Alaskan Homesteaders

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by Chuck, Oct 13, 2004.

  1. Chuck

    Chuck Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Howdy folks! As promised, I'm going to give you a quick rundown on my recent visit with some real Alaskan Homesteaders. I'll soon be writing an article that will include some of this for Countryside magazine, but wanted to share with you all some of the pictures that won't make it into the magazine. You can click on the small pictures to see a larger one, or go to my website's gallery to see all of our shots from the entire trip.

    The intent of the trip was to shoot some footage for several stories I'm working on for CBN. One of the stories is about this couple that we found who live in the interior of Alaska, about 150 miles from the nearest town, and just on the outskirts of the Denali national wilderness.

    To get there, I hired a small, twin-engined Navajo airplane to ferry us from Anchorage, over the mountains to the other side of McKinley. The 2.5 hour flight was spectacular, to say the least. We flew right between Denali and Foraker while our pilot and I kept up a lively discussion about missions flights that he makes over to Russia, just 1.5 hours flight away.

    [​IMG]

    Once we made it across the mountains, it was a long slow descent into the airfield at Minchumina. In years past, this was an important airfield used in ferrying equipment over to Russia under the lend-lease program. Plus, the FAA maintains a pretty serious (unmanned) weather station there, so for this reason, our hosts were fortunate to have electricity, provided by a couple of diesel generators that were installed for the FAA weather station. In exchange for maintaining them, the "community" of Minchumina, (currently 12 people) is allowed to use some of the power.

    When we arrived at the airfield, it was about 45 degrees and breezy. There wasn't a soul in sight, but there were some buildings around - on further exploration, one was determined to be a post office, another a library. Everything looked deserted. There was a payphone. I called our hosts, the Greens, from it, but got no answer. On a schedule, the pilot unloaded our gear and took off again right away, leaving us standing on an empty airstrip. After about 1/2 hour I was starting to wonder if this was some elaborate practical joke put on by my friends back at CBN, when we heard the sound of an engine approaching.

    Shortly, there appeared an old willys jeep with two people in it. Tom and Penny Green were finally there to get us. They had seen our plane arrive, but thought it wasn't us because they were expecting a single-engine craft.

    [​IMG]Tom and Penny are homesteaders that have lived in Minchumina for most of their lives. They run a trapline in the winter, living in small trapper cabins along a sixty-mile route where they travel by dogsled and snow machine. In the summer, they live in a cozy log cabin overlooking the lake and Mt. Mckinley. Tom built the cabin about 30 years ago. Indeed, he's built many cabins in that area, both for his own use and for others who inhabit the interior. He also built his own airplane. The guy is pretty handy!

    Tom and Penny have two grown children, one of which lives in Phoenix, Arizona. (how's that for rebellion?) The other lives at a lodge on the other side of Lake Minchumina. In the summer, Tom builds cabins and Penny tends her several large gardens, growing much of the food that they'll need to get through the winter. In the fall, they hunt and fish to replenish their meat supply. If a moose is killed, they'll share the meat with their "neighbors."

    They go to town a couple of times a year to get supplies and sell their furs. For the most part, this is the way that they have lived for their entire lives. Tom grew up closer to civilization, but soon moved out and lived for seven years on his own in the interior before meeting Penny.

    There wasn't enough room in the jeep for us and our gear, so we loaded up the gear and Tom left with the jeep while we walked. It turned out that they lived about 2 miles away down a gravel road bordered by young aspen trees which were all colored flaming yellow. One funny thing: There were stop signs and speed limit signs, overgrown with saplings. I guess the government does things by the book, even when it's absurd to the point of hilarity.

    Finally, we came upon a small log cabin. I mean really small. It had a green curtain for a door. A closer look showed that it was the Green's privy. The nicest I've ever seen. So nice, it was the centerpiece of their front yard.

    [​IMG]

    The next thing to greet us was a severed head. A moose head, to be exact. Behind it there stood a bear cache - essentially a small log cabin on stilts, with a fully dressed moose carcass hanging underneath. Tom explained that they kept some essentials in the cache, like extra clothing and food, in case their house burned down in the wintertime. It was the first of the little contingencies that I noticed were a part of the Green's every day life. where I live, if my house burns down, I can go stay in a motel. In the Green's case, they don't have those kind of options, so they've learned to be prepared.

    Penny related to me how last year the wildfires in their area threatened to burn their home. The fire crews that came to fight the forest fire eventually bailed and told the Greens to evacuate. But they weren't going to give up their lives that easily. They don't have property insurance, so Tom spent 48 hours straight on an old WWII bulldozer that the community has kept running, and in the end, the fire burned right up to their property line, but didn't touch either their buildings or their firewood supply, which would have been a very serious loss.

    [​IMG]Finally, we got to see the inside of the cabin. It is basically about 30 feet square, with a kitchen, a living area, and a bedroom.

    The kitchen has a wood cookstove which is also used for heat, but there is also a larger barrel stove that can be used when it gets reeallly cold.
    [​IMG]
    The greens go through about 6 cords of wood a year, for cooking and heating both. Tom built a hydraulic wood splitter for the wood they use at their home, but out on the trap line, where they spend most of the winter, he splits it by hand. They burn mostly birch.

    The first night we were there, Tom cooked up some choice cuts of moose. We were very excited about getting to try some. They had been concerned that we would want "town food." Ha! We wanted to eat what they eat! We also brought about 200 pounds of food with us, to give to the Greens, since we knew that four extra people could make a significant dent in their winter food preparations. I asked Penny what kinds of food she would like us to bring, and she asked for fruits, pork sausage, cheese, and ICE CREAM. They apparently love ice cream. I thought that was wierd. :)

    Penny and Tom are both very articulate, informed and pleasant to be with. Even though neither of them has any formal degrees, they read so much in the wintertime, and listen to the radio, and so they keep up with what's going on in the world. Tom is very soft-spoken, but they were both quite gracious in allowing us to invade their space for two days.

    We stayed in the nearby house of Penny's late mother, a nice two-story cottage that had both electricity and running water. The Greens rent the rooms in it for a very reasonable price, so if any of you would like to take a real "homestead" vacation, I'd highly recommend their place.

    While we were there, we got some great education about what it's like living in such a remote location. I asked if they got lonely. They both kind of looked at me and blinked. "Actually," Penny said. "The only time I've really felt lonely was when I had to stay in town for about a month once. Everyone there was so busy with their own lives that I felt like I was looking at them through a two-way mirror. No one had time for me. Out here, when someone new shows up, we assimilate them into our community. Because there are so few of us, everyone out here matters."

    Indeed, in the time that we were there, Tom and Penny were called upon by others in the community various times. One old widow, a native woman, fell and hurt her leg badly while out picking berries, and had to crawl back to her house so she could call someone for help. (she crawled for four hours!). Tom and Penny rushed to her side, since Penny is the designated "first responder" for the community, having taken some basic medical training.

    Tom helped out with another resident whose boat had become inoperable while he was out fishing. Fortunately, someone saw him out there, or he'd have frozen overnight for sure. We went along as the Greens delivered parts of their moose to their neighbors. The sense I got is that they live remote, but not isolated.

    You probably have tons of questions, so I'll stop here and let you ask them.
     
  2. sidepasser

    sidepasser Well-Known Member

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    Hi,

    Gorgeous pictures!! I was just thinking, do they have a well or do they haul water? And how do they do laundry? What do they feed the dogs? Any horses up there?

    They look like a very resourceful couple!

    Sidepasser
     

  3. sdrew

    sdrew Well-Known Member

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    Chuck,

    Unbelievable pictures. I ran the slideshow and it is truly amazing. My brother worked in Alaska for 15 years as a fishing guide and a bush pilot and has some amazing pictures as well. What a beautiful place Alaska is. Just amazing. Congratulations on your expedition. What a thrill.

    Steve Drew
     
  4. fordy

    fordy Well-Known Member

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    .............Let's assume that a person was in Alaska ...how much did it cost Chuck for you to "get" to their cabin via aircraft ??...it looks like to me that travel in Alaska would almost be prohibitive as I would assume ALL your expenses are PAID FOR by the magazine. ...fordy... :eek: :)
     
  5. Chuck

    Chuck Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Sidepasser: They haul water - there is a 200-gallon water tank (about 2 ft diameter, 8 feet tall) in their kitchen. You can see the spigot that comes out of it on the bottom right of the picture of the kitchen. They don't use nearly as much water as we do.

    I didn't see them doing laundry, but I'd assume they do it in a tub. There were several next to the stove.

    They feed the dogs the carcasses of the animals they trap. (Mink, Martin, Fox, Beaver, etc.) I have some great footage of Tom hacking away at a frozen beaver carcass to feed to the dogs. It would surely give any PETA person nightmares! :)

    They don't have horses, but some twin ladies across the lake raise icelandic horses. They wrote a book about it, called "Riding the wild side of Denali."[​IMG]

    Fordy: The only way to get to this place is by aircraft or 10-hour motorboat ride. Or snow machine in winter. It isn't cheap to get there, but for a party of two without a lot of gear, it would be about $450 each way in a chartered plane from Fairbanks. Or, you can hitch a ride on the twice-weekly mail plane for about $190 each way.

    As you said, CBN was footing the bill on our trip, so we flew out of Anchorage and rented a larger plane. It was about $3000 round trip for the flight.

    A girl named Tanya Schletner runs a lodge on the other side of Lake Minchumina. It's called Denali West. She caters to wealthy people, and has no problem getting folks to pay $600 a day to be there, in addition to the airfare. :) Must be nice, huh?
     
  6. texican

    texican Well-Known Member

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    sidepasser,

    Back when I worked at Denali as a backcountry ranger, I had the 'privilege' of coordinating with one of the homesteading families out in Minchumina, to get their horses out to the Parks Highway (main road between Anchor and Fairbanks). They (two sisters) rode them to the western end of the Denali road, then had horse trailers available to get them to a vet. They fed them hay and grain rations. They had some very shaggy coats.

    Dogs make more sense, better adapted to the cold, and work better than snowmo's. You either feed them fish or storebought feed. There are some salmon runs that make it that far into the interior. By the time they swim that for, dogfood is about all their good for...the meat is quite mushy after all the fighting they have to do get up into the smaller streams... Or bushmeat, if you generate enough. Problem with bushmeat is it's very low in fat, and dog's need the extra calories.
     
  7. seraphima

    seraphima Active Member

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    I'd like to go visit these folks next summer if we go to the mainland. Is the mail plane from Anchorage or Fairbanks? Could you post an address for them so that we can write to them or call them? Or, do they have email?

    Thanks for your article- very interesting. By the way, is that a photo of the Tustemena in your photo shots?
     
  8. Freeholder

    Freeholder Well-Known Member

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    Just some quick comments, before I head off to bed.

    First, I always get a chuckle out of reading about Alaskans from the point of view of someone from the Lower 48. They think perfectly normal things are so strange! :haha:

    I used to read all the articles Julie and Mikki Collins wrote -- Grandma and I were just talking about them recently, wondering if they were still there. Their little Icelandic horses are quite well adapted to the climate, and, in fact, horses of any stripe do pretty well in Alaska, believe it or not. Dogs are possibly more practical in the winter, when they can run on top of the crusted snow while horses will break through, but you can't use the dogs in warm weather (they overheat). The outfitters up there, as far as I know, still turn their horses loose when hunting season is over and let them forage for themselves all winter. If the snow gets really deep they'll bring them some hay, but other than that they are on their own, and they usually do just fine.

    I know very well what Penny means about being more lonely in a large town amongst a lot of people. It is much easier to get lost -- or hide -- in a large group. If you go out into the wilderness where there are very few people, you find that those few people all know one another, look out for one another, gossip about one another, and if a stranger comes around, he is quickly discovered.

    Kathleen in Oregon (but raised on a homestead in Alaska)
     
  9. j.r. guerra in s. tx.

    j.r. guerra in s. tx. Well-Known Member

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    Seeing Alaska's interior has got to be in my 'Top Five Things I Have To Do Before I Die'. I wanted to be an Alaskan hunting guide when I was in my teens, but life had different plans for me - Ima loooong way from Alaska. But I'm still very interested in it - looking forward to reading more in Countryside article Chuck.
     
  10. Chuck

    Chuck Well-Known Member Supporter

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    The mail plane runs out of Fairbanks. It runs Monday and Friday, (usually) and actually, the cost is only $154 each way.

    Yes, that is a shot of the Tustamena. We did a story out on Raspberry Island, and so took the ferry across to Port Lions from Homer. A wonderful trip.

    To contact the Greens, send me a PM and I'll send you their email address. Kinda shows the world we live in when people who don't have running water have internet access.
     
  11. Elizabeth

    Elizabeth Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Chuck, the pictures are awesome, and can't wait to read more about the trip. Mr. Jackpine Savage and I are considering an Alaska trip for our honeymoon, which we postponed due to my mom's declining health. We have done just about everything backwards as far as our wedding and marriage so far, but we hope to make up for it with an awesome honeymoon. Our big winter project is going to be researching and planning this trip. Mr. JS has friends in Alaska whom we hope to visit, and several of my friends who are climbers have given me info about places to go. But, we are open to suggestions, so if you, or anyone else reading this post has any, send 'em our way, please.

    Thanks for sharing, and remember, we are waiting for more, lol!!!
     
  12. vegascowgirl

    vegascowgirl Try Me

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    Chuck,
    Thank you for the great reading. I can't wait to read the full story in Countryside. I love to read and hear of people with the true pioneer spirit that our forefathers had. I don't think there are many people who would think that Alaska is suitable for homesteading. I read alot of peoples notes that think homesteading anywhere in the northern states (where they get heavy winters) is impossible. However, your article proves to me, that with the right attitude, the love for what you are doing, and some inginuity...you can make a home anywhere.

    Just out of curiosity, you mentioned that Penny (?) had several large gardens. Would you happen to know how long their growing season is? what do they grow normally?
     
  13. Chuck

    Chuck Well-Known Member Supporter

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    It's a short growing season, but they get about 20 hours of direct sunlight, so things grow like crazy. When we were there she had just finished harvesting her potatoes, and there was still some broccoli, cale, radishes and a few other things in the ground.
     
  14. Carol K

    Carol K Well-Known Member

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    Awesome article Chuck, quite jealous of you, I would have loved to have gone and just chatted with them they must be very interesting.
    I noticed the roof didn't seem that steep on their log cabin, and was wondering if they got much snow? Maybe they build a low pitch for a reason, anyone know? And do they have to shovel their roof off?

    Thanks,

    Carol K
     
  15. Chuck

    Chuck Well-Known Member Supporter

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    The house is built of 14-inch logs. Ten feet of snow wouldn't cave in that roof.

    But they say they don't get THAT much snow anyway. Just a foot or two.

    I think he built it that way because it wouldn't have been cost-effective to make it larger. He built it in the '70's.
     
  16. Alex

    Alex Well-Known Member

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    Chuck

    “A picture is worth a thousand words,” thanks, very nice shots. You seemed to capture a gentle and humble side of these two interesting people.

    What do they use for heating, other than the cookstove? Did you get any other interior shots?

    Is one generator a back-up?

    Very nice, thanks again.

    All the best to you, and them.

    Alex
     
  17. 3girls

    3girls Well-Known Member

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    I was priviledged to visit Denali for a few days quite a time ago. THE MOUONTAIN WAS "OUT". It was late August, the mt was visible for about 4-5 hours. The mounties there told us that it was the 13th time that year!

    Chuck, to be there for only a few days and actually see the mountain is extremely fortuitous! Congrats! Nice article, BTW.

    Sandi
     
  18. Dreams30

    Dreams30 Lady Rider

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    Thank you for the pics.

    It is beautiful!

    Hey, anytime you get to see a kitchen, get more pics please... :D
     
  19. Anataq

    Anataq Well-Known Member

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    Chuck,
    I would like to know what they are wearing -clothing? Winter clothes, are they all furs, or are they using some store bought? What are they wearing for underlayers, traditional-native, or newer synthetic like fleece etc?

    We have been finishing off our clothing check lists for our move to our home in S.W. Alaska. We are very remote, approximately 180 miles from the nearest road system and about 15 air miles from the nearest village.

    Hauling water: How do the get the water in the winter? We have much larger Poly Tanks that we are burrying underground, but we are still concerned about running out during the long winter. Do they drill through river ice to get to the water, or is there a local well? This is a big concern for us because there is no well and the only water available in deep winter will be in the deep spots on the river, or 6 snow machine miles to the lake.

    -Anataq
    www.pawcreekhomestead.com
     
  20. Chuck

    Chuck Well-Known Member Supporter

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    They wear fairly modern clothes, I even saw Penny in a high-tech climbers' outer shell. (like North face). Their hats and mittens are mostly homemade - out of furs they've trapped.

    In the winter, they chop a hole in the lake ice and haul water on a sled. I expressed surprise at that and they acted like it wasn't that big of a deal. Since they are hauling water frequently, the hole doesn't freeze back over too much.

    they also have some metal buckets that they keep next to the woodstove, and I think they probably melt ice or snow in them.

    Have fun!