Pioneer Potluck: How Bob’s bonfires got started

  • By Ann "Grannie Annie" Berg
  • Tuesday, October 20, 2015 4:12pm
  • LifeFood

North Nikiski



When we rented the log cabin, all we could see was the back of the cabin and a path to the front steps. It was all overgrown and terribly neglected.

Bob bought a machete and went to work on the trees, willows, vines and debris that had accumulated from years of neglect on the hill to our beautiful lake.

He cleared a path half way down the hill and chopped down a big rotten cottonwood tree. Then he set it on fire to get rid of the stump. All the limbs and tree went into the fire. But there was one problem, every time we looked up or out our cabin door there was another little stream of smoke in another area. The cottonwood had big roots and as the fire burned it followed the roots all over the hillside.

So, Bob and his trusty shovel, started digging out the roots and putting out the fires. The area that he dug out was very large, so nice and flat that he cleared a place to put a fire pit. He carried and rolled rock down the hill and eventually had a nice large rock ring to contain the fire. That was the beginning of Bob’s Bon Fires.

He burned everything in it. The whole hillside was scattered with rusty tin cans, broken bottle and debris of every sort. Seems like the previous inhabitants of the cabins — there were four in a row — just opened the door and pitched the cans and bottles out the door. He worked for months on the cleanup. Most everything went in the perpetual fire that someone was always tending to, in various stages of the night and day. Sometimes we would see a smoke plume over in the distance. The fire had found another root to burn. We watched all summer for smoke winding up through the wild roses, currants, fireweed and grasses and growth.

On the Fourth of July 1986, in the middle of clearing the hillside, getting ready for a Fourth of July bon fire, we had invited relatives and bunches of new friends. Some we did not know, but they saw the big bon fire, stopped and joined in.

That Fourth morning, I came home from working at M&M to see Bob tending to our year old golden retriever, Penny-girl, bleeding badly from her foot. Bob found her at the top of the hill laying down with blood pouring out of her right leg and foot. She had stepped on a jagged upright broken bottle and cut her leg and foot badly. We wrapped her foot in a towel and put her in the front seat of the car and I took off to Kenai 20 miles away, holding the towel to put pressure on the cut so it would stop bleeding. I am pretty good at driving with one hand!

I had called the only vet in town and he said he was about to leave but bring her in and he would fix her. She had extensive stitches and then he put a cast on her foot and up to her knee. She never whimpered or complained.

She wore the cast like a peg leg, Peg-leg Penny we called her, about 4 months. We could hear her get up in the morning in the cabin, clomp clomp, tail wagging, ready to go out the door and greet the world.

We did have our Fourth celebration a little later in the day, but that did not matter. There were all kinds of neighbors having fun and enjoying each others company. When I returned from the Vet the bon fire was blazing and in full swing. All the visitors were gathered around jabbering and talking to each other. Someone had a guitar … OH! That was John Turnbull.

I brought out the hot dogs and buns and the macaroni salad I had made and with a few other dishes that were contributed — mostly potato chips, as most of our visitors were men from the platform, men without their families, men that were very lonesome and a bag of potato chips was their fine contribution. I also had made dozens and dozens of cookies and when someone left to go home in the middle of the night — they got a bag of cookies. We coined the phrase “Orphan Picnic’s.” Several in those days, were without the loved ones and were up here to just work. They were very lonesome! We have had many, many Orphan Picnics since.

That bon fire lasted for four or five days, as someone was always setting at the fire in the morning when we got up. Oh! Yes! That was John Turnbull!

Bobs mission for the next few months was to find every broken bottle and glass pieces and old sharp tin cans. They all got pitched into the hot, every burning, bon fire. The heat turned them all the ashes. Penny healed and I took the cast and bandage off and removed the stitches. She never gave us a bad time. She knew we were helping her.

Next week, more of Bob’s Bonfires.


The Grannie Annie series is written by longtime Nikiski resident Ann Berg. Ann shares her collections of recipes from family and friends. She has gathered recipes for more that 50 years. Some are her own creation. Her love of recipes and food came from her mother, a self taught wonderful cook. She hopes you enjoy the recipes and that the stories will bring a smile to your day. Grannie Annie can be reached at

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