Kenai cannery owner Harold Daubenspeck, right, stands with Peter Kalifornsky, center, and an unidentified man. The photo, circa 1950s-1960s, was provided by the Facebook page “A Work in Progress: Growing up on the Kenai.”

Kenai cannery owner Harold Daubenspeck, right, stands with Peter Kalifornsky, center, and an unidentified man. The photo, circa 1950s-1960s, was provided by the Facebook page “A Work in Progress: Growing up on the Kenai.”

Fortune and misfortune on the Kenai — Part 1

Sometimes timing is everything

Sometimes timing is everything

To anyone who asked, Harold Daubenspeck, the 46-year-old owner of the Kenai Packers cannery near the mouth of the Kenai River, would admit that the 1959 salmon-canning season on Cook Inlet had been lousy. But for one day in October of that year, Daubenspeck’s fortunes changed for the better.

On Oct. 6, Daubenspeck’s wife had driven him to the Seattle-Tacoma Airport and kissed him goodbye so she could motor off for some shopping downtown. Harold had a flight to catch to Anchorage. Inside the terminal, he realized almost right away that something was different.

To begin with, he met a welcoming committee, which included Anchorage Mayor Hewitt Lounsbury, George Sharrock, a regular member of the Anchorage Red Carpet Committee, and Art Woodley, the president of Pacific Northern Airlines.

“I walked in,” Daubenspeck later told a reporter from the Anchorage Daily Times, “and Woodley walked up to me, giving me congratulations on being the millionth passenger. I thought he was kidding me, but when the camera men and reporters started flocking around, I had to believe it.”

Woodley was about to turn a routine flight for Daubenspeck into something special.

Woodley presented the fisheries mogul with a certificate for 10 shares of PNA stock and told him his ticket that day was free of charge. And then, with cameras clicking away in the background, he received a kiss from a stewardess. “Wait until my wife sees that in the Seattle newspapers,” he joked.

Daubenspeck, who had placed his reservation in advance of his flight, said he had had no prior knowledge that he was the millionth passenger. “I’ve been making the trip between Seattle, Anchorage and Kenai so often in the past 20 years, I guess I was the winner by the law of averages,” he said.

“Back in 1937, I used to fly in Travelairs with Dave Kellogg and Art Woodley. Of course, times have changed plenty since those days…. I never dreamed their little bush line would grow up and carry a million passengers!”

Daubenspeck, who operated his Kenai cannery for more than 30 years, died in 2008 at the age of 95.

Good Luck, Bad Luck

August 1961 was a good hunting month for Kalifornsky Beach homesteader and commercial fisherman Bob Schmidt. Opening day of moose season fell on Sunday, Aug. 20, that year, so Schmidt rose early, crept into the woods and quickly located and shot a bull. He had his kill dressed out and hauled home in time to attend church services that morning.

On Aug. 10, the day before the beginning of the Dall sheep season, Schmidt had been flown by guide Harold R. “Andy” Anderson into the Tustumena glacier flats. Anderson, Schmidt and the Rev. Paul Weimer, a Baptist minister from Soldotna, then made the long, arduous trek into the mountains to establish a camp and search for full-curl rams.

Their search was successful. All three men made a kill on opening day, each at an elevation of approximately 4,000 feet, and they all returned safely.

A grainy photograph in the Aug. 25, 1961, edition of The Cheechako News showed Anderson kneeling in front of three sets of ram horns displayed on a table. According to the information in the accompanying article, these were the horns from the Aug. 10 hunt, and the largest horns, flaring a prominent 1¼ curl, had come from Schmidt’s ram.

Anderson estimated that Schmidt’s ram had been 9 years old, although Schmidt himself later said he believed it had been 10. A rough estimate of the horn size — a computation involving numerous measurements of horn thickness and length, plus distance between the horns — provided a score of 170, which made the horns a contender for inclusion in the Boone & Crockett record book.

No specific details of the measurements were provided in the article.

Ironically the still-standing world record for Dall sheep was also killed in 1961. Anchorage resident Harry L. Swank shot his ram in the Wrangell Mountains, and its horns — the right more than 48 inches long, the left more than 47 — scored a 189 6/8 with Boone & Crockett.

Unfortunately for Schmidt, he would never receive an official score for his set of horns. A fire in his home the following year destroyed his trophy. A second fire sometime later destroyed his only photographs of the horns.

Nightmare problems haunt dream school

The page-one headline in the Tuesday, Jan. 13, 1970, edition of The Cheechako News exclaimed: “Seward’s Beautiful New Elementary School Dedicated.” The accompanying article went on to tout the $2.1 million facility’s “beautiful, modern” appearance, its exposed beams, plank interior siding, modernistic arches and light-colored plaster.

“Nestled in the foothills” above the city, William H. Seward Elementary School boasted “spacious and colorful” rooms and the Benny Benson Library. In fact, present at the Jan. 11 dedication ceremonies was Benson himself — the former Jesse Lee Home resident who, at age 13 in 1927, had designed the blue-and-gold Territory of Alaska flag that eventually became the banner for the state.

At the ceremony, which included the Alaska commissioner of education, Kenai Peninsula Borough Chairman George Navarre termed the opening of the new school “the fulfillment of a dream.”

Less than two weeks later, however, the dream took on some nightmare characteristics.

The Cheechako, in its Thursday, Jan. 22, edition, announced: “Seward Elementary — Problems in Paradise.”

Two main problems were cited: First, the heating system was out of whack. One teacher claimed that the system was “creating an unbearable teaching situation” — with the heat in the classrooms climbing from 75 in the morning to as high as 90 in the afternoon.

Second, and much more critical, the roof was leaking in more than a hundred places. At a borough assembly meeting in Seward two days before this article appeared, Area Director Jim Martin said that there had been no leaking at all during the heavy rains in Seward in recent weeks, but that the leaks had appeared after a succeeding week’s deep freeze.

Fortunately for the borough and for the school’s staff and faculty, the building (which today continues to hold classes in the foothills) was still under warranty from the contractor, whom Martin said would be contacted about making repairs.

Navarre, who had spoken of the “dream” only a few days earlier, expressed a sour note at the January assembly meeting: “I hate to say I told you so, but I was against this roof design from the first.”

Location, Location, Location

Sometimes location is everything. At least such was the case in 1961, when Emmett and Betty Karsten of Ridgeway became the first civilian consumers of natural gas in the State of Alaska.

A large natural gas field had been discovered west of Soldotna by Unocal and Marathon Oil Company in 1959, only two years after the discovery of oil in the Swanson River field. Soon, construction on a gas pipeline began, and the residents of Ridgeway and Soldotna were the earliest beneficiaries.

On Aug. 9, 1961, Ed Back of Ed’s Appliance Service in Soldotna and Bill Gross of the Anchorage Natural Gas Company completed the installation and hook-up at the Karsten home.

The Kalifornsky Beach gas field turned out to be the largest field ever discovered in the Cook Inlet area, and it was soon supplying customers all across the central Kenai Peninsula.


Ed Back, left, and Bill Gross chat with Ridgeway homeowner Betty Karsten as they install a natural gas hookup to her home in 1961. Betty and Emmett Karsten became Alaska’s first civilian consumers of natural gas. (Photo provided by the KPC archive of historical photographs)

Ed Back, left, and Bill Gross chat with Ridgeway homeowner Betty Karsten as they install a natural gas hookup to her home in 1961. Betty and Emmett Karsten became Alaska’s first civilian consumers of natural gas. (Photo provided by the KPC archive of historical photographs)

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