Look­ing Back

Over the hills and through the mud, my fam­ily raced against the clock to start our new life in the Alaskan wild.


The Schullers raced to set up their home­stead in Alaska.

Our World War II Dodge Power Wagon truck sank again; stuck for the sixth time. A flurry of doubt flashed across my mind. Why was I drag­ging my wife, Dot, and three small chil­dren 7 miles back into the un­charted coun­try­side? The rea­son: Homesteading 160 acres, only $1.25 per acre. This was a great deal, even back in 1959.

Our friend Bernie backed up his an­cient truck, fit­ted with huge DC-3 air­plane tires. He smiled and quipped, “If I get stuck, we’ll re­ally be in trou­ble.”

Mud flailed into the air as the chained-up ve­hi­cle slowly lurched for­ward. Why didn’t we wait un­til spring, called breakup time on the Ke­nai Penin­sula, passed and just drive in on solid, dry ground? Why pick the worst time of the year?

Our dead­line for oc­cu­py­ing the land was in two days. If we missed it, others want­ing to file on our land would be at the An­chor­age gov­ern­ment land of­fice wait­ing to coun­ter­claim; we’d be out.

At least the Ke­nai area was bathed in sun­shine, the days were long, and sum­mer mos­qui­toes were still asleep.

Bernie and I had been com­ing to the home­stead on week­ends. We had con­structed a 10-foot by 10-foot tem­po­rary cabin un­til we could build a log house.

Dot was gen­er­ally re­silient and took prob­lems with a smile. But she had em­phat­i­cally stated, “We’ve got to have the log house fin­ished be­fore win­ter. I am not spend­ing an Alaskan win­ter in a hun­dred square feet cabin with three young chil­dren. I am not!”

Af­ter a quick lurch along the trail, we churned on, dread­ing the steep­est hill on the en­tire trail. Skid­ding back and forth from the

pre­vi­ous ruts, I gained the top. Our son, Rick, and daugh­ters Linda and An­nette piled out and started laugh­ing con­vul­sively. When I looked at my now empty truck, I saw the hu­mor.

Yes, we had roared up the rut­ted hill, but our be­long­ings were strewn in the ooz­ing mud. There, up­ended, was the old white cook stove; be­yond was our bed frame, dishes, and a case of peas.

Since we couldn’t turn around for fear of get­ting stuck again, we car­ried nec­es­sary ob­jects back to the truck. We de­cided to leave some heav­ier things be­hind and come back when they dried out.

We had al­ready trav­eled 15 gravel miles from the small fish­ing vil­lage of Ke­nai. The job at hand was to reach our home­stead be­fore dark.

At 8:30 p.m. we were still jump­ing out of the trucks and throw­ing things back on. Soon we had only one mile to reach the home­stead, and we had to go up another steep hill. We retied our loads again. The truck en­gines were tired and over­heated.

Bernie spoke words of wis­dom. “It’s get­ting dark and we won’t make it if we get stuck again. Why not jump on my truck and ride it to the home­stead? We can come back in the morn­ing.”

Dot and I agreed as we lifted the ex­hausted chil­dren into the cab and the two of us crawled onto the back and hung on tena­ciously.

Our lit­tle shack was invit­ing as we spot­ted it in the evening twi­light. Dot and I stum­bled around try­ing to make sand­wiches for a quick sup­per and fix the cabin for sleep. An­nette, our 3 year old, was cra­dled in Dot’s arms. She awoke and asked, “Mom, where is the bath­room?” We had yet to build an out­house.

The next morn­ing all of us adults greeted achy mus­cles we didn’t know we had. I did my best to help make Dot and the kids com­fort­able. Bernie was homesteading two miles away, and he could look in on my fam­ily un­til we got more es­tab­lished.

Get­ting here sure wasn’t easy, but the land was ours! I thanked the Lord for his help in mak­ing the dream of a life­time pos­si­ble.

The Schullers trudged over the Ke­nai Penin­sula to stake a claim.

STUCK IN THE MUD with 7 miles to go; Dick skins logs for the cabin in early spring, when they peel more eas­ily.

THE FAM­ILY’S LOG HOUSE took five months to build. Dot washes clothes with her “Alaska May­tag.” Ricky and Linda float down the lake on a rus­tic raft.

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