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arrow Stories and Tales of the Coast & Geodetic Survey
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banner - diary of william mccaslan scaife covering the years 1919 thru 1920

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Easter Sunday, April 4

Arrived in Ketchikan at about 3:30 p.m. Tied up to a dock. Set foot on Alaskan soil for first time at 6:34. Went to a drug store with Mower, Lewis, Bond. Got a drink and some cards. Saw a husky, which was a new one on me. Went to picture show. Saw a good many Indians. Came back to ship. Locke brought down three friends, Kelly, , and Schafer, or "Spark Plug," as he is called. "Spark Plug" is one of the characters of Alaska. When operations were started at Anchorage he wanted to join a party. They wouldn't let him, however, because he only had $1.45 and couldn't buy $40 worth of grub, which they insisted on. He told them that he would be with them or right behind them when they got there. He had a 26-ft. boat which he had paid $10 for some years before. The boat had a 6 H.P. engine which he had picked up and paid $10 for also. He had patched up the engine so that it would run. The boat was rotten. He broke his wrist pin, picked up a piece of hexagonal drill steel somewhere on the coast, filed it down, stuck it in, and went on his way. He arrived at Anchorage four hours behind the party he wanted to join, sold his boat for $135, bought a tent, a stove, and $40 worth of chow, and joined his party. The trip was outside. He had no charts. He was on the way for 45 days. He caulked his boat with old shirts on the way up. He set his tent up in Anchorage, and put up the sign, "Spark Plug, Will fix anything." He had to move about 4 times the first 2 days. Finally somebody told him that he was in the middle of the street and would have to move again. He said that he had moved the last time, but that he would let them move him. He selected a place where there were two stumps, and told them that that place would suit him, but that one of the stumps would have to come up. He intended making use of the other one. They put poles under his tent, and about 25 men started the process of moving. The smoke was coming out of his chimney, and an American flag, probably the first raised in Anchorage, was flying from a pole. The crowd dropped his tent, picked it up and went on. Pretty soon a fellow came up to him and told him that he was afraid that his $1000 worth of canvas would catch fire from "Spark Plug's" sparks. "Spark Plug" told him that $1000 worth of canvas was too much canvas for one man to own, but agreed to use a different kind of wood if the fellow would furnish it. Presently he found a stack of wood in front of his tent. One time he had a gas engine which didn't have a flywheel. He got a grindstone and put it on and turned the handle. The engine started and he went his way. His most famous adventure was published in associated press dispatches clear back East.

He got caught in the ice in a little launch in Cook Inlet with several other men. Finally he knew that the ice had brought up against the shore somewhere. He told one of the men who was a tailor, to take his Hudson Bay blanket and make socks and gloves out of it. He told the cook to cook up grub enough for a big feed the next morning, and then some. The next morning he told the others that there was chow enough for one man for six weeks, but only enough for about 5 days for all of them. He told them to strike out and to light a bonfire if they reached shore. He meant to stay by the launch to have in case the others came back. They protested at leaving him, but finally went on, and lighted the fire in due time. For nine days he was in the ice jam. He had to bail like fire to keep from sinking. Nobody could get to him. He would melt some ice to use for drinking water. Only a very thin layer on top was drinkable. About 4 inches of mud would settle in the bottom of the pot. Finally he gave out of matches. He made a fire by firing some gasoline on waste with the magneto. He saved the boat from crushing in by bracing it with a plank which he had thrown in with his usual luck before starting out. It will always remain a mystery with the people of the north how he or his boat ever survived. The ice jam was bad enough to crush in a steel steamer. Ships have been crushed in there. Finally he got out of the ice jam and sailed his boat in, the engine being out of commission. He fainted when they got him. When they took off his clothes his skin came off with them. This is considered one of the episodes of the North. Just the other day he went over a bluff in an automobile. The car was all smashed up but he escaped with a couple of small tears in his pants. He is a lean, lanky, country looking fellow. His upper teeth stick out. Some of them are gold, and some are missing. Locke says that Alaska is made up of men of this kind. I know now what he (Locke) means when he says that Alaska is a man's country.

Kelly has been in Alaska since 1894 with the exception of a couple or so of short trips "outside." He has shot bear on the Aleutian Peninsula, and gave me some pointers. He says that they don't come down from the mountains until 2 or 3 weeks after they come out of their dens, that they make tracks in the snow on the mountains which can be seen 4 or 5 miles with glasses, that they feed from 10 to 3 at night and sleep in the day, that they eat vegetables and small animals until the salmon come in, and that they can be seen along the salmon streams at night. He warned me to hunt them from above. I have heard this many times before.

Mon., Apr. 5

We shifted docks this morning to allow the "Admiral Evans" to come in. Got up town some today. Loafed practically all day. Went to picture show with Bond and Mower. Lewis and Bond went to a dance, but Mower and I came back to the ship. Ela was down today. Saw a whaler come in. Snow has been falling a large part of the day. It has pretty well covered the bare patches on the mountains. Started a letter home and wrote some cards.

Tuesday, Apr. 6

Went out to Lake with Lewis and Bond this P.M. Locke had some visitors down for supper, and "Spark Plug" for dinner. Went aboard "City of Seattle" tonight. Stayed up until after mid-night talking to Locke about Alaska and its strong men.

Wednesday, Apr. 7

Talked to Forestry Officer this morning. Have about decided to enter the Alaska Forestry Service in the next year or two. Went to movies tonight. Went out with Dailey and Bond this afternoon. Daily took his 22 rifle and I took my 22 revolver. We didn't have much success at shooting. A bunch of us sat up until almost one o'clock tonight.

Thursday, Apr. 8

Loafed all morning, and practically all the afternoon. Ela and some more company down for supper. Went to show with Mower Bond. Heard that we will shove off tomorrow. If I don't go to work pretty soon, I never will be any good.

Saturday, Apr. 10

Didn't write yesterday because I went to a party and didn't get back until 2:30 this morning. The party was at the home of a Mr. Cooper, a nice fellow but I would have to be educated to appreciate the party. I don't savor ladies smoking and drinking continuously.

We expected to get away yesterday, but when we finished taking on oil it was rather late for a good start. We went to the Lighthouse dock after taking on oil, and shoved off from there at 7:00 this morning. Slept most of my spare time today. Had an abandon ship, a fire, and a collision drill after dinner. Weather got bad, and we anchored in Shakan.

We stood anchor watches, as woolewars (williwas) came down from the hills, and there was danger of the ship dragging the anchor. The woolewars would almost take a person off his feet. I was lucky enough to draw the 9 to 11:30 watch.

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