by Peter Bibb
Peter Bibb came over the Alaska Highway in 1951, to teach at the Juneau High School; the road was very rough in those days. He missed the Chilkat ferry at Haines, which was an old war surplus Navy boat which ran once a week. That first ferry was owned by two ex-GI’s, Steve Homer and Ray Gelotte, husband of first grade teacher Doreen Gelotte. Pete was on a tight budget and his main meal for the next four days as he waited for the next ferry, was canned tomato soup.
Before becoming a teacher, Pete had served his apprenticeship in a shipyard and had almost finished when he was drafted into the Army during WWII. When he was discharged from the Army he worked construction in the South. He then attended school in Wisconsin at the Stout Institute, the same school from which Hank Harmon graduated. Graduation came with fifty million GI’s looking for jobs. Pete knew he would have to find an edge. He had skied some in the Army in Europe and in Wisconsin with Scandinavian roommates. If he applied to a northern school he could list skiing as an extracurricular skill. Dr. Joseph Rude was on the school board then. He wanted a woodshop teacher-ski coach. The word “skiing” on Pete’s application caught Dr. Rude’s eye. Sterling Sears, Superintendent, wired a job offer with a salary of $3500 which sounded like an offer from heaven.
The Juneau ski area was challenging. The ski team and ski club would hike up the Dan Moller trail after school. Fridays they went to Montana Creek for cross country ski workouts. Saturdays they would hike into third cabin for downhill workouts, packing uphill once, then making one run downhill and striking for home down the trail to the end of what is now Cedar Park. Various spots in the ski area had meaningful names- Killer Hill, Avalanche Area, Jump Hill and Farewell Valley. There were about fifteen students who wanted to ski badly enough to walk three and a half miles up.
There was one out-of-town ski trip a season, to Anchorage. Skiers had to help finance the trip themselves. Students were very cagey in finding ways to raise a few dollars, such as cake auctions at dance intermissions. Another scheme was collecting spruce cones for the Forest Service who then sent them to Iceland for reforestation. Pete believes he aged about ten years on those ski trips. Skiers were housed in private homes and some of the Anchorage skiers made sure to show the country boys from Juneau the city lights.
Before Pete had his family, he would go to the Federal Building in January and sign up for summer jobs with either the Bureau of Public Roads or Forest Service. Two days after school was over each spring he would be flying north.
Later, with a family, Pete felt he had to get out of skiing to have time to work on a log home at his Thane home site. He went to see Mr. Sears, the old-time superintendent type. Pete told him about wanting to get out of the ski coach part of his job. Mr. Sears turned, looked at Pete with his no nonsense hawk eyes and said, very matter of factly, “Pete, shop teachers are a dime a dozen.” That ended that matter.
Pete lived with his growing family for eight years in Thane. They were the happiest years in Juneau. The rent was $12.50 when he and his new wife Mary Ellen moved into one of the old company mine houses. They had fun collecting furniture and fixing up the inside. They were both young teachers in the school system. The Thane location was convenient for Pete to work on their home site on the Dupont Trail, later an extension of the Thane Road.
Then the children began to arrive. They were lucky in that Mary Ellen had come off an old historic ranch in Montana. Every summer they would beat it down the Alaska Highway to Montana. A perfect place to raise kids and for Pete to act out being a ranch hand around some of the last of the old timers.
It was a real tragedy to the family when they received notice that they would have to move out of their Thane house as A.J. Mine was going to do away with them. On one teacher’s salary they couldn’t afford to move to town with a large family and Mary Ellen staying at home with the children. Luckily, Pete’s hobby, building a log cabin, was up to the top log. A recent new shop teacher, Bob Peel, a highly skilled, fast carpenter, helped Pete slap a temporary flat roof on and hang doors and windows. They moved in, with a shaky water system subject to many freeze ups and his wife saying, “I’ve got to have water for the diapers,” and Pete out in a frozen creek with a lantern trying to coax a little water into a balky pump. The cabin was so drafty a double barrel wood stove made of oil drums was the central heating.
Pete retired in 1976 from the Juneau-Douglas High School. He still lives in Juneau at Thane.