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Juneau-Douglas City Museum

Kaiser, Tony & Twila

by Twila Kaiser

Life was never dull in the village where I grew up. Queen Junction, Pennsylvania, was the junction of the Western Allegheny, the Bessemer, and the Lake Erie Railroads with good passenger service and a busy freight schedule between Pittsburgh and Erie. My two sisters went to high school in Butler by train, but by the time I was ready for high school, we had moved to Butler. Queen Junction boasted a good restaurant near the railroad station, a post office, a Justice of the Peace office, and the General Store which was owned by my parents. Butler was a prosperous city with ARMCO Steel Company, the Pullman Standard Railroad Car manufacturing plant and the Bantam Car manufacturer, which became Jeep Company.

For my first trip to Alaska, in October 1943, I had to take the Pennsylvania Railroad from Pittsburgh to Chicago and the Great Northern Railroad to Seattle. The trains were crowded with GI’s. A fellow passenger, David James and I became friends. He was coming to Alaska to join the Coast Guard and was stationed in Juneau. As soon as the time was right, he went to Missouri to marry his fiancee, Virginia, and bring her to Douglas. We became friends and after years in Alaska, they retired to Missouri. David has died, but Virginia and I continue to correspond.

In Seattle, I boarded the Canadian Pacific SS Princess Charlotte for Vancouver, BC, then the SS Princess Louise for Juneau. I was so interested in everything about docking and loading that I was on deck at every port. The ship had to be “blacked out” every night because this was World War II.

We had not left the dock at Vancouver before I had a visitor. He had checked the passenger list and discovered my name, Twila Porterfield and his was Bob Porterfield. We traced some relatives and declared ourselves “cousins.” He introduced me as “cousin” to his soldier friends, especially George Montgomery, the movie star. They were all in Juneau for MGM to make movies for the Army, to show inductees what Alaska was like. We continued our friendship by telephone, but I could not accept his invitations to the USO or Douglas Inn as they were “off limits” for this new missionary at Alaska Evangelization Society in Douglas.

I was busy helping with church services, Sunday school and Bible clubs in Juneau at the ANB Hall. I also visited the young people in the TB wards of the Government Hospital and made many friends. Talk about friends, I have been friends with Yvonne and Phil Martin for many years. A few years ago I found the roll or list of children who had attended the Bible clubs in 1943-44. Among the 30 listed were George, Phillip, Sammy and Alice Martin. That dear little Phillip is now my grown-up friend.

Whenever I had a chance, I attended the Northern Light Presbyterian Church or Memorial Presbyterian Church. I often visited with Reverend Soboleff. When he learned that Sheldon Jackson School, at Sitka, needed a Junior Girls Supervisor, he recommended me to Mr. Leslie Yaw, the superintendent. After an interview, I was hired. There were 38 seventh, eighth and ninth grade girls who needed a “mother.” I was 27 years old! These were fun days, with devotions, chapel, walks, gym, sewing projects and basketball-mostly basketball. There were also sleepless nights when one or more of the girls were homesick, sick, or just sad.

For the 1945-1946, school term, seventh grade was deleted, and Junior College started, and I had 27 eighth and ninth grade girls. That year our cook quit as did our laundry supervisor, so the Senior Girls Supervisor and I did triple duty. I took leave that summer and went home to Butler.

I had met Tony Kaiser in 1945, when I visited a friend in Chicago. Letters, phone calls and visits led to engagement and our marriage in June, 1947, at the Northern Light Presbyterian Church.

A young ex-GI working for the Weather Bureau had contracted for the homesite at 101/2 Mile Glacier Highway but wanted to sell it. He had added to the ten by twenty foot Army building which had been a shelter for the soldiers who guarded the barbed wire fence fuel storage area. The first time I saw it, soldiers with guns on their shoulders were walking up and down. However, when the Army Corps of Engineers built the Engineers Cutoff to have access to the dock (Dock Street off Fritz Cove Road) at Auke Bay to bring fuel to deposit for the expected submarines, they no longer needed the 101/2 Mile site. Tony and I “subtracted” and “added” to the building and four acres. For years, we had no electricity, nor running water, nor telephone. We had to go to the Federal Building in Juneau for our post office box and to use the telephone. The bus service was adequate and friends were wonderful.

The buildings of Duck Creek Army Post were for sale in 1948. Tony bid on many and after he was notified of the ones he had been awarded, he painted SOLD KAISER on each. A good friend went later and crossed out the “S” to give everyone a laugh. Tony sold some of the buildings and Quonset huts but kept one of the Quonset huts to erect in our back acreage. A few years later construction companies rented it and banked it with gravel to meet safety requirements in order to store dynamite for blasting jobs while extending Glacier Highway. One of the buildings had been the mess hall and contained picnic like tables with attached benches. When Tony was sawing it in two to drag home for a garage, he said the mosquitoes were noisier than the saw. Duck Creek Camp was known for pesky mosquitoes.

That was a busy summer with dismantling those buildings in the evenings and on weekends after Tony worked days at Juneau Spruce Sawmill. We welcomed our first baby, Linda, and had many visitors. (I noted 103 in June.) In the years which followed we added Paul and Keith to our family.

We treasure our friends and relatives and those years spent pioneering.