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.