Driving to Alaska

Henry's shop, with the 1953 Chevy he drove to Alaska.

Henry’s shop, with the 1953 Chevy he drove to Alaska.

Henry was possibly my favorite uncle. He always had ideas and aspirations, and his politics were a little strange. For some reason my memory of him has always been linked with the John Birch Society.

Most memorable was his ability to do (almost) whatever he wanted. Build a house. Experiment with an Oldsmobile Diesel engine. Tear down a grain elevator. Build a wooden bull, pagoda or castle. Or drive to Alaska on a whim.

The attached letter describes his trip and his impressions. It’s not clear to whom the letter is addressed, but it would be fun to know! Henry had a huge shop, with dozens of fascinating projects, including many of those I mentioned above. In the back of the shop were a couple of identical 1953 Chevrolet sedans. One of them is the car he took on this trip.

A question for the family … Did Ray go on this trip with Henry? My memory says yes, but there’s no mention of him in this letter.

Henry writes:

One day in August I started to drive north from my home in Pettibone, North Dakota. No particular destination in mind, I just planned to see what the country looked like farther north. I had a good old car and some money for gas so thought I could just as well make use of it.


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Papa and Mama

Original family farm house

The Kunkel house

I’ve often thought about what it must have been like to buy land a couple of states away, move to the desolate prairie of North Dakota, not knowing anyone, and trying to make a start of it on an abandoned farm. The agent who sold this young couple a farm on the prairie was quite the business man. His name shows up often in a Google search of Sioux City in those days.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

Grace writes:

Dear ones,

Papa + Mama bought the farm through a land agent named Mullhall from Souix City, Nebr. Papa had worked one summer somewhere in the Red River Valley and thought he was getting land like that.

What a letdown!! The hills were mostly sand that hardly anything grows on. They came to North Dakota in 1919 from Waterbury, Ne. Mama told about living with Bowermans one mile to the east while carpenters rebuilt house. It hadn’t been lived in for many years so was in sad shape. Horses had used it for a barn and had left lots of manure in and around it. Windows were broken and the doors were off. They built a full basement under it and I think that may when the cistern for rainwater was built.

They came to N.D. from Souix City on the train as far as Jamestown where they bought a Dodge Car to drive the rest of the way on muddy trails across country to the farm. One of their trunks got lost so she had to do without many personal things she had packed.

The rainwater cistern was really nice as we had a pump + sink in the kitchen so we had water handy for washing clothes and bathing. We had to carry water from the well for cooking and drinking. There was no plumbing in the house so always had a bucket under the sink for waste water and had an outdoor toilet.

The well was real deep so the water was always very cold even in summer. There was a concrete casing around the well + pump maybe 6 by 8 feet and probably 8 ft deep where we could go down on a ladder to store milk + butter etc. It was about the same temperature as we keep refrigerators now so it was really good for keeping food. We ran the windmill a lot for water for the livestock and to water the garden so the cold water through the well pipe kept the well cold.

The cistern started to get cracks when I was about 12 so we had to carry water from the well then for washing + bathing besides for cooking + drinking.

Love, Grace


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Starting School

I remember trauma on the first day of school, too. In her first letter, Lucy describes her first day of school, and she implies that there could have been tears. I’ll bet that Lucy’s mother had trouble on the first day of school, too, as her daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter all had great reluctance to start school.

Mara (center) on the first day of school.

Mara (center) on the first day of school in 1986.

When our daughter started, she was not a little reluctant to get on the bus for school. Her brother was four years older, so we thought he could help her navigate the bus and getting into her classroom. That plan worked perfectly until Lon saw one of his friends as he got off the bus. Mara was left alone, scared and wondering where to go. Not a good start.

There was excitement on my first day of school, too. I don’t remember being scared or worried, mostly looking forward to it. One of my best friends that summer had been our neighbor Ray. We started in the same room for first grade in Franklin School in Jamestown. Ray did not like being left alone with all those strange kids, so he made a fuss. Such a fuss that his mother couldn’t leave. She sat in the back, in the cloak room, for the morning.

We’re all a little afraid of something. It helps to have someone along to allay that fear.

At least I didn’t have to bake stones in the oven to keep my feet warm on the way to school.
Grandpa Guy Havelick


Originally published 2014-10-13
Updated 2017-02-01

Lucy writes …

Going to school was a major step for me as I was so shy – of course the first grade meant singing a solo at a program. Our teacher was Miss Niblock and I really loved her. When my Dad took me the first day, telling the teacher “Don’t hurt her feelings or she won’t stop crying until she sees her mother”. Continue reading

Our 1953 Cadillac

My love of Cadillacs goes back to those early years when I first knew Jim. He bought a black 1952 Coupe shortly after I met him. That was in about 1965, so the car was a little old, but still nicer than anything my family every drove. I learned to drive in that car and went on all the special dates (like Prom, Homecoming, Wedding) in the ’52.

1952 Cadillac on our wedding day

1952 Cadillac on our wedding day

The trunk of the car was big enough for everything four guys took to college the first week. During college my friends and I did significant work on the car. We rebuilt the carburetor, replaced the drive shaft and repaired some rust. When I went off to college and met the special young lady who would become my wife, Jim sold the Cadillac to me for One Dollar. Unfortunately, being young ones with hotter ideas in mind, and facing more repairs than we thought we could afford, we decided to sell the Cadillac and buy a ’65 Mustang convertible. Jim was pretty sad that I sold the car, he loved that black beauty as much as I would now. The Mustang was a fun car, but let’s just say it was neither practical nor reliable.

Within a couple of months Jim showed up at our door with a blue 1953 Cadillac sedan. That was in 1972. Jim had that car for years and made several trips to visit us driving the stately old dowager. We called the car the “Blue Lady.” While Jim owned the car he made several trips to Wisconsin from Jamestown with his mother and his Aunt Sis. Jim’s Aunt Sis was a very proper woman with blue hair who loved lots of activity in her life. The ladies would ride in subdued elegance, talking and working on their handicraft projects. One of their projects was hand-made Christmas ornaments. Jim’s mother and Aunt Sis passed away many years ago, but we still have dozens of those beautiful ornaments. Continue reading

What’s your favorite song?

Listening to music has been one of my favorite activities ever since I discovered 45 RPM records in the early 1960s. The first record I ever bought (98 cents, plus 2 cents tax) was Nat King Cole singing Those Lazy Crazy-Hazy-Days Of Summer. Among the many record players over the years was the classic RCA changer. Scratchy sound. No bass. Prone to failure. Everything today’s digital music is not. That didn’t stop the music!

Some of the sixty-plus 45s we listen to in the car.

Some of the sixty-plus 45s we listen to in the car.

This summer I found my old stack of 45 RPM records in the attic and converted them all to MP3 so we could listen to them in the car and in the house. The old familiar scratch-scratch-scratch of music from the 45s brings back memories of John and me listening to those records in the basement of my house on fourth avenue in Jamestown, ND. How many of you old guys spent an hour trying to decipher the words to “Louie, Louie?”

Here’s a copy of Nat “King” Cole’s song. If you enjoy it, you might want to read about and listen to fifteen of the greatest songs of the Boomer Generation on the Next Avenue website.

Grandpa Guy Havelick


This is the start …

Louie wrote this letter in 1991. Since then, I’ve become a grandfather several times over. That perspective changed how I viewed Louie’s story. When my kids were little, they wouldn’t have gotten out of my sight. Now that number five is toddling around, I tend to be a little more lenient.

The primary contributor to that change is an increase in patience. A friend of mine stopped by the other day and told a story about his granddaughter. He had biked with her the previous weekend. She wanted to ride through a big puddle on the bike trail. Before we retired, before there were several grandchildren, both Ron and I would have said, “No way!” The kid would have gotten dirty, muddy, and mamma would have raised a fuss. Now the granddaughter wants to ride through the puddle again. And again.

Grandpa Frandsen

Grandpa Frandsen

What did my buddy do? Rode through the puddle again and again, until she tired of the splashing. That would be a lot of splashing. In retirement, like Grandpa Frandsen, we don’t have to get home to fix a toilet, there isn’t a problem at work that needs attention, the pressures of life have somewhat dissipated.

I can imagine the glee that Grandpa Frandsen felt as he watched little Louie ride off on the trike. He didn’t have to deal with the consequences. Mamma could handle it.

Sometimes I’ve wondered about the truth behind Louie’s stories. Some of them are a little far-fetched. Then I found the newspaper clippings describing his trike episode. You can see it at the bottom of this post. I can imagine that Mamma was perturbed.

Maybe someone can help me remember just where Pittsburgh Avenue and Nupen’s elevator were in Jamestown?

Grandpa Guy Havelick



Louie writes:

This is the start of an autobiography of which I was instructed to complete or suffer some kind of horrible fate such as take away my coffee.

As per instructions, I start with my birth. It is said that I knew that this world I was about to enter was not going to be all sugar and spice – so – I came in breach. That is like telling the world to kiss my foot. I have arrived. Continue reading

From the USS Fremont to a Cadillac – 1953

Jim starts his life story in the middle. Can you point to one incident in your life that everything else turns around? For me, it was something as simple as getting off an elevator in Sevrinson Hall in 1970. There was before, and there was after. Jim had the same kind of experience, in the back seat of a 1953 Cadillac. Jim starts his letters with the story of life’s cusp.

USS Fremont - Bridge crew - September 1953 -

USS Fremont – Bridge crew – September 1953

In the fall of 1953 Jim’s life was changing. He had spent more than ten years in the Navy, first during the war against the Japanese in the South Pacific, and then on more mundane duty stat-side and cruising the Mediterranean Sea. Soon, life would change from military to civilian, years after most WWII veterans had made the move. After being born in North Dakota, he moved East as a child. Now, in 1953 he was preparing to move back to Dakota for an adult life.

Growing up in Massachusetts and spending a decade in the Navy made an indelible imprint on Jim. He never lost the genteel nature that reminded me of Boston. He always used the slang of a Navy man. North Dakota blood flowed in his veins. The next fifty or so letters show all the traits that made him a fascinating character.

In this photo of the USS Fremont bridge crew, taken just before the events in the letter below, Jim is third from the right in the front row.

Grandpa Guy Havelick


Originally published 2014-10-06
Updated 2017-01-31


Jim writes:

The USS Fremont (APA44) docked at NOB (Naval Operations Base) Norfolk, Va. after an 8 month cruise of the Mediterranean and its seaports. After the long months and confining spaces aboard ship I was more than anxious to get off, therefore I took 30 days annual leave. There were three modes of transportation available to me … Bus, Pane and train … but I decided, with some doubts and trepidation, to hitch-hike … from Norfolk to No. Dak!

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