by Joseph B. Sadlier
My maternal grandfather was Byron Alfred Olson, who was born in South Lake, Minnesota, on August 9, 1874, to John Olson and his wife, who were both immigrants; my grandfather’s father was born in Norway and his mother was born in Sweden. Byron worked in the Sacramento gold fields until the big gold rush to the Klondike and they traveled north and came to Alaska. He was a civil engineer and had gone to the Colorado School of Mines with a major in mining. He was an expert tunnel man. When he arrived in Skagway, he was traveling with the Snow family. Crystal Snow (Jenne) who was just an infant, was carried over the Chilkoot Pass by my grandfather. They all went to Dawson City. I don’t know when they returned south, but Grandmother worked on the White Pass and Yukon Railway and Grandfather did a lot of tunnel work. They lived at a place called Log Cabin, which still exists today. It’s a section lining the railroad where there are round houses and where they keep equipment. I remember my mother telling me that they lived in a bunkhouse and they had a Chinese cook and he had a long queue down his back, which was common in those days. She also remembered that when she was a little girl, this cook had given her a back scratcher.
There were no schools at Log Cabin so when my mother was nine years old, she was sent to Juneau and she stayed with the Jenne family. Shortly after, my grandparents came to Juneau and they all lived in a tent on the beach at Thane that winter, while the first mining houses were constructed. Because he was the superintendent, they moved into the first finished house. Upon completion of the Alaska Gastineau Mine they moved to Annex Creek, from where the power line ran to the Alaska Gastineau. He then took part in the construction of the Salmon Creek Dam and also the engineering work when the Alaska-Juneau was constructed.
In later years, Byron became plagued with arthritis from working underground. He got so crippled up that he had to quit mining. They bought the Zynda Hotel which was later the Juneau Hotel. He and Edith later went into the boardinghouse business in a big house up above the old Federal Building. He died in 1927, at 52, and is buried in the Evergreen Cemetery. The knowledge I have of him is that he was very astute, a very smart man and always worked as a foreman or superintendent. My grandmother, Edith, came from St. Paul, Minnesota, and her people came from the east and were pre-Revolutionary War descendants. Edith had a stroke and in those days they didn’t have medical facilities so she was bedridden much of the time. My mother’s sister, Betty, took care of her in Ketchikan. Grandmother passed away in 1947, and is buried in Bayview Cemetery. Byron and Edith Olson had five children: Wade, Dorothy, Clarence, Forrest, and Winona (called Betty).
Wade married a school teacher in Juneau and they moved south and drifted away from the family. My mother, Dorothy, was born in the California Sierras in 1904, and worked as a telephone operator in the early days. Clarence aspired to be an actor and he went and lived in Alameda, California. He had two children that I have only met once, and he has passed on. Forrest died when he was eleven, up in the Yukon. Betty married Emmett Ryus, from an old pioneer Ketchikan family. She died in Ketchikan in 1980. She was childless so the Ryus’ had nobody to carry on their name.
My father, Joseph Henry Sadlier, was born in Tacoma, in 1898. He came up here in 1918, and worked on the Cutter Roosevelt which was on the seal patrol in the Pribilof Islands. His brother Jim was a purchasing agent for the Alaska Juneau Gold Mine in Juneau. He got a job for my dad in the mine so he came here to work as a “ball mill” repairman. Those were tough days as they worked seven days a week and the only days off were Christmas and Fourth of July. He told me they made $3.00 a day. That was considered a very good wage. In 1921, Jim went north to Kennicott. A friend of Jim’s, Dave Housel, owned the Alaska Hotel and he talked dad into quitting his job at the mine to work at the hotel. Shortly after, he went to work as a surveyor for the Federal government. They left on the SS Alaska to Seward where with pack horses and team they surveyed in the Tanana area. They were also on the Aleutians and the Alaska Penninsula and surveyed the Aniakchak Crater. The following year he worked in the Dyea area around Skagway. He then returned to Juneau.
In 1923, a friend, Jimmy McNaughton, helped him get a job at First National Bank, and he moved to the Olsen’s boardinghouse, which is where he met my mother, Dorothy in 1924. They were married at the Episcopal Church in 1925, and I came along in 1927. He later worked for B. M. Behrends Bank as cashier. In 1950, Joe and Dorothy moved to Pelican when he was hired by Pros Ganty, manager of the Pelican Cold Storage, to serve as agent for the First Bank of Sitka, Customs Inspector and as agent for Alaska Coastal Airlines. Dorothy was the postmistress. They lived there for 12 years. In 1961, my father had a severe heart attack and they flew him to Juneau, and in five days he passed away. He is buried in the Evergreen Cemetery. I moved my mother to Juneau and she completed her government service as a clerk for the draft board. At the end of her twenty year term, she retired and moved to Ketchikan. Later she entered the Pioneers Home and lived there for nine years. She died in July, 1997, at the age of 93 and is buried in Bayview Cemetery with her sister, mother and brother in law.
In school, George Hanna and I were best of friends, closer than brothers. In those early war years, all the manpower had left for the armed forces so the Forest service was forced to look for personnel to care for the cabins, trails and roads in the Tongass National Forest. They turned to the high school and recruited young men from 15 to 18 to maintain the trail systems. In 1943- 1944, George and I spent our summers with the Forest Service. The trails would be completely covered if not brushed out at least twice during the summer. That’s what we did with brush hooks and machetes. One morning we brushed out the trail on Mt. Roberts and ran down and went up the Mt Juneau trail and brushed it, all on the same day. Another time we went to Windfall Lake, and brushed all the way through to Montana Creek—over 11 miles. We were pretty tired when that day was over! We built a trail to Yankee Basin and cleared every trail in the Juneau area. We had one pickup truck and in 1943, had a camp at Eagle River. Max Mielke was the foreman and his wife was the cook for a crew of four to six boys. She cooked on a portable coal stove and we had to pack in the coal for her. She was a darn good cook. I remember her standing in rubber boots, cooking, and the rain pouring over her. We had tents with mosquito netting, cots and sleeping bags. It was a lot of fun. We got paid once a month.
During school time, I worked for the ACS delivering telegrams after school. When you delivered a telegram you had to get a signature from the people receiving it. At that time, the line on South Franklin was wide open. I delivered a number of telegrams to the girls on the line. They were very generous with tips; they would always give a silver dollar, and that was a lot of money in those days.
When we were 17, George and I talked about our future. We knew we would be drafted at 18 and knew that usually Alaskans that were drafted would serve in Alaska, in Anchorage or the Aleutians, and we wanted something more exciting. We went to our parents and asked if we could join the Navy and they agreed. We had enough money saved to pay our steamer fare, $35.00, so we took the North Sea south to Seattle. We didn’t want to join there as we might be sent back to Alaska so we hitchhiked to San Diego. We informed the Navy that we were there and wanted to join up. They looked at us and asked, “Where are your papers?” They said that we had to have papers signed by Navy officers. Of course, there was no Navy in Juneau. They put us up in one of their hotels and we had to send the papers back north. Meanwhile, we were both broke, but the Navy gave us 60 cent meal chits to buy food for at least three meals a day, waiting for the mail to get back. After five days, we got word that the forms had been returned. We finally went to boot camp and upon completion, George was transferred to Mobile, Alabama and I went to landing craft school in Coronado, California. On completion I served on LST’s in the South Pacific. Returning after two years, I stayed with friends in Bremerton. Shortly after I got there, George came in on a freight train from Jacksonville, Florida. We put our heads together on how we were going to get home. It was late spring and transportation was booked. We took a Greyhound bus to Vancouver. There we were fortunate enough to catch the Princess Louise and five days later we were home.
George later married Donna Olds. I worked various jobs driving cab for Red Holloway and driving truck. Lee Lucas and I eventually moved into the old fire hall and had great times. There was a job offer for Customs Inspector at Annette Island, which I took. I was 21 years old and lived in the hanger. The government gave me a cot, blanket and pillow and I was fortunate enough to eat with some guys who worked for Standard Aviation. When they wanted to transfer me to Tok, that was the end of my customs career. I worked at various jobs in Ketchikan and then on the construction of the pulp mill in 1953 and 1954. I think I made more money then than I ever did in my life, $6000 a year, which was tremendous, then. At one time in Ketchikan, I owned a barbershop and my wife was a barber with me. We shrimp fished and owned a troller the Wendy Lee. I guess you could say we have done it all.
Today I am 73, retired and drive the borough bus and live on top of Hill Road. I am very active in VFW and past president of Pioneers, do a lot of volunteer work and am having a great time, and going on a greater a adventure. We are going to bring a ship, like the one I served on in World War II, back from Greece and it will be a memorial ship. It will be wonderful to do it with the shipmates that were the same age as I am. We will leave it at Mobile, Alabama, as a permanent memorial. I call it the last hurrah!
A few stories—Percy’s Café was the big hangout when George and I came home from the war. Mike Fenster, Alaska Coastal pilot, came in one day and said, “Hey guys, I need some help.” So down to the float we went and there was the Lockheed Vega with a door off. He said, “Now we’re going up to the ice field where there are a bunch of scientists on a ridge and I have to drop them some supplies. When I gun the motor and I’m going over the ridge, you throw out what bags you can and when I gun it again you quit, because they will go down the other side.” So we got in the plane and here were these potato sacks with padding inside, but they weren’t heavy. When we got up the Taku, I propped both feet up against each side of the door and George held on to the back of my belt so I wouldn’t fall out and Mike Fenster proceeded to cut the engine and I tossed two or three bags out and he would kick the engine in and turn and come back again. When we were empty we returned to town, got out of the plane and walked into Percy’s for a cup of coffee. Imagine today what would happen with something like that. Insurance would go nuts.
When I was driving cab for Red Holloway, I lived in the fire hall and was a volunteer fireman. Nick Bez, the old fish buyer, came across from the Baranof and got into my cab and said he wanted to go to the airport. We started up the street and the fire horn went off. The fire hall doors flew open and the trucks came out and I looked downtown and there was a huge cloud of smoke, and flames. I opened the door and said, “You take the cab, I have to go to the fire.” I jumped on the back of the truck as it went down the hill. Nick drove the cab and continued out to the airport. One of the drivers coming in from the airport spotted the cab and called to Red Holloway and said, “My god, there’s some stranger driving #9 out to the airport.” Of course Holloway, with a cigar in his mouth, with that red hair of his, was all fired up. He jumped into a cab and away he went in a panic but when he saw it was Nick he calmed down. Nick said, “Give that kid $10.00 for fighting the fire.” That’s the way things were in those days.
Oh yes, my dad and the $50,000-another interesting story. My dad was in Pelican and in those days the fishbuyers paid the fishermen in cash. Fred Grant was a buyer for Booth, and he told dad he needed $50,000 in cash so my dad got on the radio and called Behrends Bank. They put it in bundles, and wrapped it in brown paper, and sent it over. Dad had a cart with two bicycle wheels which he used to carry the mail bags for my mother, the postmistress. He went down to meet the plane and pick up the mail and low and behold, he left the money on the wing of the plane. The plane taxied out into Lisianski Inlet. Then they realized the money was on the wing as it sailed off, into the drink. They got a skiff and he fished the money out of the bay. My mother put up a clothes line and there was $50,000 in cash drying in the post office.