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Beating to Windward
    by Otto M. Bratrud, edited by Sverre Arestad (Volume 20: Page 58)

One day a white-haired, tanned man of medium height, neatly dressed, with a twinkle in his sharp eyes that horn-rimmed glasses could not hide, came into my office with a rather large package under his arm. I soon learned that my visitor was Captain Otto M. Bratrud, Retired, master of sail and steam, of Seattle, Washington, and that the package contained his log, “Beating to Windward.”

Captain Bratrud, who was born in 1879 at Hof in Jarlsberg (now Vestfold), left Christiania in 1895 as an apprentice seaman of sixteen to join the crew of the bark “Glencoyn,” lying in Gothenburg, Sweden. On that ship he sailed south past the Cape of Good Hope, east to India, and beyond to Australia. He once arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia, on a ship which was bringing prospective gold miners to the Klondike from Australia and New Zealand. He returned to Australia and finally went to Seattle in 1902 via Honolulu.

With Seattle as his home port, Captain Bratrud continued to sail almost continuously for another half century, in the Orient trade, to Australia once again, on the Pacific coast and Alaska runs, and to Europe. In 1905, for example, he served as quartermaster on the Great Northern steamship “Dakota,” Captain Emil Francke; and he was on board when this huge vessel ran aground on Devil’s Shoal, a reef off the Japanese fishing village of Katchiyama. The “Dakota” was a total loss. For more than fifty years Bratrud called every sea and ocean in the world his country and many a ship his home. He tells what life was like on board ship sixty, fifty, even forty years ago, when brutality often was the order of the day. On the other hand, he also mentions officers who were kindly and considerate and humane.

Although he writes extensively about his experiences at [59] sea, Captain Bratrud does not neglect the people whom he encountered in the many lands he visited. He always had his “weather eye” open for conditions ashore, and almost every where he went he met Norwegians - in Australia, in Hawaii, in Alaska - some of whom had prospered and others who had not. In writing in detail about individual personalities, Captain Bratrud adds greatly to our knowledge and appreciation of the trials and vissicitudes, the successes and the failures of men who left Norway to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

In 1911, after sixteen years at sea, Captain Bratrud visited his mother in Chicago and other relatives in Iowa. With this visit, the present chronicle ends. Although Captain Bratrud’s reminiscences as a sailor and officer continue beyond his days on sailing vessels and his river-boating experiences in Alaska to the end of his seagoing career, no selections have been included from the later era. There is a particular interest attached to the first sixteen-year period covered by the “log” of the Norwegian youth who almost fifty-five years ago set sail from Christiania for “all points of the compass.”

When he returned to Seattle from the Middle West in 1911, Captain Bratrud was to continue his seafaring life for another four decades. He sailed again to the Far East, and revisited Australia after many years’ absence. Subsequently he got his master’s license and in due time his first command, a shipping-board vessel, the “Calusa,” which was built during World War I near Portland, Oregon. His second command was the “Western Glen,” an 8,800-ton vessel which was built by the Ames Shipbuilding Company of Seattle for the Cunard Line, but requisitioned by the United States government upon our entry into the war. In 1920 Captain Bratrud sailed the “Western Glen” to French ports, the nearest he got to Norway during his more than a half century at sea. He was eventually to get pilot endorsements for all the ports and bars on the Pacific coast, including Puget Sound and adjacent waters (the latter, according to Bratrud, no longer being issued), Columbia River Bar, San Francisco Bar and Bay, [60] and San Pedro, Long Beach, and San Diego bars and harbors. Bratrud served for a time during the depression of the thirties as treasurer of the Nasters, Mates, and Pilots Association, as a watchman, and as a haberdashery salesman. Early in World War II he served as marine inspector with the coast guard. Fittingly or not, his last command was on the “Ocala Victory,” which he sailed in 1947 from Seattle to Tongue Point on the Columbia River, where it was destined to be tied up and mothballed. From 1947 to 1952 Captain Bratrud was on officer-relief duty in Seattle harbor. He retired in 1952, whereupon he and his wife Laura left immediately for Norway, which he had not visited for fifty-seven years. After his return, Captain Bratrud retired to his home in Seattle to garden, to reflect, and to write.

With a few minor exceptions, no changes have been made in the text of the original, so the texture and flavor of Captain Bratrud’s language have been faithfully retained. I have consolidated some paragraphs and, in eliminating an abundance of detail from two or three sections of the narrative, I have brought together elements of close affinity that originally were separated by several pages. I have not indicated these omissions and rearrangements of material because I was working from a manuscript and not a printed work. Very few footnotes occur, for the reason that Captain Bratrud gives sufficient, clear information in the text itself.

The following selections from “Beating to Windward” portray vividly the environment which developed many a Norwegian youth at the turn of the century, the pull of the sea which attachment to home and country could not counteract, and the circuitous route by which many traveled, finally to arrive as immigrants in the United States. S. A.



My father was of an ambitious, restless nature, and for that reason my early life was a nomadic one. When I was [61] born, in the sparsely peopled country district, Hof in Jarlsberg (now Vestfold), my father filled his first appointment as a schoolmaster, and as organist in three widely scattered churches. Adjacent to the “little red schoolhouse” were a few acres of ground that he had to work to help fill the larder at home. It was not a life of ease for him, and the salary wasn’t too large either, so he cast about for other ways of providing for his family. There were four children. Thora, the first born, died of rheumatic fever at two. Even though we never saw her, my two brothers and I considered her early death one of the greatest losses of our lives.

My father began learning to make rattan and reed furniture, much in vogue at the time. When he had mastered the craft, he resigned from his teaching and organ playing at Hof, and moved to Hamar. It seemed a good action at the time. He had a fair-sized store and employed a few helpers. In the summer, when fairs were held in the upland country, he’d load a lorry with his furniture, set out, and sell his wares to the countryfolk assembled there. That, in addition to what he sold in his store, offered a moderately fair living, but his thoughts gravitated to larger fields. So, after a year or two, we were on the move again, this time to Christiania (Oslo). In the capital Father bought a grocery store, but it did not prosper. He therefore sold it and again took up the work for which he had been educated, namely, teaching school and playing the organ.

Father’s music must have been a great comfort to him at this time, and he flung himself into it with all the zest at his command. Being a newcomer in Christiania, he did not attain a full-time position as an organist in that city. He was a vikar - a substitute - and played in all the churches as the occasion demanded. Father also directed several choruses, composed of members of different workers’ organizations in the city. I remember his conducting one of these; the audience was on a hillside, and I can see now the hundreds of faces looking down on him and the singers. We had musicales in [62] our home, Father playing the piano, a friend the violin, and Uncle Karl the flute. Father was also given to improvising on the violin, a common practice in Bagn, Valdres, where he came from. I attribute my love of good music to these early impressions.

One summer when I was four or five years old I accompanied Father on a tour of the saeter - my great-grand father’s summer farm in the highlands. When our party stopped for a rest near a fast-running brook, Father gathered birch bark, and made a lur, a trumpet-like, four-foot-long instrument. When he blew on it, the echo came back to us from the surrounding hills. One Sunday, when on this tour, Father took the place of the regular organist in his home church. When he had played a short time, the whole congregation turned around to see who had put new life into that organ.

Now my remembrance of my father seems to fade. His work as a teacher and all his other activities took a heavy toll on his health, and he began to fail. Our family began to come apart. I was sent to my great-grandfather in Bagn, Valdres, where I was destined to live for nearly five years. When it was discovered that my father had tuberculosis, his doctor advised him to try the upland air at Valdres. The saddest scene in my whole life, as I see it now, was when I saw my father, accompanied by my mother, come down the short drive from the highway to my home, then at Sørbøn. He was on crutches, walking so slowly, steadied by Mother. That man, whom I had known as tall and robust, was now reduced to the merest shadow of his former self. A room with bed was given him at Sørbøn, and it wasn’t many days before the next scene that flashes across my memory occurred. It was of Father receiving the last sacrament and of candles lighting that dark chamber. And now the end to a promising life came. Ole, the son of Ole, had run his race - thirty-three short years.

I marvel to this day at how strong and collected Mother [63] was during this, the supreme trial of her life. They had no undertakers up there in those days, and Mother had to perform all the last, sad rites, even making the shroud that Father was laid away in. There was further testimony to her strength and courage when she returned to Christiania with her next youngest son, Thorbjørn, while I was left in Bagn and my youngest brother, Karsten, remained with his maternal grandmother in Hamar. Mother, having had a little experience tending store, spent the proceeds from selling our piano and other things and started a little business, dealing in soaps, household goods, and notions.

In Valdres I became a young rustic. The happiest time I had was spent at the saeter in the summer, high up in the mountains. There, tending my flock, I was my own boss, could lie in the sun-warmed heather gazing at the blue sky and the distant mountains rising in ridges one above the other, and dream dreams about the distant world that lay beckoning before me. This turned out to be the real world of America.

The end of my stay in Valdres came when a fever of restlessness, with a desire to improve one’s lot in life, still raged over Norway. It was called “America fever,” and left few untouched. My great-grandmother’s four sons had left for America and the prairies of Iowa and Minnesota. Their letters to their mother were filled with glowing descriptions of their new life, the number of bushels produced to the acre, and so forth. Multiply these letters by the thousands to relatives remaining at home and one can understand the powerful appeal they had. In every store window and in other public places colorful posters were displayed by the different trans-Atlantic steamship companies, with flags flying; in the background were scenes from rural America, the wheat growing waist high, gleaming white farmhouses, bright red barns, and herds of cattle about. Who could resist such an appeal?

At this time a man named Bjørgo from Kensett, Iowa, was visiting his native village, accompanied by his family. A son, [64] about my age, regaled me with stories of the Utopia across the sea where they could have bacon omelets, large ones, every day if they wanted them. These were the magnets that loomed large and made up my youthful mind for me, and I began packing for America. My Uncle Mikkel in Iowa was to provide my fare across. So, a dozen or more youthful companions and I, led by Bjørgo, started out, with high hopes and a song in our hearts for that land to the west and the prairies of Iowa. When I got to Christiania, however, my mother, struggling to make a living for her little brood with her small store, would not hear of my going to America, across that terrible body of water, the Atlantic. So the journey of the twelve-year-old would-be emigrant came to an end there, for the time being. But I had been bitten by the sea fever, and perhaps even without my realizing it, I now began to mark time, longing for the day when I could board a ship for new lands. My immediate surroundings in Christiania served to nurture and intensify my desire to leave Norway.

Our way home led past the water front, called Piperviken, and there, tied to the dockside, were always several sailing ships discharging their cargoes, mostly coal. On stormy evenings, with the wind howling in the rigging of these ships, and wind-swept sprays washing across the quay, the scene lighted by bluish arc lights overhead, giving it an eerie aspect, I breasted the wind and spray, and it was sweet music to me. . . . In imagination I was out at sea - and even shipwreck on a rocky coast held no terror; that was life, that was adventure! A lot of sailing vessels, large and small, made Christiania in those days, and my greatest delight was to roam the water front and watch and listen to the sailors at their work in the ships’ rigging, and hear their singing as they hoisted and bent sails to the yards and spars, preparatory to setting out for voyages to far places. The smaller vessels, Spanish and Danish, and some others lying around the harbor were especially interesting and intriguing, the former because of the colorful clothes worn by their swarthy sailors, [65] and the Danish because of the heavenly smell that wafted up to us from her galley when they’d be frying their bacon.

Norway at that time had one merchant service school ship, the “Christiania,” permanently anchored below the walls of the Akershus fortress. She had been a frigate in the navy in the old sailing-ship fleet, and still had cannon ports along both her sides. When I was fifteen, I was one of forty apprentices who were selected for a summer course, lasting from the first of May to the last of August, 1894. My four months on the “Christiania” went only too fast, and we were mustered out to find jobs on some sailing vessels needing the services of half-baked sailors like us. Few of us found jobs, partly because of the lateness of the season - the Baltic season was coming to a close - and partly because there didn’t seem to be enough jobs to go around. After I had eaten my heart out during the winter and spring, my big day came at last. I got word from a firm of shipowners in Christiania that I could be an apprentice seaman on a barkentine, the “Glencoyn,” lying at Gothenburg, Sweden, loading lumber for a port in Portuguese Southeast Africa. {1} I was to report on board in less than a week.


I managed to get together the clothes I needed, including woolen underwear, and, boarding a small vessel, the “Dixon,” I set out for Gothenburg, leaving my mother standing on the dock not knowing whether she would ever see me again. A good many of my fellow passengers seemed to be seasoned travelers, judging by the amount of beer and food they consumed. The lounge on the “Dixon,” with bar, was on the lower deck, rather airless, hot with the people drinking and carousing. I could not stand it down there, so I was a deck passenger most of the way. As we approached the Swedish coast we saw numerous bathers in bright beach clothes, and small sailing boats darting in and out among the skerries [66] and islands on that favored coast. We finally tied up at a broad stone quay near the center of the city of Gothenburg.

On June 2, 1895, I saw for the first time the three-masted barkentine “Glencoyn,” formerly of Fleetwood, England, now of Christiania, Norway, that was to be my “home” for the next two years. This vessel, when under British registry, had been bark rigged, but the present owners had changed the rigging without diminishing the ship’s sailing ability to any extent. By this procedure, her crew was cut down by at least four men. We were now ten men in all: the master, two mates, the cook, the carpenter, the sailmaker, two a. b.’s (able-bodied seamen), and two apprentices. The “Glencoyn’s” tonnage was approximately 750, and she was about 200 feet long. She had originally been built for the copper-ore trade, and as a consequence was of shallow draft, a bad feature for cargoes with higher centers of gravity. We were to learn this before long. Our cargo consisted of lumber, sawed and dressed, and a large number of “prams,” small, shovel-nosed row boats. Our foc’sle was located under the deck forward, reached by a steep stairway and topped by a scuttle that had to be closed in bad weather. This type of foc’sle was a hang-over from the days of British ownership, when sailors weren’t treated much better than dogs. Very few, if any, Norwegian sailing vessels lodged their crews in such holes; they were in variably housed in a roomy, well-ventilated house on the main deck.

Our captain, Bernhard Gjertsen, came from Tjømø, an island lying close to Tønsberg where every, yes, almost every male person is a sailor or a fisherman. They have the reputation for being tough, hard characters, the “bluenoses” of Norway. I was to learn quickly that our skipper was one of these. He was also part owner of the vessel. The first mate, Nils Christoffersen, came from a place near by and was of a similar character. The second mate was a human being; luckily for me, I was detailed to his watch. The carpenter and sailmaker were Swedes, both married, the most [67] even-tempered and patient men that I’ve ever met. The other crew members were all Swedes. The other Norwegian besides my self was a native of Christiania; he had lived a fast life and was almost burned out at the age of 29 or 30.

And now the day of departure had come! Having been towed well clear of land, we cast off our towboat and began putting on our sails. We were hoisting our upper topsail yard, every man tailing on to the halyards, when the captain - I find it hard to honor him by this title - came storming along the deck and gave me a most painful kick from behind, yelling at me, “I’ll teach you to pull with your buttocks!” (It was my misfortune to be assigned to a ship captained by a monster in human shape, plus a not much less sadistic mate.) This was my first introduction to this cruel man, whom I had not seen on the ship during the week or more that we lay in Gothenburg. He had been too busy with drinking and dissolute living ashore to come near the ship. I was to learn that rum was the principal liquid that crossed his lips. He was a man of a little below average height, not fat - rum took care of that - crinkly, fleece-like red hair, a rather prominent nose, and always a wild look in his pale blue eyes. He always wore a black bowler hat, blow high or blow low. He had sailed for several years as skipper on Dutch vessels in East Indian waters, and it was there, before his “crimes” caught up with him, that he’d accumulated enough money to buy a one-third interest in the “Glencoyn.”

The mate, tyrant number two, was also a small man, also with a large nose, small mouth, and a receding chin that gave him the appearance of a two-legged rabbit. He had chalklike coloring that made him look half sick. It appeared that he had not been to sea for quite a while; he had tried his hand at being a bank clerk, at which he’d evidently been a failure. He was a good penman, however, writing a flourishing hand - indicative of an inferiority complex that had to be compensated for. My most lasting picture of him, as I see him now, is when we’d gotten all the sails on the vessel that she [68] could stand, and with the wind and the sea bearing down on us from a little abaft the beam and a choppy sea running, a greenish, rather heavy wave caught him where he was standing on the weather side of the poop deck. Shaking himself like a dog just out of the water and coming up with a sickly grin which was intended for our edification to look like a smile-”See, that’s how I can take it!”

It may be asked, what made these men like that? Skipper Gjertsen, when sailing in East Indian waters, undoubtedly drove his native crews most unmercifully; now, his affinity for rum and his other complexes caused him to unleash the same behavior on defenseless me. Mate Christoffersen, having suffered defeat trying to establish himself ashore, had to take it out on someone, and that someone was myself. The life of a sailor in those days was a hard one and called for rigid training; it may have been this tradition that to some extent influenced these tyrants to resort to brutality - to make a sailor out of me. The life was not for mollycoddles, and fathers not wanting their sons to take it up were known to have connived with skippers and mates to really lay it on their sons, to cure them of their foolish sea romanticism. Many made just one voyage!

Entering the English Channel, we came near the white cliffs of Dover. In my state of mind, compounded of fear and homesickness, I seriously considered jumping overboard to try to swim ashore, but was deterred by the distance. When we were about halfway through the channel, we encountered a complete calm that left us lying in the water like a lame duck. Scores of other vessels, large and small, were in the same predicament. Eventually we got out of the English Channel and into the Atlantic.

Day by day, as we sailed southward, the weather got warmer and more pleasant, and we took to sleeping on deck, on the hatches, or wherever we could put down our “donkey breakfasts” to lie on. {2} We saw the faint, bluish outline of [69] Portugal on our port and after a few days we saw the high, mountainous island of Madeira. We passed within five miles or so; as the wind blew off that island we got the most sweet-smelling, pleasing spicy aroma from it. In fancy I imagine I can smell it yet.

Before long, we caught up with the northeast trade wind and now we were in for a dolce far niente existence so far as storms, fogs, and raging seas were concerned. However, it was no sweet idleness for us, as the Italian phrase implies. The afterguard saw to that! Now, instead of going off duty when our regular watch was up at 8 A.M., after being on duty since 4, we’d have a hurried breakfast, then we’d be put to work about the decks and aloft doing a thousand and one different jobs. It was all hands on deck during daylight hours. No idling and daydreaming on the “Glencoyn”! On sailing vessels where the officers were human beings it was an accepted custom to allow the “free” men to lie down and sleep when they were not otherwise engaged, but not on the “Glencoyn.”

We kept sailing on and were making good progress towards our port. Our sails were always full and we rarely touched a brace or a fall, except to tighten them up a bit; we were still in the trades. Gradually, however, the trade wind died out as we approached the doldrums, that belt of calms, squalls, and baffling winds so dreaded by the ship captains, officers, and crews of the sailing era. We’d see our skipper wet his index finger and hold it up to feel where the wind might be coming from, then we’d trim our sails to take advantage of this minor breath; the next few minutes we’d trim them around to catch another little zephyr. In between, thunderous squalls would strike us, deluging us with torrential rains. Thus we replenished our water supply and also gave our bodies a good scrubbing, first having soaped ourselves from top to toe.

Little by little we worked ourselves out of this “belt of curses,” having crossed the equator in the meantime. As we [70] neared the Cape of Good Hope, we fell in with the king of birds, the albatross, which soared in regal splendor above our ship. A small sea bird, the stormy petrel (“Mother Carey’s chickens,” as sailors call them), flew around us by the tens of hundreds. The skipper caught these by the score, and I was now given a new occupation, that of feather plucker. Many sacks were filled, later to be taken to Norway to be made into quilts and other bedding material.

Rounding the Cape of Good Hope, we stood up to the north and into the Mozambique Channel. Beira, our destination, was about halfway up the channel, across from the island of Madagascar. Skipper Gjertsen, for all his sadistic cruelty, was a good navigator, and we made the entrance to Beira on the nose, even though we could see nothing of the entrance except the tops of a number of palm trees, the land being that low. The captain chose low tide to sail in. From a perch high in the rigging where he could see the channel, which was quite narrow and circuitous, he conned the vessel into the harbor, a feat that had seldom, if ever, been done by a stranger before.

One day we were treated to a show of native justice. On a sandspit near our ship we saw a large number of natives all dressed in their best, rainbow-hued garments, holding court in the process of banishing two young women who had been caught consorting with white men. We saw them put into a native dugout, just those two, then we saw them paddling off, where to, no one knew. But we saw, too, several Portuguese in starched whites and wide cork helmets supervising the work near our ship, cracking enormously long whips. They were as expert at this as any South American vaquero. These Portuguese were all small men, not much over five feet, whilst the Zulus were all about six. The power of mind over matter, perhaps.

Beira lay not very far from the jungle; we could hear the roar of lions, the trumpetings of elephants, and other jungle sounds at night from where we lay at anchor. The “city” was [71] one long main street shaded by palm trees, a sidewalk ex tending from one end to the other. There were wide verandas attached to the houses of the Europeans. Outside of that there was only sand, and if a white person wanted to go out any distance he’d call for natives to carry him, being lord of all!

Africa - the wind that came from the jungle-bound land had a quality that is difficult to describe. It had a velvety touch, even though it blew hard with a sort of organlike undertone. It had a psycho-physical effect on one’s senses, an effect compounded of all the mysteries of that dark continent - the spell of Africa.

Two of our crewmen, Hans, our able seaman, and “young-man” (apprentice) Gustav, jumped ship to try their luck as foremen-slave drivers-on a railroad construction job, at 25 pounds sterling a month and found, on the road being built from Beira to Buluwayo in Southern Rhodesia to connect with the “all-red” (all-British) Cape-to-Cairo line. With our crew reduced to eight, we set sail for the island of Mauritius, a comparatively short voyage. We were to load a cargo of sugar in Port Louis for Karachi in the Arabian Sea.

Port Louis lies right in the path of the hurricanes that ravage those latitudes. For that reason extraordinary precautions were taken to moor visiting ships in the harbor. A “skin diver” would go to the bottom of the harbor and reeve a gantline through a heavy ring fastened to the bottom, whereupon we dropped our anchor chains down to him; he then shackled them to this mooring. The ship’s anchors could not be trusted. In addition, every sailing vessel had to lower her topgallant masts and yards. A few months before we came, in spite of these measures, one especially savage blow had broken many ships away from their moorings and had caused them to tear into each other; many were sunk. Luckily for us, the hurricane season was not on when we were there.

We now got replacements for the two who had deserted [72] our ship in Beira. One of these was a Negro, a descendant of the slaves whom the British had brought over from the dark continent to work the sugar cane. He spoke a kind of patois, part French, part English, and the rest what his forebears had brought with them. I learned my first “English” from him; for instance, “travaka” (trabajo) stood for work in his vocabulary. It took me a long time to unlearn the “English” he taught me. Jim had a white heart and I’m glad that I had a chance to know and to care for this black man in my early life. The other man was a Spaniard, José by name, but to look at him you’d think he was a Nordic, with his fair hair and blue eyes; no doubt he was a descendant of the Vikings who wooed and won many a lass of his country and left their blue eyes and fair hair behind.

Having taken on a full load of raw sugar we took off for Karachi, a voyage of approximately 1,800 sea miles. Fair winds favored us on our way up the Indian Ocean, but near the Maldive Islands, off the southern tip of Ceylon, we were in danger of being blown on the windward shore of those rocky islets. A gale of storm force set us toward the rocks and our ship seemed almost helpless in the face of this furious wind and sea. Here I must pay another tribute to the seamanship of Captain Gjertsen. He ordered every sail on the ship that canvas and cordage could stand and we managed to claw our way up to windward and out of danger. The ship heeled over till her lee yardarms almost touched the sea; every joint and seam groaned and creaked, the gale causing a satanic sound of fury through our rigging and top hamper. Heavy seas, spume, and spray raked our ship from fore to aft. Strange, how after a lifetime such episodes will come back so vividly to one’s mind!

From then on our sailing up along the west coast of India was comparatively uneventful. Early one night, however, as we were coasting along, making perhaps seven to eight knots, a native sailing craft, a dhow, edged over towards us, being on a parallel course to ours and making about the same [73] speed. When she came within fifteen or twenty feet of us we began wondering if she was some sort of privateer bent on boarding us and putting us to the sword! We did not see a single person on her deck except a shadowy figure at the wheel and a faint light from his binnacle. Gathering a number of rocks, bolts, and shackles, three or four of us in unison threw these objects down on her deck, making a terrific racket. Her helmsman had evidently dozed off; now he woke up and the first thing we heard was loud banging on a bass drum, the hoarse shouting of men tumbling up on her deck, and the sudden sheering off of the dhow from our side. On Moslem vessels bells are not allowed, it being forbidden by their religion.

Soon we were met by a number of rakish-looking sailing craft - bumboats they were called in the Orient - that sailed up alongside in the smartest of fashion, hooked on to us, and boarded our ship with the wares they wanted to sell. These merchants were Parsees, wore shovel-shaped beards, and had jewels in their turbans; a distinguished-looking lot. {3} It seemed a pity that they had to engage in sordid trade for a living! We welcomed especially the fresh produce and fruits they brought. They also spread before us what seemed to us the wealth of the Indies; silks of all kinds and hues. Rubies were displayed in great numbers. We learned later that most of these were synthetic and had been made in Birmingham, England. We bought all our account could stand, Gjertsen, no doubt, getting his percentage on the deal.

Karachi then was not the city it has since become, being now the capital of Pakistan, but was nevertheless a thriving seaport. We lay to anchor in the roadstead and our cargo was discharged into craft that resembled the dhow we had met off the coast. This type of craft has one large lateen sail, the spar of which is secured to the mast at an angle of about 45 degrees. When this sail was to be stowed, a boy clambered up the spar as the native does who “walks” up a slanting [74] palm tree to bring down the coconuts. Boys of his kind were as agile as monkeys.

One Sunday a small party of us went ashore sight-seeing. The British being the lords of creation thereabouts at that time, we noticed the tommies in their smart uniforms and sun helmets, all carrying short swagger sticks with which to flick off the natives, looking down their noses at them if they got in their way. No wonder they were not loved in that country. Much the same relationship existed all through the Orient. I myself have seen signs in the parks of Shanghai and other places saying, “Chinese and dogs not allowed.”

Our sugar cargo being discharged, we began loading flour for our return voyage to Port Louis in Mauritius. In Port Louis, for the second time, we went through the same routine for mooring the ship as before. As we needed sailors for re placements, two natives of the French island of Reunion were signed on. These two (I forget their names) were Malagasy, akin to Malayans, gentle creatures with big brown eyes. {4} When we had taken on another full cargo of sugar, we left Mauritius, bound for Sydney, Australia. We were now to head in a southeasterly direction, to pick up that constant great wind blowing from the west and referred to as “running the Eastern down” by the sailors of the world. Sailing ships bound to Australia from European ports traversed the North and South Atlantic, passing the southern tip of Africa, thence into the South Indian Ocean, where they picked up this big wind that carried them on its crest to the shores of Australia, the “land down under.”

To pick up this wind a ship had to steer south, making a latitude as far south as 50 degrees, sometimes even more. Edging towards the south, we saw the islands of St. Paul and Amsterdam, lonely spots in those seldom frequented waters. We had now picked up the big wind and it was getting colder by the hour - no warm sea current tempers the climate there. Our two Malagasy suffered greatly from the cold. Their [75] fingers stiffened so they could hardly open and shut their hands, and when they were sent aloft they would try to grasp the rigging with their wrists instead of their hands. Poor chaps, they were next to useless in those hard latitudes.

The wind blowing over leagues and leagues of sea built up a tremendous sea from astern. Our ship, being about the same length as the distance between crest and crest, would go racing down into a hollow to rise again to the top of another following sea, as though we were coasting on a gigantic, Gargantuan roller coaster. When we were down in the hollow, we saw the following sea, astern of us, looking like a green mountainside topped with white. Most of the time there had to be two men at the wheel steering.

It was in a situation of this kind that skipper Gjertsen for got how hot-blooded a Spaniard can be. José was at the wheel with another man; when the skipper didn’t think he worked the wheel fast enough, he stormed up to him, kicked him, and hit him with all his might in the face, at the same time calling him every foul name he could think of. At this, José let go the wheel, pulled out his sheath knife and ran after the skipper, who, when he saw what was coming, ran as fast as he could, and made for his cabin. The next morning when it came time for José to go on watch again he was nowhere in sight; we searched the ship from one end to the other but he could not be found. It then began to dawn on us what had happened - it was too late to launch a boat, and too dangerous - the seas running mountain-high; be sides, José, if still alive, was too far astern for that. . . . No, José was never to see his Spain again, never again to see the orange groves of his country, never to see his kin again or his sweetheart, if he had one.

One afternoon, with all our sails drawing and a spanking breeze blowing, I was sent aloft to seize the buntlines on the royal yard, which were everlastingly getting broken. The royal braces being taut and well secured, it was safe to go out in the footropes, even to the yardarm, which I did. All at [76] once the yard began swaying back and forth and the sail billowed up before me and commenced slamming around; I had great difficulty in holding on and making my way in towards the mast and safety. This couldn’t have happened by itself; someone had cast off and let go that brace down on deck. The only one visible on deck was Skipper Gjertsen. We were now nearing our destination, Sydney, a port with consular agents and white man’s justice, where wrongs suffered over many months could be aired. Was someone trying to strike out the evidence? As I write these lines, I realize how close I was to being jolted off that yard and into the sea, to join my shipmate José.

Five, six days more and we were off Sydney, having come about 6,000 sea miles since leaving Port Louis, Mauritius. It had been an eventful voyage, stark and brutal; but now we were to be in a snug harbor, to enjoy fresh, good food and to encounter friendly, hospitable people, the recent unpleasantnesses soon forgotten. Most sailors have that faculty, I’ve learned; those who haven’t soon leave the sea.


Sydney has the most beautiful harbor in the world. Rio de Janeiro’s, too, is famed for its beauty, but where that harbor is one of sweeping, curving beaches, Sydney’s is one of coves indenting the shores on both sides. Between the coves, the headlands jutting into the bay are profusely arboreal, dotted with white cottages with red roofs; it makes a most pleasing sight. It was a case of love at first sight when we entered this beautiful landlocked haven. Little did I suspect, that day, that Australia was to be my adopted land for the next four or five years.

Our two seamen from Reunion, being rather useless as sailors on a short-manned ship, now were paid off and turned over to the French consul, who had them sent to the island of New Caledonia, a French possession in the South Seas. We wondered what was to become of these gentle creatures there; [77] were they to be sent into the nickel mines, never to see their native island again? Three replacements in our crew now had to be made, and from then on, while the “Glencoyn” remained in Australian waters, these were to be of a heterogeneous, foot-loose kind, not always of the best. One even went so far as to bring a woman of the streets into our foc’sle for an all-night stay, with the rest of us being witness to the sordid episode.

Our vessel now was chartered for a six-month period to sail between Brisbane and ports in northern Queensland. Rounding Cape Moreton, we entered the estuary of the Brisbane River, 15 miles from the town. To save towage fees, Skipper Gjertsen decided to sail all the way up to our dock. The river is rather narrow and winding and, as we sailed along, our sails and rigging cast sharp shadows on the river bank. Scores of youngsters ran along with us, shouting, whistling, and having the time of their lives. A sailing ship of that size had never been known to sail up the river before. This feat earned us headlines in the newspapers, and we became the lions of the day, our ship being visited by large numbers of people who came to see us and invite us to their homes.

Now we entered into a kind of treadmill-like existence in our coastwise trade between Brisbane and Townsville in the North. We carried ironbark railroad ties - “sleepers,” they call them there - north, and brought raw sugar, pineapples, and such products south. On one occasion we were towed all the way south, our ship being thus reduced almost to the status of a barge. Cairns, too, we visited, and I remember seeing sturdy Japanese carrying 110-pound sacks of sugar on their backs, running up ramps to pile the sugar up to the rafters in the sugar house. Conveyors hadn’t been invented then. Here I first learned to sail a small boat, since I had to ferry between the ship and the sugar house, a distance of several miles. As our coastwise charter was about to expire, and the coming departure of the “Glencoyn” for other shores was shortly at hand, I obtained my release from the ship that [78] had been my near-prison for almost two years. How that ship belied her name, “Glencoyn” - a cozy, friendly valley!

Now I was on my own among strangers in a land far removed from my native country, and not too well versed in the English language. Before long I landed a job on a small sailing schooner loading lumber for Townsville. The skipper-owner, supervising the loading, saw to it that not an inch of space was lost, calling to the shore for lengths that were the exact size in width and breadth. When the “Tom Fisher” was loaded, she was loaded! On our return from the north we made Maryborough, a small town about two hundred miles north of Brisbane.

This was the home port of a fleet of “blackbirders,” as they were called. They were sleek-looking, yacht-like sailing schooners, gleaming black with white-painted cannon ports, engaged in carrying South Sea Islanders from their native islands, mostly the Solomon group, to Australia. These islanders were recruited - kidnapped would be a more correct name for it - for labor in the sugar plantations of Queens land and were indentured for a period of two years. The “recruiting” was supposed to have the sanction of the chief of the island, but most of the time it was accomplished by sending a “bellwether,” a native who had been in Australia, decked out in all the finery dear to the native heart, to lure them on board the “blackbirder.” Once the natives were on board, sails were quickly set and there was no returning to the home village. This traffic became so evil and pernicious when carried on by vessels not sailing under the Australian flag that a law was passed forbidding ships or citizens of a foreign country to take part in it. I had a romantic desire to go on a cruise of this kind, but on account of my nationality as a Norwegian subject there was to be no “kidnapping” for me.

I now joined the crew of the “Constance,” a former “black birder,” which now was reduced to cargo carrying. But this vessel sank and we were left high and dry. Our wages from [79] the “Constance” having gone to the bottom, and no chance available for a ship, three members of the crew and I took jobs as laborers on a railroad construction project under way in the interior. We were now to become “navvies” - men who work with pick and shovel. When we were on our way out to the “never-never country,” our train climbed a steep grade till we reached the plateau 3,000 to 4,000 feet above the sea, passing through Charters Towers, a mining town that had yielded fortunes in gold and silver. Arriving at the end of the railroad, we found ourselves in typical Australian bush country, parched, undulating terrain with clumps of herbaceous trees scattered about over the flat immense countryside. We saw no sign of birds or other wild animals except an occasional emu - an Australian cousin of the African ostrich - scampering across the fields. We were told that we had to tramp about 10 miles to where the construction was going on. On our way out we crossed a river that was no river, the bed being completely dry. However, when we dug holes in the river bottom we found water 4 to 5 feet down. Carrying “billycans” we then set about making tea, the in variable drink of the hobo, or “sundowner,” as they call him in that country. A “sundowner” is an itinerant laborer ranging the bush country “looking” for work. He always arrives at a ranch or station at sundown, the unwritten law being that no one may be refused food and shelter at such an hour. We came across such a station on our way out: it had an artesian well spouting water to a height of 8 to 10 feet, filling a circular basin 50 feet in diameter. The surrounding land that was being irrigated by this water was a veritable oasis in the desert, and we saw sheep by the hundreds feeding on the lush grass. The big ranch house and surrounding out houses seemed like a little village; the owner of the place, which included thousands of acres, was king of his domain there in the Australian bush country.

Wending our weary way, we came to a little tent encampment on the side of the road. Sitting there at an outdoor [80] office, under an awning, we saw a patriarchal-looking elderly gentleman, who, when he saw us, beckoned us to come over, putting out camp chairs for us to sit on. Soon learning from Christian’s and my accents that we were Norwegians, he told us that he also had come from Norway. He had sailed to Australia thirty years before, and, liking the country, had obtained his discharge from an English sailing vessel, on which he had served as carpenter. He had married and raised a large family, one of his sons being a foreman on the construction job to which we were going. He gave us a note to take to him. The father was now an inspector for the government, keeping an eagle eye on the material going into different jobs, such as the right proportion of cement, gravel, and sand in the concrete used, the proper spacing and bedding of the ties under the rails, and so forth. We learned later that he showed no favoritism; in fact, he was even stricter with his son than with any of the others. He invited us to have lunch with him and we were regaled with johnnycake that he had baked bush-fashion in a preheated hole in the ground; it was delicious. Another dish that intrigued us consisted of pieces of mutton or lamb festooned alternately with bacon and onions on a long stick and broiled over the hot coals. With good New Zealand butter, Australian jam, and Ceylon tea, our mixed company had a real cosmopolitan feast with bush flavor.

The lunch being over, we set out for the job ahead. There everything was bustle and activity, cranes clanging and spouting steam, hoisting and swinging the rails for laying on the prepared bed, horses pulling scrapers ahead to level the ground, the voices of men urging the horses to greater efforts and directing the work all over the place. Here was pioneering, here was opening up and taming the wilderness, and a vague feeling came over us that we, too, could contribute in a small way to that task. We met the son and he found work for us. The four of us were organized into an additional concrete-mixing gang. Our stage or platform measured 12 by 12 [81] feet and was made up of planks laid edge to edge. We stood two on each side and turned the mixture over with broad shovels, the ingredients being constantly wheelbarrowed in to us. The mass had to be turned two or three times, the “patriarch” watching and testing. It was no easy job and when the day was done we were done too. After a while, how ever, we got jobs painting bridges and viaducts, work more in keeping with our shipboard experience.

This upland country had an altitude of 4,000 feet and the nights were bitterly cold even though the latitude was 20 degrees south, a near-tropical country. If we left a bucket full of water outside, in the morning it was frozen solid. In the daytime we were pestered with myriads of flies and microscopic gnats. It was not the most pleasant environment. The four of us had one 6 - by 10 - foot tent together, and when we turned in at night, we lay like so many sardines in a tin; when one turned, we all had to turn. After about two months of this, I had saved a pound or two and, feeling the call of the sea again, I pulled up stakes, leaving Christian, “‘Arry,” and Reggie behind. I never saw or heard of these three again. The two cockneys were the best of fellows, regaling us with stories of their former life in London and knowing all the popular songs of the time. I was really sorry to leave those endearing chaps.

A trainload of steers was leaving for the coast and I obtained free passage, earning my way by being a steer puncher - my job was to patrol the top of the cars from a boardwalk running the whole length of the train, armed with a pole with a sharp point, with which I would prod the steers if they tried to lie down. Should one of them do that the rest would trample it to death. I succeeded in my job, and, after a day and a night, we made Townsville and salt water with our cargo intact.

The sea had called and here I was. My sailing now became more wide-ranging; I obtained a job on a steamer running to western Australia, to Perth and Fremantle in that [82] gold-rich country. This vessel, the “Kalgorly,” was named after that richest of all alluvial mining centers in western Australia. {5} We’d call at Melbourne and Adelaide before setting out across that wide indentation in the continent, the Great Australian Bight. At Adelaide one day I saw a large Norwegian sailing vessel, the “Polaris.” Talking to one of the boys, I found him to be a friend of my brother Thorbjørn, who had asked him to look for me in Australia; what a coincidence! How small can the world become? The “Polaris” was discharging a cargo of Norway spruce and pine, dressed lumber; and the fragrant smell of that wood brought nostalgic memories of the resin-laden forests of that distant country of my boy hood.

The run across the Australian Bight was one of the stormiest ones in those waters; “dusters,” one after the other, would assail our vessel and everything had to be battened down to such an extent that to all purposes we resembled a submarine, with green seas washing over our vessel from stem to stern. Arrival in Perth, a snug river port, was a great relief after our buffeting about. Our return voyage wasn’t so bad, because then we had the wind and sea with us. I was now footloose again, in Melbourne.

The Boer War in South Africa had turned against the Boers and the sight of the large concentration camps that interned women and children, besides the sympathy that one feels for the underdog, impelled me to want to do something for their cause. Many Australians felt the same way and found their way to South Africa to join their forces. I wanted to do the same.

A British steamer, the “City of Rome,” was lying in the harbor loading horses for the British army over there and when I had a chance to obtain a job as quartermaster - helmsman - on this vessel, I jumped at it, with the intention of deserting the ship at Durban, Natal, at which port we were to discharge our horses and from where it was fairly [83] easy to cross over to the Boer lines. The “City of Rome” carried 750 horses. She was an old vessel and had orlop deck, lower and upper ‘tweendeck, and main deck. On top of that they had erected stalls; thus there were horses on four levels, and on top of that feed was piled sky high. The poor beasts were terribly crowded. This vessel, being old, had no electric system, so an acetylene plant was put on board, as this was less dangerous than kerosene lamps. This plant was installed just aft of the wheelhouse. When we got to sea, the fumes and odor from it nearly asphyxiated us when we’d be at the near-by wheel, steering.

After a couple of days at sea we ran into a storm and, with the vessel laboring and pitching hard, we lost our propeller. Now we were completely helpless; soon the vessel fell into the trough of the sea and began rolling most unmercifully. First the feed that had been stowed on top of the stalls, on the main deck, went by the board, then the stalls tore loose from their fastenings and began coming apart, the horses inside of them being thrown about hither and yon, giving vent to bleating cries in their extremity. On the other decks below, the welter of chaos and confusion was even worse, for there, the lights having failed, was Stygian darkness. With day breaking next morning, after a frightening night, we succeeded in building and putting out a large sea anchor; we also rigged, with tarpaulins and other canvas, a makeshift sail in the after rigging to hold the vessel’s head up into the wind and sea. This eased the violent rolling considerably and we now began to take stock of what had happened to our poor horses. We found about 300 dead, trampled to death, and about 100 so badly injured that we had to put pistols to their heads. Our ship had to be towed back to port.

Arriving back in Melbourne, we were ordered to lie far out in the harbor. Lighters came alongside and now the repulsive job of hoisting the dead horses over onto these lighters began, several large lighters being filled and towed out to sea, where they were dumped. The few surviving horses [84] were taken ashore again. They didn’t go to the Boer War. Neither did I.


I now joined the steamer “Paroo” to proceed to Fremantle in western Australia, there to pick up a hundred or more gold miners who had booked passage for Skagway and Dyea, Alaska, where they planned to make it over the pass into the Klondike. This was at a time when the whole world had become electrified with news from Seattle that a vessel had brought in a ton of gold from the Klondike. First we went to Newcastle in New South Wales, where we loaded a full cargo of coal to be delivered in Honolulu, Hawaii, also enough bunker coal for our own use. We arrived in Fremantle in the middle of December, the hottest month of the year in the “land down under.” Our passengers included a sprinkling of women, who came on board in the lightest clothing possible. We thought of the contrast the snow and ice-bound country they would find in two or three months’ time would be to their present environment.

Our first port of call was Auckland, New Zealand, where we replenished our fresh water and food supply and took on a score or more of hopeful miners. The next stop was at Apia, Samoa, where we again took on fresh provisions and water. Our steamer carried only enough fresh water for her boilers to steam about 3,000 miles. This stop was a most welcome break in our rather monotonous trip across the Polynesian Sea. All hands went swimming in the limpid waters of the bay; coconut milk was drained off in great quantities, and a luau with native dancing was put on for the benefit of our ship’s company. The next leg, one of about 2,200 to 2,300 miles, took us to Honolulu, where we discharged our coal cargo.

Ahead of us now lay another leg of about 2,400 miles and as we steamed towards Vancouver, British Columbia, the North Star rose higher and higher in the heavens and the [85] temperature gradually grew colder. Our prospective Klondikers began to acclimatize themselves by sleeping out on deck at night and otherwise conditioning themselves for the weather ahead. Arriving at Vancouver, we found the place booming, the stores specializing in selling outfits for the North. Hastily put-up canvas emporiums were underselling the big stores. Sled dogs by the hundreds were running about the town yelping and barking. Gold, gold, gold was in the air, and nothing else mattered. The harbor was full of steamers, large and small, taking passengers and freight for Skagway and other ports in the North. We transferred our miners to one of these vessels and our “Mission Klondike” was now at an end. Strangely enough, with all that excitement and wealth beckoning up there in the El Dorado of the North, not one of our crew deserted.

We now proceeded to a sawmill-loading port called Chemainus, about 50 or 60 miles from Vancouver. The milieu, the activities, and the life of the people in Chemainus were a revelation to us. The near-by logging camps, where the giant Douglas firs were cut down and prepared for the sawmill, were harvesting on a prodigious scale. We wondered how long this could go on, leaving the vast, scarred wasteland in its wake. It seemed a merry game at the time without too much thinking of the future - “after me the deluge.” The loggers, French Canadians and Scandinavians (“big Swedes”), were a picturesque lot with their rainbow-hued shirts and mackinaws, men who could drink enormous quantities of beer, and harder stuff, too.

The myriad activities of the sawmill, the whine of the multiple saws cutting through the logs as though they were made of cheese, the sweet, resinous fragrance from the woods permeating the whole neighborhood, and the clean invigorating air of the place acted as a bracing tonic both to body and spirit. Life here was different from the sun-baked life in Australia, and a thought began simmering in my head of returning some day.[86]


In the midsummer of 1902 the America bug bit me hard and, being in Newcastle, I decided to apply for a job on an American vessel that would take me to those shores. I was by then forced to realize that my chances for advancement under the Union Jack were very slim. Men of my nationality, indeed of all nationalities using the affirmative “Ja” instead of “Yes,” were lumped together as Dutchmen, and prejudice against us was pretty strong; clannishness was everywhere.

An American sailing vessel, the barkentine “James Johnson,” was being loaded and readied for sea and needed a crew; six of us signed on for a voyage, to terminate upon arrival in the United States. The ship, being a barkentine, carried square sails, yards on the foremast and fore and aft sails on the other three. She was a brave-looking craft of the approved Pacific coast type, built of wood, with shallow holds. When loaded with coal, she sat very deep in the water. Her houses were all on the main deck and she had a half-deck afterhouse. She was a family ship, Captain Benneche having his wife and two small children with him. The captain and both mates were of Norwegian birth but now American citizens. I felt very elated being on an American vessel for the first time in my life. We six sailors were a polyglot crew, three of us being Norwegians, two, Finns, and one, an Englishman. Clear of the harbor, seeing the coast of Australia fading in the distance, not to see it again for two or more decades, I felt it strange to go aloft and once more become a sailor after having put in so much time in steam.

The voyage was made pleasant for us when, in the tropics, under the awnings, we could watch the children playing about the poop deck, while we were at the wheel. The skipper’s wife, too, came as near to being friendly as her position would allow. When one day she noticed my clumsy attempt at making a cap, she took it away from me and made me a very good one. She played the violin well and often entertained us as we stood at the wheel, on starry nights, the [87] strains floating up to us. Captain Benneche had first met her in New Zealand where she was a barmaid, a not unusual occupation in that country. Years later I learned that Captain Benneche, after holding a high-ranking shore position with a San Francisco steamship company, had taken up chicken ranching at Petaluma, a dream dear to many a seaman’s heart.

In Honolulu our vessel was tied up at the wharf not far from the jail, which was generally referred to as the “Reef,” being located so near the sea. From aloft on our ship we could look down into the yard or compound of this institution. At mealtime we could see the inmates sitting about in separate groups around their utensils, eating in their own national styles. The poi pots were most numerous, of course, the inmates being mostly Hawaiians. But there were other nationalities, Chinese, Japanese, and even some white men. Several of the latter, hard-case mates and skippers, were in for assault with deadly weapons, using iron belaying pins on defenseless seamen. The mates on American sailing ships found it hard to resist using a “little” physical prompting on the wretches dumped on them by the crimps and boarding house runners who had rounded them up. {6} A salty skipper, a friend of mine, told me that when he boarded his first ship as a boy, he innocently asked the second mate what made the ship go; the man, clenching his fist, held it up and said, “This, my boy, is what makes the ship go.”

The practice of physical “prompting” died hard and I, with my own eyes, saw a by-product of it. An American full-rigger, the “John Ena,” was being towed out of Honolulu harbor when we heard shots being fired from it. Two sailors had jumped overboard and were swimming towards shore to desert the ship, which, they had learned belatedly, was a “hell ship.” The skipper and his wife were running about on the poop deck taking pot shots at these men in the water. [88] Luckily, they were poor marksmen; none of the men was hit, though we saw the bullets throwing up spurts of water all around them.

Almost everywhere that I went ashore during my years at sea I encountered Norwegians. On a later trip to Honolulu I had a rather unusual experience. I had joined the crew of the “Robert Lewers” in Seattle a couple of weeks before Christmas in 1902, and we set out for Grays Harbor, where we loaded lumber for Hawaii. There I was shortly to meet the last wretched remnant of an expedition that many years earlier had set out from Norway with high hopes of winning quick fortunes in the sugar fields of the Sandwich Islands, as Hawaii was then called. My story concerns a man whom I shall call Andreas, who as a lad of nineteen had left Norway with many others to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities to be had on the sugar plantations on the islands. They were a heterogeneous, dissimilar lot, but most of them were soil-born country folk. One group of 327, of which 84 were women and 65 children, embarked on the Norwegian bark “Beta,” while 238 others sailed on the bark “Musca.” Both vessels sailed around Cape Horn, encountering very heavy weather even though it was summer. The “Musca” was forced to call at Valparaiso to replenish her provisions and repair damage to her hull and rigging. The immigrants finally arrived despondent and beaten, assailed as they had been by wind and sea and all the vagaries of the elements.

After the Norwegians got over the novelty of their new life, existence in Hawaii seemed pretty drab to most of them and they longed to return to their former way of life. To many they seemed like so many shipwrecked seamen, stranded on an island and surrounded, at a distance, by people who were brown, yellow, and semiwhite, who spoke in different tongues and lived their lives apart. If the Norwegians couldn’t have spoken to each other, they would have gone mad. How were they going to endure this yet another two or three years? What about Andreas? [89]

The days, the months and the years, 1881, 1882, and 1883, dragged their weary feet across the lives of our Argonauts. To many of them the enchanted isles seemed more like the accursed isles! They could not take root in the Hawaiian soil. Word of their plight reached Norway; the government there, after a note to King Kalakaua, sent a warship to the islands, picked up a large number of the immigrants, and returned them to their country. A few remained and advanced to prominence in the islands; some departed for the United States. {7}

Andreas missed the roundup. When he learned of it he became a castaway. His anchors dragging, the frail craft Andreas drifted nearer and nearer to the rock-bound coast called Despair. One day he walked around the water front in Honolulu and saw a large sailing ship discharging pine and spruce that she had brought from Norway. Nostalgia seized Andreas and he decided to stow away, only to discover that he was aboard a vessel bound for Puget Sound. He determined to give the islands another try, so he returned, and gradually he began going native. By the time I saw him he had long ceased to write to his people in Norway. He had taken unto himself a wahine, a “utility wife,” and had a few offspring that ran around the village, naked and unkempt. The worst news was that he had learned to make “swipes,” a liquor made from the ti root which, when fermented, has the kick of a Missouri mule. This he drank and sold to other addicts; it was his principal source of income. Our man was sinking lower and lower. He had forgotten all he had learned near his childhood cradle in Norway, even his name. It now was “Note-Haole.”

Early in 1903 I saw Note-Haole in Lahaina, island of Maui, when I visited that port as a seaman on the four masted sailing schooner “Robert Lewers.” I described my encounter with him in my diary: [90]

Ashore one day and talking with some natives I happened to overhear one of them, seemingly a native, yet not a native. The Hawaiian sun had burned his skin to a hickory brown. On closer perusal I noticed that his eyes were blue and when he spoke he muttered a few Norwegian words with his Kanaka English. He was the worst ragamuffin I’d ever seen; his dirty undershirt and pants were all rags. He had gone completely native, a perfect example of what degeneration will do to a person. Here I hasten to add that men in their native state are not de generate. It is the white man living among them, picking up their few vices, the interest on which he compounds ten-fold, that degenerates. It is he that becomes a sodden individual, a beach comber.

When I heard the ragamuffin use those few, disconnected Norwegian words, I asked him if he were Norwegian and whether he had come here with the other immigrants about twenty-five years ago. His face seemed to light up and he answered me in what was supposed to be his native language, but which I had great difficulty in understanding: “Yes, I came and now you see what it has done to me. I’ve tried several times to shake off the deadening stupor that I’ve fallen into, but with no success. Life here is intolerable, and I can’t go back where I came from. What shall I do, what can I do?” Eventually Andreas, alias “Note-Haole,” died of natural causes. By resisting the temptation to suicide he perhaps thought that he vindicated himself, at least partially.


Our coal cargo having been discharged in Hawaii, we were on our way again, this time to Puget Sound. The North Pacific was not especially stormy for that time of the year and after a voyage of eighteen to twenty days we rounded Tatoosh Island, bound up the Straits of Juan de Fuca. In 1902, with numerous sailing ships arriving off the cape, a large fleet of towboats lay about, and the competition between these has provided material for some tall tales, epics of the sea and the straits, “Tugboat Annie” and “Cappy Ricks” being some of the best known. We saw some of it; two tugs, competitors, ranged up alongside of us, one on [91] each side of our afterdeck, and began bidding against each other for the job of towing us to Port Townsend, 90 miles up the straits. As we had fair wind and were making good progress on our own, special inducements to our skipper seemed called for; the fee was steadily lowered, gestures were made indicating that a new hat or even a new suit was in the offing! All in vain, however; we kept on sailing and at last they had to give us up as a bad job. They turned and went back to their stations off the cape to try for other fish. The wind and tide held and we made Port Townsend harbor, where we anchored to await pratique from the United States marine doctor and to make customs entry.

Port Townsend was quite a place in those days, the harbor crowded with sailing ships of all sizes and nationalities, as this was where they entered and made final clearance. Ships bound for foreign ports also picked up their crews there and the place had earned an odious name for the most barefaced exploitation of seamen by the despicable crews of boarding house keepers and their even more disreputable minions, the runners. The latter boarded ships upon their arrival from the sea, and by plying the unsuspecting sailors with bad whisky and sweet words, induced them to go to their respective boardinghouses when they had been paid off from their ships. Then followed a few days of “pleasure” and the sailor, before he was aware of it, found himself on board another ship, minus his pay from the last one, with a “donkey breakfast” and maybe a pound of tobacco and a bottle of something strong to assuage his troubled spirits. “Shanghaiing,” it was called, reduced to a fine art by those human leeches. One Port Townsend boardinghouse, built on piling over the bay-side, was reputed to have had a trap door and a chute, down which the victim was expedited to a boat waiting underneath, for delivery to his next ship. This odious institution was the first that Andrew Furuseth, called the “seamen’s emancipator,” trained his guns on and succeeded in destroying. {8} [92]

The “James Johnson,” having complied with all requirements, was towed to Port Blakely, a sawmill port across the sound from Seattle, Washington. This was where I first set foot on United States soil; I had entered the country through the back door! Next I went to Seattle, which was destined to be my home from then on. It was October 28, 1902, when we stepped ashore from the ferryboat; it was raining, and how it rained! We had to cross a number of railroad tracks, dodging railroad cars being switched back and forth and locomotives incessantly ringing strident bells, the first time I heard bells used for such a purpose - not too pleasant an introduction to my newly adopted country.

The Englishman in our crew, Jim, having been in Seattle before, undertook to find us a place to stay, after first having reported to the agent of the sailors’ union, Pete Gill, who accepted us for transfer from the Australian union of the same craft. {9} Jim took us to a place where he had lived before, but we found that a “madam” had established her business there, so we had to look for another hotel.

Seattle in those days was a wild and woolly town; wide open, it could be called. Gambling of all sorts was operating the clock around - roulette, faro, blackjack, craps, any and all kinds of games of chance - and there were dance halls, saloons, and dives of the lowest types. The city was run by bosses who, in order to win elections, would round up hundreds of itinerants, bums, pimps, and others of that ilk, house and feed them for the time they needed to register as voters, and then have them vote in great droves to return these bosses to power. A fine type of democracy! Crusades against this, against all that was indecent, were put on by the forces for civic betterment and we were treated to parades of men and women carrying banners denouncing the corruption and singing hymns, even invading the black hell.

Lavish free lunches were served in the saloons and all one had to do to get a meal was to buy a beer. In later years I’ve [93] heard men speak with nostalgic regret of the passing of this institution! Meal prices in Seattle then were extremely low, reckoned in the coin of today. A substantial meal could be had for as low as 25 cents, and I was especially fond of waffles and hot cakes, three-storied stacks with gobs of butter, and swimming in syrup, all for 10 cents.

Seattle in 1902 was a city of steep hills - later sluiced into the bay - plank sidewalks, and a real-estate boom, which lasted several years. On streetcars and from across the street men would call to each other: “How much did you make on that Lake Union deal? How much on your Wallingford holdings?” The boom was on and everybody rode it, high, wide, and handsome. I did not know what it meant; real estate - what was that?

Employment agencies, the padrone system, were the only channels through which employment in the woods, on construction jobs and domestic work, any kind of a job, could be obtained. On and around the “skid road,” large black boards were displayed listing jobs available, applicants paying $2.50 and more for each job. It was rumored that the greater the turnover, the more fees were pocketed by the sharks, and that a percentage of this blood money was apportioned to the employers - not conducive to steady employment, one would say.

Apropos of the “skid road”: very few of the itinerant workers of that day ventured outside its bounds. It was their precinct, their ghetto. “Skid road,” as a designation for a street or locality where down-and-outers congregate, has been widely adopted but is mostly written “skid row,” which is wrong. “Skid road” derived its name from the crude forest roads that had saplings laid crosswise on them to facilitate dragging the fallen timbers out of the forest. Most of the itinerants found around skid road in Seattle and other Northwest towns were loggers, hence the name seemed appropriate and stuck. We newcomers felt a sort of affinity for the place, too; we lived in a hotel on its periphery, ate inside its [94] boundaries, and in the evening listened to the various soap-boxers expounding their special ideas. The I.W.W.’s seemed to draw the biggest crowds, the Socialists the next, the gospel preachers almost none, except when they broke up, when the crowds would follow them for free doughnuts and coffee.

When I arrived in Seattle in 1902 the Indians were in much greater evidence than now. They came in their big canoes from British Columbia and other points north to pick the hops that grew in huge quantities near Seattle. They made their camp near tidewater, pulling their canoes up on the sandy beach, where they turned them over to serve as shelters. The older squaws who couldn’t pick hops so well went into the city, and we saw numbers of them sitting on the sidewalks surrounded by their handiwork, mainly baskets that they came to sell. Patience and imperturbability - they were the embodiment of them. Now those picturesque encampments and the sitting squaws are no more.

Our funds running low, and with no prospects of jobs on the sea, we too began scanning the blackboards. My two Finnish shipmates from the “James Johnson” and I then bought jobs on a railroad construction project of the Northern Pacific at Maple Valley, about 30 miles from Seattle. For the second time in my life I was to resort to railroad building as a stopgap. Our work consisted mainly in loading flatcars, throwing the dirt above our heads with long-handled shovels; not exactly a parlor game. We lived in a barracks-like boardinghouse where the food was good and plentiful. We took our lunch with us and ate it in the open in the cold, damp December weather. After about two months of this I decided that I had had enough of railroading for a while and made my way back to Seattle. My two Finnish friends remained at Maple Valley, having gotten jobs with axes and saws in the meantime. Give a Finn a sheath knife, it’s been said, and he can hew out a keelson or make a period cabinet.

When I arrived back in Seattle my name was pretty high on the list at the sailors’ union. I got a job as an able seaman [95] on the three-masted, “bald-headed” schooner, the “C. A. Thayer,” lying at Bellingham, loading lumber for Honolulu. I now learned that a seaman on a vessel of this type was a longshoreman first and a sailor second. We did all the loading, even to pushing heavy trucks, loaded with lumber, to the ship’s side; then we shoved it on board on rollers placed on the vessel’s railing. The skipper, another Norwegian, had his wife with him, a custom that was the rule rather than the exception in those days. It was a good life for a woman; the quarters were good, if not too large, and the food was served by the ship’s steward. I never saw any of these women appear bored; they always seemed to have plenty to do, embroideries by the yard, afghans one after the other. This ship, being “bald-headed,” did not carry topsails, hence we did not have to go aloft; she carried exceptionally large lower sails - another reason why this vessel could be manned by longshore men rather than sailors. All our sail handling was done from the deck or from the top of the deckload, which was really our main deck when loaded, When the ship was sailing light, no ballast was required, and when on the wind, she steered herself. In Honolulu, this time, I did not gallivant about the city much; after pushing lumber all day, in the heat of that place, stretching out under the awning with a book or just resting seemed preferable to roaming the streets.

The practice in those days was to pay the crew off upon arrival and not take on another until the vessel was ready to start loading for another voyage. Thus, there was never continuous employment and we were usually broke by the time another job came up.

In Seattle, after the usual interim, the bark “Florence,” commanded by Captain Spicer, a wooden vessel of about 1,600 tons, was ready for sea and required a crew. She had loaded coal in Tacoma and was to sail for Honolulu. At the sailors’ union the list was called; the twelfth and last man who answered to his name came immediately before mine. Had that twelfth man not taken the job I would not be [96] sitting here writing these memoirs. The “Florence” foundered outside of Cape Flattery in a December storm with man and mouse. Her only tombstone was a life ring that washed ashore on Vancouver Island and was found a year later. My time had not come yet, my guardian angel watching over me had decided.

Now my life on the Pacific coast was just one sailing schooner after the other. The prevailing run was to San Pedro in southern California from one or another sawmill in Puget Sound. I recall one schooner, the “Robert Lewers,” owned by the noted Honolulu firm of Lewers and Cook. I joined this vessel in Port Gamble, where she was loading part of her cargo. The cargo was to be completed in Grays Harbor. Her master, an Englishman by the name of Charlesworth, was a friendly and agreeable man and I was very sorry to learn, a few years later, that he had been washed overboard from his vessel and lost.

In the coastal trade between Puget Sound and California ports, and on the Hawaii run, I learned to know many officers and men, and I often heard of the “Scandinavian Navy,” a term applied to a fleet of lumber-carrying vessels on these runs that at one time numbered about 400. {10} Tradition has it that these vessels were mostly manned and officered by Scandinavians, although I myself usually sailed under an American, an English, or an Irish skipper. My trip on the “C. A. Thayer,” which had a Norwegian skipper, was an exception. This was in the early part of the century. It was not until later, on the Alaska run as mate or first officer, that I worked regularly under Scandinavian skippers. I remember particularly John Nord, a Swede, of the “Alaska,” and Captain Nystrom, also a Swede, of the “Ruth Alexander.” But there were so many captain Johnsons, Petersons, and Olsens on the coast from 1900 on that they had to have some special well-earned handles to their names. There were “Dogface [97] Johnson,” “Jib-boom Olsen,” “South-east Hansen,” “Hands and Feet Lindström,” and many others, a picturesque lot, all of them.

I sailed with men of all nationalities during my years at sea, and from 1902 on, on the coastal run, I knew many Germans, Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, and “Russian” Finns. I never sailed with an Icelander during these years, but one of my most unusual experiences at sea concerned a native of Iceland. About a week before Easter, 1903, I joined the crew of the four-masted schooner “Wilbert L. Cummins,” which was loading lumber at Old Town, Tacoma, Washington. As soon as I was settled on board, one of the old hands told me of an occurrence some months earlier on this ship that made my hair rise and left me with an uncomfortable feeling, to put it mildly. The story was this:

Several trips ago we had an Icelander in the crew whose name was Gudmundur. Before long we began to notice his peculiar behaviour. He’d keep aloof from the rest of us, hardly ever spoke a word, even when spoken to. Every once in a while he’d fish out of his pocket what looked like the New Testament, read something from it, then put it back into his pocket. Mumblings came from him as he’d lie in his bunk after turning in for the night. It was quite evident that he’d gone daft on religion. One evening as we were sitting around he spoke up, but to no one in particular: “The anniversary of the passion of Christ is near. He has called on me to have my passion too. His was on the Cross, mine will be in the flames.” We were all startled by this outburst but dismissed it as the irrational ramblings of a disturbed mind.

Came Thursday night and one of the boys, awake at midnight, noticed that Gudmundur was not in his berth. The next morning, Good Friday, we were awakened by thick, acrid smoke pouring into our quarters. Scurrying out on deck we saw the smoke coming up through the half-opened hatch leading down to the lower forehold. Several of us descended down into the hold and, horror of horrors, what did we see - a pyre had been built in the hatchway, now nearly consumed with fire, and on top of this lay what remained of Gudmundur. He had made his resolve good; he had followed the fate of his master, only in a different manner, in a different way. The wood had been saturated with oil, as was his clothing. The horrible drama had evidently been enacted quickly - a flash, blinding, choking smoke, then finis. [98]


In Seattle, my shipmate from the “Robert Lewers,” Scotch Jim Leggett, and I secured jobs on a passenger steamer, the “City of Seattle,” engaged in the southeastern Alaska run, Seattle to Skagway. Now I was to share in the life that, in a small way, I had helped Australians and New Zealanders experience several years earlier. Jim’s Masonic affiliations helped; he saw the mate of the “City of Seattle,” Bob McGilvray, in the lodge one evening and it was largely because of that chance meeting that we got our jobs. This vessel had refrigeration facilities and carried frozen meat in large quantities. When we arrived in Skagway, one of our jobs was to carry these heavy quarters of beef on our backs the whole length of the vessel’s ‘tweendecks and up a steep ramp leading to the dock above. Those quarters often weighed more than one hundred and fifty pounds each, no easy burden for a not too husky man. Like an ant, I carried a much heavier load than myself.

The “City of Seattle” was an old vessel and her steering apparatus was of the earlier, hand-operated kind. She had a large wheel in her pilothouse with Manila rope wound around its spindle, connected with chains and rods leading the whole length of the vessel to quadrants in the extreme afterend. In quiet waters one man could steer, but when we were negotiating turbulent waters such as Seymour Narrows, Wrangell Narrows, and other constricted channels where the tidal currents sometimes ran at 10 to 12 miles an hour, two and often four men had to man the wheel to keep the vessel on her course, and hard work it was at that.

There were many compensations in being a sailor on the “City of Seattle,” and in spite of the occasional hard work, I stayed on this vessel quite some time. However, no sailor is wedded to one ship very long and my next job was on an other Alaskan vessel, the “Dingo,” where I served as quartermaster or helmsman. There were only two of us and we stood watches of six hours apiece. Our “cabin” was deep [99] down below the water line (not allowed today). So I soon found another helmsman’s job on another Alaskan steamer, the “Jefferson,” one of the finest crafts then on the Alaska run. This vessel was skippered by one of those sixth-sense men, a Swedish-American of sterling worth, John Nord.

While on these Alaska boats we naturally heard a lot about the interior - the Yukon and other rivers of the northern country. So, when we had an opportunity to go to St. Michael as longshoremen for the season, my friend, George Oftiger, and I jumped at the chance. We were promised jobs as river-men if openings should come up later. About fifty of us sailed on the “Victoria” and landed at St. Michael, where without delay we took up our duties under “Nosy” Brooks, a noisy, would-be tough character. Before long I was appointed “captain” on one of the barges loaded for Fairbanks, 800 or 900 miles up river. My duties on the barge were those of super cargo, watchman, pumpman, and general roustabout. My barge, one of five, was pushed by a powerful stern-wheeler with heavy bumpers on her bow to which the barges ahead were tied. I was supposed to sleep on the stern-wheeler but, as a good riverman, I spread my bedding on bales of hay on the barge, or wherever a soft spot could be found. As a con cession I ate on the stern-wheeler!

Our towboat or pusher consumed a tremendous amount of wood, two men constantly feeding fuel into its ever-yawning fireboxes. Every so often we stopped at a woodpile on the river bank, where we took on 25 or 30 cords of wood at a time. All hands turned to at this and we minded loading wood less than we did the mosquitoes, which nearly ate us up.

Fairbanks. In 1904 gold had been discovered on the near by creeks; a stampede had taken place and the town had all the aspects of the early Yukon and Klondike in their hey day. The place teemed with prospectors, with full pokes coming in and empty ones going out. Every allurement designed to extract the dust from these men had been provided; the “line,” the dance hall, gambling joints. The air was made [100] hideous with tinny music coming from “shops” on the line and from the dance halls.

The smallest coin in use was a 25-cent piece. I heard an old-timer say that if ever a smaller coin came into use he would leave Alaska. Graybeard prospectors looked for “angels” to grubstake them for the hills and, when so supplied, were constantly taking off in their boats, carrying flour, bacon, and generous amounts of salt. A 22-mm. gun and fishing tackle provided the rest of their food. Many of the “girls,” by grubstaking some prospector, had struck it rich. Usually there would be two men to each boat, but sometimes this did not work so well. Stories were told of clashing temperaments that resulted in each going his own way after sawing their boat in two!

After a couple of trips on the river, I was made bosun -boatswain - of the gear locker in St. Michael. Here I made and took care of cargo gear in rope and wire. I also had charge of the paint and oil stores. The former bosun had just gone “outside” after a falling out with “Nosy” Brooks that terminated in fisticuffs in which that feature to which Brooks owed his nickname had taken an awful beating, keeping him out of sight for many days. Came the end of September and our turn of duty at St. Michael was at an end. Once more we boarded the “Victoria,” which landed us in Seattle with four months’ pay in our pockets. Not all were so fortunate. Several of our fellow workers had fallen afoul of the gamblers infesting the returning Alaska boats and did not have a red cent left to show for their season of hard work in the northland.

In the meantime I had obtained a first mate’s license and had a hankering for the Alaska rivers again. A friend, John Jensen, a Swedish Finn, and I decided to try our luck up there in the summer of 1911. Accordingly he and I boarded the “Victoria.” We landed at Valdez early in April, the snow still on the ground. Here we bought the few things we would need and started hiking to Fairbanks over the Richardson [101] Highway, a distance of 375 miles. “Mushing” they call it in Alaska. We figured it would take us about nineteen or twenty days. The mountain ranges ahead looked awfully formidable, making us quail with sinking hearts, but it was go ahead, put one foot before the other, and we’d get there in time. The roadhouses along the Richardson Highway were paced 920 or so miles apart, so we were assured of food and lodging on the way. Our second roadhouse was at the summit that we reached that first evening. All we could see of the place was the top of the chimney and a ladder reaching up above the snow. We descended the ladder and reached a large room below. In the twilight dusk of the room we saw 8 or 10 men sitting around. They were Slovaks, bound for the interior, where they were to work in the drifts of the gold mines. The pay at that time was $5.00 a day and found, munificent wages for common labor. They did not speak much English but after a while they began singing their native songs; one had a balalaika, and a happy evening was passed. A happy augury for the trip ahead, we thought.

Across memory’s screen now flashes the names of the various stopping places along the trail: Ernestine, Willow Creek, Copper Center, Gulkana, Meiers, Paxson, and Rapids, to mention just a few. The trail or highway wound among the pines high on the mountainside with the swift, white streams of the Delta River and the Copper River below us. In the winter these streams provided good roadways; but they were dangerous when the ice gave way, with unhappy results to the unwary “mushers”-in such cases it was necessary to make a fire and dry one’s clothes as soon as possible.

For us, mushing was good, as the snow still lay on the trail. Most of the way we were in country wooded with balsam spruce and the especially fragrant tamarack. At one point, however, crossing the Alaska Range, we climbed above the timber line, where the terrain became very bleak and the wind cut us to the quick. Here and at other times the thought often struck home: “Why in the world did we embark on this [102] venture, why do we have to go through all this just to find a job? Had we been gold prospectors it might seem different.”

Occasionally a rabbit in his winter coat would leap across our trail, and once we saw a thundering herd of moose on their way northward in search of bigger and better pastures. Once a young woman passed us on skis; she had a big Newfoundland dog pulling her and she made very good progress. We overtook her at the next roadhouse and we learned that she was Norwegian. She was going to join her uncle at a placer mine on one of the creeks. But we had the trail to ourselves most of the time. Now and then a horse-drawn coach with fur-clad passengers would overtake us and flash by. At a roadhouse, one evening, where the coach stayed for the night, we had moose steaks deliciously prepared by a couple of these passengers, “girls” bound for Fairbanks, where they intended to set up shop on the “line.” Herbert H. Hilscher, in his book, Alaska Now, has said that these “girls” were in variably mature women, often grandmothers. Some of them engaged in this business to finance a young person through college or otherwise compensate with a worthy purpose for an unworthy occupation. {11}

We didn’t always make a roadhouse; several nights we spent in our own “roadhouse.” Carrying small axes with us, we would cut down small evergreens and make a windbreak with next to it a bed of “Yukon feathers” made of fine spruce boughs, and a good-sized fire outside of that. With hot embers on one side, the windbreak on the other, and the stars overhead we had the sweetest sleep and repose that anyone could wish for. Eventually we made Fairbanks, twenty days after leaving Valdez; averaging 181/2 miles a day-not too bad for a couple of “cheechakos.” Now we had to get jobs as quickly as possible, our resources being at low ebb.

The “Tanana,” a stern-wheeler especially built for the shallow water of the Tanana River, was a fine craft [103] commanded by Captain Gray, a top river man. She was lying there getting ready for the summer season, and I obtained a second mate’s berth on her. That wasn’t exactly what I had mushed 375 miles for, so when a first-mate’s job came up on a smaller independently owned boat, the “Martha Clow,” I moved over there; I was to rue this decision later.

With a barge ahead of us, we started down the river with the “Martha Clow.” Our captain was a part Cherokee Indian, White by name. He was a good riverman but met with too much interference from the owner, who also rode with us. On the way down we stopped at the new “city” of Ruby, a stampede having brought hundreds of fortune hunters there overnight. A few of our passengers got off there. One was a prospective saloonkeeper whose stock consisted of two or three bottles of bad whisky and several pounds of plug tobacco. With these ingredients he built up a large array of bottled goods, and before long he had his saloon going full swing.

At the junction of the Innoko with the Yukon, we noticed that the river water was brown, the color of coffee. The river being unfamiliar, we had to feel our way constantly, taking soundings. Our soundings mostly ran to more than 2 feet, as the Innoko was a placid stream and ran fairly deep. A day or two of this and we reached the Iditarod River. There excitement ran high, rich placer discoveries having been made by two well-known prospectors: Beaton and Dykeman were taking a lot of gold out of their claims. The Iditarod was a swift stream, while the Innoko had been a sluggish one, the latter as crooked as a dog’s hind leg. Mosquitoes - that country is the world’s breeding ground for those pests; we lived in constant battle with them. When sitting down to eat we had to burn smudge fires all around and wear nets, lifting the nets to take a bit of food. Numbers of them would come in with each bite, and soon we were insect eaters. Each tent had to have an opening drawn together from within with a string; even so a number of mosquitoes came into it to entertain the [104] unhappy sleeper with their diabolical buzzing and their perfect aim.

Retracing our way to Fairbanks, we again took on passengers and, with a barge, set out for Ruby, which by this time was quite a place, several more gold discoveries having been made. Most of the tents, including that of our enterprising saloonkeeper, who by this time was in the money, had been replaced by crude frame houses. A few more trips up and down the river and the season drew to a close. The ice began forming along the riverbanks, daily widening, the days became shorter and shorter, our navigation had increasingly to be done by searchlight, and came the day when we hauled the “Martha Clow” and our barge out of the water on skids laid on the bank and reaching into the river. A snug slough near Fairbanks, out of the onrush of the spring breakup, was where the “Martha Clow” hibernated for the winter.

Taking passage for St. Michael and the “outside” on an other stern-wheeler, we had as fellow passengers Beaton of the big discovery in the Iditarod and a few more of the nouveaux riches. Klondike Kate was with us too, and it was fascinating to watch the competition for her company and charms between these men from the creeks, rough but with full pokes. It appeared that Beaton was the top man at the moment.

Not being able to get the Alaska bug out of my head, I looked up a Captain De Pugh, who was recruiting a crew for the stern-wheeler “White Seal” for the coming season. The “White Seal” was in winter layup at Lake La Barge, the head of navigation on the Yukon River. I took the job of mate and pilot - ”scrub pilot.” On the way up from Seattle we carried with us a knocked-down barge that we were to assemble on the ways next to where the “White Seal” was lying at Lake La Barge.

The previous season, after I had finished on the “Martha Clow,” a couple of the boys and myself went bird hunting out of Fairbanks; we lived in tents and slept under fox-fur [105] sleeping bags, it being near zero at night. These two fellows had come down from Vancouver and were not in the crew that had been recruited for the “White Seal.” I was glad to have them with me in my crew.

While we were assembling our barge, we were looking for the breakup of the ice on the lake. Mr. Sproul, the owner of the “White Seal,” went out on the ice day and night armed with an iron bar with which he took soundings. At last the day came, and we followed the ice closely across the lake, thence into the Thirtymile River, where we had the misfortune to strike a boulder that ripped a large hole in the hull of our boat. Under De Pugh’s direction, we then tied up on the riverbank and canted the boat over to expose the rent in her hull. We then built a cofferdam over the hole, inside the hull, and when that had been made watertight by calking and using heated pitch we were able to resume our interrupted trip down the river. This operation is one that river-men often have recourse to, boulders, snags, and other objects always seeming to get in the way of a river boat! At the end of a season, a river boat will have several of these temporary repairs in her hull, repairs that are made permanent once the boat is up on the skids.

Captain De Pugh left us at Fairbanks to take over his regular command, the “Jacobs,” a United States government craft. Now Sproul, the owner, took over the job, he and I together. I was to feel the spell of the Yukon again. When Rudyard Kipling said, “There’s no law of God or man north of fifty-three,” he was half wrong. God’s laws are at work here. I felt that when I’d stand at the wheel of the “White Seal,” especially on an early morning, if one could call it morning after the white night of that northern country. The stillness, broken only by the exhausts from our engines; the early sun’s rays reflected in the water of the river ahead; the everlasting hills, their needle trees clad in their green verdure interspersed with the white of the northern birch - my poor pen is inadequate to describe the feeling that comes over one [106] at such a time. . . . The nearest I can come to it is to say that there are times when one feels attuned to the infinite, that God and nature are one, and that you, I, are a part of that great scheme.

However, steamboating isn’t all dreaming and reflection. Our boilers demanded wood and more wood and we had to stop frequently along the river for all hands to turn to carrying that wood on board, on their shoulders. River names such as Tanana, Ruby, Galena, and Koyukuk come to mind, especially the latter. On one of our trips we put off a party that were going up the Koyukuk. They had several horses with them that were to pull their boats up that swift river.

The gold is found on the upper reaches of the Koyukuk, a difficult area to reach, as one might guess, judging by those horses. But when gold is found it is found - the nuggets are as big as walnuts, the biggest in Alaska.

Every so often we would pass an Indian encampment, and no matter what time of day it was, the youngsters would come running to the river bank together with their huskies, scores of them, all barking and yelping to beat all creation. The squaws, and Papa too, would wave greetings to us as we passed by. Two or three o’clock in the morning seemed the favorite time for these demonstrations. Neither they nor their dogs wore pajamas, and in summer their sleep, like those of their dogs, consisted of naps; in the winter they slept night and day. Who wouldn’t be a squaw man!

While the “White Seal” tied up in Fairbanks for a few days, I used the time to visit a friend, a Swede, who had a claim on one of the creeks near by. His wasn’t a rich claim, but he took out enough to live well and even to take a trip “outside” occasionally. He was as independent as a hog on ice, to put it colloquially. My friend’s workings were a quartz claim, and he had to send his quartz to a near-by stamp mill, where the rock was crushed. Several more processes had to be gone through before the gold finally came to light. When I came he was engaged in harvesting blueberries that he scooped [107] up by the bucketful, using a big homemade comb. He put these up with cranberries, of which there also was an abundance. On the way back I “prospected” a big peat bog that could have supplied the whole Fairbanks district with fuel, if exploited. I did not have the means to do it.

On the creeks, gold extraction usually followed a definite pattern. First a shaft had to be sunk to bedrock; once there, the miner, gopherlike, had to burrow along the bedrock, his tunnel, painfully thawed out with steam nozzles, being only 3 or 4 feet high. It was extremely hard work to bring this gold-bearing alluvium up to the dump. In the spring, when this dirt was washed down the sluice, the miner stood with bated breath - was there any gold in those riffles? Sometimes there would only be enough to pay for the salt used in their food during the last hope-raising, hope-lowering winter.

Rejoining the “White Seal,” we resumed our river work and pushed a bargeload of freight to Dykeman on the Iditarod. I had been there the previous season on the “Martha Clow.” Such “cities” as Dykeman had sprung up, looking more or less permanent. When we didn’t see a church or a jail in Dykeman, the mayor told us, “The people in Dykeman are too good for a church and not bad enough for a jail.” The eternal prospectors, most of them graybeards, were as omnipresent as ever in their longboats putting their grubstakes on board, bound for nobody knew where, themselves included. I decided there and then that I would get out of Alaska be fore I became one of them.

Back in Fairbanks again, and with the “White Seal” put away for the winter, I booked passage on a stern-wheeler owned by the Barrington brothers, free lances of the Yukon, noted for being the first to come on and the last to get out. We were booked only for Whitehorse, as we intended to hike from there to where we could get on a train for Skagway. On the way up I saw Five-Finger Rapids in reverse; coming down river we flew through it like a bat out of hell, as one of the boys picturesquely termed it; now it was different, we [108] had to fight our way up inch by inch. At the lower end we picked up a cable that we took to the winch. Heaving on it, with our engines straining to the utmost, we gained the top. From then on it was fairly easy going, except that the river was falling rapidly and we were barely afloat when the boat reached Lake La Barge. From there we headed back for Seattle, my Alaska river boating being at an end. This was in 1911.


My mother having come to the United States, to Chicago, a few months earlier, I now started across country to see her and my younger brother Karsten, whom I had not seen since I left them standing on the dock in Christiania that fateful midnight sixteen years before. I was particularly happy to see the famed city of Chicago and meet Mother’s friends, who came to see the returning sailor trying out his sea legs on solid land.

On my return trip to Seattle I made a detour to Iowa to see my relatives. When I got off the train at Hanlontown, I was met by my Uncle Mikkel with a two-horse rig to drive me to his farm. This was the uncle who had agreed to pay my passage to Iowa from Norway eighteen years earlier. I now had an opportunity to see how life was lived among the cornfields and the hogs of Iowa. It was blowing a blizzard at the time, and when we were halfway to the farm an especially fierce blast nearly blew me off the sleigh. The oceans were never like this! I lost my 10-dollar Stetson in a snowdrift, only to learn later that a field mouse had used it as a nursery. Here I saw land bare of trees except those planted as wind breaks near the knolls where the houses stood. I saw where life was still lived under quite primitive conditions, where water had to be drawn from the well and carried into the house, which was lighted by kerosene lamps. I saw the rather restricted diet that the people lived on, sowbelly predominating. The farms were so far apart that chances for social [109] commingling were most difficult, especially in the wintertime. I saw many things that did not intrigue me much. For the second time I was glad that fate had taken me out onto the blue sea. The one high spot of my stay in Iowa was my visit with my grandfather, then more than ninety years old. His principal occupation was to feed the stove, alongside of which he sat from morning until night. He had a phenomenal memory and could recall the names of people and events that had taken place in his native village, which he had left fifty or sixty years before. That man’s mind was clear to the end of his days. He lived to be ninety-nine.

When I was in Norway in 1952 I entered into conversation with a man sitting on the same bench with me; he seemed to be well informed and spoke as one with authority. He said: “Why do you Americans back all the repudiated and castoff regimes all over the world? Why don’t you lead the vanguard of the revolutionary forces, as your early history would seem to call for?” I could not give an intelligent answer; I have wondered myself.

As a young boy in Norway, sitting among the highland heather watching my herd and looking toward the far mountains, rising in terraces, one above the other, I experienced a feeling of wonder and a longing to learn what lay beyond those peaks. Later when, as a young man, I went out on the heaving sea and, from the highest rigging on my bark scanned the rim of the horizon for the shores of Africa and the Indies, my feeling became more articulate and I came to believe that, though we differ in the colors of our skins, we are all brothers, all children of the same God. {12}

Sitting here in my snug harbor, now that I write “Ret.” after my name, I have plenty of time to think and ponder on what it has been all about. Casting up the balance for and against, I believe the grand total comes up on the plus side; therefore, I have no great regrets. I suppose, though, that [110] most of us, if we had our lives to live over again, would steer a different course from the one we have chosen.

If I should have a moment to spare from the multitudinous jobs around the house and the garden, I could live over again my memories at sea. I could conjure up again in my mind, when from my perch high aloft on a starlit night, with all sails drawing, how I heard the rigging singing a sweet medley, how I looked down on the phosphorescent wake streaming astern like a silver thread, reaching back into infinity. At other times up there I saw the sun emerging over the horizon, a promise and a hope for the future. I can also think of coral strands under the palms, all beauty and peace - an augury of a world when we shall have learned to live together, all under the same roof.


<1> The city of Beira in Mozambique.
<2> “Donkey breakfasts” were excelsior-filled mattresses.
<3> Zoroastrians; specifically, adherents of the old Persian religion.
<4> Natives of Madagascar.
<5> The Coolgardie gold field.
<6> See Kenneth O. Bjork, West of the Great Divide: Norwegian Migration to the Pacific Coast, 1847-1893, 159, 575 (Northfield, 1958), for a discussion of this practice on the west coast.
<7> For another account of this venture, see Bjork, West of the Great Divide, 628-630.
<8> A discussion of Furuseth’s contributions to better working conditions for sailors is found in Bjork, West of the Great Divide. 575.
<9> Pete Gill, another Norwegian, gave Furuseth considerable assistance.
<10> For a detailed account of the “Scandinavian Navy,” see Bjork, West of the Great Divide, 569-576.
<11> Herbert H. Hilscher, Alaska Now, 115 (Boston, 1950). Hilseher, however, writes of more recent times, and his statement may not apply to the circumstances of half a century ago.
<12> The three concluding paragraphs are excerpts from Captain Bratrud’s log, ‘Reflections in Retirement.”

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