Salmon On My Mind Chapter Fifteen -

Meet Francis Caldwell!

Francis Caldwell has published hundreds of magazine articles and 10 books. Awards include the prestigious Enos Bradner Award, the Northwest Outdoor Writers Associationís highest award for outstanding journalism, Several 1st place awards for Excellence in Craft from the Outdoor Writers Association of America and the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association.

After serving in the Navy during WW II he resolved to never go to sea again, then spent forty years on boats in Alaska. Francis moved to Ketchikan in 1950, when Alaska was still a Territory, and lived in Ketchikan and Sitka a total of seventeen years.

Mr. Caldwell has traveled almost everywhere in the state, from Point Barrow to the Alaska Peninsula. Now that he's "swallowed the anchor", he hangs out in Port Angeles. That's about as close to Alaska as he can get without actually being there.

Frank Caldwell

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Old 11-17-2009, 05:59 AM   #1
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Default Salmon On My Mind Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Fifteen
Another Shore Job

After getting my tent back up, and drying things out, I shoved dry paper between the
pages of my daily journal, in hopes it could be preserved enough to read. fortunately it was
written in pencil, which does not make a mess when wet, like ink. I spent the day puttering
around camp and going to the store. Everyone I met congratulated me on my recovery.

The wind was blowing when I got up. Neely’s skiff was tied up at the float. I wrote a
letter home, saying I hadn’t been able to fish for nearly two weeks because of bad weather.
I didn’t mention the storm because it was too late for anyone to worry.

I put my long underwear back on, as the weather was still rainy, and I still suffered from
the cold. I didn’t feel like fishing, so took the skiff and cruised up the river at high tide,
hoping to see bears. The torrential rains, that had made life so miserable for me in Surprise
Harbor, had been good for the salmon runs. The river was brimming full of brown water.

Hundreds of pink salmon leaped frantically. Buddy sniffed and whined, but we saw no

Buddy was excited when we got into the boat the next morning and went fishing. It
was a nice day. A light mist settled on a calm ocean. Neely was not fishing. I stopped at his
hot spot and soon discovered why. Pink salmon gobbled my bait as soon as I tossed it overboard.

I moved to Point Gardner. As I cruised across Surprise Harbor it was deceptively
calm and peaceful. I shuddered as I looked at the island that had offered me protection.

Everywhere I fished, pink or chum salmon took my bait as fast as I could put them out.
Since they were not worth keeping, I released them. By nine o’clock I was back in camp. I
ate some oatmeal, then took a long nap.

At the cannery office, Mike was on the radio phone talking to his trap tenders. When
he finished, he looked me over carefully, then said, “Well? Are you back to normal?”

“Just about. Get tired easily. Went fishing this morning. Pinks and chums everywhere.
I’m heading for home.”

“That’s probably wise. Our traps are plugged with fish. Looks like it’s going to be a
big run. When are you leaving?’

“Tomorrow, weather permitting.”

“I heard the forecast. Sounded okay. If I don’t see you again, good luck.”

I returned to camp and began to pack. When the girls arrived home I walked over to
say good bye.

“Linda, how did we let this one slip through our fingers?” Mary said.

“Should never have brought his clothes. Next time we capture a man we’ll keep him
naked and in leg irons,” Linda said, looking at me thoughtfully with the corners of her
mouth turned up in that provocative smile, her large, dark eyes brooding.

“I want to pay you for the trouble I’ve been.”

“Oh,” Mary said. “Let’s see. That will be a dollar a day for rent. Fifty cents for food.
Five dollars for day care. Anything else you can think of, Linda?”

Linda stared at me coldly. “He shouldn’t get off that cheap. Mental anguish. We should
charge something, say a dollar a day for mental anguish.”

Mary looked at Linda thoughtfully. “Mental anguish? How about mental cruelty?”

“Yeah. That too. Two dollars a day for mental anguish and cruelty?”

“Are you two through? It’s me that was suffering, remember?’

“We should charge him a warming fee too. An dollar an hour overtime for warming
his icy butt,” Linda said.

“I refuse to pay for something that never happened.”

“Ought to be worth one hundred bucks to crawl into bed with an icicle, hadn’t it

“You two are scandalous. Warming fee, indeed.” I pulled four twenties from my billfold
and handed it to Mary.

“How dare you,” she broke out laughing. “We were only kidding.” She refused the
money. I stuck it in the sugar bowl.

“I’ll never forget your kindness. Thanks for everything.”

“We were only hoping to make you our slave,” Linda quipped.

“You nearly succeeded, and you’ve ruined Buddy. He’s spoiled forever.” I countered.

Mary knelt down and put her arms around Buddy’s neck. “You take care of this dumb
cluck, you hear? He gives you any trouble, you come running to Mary.” Buddy smothered
her with kisses.

“You’ll both be slaving away in the morning before I get up, “ I said, so I’ll say goodbye.
I gave them both big hugs, and turned away. Buddy was undecided whether to go with
me or stay with them.

By nine o’clock the next morning I was packed up and ready to go. I walked to the post
office and mailed a letter telling my wife I would stop at Point Baker, but if the fishing was
not good, would soon be home, then bid Mike good bye.

The Jackson family were living in their tent again. The dogs were in the attack mode,
as usual. Not to be outdone, Buddy began barking madly. I picked up the shot gun, promising
to mail it to Tyee if it was repaired before the end of the season, then headed across
Frederick Sound for Rocky Pass. I kept one eye on the weather.

By the time I reached Point Baker, I was in no mood to fish. I refilled my gas supply
and ran on up Sumner Straits and turned into Kashevarof Passage. I stopped on Exchange
Island where a small gravel beach provided a landing place, built a fire, roasted a hot dog
and made a cup of cocoa. My mattress and sleeping bag were spread beneath the aromatic
limbs of a red cedar. Buddy curled up on my sweatshirt by my shoulder.

As dusk settled over the cove, I looked out at the boat. “Buddy,” I said. “What that boat
needs is an enclosed cabin. We’ll never have to go through that again.” We went to sleep to
the sound of Canada geese honking and the slap of tide chop on the beach.

The next evening Buddy was introduced to his new home and family at Mountain
Point. I was skinny as a rail, and my feet still hurt.

I went to work at Hugo Schmolck’s Plumbing and Heating, and worked there for the
next year. I constructed a dock in front of the house four feet above the high tide line out
of 3 X 12 planks discarded by the city street department With a mast and boom I could
lift, or launch the boat with a winch during calm weather.

On weekends I sometimes fished in front of the house at Mountain Point. If, for some
reason, I didn’t take Buddy along, when he discovered I was out in the boat, he went
berserk. He’d run along the brushy, steep, rocky shores adjacent to where my boat was, until
I finally felt sorry for him and picked him up.

If I drove off in my old Chevrolet panel truck without Buddy, he pouted and acted terribly
hurt. He’d follow the truck until I’d stop and threaten him, then he’d sneak off towards
home with his tail between his legs.

My Chevrolet panel truck had full length running boards on both sides. One morning
I drove into town to go to work and parked at the Federal Building, the nearest parking
place to the plumbing shop where I could leave the truck. When I stepped out, Buddy
came around the front, tail wagging, proud as could be. He’d rode all the way to town on
the opposite running board.

That winter I hauled the Reinell into the garage and built a good windshield and plywood
cabin with sliding side windows. The sides of the cabin dropped down and continued aft,
four inches high, so any spray ran off, instead of into the boat

I removing the front seat and build a narrow bunk, with storage bins for food underneath,
on the starboard side. The foot of the bunk was under the bow deck. On the other
side I built a comfortable seat with a back. A steering wheel and remote throttle system was
installed inside the cabin so I could stay out of the wind and rain while running. A hand-
operated windshield wiper completed the job. For heat, I had a double-mantle Coleman gas

During the day, or if I wanted to cook, I shoved the sleeping bag forward under the
bow, placed the Coleman stove on the bunk and sat on the port seat. A strong nylon canvas,
with stainless steel snaps to hold it closed, covered the rear of the cabin.

The cabin was small, but it sure beat setting up a tent and camping on the beach.

Work at Schmolcks was going okay. Bill Goodale and Bob Tucker worked there. I suffered
terribly from allergies after working in basements, or under houses, where sewage had
spilled, or where rats and cats had been. My skin itched and my flesh crawled for days afterwards.

I knew I could never save enough money to buy a troller working five days a week in
Ketchikan. How was I ever going to buy my dream boat?

One day a package postmarked Hoohah arrived. Inside was the unborn seal hat Mary
had promised. Fondling that fur hat brought back a flood of memories, and I realized how
fortunate I’d been to survive. The hat is almost fifty years old, is like new, and is one of my
most treasured possessions.


Bill and Kay Hollywood lived a few houses west of us on South Tongass Highway.

Their house was built on a rock bluff and the kitchen windows overlooked the South
Tongass Highway.

One day Kay called the shop and left a message that I should come home immediately,
that Buddy had been involved in an accident. I hurried home. A short distance before
reaching our driveway, I saw Buddy lying in the ditch on the left side of the road. He was

Numb with grief, I place him in the truck and drove to Kay’s. She had seen what happened.
A speeding car was headed east, on the south side, clear across the road from where
Buddy was walking on the shoulder. The car purposely veered across the highway to run
over my dog. He died instantly of head injuries.

Kay claimed she didn’t get a good enough description of the car to make a positive
identification. It had turned up Roosevelt Drive at a high rate of speed only seconds after
hitting Buddy, and disappeared. I begged her to describe the car as best she could, but all
she knew was it appeared to have been a dark-colored sedan.

I was so angry to think that someone would do that to a dog, for no reason, I went
home, got my rifle, then drove around Roosevelt Drive looking for any vehicle that fit the
description. If I found one that did, I looked for blood or hair on the bumper and tires.
I’ve always thought Kay knew who the car belonged to and refused to tell me, which
probably prevented me from going to prison for murder. I undoubtedly would have shot
the person if I’d have found who it was. Kay still lives in Ketchikan and insists she didn’t
know who the driver was.

I kept watch around town for a car with a dent in the grill, broken headlight, or blood
on the front bumper. Burying Buddy only caused my anger to grow worse. He’d kept me
company during that terrible storm, and had probably saved my life after I lost my hat, by
keeping my head slightly warm, and by waking Mary and Linda, while I was lying unconscious
on the beach with the tide coming in.

I swore I’d never own another Labrador. I get too attached to dogs. I’ve been tempted
many times.

During the spring of 1956, Bill McComber, superintendent for Northern Mechanical,
stopped in his cruiser and tied up at the Ryus float in front of Tongass Marine Supply. I’d
met Bill during construction of the Ketchikan Pulp Mill. He was the superintendent for
Northern Mechanical Company, who had the piping and plumbing contract during construction
of the mill.

I’d explained to him that I had some plumbing experience, but still lacked enough time
to join the union as a journeyman. He couldn’t hire me, as the union refused to allow
apprentices on this job.

Bill remembered me, and that I was working for Schmolck. He’d purchased a large
cruiser in Bellingham and was running it to Sitka, where Northern Mechanical had been
awarded the contract for all plumbing and pipe work at the new mill being constructed by
the Japanese.

I’d worked on many oil-fired boat stoves. Bill’s had been driving him nuts all the way
up through Canada. I took a look and told him one problem was the top needed resealing,
that it was leaking air and ruining the natural draft. Plus the stove pipe needed a different
kind of cap to withstand Alaskan weather. He told me to fix it, and went to town to do
some shopping.

When he returned, I was covered with soot, but the stove was burning brightly. I told
him I’d recently qualified for a journeyman and planned to come to Sitka as soon as he
began hiring. He said okay, he’d see me there.

I bought a 40-foot trailer and shipped it to Sitka by Alaska Steamship Company. Jerry
Wright, a family friend, wanted to rent it until I arrived sometime later that summer.

Sebastian Stewart announced they were closing the cannery at Tyee. While this came
as a shock to me, it actually affected very few trollers, most of who had already started fishing
other areas.

Buckshot Woolery came into the shop while I was having lunch and told me he was
buying fish at Port Alexander with the Atlas, and that he thought I could do well there. I
told him about my experience while trapped by the storm in Surprise Harbor the summer
before, and that I’d built a cabin on my boat so I didn’t have to camp in a tent.

He offered to tow my boat if I decided to go. I told him I’d think about it, because I
wanted to be in Sitka some time that summer to go to work at the pulp mill, and would let
him know the following week.

When Buckshot arrived a week later I was ready. We had found a renter for the house
at Mountain Point, who would move in as soon as my family came to Sitka.

I tied my boat behind and boarded the Atlas. As we cruised west down Revilla Channel,
I looked back at Ketchikan. I looked forward to moving to Sitka. With Buddy dead, I welcomed
a change.


‚ÄúLife should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Whoo hooo! What a Ride!‚ÄĚ

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