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Reischl, Ralph & Treva

by Dace Resischl

The author, Dave W. Reischl was born in Tacoma, Washington, on May 20, 1920. Accompanied by his mother and younger brother, he arrived in Juneau via steamship when he was eight years old and, with the exception of military service, remained a Juneau resident the rest of his life. He was graduated from Juneau High School in 1938, having served as captain of the basketball team and student body president. At midnight on graduation day, he began working for the Alaska Juneau Mine, towing barges of mine tailings down Gastineau Channel for disposal. He joined the U.S. Navy at Sitka, Alaska. He married Mary Elizabeth (Bette) Hammer at Virginia Beach, Virginia, on January 30, 1944, and the family, which then included a ninemonth-old daughter, returned to Juneau in the fall of 1945. His marine career involved not only his naval service but his years as a commercial fisherman, a fish buyer, and a mail boat operator.

Surrounded by his family, Dave Reischl died at his home on Fritz Cove on September 9, 1999.


The Klondike Gold Rush was, I imagine, as compelling to my grandfather and grandmother as it was to the thousands of others who traveled to Skagway and made their way up the “Golden Stairs” into the Yukon. My grandfather vanished in the rush-presumably in the Yukon River. My grandmother journeyed from Tacoma, Washington, searching for him as far north as Nome but died of pneumonia in one of Juneau’s early hospitals on Gastineau Avenue, as she backtracked through Southeast.

My father, Ralph Reischl, was an agent for Union Oil in Washington State when he learned of an opening in Juneau. He and my mother, Treva, my younger brother, Keith, and I arrived and settled into company housing uphill from the Union Oil dock near the current rock dump south of Juneau. My mother often told of her first view of Juneau from the ship as we steamed into Gastineau Channel. The morning sun focused on Mt. Juneau. Its snow-capped height and mossy, stone face streaked with streams and waterfalls made her feel she had literally found heaven on earth. She said she was truly fortunate that was her first impression, because the next day clouds so low they seemed to rise from the water rather than descend from above, covered the channel, and it rained steadily for the next three weeks.

At the time of our arrival, Juneau homes and businesses were heated by coal. My father and a friend developed an oil burner and began converting the city from coal to diesel fuel. That conversion in the early 1930’s, financed the purchase of seventeen acres near the end of Fritz Cove Road, at a time when few people lived there because of its distance from town.

The years on the Fritz Cove property were uniquely Alaskan-from laying of the punch-in road (which was shoveled by hand during the winter) to construction of the float and dock in our cove. Subsequent construction of a four-car garage provided room for the family vehicles, the tractor for mom’s garden, as well as space for boat painting and repair. An assortment of out buildings housed the Delco battery light plant; a butcher shop; animal pens for bear and wolverine my dad captured for zoos; dad’s workshop; a woodshed; a small house for old Chet-a friend who also lived on the property; a playhouse for my younger sister, Ann; and the outhouse. Our home became a self sufficient little community surrounded by acres of evergreens on the edge of Auke Bay. Life there was both idyllic and extreme in terms of physical effort. In a short time, our home became so special to us it was always referred to simply as “the place.”

My father hunted, fished, hauled freight for mines and canneries located outside of Juneau, and he did contract work for the military during World War II. He designed and had a new boat, the Treva C, built in a Seattle shipyard. Following completion of the Treva C, he worked as a game guide, taking clients into Southeast Alaska’s wilderness. On one excursion, a visiting hunter became extremely ill. Dad took a chance in returning home in difficult weather. We used axes to break the ice on the pilothouse to get dad and the ailing hunter off the boat. I remember dad assuring my mother that the icing on the boat had not rendered it top heavy or in danger of capsizing. He also voiced concern that the hunter might die if he did not quickly receive medical attention.

My brother and I often walked most of the length of Fritz Cove Road to catch the school bus at Auke Lake. Homework, snow shoveling, wood cutting and other chores left little leisure time and no opportunity to get into trouble. Spring and summer were consumed by vegetable gardening, hunting, fishing and preparing for winter. I was sixteen when I made my first solo trip on the Treva C, taking her from our float at Fritz Cove around Douglas Island to town for loading and delivery of supplies to Berner’s Bay. My father was hospitalized with appendicitis, but the goods had to be delivered, so I made the trip. Only when I became an adult, with children of my own, did I realize how brave my parents must have been to allow me to do that. Although many things in Juneau have changed in seventy years since my arrival, the landmarks I used on my first delivery are unchanged today.

On weekends the family home was usually busy with visitors. Folks from town made trips to the Auke Bay area a weekend excursion due to the distance and the unpaved road. My mother canned fish, meat and vegetables and made her own bread and the most wonderful cinnamon rolls. We always seemed to have more than enough when folks stayed for lunch or dinner. People particularly came to see the pet otter my father tamed. Pokey was indeed an unusual family pet. He lumped along like a miniature dinosaur and could slide like a snake across the
snow. He was startlingly fast. He bit my sister as she attempted to feed him, and I think my mother was afraid of him. But he and my dad were inseparable. Whether dad was climbing a ladder to work on the roof, or jumping into the cab of his pickup, the otter was either right behind or right beside him. Dad was truly heartbroken when Pokey became tangled in a neighbor’s fishing net and drowned. It seemed as though a once-in-a-lifetime relationship had been much too brief and now forever gone. The sadness in dad remained for a long time.

I worked part time at various jobs during my high school years but I began full time employment at midnight the evening I graduated from Juneau High School. By then I had a boat of my own, the Imp. My boat and I were hired by the A-J Mine to haul barge loads of tailings down Gastineau Channel. At a sufficient distance from town, chambers in the barges were flooded with water, causing the barge to flip upside down and simultaneously dispose of the tailings.

When World War II began, I was encouraged to join the Navy with the understanding that I would patrol the Aleutian Islands. I enlisted at Sitka and was actually sent to the Aleutians for a short time. Thereafter, I piloted newly constructed Naval craft down the Mississippi and was subsequently sent to the Mediterranean Sea. Visits to France, Italy, North Africa and other Mediterranean ports did little to arouse in me a desire for travel.

On shore leave in New York City, I met my wife, Bette. She was originally from St. Paul, Minnesota, and had come to the big city to work during the war. We were married during a shore leave in Virginia Beach, Virginia. For a time she traveled with other war brides as their husbands’ ships were posted in East Coast ports. She eventually returned to St. Paul to await the birth of our first child and my return from overseas.

Our family of three (my daughter Kathy was born while I was in Europe) returned to Juneau in the fall of 1946. We eventually purchased a house at the top of Main Street and over the next twenty years raised our three other daughters, Barb, Patty and Peggy in that home.

Over the years I fished commercially, was half owner in a moving company, Orme Transfer, and with my partner Jim Orme, built the warehouse located to the immediate left of the Foodland complex. I bought fish for the Juneau Cold Storage, operated mail boats, the Forester, Kasiloff, and Bette R to outlying communities, and worked as a freight manager for Alaska Steamship Company and Foss Alaska Line. I also served a term on the Juneau City Council, my only foray into politics. My time in the Mediterranean, as I longed for the Aleutians, fostered a distinct distrust of government as a whole. It has, in my opinion, been much more interesting to watch the process than to actively participate in it. Or perhaps my participation during World War II was simply enough to last a lifetime.

In late summer of 1961, we received a ship-to-shore message from my mother that my father, who was stream guarding for the Department of Fish and Game in Seymour Canal, had gone ashore to check a stream and had not returned. An air and ground search followed, but he was never found. Many rumors circulated about what might have happened to him, but his disappearance remains a mystery. My comfort is in knowing he is where he loved being the most somewhere in the Alaska wilderness. It is indeed a fine place to be.

As our daughters grew up and began to leave home, my wife and I built a smaller house on the family property on Fritz Cove Road. Over the years, the family compound grew to include residences for my mother; my sister, her husband and children; three of my four daughters, their husbands and their six children. The neighborhood was lively with four generations all within an easy walk of one another.

Although I suspect there was concern among some members of my family when I reached retirement that I would need something to do, my boat and maintenance on our road and the family property in general presented many choices and left no time for idle days.

My mother died in 1984. My brother, sister and I scattered her ashes over Seymour Canal, hoping that she and dad would somehow be together. My wife and I are now the older generation on the property, and it is our great grandchildren that now come to play and enjoy this special place.

When I look back on my years growing up in Juneau, time on the water and in the woods, the excitement of hunting and fishing, exploration of coves and shoreline where I felt like the only person who had ever set foot there, I think so much has changed that no one can ever live that life again, and I know I am so very fortunate that life was mine.

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