Below are a series of twelve letters from Ansgar Clausen to his brother Arthur. Edmund Clausen, Ansgar’s nephew and executor of his estate, gave this batch to George and Bobbi Lounsbury, Ansgar’s friends and fellow longtime residents of Ester. These letters, provided by George Lounsbury, were written in 1940, Ansgar’s first year in Alaska. Ansgar was twenty years old. Most were mailed from Fairbanks, but a few were mailed from the Berry Post Office, located at the Berry brothers’ gold camp at 8 Below Discovery. More on the history of the Ester Post Office and Ester’s early history may be found in The Ester Republic. Publisher’s notes and explanations will be in brackets within the text.
Letter no. 1
Arthur B. Clausen
Sun. May 5
Well here I am and very glad the trip is all over with. We landed in Seward Fri. morning and then rode Friday and Sat. on the old toonerville trolley [narrow guage railroad] that runs in here to Fairbanks. I often wondered what made it stay on the tracks the way it jumped and swayed. Its top speed is 25 mi. an hour.
The trip on the ship was very nice and quite an experience. Some of the fellows on the ship that have been going up for several years said it was the smoothest trip they had ever made. The ship stirred up a lot of breeze so it was a bit chilly on deck so we stayed below most of the trip. The ship went out of it’s [sic] way to take us up to the Columbia Glacier and that was really something to look at. It is four miles wide and 350 feet high and pushing right out into the water. I took seven pictures of it, I thought it was so wonderful. [*]
Last night after I was all settled in my room and had cleaned up I was out looking the town over and was lucky enough to run into Chris Back getting off a bus. He told me where and what to do so I guess I’ll get to see Carl Tues. night.
I guess the town has been lousy with men up till now but there [sic] starting to thin out now. The airport started up last week and took 400 men and F.E. [Fairbanks Exploration Company] put on a bunch. If I had come a couple weeks earlier I guess I wouldn’t have been able to get a room.
I’ve got a little 2×4 room here with a sink in one corner and a chair in the other corner that I paid $2.00 for so I think I’ll go scouting for a cheaper room today. Otherwise meals aren’t so high up here. I had a good meal for 50¢ last night and hot cakes and 2 cups of coffee for 25¢ this morning.
Well I guess that’s all I have to say this time. Maybe you would show this letter to Andy, Gudmund Olsens’ and Ootsie Wootsie this is a mighty good pencil. I don’t know what I would do without it.
I don’t know what my address is yet so I’ll write again as soon as _?_.
Be good and greet everybody.
[postmarked May 6, 1940]
* Columbia Glacier has retreated considerably since 1940, and is expected to finish its retreat by 2020. See Wikipedia for more information.
Letter no. 2
May 10, 1940
Arthur B. Clausen
Well I’m still here but I sometimes wish I wasn’t. Work is damn scarce around here and will be for another two weeks according to hearsay around town. I go over to the F.E. office every morning together with about fifty other guys, just to hear them say no. The Air Base is waiting for supplies that are due in Seward tomorrow but it will take a couple weeks to get them in here. They figure on 1200 men when they get going so I guess there will be plenty work.
I talked to Carl B. last Sun. night and he said that under average conditions he could have gotten me on right away but there are so many extra men in town this year that it is pretty hard for him to do anything. Carl brought his car in on the train. We drank beer and played pool.
I have been staying at a hotel up till yesterday when I moved into an upstairs room of a house. We are four in this room and three in the one next to us and we’re each paying $4.00 a week. They say our landlady runs a couple of the [word scratched out] houses here in town and I don’t doubt it a bit by the looks of her.
One of my room mates happens to be the gold dealer’s son from Grenora, N.D. I didn’t recognize him till we got to talking about where we were from.
I guess that’s about all for this time except I would like if you would truck me up a ten spot or so. I’m not broke yet but it’s a cinch I will be if I have to hang around in this damn town for two, three weeks more. I guess I could get it from Carl at Chi but I don’t like to bother them.
I thank you and greet everybody.
723 – 2nd Ave
I’m sending this air mail on it will take three weeks to get to you. [Arthur signed for it on May 21, 2940]
Letter no. 3
Mr. Arthur Clausen
Fairbanks, June 3 [postmarked June 5, 1940, 10 am]
Thank you too much for the letter and the check. I don’t think I’ll have to cash the check but I’ll hang onto it awhile yet before I send it back.
I have had a few days work the last couple weeks. I drove cab on the Fairbanks airport a few days and I just came back from fighting fire for 4 days.
I am beginning to think Carl B. was stringing me a line of [word scratched out] censored when he was in Buellton [California]. I have been going to the F.E. office almost every day since I came here but I haven’t had any luck yet. I haven’t given up yet though.
The Army Air Base is starting up pretty strong now so I may get a job there but I would rather get sent out to some mine. I could go to work for the Alaska R.R. any time but they only pay 64¢ an hour so I’ll save that till the last minute.
I see Carl & Chris B. once in awhile but I haven’t seen Carl A yet. Chris has a girl friend in town so he comes in about once a week.
Those damn mosquitos are getting in full swing now. They buzz around 24 hours a day and some of them are big enough to cut steaks off of. [Ansgar provided a squashed example in a folded insert; see his accompanying note below*]
It is a bit hard to get used to the long days up here. It never gets darker than what you can easily read without light, and the days are still getting longer.
My hair is getting long enough to braid but haircuts cost a buck up here so that will have to wait too.
I am afraid I’m just not going to make much of a fortune this summer but if I make enough to get back I’ll be satisfied. A trip up in this country is worth a lot even if it is a hell of a country.
Well I guess that is about all for this time and I shall write again as soon as I get a job. I get my mail Gen. Delivery. Hello everybody.
*[Flattened mosquito enclosed, sans wings & legs, approx. 3/8″] This is just to prove that it is true what they say about—Alaska mosquitos. You can cook soup on them if you wish.**
**[Note from Edmund Clausen] The carcass survived its wrapper but I didn’t copy it. The guts will do.
Letter no. 4
Mr. Arthur B. Clausen
Fairbanks, June 15 [postmarked June 15, 1940, 5 pm]
Well I finally made it. I’m going to work for F.E. at 7:30 in the morning. I guess I’ve made about a million trips to the office and just about worn out my shoes so maybe I’ll get repaid now. I’m going out to there [sic] biggest camp about 7 miles out of Fairbanks and I’ll be making about $180 clear a month.
You should have been in Fairbanks today. The air base had taxi drivers running all over town trying to find 40 more men for them. There aren’t many idle men left in town.
I haven’t seen anything of the Bach’s [sic] for a long time and I haven’t seen Carl Aakholm yet.
They are taking passengers up in airplanes to see the midnight sun now. It costs 5 bucks and they take you up 8000 feet for half an hour. I would like to go up but I cannot afford.
Would you please take this check* and tear it up and tell Gooseman—tank [sic] you too much. I’ll send the rest of the money I owe him as soon as I have a payday.
And now I better sign off so I can get up early in the morning and catch the bus. Greet everybody and thanks for the card.
Tell Jim from me to go to hell and tell Ootsie Wootsie to [word scratched out/censored] himself.
*[See letters no. 1 and 2]
**[Danish, meaning “greetings,” “regards,” or “compliments.”
Letter no. 5
Arthur B. Clausen
2136 – 24 Ave.
June 27 [postmarked June 28, 1940, P.M., Berry, Alaska]
Hello Once More,
Yes by all means do anything you wish with the cat. It all sounds O.K. to me and my biggest concern right now is to get Knud paid his $400. He said there was no hurry but I’m pretty sure he drained his bank account and one never knows when he might pop up and need friends in a hurry. I could get it from my Renton [Washington] bank if the T.T. Clausens were home but as far as I know they’re on vacation. I could also send my next couple checks down but as I wrote last letter I’m contented like a Carnation cow* up here and have lots of big money making dreams so I don’t think I’ll be back too soon.
So you take a merry trip and hils** and tell everybody that I’ll write. Maybe by the time you come back you’ll know for sure what’s best to do with her. Drop me a line please if and when you send the money to the bank.
Have a merry time — Ansgar
I’m being a nice boy every day Edith — I have to — so I should have one shine coming already.
*[“Carnation Condensed Milk, the milk from contented cows” was an advertising slogan introduced in 1907 by the Carnation Company. For more on the history of the company, see Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnation_(brand)
**[“hils”: Danish, informal greeting, meaning “regards,” “hi,” “hello”]
Letter no. 6
Mr. Arthur Clausen
[postmarked July 13, 1940, Berry, Alaska]
Thank you too much for the letter. I’ve never welcomed letters so much before as I do up here. I just about blow up every time I get one.
Everything goes fine. I’ve been working four weeks now. I’m working on the construction of the second largest dredge in the world and it’s really a moose. I’ve been doing a little of everything in the fine of common labor and I work with the damnedest mostest squareheaded Swede I’ve ever seen. I love him like you loved Pete Taft. I don’t know how long I’ll be working as the dredge is supposed to be finished by the first of Aug. They may give me something else to do by that time because I guess there are quite a few fellows that quit early in the fall. I hear a different story every day so I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.
Yes it was true about me being in the CC’s [Civilian Conservation Corps]. I played around for a couple weeks and things didn’t look so good so I joined up for about three weeks. I ate and slept good and learned to run a bulldozer so I guess I’m not any worse off. The C’s up here are quite different from the States but I don’t ever figure on joining again.
Alaska looks quite a bit better to me now since I got a decent job. I think that if I can work the most of this summer I’ll come back again and stay for a couple years. They tell me that it is quite an experience to spend a winter up here.
This F.E. outfit is quite a big layout. They have a big power plant in town that supplies juice for all their dredges and camps. Here at this camp they have a one mile long conveyor belt and a twelve yard dragline shovel feeding it. All run by electricity. They say they have 20 million bucks ready for this new dredge to dig out.
So you plan to get hitched. Of course I approve and I think it is a very good idea. I don’t know of anyone I would rather have for a sister-in-law. You can count on me being there, and Floss [?] too — I’m sure. I don’t see why I shouldn’t be there by the first of Nov. but I’ll probably be there a heck of a lot sooner.
I’ve been to town once since I started here. We layed off the 4th but I stayed home and drank a little beer and let go at that. I’ll make up my whoopsie this fall.
I haven’t seen the Bach’s [sic] for about six weeks and I still haven’t seen Aakholm. I’ll probably look them up before I leave.
How goes it with the Olsen Hay Baling Co.? What’s Jim doing? What’s Russel doing? How are the Gilmore boys doing? Tell Chester I take it all back and I’m going to write him a letter and apologize pretty soon. What’s this about Knud getting hurt? Greet him and tell him I’m going to write him a letter.
Congrad. with the new bile. [?] That should be a good outfit to go back in.
Well—I haven’t written anything worth reading yet, so I may as well stop. Hils H.G. Gooseman and tell him I’ll write after the 15th. Greet everybody else and have it so pretty.—
Letter no. 7
Mr. A.B. Clausen
Dear Bro. and Svigersister, [sister-in-law]
I’ve just finished reading the July Readers Digest and the hour is wee (9:30) but you should have a letter so you’ll know I got yours—and I thank you.
I got over my birthday [August 20] alright without even getting tipsy but just wait till this winter when I collect that wiskey [sic].
Everything goes just as usual 9 hrs. a day and 7 days a week and morning & night too. I haven’t missed a shift since the strike and I don’t figure on missing any for awhile yet. I’m afraid I’ll have to take a guardian along when I do go to town.
We had a small wedding at the store last Sat night and it ended with a lot of our squirting and half the building getting torn down but a merry time was had by all.
Labor Day in the eve we are having a caribou barbecue up on the hill. We have thrown in a dollar apiece and after they take out $50 to get the ball team out of debt and $25 for a shotgun to raffle off, we’re going to buy beer for the rest. They had the same thing last year but I missed out on it.
The month of July was colder’n heaven [?] and most of Aug. has been hotter’n so & so but the trees are fading fast so I guess it won’t be long till we cool off.
I have subscribed to Swine Petersen’s paper but even way up here there isn’t any news in it.
Well I guess that’s all he B.S. for this time so you may have it extra pretty and write me some more letters.
Hilsen fra Edens [Greetings from Yours]
Who the hell is Troels?
Letter no. 8
2136 – 24 Ave
[postmarked Berry, Alaska, p.m.]
Aug – 24 –
I guess you peoples should be back by this time—and so am I. I’ll tell you where I’ve been and when you get the map I’m sending you can look and see. I left town July 29 and flew to Atlanta (200 miles north of here on the Koyukuk River) by way of Bettles—From Atlanta I had a native take me 20 miles downstream in his boat – outboard. And then I walked 5 miles up a creek through brush and mud with a 50 lb. pack on my back—about midnight—getting madder all the time—and find Knud—and go right back to the river with him. Knud went back to Atlanta with the indian and on up the Alatna river about 50 miles with three other prospectors and then back down to Hughes—below Alatna—So when we got there last Sat. and he was still there I told him he could gladly take my place while I went back here and made me a little money like I figured on when I came up here this spring. So I flew back in and came back here to my little Cat. And now they tell me that tomorrow on the next day I start running the bulldozer—which will mean a big 9¢ raise from $1.13 to $1.22 per hr. But it’s a raise and this is a good place to learn the business. They have and [sic] old R.D.7 that should be in the antique shop—but it gets around.
The leaves are turning and the snow balls will be a flying.I forgot your birthdays and you forgot mine—so we’re even. Did Betsy behave? Do Emily & Agnes still love us all? I’ll mail your map tonight. It was the only one I could get. I have one just like it—
Thanks for the book & papers. Took me two nights to read the book—very funny—Lasswell must be a beer hound too.
Letter no. 9
Mr. A.B. Clausen
[postmarked Fairbanks, Sept. 4, 1940, 4 pm]
Thank you to [sic] much for the letter which I received today while I was wandering around town doing nothing. It’s sad but true but I got my walking papers together with five other fellows on the last day of Aug. They tell us in the office that they may be able to find something else for us within the next few days but I’m afraid they’re full of B.S. because they are laying men off in all their camps. Things are quite slack around here just like they were this spring so if I don’t find something in a day or two I’m going to try catch the Sept. 6 boat out of Valdez. That will bring me to Seattle on the 12 or 13th which is all too damn early but maybe I can find something to do around there for awhile.
I asked about Gudmunds [sic] money order today and they said it was fixed and sent back a week ago so he should have it by this time. I was beginning to get a bit worried about it because I never heard from him.
I had intended to go out to see Carl B. before I left but I don’t know if I’ll make it. He is 30 miles out and the bus leaves at 11: and doesn’t get back till about 9 at night. I guess I’ll just write him a letter. I haven’t seen either of them for over three months.
I would like to work another 1/2 or whole month before I leave but as it is I should hit Seattle with $375 so I guess I cant [sic] kick. Einar won’t have to worry about me buying his car and neither will anybody else. I have a job cinched for next spring driving points—if they don’t have me packing a rifle by that time.
Well I won’t send this letter till I find out for sure what I’m going to do so —have it so pretty—
I’m on my way—
Letter no. 10
Mr. A.B. Clausen
[postmarked Earlington, Wash., Sep. 18, 1940, a.m.]
Well I guess it tis about time I write and let you know what’s what.
I left Valdez early the 7th and landed in Seattle on the aft. of the 12th which happened to Thurs. so Floss [?] and Thor & Sena were at the dock to meet me. I had a very lovely time coming down. There weren’t very many on the boat and the weather was a lot warmer than it was when I went up.
I didn’t spend much time looking for work in Fairbanks before I left but I sure wish I could have worked another month. I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself for the next 2–3 weeks. Floss don’t [sic] want to quit her job till about the middle of next month but I think I can talk her into quitting a little earlier. I should like to spend a little time in Solvang before we leave.
I didn’t get to see the Back’s [sic] before I left and I never did see Carl Åkholm but I hope to go back next year so I suppose I’ll see them again.
Floss was out here Sun. afternoon. I went into town yesterday and looked around—saw Queen of the Yukon.* This forenoon I built rooster pen and this afternoon its [sic] raining—aside from that nothing much happens.
I wrote you three little letters on the boat but I never did get any of them sent.
Well I hope to see you soon so greet everybody and write—
Letter no. 11
Mr. A.B. Clausen
Hello Mr. & Mrs. Clausen,
It’s not that I have a blessed thing to write about but I want to thank you for your last letter so maybe you will write again.
Well they finally decided that winter is almost here so they shut down the points* the last day of Sept. I’m sure I would have gone slug buggy if they had lasted another day and I swear I’ll never drive another. We are doing dead work now such as taking off hoses and picking up pipe and all such that has to be done on the point field.
The weather is slowly getting colder with about 3/4 inch of ice about 20˚ above every night. We had a small blizzard the 14th of Sept. but it was a bit too warm for the snow to stay. I guess we’re due for a good one anytime now.
I was to town a week ago last Mon. night and slopped up a little beer & whiskey and made a little noise —but I behaved pretty good. I’m not going in again till next payday.
My Aug. check was $248.59 and Sept. should be almost as big. A point driver gets 90 cents an hour and works 63 hours a week with time and a half for everything over 40 hours a week which amounts to about $1.04 an hour with overtime and all. With my $248.59 and $46.50 for board, $2.50 host. and $2.98 soc. sec. I made $297.59 gross. I still don’t think I’m coming back next year.
I guess the days will soon be getting so short that we’ll be cut down to 8 hours a day but that will be O.K. by me. One of these days I’m going to declare a holiday because I haven’t missed a day since July 2nd.
And that is all so good night & hils & be good & I’ll be seeing you etc. & write.
*A mining or steam point was a pipe driven into the ground and used to pump water or steam to thaw and loosen the soil in hydraulic mining. The soil or top layer of dirt was then dredged off and either pumped in a slurry to nearby rivers (such as the Tanana) or filtered for gold and mounds of tailings left behind. Fields of steam points were created between Fairbanks and Ester and in other outlying mining districts.
Letter no. 12*
Mr. Arthur Clausen
Hello and how in hell are you? I have been expecting to get payed [sic] off for a couple weeks and I have sort of delayed the letter writing so I could write and tell you all about it but it looks like they can’t get along without me so I’ll write anyway.
They put me to work on one of the dredges about the first of Nov. and I’m still working there but the dredge shut down for the winter about ten days ago. We are doing repair work and the way the talk goes there is plenty of it to do so I still don’t know when I’ll be through. I think if they ‘ll let me I’ll work till the 15th of Dec. and get to Seattle for Xmas.
Last Wed. I declared a holiday and went to town and had a nice big rotten abscessed tooth pulled. I walked around half rum-dumb for a week before I finally gave up. It was the first day I’ve missed since the 1st of July but it was sure worth it.
The thermometer has hit 20˚ below a few times lately but one doesn’t seem to feel the cold so bad up here and there is plenty heat on the dredge. We only have daylight from about 8 till 4 and it seems a bit funny.
All of my pals have quit or been payed off and I must say this is quite a lonesome place. There are only about 20 men left in camp.
This isn’t much but it’s all there is so I shall close wishing you all a Joyous Thanksgiving etc. Write me a long letter some time before the 15th. And I shall be seeing Yousens.
*[This is the last letter from 1940. Ansgar, the youngest of 12 siblings, ended up living in Ester and in 1974 built a log cabin on Main Street (now part of the John Trigg Ester Library campus). He and his wife, Ida, lived there for the rest of their lives.]