Oral Histories

Wyman Owen

Wyman lives in Seward, Alaska.

WO: My dad was working for the Alaska Railroad in those days, operating a heavy crane with which he coaled the steam trains at the old roundhouse. The "housing area" as it was called in those days, was managed by the Alaska Housing Authority, and was made available to railroad families at a reasonable rent rate. This was of course, after the U.S. Army had pulled out and the Quonsets were turned over to the Territory of Alaska. There were perhaps fifteen or twenty huts in an area down near where now sits the Seward Post Office. I can remember the awful blizzard of the early 50's, and how the snow would drift through any small opening and collect in small piles near the draft. After a while we finally were able to plug the openings and make the hut warmer and dryer. There was an oil fired kitchen range with oven, and it was the only heat we had for the Quonset. The oven door would have to be left open and back room sealed off to stay warm. The blizzard winds from north would drift snow into the insulated area between the ceiling and the roof, and when the weather warmed, the dripping would start and we would take down ceiling panels, and use a scoop shovel to clear the snow out. My folks fixed the old Quonset hut up to be pretty comfortable inside, as my dad was pretty good with carpenter tools. One particular night, while the family was asleep, there was a small earthquake, and I awoke to a metal rumble. Being somewhat frightened and in the dark, I thought I was rolling down the hill in an oil drum, as it was quite loud in that little hut. My dad came in the room and said it was just another "shaker".