Wednesday, October 9, 2019

"An Unusual and Difficult Journey"



In the City Hall lobby in Homer, Alaska, is a small section of one wall dedicated to local history. In a small frame on that wall is an orange-brown photocopy of a document cover more than a century old. It is titled “Constitution and By-Laws of the Kings County Mining Company of New York.” The story behind that document and its connection to Homer and the central Kenai Peninsula requires a step back in time and all the way across North America.
Two things are important to understand from the beginning: First, the Kings County Mining Company originally had no intention of going to the Kenai. Its advertised goal was the Klondike, in Canada’s Yukon Territory, where gold had been discovered in 1896. Second, shortly after the company launched its expedition in mid-February 1898, many people believed it had ended in tragedy.
Henry Walter Rozell,company treasurer. 

But not everything was what the way it seemed. Changing plans and overcoming obstacles were going to be the norm on this expedition.
Only about a week after the three-masted bark, the Agate, had set sail from Pier 4 in New York’s East River, this headline appeared in The New York Times:
                “THE AGATE’S OWNERS WORRIED.
Uncertainty as to Whether Wreckage
Reported Off Barnegat Is that of the Bark.”
                Barnegat is a sheltered bay off the New Jersey coast. Floating

debris had been spotted nearby, and early reports pointed to the Agate. The well-financed dreams of the members of the Brooklyn-based mining company appeared to have been crushed.
                Fortunately it was a false alarm. Shortly thereafter, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle produced a headline announcing that company officials had determined the Agate was safe after all; the wreckage, said the newspaper, had come from some other unlucky vessel.
A few weeks later, in early April, came a definitive sighting of the Agate near Rio de Janeiro, off the coast of Brazil, still on course to sail around Cape Horn and then northward to San Francisco.
                Back in New York, members of the mining company sighed with relief.
                Reports vary, but the Kings County Mining Company had approximately 60 shareholders, all holding a financial stake of five $100 shares, for a total company investment of $30,000 (about $828,000 in today’s money). They also had a 50-year charter and plenty of optimism.
                In fact, the day before they had set sail, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle had characterized the company as “made up of good businessmen, all determined before they return to amass good-sized fortunes.”
                To help them realize their golden goal, the Agate was carrying nearly all of the company’s gear—small steam-powered launch boats, mining implements, tents, and about two years’ worth of provisions—plus about 30 members of the company, in addition to a captain and crew. According to their stated plan, once the ship reached San Francisco, they would telegraph notice of their arrival back to New York, and the remaining members of the expedition would journey by transcontinental railroad to unite the full company.
                But the Spanish-American War, which also launched in 1898, complicated matters.
                The Spanish gunboat Temerario was prowling the east coast of South America. Fearing that the American vessel might be captured, the United States consul in Montevideo, present-day capital of Uruguay, halted the Agate’s voyage there and caused a considerable delay.
                In fact, due also in part to the heavy weather they experienced later while traveling around the Horn, the Agate did not arrive in San Francisco until late August. By the time mining company members back in Brooklyn had clambered aboard a West Shore Railroad locomotive and begun their journey westward, they were well behind schedule, and the season was growing late.
                August became September and crept toward October. Members of the Kings County Mining Company reconsidered their plans. Deciding they were too close to winter to reach the Yukon gold fields, they aimed instead for the Kenai Peninsula and set their sights on the burgeoning mining town of Sunrise.
Gold had been discovered in the Hope and Sunrise area by at least the early 1890s. When word got out, miners had surged in. In the spring of 1896, according to the Hope & Sunrise Historical Society, 3,000 gold seekers sailed into Cook Inlet. By the summer of 1898, there were an estimated 8,000, and, for a few weeks, Sunrise City, along Sixmile Creek, with 800 residents, was the largest town in Alaska.
                The members of the Kings County Mining Company, cruising into the inlet in late autumn, hoped to add to the population and get rich.
But even in this they were unlucky.
According to Alaska’s No. 1 Guide, a biography of Andrew Berg by Catherine Cassidy and Gary Titus, the captain of the Agate, “apparently intimidated by the prospect of
Herman Stelter, who was a member of the Kings County Mining Company expedition in1898, poses with a fine crop of vegetables in front of his Kenai River canyon home. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service)
navigating Cook Inlet … convinced the group that Sunrise was easily reached overland from Kachemak Bay.” Therefore, on Oct. 16, he deposited the entire company and its “mountain of supplies” on the base of what is now called the Homer Spit.
                In 1898, coal miners were living and working in Coal Bay, on the inside of the Spit, but little else resembling civilization was evident. Today’s city of Homer simply did not exist, nor did roads or bridges or accommodations of any sort. The members of the mining company—including some women and possibly some children—were on their own.
                Slowly they began heading generally north, according to Cassidy and Titus, “cutting a trail and ferrying their belongings with packboards and handmade wheelbarrows. Besides a large quantity of foodstuffs, such as casks of flour and bacon, they had all of their mining equipment, including pans, picks, shovels and sledges.”
                By early November, they had reached a coal-mining operation at McNeil Canyon (now about Mile 12 of East End Road). There, on Nov. 10, they amended their company constitution and bylaws, naming new officers and a new board of trustees, and trudged onward.
                They walked the beach to the head of Kachemak Bay, then traveled up the west side of the Fox River drainage and over to Tustumena Lake. Around the eastern end of the lake, they ascended the Birch Creek drainage to reach the benchlands between Tustumena and Skilak lakes. After crossing the Killey River, they made their way to the south shore of Skilak Lake and decided they could go no further.
                It was winter. They hastily built cabins along a stream now known as King County Creek, and they hunkered down.
                In the next spring, they gave up.
According to Cassidy and Titus, they dissolved their company charter and built boats to carry them downstream to Kenai. Most of them found their way back to the East Coast, no fortunes in their pockets, in fact no mining done at all. And for years afterward, trappers using the miners’ cross-country trail “found caches of equipment and food which the hapless group had abandoned along the way.”
                But there is a coda to this tale of disappointment.
                Enter Hjalmar Anderson, who along with his wife Jessie, homesteaded Caribou Island on Skilak Lake in 1924. According to mid-1970s documentation from longtime early Homer resident Yule Kilcher, Anderson discovered the last cabin still standing along King County Creek in the 1920s and found inside part of a diary and the mining company’s 1898 constitution and bylaws.
                Anderson rescued the legal document, reported Kilcher, but left the remains of the diary because it had been “used as fire kindling by Army Officers during World War I who were using the cabin as quarters.” Anderson bequeathed the document to Kilcher, and in 1976 Kilcher donated it to Homer’s Pratt Museum.
                Kilcher also told the museum that at least three members of the mining company had remained in Alaska, although the exact number is difficult to pin down. According to Cassidy and Titus, it was two: Carl Petterson, who settled in Kenai and married Matrona Demidoff; and Herman Stelter, who was documented living and mining in the Kenai River canyon in the 1910s. The phrase “Stelter’s Ranch” can still be seen on old topographic maps of the area.
                In her History of Mining on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, Mary J. Barry suggests there may have been at least one more man who stayed, although she names no one else. Likely, though, it was Thomas P. Weatherell, who in November 1898 had been tabbed as the mining company’s new vice-president.
                Kilcher said that one of the men who stayed had moved to Talkeetna. In a history of Talkeetna, author Coleen Mielke describes Weatherell, born in either 1869 or 1871, as “a bachelor from New York” who was the Talkeetna postmaster from 1918 to 1927.
                As for the Agate, it was sold and added to the West Coast salmon-fishing fleet, according to a news brief in the March 1900 issue of the San Francisco Call.
                And 53 members of the dissolved mining company, finding themselves without gold and most of their investment, filed lawsuits that in 1903 ended up before the New York Supreme Court. The court demanded that former company treasurer, Henry W. Rozell, provide all financial records pertaining to company assets and expenses, including the sale of the Agate.
A hundred years after the Kings County Mining Company expedition of 1898, only a few cabin logs remained as evidence along what is now called King County Creek, near Skilak Lake.


Friday, May 20, 2016

"Not Just for the Birds"

Boyd Shaffer and a great horned owl. (Photo courtesy of UAA Consortium Library archives)

APRIL 2013

Had Boyd Shaffer been less dedicated to or enthusiastic about teaching, his early experience as an itinerant art instructor for Kenai Peninsula Community College might have defeated him.

During the fall of 1966, the 41-year-old Shaffer, a Forest Service foreman, would turn loose his crew at 5 p.m., rush to his Moose Pass home to shower, then drive his Jeep 30 miles to Seward to teach a 6:30 class. The next day, he would drive 75 miles to Kenai to teach another class at 7. When his students left, sometimes as late as 10 p.m., he’d make the long, dark drive home to get enough sleep to power him through another day.

Shaffer didn’t stick with this part-time college gig because he wanted to get rich. At first, in fact, he was paid nothing for his teaching and received no compensation for his commute, which he did regardless of weather. “The whole thing was on my dime,” he said. And he never cancelled a class.

When the college opened its own campus near Soldotna in 1972, KPCC director Clayton Brockel asked Shaffer to move closer to the school so he could teach full time and during the day. Shaffer promptly gave his two-week notice to the Forest Service and moved west.

Shaffer teaches about local flora on the KPC campus, 1985.
Shaffer, who will be 88 in October, excelled at art and was curious about nature at an early age. He was raised in Salt Lake City by “people of the earth, people who knew what they needed to survive,” he said, and they germinated in him the interests that would buoy him throughout his life.

“I started to find as I grew up that there were too many things I didn’t know,” he said. “So I started reading books—about every living thing, about every kind of animal. I was as interested in, say, tigers in Bengal as anything else.”

Before he was in his teens, Shaffer began applying his burgeoning art skills to his love of nature. He sketched what he observed. He examined structures and painstakingly recorded them on paper. He pulled apart plants and drew their contents. And with the help of neighborhood specialists, he also learned the arts of taxidermy and falconry.

“By the time I was 12 years old,” he said, “I knew every bird in Utah by sight and was a member of the Utah Audubon Society.”

Also, said Shaffer, “I was a taster. I tasted everything. I was eating all my mother’s nasturtiums before I even knew they were edible…. I could live off the land (in Utah) when I was 16 years old.”

As a teen-ager, he led tours for the world-famous Tracy Aviary, home to 25,000 birds, and in his late 20s was hired by the Walt Disney production company to be its naturalist consultant.

When the United States involvement in World War II swept him away from his familiar environs, he found himself in the European Theater. In the Battle of the Bulge, he was shot in the leg and hospitalized in Paris. After the war, the Army afforded him the opportunity to attend art school, where he learned some of the techniques that would later make him a financially successful painter.

During an Alaska vacation in 1958, he saw Moose Pass for the first time and knew he had found his new home. With winter approaching in 1960, Shaffer—a direct descendant of Mormon founders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young—moved his family and opened Moose Pass Taxidermy to keep food on the table.

Shortly thereafter, he gained employment with the Forest Service, and in 1966 Brockel, the KPCC director, rang him up and offered him an opportunity that at first he was reluctant to accept.

Shaffer with award-winning painting, 1963.
“He asked me if I’d be interested in teaching at the community college,” Shaffer recalled. “I told him, ‘No, I’m just too busy.’ And about two days later he calls again and says, ‘We sure wish you would think about this.’ I said, ‘What triggered this?’ He said, ‘That art show you entered with that painting that took Best of Show and First, and I’m bugged by people wanting you to come over and teach art.’”

Brockel was referring to Shaffer’s award-winning still life at an art show at the Soldotna Public Library, and his mention of potential students seeking Shaffer’s expertise did the trick. “Okay, I’ll do it,” Shaffer told him.

Over his many years at the college, Shaffer taught a variety of art and naturalist studies classes. After he helped establish the school’s nature trails, he frequently led groups of students through the woods in search of plants, birds, mammals, insects and fungi. In his popular art classes, he developed a loyal following by teaching students how to paint birds, mushrooms, and classic Alaskan landscapes. He also promoted the college and his naturalist philosophies by touring local schools, often with live specimens in tow.

For a while, as he worked to educate the community about its environment, Shaffer toured the schools with a tamed great horned owl. In May 1975, a newspaper article featured Shaffer with his owl. “I have found that if people have a positive experience with something when they are young,” Shaffer said in the article, “they develop a much different attitude about these (things) when they encounter them later in life.”

Eventually, Shaffer’s nature trails were named in his honor, and in 2002, retiring KPC director Ginger Steffy made sure that Shaffer’s large volume on local plant life, The Flora of Southcentral Alaska, was published in full color.

“Boyd Shaffer and his activities provided an outreach to those individuals, from grade-school students to senior citizens, who were lifelong learners,” Steffy said. “His courses, which covered a wide range of topics over the years, were interesting and informative without being intimidating.  His willingness to share his knowledge and enthusiasm presented a positive and welcoming image of KPC to the community.”

For Shaffer, who retired in 2002 as one of the college’s longest-tenured instructors, there was never any doubt that he’d made the right move in leaving the Forest Service for the college.

“I teach because I thoroughly enjoy teaching,” he once said. “If I retired tomorrow, I think I’d see if I could get a job teaching at the college.”

Shaffer instructs during one of his KPC art classes.


Monday, May 2, 2016

"A Remarkable Summer"

Part of the cover of the original National Geographic containing Shiras's article.



A hundred years ago, George Shiras III wrote about a splendid (and unusual) summer spent in Alaska, mostly near Skilak Lake: In 55 days of travel and exploration, he wrote, rain fell during only 19 hours.

Chasing after wildlife with his large camera, his wooden tripod and his heavy photographic plates, he said that he and his party were “wind bound” three days and “experienced a number of violent squalls lasting an hour or so.” In nearly two months, there were three entirely cloudy days and about a half-dozen partly cloudy days.

Blessed with this astonishing stretch of weather, Shiras was able to return home with enough information and images to fill 72 pages of the May 1912 edition of The National Geographic Magazine with an article entitled “The White Sheep, Giant Moose, and Smaller Game of the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska.”

George Shiras III was the son of Supreme Court justice, George Shiras Jr., who had been nominated to the post by President Benjamin Harrison in 1892. Young George himself had served in the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania, but in 1905 he surrendered a political career to pursue a life of photography, and in 1906 he achieved public acclaim the effect of which can still be felt today.

Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor, who was the first full-time editor of National Geographic and served in that capacity for 55 years, recalled the day in 1906 that Shiras walked into his office “with a box full of extraordinary flashlight photographs of wild animals. He had invented the technique for making such pictures, and an exhibit of his work had won gold medals at Paris and St. Louis Expositions.”

Photo courtesy from the Fair family collection. George Shiras III was enamored
of the Harding Ice Field during his trip to the high country south of Skilak Lake.
In the introduction to Shiras’s debut article, Grosvenor said that he viewed the box of photos “with mounting excitement” and began to sort them into two piles, one very tall, the other very small. Shiras had earlier been able to interest a New York publication in only three of his images and so was astounded to learn that Grosvenor wanted to use everything in the tall pile—74 photographs, filling 50 pages, only four of which would be text.

The magazine would never be the same, and neither would flash photography.

Two distinguished geographers on the National Geographic Board resigned, in part because they believed that Grosvenor was turning their publication into a “picture book.” And they may have had a point, but the July 1906 issue was an immediate hit, and circulation spiked.

George Shiras III found himself with an open ticket to travel where he wished and photograph what he pleased—with the National Geographic Society a willing buyer and a more than willing sponsor. In 1911, after numerous trips across the continent, he set his sights upon Alaska.

In the introduction to the resulting article, he said he wished to study the animals “where the camera, rather than the rifle, was to capture the permanent trophies of the hunt.”

Shiras narrowed the focus of his trip to the Kenai Peninsula because it contained the wildlife he was interested in and virtually all of the terrain, in one place, that he could find elsewhere in that country:

“It is seldom that a small, semi-detached portion of a large and diversified country can satisfactorily portray the whole, not only in the romantic history of its discovery and early explorations, but in those present-day conditions, where the climate, topography, and economic resources excite attention and comparison. Were all of Alaska erased from the map except the Kenai Peninsula and its immediately adjacent waters, there would yet remain in duplicate that which constitutes the more unique and that which typifies the whole of this wonderful country.”

With maps and travelers’ recommendations at hand, he narrowed his plans, and on July 8, 1911, he departed from Seattle for a well-funded two-month sojourn in the Last Frontier.

Alaska, at this time, was one year away from becoming a territory, and two years away from the first meeting of its Territorial Legislature. Anchorage did not yet exist, for the first encampment at Ship Creek was three years away. Because there were no highways, the main artery into the Kenai Peninsula and hence into the Alaska interior was via the seaport and railway at Seward, which had been established with that name only eight years earlier.

Photo courtesy of the Fair family collection. Pictured here, beyond the hikers in the
foreground, is the upper drainage of Benjamin Creek, which flows into the Killey River.
Shiras came upstream into the mountains in the left of this photo to study the Dall sheep.
Seward was the “Gateway City,” and Shiras’ steamship landed there early on July 15 after cruising the length of Resurrection Bay for about 10 hours. Within the next two days, Shiras had met his chief guide, Thomas B. Towle—officially a $3.50-a-day packer then, Towle would become a registered guide the following year, according to Kenai National Wildlife Refuge historian, Gary Titus—and had traveled by “gasoline car” 23 miles up the Alaska Northern Railroad right-of-way to the head of Kenai Lake.

During the next week, accompanied by several men who would haul the bulk of his equipment and run his wilderness bases, he was guided the length of the lake to a camp on Cooper Creek to await the arrival of supplies. From there, he traveled downriver to Skilak Lake, along its northern shore, and across the lake to a narrow-necked peninsula about three miles west of Cottonwood Creek. The small peninsula neatly divided a single large bay into two smaller bays, so Shiras named the site of his base there “Double-bay Camp.”

On July 24, he spied his first moose on the Kenai Peninsula.

Besides photography, Shiras had an affinity for wildlife, and he was willing to spend hours each day, hidden behind blinds constructed of brush and grass or stones, swatting innumerable mosquitoes as he waiting for just the right photo-op.

He also had an inquisitive mind about nearly all things in nature. He was, for instance, fascinated by the bulk and mass of what later became known as the Harding Ice Field, and he took his observations and speculations with him back to the East Coast, hoping to prompt further investigations. He was intrigued, too, by the chemical content of a mineral lick near Double-bay Camp, and he returned home with samples and had them tested by a scientist.

Elsewhere, he pondered the sense of smell of the Dall sheep and the more tenacious spawning habits of sockeye salmon, and he was awestruck by the aggressiveness of a pair of ptarmigan in successfully defending their brood against an attacking hawk.

Shiras spent the end of July and early August observing moose, before climbing up the Cottonwood Creek trail, along the Marmot Lakes, and down to the lower stretches of Benjamin Creek, near its confluence with the Killey River, where Towle had a cabin in which he had lived during his gold-mining days. Shiras spent about a week in this high country, observing and photographing sheep in the mountains around Twin Lakes, as well as watching brown bears, red foxes and hoary marmots.

He departed Skilak country in early September, with high water necessitating his men to line the boats upriver through conditions much more rugged than was customary, and his resultant article in the pages of National Geographic featured dozens of photographs and many pages of keen observations about his experiences.

Among his final observations in the article, he noted that subsequent hunting parties in the Skilak area had reported bad weather during the latter half of September and throughout October. “So the above data must be taken rather as an evidence of what the weather can be than what it is apt to be,” he said, clearly appreciating his good fortune.

He finished with these words: “In conclusion, let us hope that those interested in the permanent prosperity of the Kenai Peninsula appreciate the value of an abundant and available supply of game-food animals and fish, and understand how much the presence of this game has contributed to its fame throughout the world…. Long after the last flake of gold has been panned from the sands and the last blast has fractured the veins of quartz, the Kenai Peninsula should continue to be the home of the giant moose and the place where the sheep, the grouse, and the salmon are worth more in dollars and more in life than all the visionary or fleeting fortunes beneath the soil.”

Photo courtesy of Monte Edwards. Near Twin Lakes, situated about halfway between the Benjamin Creek headwaters and its terminus at the
Killey River, Shiras made a nearly weeklong camp to study Dall sheep. Benjamin Creek was named for the eldest brother of Shiras’ guide,
Thomas B. Towle.


Sunday, May 1, 2016

"Rock Solid"

The rock that was the inspiration for the name of Solid Rock Bible Camp.


JUNE 2009

Bert Schultz is not easily deterred.

In late winter 45 years ago, Schultz was working alone at Solid Rock Bible Camp, cutting rafters for a building that would
eventually contain a crafts shop, when a friend stopped by. Noting the Skil saw, the friend asked Schultz if he’d ever sawed through his own electrical cord. Then, after assuring the friend that he’d never do anything so dumb, he promptly did exactly that during his first cut after the friend’s departure.

Irritated, he leaned against one of his sawhorses and began to braid the wires back together in preparation for wrapping the damaged cord in electrical tape. As he worked, the sawhorse suddenly bucked, the ground started to roll violently, and the building began to shake.

Memorial Lodge in the early days.
Schultz tried to maintain his balance as all around him the world trembled. Windows in a nearby building shattered, and the ice on Miracle Lake cracked as black mud churned around its edges. The camp bus, without front tires and up on blocks for repairs, sank to its wheel housings as the blocks flew outward, and at Memorial Lodge the concrete-block chimney crashed to the ground.

When the shaking finally subsided, Schultz ran to his home to check on his family. The Good Friday dinner of sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and moose meat was ruined and dishes were broken, but his wife, Donna, and their son, Scott, were all right. As night settled in, they attempted to assess the damage to the camp and to use their radio to learn the extent of what had just happened.

They discovered that there had never been a Good Friday like this one in the history of Alaska, and that March 27, 1964, would be remembered as the day of the Great Alaska Earthquake.

But awesome power of nature did not dissuade the Schultzes. A new stone chimney eventually replaced the shattered concrete blocks, and other repairs to the camp were made as well. Under their guidance, and with plenty of help, Solid Rock Bible Camp overcame this setback and continued to grow and prosper. This year the camp will celebrate its 51st year of existence.

The 194-acre camp, which now is run by Ted and Valerie McKenney and features dozens of activities for youths from the Kenai Peninsula and beyond, got its official start in the summer of 1958—and was a much more raw and unpolished affair in those days. In their camp memoir, Miracle at Solid Rock, the Schultzes recall those initial sessions of camp and the years of preparation that allowed it all to happen.

In fact, even before the Schultzes arrived in Alaska, the groundwork for the camp was being laid.

Around the peninsula in 1952, several missionary-based Protestant churches joined together to form the Kenai Peninsula Fellowship and unite under this common goal: “To know the Lord Jesus Christ and make Him known.”

Bert and Donna Schultz penned the story of Solid Rock.
In 1955, according to the Schultzes’ book, Austin Meeks, a Baptist missionary from Ninilchik, first voiced the notion of beginning a Christian-centered youth recreational facility, and KPF established a committee to seek a site for it from the Bureau of Land Management.

Committee members traveled to Anchorage to review BLM maps and selected several potential sites. At one site, located at Mile 90.5 of the Sterling Highway, committee members snowshoed into the property, and there found a rock about three stories high, swathed in moss and spiked with young trees. They climbed the rock and looked around at the mixed deciduous-coniferous forest and the half-mile-long lake nearby, and decided they had found their camp site.

KPF petitioned BLM for all of the land surrounding the lake—about 200 acres. BLM countered with an offer of 100 acres for $1,300, and the committee accepted. Financial times were lean, however, and the sale price was too steep, so in July 1956 KPF settled on only 70 acres for a price of $945.27.

The following year, the Schultzes entered the peninsula picture.

Bert Schultz and Donna Porte had both grown up in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Bert, now 77, was the son of butcher/grocer/antiques dealer, while Donna, now 76, was the daughter of a baker who later worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Bert was raised in the Methodist church, while Donna grew up as a Baptist, but both of them came to their faith when they were very young, and both were inspired as teen-agers to consider missionary work in Alaska.

When they met, their inspirations and their passions intertwined. They became engaged in 1952, married in 1953, and headed to Alaska for their first northern missionary experience in 1957. After a four-month building project at Old Harbor on Kodiak Island, they moved to Sterling to pastor the Baptist church there, and made their first connections to the Kenai Peninsula Fellowship.

In 1958, the fellowship became determined to hold its first camp on the property that was becoming known as Solid Rock for its prominent landmark. In order for camp to occur, however, infrastructure was needed—a road into the property, housing for the campers, and a staff to run the operation.

Bert Schultz and Paul Weimer walked in from the highway and staked out a road route that was later opened up by Jesse Robinson and his D-7 Cat. Robinson also cleared the trees and moss from the site that would eventually hold Memorial Lodge, the first permanent structure on the property. This clearing, on exposed clay soil, became the site of the first camp that summer.

The clearing also became the source of considerable aggravation during rainy days, when the clay churned into a gooey mess and inspired a few early campers to dub the area “Solid Mud Bible Camp.”

The Schultzes, along with Floyd and Virginia McElveen, Lloyd and Ruth Dean, Ray and Irene Mainwaring, and others, worked hard to prepare for the first camp. They used unpeeled spruce logs to construct the framework for a camp shelter, which they topped with tarpaulins and sided with Visqueen. Under the shelter, they scattered sawdust for a floor and built tables, benches and a serving counter.

They also built a 10-foot dock on the lake for the camp’s single rowboat, hung a stout rope from an overhanging birch tree, erected primitive outhouses, and built a fire pit to heat the 55-gallon drum that supplied hot water for camper clean-up and washing dishes.

When the first five-day session began, 34 junior high and high school campers showed up, prepared to sleep in tents and under tarps, to participate in Bible lessons and a half-dozen outdoor and under-tarp activities (volleyball, swimming, hiking, boating, arts and crafts, singing), and to help with the basic necessities that would allow the camp to function.

Each camper brought silverware, a bowl, a plate, and a cup; a box of cereal and a box of Jell-O or pudding mix; a
Water-skiing is one of the many popular activities at Solid Rock Bible Camp.
sleeping bag or a bedroll (with moss used as a mattress). Some campers brought extra food—sugar, flour, eggs, bacon—while other KPF members and camper families provided Alaska-grown potatoes, carrots, lettuce, radishes, and rhubarb, plus moose and caribou meat, fresh salmon and wild cranberries, and dozens of cookies and pies for dessert.

Lloyd Dean acted as camp director, with Ruth Dean as camp nurse, and Irene Mainwaring, with her Betty Crocker recipe book, as camp cook. Bert Schultz said that 17 of those original 34 campers “prayed to receive Christ as Savior” during that first session, and that everyone had a great time despite the mostly rainy weather.

However, if Week One was damp, Week Two was soaking. The second camp session, for children from second to sixth grade, was held in a series of downpours, which produced mud three inches deep on the volleyball court, flooded tents, saturated sleeping bags, and created sopping clothes on wet and homesick kids.

Floyd McElveen recalled, “We did our best to quiet them, take care of them, talk to them about Jesus, and keep them from dying of pneumonia.” After only three days, organizers cancelled the remainder of the session. The quarter-mile road up to the highway had deteriorated so badly that they had to trudge up the hill repeatedly with all the kids and their gear to waiting parents.

But, said Donna Schultz, that soggy genesis and rainy exodus “didn’t dampen our spirits.”

Over the next 50 years, Solid Rock Ministries, Inc., would add more than 120 acres, including parts of two small lakes, to its camp property; would construct more than two dozen buildings, including snug cabins for all the campers; would streamline its services to offer a diverse range of camping experiences, ranging from horseback riding to waterskiing; and would add dozens of new activities for participating campers.

In the late 1960s, Solid Rock would even temporarily run its own radio station, KSRM, as it tested its own range of influence. In fact, the station’s call letters originally stood for Solid Rock Ministries.

Every year, it seemed, something new was added to the camp. In fact, for Bert Schultz, who acted as camp director from 1961 to 1986, the notion of newness became a sort of annual mantra: “Every year when camp started, I wanted some new exciting thing for kids to do, so when they came back to camp they could see a difference, see a change.”

“One year,” Donna added, “we didn’t have any money, but we painted all the doors in the camp—red or something.” Always something new, through a half-century and thousands upon thousands of campers, and even under new leadership the camp continues to prosper.