by Lauder T. McVey
My mother, Belle Hukill Dilg, was born in Skagway in 1907. She was the fourth of six living children. Her parents, David Nathan Hukill from Kentucky and Henrietta Katherine McKenzie Hukill of Saskatchewan, Canada, arrived in Skagway in 1899. Their first child, Virginia, died as an infant. My grandfather, an expert woodcarver, carved a wooden marker for her grave. The marker was so beautiful that it had to be removed; people tried to steal it. The grave can no longer be identified. The marker was lost for many years but is now back in possession of the family. I have a color picture of it. My mother and father, Lauder Tully, of Vancouver, B.C. and Whitehorse, Y.T. Canada, were divorced at sometime after my birth in 1924, at Vancouver, B.C. My mother and I returned to Skagway.
Some years later my mother married James Lelin McVey of Montana, who was a fireman on the old coal, handfired steam locomotives on the White Pass and Yukon route. He adopted me in July 1931. Due to his job, I was entitled to free passes on the WP&YR and once rode the locomotive from Bennett to Whitehorse (unknown to the officials).
My cousin, Emitt Soldin, well known pilot now living in Anchorage, Douglas Blanchard and I, teenagers, once spent several days alone at Burro Creek, across the bay from Skagway. We stayed in a former hermit’s log cabin, “Burro Creek Joe” Beauchamp. The summer of 1937, we attended a Presbyterian conference at the Sheldon Jackson School in Sitka. Our transportation was a small boat, probably under 50 feet, from Skagway via Auke Bay to Sitka. I remember seeing the original Pioneer Home and six Coast Guard PBY flying boats anchored in the harbor.
During the summer, after finishing the eighth grade, I worked in Shaffer’s Hardware; and as a plumber’s helper participated in the plumbing of the refurbished home/office of Dr. C.L. Polley, a dentist who later had a practice in Juneau.
During the middle of my freshman year in the “new” school, my mother and dad separated. My mother and I moved to Juneau in 1939. My mother worked as a waitress in the restaurant of the just completed Baranof Hotel.
About this time, I met Captain Lloyd H. “Kinky” Bayers. Kinky had wavy red hair (where he got his name), worked in the A.J. Mine and lived on his boat Forrester. He welcomed young boys on board, where he entertained us with stories about throwing an anchor overboard without the other end tied, etc. When he skippered the Wanderer taking fishing parties down Gastineau Channel, he allowed us to go along as “deckhands.” He also helped sponsor the Sea Scouts which many of us joined. When you walked down the street with him it seemed like he knew everyone he met. He had a Model A Ford coupe and would sometimes forget where he parked because he talked to so many people. We left port early one morning going to Admiralty Island not knowing there was a small craft warning posted. A storm came up. On the return trip the California hatch blew off and we had to retrieve it to keep water from getting in the engine room. The newspaper reported the Wanderer was covered with six inches of ice. I remember “Kinky.”
During my high school years, I worked many jobs at different times—Spike McLean’s sheet metal shop, helper, roof tarrer, garage cleaner (only time I was ever fired). Worked in two radio shops, Remco and Jerry McKinley’s. Irene McKinley was a great “boss.”
Martin Itjen, who designed, built and operated the Skagway streetcar, contacted me in Juneau to distribute his advertising pamphlets when the tourist boats came in. He paid me 25 cents per boat. One winter he shipped his street car to Seattle, drove it to Hollywood and had his picture taken with Mae West and the streetcar. That picture was on the pamphlet.
I took tickets and opened doors at the old Coliseum Theater, then the much newer 20th Century Theater. I worked part of one summer delivering milk from Switzer’s Dairy (Switzer Creek). Charlie had carried goods during the gold rush from Skagway 20 miles up the mountain to White Pass. On some occasions, Charlie would continue delivering milk to some families with children when they could no longer pay and had told him to stop delivery. He was much of a man. I finished that summer helping to repair track on the glacier section of WP&YR at Skagway.
I graduated in May 1942, and went to work at the sawmill for about 62 cents per hour. Bob Geyer who was driving a dump truck showed me how to operate the dump controls and to trip the tail gate. Later, when asked if I was a truck driver I said, “Sure.” This first job, at $1.40 per hour, sometimes 10 hours a day, 7 days a week was for M.P. Munter who resurfaced and widened the gravel highway to the airport.
When the job closed down for the winter, I was out of work and had not started looking for another job when I got a call one morning and was asked, “Why didn’t you come to work?” I asked, “Where?” and was told, “Owl Cab Co.” Jimmy DeMers, who had left on his honeymoon forgot to call me. I said, “Come and get me.”
The war had been going about a year, but since I was a Canadian citizen I could not volunteer for a branch. I was told to see Major Cochran in the Army Air Corps. He told me to have the draft board move up my number and he would see that I was assigned to the Air Corps. I was inducted in 1943, trained at Duck Creek and miraculously got in the Air Corps. I served at Juneau and Cordova on the way to Naknek, had many different jobs, always on Detached Service. Never shot at! Discharged in February 1946.
During my time in service, I decided to go to college. To earn money in addition to the G.I. Bill, I worked multiple jobs, one at Belle’s Coffee Shop, for my mother. During this time I met a “Southern Belle” Clara Chason from Tallahassee, FL. We were married in November 1946. While earning an engineering degree at the University of Florida I saw the sunshine and was hooked.
I returned many times to visit Juneau, Skagway and Anchorage. My mother retired to the Juneau Pioneer Home a few years ago and passed away on January 29, 2000. Our sons, Mac and Scott, Baptist preachers, accompanied me to Juneau and conducted the memorial service for Mom at the Pioneer Home.