Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Meyered in history — Past is ever-present around Kasilof collector’s property

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

On his kitchen table, Larry Meyer has an 8-by-10 color photograph that, at first glance, appears to be a man frozen in a block of glacier ice. Upon more scrutiny, however, the careful observer will note the name “MEYER” written in black ink on the trapped man’s left leather glove, and then quickly realize that the distorted face behind the blue ice is that of Meyer himself.

A grin breaks out behind his salt-and-pepper whiskers, and Meyer laughs as he explains the joke. But the image — however staged and silly — is still apropos.

At 70, Meyer is anything but “frozen in time.” His Kasilof homestead is a different story.

Scattered across its grassy taiga are hundreds of relics from the past.

A self- acknowl- edged Dumpster-diving, junkyard-scrounging collector of anything useful or interesting — most intriguingly more than a dozen old buildings, most of them labeled and disassembled on their original sites, then carted to Meyer’s place and pieced back together like immense jigsaw puzzles — he has accumulated acres upon acres of other people’s past and given it all a new home.

Meyer frequently employs a common Alaska noun, “seagull,” as a verb to describe his tendency to swoop in and strip away the meaty good parts from whatever he happens to find.

Meyer rescues dilapidated structures, rusting hulks, abandoned machines and rotting crafts. He plucks and saves old fishing gear, old hunting and trapping gear, old farming gear, old homesteading gear— really, anything that has been around awhile and in which he detects some inherent value.

Among the oddities a visitor to the Meyer homestead might find are a bedraggled goat-head mount with one eye missing, several rifles burned beyond usefulness but nailed like trophies above the lintels of doorways, two small birds nests tucked into the empty headlight sockets of an ancient Ford, and an entire wrecked station wagon packed with hubcaps.

Meyer also has more than 60 cars and about 30 snowmachines — most lying in various states of disrepair in an area he fondly refers to as his “junkyard,” basically a semiopen vehicular graveyard in which the trees, weeds and rust are winning.

Some of Meyer’s vehicles are protected by shed roofs or barns. There is his 1931 Model A Ford, his 1963 Pontiac Bonneville, his 1968 Lincoln Continental and several early model Polaris and Ski-Do snowmachines.

Many of these vehicles Meyer had originally meant to restore or to use for parts.

“Got a hell of a pile out there,” he said. “A little bit of it I used, but most of it I didn’t.”

Also on the grounds are half a dozen wooden boats, most of them in some stage of renovation. One — formerly filled with dirt and used as a flower garden — is slowly succumbing to the elements.

But the real prize here is the buildings. Meyer has sheds, barns, homes, a garage, a sauna and even an outhouse rescued from the ravages of time.

A 1929 Alaska Road Commission map of the Kasilof River area displays numerous names — of local historical importance — connected to the buildings on Meyer’s property: H.P. Jensen, Archie McLane, Abram Erickson, J.A. Nylander, Slim Crocker.

Meyer, who came to the Kenai Peninsula in the fall of 1960 to work for big-game guide George Pollard, began collecting these buildings a few years later. He had left Alaska temporarily, but in 1962 he drove his 1953 Mercury (now part of the junkyard) back to Alaska and homesteaded in Kasilof.
With the dream in his head of becoming a guide like Pollard, Meyer rescued what he called “the Peacock Building,” because he got it from Ernie Peacock. Essentially, it was a horse barn, in which Meyer planned to keep the horses he would need for guiding.

He quickly realized, however, that he was “not a good carpenter” and could barely feed himself, let alone a horse. So for nearly the next 40 years, he worked on oil platforms, in commercial salmon fishing and in various other jobs — and kept his seagull eyes peeled for new bargains.

Over the years he collected the McLane Schoolhouse, built in 1912 by Charlie West and used in the 1930s by Kasilof’s first teacher, Enid McLane; the Slim Crocker home, built in 1928 and purchased by Meyer in 1974 for $1,800 to use as his own home; and the Erickson-Lovdahl barn and fox kitchen, which includes several fox houses and a tower for observing the foxes raised on Ed Lovdahl’s farm.

There is also the home of Alex Lind (who had changed his name from J.A. Nylander); a barn that Meyer purchased from Mae Ciechanski; the Holden house, the origins of which are fuzzy but which was probably built in the late 1930s; and a garage formerly owned by Ray McNutt, husband to Sterling’s longtime postmaster, Gloria McNutt.

Perhaps the most peculiar history of all the structures is the outhouse, because it was the site of a suicide, according to Meyer. He said that Christian Jensen, brother of Kasilof’s Pete Jensen, became too ill to take care of himself, moved in with his brother, and then, despondent about his condition, shot himself one day in the outhouse.

Meyer keeps track of the histories of his structures (as well as many of his vehicles, boats and other assorted objects), but his methods are problematical. Although he has written down many facts and stories on a variety of scattered papers, he frequently finds himself saying, “I’ve got that written down somewhere,” without being completely sure where that is. And the facts and stories not yet committed to paper are “written” only in his head.

“When I was in school, when you had to write a 300-word report or somethin’, I just never did it,” he said. “I’m just not very good. I can tell the stories, but writin’ ’em down, I just hate it. I hate it.”

Many people, he said, have urged him to write anyway, or to dictate to someone, and also to organize his many photographs of original buildings and owners and his reconstruction processes, but he has resisted.

Standing over a pile of mainly historical photographs and a scrapbook full of blank pages, he said, “I dug these pictures out, and I was going to put ’em in this book — about five years ago, and here they sit.

“If I kick the bucket, you’ll have a hard time finding all this (stuff).”

Another concern, as far as local historians are concerned, is what will happen to all of Meyer’s stuff after he dies.

“As of now, it’s left to my one son,” he said, acknowledging that he doesn’t know what his son’s intentions will be.

He said, however, that he does plan to consider other options of preserving his treasures.

In the meantime, he is content to look for more bargains and to give tours to the occasional visitors who follow the meandering gravel roads out to his property, where history is alive and well.

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