Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Lucky move — Tachick family beat the odds in Alaska relocation effort
By Clark Fair
Most members of the large Tachick clan knew they might be pushing their luck when, in mid-October 1951, they packed up their home in Washington state and headed north to Alaska to start a new life in the Last Frontier. By Christmas, they hoped to be living in a house of their own in Soldotna.
They had no definite jobs waiting for them. They also had not yet purchased property or ordered any building materials. In order to succeed, they would need good timing and good luck.
Patriarch of the family, Paul Tachick, had chosen Soldotna — which, according to the 1950 U.S. Census, had 21 residents — because it was home to three other families headed by men he had worked with on the Hanford nuclear project in Washington: Chell Bear, Bill Stock and Jake Dubendorf. All of the men had dreamed of one day living in Alaska. Stock and Dubendorf were working for the Alaska Road Commission, and Tachick hoped to join them.
Tachick and his wife, Anna, both originally from Wisconsin, had seven children, and all but one of them made the trip north. Chuck, the eldest, was stationed with the Army in Japan, but the others — four boys and two girls — helped pack up a Ford sedan and a 2½-ton Ford truck, and hit the road.
“In the car, tucked here and there, were Mom’s houseplants. There was one birdcage, with two yellow canaries,” recounted older sister Shirley in “Once Upon the Kenai,” a book of peninsula memories published in 1984.
“In our equivalent to a covered wagon were tools to clear the wilderness and to build a house, guns and fishing gear to enable us to live off the land,” she continued. “Mom had packed her treadle sewing machine, a wood stove, a gas engine wringer washing machine, plus countless jars of home-canned goods.”
Paul drove the car, while Bob, at 19 the second oldest, drove the truck, accompanied by brother, Melvin, 17. In the car with Paul were Anna, Roger, who turned 15 on the Alaska Highway, Wayne, 12, Shirley, 7, and Arlene, 3.
On Halloween night, 10 days after beginning their journey, they pulled into Anchorage, where they had expected to have to load their vehicles onto the train for Moose Pass and Seward. Instead, they were told that they might be able to drive all the way south on the new road along Turnagain Arm.
On Nov. 1, they trundled down the rough dirt-and-gravel Seward Highway until they reached a construction zone, and the crew there allowed the Tachicks to pass through. Later that day, they arrived in Soldotna and located the Dubendorfs, who gave them a place to stay while Paul searched for work and tried to find land for sale.
It was not to be a typical month. As Bob recalled, “It was the best November I can remember. You could walk around in shirt sleeves and the sun was shining. There were still robins here.”
Within a week, Paul had been hired as a mechanic for the Alaska Road Commission, and he had convinced homesteader Lawrence “Mac” McGuire to sell him a five-acre lot just across the Kenai River bridge (the current site of The Crossing restaurant).
After Morris Coursen used his bulldozer to clear a building lot, the Tachicks erected a 16-by-32-foot canvas wall tent over a hastily constructed wooden floor. As the building project got under way Anna set up house inside the tent.
Just inside a framed door installed in the front of the tent was Anna’s kitchen, the centerpiece of which was a barrel stove that the Tachicks kept burning 24 hours a day. Toward the back were wooden bunks, lined with warm blankets, on which everyone slept. The family used kerosene lamps and Coleman lanterns as light sources, and an outhouse as a substitute for indoor plumbing.
On the building site nearby — after they had located a nearby sawmill to supply them with the lumber they would need — they drove a sand point into the ground until they struck good water, and then they built a floor on pilings around the wellhead.
With Paul working, and all of the younger children, except Arlene, in school, the bulk of the building effort fell to Bob. One obstacle he encountered early on was the accessibility of lumber. When the Tachicks had inquired about a sawmill, no one had mentioned that a large operation called the Bear Lake Lumber Company, in Seward, could have supplied all of their needs at once. Instead, without knowing it, they had settled for a small-time operation.
“I could’ve went over there (to Seward) and got a whole load. Built the whole house with one load,” Bob said. “But they said, ‘(Fred) House out in North Kenai.’ Well, he couldn’t cut it fast enough. You know, you had to go every day to get some lumber, every day to get lumber.”
Bob also had to travel to Homer for all the required hardware and accessories, such as doors and windows, boxes of nails, roofing supplies and trim materials.
Still, despite all the back-and-forth hauling necessary, the Tachick project moved along smoothly. They pounded the green-spruce boards together to frame and enclose a one-story structure with a large loft for extra bedrooms. Within a few weeks, a new front door faced the mostly quiet highway.
On Dec. 5, just as the real Alaska winter was making an appearance, the Tachicks were ready to move. “About the fifth of December, it was down to about 40, 50 below. It just changed, just like that,” Bob said.
The Tachicks, all of whom would eventually settle permanently in Alaska, moved in and continued to finish the inside as winter progressed. They heated the house with a wood stove and continued to use lanterns for lighting. According to Shirley, the water in the well inside the house contained too much iron, so they hauled most of their water from a clear spring nearby. Electricity was not available for some time, until Paul purchased a small generator that he installed in an insulated shed near the house.
Despite these inconveniences, however, the Tachicks had achieved their goal, and later went on to create Tachick Construction and Tachick Freight Lines.
As Shirley wrote, “Our first Christmas was one filled with the aroma of fresh-cut lumber, sawdust, a fragrant spruce tree decorated for Christmas, and Mom’s baking. We were home.”