Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hail of a storm — Pea-sized ice chunks a surprise for drivers, golfers

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

When Michael Gangloff bought his Harley-Davidson Sportster motorcycle in April and took a riding class at the Kenai Peninsula Harley-Davidson store, it prepared him for just about anything the road might throw at him.

Pea-sized hail in September was a surprise, though.

Gangloff was riding home to Sterling from Homer around 4:45 p.m. Friday when a storm front passed over Sterling, spewing torrential rain, pea-sized chunks of ice and thunder and lightning over the Sterling Highway.

The storm didn’t reach downtown Soldotna, but the massive black cloud marring the otherwise sunny fall afternoon sky could be seen from miles away. Even so, Gangloff wasn’t expecting what he was driving into.

“It just started hailing. About a mile up it wasn’t doing this,” Gangloff said.

The weather had been nice all the way up from Homer on Friday. Even when he reached the edge of the storm near the Soldotna Animal Hospital, he didn’t think it would do more than make a soggy ending to an otherwise pleasant ride.

“I didn’t think it would be too bad at first. I thought it was just rain, but it started bouncing up on the road,” he said. “I had my visor open. It was stinging the face pretty good.”

Traffic was picking up at the early end of the workday commute as the rain deluge started reducing visibility. When the hail started rattling car roofs and ricocheting off windshields, vehicles pulled off onto the road shoulder, into parking lots and on side streets to get off the highway.

“When it started I slowed way down. I was probably doing only about 30,” Gangloff said.
The Harley-Davidson store where he bought the bike was in sight, so he pulled under the awning covering the front door and went in for a cup of coffee to wait out the storm before riding the remaining 12 or so miles to his home on Feuding Lane.

“It started getting pretty thick on the road,” he said. “I think it’s going to be pretty slick for a while. I might have to drive with the emergency lights on on the side of the road.”
Gangloff has only been riding since May, so this summer has entailed a lot of firsts for him on his bike. He didn’t think riding through a hailstorm would be one of them.

“I sure didn’t think this was going to happen today. I was actually planning to go to Anchorage tomorrow. It sure don’t seem like it now,” he said.

He said the instructors of the riders safety course he took when he bought the bike covered what to do in inclement weather, even if they didn’t mention hail, specifically.
“More or less,” he said. “Just get out of it.”

Rita Geller and her son, Dan Geller, followed that advice at Birch Ridge Golf Course. They were on the fourth hole when the hailstorm hit.

“We were gonna try and sit it out until we saw lightning,” said Rita Geller, who works in the pro shop at Birch Ridge.

They thought better of walking around an open expanse with metal sticks and took cover in their golf cart. Even under shelter the right side of Rita’s pants still got soaked.

“The cart was fishtailing when we were driving back. It was pretty icy in the fairways,” Rita said.

After 20 minutes the storm passed and the sun was once again peeking out from the clouds, illuminating the greens that now looked like they were covered with a blanket of Styrofoam.

“We tried to putt on the green, but it was too bumpy,” Dan Geller said.

Rita said she only gets her son out to play about three times a year, and put the blame for cutting this game short squarely on her son.

“I was complaining about the heat earlier,” Dan said.

“Yeah, you did it. It was your fault,” Rita said.

Actually, a mix of sunlight and cold was to blame. David Vonderheide, a meteorological technician with the National Weather Service’s forecast office in Anchorage, said a lack of wind, a layer of cool air up above and afternoon sunlight warming moist air down near the ground created air instability.

As the sun warmed moist air near the ground an updraft was created, sucking the moisture up to the layer of freezing cold air above. Big, puffy clouds form, and the moisture freezes into ice pellets. If the updraft is strong enough, the ice is held aloft and collects more moisture, turning into bigger and bigger chunks of ice. When the ice becomes too heavy for the updraft to keep aloft, or if the ice shifts too far from the updraft, it falls back to the ground as hail.

“Gravity takes over and they all just spill out,” Vonderheide said.
He said pea-sized hail would take updraft wind speeds of 30 to 40 miles per hour to form. Some hailstorms can have 80- to 100-mph wind speeds, which can result in chunks of hail as big as grapefruits.

Anchorage has also seen some hail showers in the last few weeks, Vonderheide said.

“It is a little unusual. Usually you get weather like that during May and June,” he said.

Vonderheide chalked it up to the changing of the seasons, since equinox was Monday.
That means winter is not far away. The Kenai Municipal Airport recorded a low of 37 degrees Sunday night, while the Soldotna Airport dipped down to 34 degrees.

“It was kind of a close call this morning for people who forgot to take their plants in,” Vonderheide said Monday. “Probably just a few places got maybe an hour or two of frost. The first real general, regular frost will be coming within the next two weeks, I think.”

Sign of the times? Campaign propaganda disappears from central peninsula yards, roadsides

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Political signs have it rough. In the course of one election season the red-white-and-blue signs that sprout up overnight along major roads, busy intersections and in supporters’ yards take a lot of abuse.

They’re shot, stabbed, shredded by razors, graffitied and burned. Run over by four-wheelers, dirt bikes, cars and trucks, wildlife and the occasional piece of farm equipment. This year on the central Kenai Peninsula, they’re being stolen altogether.

Several signs promoting Democratic candidates for state and national offices have gone missing this month. Mary Toutonghi, who lives on SoHi Lane in Soldotna, has had problems with her yard signs being knocked over periodically in the two months or so she’s had them out. Then on Sept. 9 she woke up to find a sign for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and one for Democratic U.S. House of Representatives candidate Ethan Berkowitz were gone altogether.

“To me it’s a cowardly act because there’s no discussion or anything, and I see it as an act of vandalism, really,” Toutonghi said.

A Soldotna resident since 1984, Toutonghi has displayed signs for candidates she’s supported for “years and years,” she said. They’ve been knocked down before but never outright stolen.

She related the act to an incident in 2003, when people participating in a peace demonstration at Soldotna Creek Park along the Sterling Highway were doused with water by a man in a truck.

“To me it’s not a democratic form, it is a cowardly form,” she said.

Toutonghi said she reported the theft to Soldotna police, but without any witnesses she doesn’t expect anyone to be held accountable.

“It’s my yard, I put up my signs and they tear them down instead of going the route of putting up their own signs. Or maybe they do have their own signs, but to me it’s a violation of what I choose to display in my yard,” she said.

Toutonghi’s political beliefs are strong enough for her to promote them visually, but she draws the line at interfering in what others believe.

“I do feel they have a right to their own opinions,” she said. “There are times when there are discussions and there is agreement, and if there is serious disagreement I let it go. I feel I don’t have any more right to push on people than they have to push on me.”

Julie Hasquet, with the Mark Begich for U.S. Senate campaign in Anchorage, said on Friday that she had heard of a rash of sign stealing on the central peninsula. Begich, a Democrat, is running against incumbent Republican Ted Stevens.

“It appears at this point this is pretty exclusive to your area. There have been reports of Begich signs taken down there, and larger numbers than normal,” Hasquet said.

She said people have reported seeing someone in a white Suburban taking signs.

“We think it’s very unfortunate people try to curb others’ right to free speech, and it’s illegal to take down those signs,” she said.

Nathan Osburn, the Alaska deputy communications director for the Obama for America campaign, said he’d also heard of signs in the Soldotna area going missing, but didn’t know if it was more than was usual in an election season.

“I think people tend to get very passionate about their candidates and sometimes express themselves in inappropriate ways,” Osburn said.

With the Berkowitz campaign, press secretary David Shurtleff hadn’t heard of sign thefts this year, but wouldn’t consider it unusual if there were.

“It’s always disappointing but never surprising to hear about it,” Shurtleff said. “Hopefully they’re taking them and putting them on eBay, but they’re probably going in a bonfire. It happens every year and it’s always disappointing. That being said, if somebody gets their sign stolen or already has and they want another one, we’ll keep giving them until we don’t have any more.”

Representatives for Begich and Berkowitz said their candidates have been treated respectfully when visiting the central peninsula.

With the Ted Stevens re-election campaign, Jane and Will Madison, of Soldotna, are co-chairs of a local steering committee responsible for putting up Stevens signs on the peninsula. As of Friday, 50 4-by-8-foot signs and another 50 yard signs supporting Stevens had been put up on the peninsula, and Jane Madison said they hope to put up another 50 signs in the coming week. She said she hasn’t heard of a single sign being stolen.

Tim Evans, a Democrat running for the state House District 34 seat, covering the northwestern Kenai Peninsula outside the Kenai, Soldotna and Kalifornsky-Beach Road areas, hasn’t been as lucky.

Six of his signs were stolen from the Sterling Highway in Sterling about a week ago.
“Across from the post office they left two other political signs, so I felt it was pretty well-targeted,” Evans said.

He said a vehicle with two men was seen taking the signs. He reported it to Alaska State Troopers, and they were nice about it, but he doesn’t expect anything to be done, he said.

“You just never know. You don’t want to point a finger at your opponent because that’s probably way beneath him. It was probably just over-exuberant kids or whatever, or even some over-exuberant adults. I don’t even want to point the finger at kids.”

Mike Chenault, a Republican, is the District 34 incumbent. He said his signs haven’t seen any more abuse than normal, although the one act of vandalism he does know of was unusual for the amount of effort put into it.

“A couple of road signs somebody took off my frames,” he said. “They actually unscrewed them. That took some time. They took the sandbags and the signs and left the frame.”

In Chenault’s experience, sign vandalism varies from year to year. Some years none of his signs are messed with, other years he’s had eight or 10 disappear. He’s had signs shot, run over and slashed with a razor knife.

“I don’t mess with other people’s signs.,” he said. “Sometimes kids will get playing around or even adults will think it’s cute to go do some things.”

The cost can add up in a hurry, he said.

David Hartman, an employee with G.F. Sherman Signs on K-Beach, said yard signs cost $350 for 25 or $540 for 100. For 4-by-4-foot signs, it’s $582 for 10 or $726 for 25. For 4-by-8-foot signs, it’s $822 for 10 or $1,134 for 25.

In the state Senate District Q race, Republican incumbent Tom Wagoner said he hasn’t had any unusual trouble with his signs. He hasn’t put many out this year, though.

“People get pretty passionate this time of the election, and sometimes people just don’t like all the signs,” he said. “I don’t like signs, but here on the peninsula they’re kind of a necessary evil when you’re running for office. It’s an inexpensive way to get your name out on the peninsula.”

Kelly Wolf, running as a nonpartisan for House District 33, covering the Kenai-Soldotna-K-Beach area, said he’s careful about where he puts his signs, because he knows what can happen if they end up in the wrong place.

“If they’re disappearing if they’re in the road right of way I don’t know if the (Department of Transportation) sign Nazis are down here or not,” he said. “They’re a real factor. Most everybody running for office is supposed to be aware of regulations from DOT sign police. If it’s in that right of way they will remove it, and they do have the ability to fine.”

Wolf said he hasn’t had any problems with his signs, other than one being knocked down. It was on a dirt path so it may have been the wind, or perhaps a dirt bike or four-wheeler, he said.

“Sometimes adults act more childish than children themselves. Sometimes you have to figure out who’s more mature,” he said.

Dick Waisanen is a first-time candidate, a Democrat running for the District 33 seat. He’s had one sign run over by a four-wheeler in a field along the Kenai Spur Highway by Sport Lake Road. His and one of Evans’ signs were flattened, but Evans’ stake didn’t break so Waisanen put it back up for him. That’s the kind of thing he expected to deal with, not outright theft.

“As far as signs go, we have freedom of speech. As a candidate, you still need to respect the property of whoever’s got the sign up there,” he said. “I’m surprised we had so much of it. You have to maintain them, the wind knocks them down or different things happen. But breaking them or cutting them up or stealing them is a step too far for what we would say for the spirit of America.”

Editor’s note: Senate District Q Democrat candidate Dr. Nels Anderson and House District 33 Republican incumbent Kurt Olson did not return a call seeking comment.

Nikiski candidate advocating Constitutional government

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

When election talk turns to Alaska’s U.S. Senate seat, typically only two names are discussed: Ted Stevens and Mark Begich.

Bob Bird, a 35-year teacher from Nikiski, is trying to expand that list to include one more: himself. Bird is seeking the Senate seat on the Alaskan Independence ticket.

Bird has made a name for himself as a conservative, pro-life activist. In 1989 he led the Alaska Rescue Project, which involved nonviolent civil disobedience to protest abortion clinics. He was president of Alaska Right to Life from 1995 to 1997, and garnered 34,000 votes in the 1990 Republican primary in a previous bid to unseat Stevens.

His reason for running again this year is a dramatic one: “We are perilously close to not being a free country anymore,” he said.

Bird doesn’t want to be a career politician, he said. And he doesn’t want to leave Alaska for life in Washington, D.C., either. But he’s willing to do whatever it takes to turn this country from the path he sees it on.

“If there was another candidate, I’d have given him my support. But time is very short. If my descendants are going to live in a free country, something’s got to be done,” he said.
“… I’m not looking for a second career. I’m looking to try and restore freedom. I’m prepared to sacrifice it all because there’s no substitute for freedom.”
Call him a conservative — he’s pro-gun, pro-life and advocates cutting government. Or call him a radical, he’ll answer to that, too.

“Someone has to make the breakthrough, and I’m willing to be the so-called shock troop to make it,” he said.

But beyond everything else, Bird is first and foremost a Constitutionalist. He can quote it chapter and verse. He can trace the history of how it came about and how it’s been used – and abused – since its inception. He spends an entire semester each year teaching it to government students in his classroom at Nikiski Middle-High School.

Every topic, every issue, every prescription for change in his campaign comes down to one thing — returning to a government that directly follows the U.S. Constitution.

“Politicians try to be all things to all people. I see that as fakes and phonies. That is not what I’m doing, and yet, if a return to the Constitution followed, it would in fact help all classes and all peoples and all political philosophies,” Bird said.

Bird’s vision for a return to the Constitution is literally that. Eliminate everything going on in government that is not directly laid out in the Constitution.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, Internal Revenue Service, No Child Left Behind legislation and a host of other federal programs and agencies, gone. The Supreme Court’s ability to strike down state laws would be curtailed, which would open the door for states being able to enact bans on abortions.

The U.S. would pull out of Iraq. Subsurface mineral rights would be returned to property holders, and title to all federal lands — including national parks like Yellowstone and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge — would be relinquished, since the Constitution only specifically allows the federal government to own “The District of Columbia (not to exceed 10 miles square), forts, arsenals, magazines, dockyards and other needful buildings.”

Doing so would remedy a host of problems, Bird said. For one thing, it would stop the government from trampling on people’s civil liberties. As an example, Bird cited the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act this summer, the government’s attempts to obtain customer records from credit card companies, and the Department of Homeland Security requiring that access be blocked to Nikishka Beach in Nikiski. Gas prices would go down, in part because ending unconstitutional overseas military ventures, like the war in Iraq, would stop creating scarcity, and because the Constitution dictates use of gold and silver standards. Going back to that method of currency would curb inflation, which would in turn curb rising gas prices, Bird said.

“The price of gas hasn’t gone up so much as the value of our currency has gone down. People say it’s the big bad oil companies, and I’m no fan of big oil. It’s not the big bad oil company. It’s the big bad federal government,” he said.
In perhaps his biggest philosophic split with Stevens, Bird also champions the end of federal handouts.

“This is what Stevens is famous for. He has kept our economy going through federal subsidies. You take a federal subsidy, you also get federal dependence and control,” Bird said. “It’s a short-term fix but a long-term loss. There are Constitutional things the federal government can do — military expenditures, post offices — that’s the kind of pork you’re entitled to.”

Bird said he realizes the prospect of drying up the well of federal funding in Alaska can be difficult to take, and he said it could be done gradually through sunset clauses. But it must be done, he said. “Ultimately, it’s killing all of us. We can’t continue to use the federal government as a source of income. We are loaded with resources here. I just want to see people make a livelihood, and you can’t do that without developing our resources.

“Alaska’s wonderful independent spirit has been stifled by federal handouts and by the frustration that nothing seems to change,” he said. “Both Begich and Stevens are offering more and more government. It’s like an alcoholic who thinks one more bottle of whiskey will cure his drunkenness.”

The Constitutional government Bird envisions would have states playing a larger role, taking over much of what the federal government does now. Disaster relief, health care, public works construction projects and the like could all be done on the state level. Power should be kept on a local level, closer to the people, he said.

“The more and more power government gets, the less and less it can actually hold the hearts and minds of the people,” he said.

Even at 221 years old, Bird said the Constitution is adequate to meet the challenges of today’s society.

“Human nature never changes. Since government is made up of human beings, it never changes,” he said.

The amendment process allows for change in the Constitution, should it be deemed necessary, Bird said. And the Bill of Rights already gives instructions for how the Constitution should be interpreted.

“The Ninth and 10th Amendments tell you how to interpret it — loosely for personal liberties and strictly for federal power, and right now we’re working the opposite, aren’t we? We use the government for just about anything we can dream up,” he said.

So far in his campaign, Bird has been frustrated in his attempts to get his message out to voters. He was ranked the nation’s top 2008 independent candidate by the Independent Political Report, but he says he’s been blacked out by mainstream media in Anchorage. He’s being outspent by leaps and bounds by both Stevens and Begich.

“My supporters are simple, humble working people who want freedom,” he said. “If I had $100,000 I would win this election, because the message is so different and unique that people instantly recognize it.”

Bird will continue his campaign, with plans to visit Southeast Alaska at the end of September and Fairbanks in the beginning of October. He’s currently scheduled to speak at the North Peninsula Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Oct. 9 and in a candidates forum held by the Kenai and Soldotna chambers on Oct. 21.

He said his message resonates with people, once they have an opportunity to hear it.

“No one’s ever told me I’m wrong, or that I’ve somehow misunderstood the Constitution,” he said. “… The philosophy applies at all times and in all ages of history. And that is this: Government, like fire, is a fearful servant and a deadly master. But we can’t live without fire. I’m not an anarchist. We can’t live without government. I want it as small as possible.”

Bob Bird on…
  • Pebble Mine: “I think it’s a great thing to have a livelihood for the working men and women of Alaska other than getting a federal handout,” Bird said. As for the specifics of whether the mine should be allowed: “It should be only a matter of the state of Alaska. … These are questions for the people of Alaska to decide.”
  • Global warming: “It’s a fraud of monumental proportions. It is Al Gore ‘Chicken-Little’ science. A government that wants power has to keep people in fear. The war on terror and the environmental war are both manipulated,” Bird said.
  • Bird said the issue of whether global warming is occurring and whether human activity is to blame is unresolved. He said thousands of scientists who say global warming isn’t occurring or isn’t human-caused don’t get media coverage like those who say it is happening. If legislation is passed because of global warming, like federal protections for polar bears, it could have a serious impact on Alaska and its ability to develop its resources, he said.
  • “All of this because supposedly polar bears are swimming around without an ice cake to climb on. And all of this passes as science and statesmanship? It is a mad hatter. You think, ‘My gosh, where has sanity gone?’”
  • Opening ANWR to drilling: “Every Alaskan knows it’s absurd not to open ANWR,” Bird said. He favors opening ANWR in accordance with the statehood act, where Alaska would get 90 percent of the royalties from development.
  • Iraq War: “Not constitutional, and I think on its merits it’s not justified. If we were serious about our nation’s security, why is our southern border unguarded? Anybody can cross that. It’s harder to get on an airplane than for potential terrorist to cross our border.”
  • Gov. Sarah Palin as John McCain’s vice presidential running mate: “Mixed emotions. I’d rather have her as governor than as VP. She was elected for four years and still had something to prove. It’s smart for her and the Republicans, but the verdict’s still out on her job as governor.”
  • Natural gas line from the North Slope: Bird said he wants to see an all-Alaska gas line with a bullet line to Fairbanks.
  • “An all-Alaska gas line keeps Alaska in total control of the marketing. Right now we’d get almost twice the spot market value if we sent it to the Pacific Rim liquefied,” he said.

New leaf — Tree cutter carves out different path in life

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

Michael Jones loves trees. He loves to look at them, walk among them and admire the beauty he says he believes is God’s handiwork.

“They’re the neatest plants on the planet, as far as I’m concerned,” he said, his green eyes sparkling beneath the brim of his green cap. “When I walk into a forest of trees, to me, I see rooms — and there’s a room over there — it’s just kind of a hollow under the trees, and the canopy’s over top.”

Those rooms are places he loves to inhabit, he said. He feels most at home among the rooms the trees provide.

“My love for the woods is eternal,” he said. “I’m a tree man all the way.”

Given these statements, it may seem odd to learn that Jones also loves to cut trees down. The son of a lumberjack, and a tree-feller himself by trade for nearly 40 of his 50 years, he believes that felling trees is in his blood.

“I think (the forest) was put here in wisdom,” he said. “I think it was put here to be harvested, just like our gardens, but I think it should be done responsibly. And I think we’re learning that.”

For much of the past 25 years, Jones has been operating his own tree-cutting business called Timber Tree Service. Success has never come easily to him, and he has overcome some tremendous obstacles along the way. His struggles have brought him to both his love for the woods and his potent faith.

Born and raised in Kalispell, Mont., Jones said that his father gave him his first chainsaw as a present for his 9th birthday. “I couldn’t even start it,” he said of the yellow McCulloch CP70.

His father put him right to work cutting lengths of log into firewood, then began taking him to work with him about the time Jones was 10 or 11 years old.

“Summer vacations were spent learning how to fall trees,” he said.

Jones’s father expected his son to help bring in money for a family, also consisting of a second wife and four stepchildren. Jones’s biological mother and his siblings had moved away after his parents divorced when Jones was about 8 years old.

“My father was a very mean man,” Jones said. “He loved to cause pain. He loved to make me bleed. My name was ‘Stupid.’”

When his father would hurt him, Jones said, he was fond of saying, “It’s good for ya, ya little sonofabitch. It’ll make you tough.”

Since he and his stepmother hated each other, Jones said, he spent about two years living in a shed before eventually leaving home, determined he would, in fact, become tough — tougher than his father could ever imagine.

Instead, however, Jones plunged into years of drug and alcohol abuse that nearly cost him his life.
By 1981, he was a mess. Despite a string of tree-felling jobs, he did not stay clean and sober. Although only 23 at the time, he could forge no meaningful relationships, and his health was deteriorating.

“Most people made a wide circle around me because I wore an Injun Joe hat, a 14-inch Bowie knife on my side. I mean, everything about me said, ‘Stay away!’”

One woman, however, refused to be put off.

“She was not intimidated by me one bit, not one bit,” he said, his voice choking, eyes brimming with tears. “She’d come at me with this beautiful smile and eyes that just pierced into my soul.”

Her lack of fear bothered Jones, in his muddled state. After he discovered that she was a member of a “little country church” in Kalispell, he decided to show her who was boss: “I loaded up a rifle — I had a .30-30 rifle — and I loaded up a couple boxes of shells, and I went down there and shot that church completely full of holes.”

He said he expected to go to jail. He’d been there before. Instead, the church got the money together to fly him to a special Los Angeles rehabilitation facility for hard cases.

Sick with gonorrhea, cirrhosis, bleeding ulcers and malnutrition — and addled with chemicals — Jones managed to clean out his system, become healthy and find God.

His faith gave his life needed focus, but his path was still strewn with the stones of adversity.

His first marriage lasted 11 months; the divorce “threw me into a tailspin,” he said. His second marriage he called “the most miserable eight years of my life.” He spent many of those years living in tents on logging sites, and he swore he would never marry again.

Instead, in 1991 he decided to purchase survival gear, get to Alaska somehow and live alone in the wilderness until he died. But even that didn’t go as planned. It took him more than a decade to actually live in Alaska, and in those intervening years he had a heart attack (attributed, he said, to earlier years of cocaine abuse) and got married again.

In Neha Bay, part of the Makah Indian Reservation on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state, Jones became involved in the Youth With A Mission church, and at one point attended a pig roast where he met Susan, a member of the Makah tribe. They made an immediate connection. Despite Jones’s mighty resistance, they married in July 1992.

Jones found himself with an instant family — a new wife and her four children.

The new Jones family lived most of the next 10 years in Libby, Mont., where Jones worked as a tree-feller, and said he learned to open up and allow himself to be loved. He also continued to struggle with his health in an occupation consistently rated as one of the three most dangerous jobs in America.

Through it all — the heart problems, a bout of pneumonia, injuries on the job — he has kept his faith.

“God is the Great Physician,” he said. “And I believe that God is big enough to take care of me.”
Since moving to Sterling in 2002, Jones has been operating his business full time, nowadays with his youngest son, Josiah. Timber Tree Service specializes in removing trees that endanger homes or power lines, clearing work for contractors and oil companies, and chainsaw-style landscaping.

“We’ll take your jungle and turn it into a park,” Jones is fond of saying.

“I’ll cut your trees just like I would cut your hair. You want me to dye half of it, tie jingle bells in the other half, I’ll do it for you,” he said.

Despite his prodigious ability to fell trees, limb them and buck them into logs, Jones is beginning to contemplate a new path. Josiah, he said, is showing interest in taking over the business, and Jones himself is becoming interested in a welding career.

As long as he is surrounded by trees, his family and faith, Jones said he has everything he needs.

Quake memory provides window to the past

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

When the ground jolted beneath the feet of 18-year-old Dave Hutchings, his gut instinct told him it was an earthquake, but his mind told him it might be a bomb.

Living just north of the military base at Wildwood and immersed in Cold War propaganda throughout his childhood, Hutchings knew the thought wasn’t all that far-fetched. The country had nervously watched the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis unfold only a year and a half earlier, and no state was closer to the Soviet Union than Alaska.

Despite the Communist threat, however, Hutchings decided at the time — 5:36 p.m., Friday, March 27, 1964 — to treat the sudden shaking as a temblor.

Hutchings had stopped at a Chevron station, near Wildwood, after a day of high school in Kenai. After working there part-time, he had been about to head back into town for his second part-time job — cleaning up at a construction site — when the ground began bucking and heaving.

He raced from the garage into the station office and told Stan Bartell what was happening. But Stan had already figured it out, and so had his brother, Danny, and his father, Dan, owner of the station.

“The old man (Dan Bartell), he told us to get out of the building and run out into the open,” Hutchings remembered. “‘Get out in the middle of the highway!’ Because you’re in a service station, and any sparks or whatever and this thing would blow sky-high.”

Then Bartell noted the swaying trees and power lines, and he countermanded his orders: “We need to get away from the telephone poles! Head for the woods!”

“He’s shouting orders left and right,” Hutchings said. “And we’d take two steps and go back one, or you’d fall and gather yourself up and run some more.

“I jumped onto the hood of a car, grabbed hold of the windshield wipers — the blades — and rode it out most of the time right there. And then it bucked me off of there. One of the blades broke off, and I ended up on the ground.”

After nearly five minutes of shaking, the motion of the earth quieted and allowed Hutchings and the Bartells to take stock of their situation.

“It went so fast, but took forever,” Hutchings said.

Back inside the station — where earlier, Hutchings said, “things just started jumping off the shelves” — the garage was a mess, but since no one was injured, their thoughts turned toward town.

Hutchings knew his family was in Kenai already, so he and Stan drove in that direction over the cracked and steaming asphalt that connected the military base to the city. They headed first to the construction site where Hutchings was employed.

Hutchings had spent the previous summer working for a well-known area contractor named Leroy “The Roofer” Knab, described by many as about 5-foot-4, nearly as wide as he was tall, and always seen with three things: a fat stogie around which he carried on conversations, a wide-brimmed red hat with a large golden safety pin in the front, and an English bulldog that could climb a ladder and looked eerily like Knab himself.

Leroy the Roofer had hired Hutchings to help lay the foundation and later put on the roof of George Navarre’s new grocery: Kenai Food Center. At the time the quake struck, the building appeared nearly done on the outside but was largely unfinished on the inside.

In fact, Hutchings said, the electricians were paying him a dollar an hour more than Knab had to clean up each day after they finished pulling wires, so the interior was mostly without Sheetrock. The two large rows of front windows on the highway side of the building had been hefted into their frames and only toenailed temporarily into place.

When Hutchings and Bartell arrived on the scene, one of the first things they noticed was the left window casing — about 25 feet long and containing five vertical thermal-pane windows — had been jarred from its perch and toppled off its sill onto the ground. Fortunately for Navarre, the ground was covered with snow a foot or two thick, and not a single pane of glass had been broken.

The Cheechako News the following week ran numerous earthquake-aftermath photos, and among them was a picture of Hutchings, Bartell and three other men pushing the window casing back into place. Beneath the photo, taken by freelancer Art Sanders, ran this caption: “This glass panel from the front of the new Kenai Food Center miraculously escaped breakage when it toppled over.”

Damage elsewhere in the Kenai-Soldotna area was not as extensive as in Anchorage and several coastal communities. Although many Kenai residents feared that a tsunami might crash into their shores, the big wave never arrived.

For Hutchings, the frenetic activity at the Chevron and the fact that he later reunited with his family and discovered they were safe stood out most about that day.

In fact, he said, he probably would not even recall the incident of the window if it weren’t for two things: first, the appearance of his photo in the newspaper, and second, the fact that today, 44 years later, those five windows are still intact and can be seen by customers who glance to the left as they enter Paradisos Restaurant.

On a Quest to start early, finish strong

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Eagle Summit got the best of Kasilof musher Jon Little three years ago in his rookie running of the Yukon Quest.

Little was leading the 1,000-mile sled dog race from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, to Fairbanks when his team reached the base of Eagle Summit in between Central and Chena Hot Springs.

The dogs took one look at the climb from 935 feet up to 3,685 feet and decided that was a good time for a nap.

“They started basically pulling off and taking little naps in the snow,” Little said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It was like, ‘We’re done. We’re tired.’”

It took Little an hour to figure out how to get the dogs moving, by playing lead dog himself and getting out in front of the team. It took another hour to get them up and over the summit. By then, four teams had passed him, including former Kasilof musher Lance Mackey, now of Fairbanks, who went on to his first of four consecutive Quest wins. Little finished in fifth place.

In 2009, Little is going back to conquer the climb.

“I don’t want them to quit going up that hill this year,” he said. “I’m really working on building team unity and we’re gonna get a lot of practice. When we get to that point in the race it’s going to be no big deal. That’s my goal.”

Little and fellow Kasilof musher Colleen Robertia are the first two Kenai Peninsula mushers to sign up for this winter’s Quest, which begins in Whitehorse on Feb. 14.
Little said his decision to run this winter was a culmination of factors.

“Basically it’s kind of like the stars aligned. They’re not all perfectly aligned, but if I wait for that I’ll never run the Quest.,” he said.

The longer race format appeals to him, since there’s less stress, in a way, because you can immerse yourself in the race for the duration instead of needing everything to go perfectly in the mad dash of a shorter race.

“I love thousand-mile races. And I’m going to be 45 years old. You wonder how long you can wait as the years tick by,” he said.

Little took third in the 2007 Kuskokwim 300, and has placed 15th, fourth and 13th in the Iditarod in 2001, 2002 and 2003, respectively. He hopes to cover the Iditarod as a journalist again this year, so the Quest was his only 1,000-mile option.

His dogs are ready for it, with many of them having performed well in the Iditarod and other races in the past three years — just not with Little.

“I’ve been leasing some of my dogs out the past couple years. It sort of gets under your skin a little bit. You want to use your own dogs. I want to be the captain.”

Building a cohesive team out of his 24-dog kennel is Little’s immediate challenge, especially since he doesn’t have a lead dog singled out yet.

“It’s too early to tell. They’re a good group of dogs. I have to see what I have for leaders. Every team looks great in September. The goal is always to do the very best that the dogs can do.”

Still, early is when a long-distance race can be won or lost. Even though it’ll be nearly five months before Little’s team faces Eagle Summit again, he’s starting the figurative climb now.

“It starts early. If you do well there it’s because things have gone well all year. If you do poorly there it’s probably because things have not gone well all year,” he said.

Robertia also has begun her Quest well in advance. After a first-place finish in the Chatanika Challenge 200, 11th-place finish in the Tustumena 200 and 16th-place finish in the Copper Basin 300 last winter, Robertia wants to move on to her first 1,000-mile race.

“You’re always looking for the personal challenge thing to take on with the team,” she said.

The Quest certainly provides that, as it winds through some of the coldest, darkest, most isolated conditions of any sled dog race in Alaska.

“I’m definitely worried. It’s not just the distance as the challenges that come along with the Quest,” she said.

“It’s just kind of the next progression when your dogs are ready for it. On the flip side of that there’s stresses to the thousand-mile race but there’s a lot of stresses to shorter races because you’re constantly looking over your shoulder.”

She plans to approach the Quest like she did the Copper Basin 300, where her only goal was to finish with a healthy team.

“I really just wanted to have a good experience and not hurt my dogs and get through something that tough, and we did it and it was such a blast,” she said. “I’m hoping it’ll be like a two-week camping trip with my buddies.”

Robertia, like Little, has a relatively small kennel with 30 dogs, so her challenge is going to be fielding a 14-dog team. She and her husband, Joseph, put ethical treatment of their dogs above anything else. Almost every dog in their kennel is a rescue, and if a dog is injured, too old or for some other reason can’t run anymore, they still keep the dog and take care of it.

It’s an animal care philosophy they’re devoted to, but it can make forming a competitive team a challenge.

“I think I can get 14 together,” she said. “I think as far as something that’s a thousand miles, I have a couple of dogs that can’t run 10 miles an hour all day long, but they can run 8 miles an hour forever. They’re straight out of the Kenai Animal Shelter. I don’t even know if they’re huskies. They’re furry.”

Two of their rescues, Ping and Pong, show promise as the possible 13th and 14th spots on the team.

“They’re amazing leaders. They gee and haw on a dime. … I used to have to run in front of the team, that’s how we’d teach them to lead is I’d run and they’d chase me with Joseph on the four-wheeler until I’d get tired, then Joseph would go. It’s amazing just to see what they’ve become as sled dogs.”

Other mushers have offered to lend her dogs if she needs them, but she’s hoping to make it to the start and finish lines with her dogs.

“There’s still something about getting your own small kennel to do it without having to borrow dogs,” she said.

“I just want to finish. It’s like I go back and forth from waves of nausea to waves of excitement.”

Editorial: Sign thefts a sad campaign reality

Mary Toutonghi is angry. She’s got a right to be.

She’s got a right to free speech, too, but that’s been stolen along with her yard signs promoting candidates in the upcoming general election. Which gets back to why she’s angry.

In all the years Toutonghi has lived on the central peninsula — it’s been many — and all the years she’s put up signs in support of candidates, she’s never had them outright stolen before.

Well, once. A tenant’s son didn’t agree with her politics and took down a sign from the yard. After a long chat about respecting one another’s views and the rights of property owners vs. renters, Toutonghi’s sign went back up, with the renter’s son putting one of his own in his apartment window.

But earlier this month, Toutonghi’s signs were stolen altogether. Others have gone missing, as well.

When asked about sign thefts and vandalism, perennial candidates and campaign workers had a similar take on the situation: It happens. It’s a disappointing, but expected, part of campaigning.

How sad.

It doesn’t matter who the signs were promoting. Or that they cost money, which they do. And it’s illegal to steal them, but that isn’t really the point, either. This is one of those situations where there shouldn’t have to be a law to keep something from happening, like kicking puppies or pulling up flowers at gravesites. You just don’t do it.

It is staggering to imagine the ignorance, intolerance and inability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes that goes into stealing a campaign sign, or any other form of stifling someone’s ability to support whatever politics or politicians they choose.

“Kids will be kids,” is one thing. That’s not a valid excuse for any kind of misbehavior, especially vandalism, but it’s much less disturbing than the alternative explanation — that adults stole the signs in a purposeful attempt to hinder someone else’s ability to express their views.

It’s senseless, stupid and, in this case, ultimately useless, since all it’s done is made Toutonghi even more dedicated to supporting her candidates and spreading their message.

As she has every right to.

Guest editorial — Research, restoration, education are Kenai Watershed Forum’s mission

What is, who is, where is the Kenai Watershed Forum? As a new employee of the Kenai Watershed Forum, commonly known as KWF, I have heard the aforementioned questions a lot in the past six months. Most people have heard of KWF, but don’t know much about who we are and what we do.

KWF is a nonprofit organization formed in 1997 by a group of people looking to ensure the wellness of our community’s greatest resource, the Kenai River. Headed up by Executive Director Robert Ruffner, KWF has expanded its original vision to encompass the current mission statement, “to work together for healthy watersheds on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska.” The Kenai Watershed Forum seeks to accomplish this mission by focusing on three main components: research, restoration and education.

Research programs in our community have made a definite impact. In prior years, the hydrocarbon levels on the Kenai River were so high the river was placed on federal notice. As a result, limiting the use of two-stroke motors has shown significant improvement to the river’s hydrocarbon levels. The Kenai River and its tributaries are monitored year-round for flow and temperature as well as turbidity, dissolved oxygen, conductivity and pH, providing valuable information to public and governmental agencies.

Restoration projects have had a positive effect in our community through damaged culvert replacements, which make miles and miles of streams available to salmon for spawning. Restoring fish passage not only helps adult and juvenile salmon access the habitat they need, it also provides a safer passage on roads and trails for cars and people.

You may have seen some of our staff and community volunteers along roadsides this summer on weed pulls. Invasive weeds are not just a nuisance to deal with, they are potentially damaging to our wildlife stock. These weeds take over and choke out the naturally sustaining plants that moose and other wildlife use for food, leaving our wildlife searching other places for meals.

Education is equally important. In order for our research and restoration efforts to improve the quality and health of the watersheds on the peninsula, the public needs to be aware of the issues and what they can do to help in the pursuit of a quality watershed.

Adult education is served through summer and winter speaker series, offering community experts the opportunity to share their knowledge and concerns. Yearly teacher workshops increase the influence of living in a healthy environment to our young people.

The program you might already be familiar with, Adopt-A-Stream, has perhaps the greatest impact. Last school year, nine different classes at four different schools participated in water quality monitoring, data collection and instruction at nearby streams. This school year 11 classrooms have signed on for the program. Bringing tomorrow’s leaders alongside us as we work to inform and educate has been a highlight for KWF.

Often, KWF serves the mission statement by sponsoring community programs open to the public. Last spring the annual Kenai Birding Festival included a children’s juried art show, drawing hundreds of submissions from young budding artists with a focus on our winged wildlife. The Kenai River Festival, held annually in June, celebrates our famous river with food, music, Alaska arts and crafts, and many educational and creative booths for children. A special appearance by Shluka, KWF’s 20-foot-long salmon (modeled after a Chinese dragon) is always a crowd pleaser.

We value our supporter base, as well as the volunteers that turn out to help with each event we sponsor. We also hold high the relationships that have developed between KWF and governmental agencies, community groups and local merchants. Working together is the only way to improve the health of watersheds on the Kenai Peninsula, and we are proud to be part of that process.

Rhonda Orth is the accounting and office manager at the Kenai Watershed Forum.

Art Seen: Long lens — Photographer finds new uses for old medium

Joe Kashi has been taking photographs since he worked during high school in a photo store while growing up in the Pennsylvania coal fields. While at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during college and graduate school, he was news editor of the MIT newspaper and simultaneously worked for The New York Times, taking dozens of photographs each week with a 35 mm Pentax while covering Boston’s tumultuous events of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

He studied fine art photography for a time under Minor White at MIT. White was a prominent American photographer and photographic educator at MIT who founded the national fine arts photography journal Aperture and edited it until at least the mid-1970s. For about 40 years, Minor White had been a close friend and collaborator with Ansel Adams and other pioneers of the American photographic fine arts movement.

Later, while at Georgetown Law School in Washington, D.C., Kashi started working mostly with large-format view cameras that made 4-by-5-inch through 11-by-14-inch negatives because of their inherently higher quality. He often spent Saturdays in those non-Internet days at the Library of Congress researching older but higher-quality photographic chemistry and processes. He still uses these large format cameras from time to time but now makes detailed scans of the negatives and prints them using digital printers rather than chemicals and darkrooms.

Kashi moved to Alaska in 1977 when he accepted a job offer to become one of the first attorneys for the Kenai Peninsula Borough. During that time, he did a good deal of large format photography and some of those photos were accepted into several statewide and Kenai Peninsula juried all-media fine art shows. He taught fine art photography and darkroom work at Kenai Peninsula College for a few years and also had a small, part-time custom photographic processing business in those chemical darkroom days.

The demands of a full-time private law practice were high and he put aside fine arts photography for more than 20 years. He had learned a great deal about aesthetics from his first wife, Michelle Corder, now deceased, who had quickly become a prominent fine arts painter in Alaska, with state commissions and work in various museum permanent collections. Corder was formally educated in painting at Carnegie-Mellon in the United States and also at the Italian State Art Academy in Florence, Italy.

Kashi started using digital photography for practical legal purposes in 2003 and found that digital photography, particularly when annotated or used as part of an interactive electronic brief made with Adobe Acrobat, could be an extremely powerful weapon for the trial lawyer.

By mid-2006, Kashi found that digital photography, even when using carefully chosen compact consumer cameras with good lenses, could produce results that were equal to or better than traditional 35 mm film and chemical photography. So he again tried his hand at fine arts photography in addition to family photos and the photo documentation he routinely used in legal practice.

His photos were accepted into a number of statewide juried shows since then, gaining an honorable mention in the 2007 Rarified Light show. His stepdaughter, Rachel Lee, also was accepted into the 2007 Rarified Light show. He and Rachel shared an Anchorage show in December 2007 through the Alaska Photographic Center, and both were accepted into the 2008 Rarified Light show. Kashi also has been invited to participate as one of 50 photographers statewide for next year’s invitational show commemorating the 50th anniversary of Alaska statehood.

Many of Kashi’s works are contemplative and dynamic. Some of his more accessible work can be seen adorning the walls at Mykel’s Restaurant, including the 24-by-36-inch landscape photographs above the stairs near the front door. He and Rachel will share a show at Art Works in Soldotna for November and December, with Kashi exhibiting some of his more “artsy” stuff. An artist reception will be held Nov. 6. He is also hanging a series of photos documenting the passage of the seasons at Veronica’s Cafe at Old Town Kenai in October.

Zirrus VanDevere is a local mixed-media artist and owns Art Works gallery in Soldotna. She has bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and education.

Arts and Entertainment week of Sept. 24

  • Art Works in Soldotna has photography by Bill Heath on display through September.
  • Kaladi Brothers on the Sterling Highway in Soldotna has art by Kathy Matta on display through September.
  • Kaladi Brothers Kobuk Street in Soldotna has paintings by Melinda Hershberger on display through September.
  • The Kenai Fine Arts Center in Old Town Kenai has Peninsula Art Guild’s annual Harvest Art Exhibition on display through September.
  • Already Read Books In Kenai has a display of artwork by local artists, curated by Natasha Ala, on display through September.
  • The Funky Monkey coffee shop in Kenai has artwork by Metal Magic on display through September.

  • The Soldotna public library will hold its monthly used book sale from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Call 262-4227.

  • Author James Barnett will discuss and sign copies of his recently published book, "Captain Cook in Alaska and the North Pacific," from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Kenai Municipal Library. Books will be available for purchase. Call Julie Niederhauser, 283-4378.
  • An Evening of the Stars event with dancing, cocktails, appetizers, door prizes and a silent auction will be held at 6 p.m. at the Soldotna Sports Center to raise money for five local dental professionals at Central Peninsula Health Centers to travel to Honduras in November to provide dental services to children. Contact Jennifer or Lexi at or 283-7759.
  • The Kenai Art Guild’s annual Harvest Art Auction starts at 6 p.m. for viewing with the auction at 7 p.m. Photography, paintings and works in stone, ceramic and fiber will be auctioned. Music and refreshments will be served. Admission is $20. Proceeds support the Kenai Fine Arts Center. Call 283-7040.

  • A fundraiser for Braxton Peterson, who was injured in a car accident, will be held from noon to 4 p.m. at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, with a spaghetti feed, silent auction, live music by The Goodkind and autograph signing by mushers Lance Mackey, Mitch Seavey and the Osmar family. An account has been set up at Wells Fargo in Braxton’s name for donations. Contact Mercy Medley-Graham at or 283 -7581.

  • The Performing Arts Society will present Anchorage harpist Joanna Mayer in a free concert at 4 p.m. in the Mountain Tower area of Central Peninsula Hospital. Mayer also will perform at six central peninsula schools as a part of the society’s concerts-in-the-schools program.

Oct. 1
  • Peninsula Take-A-Break for women will hold a brunch from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Solid Rock Conference Center on the Sterling Highway with music by Renee Rysdyk, information by Judith Reese about breast cancer screening and Anna Jarrett will share her story of “survival and the courage within us.” Contact Cindy at 260-6262 or Susan 335-6789 or e-mail

Oct. 4
  • The Kenai Chamber of Commerce’s annual Beer and Wine Fundraiser will be held at 6 p.m. in the Old Carrs Mall in Kenai with live music, live and silent auctions, food and fun. The theme is Oktoberfest. Tickets are $50 per person, includes dinner plus beer and wine. Contact Tina Baldridge at or 283-7989.

Oct. 25
  • The Fraternal Order of Alaska State Troopers will hold a concert with Juice Newton (“Angel of the Morning,” “The Sweetest Thing” and “Break It To Me Gently”) and Gary Puckett (“Young Girl,” “Woman Woman” and “ Over You”) at 7:30 p.m. at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School. Tickets are $33, available at Whitey’s Music Shop. Funds raised benefit the Safety Bear, CSI Forensic Science Camp, Children’s DNA Identification Kits and youth sports on the Kenai Peninsula. Call 283-9302.

Coming up
  • The Soldotna Senior Center will accept entries into its 12th annual juried amateur art show, held in conjunction with the center’s fall bazaar, Nov. 7-8. Entries can be dropped off from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 4 and 5. Categories are oils, pastels, watercolors, and drawings; needle arts, beading, quilting and sewing; and three-dimensional. The entry fee is $6, with a maximum three entries each person. Call Mary Lane, 262-8839.
  • The Riverside in Soldotna has live DJ music every Friday and Saturday at 10 p.m.

Live music
  • The Funky Monkey in Kenai has bluegrass music by Them Other Shuckers on Tuesday night and folk music on Wednesday night.
  • Hooligan’s Saloon in Soldotna has rock covers and originals by 9-Spine at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday,
  • Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street in Soldotna has acoustic music by Neil Gallagher on Friday night and Batter Brown on Saturday night.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has acoustic classic rock by the Free Beer Band at 9:30 p.m. Sunday.
  • Moosequito’s in Sterling has acoustic music by Adam and Sonny on Wednesday night.
  • Mykel's in Soldotna has acoustic music by Dave Unruh from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
  • The Place in Nikiski has bluegrass music by Them Other Shuckers around 7 p.m. Friday.
  • The Rainbow Bar in Kenai has rock covers by Tuff-e-Nuff at 10 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Veronica’s in Kenai has open mic music at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, and acoustic music by Sue Biggs and Jack Will at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
  • 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays at the Duck Inn on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
  • 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays at the .406 in Kenai.
  • 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at Hooligan’s in Soldotna.
  • 8:30 p.m. Friday at the J-Bar-B in Kasilof.
  • 9:30 p.m. Monday at the Maverick in Soldotna.

  • BJ’s in Soldotna has free pool on Wednesdays.
  • Hooligan’s in Soldotna has a nine-ball pool tournament at 9 p.m. Thursdays.
  • The J-Bar-B has free pool on Sundays, a horseshoe pit in the beer garden, and a cash drawing at 6:30 p.m. Saturdays.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has a pool tournament at 8 p.m. Fridays.
  • Moosequito’s in Sterling has a dart tournament at 8 p.m. Thursdays.

‘Mastre’ of the grill — Colorado family hopes hot business catches on after move to Soldotna

By Naomi Hagelund
For the Redoubt Reporter

There’s a new pig in town, but it’s not just the average bacon-bearing swine. The pink, pig-shaped grill has been grabbing attention for Glacier Distributing, a heater and grill vendor that recently opened in the new strip mall across from Alaska’s Auto Country in Soldotna.

Jeff Mastre, owner of the business, and his two sons, ages 14 and 17, arrived in June with a plan to sell Traeger wood pellet grills, including standard black barbecues and infrared zone heaters.

The Mastre family was lured to Alaska from Colorado with the idea of fishing and relaxing.

“We’ve been looking at Alaska for the last few years,” Mastre said. “We kind of dried out in Colorado and we were looking for something like the Northwest had to offer again, minus the population, so that kind of pointed north.”

Alaska has everything the family was looking for, Mastre said.

“We love the fishing and the outdoors, and everything Alaska has to offer,” he said. “That’s why we’re here.”

Mastre said he spent most of the summer setting up the business, so his sons hit the river as often as they could until the store was ready for them to help out with customers.

Mastre operated a flooring business in Colorado for 13 years and decided it was time for a change and looked for something a little easier on his body.

“I still had my knees and my back,” Mastre said. “I told myself I’ll be starting a new business one way or the other, so why not do the switch — one that you can do standing on your feet.”

The $1,599 pig-shaped grill is as functional as it is fashionable, and has been operating as an effective marketing tool for the family owned business.

“The public response to the pig out there has been great,” Mastre said. “It’s an attention-getter. It’s cheap advertising. I bought this one as a trial just to see what the response would be and it’s been great.”

Mastre said the pig-shaped grill is just as viable as the regular black grills in his shop, and due to public interest, he’s ordering in six more in the next few weeks.

The Traeger wood pellet grills are electric and work with wood pellets that come in a variety of flavors, such as maple, cherry and mesquite. The pellets are fed into a hopper then into the firepot, which provides the cooking heat and smoke that cooks and flavors the food. There is a heat deflector built into the grill so the flame never directly touches the food, which Mastre said can be a healthier way of cooking because charcoal doesn’t get on the food like it does with a regular barbecue grill.

Mastre said his family uses their own grill at least once a day, often using it to grill and smoke salmon he and his boys catch on the river.

The grills can also be used for baking bread, and garlic- and onion-flavored pellets are for sale to use for flavoring the bread. There are smaller models to take aboard boats or in small cabins, and a nonelectric table-top version can be used for the beach or camping.

On the heating end of the business, Glacier Distributing offers Sunheat portable infrared zone heaters that heat like the sun, and can save a heating bill about 50 percent, according to Mastre. The heaters are designed to heat up to 1,000 square feet from floor to ceiling.

“They piggyback on your existing heat system and carry your existing heat further,” Mastre said. “You can turn your thermostat down four or five degrees and it will pick up that degree drop. They’re good and efficient.”