Excerpts from letters written by Paul Alger to his wife Margean while he was working in Alaska in 1976:
Got to camp about 8 p.m. and by the time they found quarters for us and got the few things I had to do done, I got in bed about 11:30. My room mate gets up at 4 a.m. so you know about how much sleep I get Ė especially since it never gets dark here now. The sun goes down about 10 p.m. and comes up about 4 a.m. and in between itís about like dusk Ė or a real dark cloudy day.
The weather is surprisingly mild Ė it hasnít got down to zero for a couple of weeks and the two days have been up in the 30ís. I understand the caribou herd will be passing through here in a couple of weeks Ė thousands of them Ė like the buffalo used to be Ė Iíll try to get some real good pictures of that.
Well Hon, donít let the pressure get to you too much and tell Thell to keep her chin up cause everythingís good and the goose hangs high.
††††††††††† My Dearest, Darling, Sweetheart, lover, Helpmate and lifelong companion! Now how was that for a beginning and Iím only on my second drink. Donít mind me clowning a little (although that wasnít necessarily clowning) I either have to clown or cry up here and I do hate to see a grown man cry.
††††††††††† I sure wonder how all you lucky people are getting along back down there in the world. Hope that skinny sister of mine is behaving herself and getting well and building strength for all the stuff we are going to do in about 7 weeks Ė see how fast time flies? Iíve been here two weeks and you havenít even missed me enough to write me a letter.
††††††††††† I guess I bragged a little too soon about the nice weather up here Ė itís been snowing and blowing and cold for several days now but at least it isnít that 50-below type cold.
††††††††††† I understand we had a polar bear wandering around the camp last nite. I didnít get to see him tho Ė not too sure Iíd want to see one roaming around loose like that.
††††††††††† By the time you get this I will have served 1/3 of my sentence up hereÖ time sure does fly when you are having fun! It doesnít seem a bit longer than six months. I should make carbon copies of these letters so I could remember what I said in the last one. The least little thing out of the ordinary is a big event up here Ė like the polar bear I told you about Ė trouble is I donít remember if I told it turned out to be a grizzly that killed a caribou and was hanging around till he got it eaten.
††††††††††† I mentioned I was having a case of booze shipped up here from Fairbanks. It arrived in good shape Ė at the airport Ė then the airport promptly lost it Ė either gave it to the wrong person or someone managed to swipe it so I have been on very short rations for a week. Now mother, I can see you snickering behind your hand and shedding alligator tears (or is it crocodile) Ė do you think someone is trying to tell me something? The only trouble is I had to take cash out of my pocket, make that 3 hour trip to the airport bank, buy a money order and order another one (I donít give up easy!) They tell me Iíll get my money back for the one they lost but it has left me awful short on cash so it might not hurt if you put in a $20 bill in the next couple of letters Ė it about has to be cash up here so donít send more than $20 at a time just in case. I donít trust this mail service up here at all. Iím ok for a couple of weeks and by then my claim with the airline may come through Ė but just in case Ė and quit laughing!! That was about as funny as a chapped ass.
††††††††††† It is hard to write when absolutely nothing ever happens. Oh, something did happen a couple of days ago Ė the sun came out for nearly 48 hours and I finally got to see the midnite sun two nites in a row. Iíd begun to think they just turned lights on above the clouds at nite to make you think the sun was still up but there it was the last two nights, about 3 sun widths above the horizon and I suppose thatís as low as it gets right now Ė anyway it sure was good to find out there is a sun up here Ė of course, today the weather is back to normal Ė snowing and blowing like crazy Ė They sure do have short summers up here. Summer was on a Wednesday again this year.
††††††††††† The geese are starting to arrive up here now Ė not too many yet but a few flocks Ė and I must go where the wild goose goes! Still havenít seen any caribou yet but I think they know what they are doing by staying away awhile. The tundra this far north is still frozen solid so I imagine it would make their teeth ache a bit to bite into it. When they do come, I will miss a little sleep and get some pictures.
††††††††††† Russ, Iím pretty proud of you. Mom tells me you are a real good helper and really trying down there while Iím gone. Donít exactly know how Iím going to get a snowball to you but we still have plenty of them up here. Kinda miss you punkin!
††††††††††† Thell, I sure hope you start having all good days pretty soon Ė Iím just wild to come home but that almighty dollar ~~~~!!! Might as well get it while Iím here cause I sure donít want to come back again.
††††††††††† Everythingís good and the goose hangs high up here.
††††††††††† Had a real weird experience right at the end of the shift and itís hard to get my mind off it and on to writing a letter. We got some brand new pickups in today so at the last of the shift I was checking one out to make sure everything worked. I put it in reverse and turned the key on to see if the back-up lites worked Ė they didnít so I thot maybe the light switch had to be on so I reached and pulled the light switch on and the darned engine started and being in reverse the rig headed for the shop door which was only about 6 feet away. I managed to leap in and stomp the brake just as it touched the door so no damage was done. Naturally, my little idiot boss was standing right there and started to chew me out for starting a rig while it was in reverse Ė I told all I did was turn on the lights Ė you can imagine about how that went over. He looked at me like a bull at a bastard calf and got in and tried it himself and damned if it didnít do it again (he did have it out of gear this time) so I guess Iím exonerated this time. Sure glad no one was behind that truck tho Ė they would have been mashed flat (my little boss was behind it putting a decal on the tailgate about 3 minutes earlier so maybe that wouldnít have been so bad) didnít have time before shift change to figure out the problem. I almost stayed over on my own time. Something that strange really intrigues me, especially up here where nothing ever happens.
††††††††††† Tell Russ Iím racking my brain for something to bring him but Iím afraid that snowball he wanted is out Ė although there are still plenty up here.
††††††††††† Iím still looking for those caribou but ainít seen none yet Ė I think they are another myth.
††††††††††† Sure hope they donít get that truck fixed today. Iíd like another crack at that thing tonite.
††††††††††† Work is so slow up here I canít believe them keeping all this help. I spent all shift last nite checking over a welder (one exactly like mine) and when I went to make out my time card, by little intelligent boss told me not to charge any time to it because day shift had already marked it off as completed!! According to my time card, I spent the night moving equipment.
††††††††††† By the way, tell Albert if he is afraid of making it as a mechanic, he should spend one shift working with this new hand we got a few days ago. I thot Iíd seen about as bad as anyone could possibly put up with but he takes the concrete bicycle. He has some kind of Dutch or German accent (must be Dutch Ė I never met a German that stupid) and the guy is older than I am, has a good set of tools and they look like they have been used but Iíd sure like to know who used them cause it wasnít him.
††††††††††† Anyway, work was almost non-existent that nite but the boss finally told me to put new front shock absorbers on a truck that was sitting there. Now, on a truck this is real simple. You can walk under the fender, lean over the wheel, take off two nuts, slip the old shock off, slip the new one on with a rubber washer on each side, top and bottom, put the two nuts back on and you are in business. It would have taken me about 10 minutes alone, but with his help, we managed to get it done in a little over an hour.
††††††††††† I went down to the warehouse and got the new shocks, not knowing I had a helper on such a BIG job. When I got back to the truck, there the old guy was, standing patiently by the front bumper Ė kinda like he was waiting to be milked. He came alive tho as soon as he spotted me and wanted to know, ďwhat we do, what we do, I suppose to help you.Ē (very excited).
††††††††††† I tried to calm him down by telling him all we had to do was change the front shocks. Then as an afterthought, I pointed out where they were located on the truck. So he slapped his glasses on and grabbed flashlight and studied the situation for about three minutes and then came up with a classic question, ďdo we take the old ones off? This almost made me lose my cool but I took a deep breath and told him I thot that would be a real good idea and was glad he thot of it, seeing that we were going to put new ones on and I didnít think that the bolt was long enough to accommodate both of them. He says, ďI do it I do itĒ and grabbed a handful of tools and dove under the fender and started to look like a guy fighting a swarm of bees. I discreetly moved to the other side of the truck to get out of the way of any flying debris and changed the other one Ė I donít know how he did it but he managed to get the old shock off by the time I had the other side done and was inspecting the rig to see what else it needed but when he went to put the new one on, he panicked again, came running after me with the shock in one hand and ď3Ē rubber washers in the other screaming ďwhat I do, what I do, only 3 rubbers Ė I need four.Ē
††††††††††† I found out right there he could count Ė at least up to four (It never occurred to me til just now but I wonder if that is a Pollock accent he has) Ė I told him he had just taken off four used ones and they werenít in that bad of shape so just pick out the best one and use it.
††††††††††† Now mind you, this has got to be nearly an hour after Iíve finished the other side but I thot this time we had all his problems solved Ė not so Ė in 30 seconds he was back, this time with the new shock laying across both hands like a burnt offering and looking like a puppy that donít know whether it will get petted or whipped and comes up with another classic, ďwhich end do I hook up first?Ē
††††††††††† By this time my brain was numb and I couldnít believe this was for real so I just quietly said, ďFriend, which ever end turns you on the most, thatís the end to hook up first, but just make sure you get both ends hooked up before you are done.Ē And you know, he actually did it!!
††††††††††† I could tell you about him helping me change wheel bearing but I want to beat my head on the floor (or his head on the floor) every time I think about that and besides itís past my bedtime Ė kinda got carried away with this ďnote.Ē Iíll swear tho, that this tale is the gospel truth Ė itís unbelievable.
††††††††††† Iíll start this letter today and mail it tomorrow after I get my check tonite. Guess we pretty well covered that 24 hour period. I guess you realize that this will be the last check Iíll be sending home Ė Iíll bring the next one and I suppose they will have to mail the final one.
††††††††††† Only 10 more shifts to pull and then I can fly away from this blight on the American continent Ė and if I never see it again, it will be ever so much too soon.
††††††††††† Iím trying real hard to get this roll of film I have in the camera finished and sent home so you can get them processed but this is sure a discouraging country for a camera bug. I could take a picture in each of the four directions up here and they would all look the same. I understand we do have a little excitement up here right now. Seems like one of the oil wells they were drilling hit a high pressure natural gas deposit and it blew the drill out of the hole and now is merrily spraying natural gas around the countryside. I can see it from the barracks but itís too far away to take a picture of and anyway the gas doesnít show so it looks like any other well to me. They are quite worried about it. They havenít been able to cap it and there is too much gas under too much pressure to light it. It might melt all the perma-frost in the country to say nothing of the oil rig. So there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth among the higher echelon and as long as it doesnít affect me, I could care less. I must be developing a bad attitude Ė itís time I came home.