Evangel Island Journey 13 - Return to Kodiak, July 1959

The Evangel returns to Kodiak for the first 4th of July since statehood

By Timothy Smith (NEW in 2020)

EVANGEL Island Journey: Return to Kodiak (4th of July ‘59)

Introduction: This article contains elements of many of the Evangel’s visits to Kodiak in the late 1950’s, concentrating on one very special visit.  It also contains a little more Smith family storyline than most articles.  We begin with a photo gallery of Kodiak as it looked in the 1950’s.

A Kodiak 1950’s Photo Gallery (the Kodiak of my childhood)

Kodiak / Near Island Channel in 1957: From left, below Barometer Mountain, is the Alaska Packers Association cannery, Donnelley and Acheson store and warehouse, the roof of the Baranof House (Erskine), the Standard Oil dock, Kodiak Airways seaplane ramp (with a Lake Skimmer and Sea-Bee visible), the Griffin Memorial Hospital above, and far right, the Kodiak Electric Association generator building with steam coming out of it. Photo by Noel Smith

A seaplane-eye-view of Kodiak on approach to land in the channel, in the mid-1950’s. There is no boat harbor yet near the town, and nothing in Dog Bay (center left) where the new boat harbor will someday be built. (Unknown photographer, via eBay)

This two-page panel from This is Kodiak Island by Chaffin and Amash, 1962, shows the main downtown area with a new and very small boat harbor, a Rezanof Drive that ends at the top of the hill, and the Aleutian Homes serving as the effective boundary of the town. Used with permission of the Yule Chaffin estate

This 1957 photo (scanned from a 4x5 print) was taken from Near Island by my older brother Noel in 1957. The Evangel is tied up at the Standard Oil dock (center), and the FAA Woody Island ferry, the Fedair IV, is the white boat at center left near the large APA cannery. The future Baranof Museum is the large home in the center of the photo.

Back to Kodiak!

Tonight I have a hard time sleeping even though the Evangel’s patient Lathrop engine and constant swaying usually lulls me into a deep slumber. We are coming back to town from our home in Larsen Bay, and have already stopped in all the Shelikof Strait communities on the way. In a few days we will take campers over to Woody Island. Tomorrow I will wake up in Kodiak! In the Pre-Tidal Wave days, Kodiak is no great shakes as a metropolis, but for a village boy like me, it’s like taking a trip to New York City.  The villages, even the ones with cannery stores, don’t have anything like the selection of toys, books and candy that Kodiak has.  And there are at least three places in Kodiak to buy them! Kodiak seems like an embarrassment of riches for a village kid. The long hours of boat travel have long since exhausted my interest in the small supply of toys and books I have brought with me, and the candy was gone within a couple of hours of my last stop at a village store. But this trip is special for another reason: we will be in town to celebrate the first Fourth of July since Alaska became a state! The official proclamation (six months after Congress approved – apparently things in Washington DC move by dogsled or mail boat or something) was signed in January, 1959. I am proud and excited, and armed with only a child’s limited understanding of statehood, I still understand that we are now included, important and noticed. They even changed the flag for us- 49 stars! Yes, I’ll have a hard time sleeping tonight.

Yet suddenly it’s morning. Somehow I was sound asleep when we docked. I don’t remember tying up, or the moment when the Evangel ceased to be something very nearly alive, and became merely a boat in the harbor when the Lathrop was finally shut down. I can hear the clatter of breakfast preparation in the galley directly below me, and my foggy ears take in the indistinct sounds of the crews of various fishing boats going about their morning tasks. The unmistakable clatter of busy feet and the rhythmic thunking of the wheels of freight carts rolling across the thick planks of the floats outside remind me that we are in the Kodiak boat harbor.  We are moored just across the float from Dr. A. Holmes Johnson’s sailboat (Kodiak’s only), the beautiful Windbird.  And in a flash, I remember: it’s the morning of the Fourth of July!  There will be a carnival, parade, and just about everything else I could never see in a village or aboard the boat.

I clamber quickly out of my little green sleeping bag in the tiny cubbyhole over the galley stairs that is reserved for the Evangel’s smallest crewmember. I roll up the thick green fabric shade that covers the tiny window, carefully tie the shade in place at the top of the window, and peer out without much success.  Emerging from my little compartment, I crawl across the thick mattress that is my parents’ bunk, past the Northern marine band radio, toward the half-circle of windows that encompass the wheelhouse. My clothes are laid out for me, and I notice a light blue matching set of pants and jacket, and a white shirt. Today is a day to be all dressed up!  I bounce down the impossibly steep ladder steps to the main cabin below. This is no big deal, since I’ve been traversing them since I learned to walk four or five summers ago. Dad has already unhooked the folding table that hangs just under the top hatch, and it is in place. There’s just room to spare between it and the storage bins covered with mats that serve as seating in the daytime and bunks at night. There’s a stool or two for those on either end, but I get a Blazo box since I’m still pretty little and need a boost. The shiny brown oilcloth of the table is soon covered with bowls and spoons and napkins. Mom is serving oatmeal and RealGold “orange juice” mixed one to four from a little can and served in tall, brightly colored aluminum tumblers. I get a turquoise one. It’s just like any other morning on the Evangel, if you ignore (which I can’t) the sounds of the carnival starting up along the street that lines the boat harbor.  

I’m a little more squirmy than usual, but manage to eat my breakfast, knowing I won’t be permitted to leave until I do. Before we head out, we do the dishes. I dry, and somebody taller puts away; all the storage cupboards are above the galley stove and still too far overhead for the likes of me. My last task is to get the little “foxtail brush” and dustpan and sweep the ladder steps. This is my usual morning chore aboard. Then I get my allowance.  Mom and Dad have not forgotten what day it is and where we are. Two whole 1959 dollars grease my palm, and I fold them carefully and put them in my pocket. It’s a big allowance for a big day.  My grandma Benthin in Washington sent me five dollars for my birthday in May, and I fish through my bin for the $1.75 that is left after squandering my riches buying candy in various cannery stores this summer. I am a rich boy, on the town, on carnival day. But I’m not alone, because my big sister Jerilynn is walking with me through the carnival. Even on its best behavior, Kodiak in the 1950’s has an alcoholic haze about it. Many of the fishermen will be especially festive today, on the first big official celebration of our recent statehood. Big sister Jerilynn will tactfully steer us away from unsavory situations. (Continued below…)

Scenes of Kodiak:

Top: The Evangel enters the channel in this 16mm movie frame.

Middle: a faded slide taken by Bob Railsback, 2nd in command at the Kodiak Naval Air station, circa 1958.

Right: the Evangel with Dr. A. Holmes Johnson’s  sailboat the Windbird, are in the foreground in this 1957 photo of the Kodiak small boat harbor, taken in 1957.

The Carnival

Even before I reach the ramp that leads up to the dock and out to the street, I see all the carnival booths, crudely created out of two by fours, plastic sheeting, and canvas tarps. The booths stretch along the gravel parking lot on the boat harbor side of Marine Way.  The front sides are all brilliantly decorated with hand-painted plywood signs; from the back (from the boat harbor) it all looks like a shantytown. But what they lack in style they make up in spirit; they all seem to be doing a booming business. The sounds and smells are already making my head dizzy with excitement. At the land end of the dock, where the road begins, a flagpole proudly displays the new 49-star flag of the United States of America, now including Alaska.  I notice it and ask if it really is the new flag. Jerilynn and I pause for a moment to count:  seven rows of seven stars each equals 49, she explains. We’re IN!  

We turn right, past the harbormaster building, and the first booth that catches my eye is a marine surveyor’s display, replete with stunning 8x10 glossy photos of various shipwrecks he has salvaged. But the real eye catcher is the genuine deep sea diving suit, with its huge shining metal helmet and tiny porthole. It looks like a real-life crew member from Jules Verne’s Nautilus.  But the illustrations in a Jules Verne novel never captured a young person’s imagination like that real, shiny suit does for me. I immediately realize how claustrophobic it would be, with its tiny view hole and cumbersome hose attachment. I shudder and move on.  There are so many things I’ve never experienced before. Jerilynn politely but firmly moves me past the games, explaining that I don’t actually get to buy the stuffed animals hanging from the rafters, but have to knock down all the pins, puncture all the balloons or whatever. I insist on trying cotton candy. We compromise and say we’ll share one later. It’s only a few seconds later that the most amazing, tantalizing fragrance attacks my nose: the Rotary or somebody is selling curlicue fries, and I stand and watch as the pigtails of raw potato get dunked in the steaming oil. I whip out my money and buy a trough full for a whopping thirty-five cents. I share with Jerilynn, of course; as a child ten years younger than my host, I am happy to get help from my big sister. (Continued below…)

Parades Through The Years:

Top: A tractor made to look like a locomotive pulls cars full of kids to the parade route from its starting place below the Community Baptist Church (mid-50’s). Below: Dr. John Molletti, pastor of the Baptist Church, greets a kid along the parade route, mid-50’s.

Bob Railsback took these faded slides at the parade on a rainy Fourth of July in 1957.

Apparently, I once got to ride in the parade! DeWitt Fields, Kodiak cattle rancher, holds on to me as I sit on the Alvine’s Marine Repair float, probably in 1955 (courtesy of the Fields family)

The Parade Begins!

I’m not even half-way through the trough of fries when I hear a marching band.  The parade has started!  Jerilynn and I crowd our way to one of the wooden sawhorses that keeps the crowd off the street, and I stand mesmerized by the grand spectacle.  Kodiak has a major Navy base nearby, with a few marines still stationed there, and their marching band and color guard lead the parade. For a moment we could be in San Diego or Bremerton or any other major naval port city, because the band is large and impressive by any standard. This is a live brass band, and the sonorities rattle pleasantly around in my head as the colorful uniforms and instruments parade by. I am fascinated by the Sousaphones, looking like snakes curled around the players, and topped by shining brass cones the size of the air vents on a freighter. The music is stunning to my ears, so much more alive than the sound cranked out by our modest phonograph, and a far cry from the sound of the pump organ Mom always plays.  Next come the sailors in full dress, sporting rifles on their shoulders.  Occasionally they stop to make the rifles do impossible twists and turns, and nobody drops anything.  I’m a little nervous at seeing so many guns, being thrown around, no less!  Guns are for serious food gathering. Are there really that many Kodiak bears in the world, to require so many rifles?  Jerilynn assures me they are not loaded!

Next come floats provided by local businesses and organizations.  The floats are either decorated flatbed trucks or trailers pulled by noisy cannery jitneys.  I’ve never seen so much crepe paper in my life!  The float for the Kodiak Baptist Mission goes by, and I wave at some kids I know, who are acting out a little scene.  “The 49th State at Worship” is the theme, and sure enough, there are kids sitting in rows while one stands in front of them acting as the preacher.  Most of the other floats also have a theme of statehood, and the whole crowd seems swept up in the pride and excitement. One float goes by with the Miss Kodiak contestants; Jerilynn knows all of them.  I’m impressed (not necessarily positively) with the tall hair and cat eye glasses on display.  “City” adults sometimes seem sort of silly to me.  

Then there’s the high school baton twirlers; they are not quite as successful as the rifle twirlers had been, but entertaining, nonetheless.  Nobody twirls batons in the villages.  I’m not sure what might happen to them if they tried.  But nobody bothers these girls, and in fact, most people clap loudly.  Then the parade ends in a flurry of dignitaries and big, official-looking banners.  That part doesn’t interest me, so we go and find the cotton candy booth.  Cotton candy is the one great disappointment of the day.  It seems mostly tasteless to me, and it melts all over my mouth. Jerilynn gets me safely back to the boat before I become a sticky purple mess.  On the way, I buy a little American Flag on a stick, because it has our 49th star.  Jerilynn takes a couple of photos of me on the stern of the Evangel (no sign of the cotton candy, so most likely after a quick wash-up in the galley), proudly holding that flag. What a day! (Continued below…)

Photos from Independence Day, 1959

Two photos taken by my brother Noel on the Fourth of July, 1959, looking at the booths and crowd from the boat harbor dock. The new 49-star flag flies above, and to the right, the Prospector awaits low tide so it can get a coat of copper bottom paint while people crowd around the game booths beyond.

“The 49th State at Worship” – The Kodiak Baptist Mission, a children’s home at the time, decorated their truck as an outdoor church complete with children as preacher and congregation. Here’s the truck coming and going!

The author on the stern of the Evangel, proudly displaying the new 49-star US flag (photos taken by my sister Jerilynn)

Shopping Spree!

Except for the flag, the cotton candy and the curly fries, I haven’t spent any money, and it’s burning a hole in my pocket. Not in the least disappointed by the carnival, I know that Kodiak still has a whole pile of interesting things for a village kid to do. When I hear that Dad needs to go on a shopping run, I beg to go out on my own, and decide to end at Knudsen’s. That’s my favorite store, because it’s usually got the best toys.  And I didn’t find any toys (except the elusive stuffed animals from the games) on my adventure at the carnival. Krafts, Kodiak Commercial, and Donnelley and Acheson all have toys of varying quality and price. Knudsen’s is on a little dock that extends out into the boat harbor, and it’s the one on the far left of town (from the boat harbor perspective). The others are more or less in a line along the shore, making it logical to end at Knudsen’s. I’m a boy on the town with big money in his pocket!  

I make my rounds, taking a good long time agonizing over all the dizzying possibilities each store has to offer. I have died and gone to heaven, although my Baptist Missionary parents would doubtless contest my theology at that point. I return triumphantly to the boat harbor, bounding onto the Evangel and down the steep stairs with my treasures: an olive-colored plastic army jeep and covered truck from Knudsen’s, and a balsa wind-up airplane with red stripes from Kodiak Commercial. The rubber band-powered plane, with its bright red plastic propeller, beckons to me in its plastic wrapper, but it will have to wait. Camp Woody is the place for such things. I know from cold experience that the nicest wind-up plane in the world is useless once it lands in the bay. The balsa wood curls up like the fries I ate earlier, and that’s if you can get to it. Rowboats are not always readily available for six year olds. So I squirrel the plane carefully away in my big brown bin in the cabin, and spend the next hour or so on maneuvers with my army vehicles. I am sure I annoy the rest of the family as I step the jeep and truck through their gears and grind my way up and down the cushions in the Evangel galley. But I make a pretty good approximation of the sounds emanating from most of the vehicles I have known so far in my life. Kodiak is not Cadillac territory, after all, and most vehicles still have incredibly low mileage by the time the bodies rust right off the frames. I will be quite a bit older before I realize that most of the cars in the rest of the United States don’t come with rust stains.

A Visit to the Kodiak Baptist Mission

For supper, we have all been invited to the Kodiak Baptist Mission for a cookout.  A house parent is waiting for us near the Harbormaster’s office.  We all pile into the Mission’s dark green Travel-All for the bumpy ride down Mission Road.  The Mission is considered to be far out of town; by the beginning of the next millennium it will be across from the hospital and closer to town than either Safeway or Wal-Mart.  The Mission, with its three gleaming white cottages, sits on a ridge with virgin forest behind it, facing Mission Beach and the Woody Island channel.  The driveway is a steep tunnel through the spruce trees, right past Ayer Cottage. The Travel-All is an eight passenger truck, a far cry from its urbane SUV descendants, and it strains noisily in “granny” gear to get up the steep gravel driveway.

We pile out and join the festivities at the Mission.  Many of the kids are friends of mine; some once lived in Baker Cottage in Ouzinkie, which just recently became our home when the Baptists consolidated the orphanages.  There are cool rope swings and “merry go rounds” (ropes tied high in the limbs of a tall spruce, with loops on the lower ends to sit in). I run around the tree until the rope curls enough around the trunk to make me airborne, and then zip around through the air as the rope brings me faster and faster toward the trunk. With expert skill, I walk up the trunk, still sitting in the rope loop, and then lazily glide through the air as the rope unwinds. That swing is one of the simple pleasures of the north end of Kodiak Island, blessed with many tall spruce trees. When it’s someone else’s turn, I automatically step beyond the rope’s arc. When you’re blindsided by someone on a merry go round swing, it’s like being a bowling pin, because of course, the swinger can’t stop in midair.  I’ve actually absorbed a lot of village technology in my six short years! (Continued below…)

Top: Near where Mission Road meets Spruce Cape Road, the Kodiak Baptist Mission, with its three “cottages,” from left: Ayer, McWhinnie, and Doane (named for major donors to their construction in 1938 when the operation was moved from Woody Island). Left: our family and the Bill Stone family at Chamberlain Lodge, the home of the superintendent of the Mission. (Slides taken in 1952)

Movie frames from about 1952. Right:  My Mom, Joyce Smith, with a lot of Mission girls and my two sisters. The shortest is my sister Robin, and beside her in the black blouse is my sister Jerilynn. On the far right is Nadina, whom I got to know when she came to the Camp Woody Fiftieth Anniversary celebration in 2006. Below: the Mission’s “Merry Go Round” swing in action. Ouzinkie and Camp Woody also had this type of (very popular)rope swing. My older brother Noel is the blue blur!

It’s moonrise in the Near Island channel in this beautiful slide taken by my Dad, Rev. Norman Smith, in the 1950’s. The amount of light in the photo could be midnight on the fourth of July!

A Swift Return and a New Crew Member!

About a week later, the Evangel hurried back into port to accommodate Mom Joyce. So in Griffin Memorial Hospital, on July 11, she delivered my baby brother, Kelvin (Kelly) Smith! In typical style for a six year old, I was mostly clueless about any of this until invited to meet him up in the attic apartment of the Community Baptist Church. He’s been my best friend ever since. Fittingly, as the last of the Smith family’s Evangel crewmembers to arrive, Kelly was also the last person to pilot the Evangel, taking it out for its last voyage under its own power, on a trip to Ouzinkie and back in the fall of 1978. Also as the last crewmember, Kelly was probably the best, seemingly born to all things mechanical, and becoming the right hand man to Dad for years as Dad ran the skiff, drove the truck, and operated the Evangel for Camp Woody, and did an equal number of mechanical tasks at home in Ouzinkie. But Kelly is not a one trick pony! In 1973, he began playing bass at camp, filling up the sound of “Tim and Kelly” as we led music at Camp Woody for five seasons.  (Not to mention all the things he’s good at as an adult!)

A Kelly Smith Gallery—The Last of the Evangel Crew

Brother Kelly arrives! In the photo on the left, I seem to have my mouth open! This is the attic apartment of the Community Baptist Church, occupied at that time by Estelle Marlin, who had served as a missionary in Kodiak since the 1940’s, and was on the church staff. She shot these photos.

Summer of 1963:  Kelly stands on the old Lathrop gear shift, next to his Dad, in the pilothouse of the Evangel in this classic photo taken from down the galley stairs by Mab Boko.  

Both Robin and I had occupied that spot when we were little. I love this photo because it shows so much: Dad, the charts rolled up over his head, the shiny green paint, and of course that childhood dream of standing next to Dad, watching him at work, and observing all the scenery.  It was an “E Ticket” ride (to borrow old Disneyland terminology) to stand on that gearshift in bad weather, and was akin to riding a bucking bronco. None of the Smith kids had any trouble with this; we had our sea legs from earliest childhood, and loved to stare the swells in the face, especially with our capable Dad beside us. Incidentally, the little cubbyhole bunk that I occupied in this article (and Kelly inherited by the time this photo was taken) is right above the photographer’s head, at the rear of the pilot house.

Top: “Tim and Kelly” do an outdoor concert at Camp Woody in 1975 (Cody Custer photo). Left: Kelly in the middle of helping maintain something at Camp Woody, 1974

Top: My brother Kelly helping Dad run the Evangel, summer of 1976. Note the kids staring out the window as the boat heads back to Kodiak from Camp Woody.

Right: Kelly piloting the Evangel in the summer of 1973. Kelly was the last to run the Evangel, under its own power in the fall of 1978, after Debbie and I had moved Stateside.

I loved shopping in Kodiak as a kid, and saved these old receipts from long-gone Kodiak stores when I went through some old boxes after my parents died. A small town is still plenty exciting to a kid from a tiny village!

Since it’s a national holiday, dinner is traditional hot dogs, macaroni salad and soda. Soda is a bit of a rarity for me, and I choose a Shasta Grape. I decide to stay with Cream Soda or Orange next time. After dinner, the big finale is fresh watermelon, imported at great cost and cut with great fanfare by some of the adult workers at the Mission. Although the adults see this as a real treat, and probably ache with nostalgia for hot summer evenings in towns and farms stateside, for me watermelon is a major disappointment. It’s almost tasteless, the seeds are annoying, and it’s the messiest thing I have ever attempted to eat. It’s a little like trying to eat a wet sponge, and is completely unappetizing. As a boy raised on tin can cuisine, I wish I had a bowl of pear halves or something else regular and canned! I can’t wait to get back to “normal” food, eaten from a bowl with a spoon.

The Fourth of July is only a few days removed from the longest day of the year, and at our latitude, that means daylight for practically ever.  Soon, however, as something approaching twilight approaches, Mission superintendent Bill Stone calls for all the kids and grownups to line up.  So, long after my normal bedtime, we all hop in the long, dark green Mission bus and drive for what seems like hours to a place where we can view the Navy base’s fireworks display.  I have to admit that although it should have been stunning for the likes of me, I am far too tired to appreciate it.  I have a foggy recollection of being carried to the boat, dressed into my P J’s and laid to rest in my little green sleeping bag.  There has been far too much excitement in Kodiak this time, and I sleep like a log until morning.

Back Out to Sea

By mid-morning we are stocked, fueled and refreshed, and the Evangel heads down the channel toward another great adventure. I watch the town slowly slip away, replaced by other islands and the open sea.  After standing next to Dad in the pilothouse for awhile, I decide to go down to the main cabin and play with my army trucks. I have villages to visit and friends to see.  Knudsen’s will be waiting when I return. (Continued below…)

A future (Concluding) article is: “The Evangel: Adventures and Legacy”

(Chronicling Unique Events, and Concluding The Island Journeys)

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