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Mielke, Max & Ella (Kunde)

by Ralph Max Mielke

Max Herbert Mielke was born in 1895, in Ironwood, Michigan, and died in 1978. He came to Alaska at age 22 by train to Seattle, then on a boat to Ketchikan where he worked at a fish cannery for a year. Returning to Michigan and then Mercer, Wisconsin, helped his dad, Herbert H. Mielke, run his Cedar Island Resort.

In 1923, he married Ella Kunde in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Ella was born in 1897 and died in 1969. The spring of 1928, with wife and three sons, Bryce, Ralph, and Dave (1926-1988) they came north to Juneau on the SS Princess Alice out of Vancouver, B.C.

Max started a painting and decorating service, which he owned for many years, painting many landmarks like B. M. Behrends Store, Alaska Laundry, Simpsons Nugget Shop, Alaska Dairy, and many others. After Max stopped his painting and decorating service, he worked for the U.S. Forest Service as a trail guide, clearing brush and maintaining trails, and cabins around Southeast Alaska. Bears were a problem on some trails.
He had many encounters and shot two brown bears for the protection of the crew.

The young Mielke kids would hire out in the summer months to work on the trails. They always tried to get on their dadís crew to work because he was an easy going boss. I think the main reason was that their mother went along on some trips as cook and she always had pie and cookies to eat!

One of their first houses Max rented in 1928, was owned by Lockie MacKinnon located on the north side of the B. M. Behrendís Store. In the winter, due to heavy snowfall, fresh milk was brought to Juneau house-to-house by horse and buggy, instead of a truck, by Joe Kendler Sr., of Alaska Dairy. The milk came in glass quart bottles. I do remember picking up two bottles of milk and accidentally dropping them on the sidewalk. All sidewalks in Juneau around 1928, were made of wood and concrete.

Up to late 1950ís, ice was brought into Juneau by truck from Mendenhall Lake to local bars and restaurants. The lake always had lots of ice due to the caving of ice from the glacier.

In 1928, the lower part of Juneau was still over the beach on piling, including the streets. As the years went by, the rock from the A-J Mine was used to fill under the buildings and streets. Part of Thane Road was built along the beach with wood decking. Before the Juneau-Douglas Bridge was built, a ferry boat, the Teddy, went to Douglas which took about 20 passengers at a time.

The Glacier Highway was a winding dirt road with many pot holes, never got dusty, due to the rain. In the winter, the road would turn into glare ice. It snowed more in the early days and was much colder weather.

The Mielke boys in their first years of grade school on Fifth Street lived down on Eleventh Street and walked to school. During the winter time we walked two miles each way in deep snow. When the Taku winds blew, we ran from one telephone pole to the next to hang on between gusts. A real experience walking to school since there were no school buses in town then.

Brother Glen was born in 1930, at home with Dr. Dawes assisting. The Mielke family moved out the road to Duck Creek in 1935. Max rented a house from Joe Kendler, Sr. The only other people in the Mendenhall Valley were owners of fox and mink farms which totaled about three or four farms. In the lower part of the valley where we lived, spruce trees grew to four and five feet in diameter and 80 to 90 feet tall. Beavers dammed Duck Creek and caused the road to the glacier to flood over in many places. Lots of animals lived in and around the Mendenhall Valley, brown and black bear, wolves, coyotes, deer, fox, mink, weasel, snowshoe rabbits, muskrat, beaver, wolverine and lots of game birds.

Jordan and Duck Creeks had lots of iron in the water including our drinking water from the well. The bathtubs, pots and pans, would all have a rust stain on them from the iron water. The creeks had a rust color and all gravel bars were coated with stain. The salmon that came to spawn did not seem to be effected by the iron in the water, as large runs would come every year to spawn. In the spring, the creeks would be full of fingerling salmon.

Montana Creek also had large runs of salmon. The creeks had coho, chums, sockeye, and pinks. Trout fishing in Jordan and Duck Creeks was excellent. The Mielke boys would go way up Jordan Creek at the base of Thunder Mountain to fish. Many times the black bear would run them out. Their dog ďNeroĒ would run home first. A real brave dog to protect us!

They never bought fish or meat, since everything was from the land. Their garden grew large potatoes and vegetables in the glacier soil. We never had a fridge so Ella pressure cooked all food in glass jars. They finally got a fridge that had the motor on top. That was when electric power came in about 1939. Before that, wood stoves, kerosene lamps and an outhouse were the norm. Water for baths was heated on the wood stove in 15 gallon copper tanks.

Only two school buses to pick up kids from Tee Harbor, Fritz Cove Road, Back Glacier Loop and Glacier Highway, about 45 kids total. One time a large snow slide came down at one mile Glacier Highway so all the kids on the bus had to walk around the slide on the beach to get picked up by the bus on the Juneau side.

In the spring, large runs of herring came to Auke Bay. The water would turn white from herring spawn. Eagles, whales, sea lions, seal and thousands of sea birds came to the bay to feed on the herring. King salmon fishing was excellent.

There was an old fish cannery located just west of the Auke Bay moorage ramp. Some of the remains may still be there today. Also, just below the cannery on the beach, slate rock outcrops at that location showed petrographics carved out years ago by native Americans. Other locations are on beach rock outcrops, about one mile west on a sandy beach on Fritz Cove Road and the mouth of Waydelich Creek at Auke Bay.

In 1928, the Mendenhall Glacier was at the location where the observatory is now. Nugget Creek flowed under the ice into a large tunnel. The face of the glacier was about 200 feet high at the front. Ice is melting fast now and miles back and floating out in the front.

As a young man, Ralph worked for the Alaska Road Commission during 1943-46, at Valdez and camps in the Interior located at Tonsina, Copper Center, Slana, Tok, Glenallen, and Paxson as truck driver hauling gravel. The road over the mountains at Valdez were winding wagon roads left over from the gold rush, including most roads in the Interior. Lots of bear and moose on every road.

Ralph enlisted in the Army in 1949, and was sent to Japan with the 31st Infantry Reg. of the 7th Infantry Div. In 1950, when the War broke out in Korea, his Div. was sent there. Returning from Korea in 1952, Ralph got a job with the Bureau of Public Roads in Juneau, later called the Alaska Dept. of Highways and worked as a truck driver and motor grader operator for 20 years. The last four years was as highway maintenance foreman.

Ralph married Joan Rhodes in 1953, and raised five children: Max, Bruce, Nadine, Steve, and Roy. Also one adopted daughter Nedria, from Joanís previous marriage.

Ralph remarried in 1971, to Virginia Cunningham, and moved to Washington State where he bought a hunting and fishing resort near Forks, Washington, called Three Rivers Resort. Ralph owned that for five years then bought a small grocery store in Port Angeles, Washington, that he owned for ten years and has since retired, living at Port Angeles.

As a hobby, Ralph took up oil painting and now belongs to the Clallam Art Gallery. Ralph still finds himself looking at the northern sky at night to find the Big Dipper and North Star.

Back row: Ralph, Bryce, Dave. Front row: Glen, Max and Ella, 1939.

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