Survival in a Northern Wilderness: A Mother's Story--Part XLI

February 20, 2020

          After getting ashore and getting the outboard motors cleaned of sand and the evening meal, they wondered what challenges were to come.  The next morning the boys decided it would be a good idea to take the skiff and a pike pole and run ahead to sound out the channel.  When they returned a few hours later they reported arriving at an Indian fish camp and meeting the owner Mathew Titus.  Wesley said the fish camp was about three miles from the Chena River and that they were about five miles from the Titus camp.  The boys had made arrangements for Mr. Titus and his son to escort them to the mouth of the Chena later that day and they arrived safely at the Titus fish camp.  Mr. Titus gave them a large Salmon that they pan fried over a fire; Violet thought it was a wonderful meal and they were encouraged and happy for running into such wonderful people.  The next day it was raining, and they stayed in camp waiting for the Titus’ to assist them through the most treacherous rapids of them all, which were just above their camp.  The Titus’ arrived with their riverboat which they tied alongside the Troller and according to Violet they moved “slowly but surely” through the rapids, and soon they were in the peaceful waters of the Chena River; which unlike the Tanana River was clear.  Violet opined that the Titus’ knew that treacherous Tanana like city people know the highways.

 

           Violet was cheerful and relaxed but was wet and getting colder. After passing a group of buildings they made for shore, built a fire under some thick spruce trees and cooked supper.  Violet was happy and reminisced that her husband and her were proud that they had trained their first seven children in outdoor cooking over an open fire.  Afterwards, they sat around the fire until dark talking about what their father would have done. Violet thought that after losing Frankie it seemed to take all of the heart out of him to go on; Orrah had been dead nearly a year.  The next day Violet and Wes took his motorboat and went into Fairbanks. While walking around, they ran into an old friend of the family, Polly Reed.  She told them Elnora was coming to Fairbanks and would be arriving that night. They met the train and the three of them took the motorboat back to where the big boats were tied up.  That night Elnora told Violet that while she had kept it to herself, her dad had told her that he did not want to continue the trip to the Yukon River. Some of his last words to Elnora were “I just don’t have the heart to continue the trip, I would just be content to stay on the coast”.  Violet knew that Orrah was heartsick after losing Frankie, he told her that he had such an ache since they lost their boy, an ache that would not leave. He said, “it is such a longing that it seems to want to take a person away long before their time.”

 

           The U.S. Smelting and Mining Company owned the old buildings that they had passed, and they were granted permission to stay in them.  The old buildings were the mining Chena River Pump Station, there was a coal shed and a meat house, which the boys amply filled with moose and caribou for the winter.  Violet privately thought “mission accomplished”, “they had done the impossible.” Would they like to make the trip up that treacherous Tanana River again?  Violet answered complicity, “No! A thousand times, No!”

 

           They spent that first winter in Fairbanks. Elnora got a job with the University of Alaska, walking four miles to and from work on the Chena Pump Road, which was very dark and lonely. She later told Violet that the first winter walking to and from work was the loneliest and most heartbreaking time of her life, but she never complained keeping her feelings to herself.  Wes horse-traded and got himself an old Studebaker Sedan and learned to drive, then bought an old 49 GMC pickup and landed a few odd jobs.  Orrah Jr. got himself a dog team with his lead dog Blacky that accompanied him from Ontario. He tried his hand at trapping and caught a few furs but quit and came home after a nutty trapper threatened his life. According to Violet it seemed like someone was always getting shot and they never seemed to find the murderers.  How long would they stay in Fairbanks?

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