-----Granny Newton’s story evolved into the Lydic story and the Lydic story now evolves into the Seeholzer story. This family of adventures came one after another until there were 4 generations living at Susitna Station at one time on 3 different homesteads during the 1950’s and 60’s. Granny Newton was the first one to arrive and then her grandson Bill Lydic, his wife Audie and their 2 children, Randy and Laciene followed. After that Bill’s mother (and Granny Newton’s daughter) Grace Newton arrived with her husband Joe. This is their story.
-----Grace Newton, one of four of Granny Newton’s daughters married William Robert (Bob) Lydic in New Mexico on Nov 15, 1934. They were married for 15 years and during their marriage had one child, William Robert (Bill) Lydic, Jr. Bob Lydic had a colorful past. His parents were abusive and he left home at a young age and moved to New Mexico and went to work as a ranch hand. He was only 17 years old when on April 7, 1928 he got in a dispute and killed a man and went to prison. The story goes that he bought a horse from a man who later in a drunken state pulled a knife on Bob and accused him of stealing his horse. Bob pulled a gun out and shot him. He went to the New Mexico State Penitentiary for a few years but got out on work release to his employer who was the owner of a big ranch and an important man in the town. At this time the Newton family was homesteading Hart Canyon which bordered Bob’s employers land. Bob had to cross the Newton property to get to a summer ranch owned by his employer and on one of those trips he met Grace Newton and they fell in love and got married. However, while Bob was in prison he contracted rheumatic fever which had left him very sick. After their son Bill was born Bob became so ill that the family moved up to Washington to be near Bob’s parents who helped Grace care for both Bob and the baby. Bob died in 1950 at the age of 39. See photo of Bob Lydic.
Bob Lydic from the Lydic Collection
-----After Bob Lydic died Grace Newton Lydic met and married Joe Seeholzer in Portland, Oregon in 1952. Joe had immigrated to America from Switzerland taking the oath of citizenship in 1956. He was a Master Carpenter and earned his living doing finish carpentry. Grace and Joe moved to Anchorage, Alaska in 1957. Joe got union work as a carpenter working all over Alaska and Grace got a job as a cook at the YMCA in Anchorage. Grace had been a cook at Woolworths in Washington and in Oregon. Her grandson Randy confirms she was an excellent cook. She used to make homemade bread all the time which she and Audie Lydic would bake in 3 pound coffee cans. She also made a special kind of braided Swiss bread called Sifa which was delicious hot out of the oven with butter. Randy loved her Swiss pancakes. He says that when Grace and Joe first got married Joe asked for pancakes for breakfast and Grace made him some traditional American pancakes. When he sat down to eat them he looked at them and said “What’s this for the carpet?” meaning that they were thick as a rug I guess. Joe took Grace to Switzerland where his mom taught Grace to make Swiss pancakes which are thin like crepes. Randy Lydic has his grandmother’s recipe and he passed the recipe on to me. -----Swiss pancakes: Beat 6 eggs in bowl and blend in 2 cups milk, add 1 Tablespoon vanilla and a stick of melted butter. While stirring add enough flour to make a batter the consistency of house paint (keep in mind this recipe came to me from a guy! I’ve never heard a girl compare something in a recipe to paint!) Anyway, the batter should be thin. Heat a light coating of oil in a frying pan and add batter to the pan about the thickness of a dime to a nickel size and about as big around as a dinner plate. Cook on one side until browned and then flip the pancake to the other side and cook that side until browned. Remove from pan and add butter, syrup and jam if desired. Yum! Pancakes really are better the Swiss way! See photo attached of some Swiss Pancakes I made recently.
Swiss Pancakes photo by Cindy Calzada
-----Granny Newton had applied for a homestead at Susitna Station and began living there by herself in the late 50’s. In 1960 both the Seeholzers and the Lydics applied for homesteads there too. Joe Seeholzer helped Bill Lydic build the Lydic cabin first. Joe was instrumental in helping Bill get the foundation done. The cabin was completed in just a few months and the Lydics were able to move in to their new cabin by the winter of 1960. Joe Seeholzer didn’t start building on his property for a few years. It was sometime during 1961 that he took Grace over to Switzerland to meet his family. He may have done a little work on his property in 1961 and the Seeholzers did spend time out there with family but Joe Seeholzer didn’t really begin building his cabin there until 1962 with Bill’s help as well as help from Audie’s little brother, Larry, who had come up to stay with the Lydics from New Mexico the summer of 1962, when he was 16 years old. See photo of Larry at Susitna Station.
Larry Rhodes at Su Station Lydic Collection
While building their cabin the Seeholzers stayed with the Lydics or Granny Newton. Audie says Joe used to have his own bed in their cabin. Then in 1962 Granny left for the winter to go and spend time with her other daughters out of state and Grace and Joe moved into her cabin until their cabin was complete. They had applied for four - ten acre - connecting lots totaling 40 acres. Their lots were down the trail about a mile from the river and Granny Newton’s cabin and about a half a mile from the Lydic cabin. These lots were deep in the woods away from the river on a hill overlooking a huge swamp. See photo of the gorgeous view. Randy remembers watching swans and cranes in the swamp and wolves trying to catch them.
View from the Seeholzer cabin - photo by Cindy Calzada
-----It was Grace Seeholzer who first introduced the family to the Chestnuts. She worked at the YMCA with Annie Chestnut, who was also a cook there. Annie happened to be from New Mexico also, like the Newtons and the Lydics and they got along well right from the start. Annie and her husband Al and their kids lived at Flathorn Lake, near Susitna Station. Al Chestnut got Bill Lydic a job with him at Alaska Concrete and Conduit. It was the Chestnuts who introduced Randy’s family to the Redington’s who also lived at Flathorn Lake. The family became lifelong friends with the Chestnuts and the Redington’s. Al was a pilot and gave the Seeholzers rides sometimes in his plane and Joe Redington brought in the lumber and supplies on his boat the Nomad, all through the 60’s for both the Lydics and the Seeholzers. (See photo attached of the Nomad sitting at the Redington dock on Flathorn Lake) Al and Annie’s son Lonnie Chestnut grew up to be a pilot like his dad. He actually had a pilot’s license before he had a driver’s license! Randy tells a funny story about Lonnie Chestnut that occurred many years after they left Susitna Station. Lonnie was grown with 2 young girls of his own when Randy, his wife Jeannie and their 2 kids, Sherri and Stephen and Audie and her new husband Ted visited the Chestnuts at Flathorn Lake for a week in the summer of 1992. Annie was there and so was Cheryl and Kathy and their spouses. Ted died a number of years ago but he used to tell the story of talking on the lake with Lonnie when his 2 girls went running by down to the lake stripping off all their clothes to play in the water and Lonnie said “I sure hope they outgrow that by the time they start dating!” It was true Alaska country life for children out at Flathorn just as it was for Randy and Laciene growing up at Susitna Station.
The Nomad at Flathorn Lydic Collection
-----Joe bought a 1953 420C John Deere Crawler (Bulldozer) and walked it out to Susitna Station from the Redington’s at Flathorn Lake using the Lydics Weasel to break trail. The weasel was an early model amphibious track vehicle and travelled well through the swamp. See photo of the dozer and the weasel. Having the bulldozer at Susitna Station was a big help in clearing the property and for making trails and clearing snow. They also had a Weasel sled which they attached to the John Deere and used it for hauling people and supplies to and from the cabin and the river.
Seeholzers bulldozer Lydic Collection
The Weasel - Lydic Collection
-----The Seeholzer cabin was finished in the summer of 1963 and they were able to move in. It was a big cabin, 24 x 24, the same size as the Lydic cabin. Inside the cabin Joe built a lot of furniture too. He made tables, stools, bookshelves, and a hope chest. Randy still has the hope chest as well as a few other pieces of his handiwork. See photos attached. Joe also built birdhouses which he hung all over the property. He loved birds!
nightstand made by Joe - Lydic Collection
hope chest made by Joe - Lydic Collection
-----As I mentioned in the Granny story there was no electricity so Granny was ingenious for keeping her butter cold in a homemade box covered with canvas outside her cabin. This was a trick she passed on to both the Lydics and the Seeholzers. The Lydics also had a box attached outside their window to keep butter and eggs cold, in addition to digging a root cellar under their kitchen floor where they hung their moose. Grace and Joe nailed a square five gallon gas can with the top cut off of it outside the kitchen window to keep food cold. It was about 7-8 feet off the ground to deter the bears from getting into it. Joe also built a screened in box that stuck out about a foot or so off the back attic window which was in a shaded area and had good air flow. In addition, Grace kept eggs in the basement close to the floor joists where it was dark and cool under the house. These options were used in the summertime. In the winter the problem was not enough cold but too much cold! Because they had no electricity they used lanterns for light, same as Granny and the Lydics. They used Chevron Blazo fuel to light the lanterns. It came in 2 square 5 gallon cans packed in a square wooden box and was much cheaper than buying Coleman fuel. There were hooks in the ceiling in every room to hang the lanterns on and in the living room there were 2 hooks for extra light. Joe did have a generator but it wasn’t wired for lights and was mostly used for running tools. Gasoline was expensive and saved for use in the dozer. They had no well or running water in the cabin. Joe dug a hole in a nearby creek and put a couple boards over it to walk on and installed a pitcher pump to extract water from it. He also made a wood gutter that collected and dumped rainwater into a clean 30 gallon galvanized trash can in the summertime. They used an outhouse for a toilet like the rest of the family. Life was rustic here but they had everything they needed.
-----The kids sure enjoyed having their grandparents out at Susitna Station. Even before Grace and Joe finished their cabin they spent a lot of time at Susitna Station with the Lydics at their cabin. Randy remembers that during Christmas of1961 they were all together at the Lydic cabin and they decorated the tree with popcorn and stayed up late making candy. Joe worked in Togiak a lot, an Alaskan native village, and he brought them back native Indian dolls and Eskimo yo-yos for Christmas presents. What great presents! The following year, 1962, Joe Seeholzer bought a small Onan generator – single cycle, air cooled- and hooked up Christmas Lights so the kids could have a real Christmas! Joe made the kids presents - - a baby cradle for Laciene and a wheelbarrow for Randy. Grace hand painted them. (see photo of baby cradle which survives today – almost 60 years later) Randy remembers how special his grandparents always made the holidays.
Doll Cradle Joe made for Laciene - Lydic Collection
-----In Fall of 1963 the Lydics left Susitna Station and moved back to town so that Randy could start school. Granny had begun staying out of state in the winters with her other daughters. When Grace and Joe first moved out to Susitna Station having other family members there made it not feel so remote. However, after Granny and the Lydics moved they lived there on their own for a number of years with Granny and the Lydics and other family and friends only coming to stay during the summers and holidays like Christmas. The Lydics missed spending Christmas with them in 1963 but were back in Alaska by early 1964 (just in time for the earthquake!) and spent the summer out there with the Seeholzers. Randy remembers that his grandmother spiked a 2 x 6 in a tree about 8 feet up outside the cabin and tied a couple of ropes to it with a wooden seat for the kids to swing on. They also spent a memorable Christmas with their grandparents in 1964. Randy remembers they got snowed in and no planes could fly in or out. Their Christmas presents were being brought in by plane so they had a late Christmas, days later, when the plane could finally fly in and deliver their gifts.
-----As a reminder, there was no telephone service at Susitna Station at this time. When the Lydics left they gave their two-way radio to Grace and Joe and from then on, just as Audie and Vi talked on the shortwave radio daily while the Lydics were there, after the Lydics left Grace and Vi Redington continued to keep in touch by radio regularly. This gave Grace some security. She was left alone much of the time. Joe spent a lot of time away from home working all over Alaska as a carpenter. They were much further away from the few people that lived in Sustina Station than Granny or the Lydics were – being about a mile from their nearest neighbor. However, the Seeholzer’s became especially close with Nick Barbul, same as with Granny and the Lydics, and he visited almost daily even though he lived a mile away. (See my story about Nick Barbul.) Nick was a full-time resident of Susitna Station. Being native to the area he had lived there since he was a little boy. Joe would doze the trail anytime it snowed to keep it easy for Nick to walk on or many times Joe would go and pick Nick up and/or take him home in the dozer.
-----In addition to Nick, and other friends from the Station such as Howard Ross, Cliff Forsberg, Kenneth Fenwick and Kenny and Hazel Sorensen, Grace and Joe had a lot of friends that were pilots that would fly in. When Joe was gone all over the state working and Grace was left alone at the Station these pilot friends would fly in to check up on her. There was Al Chestnut from Flathorn and Paul Shanahan from across the river, Rob Zorobski from upriver and Surge Amundson who had an apartment building across the street from their house on Iowa Street in Anchorage. These guys would land their planes on skis on the frozen swamp at the bottom of the hill from the cabin and then walk up to the cabin to have coffee and some of Grace’s famous homemade cookies which she always tried to have around for unexpected guests.
-----These friends occasionally gave the family rides to and from town. Randy remembers one trip to Anchorage with Surge Amundson. He had an old Aeronca Sedan and Randy remembers when he was a child he was riding up front with Surge and Randy had been watching this screw on the cowling outside the plane on the windshield vibrate. As they were crossing the Cook Inlet the screw just flew off. Surge said “Damn, I sure hope that screw was not important!” It gave Randy a little fright but they landed without incident.
-----The family also hired charters to take them in and out of Susitna Station. Bill Lydic and Joe Seeholzer both needed regular rides in and out of Susitna Station for work. There was Roy Young who was a pilot and a guide for hire who had a SuperCub and Jim Murphy who had Jim’s Flying Service which he later sold to what would become Ketchum Air Service. Oh and a man who was called “Moose Member” I guess because he was a member of the Moose Lodge but Randy doesn’t remember his real name. Another person Joe used was a carpenter friend named Paul Lavallette who died around 69-70. He flew a Cessna 180. Randy remembers a trip back in the day cost $25.00 for a Supercub and $50.00 for a Cessna 180. Those are some good prices considering how expensive it is these days.
-----Still, even with occasional visitors it was lonely at times with Joe away so much and Grace, in addition to being a great cook, spent much of her time drawing and painting. She was a good artist. (See attached photo of one of Grace’s paintings). She also kept a diary during her time at Susitna Station.
Grace's painting - Lydic Collection
-----When the Lydics left Susitna Station they had to give away their sled dogs. The Lydics had used them daily to get around Susitna Station. However, the Seeholzer’s used their dozer to get around so they didn’t need a dog team. They did however keep Lonesome, one of the Lydics lead dogs and also kept one of Granny’s dog Honey’s pups which Grace named Tag. They had doghouses by the cabin for them. They used them like a doorbell. Anytime anyone would come to visit, human or animal they would let Grace and Joe know about it. They were their pets and they helped to keep Grace company.
-----Grace and Joe Seeholzer were out at Susitna Station during the 1964 earthquake. Grace said they were outside and all of the sudden their two dogs started howling and kept it up and then abruptly stopped. Grace and Joe were thinking this was strange when all of the sudden the ground started shaking. Grace said it lasted about 8 minutes. They held onto a tree and watched as the swamp ice buckled and water spewed up through it like a geyser. Afterwards, they stumbled back into the house and saw that only a few things fell in the cabin and although water had splashed all over the kitchen floor from water containers they had on the kitchen counter their cabin withstood the earthquake and they were both okay so they felt lucky. After realizing they were okay their immediate worry was about their family in Anchorage. The Lydics were in Anchorage at the time and Anchorage was hit hard by the earthquake. None of the radio stations were working. They were able to reach the Redingtons at Flathorn Lake on the shortwave and although the lake ice there had broken and shot up mud and water they were all okay also. Still no one was able to find out what happened to Anchorage. Joe then took his dozer and headed down the trail to check on Nick and others at Susitna Station. (see my story about Nick Barbul to read more about the account) It wasn’t until friends flew in a few days later to check on them that they found out that their family in Anchorage was alright. (See Grace’s letter to family about the earthquake). Read the Lydic account of the earthquake from their perspective in my story about the Lydics.
Grace Seeholzer’s Letter – Her Experience of the Earthquake of March 30 1964 at Anchorage, Alaska March 30, 1964 Susitna Station My Dearest Mother, Sisters & Families: Once again God has been good to us and spared our loved ones in this terrible disaster, for which we have been thankful in prayer. Joe & I were convinced for a time our number was up. We were each outside clinging to a tree while our whole world was twisting and writhing, as if in agony and a rumbling of drums seemed to be heralding all the demons of hell to join in their devil dance. Never did a tree seem so wonderful, as I clung to that old spruce. It was the only solid thing in a whirling dervish of a world. We thought sure our house was going to tumble down. It was swaying and creaking, glass was breaking inside and we could hear water splashing and the sound of things falling but when it was all over and we staggered weakly into the house very little had been damaged. We had 2-5 gal. gas cans on the kitchen range filled with water for Dog Food, before the quake. They were only half full after it, and my kitchen floor was flooded. Only one bottle tumbled from a shelf and broke. A mirror fell from the wall but didn’t break and the Coleman lantern still was hanging from its hook. That was all and we were grateful. There were many aftershocks some of them almost as severe as the first however not as long in duration. As soon as I realized we were having an earthquake. I looked at my watch and when it was over 8 minutes had elapsed so it was a long one, in fact seemed like hours in place of minutes. We went right to the radio and then is when we trembled in fear. Not a sound on the whole dial span of the radio. Turned to short wave and it was cracking and popping. I ran upstairs and turned on the Radio-Phone it was time by then to meet schedule with G.K.O but not a sound on that crystal. Turned to 2512 and contacted Flat Horn Lake. The ice had broken up in the lake and geysers of mud and sand shot into the air. Everyone there was O.K. but quite shook up and worried about everyone in Anchorage. The suspense of not hearing a sound from there was terrible as you by now know from experience but soon we began to hear reports of down town. Then further & further out, till we were pretty sure everyone in our (*family?) had a pretty good chance of being O.K. if they were all at home and not down town. We were up till 3:30 A.M. Sat morn listening to reports. After we determined everything was all right here and had talked to Flat Horn. Joe left with the cat to go to Nicks to see how he was, Joe had just taken Nick home a couple hours before. In fact Joe had just returned and had the cat sitting here beside the house when the earthquake hit, and we watched in horrified fascination while that big heavy cat rolled back and forth 6 and 8 feet each way and we feared it would go over the edge of the hill and down. The Ice broke up in the swamp and there are big fissures and holes covering the entirety of this seven by four mill swamp in front of our house. No doubt we will have more lakes come summer. They said there is a big crack all around the foot of our hill and I know this hill was pitching and bucking like a wild bronc. It’s a miracle the whole hill didn’t fall apart and not even a rafter or foundation log was misplaced or loosened. Joe got only about half way between our place and Lydics when he met Nick coming back. Nick said tell Grandma Nick got scare – he trow water in fire, and grab gun. Nick tink house gonna fall down for sure, he run out and close do door He said to tell you he sure misses you and wishes you were here. He says also to tell you hello Mother and God Bless you. We haven’t been able to get to your house since the quake but it must be O.K. at least Lydics is and Shan didn’t say anything about it not being intact when he flew over. Shan and Edna flew over and landed on our strip yesterday morning, Shan had flown over Sat. Morn. to check on us and then gone on up the River to check everyone up the line. Said Dick Schmidt was at 20 mile, just flew in on Tue. The Army had to send him back with a chopper because they took him out. Shan says he is much more friendly and outgoing and he thinks the Service was good for him. Shan also told us the river especially the Susitna is all broken up and ice chunks six feet through are standing in all sorts of shapes and positions and one place a whole sand bar shot up above the Ice and is on top of it. Many places where sand & gravel and glacier mud have shot up through the broken ice and fell back down on top of ice & snow. Right after the quake we heard what we thought was shooting from the sights on the hills above Anchorage then over towards Lydic’s then up the river and back towards town and it finally occurred to us it was not shooting at all but ice breaking up all over. Shan checked on Howard Ross, Cliff Forstberg the folks at Squentna and on up clear to Ken & Hazel Sorensons trapping cabin. They found every one O.K. but shook up. Kenny & Hazel fear for their lives if the weather stays above freezing and it starts to rain as they are only 4 or 5 feet above the river and big ice jams all below them. Shan also went to Talkeetna and Big Lake. Big Lake is a mass of ice chunks and fissures. The railroad is torn and twisted clear to Talkeetna and the highway is full of slides and fissures & all the bridges are out. Shan didn’t see any moose and it is feared many of them were lost in fissures and holes in the rivers and lakes. We heard a short wave broadcast from the man on Mt. Susitna he said he sure thought he was gonna fall off that perch. That old Mt. was really pitching and rolling and it was all they could do to grab ahold and hang on. I don’t envy him any. It was bad enough down here without being up there. Joe wants me to tell you it felt to him like being in a big walnut shell out in the ocean. The ham operators and everyone have done marvelous work and we are proud of the way everyone is arising to the occasion so efficiently. Saturday there were no small planes flying out of Anchorage on account of bad weather but yesterday Roy brought Bill out to check on us and it was a big relief to see them, I’ll tell you. Saturday was Randy’s 7th birthday and I guess we will all remember it for a good long time. We had hoped they would be out this week end being it was Easter and Randy’s birthday too, but of course, the Earthquake fixed that, Guess the kids had a good time anyway as Pat, Dick and family stayed at their house as they had the only cooking facilities in the neighborhood. Propane and our water was only off shortly and also electricity was on often enough Bill could turn on furnace and get house good & warm before lights out again. They used water out of hot water tank for drinking and the only damage to house they sustained was the hot water tank broke loose and went through the wall into living room. Bill had to turn water off and convert the tank again and when he turned water back on there was none but they used what was in tank and melted snow and boiled it so got through nicely. Bill said the house looked like it was made of rubber and was stretching in every direction during the quake. He said he had Randy and Audie had Laciene and they were outside holding on to each other and the whole world was pitching & rolling and all the houses, too. He said the car was rolling back & forth & bouncing up & down. It must have been terrifying. Dick (Wells) had to go down & check grocery supplies at several places. He’s working for a wholesaler now and Bill went with him. He said the devastation is terrible and much more so than they are saying anything about here and there is bound to be much more death toll than mentioned at present. Bill also was just dumbfounded after flying over Turnagain & Point McKenzie, up above there a lot of the bluffs are in the Inlet and Shan said all the bluffs up the river are sheared off except the Point at the sand bar. Most of Government Hill is in Knick Arm. All the schools damaged but I suppose you have more news on this than we do, and we haven’t seen any of the pictures, of course. I baked a cake & made ice cream Saturday, hoping the kids would come but anyway, we had cake and ice cream for all our company yesterday. Nick is staying with us till he gets to feeling better again. He just got back from Anchorage and a check up at hospital. He just got home in time to miss the quake which sure was a good thing or he would probably been on 4th Ave. too, and gone now. Will write more some other time. Grace, Joe & Nick (*word missing and added by Millie Graves)
-----Being so far away from the river out in the middle of the woods. Grace and Joe were deep in bear country. Bears roamed throughout the thick woods of this forest. Having the John Deere tractor and the Weasel sled helped them get safely down the trail between the river and their cabin. Being that there was a nice trail the bear and moose decided to use it too. It was easier than traversing through the woods so there was always a good chance of running into them. I always see bear and moose sign on that trail when I’m out there and have occasionally seen bear out in the swamp in front of the old Seeholzer homestead. Bill Lydic shot a bear out in the swamp and it hung outside on the Seeholzer cabin wall by the door as a warning I guess to other bears! Bears are all over the woods in the area. Jeff has run into many a bear on that trail over the years. Last year while we were out hunting for moose a bear came and ate the seat off Jeff’s 4 wheeler while we were gone walking in search of moose. Jeff was irritated to say the least to arrive back at the machine and find a bear had mauled it. Better it than us I guess!
-----The first or second night that Grace and Joe stayed at their new cabin after it was finished, Joe, Grace and Nick Barbul had spent most of the day hauling all of their supplies and furnishings and clothes from the Lydic cabin to their cabin using the John Deere and the hay wagon. Between one of the trips while they were gone a bear showed up and left poop sign around the cabin. Nick Barbul told Joe that the bear was marking his/her territory and that the bear would return in 12 hours. After a couple of more loads they quit for the day and Nick returned home and Grace and Joe settled in for the evening. At this time, Grace had a cot set up in the living room under one of the 4 by 4 foot windows. If you were outside looking at the cabin it would be the one to the left of the front door. The cabin also had a deck that was about 6 feet deep and ran from left to right the width of the cabin. Sometime around 11pm Grace decided to call it a night and fell asleep. Joe was determined to wait up for the bear that Nick assured him would be back. He wanted to get rid of the problem and at the same time make himself a bear rug! Sure enough around 1am here came the bear, right up the stairs of the front door and onto the porch directly over to the window where Grace was sleeping. The bear stood on its’ hind legs, placing its’ paws and nose on the glass to look in. Joe was standing in the living room looking at the bear wanting to shoot it but knowing that he would give Grace a heart attack if he shot without letting her know first so he gently and quietly said “Grace wake up the bear is here!” Grace woke up and sat up and looked out the window expecting to see the bear in the yard. Instead she was face to face with the bear with nothing between them except a pane of glass and the glass was bowing inward from the weight of the bear. Grace let out a scream and in an instant the bear turned and leapt off the deck and into the woods in a dead run, crashing through the brush as it made its way down the hill from their cabin. Joe ran out onto the deck in time to see a cub scurry from a tree and chase after her. Every time Joe told this story he ended it by saying “I’ll bet that bear is still running today!”
-----Coincidentally many years later, in the summer of 1978, Randy and his wife Jeannie visited Susitna Station with Grace and Joe and Jeannie was sleeping under that same window when Randy heard a moose walking outside. That evening just before going to bed Joe had told the story of Grace and the Bear that scared her under that window and Jeannie being a real city girl and never seeing wild animals before was in a bit of a nervous state anyway. Randy whispered to Jeannie that he heard footsteps and just as he said this Randy’s brother Dean, who was sleeping nearby, hit the wall in his sleep which startled Jeannie and she let out a scream similar to Grace’s scream more than a decade before. Joe came running out from the bedroom in his white t shirt and shorts with his Swiss Army rifle in hand and said “What the hell is going on here?” Needless to say the moose ran off and from that day forward Jeannie wouldn’t even go to the outhouse without an armed escort!
-----I can relate to both Grace and Jeannie now. After hearing both stories I got a little nervous myself. At Su Station our bedroom window is right on the back porch. I used to love to sleep with the curtains open and enjoy staring out at the moon and the stars as I fell asleep. However, since hearing that story I shut the curtains every night now. I don’t want to wake up and see a bear standing on the porch staring in at me! I figure if I don’t see the bear it can’t scare me!
-----Joe didn’t get the chance to shoot that first bear but another time when he was working on the bulldozer in the basement which was open to the outside a bear walked up the porch stairs and Joe was right next to the stairs and grabbed for his rifle and put it in the bear’s mouth and blew off his face and he fell down the stairs.
-----Then another time Joe was on dozer pulling the hay wagon behind him when he met a bear on the trail. Usually the noise of the engine would scare them off but this time it didn’t. Joe didn’t have his gun with him so he left the engine running, put the transmission in neutral, lowered the blade, locked the brakes and climbed under the dozer between the tracks and waited for the bear to get bored and leave which eventually it did.
-----At one point Granny and her grandson Rich were at the cabin and a bear had gotten into the back of the cabin putting a gaping hole in it. Grace and Joe were gone at the time so Granny and Rich made a plank repair which closed up the hole. They did a pretty good job making the cabin safe again but of course Granny was pretty experienced with this kind of stuff. She had been living at Susitna Station the longest.
-----The Seeholzers had such a bear problem back there in the woods that Joe finally put up an electric fence around the cabin to keep them out. Even after he put it up he had a few bears get through but it helped. The fence was operated by a number of 6 volt batteries hooked together and they had to be replaced every Spring. The system worked pretty well when it was up and running. Luckily bears go to sleep for the winters so they are only a problem during the summers.
----- In the late 60’s Grace and Joe started spending more time in Anchorage. They owned a house at 3810 Iowa Street and lived there along with the Lydics for awhile. Grace and Audi shared in the cooking and cleaning and the family continued going out to spend time at Susitna Station and finish proving up their properties, especially during the summers,
-----In the summertime boats were the way to get around the river system. As I mentioned earlier, the Lydics and the Seeholzers often hired Joe Redington and his boat the Nomad to take the family to and from Anchorage to pick up lumber and supplies. This was true for Bill Lydic when he was building his cabin and it was true for Joe Seeholzer when he was building his cabin. In order to get to Anchorage you have to cross the Cook Inlet. The Cook Inlet is a dangerous body of water to take a boat in but people used to do it all the time in the old days. It’s not as common these days. Old timers have a lot of horror stories doing it if they lived to tell about it. Most people now use the road system and the landings to get to and from the Susitna River. The biggest problem with the Cook Inlet is the tides. It has some of the highest, fastest and strongest tides in the world. You have to time it just right to get across without getting stuck. If you end up out there when the tide goes out you are in trouble.
-----In 1967, when Randy was about 10 years old, he and his grandfather Joe Seeholzer, along with a friend of theirs who was visiting from New Mexico, were on the Nomad with Joe Redington heading back to Susitna Station from Anchorage with lumber and building supplies for Joe Seeholzer’s cabin when they had a frightful experience in the Cook Inlet. This should have been a routine trip. They had done it many times before but this time after they got to the other side of the Inlet across from Anchorage near the mud flats they hit a log that bent the propeller shaft and shoved it into the bottom of the boat. They couldn’t re-start the motor because it was touching the bottom of the boat and they were afraid it would put a hole in the bottom of the boat where it was jammed. So Joe Redington got in his Dory (small boat) that he had tied to the back of the Nomad and used it to tow the Nomad near the beach where they then used a Port a Power hydraulic jack to jack up the Nomad and get under it to straighten out the propeller shaft. When you are in the Cook Inlet you can only use a boat during high tide. At low tide the water disappears and you are left high and dry. Although they left Anchorage on high tide, by this time the tide was out and the Nomad was grounded until the returning tide. They had to spend the night in the boat and wait until morning for the tide to return. One good thing about the Nomad was that it had a relatively flat bottom and no protruding keel so she was able to rest upright on the mud flats. When the tide came in it picked the boat back up and they proceeded on to Susitna Station. A more unstable boat might have been flipped by power of the incoming tide. This was the last time Randy rode on the Nomad. A few years later the Nomad was permanently beached in the Inlet near the town of Knik. You can still see it there today. I just saw it there this past summer and took a photo of it. (see photo attached).
The Nomad beached at Knik photo by Cindy Calzada
----- It was also during the 60’s that Grace and Joe began housesitting for other people. They had 3 families – the Martins, the Clarks and the Brady’s that they house sat for from the late 60’s into the 70’s, usually in the winters. The Clarks had a nice house in Geneva Woods. Grace and Joe originally met them when they lived across the street from their house on Iowa Street in one of Surge Amundson’s apartments. Some winters though they stayed in town. Joe was more likely to spend time out at Susina Station in the wintertime than Grace. She usually just came out in the summertime after they moved to Anchorage. Joe Seeholzer loved the remote life at Susitna and loved the peace and quiet of Susitna Station. However, in the mid 60’s snowmachines began finding their way to Alaska which caused a problem for him. By this time, his friend, Joe Redington had moved from Flathorn Lake to Knik and become very involved in dogsledding. Dogsledding was losing favor in Alaska now that snowmachines were available and Joe Redington had made it his mission to save the sport, which by this time was his passion. He began by establishing dogsledding trails in the area and the first Iditarod trail ran from Knik to Susitna Station right past Joe Seeholzer’s cabin. Although Joe Redington meant for the trail to be used for dog sledders the snowmachiners began following the trails also. Joe didn’t like the snowmachiners. He called them “crimers” (thieves and hoodlums) because once they started coming out on the trail cabins in the area started getting ransacked and vandalized. He would take his bulldozer and push big berms of snow in front of the trail up the hill to his cabin so they couldn’t drive up. When they tried to go around he would yell at them “boys you get the hell outta here” and shoot his 30.06 over their heads as a warning. At night the boom and the flash of a 30.06 is enough to send any crimer on his way. They got the hell outta there fast! They began to call Joe the Crazy Old Swede at Su Station, which actually was inaccurate because he was Swiss, not Swede! He was apparently a cantankerous fellow at times! Although the new trails caused some problems bringing snowmachiners out to Susitna Station the Lydic/Seeholzer family did enjoy dog mushing and they found it exciting when in 1973 Joe Redington established the first long-distance Iditarod race from Knik to Nome running right through Susitna Station and past the Seeholzer cabin. Joe Redington had worked long and hard to see this dream of the first Iditarod realized. For this Joe is considered the “Father of the Iditarod. It’s an important event in Alaska to this day. Randy remembers being at the cabin in 1973 for the first race. Their friend Surge Amundson gave them a ride out to Susitna Station in his plane and picked them up later. Randy remembers there were all kinds of planes out following the racers. It was a traffic jam in the skies. Randy and his Grandpa Joe made 2 pots of coffee on the wood stove and when they would see a musher coming across the swamp they would run down the hill to give them hot coffee on their way past the cabin. In this very first Iditarod race Dick Wilmarth won, Bobby Vent (from Huslia) took 2nd, Dan Seavey (a future winner and the father and grandfather of 2 future winners – Mitch and Dallas Seavey) got 3rd, George Attla got 4th (he was also from Huslia – he and Bobby as well as a few other mushers from Huslia were nicknamed the Huslia Hustlers, although George probably became the most famous of the Huslia Hustlers), the Shismaref Cannonball Herbie Nayokpuk got 5th, Issac Okleasik from Teller got 6th, and Dick Mackey, a future winner (of probably the most famous race when he won by 1 second) and father of 2 future race champions, Rick and Lance Mackey, got 7th. 22 racers finished. It was a brutal race and many mushers scratched from the race, including Raymie Redington who finished the following year in 7th place earning $821 for his efforts! The temps were 50 below zero, there were no trails and the winner Dick Wilmarth tells of killing a beaver so he could have food during the 3 week venture. It took some mushers a month to get to the finish line. These days they do it less than 10 days! The Iditarod is definitely a race of strength, wits and endurance. The race continued to run through Susitna Station until the 90’s when the race start was moved to Willow and the trail was redirected further upriver from Su Station. We drove 3 miles upriver from Su Station last year to watch it go by.
-----One of the most memorable family summer vacations at Susitna Station before the Seeholzers left Alaska was in the summer of 1977. Randy and Granny both came up to stay with the Seeholzers at their cabin on the river. It was to be Granny’s last visit to Susitna Station. A few of the long-time residents of Su Station came to visit them at Susitna Station also: Cliff Forsberg and Howard Ross. See attached photo of Randy pulling Granny and Grace Seeholzer in the wagon behind the bulldozer and Granny with Howard Ross at his cabin on the Susitna. After they left Susitna Station that year they had a big family get together at Charles house in Anchorage. Granny’s 2 brothers Bob and Bill were there and their families also. They borrowed Royce Newton's motor home and Randy drove everyone up to Mt McKinley for a scenic vacation. Not only was 1977 Granny's last time at Susitna Station but it was also her last visit to Alaska. She died 18 months later.
RAndy on the dozer w/Granny and Grace behind Lydic Collection
Granny & Howard Ross at his cabin on the Su-Lydic Collection
-----In the mid 70’s the Clarks bought a ranch in Yankee Creek, Oregon. They only spent summers there and they asked Grace and Joe to be caretakers there in the winters. Grace and Joe both had family in Oregon (Grace’s sisters and Joe’s brother) and they wanted to be nearer to them and start spending more time with them so they accepted the caretaking job at the ranch. They started in 1977 and continued going down to caretake the ranch each winter through 1980 coming home to Alaska in the summers .
-----In 1978 Randy and his wife Jeannie and Randy’s brother Dean and sister Laciene all came up to Alaska for a visit. Grace and Joe were just getting back from housesitting at the Clarks ranch in Oregon and although Laciene left before they went out to Su Station the rest of them all went out and spent time at Grace and Joe’s cabin at Susitna.
-----In 1981 the Seeholzers decided to buy a house in Oregon. They sold their property at Susitna Station and their house on Iowa Drive and left Alaska. They remained in Oregon the rest of their lives.
-----Audie came back up to Alaska in 1989 and worked at the gift store in Portage. She then got remarried in 1990 to Ted Glazebrook and during their time together they drove up to Alaska 4 times. They only made it out to Susitna Station once though in 1992. Randy also came back again in 1992 with his wife and two children Sherri and Stephen. They flew up and Audie and Ted drove up and then they met up in Anchorage and all went out together to Flathorn Lake to stay a week with the Chestnuts. While at the Chestnuts they took 2 boatloads of people over to Susitna Station and met up with Jeff who took them back to see their old homesteads. The Lydic cabin by then had fallen down and the Seeholzer cabin was still standing but its back was broken. They got a few memorabilia from the cabin and left. That’s the last time any of the family were actually at the old homesteads.
-----Randy’s dad died in 2001 and he and Jeannie came back that year to spread his ashes over the trail to the property. Lonnie Chestnut gave them a ride in his plane over Susitna Station and they spread Bill’s ashes over the trail by the Lydic cabin.
-----Joe Seeholzer died 8/6/2004 and Grace died 8/16/2010. In 2011, Randy, Jeannie and Audie came back to Alaska and Randy’s friend Marty took Randy out to Susitna Station in his two seater plane and Randy scattered Joe and Grace’s ashes from the plane over the Seeholzer’s old homestead. They made two passes – one for each of them. When they got back Audie said to Marty “Did you ever think you’d be throwing Joe Seeholzer out of your plane?!”
-----Grace and Joes’ spirits remain at Susitna Station now forever together along with all the history that they made there. I have certainly enjoyed telling some of that history. When I pass by the ruins of the Seeholzer cabin today so much of that history passes through my mind. I am reminded of this tough Alaskan pioneer family and their friends who brought such life to a now very quiet and serene forest.
Joe Seeholzer inside his cabin - Lydic Collection
Grace and Joe outside their cabin - Lydic Collection
The Seeholzer cabin in the 60's - Lydic Collection
The Seeholzer cabin now - photo by Cindy Calzada
See my story on Nick Barbul "The Last Man" next.