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Juneau-Douglas City Museum

Beistline, Ralph and Catherine (Kraynak)

by Bill Beistline

Ralph Hoover Beistline, a long time Juneau resident and employee of the Alaska-Juneau Mine, first arrived in Alaska in 1907 and settled in Juneau in 1909. He was born to John and Mary Beistline in 1887, in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, but had determined to seek adventure out west. The day he graduated from high school the entire graduating class accompanied him to the railroad depot to see him off as he began his westward journey.

He arrived in San Francisco just days after the great earthquake and fire there, and heard of opportunities for hard workers in Alaska. He worked his way to Seattle, and in 1907, boarded a ship bound for Cordova. He obtained a construction job with Northwestern Railroad and big Mike Heney on the famed “million dollar bridge,” built over the Copper River for the railroad to the Kennicott Copper mine.

He completed the work on the bridge, and then traveled overland to Fairbanks, and then north to the Circle Mining District, where he worked in placer mining in 1908. In the fall of 1909, he decided to go to Juneau so he boarded the riverboat Selkirk in Circle City, bound to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, on the last trip of the season. The Selkirk carried most of the interior and Klondike gold production of that year, and a big part of it was stolen aboard ship. All passengers were held at Whitehorse and after three days, the gold thieves were apprehended, the gold recovered and the innocent passengers, including Beistline, were released. However, because of this delay, by the time he reached Skagway, he had missed the steamship to Juneau. Determined to reach his goal, he and two others hired a small gasoline powered boat and made their way to what would be his home for the next 50 years.

In Juneau, he first worked at the Treadwell Mine on Douglas Island, and then was referred by pioneer businessman Charles Goldstein to a job at the Alaska-Juneau Mine. He was hired as a construction foreman, and then headed up the mine’s carpenter shops. He worked at the A-J for a record 49 years, staying on even after it’s closing in 1944, to help maintain the property and company holdings.

Ralph Beistline was with the A-J when it put in its big mill on Gastineau Channel, the camp and machine shops on Gold Creek in Last Chance Basin, and drove the tunnel through Mt. Roberts connecting them.

Ralph married Catherine Francis Kraynak in 1915 in Juneau. She was born in 1887 in Ironwood, Michigan. She had been raised in Ironwood but just like Ralph and many others during this time, had traveled west and then to Alaska to improve her opportunities. She had arrived in Juneau in 1912 and was working for the Charles Goldstein family when she met Beistline.

The couple had two children born in Juneau. A son, Earl Hoover, was born in 1916, and a daughter, Helen Marie, born in 1919. The family built one of the first homes in the Seatter Tract, on land Ralph had purchased in 1915. The home was a big red cedar shingle house on the brow of the hill, just above the Evergreen Cemetery, with a view overlooking Gastineau Channel. Juneau residents waiting for relatives arriving by ship would sometimes call Catherine to see when the ship was in sight, so they could determine the time it would dock at Juneau.

Ralph built the original stairs that lead up the steep hill to the lots in the Seatter Tract. He also built and maintained the cistern that collected water from a mountain spring, and the water main that provided the water to his home, and others in the area. This was known as the Beistline Waterworks and was later purchased by the City of Juneau.

Ralph was an active man, not only in his work at the mine but in the community as well. He was elected to, and served several terms on, the Juneau City Council at various times. He joined the Juneau Elks Lodge in the spring of 1915 and served as a trustee for many years. He also was a member of the Juneau Masonic Lodge No. 147 and was a Shriner. He was a member of Juneau Igloo No. 6, Pioneers of Alaska and Catherine was a member of the Pioneers of Alaska, Auxiliary No. 6.

Ralph enjoyed life in Juneau and the outdoors, hunting and fishing. He had a wide range of friends and associates. At his retirement in 1958, he mentioned not only big Mike Heney, but also the early mining men that he had worked with, such as Phil Bradley, Harry Metzgar and Joe Williams. Ralph Beistline had a reputation as a man who could take on a tough job, with little fanfare, and get it done right.

Ralph passed away in 1959 in Juneau. Catherine went to live with her daughter Helen in Seattle, where she died in 1962. Ralph and Catherine are buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in Juneau, within sight of the old family home.

The Beistline children, Earl and Helen, enjoyed growing up and being educated in the small town of Juneau. They played baseball, took weekend fishing trips to Turner Lake with friends, and enjoyed the magnificent scenery in which they were surrounded.
They especially enjoyed the Elks annual picnic, held at the southern end of Douglas Island. The men would go to the area by boat the night before the picnic and prepare a cable barge landing arrangement, to take people from a ferry boat to shore, where food booths and games awaited.

Earl’s first summer job was for the Warwicks, herding their four cows, near Sheldon Beach, along the Glacier Highway. He later worked at the Alaska Dairy for Joe Kendler, helping to deliver milk in downtown Juneau. The dairy and pastures were located at the site of what is now the Juneau Airport. He learned to drive at the dairy by driving a Graham truck in a barn, forward for about 100 feet, lifting a fork and its load of summer hay, then backing up and repeating the process. He received his driving license at age 14 by going over to the home of City Policeman, George Gerchell one evening for questioning.

After graduating from Juneau High School in 1934, Earl worked at the A-J and was able to learn lab techniques from George Skuse, the head assayer for the mine. The knowledge he gained there would serve him well in later years. In the fall of 1934, he traveled to the Alaska Agricultural and School of Mines, that later became the U. of Alaska. He graduated with a five-year mining engineering degree in 1939, and after his military service, he returned there in 1946, and became the Dean of the School of Mines. Retiring in 1981 from the University, he has remained active as a mining consultant, and has mining interests in the Fairbanks and Circle Mining District, where his father worked as a young man over 90 years prior.

Earl married Dorothy Hering of Fairbanks in 1946, and they have four children, Ralph, Bill, Katherine, and Lynda, all still living in the Fairbanks area, with their spouses and children. Dorothy Beistline passed away in 1996. Earl has 13 grandchildren.

After graduating from Juneau High School in 1938, Helen attended Washington State University and completed a business program in 1941. She worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Juneau and later in Washington. She also worked for Seafirst Bank and later had her own bookkeeping office from which she did work for many different companies and physician groups. Helen married Simon Meacham in Juneau in 1941, and they had two sons, Howard and David, who now live in Washington and Oregon. Helen had four grandchildren. Simon passed away in 1956. After the death of her husband, Helen raised her two sons on Mercer Island in Washington. In 1969, Helen married Leo Saarela, a long time friend of the Beistline family. Leo passed away in 1995 and Helen died in 1999.

Catherine and Ralph Beistline at their Juneau home in later years.

Ralph, Helen, Earl and Catherine in family home, early 1920s.