I heard about that often.

I know various cousins who lived in Alaska came occasionally, and often some of the G.I.'s would come back after they left the military for visits or to introduce a new wife or baby. We had a picture of twin baby girls no one now knows whose they were except they were not family. The tiny little girls were both wearing casts trying to correct club feet. I think they were a soldier's baby's but can't be sure, nor am I sure which section this was at.
I suspect there were many others too, but I really don't remember any, I haven't yet figured out where they would have put them to sleep, as the houses always seemed so full.

Vacations varied lots of camping trips, usually along rivers where the fishing was good, if the older boys were there anyhow. Jerry it seems was always playing on some river with rafts or swimming and taking sweats with the native crew members and then jumping into a river. Once I know the parents boarded Steve and me with someone. Apparently the woman had a foster care going, and that's where we were left. I seem to recall a lot of Quonsets in an area, so maybe it was a military camp of some sort. It was summer, but whether it was in Anchorage or Fairbanks I don't know. There was an older native girl there at the same time, and she kept me with her most of the time.

Then Mom decided that she couldn't teach me any longer, and Steve was soon going to need teaching too although as little as he was he sat through a lot of lessons with me playing school. That's when the folks started looking for places closer to schools. I think we were on a vacation when we went from Anchorage to Seward the first time. Why we didn't take the train I have no idea, but the parents rented or had a car and we drove. It doesn't seem like a memorable trip until we got to Moose Pass. I don't know what they were doing to the road or why, but I know that the car was hooked up to a big yellow cat and pulled across some really rough road bed. In some places I seem to remember tree trunks laying side by side. Maybe it was swampy, I have no idea. Hey I was a girl what do you want? And nothing else really sticks in my memory about that trip, perhaps the road had washed out right there in that spot I just don't know.

It doesn't seem like it was long after that when we were packing up yet again and putting everything into the boxcar out on the siding.

Lakeview. It was probably the prettiest place we ever lived. Not so much the house but the area. There was Kenai Lake that seemed to go forever. Birch trees along the driveway leading to the section, really big ones. A mountain that stuck out into the lake and was covered with big dark trees, and a family called Wesley that lived just down the way where the driveway split, in a big rambling log house that faced the lake, and several other houses or cabins, that were sitting empty. Eventually our parents bought the house that sat across the road from the top of the driveway into the Lakeview section and for a while the crew would come to the house every morning for breakfast.

We know there were at least two derailments between 20 mile and 21mile. One occurred in the summer and it was possible a moose had tried to fight the train, but the cause is unknown now. I remember standing on the hill by the highway and looking at all the train cars laying all over the railroad bed and in the ditches. Dad also had taken a movie so it was something we saw a few times. The other that comes to mind was because of snow. 21 mile boasts a big mountain and it seemed nearly every year there would be a snow slide, cutting everything on the south side off for however long it took to clear the road and tracks. Sometimes it didn't make it to the highway, but others it would not only cover the highway it would also go across the tracks and sometimes into the lake. This time they planned to get ahead of the game and sent a train out with one of the Army's avalanche guns mounted on a flatbed car.

Someone apparently miscalculated the amount of snow on that mountain, and the train wasn't moved far enough out of the danger area. The flatcar and the caboose were hit and derailed and it seems like the caboose was at least partly in the lake. The mountain was later named after Andy Simon, who was a pretty famous guide in Alaska then. Andy and his daughter Rita and her husband Herbie lived about a mile and half from the section on the lake side of the tracks but beyond the Point. The Point which is what we all called a really big sand bar that stuck out into Kenai Lake it was probably formed by Victor creek (which was named for Victor Johansen who was also a neighbor, a Swede that spoke very broken English), as the mouth of the creek came out on the south side of the bar. Kenai Lake was very deceiving, you could wade and play in the water sometimes as much as six feet out into the lake and the next step you would be in water over your head. Jerry and someone else dropped an outboard motor off the back of a skiff and they dived as deep as they could and never hit the bottom nor did they find that motor and this was only about 25 feet out from where we played. The lake was also very cold, other then right at the edge where the sun warmed it somewhat; we were told that it was glacier fed. Later it seemed to have some sort of connection to the bay in Seward also. The area where we played most often had a strange rocky area about five or less feet from the water. All of the rocks were pretty flat, about the size of a silver dollar, great for skipping out on the lake, but they all stood on their edges, making them most uncomfortable to walk on barefooted. We had a little golden cocker spaniel that would spend hours swimming out after the rocks we skipped, and sticks she would bring for us to throw. Most of the time we would have to force her to come back out of the water and take her home she would be so cold.

There were six of us kids, Jerry being the eldest, then the Wesley's three daughters, and their son, and Steve and me. Jerry and Caroline had a hot romance going for a few months, one of the girls had what I believe was MS, and she died a year or so after we moved there. The four of us younger kids were all over the area, from mile 18 to sometimes Lawing about three miles down the tracks. I am sure we terrorized the entire neighborhood. Jerry and Caroline made us a skating rink in front of the Wesley's house out on the lake one winter and we had a ball falling on our fannies while learning to skate.
There was a hammock in the Wesley's yard close to the tracks, and we would all run and sit in it to wave at the trains as they flew by. We would count the cars and talk about how big each train was.

One day we hadn't been at Lakeview all that long, and Steve and I had our rooms up in what had probably been crew quarters at one time, but the crew wasn't staying at the section, they all had homes elsewhere. Though Mom would fix them meals for a long time after we arrived. Anyhow I had gone upstairs for something and there staring in the window at me was the biggest dang moose I ever saw. Remember this is a two story building and I was on the second floor. I screamed bloody murder I am sure, and both Mom and Dad charged up the stairs thinking I had hurt myself I suppose. They definitely gave me a bad time about thinking I saw a moose looking in the window, right up until Dad went to go outside. I heard him say "Well Jesus!" This was one giant of a cow moose standing in the front yard, nibbling off the tops of the birch trees along the driveway. She spent a good part of the day in the yard, and wandered off towards the lake and we never saw her again. And of course this was one of the few times there wasn't a bit of film in any of the cameras.

I don't recall when the Wesley's sold out and the Soper (Soaper?) family moved in, but their boys were closer to Jerry's age and that left Steve and I as the only kids for quite a while. It was about this time also that the folks bought the house up by the mile 20 marker and we moved out of the section house which was later demolished. For sometime, the crew would come up to the house and have their meals at our house. I don't recall when the section was actually closed down, but I know it was when I was still in grade school. Later there were other kids that moved into the neighborhood, the Swan's had four little ones, I think the eldest was fairly close to Steve's age, but the others were quite a bit younger. The Torgeson's also moved in and they had two kids, and an older son. Johnnie and Steve were best buds for many years, but the girl was about three years younger then they were. The older boy and I dated for a while, and a hot date was a hike down the tracks to 18 mile and back home again, holding hands of course.

Steve and I spent a lot of time with Herbie and Rita, and one of our shortcuts was to walk the tracks cross the trestle and then go down the road, it probably didn't cut off much distance, but we did it anyhow. One time we were on our way home and decided to take the road back, and as we were hitting what was pretty much a straight stretch between Johansen's place and the Headlee's we were being balked by the dog, Sandy, she was between our feet and barking trying to stop us from going forward. Ahead of us we could see the tall grass moving, and knew there was an animal in there, but the grass was too tall to see what kind. We thought bear first, but didn't quite know as it seemed to be moving away from us. We could have turned back and used the tracks, or even waded across Victor Creek. Dumb or whatever, we decided to follow slowly down the road, and as the grass got shorter near a brush pile, we discovered our critter was a huge porky pine. Sandy had a thing about Porky's she was constantly chasing them and getting quills in her nose and mouth, we were all quite good about getting them out for her.

Later when I was 12 and older I was the neighborhood babysitter for miles. We would all hang out, when I was baby sitting at the Swan's until at least bedtime for the kids, and sometimes I would be there until 2 or 3 in the morning. One morning I had gotten off about 2, and Sandy had come back because her "girl" didn't go home with everyone else and she was probably bored. We were on our way back to the house and she started doing her thing barking and getting between my legs, tripping me. There were three or four young birches at the corner of the drive, and Mom had threatened our lives if we walked over the lawn she had just seeded, so I was headed for the drive and could see nothing for Sandy to be barking at. I wasn't more then 20 feet from the drive when all of a sudden a young moose walked out from behind those trees. Need I say I went across that lawn area? The moose had already been there and no way was I going to let it get any closer then it already was.

We had moved into the "New School" at Moose Pass about the time I was in either 4th or 5th grade. It was really neat, had a bell and two big rooms and a storage room and coat closet and bathrooms and upstairs an apartment for the teacher. There was also a set of outhouses at the far corner of the school yard. Trail Lake was out behind the swings, teeter totters, and monkey bars. It seemed like the water froze nearly every winter, and we would have to resort to the outhouses. The railroad tracks were visible from the back of the school yard, and we always heard the trains coming and going. And we could actually see part of the section area if we went a bit down the lake shore. I guess I was in about the 6th grade when Mother moose moved into the back of the school yard. She had a calf with her and she ruled the whole back yard. Arrangements were made to use the outhouse at the Postmistress's house across the road from the school. We couldn't use our playground equipment, and recess was pretty boring. One day we could see Mother and baby down by the section area so another girl and I decided to use the school outhouse instead of asking to go across the street. Oops! Mother covered that quarter or half mile faster then we could walk to the outhouse. The other girl dodged her and ran into the boy's side of our outhouse, but that moose was coming right at me and ticked. They had plowed the school yard, which was mostly ice with a layer of frozen snow on top. I tripped trying to go backwards and fell over a berm of snow. Lucky I let out a screech and several other kids were yelling at the same time, or she probably would have stomped me into a puddle. The other girl finally crawled over the partition between the restrooms and sneaked out behind the church and came back to the school yard. She had been so scared; she forgot to use the restroom so we both still had to ask to go across the street. After a lecture of course.

I guess Lakeview must have been closed down about this time as Dad was now driving to Seward everyday to run the section there. We would spend a lot of time at mile 12 the Divide section, as the Harvey family and ours were good friends Like us those kids knew the area around the section quite well, and we would all roam in the hills and along the tracks. Not far from the section is a tunnel, but I never would go into it, something to do with a mountain sitting over my head, its one thing on a train, but no way will I walk into one. There was a siding at Divide, and once in a while there would be a work train there and we would visit those people too. We would also visit with the Johnson's who were at the Moose Pass section. The oldest son was in high school then but Bobby was still in the big kid's class room with me although he was at least two grades behind me. Bobby later became known as Superman when one day we were all supposed to be getting out our books and he was just sitting staring at his desk top and the teacher asked if he were superman and could see his book without getting it out. Usually we called him Super and to this day that is how I think of him.

For the most part there was only four or five of us in my class, by the time we hit the seventh grade one of the girls was jumped ahead a grade and there were just four of us left. Then Billy was drowned the summer before eight grade and there were three of us that had been together since the third grade.
I think I was in about the 6th grade the year Dad got hurt while working on the Seward section. He had really terrible headaches for as long as I can remember, and seemed to eat Excedrin constantly. This day apparently they were working beside a fairly high bank and someone was on top of the hill and just for a joke he rolled a big rock down expecting to make Dad jump….only the rock hit something and it jumped and knocked Dad out cold. They revived him, and when they got back into town, he lie down during the lunch break and fell asleep. But when the crew tried to wake him they couldn't and he wound up in the hospital. Before too long the hospital decided to send him to Anchorage and once there they had to open the back of his head he said afterwards with a 5/8th inch drill bit. It seems when he was a baby he had fallen out of his high chair on top of his mother's sewing machine and there was an awful scar on the top of his head that looked like a big plus sign, with one leg running nearly to the front of his head. Anyhow when that rock hit him not only was he concussed, he suffered more traumas to this scarred area and they discovered that his headaches were from "water on the brain". I don't know how long after this before Dad retired from the railroad, but we never really got away from the railroad, when he became Harbormaster in Seward, our house sat next to the tracks just across them from the small boat harbor. The quake in 1964 was the last time we lived that close to the railroad.

I still have a thing for trains, and am now teaching my three year old grandson about them and he has his own little steam engine that "Dama" bought a couple years ago, he played with a Christmas decoration train until it broke. There is a caboose in Grants Pass and when we drive past it he always yells the train Dama the train.

And how did my brothers and I wind up? Steve joined the Navy, later became a paramedic and then an instructor, moved to Oregon, and worked at the Willamette University for many years. Jerry still lives in Seward, and spends most of his time at the fire station where he volunteers as a fireman. Our oldest brother worked for the railroad for a while, then joined the Army for many years and then worked for Wayerhuser Mills in Washington. I was married in 1964, and later worked as a Certified Nurse's Aide until a job injury forced me into retirement. Both our parents passed away about 33 years ago from cancer related illnesses. Oh yes, Steve and I are still close, we share a home right now, and I still talk to some of the Harveys via phones and the Internet.
Of all the people we met on the railroad, only one of the Harvey boy's followed his dad into railroading.
1 I think this is part of Sherman section, but will not swear to it, obviously they are clearing the rails for some reason, but I have no idea why, could be warped rails, could be ice buildup? I do not recognize the crew man but if its from Sherman, I would guess we called him big John as there was also an native alaskan there they called little John, and it seems like other then Dad he was the only other "white" man at the section....just don't quote me on that.
2 I think this is the same area as the first photo, I may be wrong, but the two photos were always kept together so I think this is correct....I know Dad took them and also deveoloped them....except we think that the person in this one is Dad, and its possible he was teaching someone else to use the cameras.
3 That is my mother and baby brother in front of the Curry hotel. The date is 1949. I am assuming that I am not in that picture cause I was probably standing with my daddy, behind the camera.
4 Going to Anchorage from Honolulu; me and my brother Steve
5 Looking for a babysitter (in Anchorage 1951)
6 Sherry and Steve at the Sherman section house, 1949-50.
7 Snowman at sherman section
8 Postcard
9 Postcard



© 2006 Sherry Hetzler