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Barbara's Life Story--According to Barbara

STAN AND THE MILK RUN

Down in California, young Stan Bishop had heard that there might be a summer job for him up in southeast Alaska--at a fish hatchery 40 miles by boat from Ketchikan. As the dismal cloud of the Great Depression was spreading across the country, any job was worth pursuing so Stan headed north for the distant territory of Alaska and his temporary job.

Summer ended but the boss (my father) was impressed with young Stanís work, and offered him a job extension if he would stay on. Stan went back home to finish high school, but wild Alaska was already casting its spell on him, and after graduation Stan headed north again to the Yes Bay hatchery. His workday was varied; it might involve the endless chore of cutting and chopping the firewood needed to heat the huge wooden hatchery building, or he might be outside, building the weirs used to catch the returning salmon. The fish had to fight their way up the Yes River from salt water to their spawning grounds above Lake McDonald, where the hatchery was located. Canneries at Yes Bay and throughout southeastern Alaska were eager for the extra fish this hatchery would provide.

Stan shared another chore with all the able-bodied men at the hatchery--retrieving the supplies landed at Yes Bay and hauling them, on their backs, up to the little settlement on the far side of Lake McDonald. In summer, everything could be ferried across the lake, but in winter, when the lake was frozen solid, the shortest and easiest route was directly across the ice-covered lake. The men donned skis for these wintertime treks which were very much like cross-country skiing. At Yes Bay the men didnít ski for sport but for the sheer necessity to link the hatchery crew and their families to their lifeline--the food, clothing and other basic needs that arrived by ship, whenever the surly Alaskan weather allowed the boats to ply their way from Ketchikan.

In 1931 there were three young married couples at the hatchery and by design, or accident, they all produced their first babies that summer and fall. By the following April the young mothers were weaning their babies and asking that extra condensed milk be brought up from Seattle for them. So it was that Stan found himself loaded down with a heavy pack, full of milk cans, as he glided across the frozen lake--another man well in front of him, and a third staying a cautious distance behind. In April, the weather was beginning to warm and it was best to space out the load on the mushy ice.

Suddenly, "Cookie," (Blenden Cook), the man bringing up the rear, fell partly through the ice. Stan hurried back to help and managed to haul "Cookie" out to a safer spot. But, just then, with a few loud cracks, the ice all around Stan gave way, and he found himself dropping like a lead weight into the icy water--those condensed milk cans made a perfect anchor! Luckily, the lead skier, Eric Kuehl, heard Stanís shouts, and turned back. Getting as close as he dared to the struggling man in the water, he took off his skis and gently pushed them out, across the gaping hole, to solid ice beyond. Stan was able to grab a ski and support himself while he wriggled out of that deadly pack. Without the canned milk "anchor" he was able to haul himself out to safety.

I was one of those innocent little babies who almost cost Stan his life that day. The other two were LeRoy Kuehl and Jerry Rowland. Stan forgave us, and came to love Alaska so much that he never returned to Stanford University, or any other part of the "Lower 48." Many years later, when we moved to Salt Lake City in 1971, I re-discovered one of those Yes Bay Babies. Leroy and his family were living there. He had grown up to be Dr. Kuehl, an esteemed biochemist and professor at the University of Utah Medical School. A few years ago, using the resources of the Internet, I located the third Yes Bay Baby, Jerry Rowland, now retired and living in Zillah, nearYakima, Washington.

In October, 2004, I spent a delightful afternoon with Jerry Rowland, and his wife Jean, while they were vacationing on the Oregon Coast. We shared pictures and some of the stories we heard so often as children, about those long-ago days in the wilds of Southeast Alaska, when we were the "Yes Bay Babies."

Stan Bishop recounted this story to me, when I visited Ketchikan, Alaska in 1999. I believe he told me he was 87 years old then.

 

 

Barbara Kemmerich, 9 months old
on the beach,
Ketchikan, Alaska Territory
July, 1932

 

Written as part of my "life story"

Barbara Kemmerich Halliday, October, 2004


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A Postscript--Stan Bishop Interview, 1997

Shortly after posting the story of "Stan and the Milk Run," I received an e-mail from Louise Harrington, a Ketchikan resident:

"I thought you might like a picture of Stan Bishop and a part of the interview I did with him for a local oral history project."

After a series of e-mails flew back and forth between us, I posted excerpts on this website from the oral history project done by Louise Harrington and Don MacMillan.

See "Stan Bishop--A True Sourdough"

See other Alaska stories: Yes Bay Tales, Alaskan Cruise

 

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Unless otherwise noted, text and photos are the property of Glenn and Barbara Halliday, © 2004