Charles M. Reader
The family would first like to take this opportunity to thank the community of Nome and friends from all over the State, and the world, who have sent condolences, kind wishes and cards, good food and beautiful flowers as we work through our Dad’s passing. We are blessed to have your arms wrapped around us, supporting us, and we are blessed to be the children of Chuck Reader. We appreciate those who are working side by side with us as we prepare to lay our Dad in his final resting place, home, in Nome.
How do you begin to tell the story of a man like Chuck? He was a man’s man, one of a kind. A friend, hard worker, community supporter, community promoter, shaker, mover, business man, father, grandfather and more, our Dad spent just days short of 69 years living and working in Nome and surrounding Seward Peninsula communities. There is a lot of life he packed into those years, and many are the families he touched in some way with his kindness, labor, contributions and abilities. As time marched on, sharing his experiences and stories with those who would listen became a passion and a past time of Dad’s. His mind was so sharp, he remembered everything about his journey here on earth. With the passing of men like Dad, the memories of a totally different lifestyle fade, and go with them. We collectively try to capture and share some of Dad and his story here with you.
Charles Michael Reader was born at the family farmhouse in Berlin, North Dakota, number 15 of 16 children to come to the marriage of Peter J. and Christine B. Shockman Reader. His sister Myrle, 18 years older, was the midwife to his birth, and the beginning of a strong bond between them that would last their lifetimes. Chad, as the family called him, was eight and nine when he worked the fields with his father trying to cultivate corn in stubborn ground. Dad knew of Lawrence Welk, who was from a couple counties west, in the heavily German-Dutch settled area of North Dakota. He often sneaked into the local barn dances where Welk performed with his band providing area families music, song and entertainment. Suffering poor farming conditions, 65 neighbors took up a collection of $41.45, varying from 20 cents to $3.00 to help fund the migration of the Reader family to Joyce, Washington September 1938. It was hard beginnings, uprooted from familiar surroundings and family living on the plains of North Dakota, but seven kids with their parents headed west, and Dad was one of them.
Dad completed 8th grade, was eventually employed with Sam Wittenberg Motors, honing his mechanical abilities which would provide for him the rest of his life. Married at 17, he enlisted in the Army July 2, 1945 at Fort Lewis, Washington and within two weeks his first daughter, Sharon was born. Daughter Charlene would come to a second marriage in 1947.
Sister Myrle the midwife, a teacher in North Dakota, responded to a job advertisement put out by the Territory of Alaska. Traveling through Nome, she came to teach school in the mining camp of Candle in 1933. Brother Peter followed. Brother Johnny also came to Nome in 1938 to work some for the Sunshine Mining Company, and then returned during WWII to work as a mechanic at Marks Air Force Base. Sam Wittenberg had family in Nome. The stars aligned, and Chuck Reader arrived April 13, 1947 in Nome as a 20-year-old young man, to a land and country full of opportunity. Now, it was a country full of Readers.
Dad said the old timers didn’t normally take to new comers easily until you proved yourself worthy of their ear, and time of day. Dad was a new comer to the country, and began to find his way into the community by working hard at what he knew how to do, helping many with their run down equipment. They liked him, trusted him, and Nome would become Dad’s home for the rest of his days.
As partner with Johnny in Reader Brothers Garage, Dad was learning every vehicle and piece of equipment in town, and there was a lot of it after the WWII impact on Nome. Art McLain was working for Dad tearing down an Army hut and told him his sister was returning from UAF and asked if he would like to meet her. Their first date was at the Dream Theatre, and Mom said she thought Dad had the world on a string, had a sense of humor, and was nice looking. Daughter of a pioneering gold rush family, born and raised in Nome, 1946 graduate of Nome Schools, Caroline McLain returned from graduating in May 1950 with a Bachelor of Education degree. They married on her mother Carrie’s birthday January 26, 1951, and their first daughter arrived in December. Terribly, Reader Brothers Garage at Fourth and Steadman Street burned late December 1951. Dad packed up his wife and baby, traveled the Lower ’48 visiting relatives, his oldest daughter Sharon, and returned home to Nome in April 1952.
Dad had to start anew. He had been playing the drums at the Nevada Bar, alongside “Breakwater Bertha” Vera Lonnaghan, who played the zither. He tended bar there, and after Tom Brice passed away as partner in the locally regulated taxi business, this opened the opportunity to become a partner in Nome Cab Company with Chuck Goedde, and then Jack Macumber. As a taxi driver, one of the spots he serviced was the Quianna Club, which means Thank you. As patrons called for a taxi, they referred to the call location as the Q-Club, sometimes mixing their words as wanting a Q-Cab, meaning a cab at the Q-Club. Dad sold his interest in Nome Cab, but seeing the need for another taxi company, became a silent partner with his friends, Bob and Josephine Garnie Cannon. Flying vehicles into Nome was unheard of, but Dad, Cannon and brother Johnny offloaded 1952 Plymouths out of a Wien Alaska Airlines freighter. Dad started his own flagship Q companies. Q Cab, advertised as “Quick,” and “means Cab and Coffee in Nome,” was located on the corner of Front Street and Lane’s Way. Just behind the cab stand Dad built his own garage, which he named Q Trucking, phone Main 101, and inside it, he and his friend Eli Mulch built his “Toonerville Trolly”, the Curly Q, which would run on the track of the Wild Goose Railroad. Old Army equipment became his construction fleet, everything painted bright red.
Dad’s first job as a small general contractor was in 1952 when he built an airport at Solomon. As most of you know, in order to get there, once you got over the narrow trail over the Cape, one had to cross the entrance to Safety Sound on the Safety Ferry to proceed down the coast. While the ferry was in operation, many were the times Dad would pull up to the water’s edge, coming or going, and bounce onto the ferry deck over those grates, ker-plunk ker-plunk, while the ferry bosses Milton Adams, Herbert Wilkalkia, Pete Curran or Herbert James watched nervously. The little motor on the side of the ferry would smoke, straining, trying to head to open water under the load of the lowboy with a dozer on the back, or the beaterman, with the tires hanging over the ends. Many times, as well, the sea water, full of seaweed, was floating over the top of the ferry deck, the little engine steaming and chugging, guy wire and ropes stretched to their limits against the weight of the load or the tide, while we caught clumps of the seaweed with our boots. I saw Dad shake the ferryman’s hand more than once, thanking them that the crossing was successful, which somehow they always were.
1952-1954 Dad’s entrepreneurial mind turned toward tourism. He was so proud of this country, this land, and the people in it. He wanted to share, and show the world. And, the tundra was full of railroad track. Although owned by the Alaska Road Commission from Anvil to Lane’s Landing, the Army had used portions of the track, the mining company was still checking ditch walker cabins with their engines, locals on pupmobiles traveled up and down, and spots in sad disrepair Dad fixed. He reasoned tourists might like to ride the line, which prospectors once traveled 50 years earlier. He built his little narrow gauge Curly Q train sketched on a bar napkin, from a Model A Ford engine, some old wheels, built a chassis, and the Wild Goose Caboose. In order to transport tourists, he would need a bus. Dad took now world-renowned Alaskan Native artist Wilbur Walluk to Seattle with him to buy an old Army bus. You guessed it, from Sam Wittenberg. Wilbur painted Alaskan animals and scenes inside the bus and out, as he did on the Curly Q engine, with the big white goose on the caboose. Dad traveled to Fairbanks to meet with the Wien Alaska Airlines official, Jack Whaley, and received an official contract to handle their tourists in 1954. Dad also hauled local campers with no means of transportation and no money for fare, those with tents and cabins at Salmon Lake who went to fish, hang, dry and put up for winter. Quite often he would overnight with Gunnar and Margaret Bowman who lived there in summer. The only traffic rule on the railroad was that the man with the load had the right of way.
Eventually the Road Commission built over parts of the rail right of way, and this route was going to be part of a trunk road to Fairbanks. Things were changing in the Territory, and some were calling it progress. Statehood was on the horizon. Connecting Nome and the Seward Peninsula to Fairbanks, then the hub city, was mapped out in this direction, with plans to take the road further inland. Some of Dad’s future road building jobs would be over the rail bed he utilized.
One of my earliest memories of Dad is riding in the Curly Q in his lap, the overgrowth of willows slapping back on the glass of the windshield. He is pulling on the levers, which are grinding, and the smell of exhaust is coming up the hole in the floor where the levers go through. Dad’s teeth are square and gripped in them is his pipe, and the cherry flavored smelling smoke is thick in the cab. He is singing “As I walked out in the streets of Laredo, as I walked out in Laredo one day, I saw a young cowboy all dressed in white linen, Dressed in white linen as cold as the clay…” Reports indicate the Curly Q was sold to Tommy Martin, although Dad tells the story differently. In the early 1960s the rails were sold as scrap to August Krutch.
Dad, who thought he was part cowboy, was quite a songster, with quite a few tunes in his playlist. He liked to sing, which may have come from his Lawrence Welk barn dance days. The family has grown, Sharon is with us, and Ginny and Josie are born. “When I was a little bitty baby My mama would rock me in my cradle,” “Down in a meadow in an itty bitty pool swam three little fishies and a mommy fishie too…Boop boop diddum daddum waddum choo” “Frankie and Johnny were lovers, Oh how they did love,” “Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey,” “K-K-K Katy, beautiful Katy, You’re the only g-g-girl that I adore, When the m-moon shines over the cowshed….” and “Swing Lo, Sweet Chariot.” His favorite Christmas music was any Yogi Yorgesson tunes, like “The object of my affection” and “I Yust go Nuts at Christmas.”
1958-59-60 The babies are coming fast, Josie is the little one and Mary the baby when we spent two summers up in the Kuzitrin while Dad had the job extending the road to the river’s edge. Dad built go-devils and had everything loaded, pulled by cat train to the spot he picked to make camp. We kids ran loose behind the go devils, picking flowers, and running wild and free. We’d look up and see the cat train way off in the distance, and would be completely out of breath running to catch up, when we finally reached the wannigan and jumped back on board. If you look to the left as you come down the hill on the approach to the “Cushman Street Bridge” you will see a flat, lush green area which was Dad’s gravel pit and the camp location for housing all the working men…Andy Miller Sr, Glen Tate, “Shakey Jake” Jimmy Rogers, Jimmy Dexter, Larry Minix and others. These were the finest equipment operators in the country, as are their sons. Mom helped Charlie the cook feed the crews. Charlie was a tall, slender, balding man who, 65 miles out in the middle of nowhere Bush Alaska, always wore his white pants, white shirt, white apron, and tall white chef’s hat, covering three hairs on his head he called Cussy, Ginny and Josie.
The following year, after building the Kuzatrin Road to the river, Dad hauled the Cushman Street Bridge up for another contractor. The bridge structure came pretty beat up and bent, and he laid it out on Satellite Field to try to straighten the pieces. He put the load on his lowboy, and headed over the Dexter Bypass which was the road used then, to travel north. There was an old wooden bridge about halfway up he broke through, and the load slipped. He had to walk back to town to get help, as his spotter vehicle was not following him! Finally he got the bridge hauled to the river, and said they had three local cranes, every crane available in Nome, on site to help string and hold the pieces while an old Fairbanks iron worker welded them together. They were Herb Engstrom’s P & H crane (poor & helpless) with Ron Enstrom as the operator, the mining company’s 54B Bucyrus-Erie, and Les Bronson and Axel Edman’s NorthWest, still sitting today by Swanberg’s Dredge.
Dad partnered in Moonshine Water Company with Roscoe Wilke. Their first water truck was a 1957-58 American LaFrance excessed, or accessed, from Marks Air Force Base. Old surplus Internationals, cab over Fords, some with wood stave tanks became the water delivery fleet. Nome was progressing, and Dad was part of it, and a workhorse in it. Most families and homes stored their water in 50-gallon drums, or possibly a 200-gallon tank. Now, water truck drivers like Nick Ezukameow and Robert Joe could drag a hose from the truck to the tank, through your house, or up to your attic. Running water became a reality, as it could “run” from your tank out a kitchen faucet, but then it ran under your house or into the street, because there was no real sewer lines, no flush toilets. Yet. Many were the instances of flooding customer homes. There were three methods of trying to insure your tank did not overflow. There was the float switch, which was supposed to trip, when the tank got filled to a certain level. There was an overflow pipe, mounted to the tank, which came out the side of your house, and once the tank was full, water squirted out the pipe, which the driver could see. Then, there was the kid method, the household member who was supposed to watch the water level, and run out to tell the driver to stop pumping. I recall being the responsible one for Mom’s basement in the new house flooding for not paying attention. It seemed to happen often in the old house on Maiden’s Lane, when water would pour out of the attic.
In early September 1960, the first nuke sub the U.S.S. Seadragon surfaced in the Nome roadstead after a jaunt to the North Pole, out of water. Dad and Roscoe got a Lomen Company barge, probably pulled by the tug Bozo or the Lucille, and loaded their water truck full of water over the edge of the jetty, on the barge to drive out to fill the submarine’s water tanks, with the Cutter Northwind looking on. Locals were invited to tour the submarine. Today ships pull up to the end of the causeway and hook onto the water line. The Bible Baptist Church on the east corner of Front and Steadman streets had a baptismal font they wanted filled. Truckload after truckload was pumped into this plywood tub, which finally gave way with thousands of gallons of water spewing out the walls of the church building onto Front Street. Once, Moonshine Water was sued for selling contaminated water. In inner circles, the suite became known as “Who put the stool in the tank at the school?” I listened to Nick Ezukameow telling how careful he was measuring the Clorox he put in each tank before delivery. The case was thrown out. Pat Straub was part of the water truck driving crew, and Nome was thankful we were no longer hauling water in the 5-gallon metal buckets slopping water through the homes, coincidentally the same type buckets Arctic Sanitary Service, Pat’s family business, used in theirs.
Our oldest sister Sharon left Nome in 1961, graduating outside in Washington, and began her family there. We had recently moved into a brand new home Dad built which was an identical twin in size to one he built for Bob and Jo Cannon, on East Fifth Avenue. There were no roads to the house, and roads didn’t exist beyond Third Avenue and the CAA/Firehall area. We now had several bedrooms to choose from, and was a mansion compared to the two bedroom tar paper shack we had been raised in on Maiden’s Lane, behind May Bale’s Polaris Bar. That alley was called Maiden’s Lane because there were so many girls in our family, plus the McIver family of seven more across the street. We were one of the first families in Nome to have a flush toilet, and a full size cement basement. When Bob and Jo sold their home to the hospital for use by the doctor’s, one winter the septic system started backing up into our basement. Dad had to hire Billy Hoogendorn to come and dig out and pump out the septic tank, which was full to the brim. The hose, at one point, got away from Billy’s workers, and started flying around loose in a circle, spewing human waste all over them and the truck and the yard. Come to find out the doctor had been adding Clorox to the water in his tank, which flushed out and killed the bug in the septic tank. Dad was quite upset and told Mom to tell the doctor if he used Clorox again Dad was going to cut off his pipe access to the septic tank, and he could fill up his own basement.
Dad had outgrown his little shop downtown on First Avenue, and we were regulars at his new Q Trucking shop on Seppala. He built a cement foundation, and dragged in a wooden building from over by the airport, and jacked it up on top of his foundation. It was a three-story building, with a vehicle hoist on the ground floor the workers delighted in putting us on, raising it as high as it would go, and leaving us up in the air. Dad’s work crew of Cecil Chunn, Tommy Pushruk, Wally Merrill, Pete Castel, Pete Adsuna, Bob Lewis, Einar Henry, Larry Minix, Glen Tate, Harry Redd and Doug Doyle always looked after us kids.
A local fixture around the shop was Hutch Hank Longley. He didn’t speak much, but he’d ride with Dad, or later with us in the trucks when we were hauling. My friend Iris Foster tells the story of her watching some terrible kid teasing Hutch and harassing him. Hutch was walking along the road while Dad was walking a cat. Dad noticed this brat degrading Hutch, so he shut the cat down, stood up and let the kid have it in “Chuck Reader language”, and threw in a few more colorful words of wisdom for good measure. The bad kid ran away, Dad started up the cat, and down the road he went, with Hutch walking along at his side.
Julia has joined the family, and Charley is born in March 1964. Finally, a boy! Dad’s new shop burned to the ground a month later, April 6, 1964 when a welding spark ignited some gas. I stood and watched with my friend Clara Johnson Langton and cried. Doug Doyle said “I still remember your Dad standing across the street with his big blue parky on standing there and watching everything he had worked so hard for going up in smoke. Found out later he had no insurance.” Many people back in those days didn’t carry insurance on anything. The tenant up on the third floor was a fellow from India who hired us kids to dig through the rubble, looking for his melted gold coins from his country. We never found a thing. Dad was going to send his safe to the FBI to see if they could determine what was in it, but the fire was so hot everything inside was just ash. A June 3 ad in the paper said Chuck Reader Service was now “open for your spring tune up.” Dad quickly converted the Moonshine shed where he had warehoused the water trucks on Belmont Point, to something where he could continue to operate and provide mechanical service to Nome. The wooden three-story building burned was replaced with a cement structure, thinking it could never be destroyed by fire. However, the flood of 1974 undermined the ground, invading the water table, pulling earth from under the building and causing sections to collapse. Dad was entitled to and received a low interest rate loan to build the shop, as we know it today. These struggles and set of circumstances were another test of the man, our Dad, watching him scrape and crawl up out of the ruins.
Dad’s marriage to Mom Caroline had been failing for quite some time, and Dad left, making his own course correction to his life. Babe was born to Dad’s sweetheart Marie in May 1963, and was Dad’s 8th daughter.
The city was petitioning and contemplating switching to the city manager form of government. One or two had been hired and fired. One morning early one of them called Dad at the shop and wondered if he had any cash on hand. He had gotten in a poker game the night before, swung with all the cash in the city safe and lost it in the game, and needed to get it replaced before anyone at city hall came to work. Now I don’t remember the answer, if Dad even had anything to help him out, or not.
In August 1965 Dad and Axel Edman headed with a barge full of Dad’s equipment to Deering where he was going to build the community a 3,000-foot airstrip. I wrote a school paper of this story, and on board were four ten-yard dump trucks, a fuel and service truck, two-and-a-quarter-yard front-end loader, D8cat, grader, light plants, welders, 270 barrels of gas, 150 barrels of diesel, 10 barrels of aviation gas, several barrels of grease and lube oil, kitchen equipment, among other things. Once the job was completed, and the fall storms started to roar, and the barge company wanted too much to bring them home, Dad talked it over with Don Moto, who had herded reindeer all over that country in years past. It was October, and the lava beds didn’t freeze hard enough to travel over until December or January. Don and Dad flew the mountains to the Kougarok, and Don picked the route. Dad was afraid of some of the places and tried to impress on Mr. Moto that the tractors weren’t reindeer, but Don was certain a tractor would make it. It took a week to build go-devils to haul all the gear and trucks and there was very limited material to work with in the village. The first day they traveled uphill and made it over the summit, about 30 miles. The second day they made it to the Good Hope River, and had to build a road down the steep bank so they could cross. The third day they camped at Aurora Creek, half way through the journey. They were running low on grub, and Willie Foster flew over and dropped four loaves of bread and three cases of beer. The cases broke open as they hit the ground and the cans flew every direction; however, it took a very remarkably short time to recover every last one.
With the exception of having to re-load the loads several times and patching breaking skids, Dad and his crew made it to the Quartz Creek Airfield in another two days, and the highway that led to Nome. The reason I share this story is that this adventure would be unheard of today. It was almost unheard of then, even though 50 years prior men with horses and mules dragged mining machinery into the hills. Men and equipment didn’t just take off across the country, but Dad was different. As long as he had gas, he could go anywhere, because he could fix anything that broke along the way. Most of the surrounding villages didn’t have heavy equipment in them, as they do today, so any road or dirt work required one to bring the equipment to do the job. Dad would haul his equipment in and out of the community of White Mountain in the early 1980s to build another airport, which his friend Al Doyle ran. The construction bosses and lifelong friends besides Al Doyle and Axel Edman were Wally Parker and his wife Grace. Many times when bidding jobs and Dad had no money, Wally helped financially with bonding.
In the late 1960s Ginny and I were driving truck for Dad. We are referred to as “the scabs,” not union. We are just family, and proud of it. Chuck Volkheimer had a restaurant he opened up in Martin’s Cold Storage building where you sat on wooden benches and wooden tables while he put out fabulous hearty meals. Each contractor group of employees always sat together. We always got “the look” as though somehow we weren’t working hard enough, or were qualified enough to eat alongside the “big boys, “as Chuck Reader strode in with a couple scrawny girls as his work force. We hauled aggregate for cement for building William E. Beltz Vocational School/Regional High School, built the Bering Vue roads and house pads, and many others. My first job was to drive the Teller Highway with a dump truck to hook onto and pull one of the Kakaruk herder’s brand new white Ford trucks back onto the road. I had a pillow under my seat so I could see out the windshield. Dad built the many sections of roadway over the years, pieces at the Penny River, Dexter, Neva Creek, Glacier Creek and Woolley Lagoon. Road repairs occurred after every spring melt, and rip-rap placed and replaced after fall storms. He drilled test wells for Nome’s water, and water for the vocational school. He dug the basement out for the Federal Building. As a kid watching, Dad looked very small on his dozer down in that big hole he was in, digging out the basement. He poured the concrete for that building, the National Guard building, the State Office Building, FAA housing, built 12 “chicken coops”, donated the concrete and built much of the Nome Volunteer Fire Department fire hall building, the Teller School, the Post Office Annex, and the Elementary School foundation. Much of this building was with Ed Bruns and Burl Mosquito. Dad was up at Port Clarence twice, once for building an earth dike, and then to do WWII base cleanup.
Dad, and now his son Charley, on one of their first jobs together, tore down the 1936 school, where situated is Anvil City Square. Charley continues doing the impossible, just as his Dad has done the past 60 years. Every major building project in Nome has his thumbprint on the job, including the hospital, Quyanna Care, the NJUS and Bonanza fuel tank farms, the National Guard hangar, Anvil City Station, Randy Pomeranz’s theatre, sheet pile at the Port of Nome and other dock locations, Bering Air, Ryan Air, and our new Richard Foster Building. He is his father’s son, a rare breed, people you only meet once in your lifetime, if you are lucky. Ironically, some of the buildings Charley has worked on, are the same ones Dad did 50 years ago, and ironically, they had the same level of school education.
“Seems a new Trooper came to town and decided he was going to clean the place up and get us all on the straight and narrow and following all of the rules. He spots a little kid driving a truck, hauling a load somewhere and decides to stop the truck and inspect it for things such as lights, brakes, etc. Out of the cab climbs Charley with a broken arm in a sling, wondering what’s the problem ossifer? By the time the Trooper got done writing, he had filled up a couple sheets of tickets and wouldn’t allow the truck to be moved. Charley got ahold of Dad who came storming out to where ever the truck was. The officer explained to Dad the truck did not have the proper working lights that would identify it as a truck. Since it was the middle of summer, and light out all of the time, this seemed ridiculous to Dad. Anyone looking at could clearly see it was a truck.” We cannot repeat here what Dad told the Trooper to do in order that he be identified forever more. “This story became a classic and was repeated many times over the years. I remember Dad commenting something to the effect that he “needs to move further north – there’s getting too many rules around here”.” ~ Ginny
The load was a D6 dozer that was being hauled for JD Walsh down to his diggings at 9 mile on the Council Road. Charley was pulled over by the State Building. Dad made some calls and Charley was able to finish moving the machine for JD, so as to not be parked and a traffic hazard on the highway.
Dad got his thumb pinched off when he was up in the back of one of his dump trucks while the loader operator was trying to pick the bed and slip the tailgate pins back into place, up on Anvil Mountain. Dad, Axel Edmans, Mary and Charley tore back to town with his thumb in his glove. The doctor tried to reattach his thumb, and had a pin through the end of it, and some kind of brace on his wrist, with what looked like rubber bands putting tension on these pins to try to keep his thumb somewhat straight while it healed. It didn’t work and grew back crooked, and forever more Dad’s thumb on his hand wasn’t much good picking up small nuts and bolts, which was a bad thing when you are a mechanic.
In the early 1970s, some Moonlighters started Yellow Cab and opened up in Angelo Buffas’ old Alaska Cab Stand location. Laura and Harry Johnson, Edna Buffas and Marie Tate drove taxi under their new banner, with the best potato salad and hamburger makers Bing’s mom Barbara Analoak Trigg, Maggie Oquilluk, Linda Balone Pierce, Margaret Anowlic, Ginny Reader and Duffy Greene. There was another business called the Washeteria behind the cabstand where construction workers laundry was done for the various companies.
Les Harris and his wife Pat lived in Nome for a time, and Les was a construction rounder, as was Dad. He ran the job, which included building the Alaska Airlines terminal parking lot, and paving it, and the highway from Q Trucking to the Alaska Airlines terminal. Guardrails had been put up along the Snake River to keep cars from going in. The night before the inspectors were to come to Nome to accept the job the guardrails got hit, and the rail makers had to stay in Nome to straighten out the bent and damaged pieces, quickly polishing them as the inspectors were driving up. That was cutting it close.
Dad’s brother Pete had been in the mining game when he first arrived in the Territory. He had a dredge up at Harris Creek, North Fork. The further up the creek one went, the bedrock rose, the creek becoming too shallow for the dredge to operate. Dad would take us up in another contraption of his he called the Swamp Buggy which could travel anywhere without getting stuck. Years later the gold bug would bite. Dad loved mining in Iron Creek/Dome Creek with Hugo Linfors. It gave him a chance to get out of the “city” and spend time in the country puttsing around on his little cat. Kelly was about two then, and she would bounce around in the cab of my truck as we hauled drums of fuel up for Dad, with him following behind with a cat to push me out if I got the truck stuck. One year the fish and feathers folks were looking for a fight, saying Dad and Hugo were disturbing the geer falcon nests. The nests, located downstream on the Scott family dredge, would fly up the valley and Hugo was feeding them table scraps. They also said the water in the creek was dirty. At the headgate of the sluice box, maybe it was a little cloudy, but by the time it was through the last riffles it was almost clear. Hugo and Dad had a wooden box they set in sand at the edge of the creek, and in the evening would go fishing and fill the wooden box. The fish couldn’t escape, and when we wanted fresh fish for dinner, Hugo would reach his hand in the box, pull out a couple, hit them in the head, and there was delicious dinner! The aerial artist that he is, Buffy would also fly Dad in, coming up the very narrow canyon of Iron Creek/Dome Creek with one wing pointed to the ground, the other wing pointed to the sky. Dad spent hours sifting, sorting and separating his treasure, and Billy Smith went crazy looking at it. Billy was from the Kougarok country, with a photographic and genius memory, and kept Dad mesmerized reciting beautiful poetry.
“Dad and Marie were in Anchorage staying at the Hilton before they had the condo. They had brought some jars of gold with them and hid them in a pillow. They were put up on a high floor and Marie didn’t like heights, so they requested to be moved. In the meantime they are down in the bar bragging up the gold. They decide to go get the gold to show their company. They went digging around for the gold and couldn’t remember where they put it, and couldn’t find it. But because the maids had moved them to a lower floor, they assumed it was stolen. So Dad told the managers if they didn’t find the gold he was going to burn the place down and pan the ashes! They got the maids together and questioned them and some poor little woman said In the pillowcase, In the pillowcase. They had moved it to the new room and put it back in the pillowcase like they had found it. Dad had to eat crow on that one.” ~ Julie
Dad helped build the Ponderosa Inn with Marie. She had begun amassing the property on Third Avenue in the 1980s on which to build her rooming house. She sold to BSNC in 2004 after years of providing comfortable lodging, with local service. Their friends Dale Moline, Dad’s crane operator, and Nancy Piche, Marie’s helper at the Pondo, spent several years living and traveling with Dad and Marie. One time Dad was trying to grow some tomato plants in coffee cans in the sunny windows upstairs. Nothing was happening. Dale bought a box of cherries and tied them to Dad’s tomato plants and eagerly waited for Dad to notice the “growth”. Dad was funny, and a prankster.
“In May of 1982 Dad and Marie went on a trip supposedly to visit friends and relatives. They stopped in to see us for a couple of days and while here invited us to come with them to Las Vegas. Aunt Bonnie (Dad’s sister Yvonne) came over to see Dad and Marie and they invited her to come along. When we got to Las Vegas, the second day there we were sitting in the lounge waiting for Dad and Marie to come down. When they got there Dad said Hey, you guys want to go to a wedding? Who’s getting married, we say. We are, and we’d like you to stand up for us, says Dad. We spent the rest of the day going to every western shop in town looking for a Stetson that he wanted to wear at the ceremony.” ~ Sharon
After an almost 30 year romance, Dad and Marie figured it was about time to tie the knot.
In 1957 Dad’s brother Johnny bought the Safety Roadhouse from Herbert James, and after Johnny’s passing in May 1981 Dad and a host of caretakers have maintained and operated this landmark historical roadhouse. Two years later, January 19, 1983, Safety Roadhouse burned to the ground, including all the worldly possessions of Harland Holly, caretaker for 8-9 years. Dad had a knack for figuring things out, and set his sights on the old Nevada Bar building, the same one he had played the drums in so many years ago. It was boarded up, sitting next to the Nomerama Theatre building, with a shingle hanging on it which said the Arctic Fox Café. By August 1983 the building was in 4 pieces and heading down the highway to its new location at Safety Sound. Dad breathed new life back into his old stomping ground, the old Nevada bar, and Safety Roadhouse stood proud once again, against the howling winds of the Safety blowhole. Stinky Lloyd Hardy worked a couple years, Bob and Omie McGuffy were there, and most recently, Tommy Ellanna. Tommy has been caretaker, bartender and boss for over 20 years. Of late, Papa was slowing down. His trips back home to Nome were seasonal, and much time was spent with Tommy and “Bing” Analoak hauling water and supplies, getting Safety Roadhouse open for the summer months. Grandson Miles spent a summer as the waterboy, and coaxing the truck to start always involved Grandpa under the hood, spraying copious amounts of starting fluid to get the engine to roar to life. Dad had the support of Carl Emmons, and grandson Dawson McCain of the giddy up gang, as Grandpa called Dawson, keeping power, plumbing and the refrigeration functioning. Dad was in his glory, his hands in gloves clutched to the steering wheel, lurching and bouncing down the road in one of his old water trucks. Safety has flush toilets, another of Dad’s entrepreneurial features of high living in the Bush. Dad enjoyed making Safety work, and seeing folks stop by to visit, enjoy the country, the beach, the ocean, and each other. It was the perfect place for him to share his life stories. Having a State of Alaska liquor license allowed him into CHARR membership, and for years Dad and Marie attended their conventions and supported the organization. Dad and Marie enjoyed their cabin at the Cape we all helped them with, hanging wallpaper, deck adjustments, and normal camp things.
1998 rolled around, with lots of parties, celebrations, contests, parades, and generally the promotion of Nome. Dad was reliving his days of the Curly Q, and now, his new toy was his Model T. He enjoyed getting his Model T running for the 4th of July parades, donning his Charlie McCarthy black top hat. Dad and Marie attended Diane Wilke Norbert and Irene Johnson Anderson’s Miners & Musher Balls, they dressed the part, while Marie helped judge contests. Dad liked to dance, and him in his cowboy hat and suspenders, looking all spiffy, was a fine compliment to Marie in her gold rush costumes and feathers. At one time he owned what he called the “Tucker”, a big yellow tracked machine he used to trail sweep after snowmachine races. He enjoyed being involved in community events. He donated the 1937 fire truck back to the city that his brother Johnny had purchased years back, which was proudly restored by the Nome Volunteer Fire Department for the community to enjoy. He was always ready to help, hauling heavy equipment, cabins, or plucking broken down miners off the beach at Bluff. Many fly-by-nights that came to Nome took advantage of his friendship and willingness to help, their bill fluttering its way to the garbage can as they snuck out of town.
Dad had some Chuck-ism’s that were part of his vocabulary and sentence structure: Throw it to the wind, I reckon, take a gander over there. Dad was funny with his sayings, many word mis-pronunciations, and terms sounding like his old farm hand help, most of which can’t be in print. It can’t see in deyr, can it? This last one came from a chance encounter between Vern Miller and Fred Cavota in the lobby of the Hilton. Vern, our neighbor and local plumber, had gotten acid in his eye so the doctors had to put a glass eye in the socket. Fred, who was about half Vern’s height, is standing alongside him as Vern is trying to check in. He fumbles with some change in his pocket, plops it on the counter, and a marble rolls off, drops to the floor, and goes rolling across the carpet. Soon, everybody in the lobby is on their hands and knees looking for Vern’s glass eye. Cavota asked Vern why he was keeping the glass eye in his pocket, anyway. “It can’t see in deyr, can it?” You had to appreciate Cavota’s heavy east coast Italian mix brogue and dialect. Everyone had a nickname, too. Dad said most of the names came from Al Doyle, although I think it was joint effort. Keith Hedreen, who owned the Polar Bar, had a “gimble eye”, one eye that looked the other direction, and his partner in the Polar was George Madsen, who had a bum or “jake” leg. George had been a pilot during the War. Gimble Eye Keith and Jake Leg George earned the name of “The Leg and Eye”, and became code for “The Polar.” He also had names for those who would do damage to Nome, or his family or friends. He was fiercely proud and protective.
His top left shirt pocket full of pencils and screwdrivers was a trademark. His suspenders were full of buttons and his hat was always a little crooked. He loved peanut butter and onion sandwiches, and homemade root beer. He tinkered on my slot machines and kept them whirling. He was the horse whisperer of cars and old trucks and could make anything run. With 69 years of laying in the grease, wrenching in the weather, road and airport construction experience all over the Seward Peninsula, he loved sharing his legendary entertaining life stories. By example he taught his children and others about hard work, and working hard. Many a young man got their start in life, working down at the shop. Dad’s blueprint for living was sketched so clearly on the napkin of life. May we all be able to say when our life is done that we worked as hard as possible, and had a lot of fun.
One of Dad’s sisters, Yvonne, passed away in April 2015. Us kids begged him to let us help make the trip to Seattle to attend her service, to see his siblings and what was left of the Reader family and descendants one last time. His hip was bothering him badly, and he’d already had one hip surgery years back. Finally going to his doctor, they told him he was no longer a candidate for that same surgery, rather they would put some screws in and hope that would hold. This put him down for several months, and laying fallow, other issues began to arise with lungs, and fluid and breathing. When Dad would call, or I called him, he would ask, “how’s things in Heaven?” He referred to Nome as Heaven. He wanted to come home so bad. We had plans of recording him with a little recorder I had gotten in the spring. He loved telling me stories, and we shared our passion for Nome’s history. Dad told me in the fall the road was getting rougher, and he could “hear the man upstairs calling my name.”
In the early morning hours of January 25 sitting in his easy chair, in a well-worn body, Papa Chuck went to sleep, his remote in his hand. The man had called.
Chuck was preceded in death by his parents, siblings Irene, Dorothy, Myrle, Marjorie, Marie, Peter, Paul, Donald John, Caroline, Collette, Monica Yvonne, his grandsons Lindsey Hayden McLain Reader and Logan Charles Green-Reader, and great-grandson Jamison Miles Lee Thrun.
Chuck is survived by his wife, Marie, daughters Sharon Paulson (Steve), Charlene Reader, Caroline “Cussy” Kauer, Virginia “Ginny” Emmons (Carl), Josephine “Josie” Reader (John Peterson), Mary Reader (Stacey Green), Julia Jones (Ron), Cherryl “Babe” Stavish (Bruce), son Charley Reader (Jennifer), step-sons Raymond Mocan (Dawn) and Robert “Bob” Mocan (Virginia), grandchildren Paul Eliason, Calie Morlan, Dean Eliason, Wendy Gurney (Craig), Jeremy Paulson, Kelly Thrun (Shannon), Rajene Reardon (Vaughn Knipfer), Krysta Kauer, Jade Kauer, Dawson Kauer, Sandra Rowe (Russell), Michael Morgan, Amy Peterson, Carrie Havener (Ben), Jackie Reader, Miles Reader, Jessie Miller, Jason Miller, Amber Miller, Ivy Johnson (Jared), Joseph Horton Jr., Vickimari “Dolly” Horton, Chelsea Reader, Misty Reader, Nicholas Reader, Charles Christopher Reader, Mackenzie Hall, Chevy Reader, Presley Reader, their families, 28 great-grandchildren, 3 great-great-grandchildren, mother of six of his children Caroline Reader, and his sisters Mary Margaret Morgenroth, Patricia Josephine Gallagher, Annebelle Brusse, and Donna Mae Cole.
We are thankful for our Dad’s life, and we are thankful for each of you. Please join us for services, which will be held in Nome March 9, 4 p.m. at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Steadman, with burial to follow. Afterward, we invite you to the VFW to share stories of Dad’s life. We would appreciate your help with bringing finger food or a salad to share.