Nordic Heritage Museum Vanishing Generation Interview with Holger Leander Berg

  • By Phyllis L. Beaulieu
  • Posted 9/23/2004
  • Essay 5773

Holger Leander Berg, of Finnish heritage, grew up in Ballard and tells tales of his rambunctious childhood: harassing streetcar drivers with his Scout Troop, "creative" fishing around the Puget Sound, watching the silk trains fly by from the tracks at Shilshole Bay, and panning gold with a Scandinavian he met at Index on a camping trip. This is a Nordic Heritage Museum Vanishing Generation Oral History Interview by Phyllis L. Beaulieu that took place in Seattle on July 20, 2000.

This is an interview and video for the Vanishing Generation Oral History Project about Ballard. Today is July 20th, the year 2000, and I'll be interviewing Holger Leander Berg. We are at the home of Mr. Berg in Roosevelt District, Seattle, Washington. My name is Phyllis L. Beaulieu. The cameraman is Morris C. Moen.

The first question, Holger: Can you tell us about when your family left Finland?

Well, my mother left Finland in 1914 -- or early 1914. And she got on the boat in Hango and then took that steamer to Liverpool and then got on the Empress of Ireland, which was sunk the next trip. And my father came over -- I had heard that he had been here in 1907, and I heard that he had somehow gotten over to Sweden and possibly got passage money some way, because he didn't want to be conscripted into the Russian army. They had a habit of sending the local fellows clear over to Siberia so they wouldn't be going home.

And my mother landed in Halifax and took the train to Espanola where her sister, Sigrid, and her husband, Arthur Carlson, were operating a boarding house. And my mother went to work for my -- for her sister there. And I don't know anything more about that, except that one of the boarders was my father, or became my father. And my mother got acquainted with my dad, and they got married and subsequently, I was born in Espanola.

But my brother, I had heard, was born in Little Current on Manitoulin Island. I've never been able to pin this down, but I haven't seen the birth certificate, so I couldn't tell. But that was the general idea, that he was born there. Why, I have no idea; maybe because of the hospital.

My mother had a session with a typhoid fever they had during that time. She recalled being placed in a bathtub with crushed ice to bring her temperature down.

And ... .And I guess that's all I can think about what was going on there, except that when my aunt and uncle had been in that area five years, they were legal to immigrate to the United States, which they did. And of course, my mother came later, so she -- we had to stay there longer. And when the time came, I guess, they -- whether they sent money, or we had the money -- my dad had earned the money and we took the Sioux Line, they called it, from Canada down to Chicago, was it? Or yeah, or Detroit or one of those towns. And then we got on the Great Northern for the trip to Seattle. And that was quite an adventure. You know, as a very young child, I can still remember the color of the seats in that train car. And another thing I remember was that all the women were down at one end with us little kids, and then all the men were at the other end of the car with their pipes and cigars and talking, and there was no English spoken at all, not a word.

You mentioned your brother. Was it just you and your brother or --

Yes, at that time. My sister was born later in 1921 when we lived with my aunt up in a house above the university.

So she was born in Seattle.

Yeah. Well, anyway, when we came to Seattle, my aunt and uncle met us and took us to their house, which was, as I mentioned in the previous interview, it was above the campus. And we could look right down on it. And when they had some of their activities, I remember some of them were kind of strange, but whatever they did was okay, I guess.

And shortly after we got there, Arthur Carlson, Sigrid's -- my aunt's husband, his younger brother, George, and his two sisters, Allie and Gunhild, and then the father, Carl Carlson, came, and we were all jam-packed in this house, but we seemed to have made out, you know. And it was kind of interesting. Everybody was looking for work, and the conversation was about jobs and the best logging companies to work for and such and such. As I recall, Mr. Carlson became -- Carl Carlson became the web boss for Red Salmon Packing Company in Alaska and worked at that until he retired.

And my dad went to Bristol Bay and fished a couple of times. I guess they made a little money the first time. And I remember there was something about the first time he came down, he really scared my sister because he had a beard. He hadn't shaved, and she wondered who this man was. Yeah, it was really something. But then the second time he went up, why, he became ill from the poor sanitation and food and that. And when he came home, he was sick for several months. But he did -- he recovered.

And then by that time we had moved to a boathouse at the foot of Ewing Street, and we lived there a very short time 'cause my mother was afraid that my brother and I would drown playing in the water all the time. And then we moved across the street on Nickerson to a house there and lived there for a while.

And then my aunt announced that she had found a big house up on Phinney Ridge where we could all live and save money and be comfortable. And this was really a big house. And you know, later years I went up there and drove around. Do you think I could find that house? There is no way. They must have torn it down because it was a kind of a monstrosity in a way. I mean, it was huge.

But the way it was, was the Carlsons, all of them, lived upstairs. It was big. And then the Berg family, which there was five of us, lived downstairs. And the kitchen was most impressive. It had the biggest gas range I've ever seen in my life. And of course, at Christmas time, all the burners would be going because the house would be full of people that, like they say, came off the boat and were in Seattle looking for work.

And there was always a living room full of people on weekends. And a lot of those fellows probably had not had a square meal in days, you know. And so it was no problem. Lots of potatoes and carrots and rutabagas. And there was always stew meat and hamburger and things like that that my mother and my aunt could turn out something that was quite tasty.

Where did you first go to school in Seattle?

Yeah, I went to -- when we lived above the campus there, Allie Benson -- I mean, Allie Carlson -- her name later was Benson. Allie Carlson took me to North Queen Anne Grammar School. She was about 16 and started in the high school, and she took me everywhere. Every Sunday morning she'd take me to church. And the church we went to was on -- I think it's on 2nd Avenue and 65th NW. It was called the Emmause Lutheran Church at that time. And I went to that church until I was confirmed. And a lot of the newcomers went there. And some of them went to the church downtown. I can't remember the name of it.

But it was kind of something you had to do. I mean, you had to be confirmed, period. And so consequently, on Saturdays after I -- when I got to be a teenager, I had to go to Saturday classes for Bible study and things like that because when the time came for confirmation, there was four of us boys and only two girls in this class. And I think us boys were all dumber than stone because the girls -- the minister was smart enough to ask the girls the tough questions, and they knew all the answers. So they saved us that way.

Well, before you -- when you moved down to the second address, where did you go to school there?

I went to -- well, I went to Queen Anne -- I mean, to John B. Allen first where I only went for a short time but got into trouble with a kid that said, "Look what I've got, Holger." And he had a box of -- penny box of matches. And I said, "What are you going to do with those?" And he said, "I'm going across the street to that vacant lot and start a fire." And I said, "Well, I don't know about that." And he said, "Oh, come on; you can watch me." So I went over there and I watched him, and boy, before you knew it, the whole lot was on fire --cause there was brush and tall grass, and fire engines came. And the next thing I know, he and I are in the principal's office and they wanted to know who did this. And I said, "Hey, I told him he couldn't do it, but he didn't pay any attention to me." So they turned me loose. Yeah.

And then from there -- after we moved from there, we moved down to 61st, just off 11th Avenue -- on the east side of 11th Avenue. And then I started school, I think it was the third grade, at West Woodland. And I stayed there at West Woodland until I graduated there and went to high school and went to Ballard High. I started at Ballard High School. And Ballard High School was sort of a place where they'd look at you like greenhorns, so to speak. You'd come in in this big, big school, and you didn't know any of your way around. And you'd say, "Which way is this room here?" And they'd say, "Well, you've got to take the elevator up to the third floor." Well, there was no elevator, and I don't know how many kids went around looking for the elevator. But I didn't. I figured there was something wrong, you know.

So anyway, I went to Ballard High School until I was a senior. And I was lacking -- last half senior, and I lacked about four -- was it four credits or maybe five credits of graduating? And about that time, you know, this was right at the middle of the Depression, too, and work -- longshoring was very sketchy for my dad, too, 'cause you were on call. And they would rotate the men so that everybody got a chance.

And anyway, this young fellow that I had met -- I remember his name is Raymond Pardapilo (phonetic) -- apparently he was Greek. But anyway, he asked me if I'd like to -- like a job and I said sure. And it was an office boy for the United Press in the old Seattle Star newspaper building. So I went and told my folks, and they said, "Okay, you're going to work."

And I started at five o'clock in the morning and quit at two in the afternoon. And for this, I was paid $14 a week. And I took care of five Teletype machines that spewed out paper by the mile. The first impression was regular black and white. The second one was carbon. The third one was -- third and fourth ones were blue wax copies. And I'd have to separate these and take the originals up to the editor and then the carbon copy went to my boss, and the two wax copies went to KJR, KOMO and one copy to The Journal of Commerce. And I had to run to do all this because it would -- in the meantime, these machines were spitting out this paper, and I was going to be knee-deep in there if I didn't get back.

But anyway, after I was there for quite a while, it was just a routine job and it wasn't too exciting. And so my brother graduated from high school and was looking around, and I said, "Why don't you come and take this job I got? I'll find something." And so he did and his boss -- the boss said yeah. So my brother worked there for some time, too.

In the meantime, then I was doing odd jobs like manicuring people's yards on my hands and knees, and pushing a push lawnmower. Nobody had a power lawnmower in those days. And a lot of them had big yards.

Before you go on to your work, can we go back to as a child growing up in Ballard? What were some of the things that you did for fun?

What we did for fun? Well, we played indoor baseball at an intersection of Ninth Avenue and 60th where all these sewer lids made all the bases in the right places. And then, in the summertime, one of the fathers would take a whole carload of us out to Juanita Beach to swim. And then we would -- us boys would go down and walk the length of the canal, say like from the foot of Sixth Avenue all the way down to the locks and just look at all the boats and just -- kind of just looking at everything.

And then when I was about 14 or going on 15, I think, 14 maybe, I used to go down to the Great Northern roundhouse in Interbay. I would walk down there, and then I'd go over there and I'd look in the doors of the roundhouse where they had these big, giant steam locomotives. Every once in a while somebody was working there would come out and ask me if I wanted something. I said, "No, I just want to look at the trains." And they said okay. And then I watched them put iron tires on the drive wheels. People don't realize that, but they have to have new tires every once in a while, the steam locomotives did. And I wished I had taken photographs, but I didn't. Film cost money, and I didn't have that. So . . .

How about fishing?

Well, fishing. That was great fun. We'd go down to Ray's Boathouse where one of the boys' father had a skiff, and we would go out and troll for salmon. I was never -- I never caught one all the years that I trolled out there, but I caught everything else, dogfish, rock cod. And then we just fooled around.

We went in where Shilshole Boat Harbor is now. And at that time there was one little pier sticking out, and it was called the Sunset Yacht Club, one little wooden pier. And the bottom there was pure sand. And then when the tide was in, there was about six, seven feet of water and for a long ways out. And it would kind of warm up from 52 degrees to maybe, maybe 55, 60 degrees. And it was great fun swimming there because the water was so clear.

And there was one thing I didn't mention on the tape interview was that we found out how to catch sole without fishing. Unslacked lime, if you put water on it, generates steam. Don't ask me where we got it, but we had some unslacked lime, some of us guys. And where they got it, I don't know. And we figured out that if you put so much sand in a Mason jar and then added two heaping spoonfuls of unslacked lime, screw the lid on, and this would sink. Well, first we punched a hole in it about the size of a shingle nail. Well, this would sit down on the bottom for a little while and then it would explode. And then any sole that was floating around there would float belly-up, and we would pick them up. And I always wondered how many people got their feet cut years later on those broken bottles down there. But that was one of the -- you know, the guys were always thinking about something different.

And one of the things we did, too, was mostly backpacking into the hills here and fishing in the different lakes. And it was -- there was never -- after you got past the age ten, there were lots of things to do because your parents figured you were smart enough to stay out of trouble, you know. And so it was, like I said, it was a great place to grow up.

And there -- and, you know, at one time there was a little streetcar that went up 20th right in the middle of the street, single track. And it went up to Salmon Bay Park where there was a Y, and it could turn around. And this was a half-size streetcar; it was not as big. It was like they cut one in half and made a short one out of it. And it went down to, I guess it was Ballard Avenue. And then they just changed -- swapped ends on it, and it would pick up people from Ballard and go all the way to Salmon Bay Park.

And one of the things that happened to me one time was that I belonged to a Scout Troop called Troop 102 at the St. Luke's Episcopal Church. And it was a Reverend Boddington, a very English sort of a man, who was the Scout Master. And so we were coming back from there. And some other kids that we didn't know jumped on the -- on the, well, we called it a cowcatcher, but it was screen thing that was out in front of the streetcar in case anybody fell down or whatever. And they'd jump on this thing and grab the stinger and pop it off the wire and then run like crazy. And this was driving the conductor crazy 'cause he'd have to go out there a couple of times a night and put it back on again. And then the lights would come back on and everything. And this one time that we were going by, four or five of us coming back from Scout meeting, we got stopped by the police, and they wanted to know why we were jerking the stinger off the streetcar. We said, "We haven't been near it. No, we just came out of a Scout meeting."

We had a hard time convincing him, but you know in those days, the police didn't mess around with you. No way. I mean, they didn't take any lip from -- I don't care how old you were, boy. You're liable to get the back of the hand -- you know, their hand and crush your mouth, you know, and in those days it was okay to hit a kid, in other words. Let's see, now where were --

How about -- you told me you fished in Piper's Creek?

Oh, yes. This was -- I was in grammar school at the time. And it was lunchtime. And there was a fellow by the name of James Selly. And we were sitting there having our sandwich, and he said, "Holger, did you ever fish for trout?" And I said, "No, I've only fished for pogies and sole and rock cod down in the Sound. And I caught chub," I said, "in the canal. But you can't eat those things." I can, but I never did. Anyway, he says, "You want to go trout fishing?" And I said, "When?" And he says, "Right now." "Yeah?" I said, "You mean to play hooky?" And he said yeah. He said, "I've got a bunch of bent common pins in my pocket and some string, and we can find some worms and make us a pole, and we can catch fish. Come on."

So I weakened and away we went. We ran all the way out, went straight out Eighth Avenue to 85th and just beyond 85th was a barbed-wire fence. And we had to crawl through the barbed-wire fence, and there was a big cow pasture. And then you could see where the forest was where the creek started, or the canyon started. And we got over there, and of course, there had been a few hundred kids down that canyon before us, so they had a kind of a path down there. And we got our worms and started fishing. And I never caught so many fish in all my life. It was just great. And here it is, after 3:30 in the afternoon, and I got a paper bag I scrounged that was full of seven-, eight-inch cutthroat trout. And I said, "Well, I better head home."

And so I took them home and I showed them to my mother, and she said, "Where'd you get those?" And I said, "Well," I said, "this guy at school talked me into playing hooky and we went out to this Piper's Creek and caught them." "Well, better clean them." So I cleaned the fish. And then, of course, my dad found out about it, and he says, "Well, that was a nice mess of trout, but don't do it again on school time," you know.

It's -- but I think one of the most interesting things that happened to me, I thought at that time, was, I was, what, 13 years old, and there was this boy in the neighborhood by the name of Hans. His last name escapes me. And we had looked at, you know, automobile maps. We were going to go up the North Fork of the Skykomish for a week camping. So we planned everything. We planned what we were going to eat and what we were going to take with us and everything, and we were going to leave the following Saturday morning. And this was summertime.

And so, at 5:30 in the morning, I'm knocking on his door. He's not outside waiting for me. And his mother comes to the door and says, "Hans is not going anywhere." So anyway, I sat there on the curb for a little while. And I had this pack that my dad had in Canada for packing deer meat out, and it was loaded with my stuff, including a couple of quilts to sleep in. And so I thought, what the heck, I might as well go myself.

So I had my fishing pole and all that stuff, and I went out to 15th Northwest and 61st, put out my thumb, and the first car that came picked me up. And he said, "Where are you going?" And I said, "Up to Index." "Oh, great," he says, "I'm only to going to Everett." So I had a ride to Everett immediately. And then I asked him what road I would have to take to go up to Index, and he said, "You take Highway 2."

So I must have walked about, I don't know, half a block at the most. Here comes this woody car. You remember the Fords that had the wooden station wagon sides. And I put out my thumb and he stopped, and I noticed that on the front door, it was the Highway Department insignia, which was really fancy in those days. And so he says, "Where you going, son?" And I says, "To Index." And he says, "Hop in; I'm going to Skykomish." So there was the major part of my journey. And so he let me off there at the Y before going into Index. And then I must have hoofed it about four or five miles.

And it was hot. I remember it was a sizzling hot day. And I kept wondering why all those red signs were on these stumps and everything there, and it said, "Absolutely No Fires, High Fire Danger." So I went -- I came to what they call the Galena Bridge and I went -- slid down the bank and went out on this gravel bar and built the smallest fire I could think of to heat some beans. And I was just getting started to open the can, and here comes this man charging out of the woods, scared the wits out of me.

He says, "No, don't; put out that fire right away." He says, "You want to give the ranger a heart attack?" He says, "Come with me and you can cook them on my stove." I says, "You live here?" He says, "Well, only, you know, for a while." So I said okay. And he looked like he had an honest face. And then, when he told me his name was Carlson, I knew he couldn't be all bad.

And so he took me to this cabin; it was made out of shakes. And he had a couple of bunks in there and this little stove. And so we shared my beans, and I ate some of his homemade bread and it was pretty good. And the conversation got around to what are you doing here? "Oh," he said, "I've got a placer mine." "Oh," I said, "you mean you're panning for gold?" And he said yes. And I thought wow. So he says, "You want to see how it's done?" And I said yes. He says, "Well, come on; grab that shovel."

So the next thing I know, I'm shoveling gravel, tons of it, into this chute. And we took turns shoveling gravel and raking the boulders out. And after we'd done that for three or four hours, getting toward afternoon, why he said, "Well, this ought to be enough for today." And so he got a washtub and put that at the end of the chute, and then he took the -- you know, what they called riffle boards. It's like a ladder that fits down into this -- the chute was about this wide, and then they had the small pieces of wood that were fitted in here. And then they had like steps every so often so that the rocks and the gravel would have to tumble over this.

And so we stood those up in the washtub and washed them off. And then there was hardware cloth of about quarter-inch mesh under that in frames, and we washed that off. And then there were two or three layers of gunny sacking, and that was rinsed up and down in water in the tub, and then the chute was flushed out. Then all the water was drained out of the tub.

And then he showed me a skillet he had in the cabin. And he says, "You never use this skillet for anything but what I'm going to show you." And he scraped all the manganese, the black sand and the garnets, and if there was any gold in there, it would be in this mixture. And then he put this -- got it all cleaned out, and he put it on the stove and drove all the water off. And then when it was completely dry, he brought out a couple of what we called Model T magnets. Anyway, Model T magnets were out of a car, a Model T car, and there was a ring of them around the flywheel that generated the spark.

The Videographer: Let's stop there and you can turn over your tape so you don't miss anything.

Oh, okay.

[Side B]


Well, anyway, he took a couple of these Ford Model T magnets and went over the skillet. And manganese is an iron, is really iron ore in a way. And it attaches itself to the magnet, so you swept that area where the black sand and the garnets were -- you pull that out, and then you pick out the garnets and you've got a little bit of black sand, really fine, fine stuff and some stuff in there that doesn't look like much at first. But then he gets out a bottle of mercury about this big and takes about, oh, I would say, half a teaspoon of mercury and puts it in the skillet and sloshes it around. And as he does that, the gold in this -- fine, flour gold is just sucked right up into the mercury. So -- and then pretty soon it's real thick and it won't roll, and that's called amalgam.

And so then, he says, "Now I'm going to show you how we take the excess out." So he had some chamois skin, and he would put this amalgam in there and then squeeze it like this and recapture at least maybe 20 percent, if not more, of the mercury. And so then he would take this wad that looked like dried aluminum paint but was full of flour gold and little chips, and he says, "Now this is really the most dangerous part of this whole operation."

And he brought out a little crucible about this high and about that big around, and he goes out there and puts it on a stump, and he goes like this to find out which way the wind's blowing. And he says, "Holger, you get over here." He says, "I'm going to put the amalgam in there." And then he gets out a little bottle and he's got something he calls Thermit pills, a little bigger than aspirin. He put one of those in there, screwed the lid on and put it in his pocket and took one of these farmer matches and lit it. And instantly, this pill caught on fire and just this whole crucible was almost incandescent and just -- 'cause it generates 1500 degrees.

So anyway, the smoke that comes off of this, which is mercury, you don't want to be near it or inhale it, and so we had to wait till it cooled off. Didn't want to crack the crucible or anything.

And he had a little button of gold there about so big, and it felt like lead, you know, a little piece of lead. And I said, "Well, how much have you got there?" He says, "About five, six dollars' worth," he says. And I says, "Gee, whiz, if you did that every day, that would be pretty good pay, considering the times." And he says, "It doesn't happen that way. I had a little help today. We shoveled a lot of gravel."

But anyway, I did that. I stayed with him for a whole week and literally moved tons of gravel. And a couple of times we just knocked off in the afternoon and went up Salmon Creek and caught some beautiful trout and had them for dinner, sat around and talked, and the next day we were hard at it again.

And the time came to be Saturday and I said, "You know, I've been gone a week. Actually, I've been gone eight days, and I think I'd better get home because my folks haven't -- they haven't a clue where I am." So anyways, he says, "You know, it's time I went home, too." He says, "You know, I've got a family in West Seattle. I've got three kids and a wife back there." And I says, "Oh, this is how you're making your money then to keep going?" He says yeah. And he says, "It beats walking the streets in Seattle looking for a job."

And so he had this Model T Touring Car, and we threw our junk in there. And he threw his laundry in for his wife to do and all this and stuff. And then we took off and he said, "Where do you live, Holger?" And I says, "I live in Ballard." "Oh, well," he says, "that's not too far out of the way." Because in those days, there was no shortcut through town like there is now, you had to come down Elliott Avenue and that way.

And so he took me right to the house and parked right out in front. And I said, "You know, Mr. Carlson, it would be really nice if you'd come in and explain to my father and mother where in the heck I've been because if I went in by myself, they'd say, yeah; they'd just shake their head and say, "Boy, we really don't know where this kid has been." But anyway, I said, "I'd sure appreciate it."

So when we walked up on the porch and he knocked on the door. And my dad opened the door and I said, "Dad, this is Mr. Carlson." I think my dad was expecting me to have been in trouble or something but. And I said, "Dad, I've been staying with a Mr. Carlson up in the mountains for a week, working for him," I said. So my dad says, "Come on in," you know. And so I think they were talking Swedish after a while, too; I'm not sure.

But anyway, my mother brewed home brew for my dad, so they were sitting in the kitchen having a tall one, you know, and my mother was saying, "Have you been with this man all this time?" I says, "Yeah, gol, he's a real neat guy." I said, "You know, he has a family in West Seattle" and so on and so forth. So I explained the whole thing to them afterwards, and they said, well, if you're going to go into the mountains, we don't mind. But we don't want you to go alone, but we want you to tell us where you are going to be, or the general area anyway." So that's the way it was after that.

Well, before we go into Alaska, is there anything else about your growing up in Ballard that you'd like to tell us? Those trains you were talking about --

The what?

The trains.

Oh, yeah, that was real interesting. You know, at one time there was a single streetcar track coming up 15th Avenue Northwest. And it had the catenary wire overhead, and my brother and I said, "Wonder what the heck they've got this for. No streetcar ever comes up this way, and why one track." I think they had a couple of tracks over on Eighth Avenue. So we were talking to some guy and he said, "Oh, well, they bring a train down here every night at one o'clock." We said, "What kind of a train?" He said electric train. "And what's the train pulling?" He said, "Boxcars, log cars, cattle cars, cord wood, everything you can think of."

So we go and explain this to our folks, that we'd like to go out there and sit on the curb until this one o'clock train comes. And sure enough, here comes this train, and it had about ten cars on it. And I could not believe my eyes. Here, right in our neighborhood, practically, was this electric train coming down the track. And found out that later they went down as far as the 15th Avenue bridge where the electric motor, as they called them, was shunted off to one side. And there was a steam locomotive waiting to hook up to the train, and that took it across a bridge that was further up the canal, and it crossed the canal and then went down through Interbay and wherever it went. But I thought that was pretty interesting. We sat there several nights and watched that. You wanted me to mention something about Alaska?

Well, there was another train that you mentioned -- silk train?

Oh, yeah, the silk trains. Now the picture in the corner of the room here is a picture my brother painted of a silk train. That is a Mikado locomotive, a Great Northern, and the entire, as they say, consists -- or the entire train is made up of baggage cars, except for the last car which is a combination car of half passenger and -- well, it's got quarters for people to sleep on, and then there was a cook on there. And there was a large body of men that traveled with this. They were all U.S. Marshals. And the reason they were traveling U.S. Marshals on there because this was a silk train. And the Nippon Yusen Kaisha Steamship Line would come into Pier 90 or 91 in Smith's Cove, and they would unload this silk in skeins. I've seen pictures of it. I've never actually seen one other than the picture. And they would load this into these baggage cars, and then, when it was completely loaded, they would just take off.

And so this one day when my father came home from work, he said, "If you boys want to see the silk train, four o'clock tomorrow afternoon it's going to go -- going to head east." So we jumped on our bikes after we got out of school and tore down to where Shilshole is down there, the bay, and parked not too close to the tracks. We were smart enough or knew that. And I'll tell you, this train went smoking by there. They didn't slow down for anything. In fact, they had precedence over freight trains, passenger trains, anything that was on the track, they had to get out of the way. And they would make it to Paterson, New Jersey, where the silk mills were which was waiting for the silk, because they made, you know, women's lingerie and stockings and men's silk shirts and stuff out of that, you know. So that was pretty interesting. We watched the silk train a couple of times.

But my brother decided he would paint a picture. Now, in the back of that picture, in the jacket, there's a pocket in there. My brother made a pocket in there, and there's a couple of clippings about these trains. And it wasn't only just the Great Northern that had them. It was Portland had them and San Francisco had them, also. And it was a big race to get the stuff back East as fast as they could.

Now, when -- going back to the point where I was doing yard work, I had done some work for a grocer, and I remember the following day, my aunt called and asked me to come up and take care of her yard 'cause she was working. And so I did that. And when I got through, I was getting -- putting the tools away and I was getting ready to go home, and the man next door came over and he says, "Tomorrow would you come over and do my yard? And I have some other work I'd like done." I said okay. And he says, "How much do you charge?" And I said, "Fifty cents an hour," reaching for it. And I did that. And I worked for him about a week, doing everything from hauling ash, coal ashes out of the basement, and just cleaning up the -- the yard was a mess, and I cleaned that up.

And then on a Friday, he said, "Holger, how would you like to go to Alaska?" And I said, "Oh, I'd like that fine, but," I said, "I'd have to find out from my parents first." So he says, "Well, if you really want to go, when can I talk to them?" And I says, "Well, they're both home today. If you want to go down there and talk to them, why, fine." So we got in his car and we went down there, and he talked to my folks. And my dad said, "Take him; he eats too much anyway," so . . . Anyway, so then I -- the folks had to buy me three-quarter length hip boots, some oilskins, and then I had some winter -- heavy winter underwear anyway. And the only thing I needed was a blanket, and they had told me that I could buy a good wool blanket right up there, which I did.

And so then they -- on Monday they said, "Well, you know, you come down to the ship." And I found out the ship was the Charles R. Wilson. I had seen it before tied up down there in Ballard. And so they put me to work carrying two-by-fours, two-by-sixes, two-by-eights, 16-feet long, and lumber that my brother and I used to call pond dried -- dried in the pond anyway and two-by-twelves, huge lengths of two-by-twelves. And they had this -- and timbers, twelve-by-twelves, and six-by-sixes, eight-by-eights, ten-by-tens. And they had an assortment of timbers. And it was piled up at least two feet higher than the rail of the ship. And then on the inside, where it was lashed down, there was room to walk.

And I -- the first day I worked there, I didn't want to lose a good job because they were going to pay me $70 a month and my room and board. And I was -- I did -- boy, I really gave them 110 percent, and I was so stiff the next day that I could not come to work. But I came early the -- on Tuesday, and the superintendent who was a sort of a knowing fellow, Mr. Nielson, John Nielson (phonetic), he laughed, and he says, "Holger, I watched you yesterday. You can't do it all, you know." So, anyway, I was a lot better off 'cause I'd already gotten my muscles all flexed out doing this.

And then the next thing I know, they said, "Well, bring all your stuff down here tomorrow morning. Better be down here about 6:30 because we're going to get out of here." So we did. And my folks brought me down, and then we went up through the Sound up toward the Gulf Islands, Canadian Islands.

And we got up to Seymour Rock and we had to wait because the tide was out. So we just sort of milled around there. And the tug had to keep us sort of stationary. And it wasn't really a tug. It was an island trader by the name of Ruth C, the letter C. And Captain Olson and his two sons were the crew on that. And we waited till the tide was high, and then we could pass over this rock. And years later, they tunneled from the land side underwater and came up inside the rock and hollowed it out and filled it full of dynamite and blew it up. And they've had that on TV several times. It's quite interesting.

And anyway, we went up as far as, I think, Cape Scott and the Charlotte -- Queen Charlotte Sound. And then we just made a beeline straight across for Kodiak. And we were out there five, maybe six days, rolling around. And lucky me, I got to steer. I got to steer from two in the morning until eight in the morning. And my only companion on the deck was an old wind ship sailor by the name of Yelmer Jenssen (phonetics). He had to be 70 if he was a day, but he was tough. And he was the nicest man you'd ever want to meet.

While there was lots of profanity being used by a lot of the crew up there, this guy never uttered a word of profanity all the time that I knew him. And I thought that was pretty good. And he used to be -- he was in the same bunkhouse, later, that I was, and he would tell us about some of the ships, square-riggers that he went around the horn on and things like that.

But anyway, we came up -- we got to Kodiak, we went through Raspberry Straits, where later I had my accident. And then went up the outside of a Afognak Island up to, I forget the name of the cape there, and in between Afognak and Shuyak Island. And then we tied up at Port William. And we were carrying enough stuff -- enough building materials to enlarge the cannery is what we were doing. The warehouse space mostly.

And we hadn't been there very long when the next thing I know, this steamer, the Curacao (phonetic), came in with a Scotch marine boiler, a gigantic thing. And with all of us pushing and grunting and heaving, we moved it like from here to across the street on rollers into the boiler room, and then it was about that time that -- well, it was later, I guess. It was later that the foreman -- this guy that was working in the machine shop was fired, and they shipped him home. I don't know what the cause was yet. But anyway, the foreman came and said --

The Videographer: Now, I've stopped the tape because . . .

Anyway, years later, I think it was in the fall of 1940, I had the opportunity to go halibut fishing in inland waters with this guy on a 37-footer. Well, inland waters are not too bad. It's on the outside that gets nasty. Well, anyway, we were handling four skates of gear. Each skate is a quarter of a mile, and there's a hook every -- or a gannion (phonetic) they call it -- every six feet. And you put a piece of herring on it and you stack it up and you got three or four of these stacks. And then you have a barrel and an anchor, and you throw those out. And he puts the boat into high blower, and he takes off, and this stuff just goes flying out there. You 't want to get near it 'cause if you get caught, you're going over with it.

Anyway, as soon as you get to the end, you'd throw out the other anchor and a float, and you go right back and start pulling up the anchor and the float and re-baiting as you're bringing in the halibut.

And the only thing we wanted was the liver. We were throwing away good fish because the military wanted halibut liver. They didn't care about the halibut, just the liver. So we threw a few tons of halibut over the side. But anyway, we had to get at it real fast because we discovered -- we called it buggy bottom. There were these little creatures down on the sea bottom there that would go in through the openings in the fish's body and just eat the insides out. And that made it worthless to us.

Well, anyway, this one day I'm pulling in this line, and it's just like it's tied to the bottom. How am I doing? Anyway, I was pulling and pulling, and finally this thing showed up. And it was a skate. It had to be -- like this was the head. Well, the tips of it were longer than this table, and then it has this rat-like tail. And it just had these great big eyes, just looked at me, you know. And so I thought, gosh, I've got to break the hook. And those hooks are quite brittle. If you do it just right, it will snap them off. And so I'm going like -- I'm pulling the fish up as far as I can and slacking it and then snapping it like this. Except it tore out of the fish's mouth and glanced off the brim on my hat and stuck in my wrist here and penetrated right to the bone.

Well, I poured iodine on it and wrapped it up, and that was not good enough 'cause the next day, my arm was about as big around as my leg. And I told this fellow, Jackson was his name, I said, "Hey, better take me into Afognak." I says, "I've got to go lie down somewhere. This is no good."

Well, to make the long story short, I finally wound up in Kodiak in a room. I might add that everybody was there: the Marine Corps, the soldiers, the Seabees, the Navy, and there wasn't any rooms. But happily, I knew a bargirl. And I asked for her to come down. And her name was Kia Hubbly (phonetic). I will always remember that. She saved my life, I think. Anyway, she got me a room that girls used to rest in. And I was in that room for five weeks. And I went down from 185 pounds to just barely a hundred pounds. And they wouldn't take me on the steamer. And the superintendent found out about it and got me on the boat.

And I arrived in Seattle a skeleton practically. And then a couple of days later I wound up in the Swedish Hospital where they told me they were going to take my leg off. And I said, "I don't care; it just hurts so much." Well, I woke up and there it was. And it plagued me for the next, well, I think it was 80 -- when did they take it off, in '86? So I had to change the dressing twice a day. And it was just one of those painful things.

I remember I got my notice from President Roosevelt. "Greetings, you are to report to the Filter Center," or wherever it was, and so I hobbled down there on my crutches and my cast up to my thigh. And the guy says, "What's wrong with you, son?" And I said, "I got osteomyelitis." He says, "Get out of here." And that was the end of that, so. . .

The Videographer: That's a good stopping point.


Videotape interview by Phyllis L. Beaulieu, July 20, 2000, Nordic Heritage Museum, Seattle.

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