My Alaskan Adventure – White Alice
I drove to Alaska with a friend and arrived on August 30, 1955. We were seriously low on funds and slept in a lean-to at Eagle River for two weeks. I made contact with a friend of a friend in Baltimore, which lead to a job with the government as a cartographer draftsman. The salary netted me $128.41 every two weeks, but it took me thru the winter. In the spring I took a job with Anchorage Sand & Gravel at $150 per week. I grew up in a family of masonry contractors, so I had no trouble doing the job. My pay doubled over the government job. In the summer of 1957, I decided to try my hand at doing small masonry contracting. That didn’t work out as well as I expected. Along around August of that year, I was sitting at the bar of my favorite watering hole, the 515 Club on Fourth Avenue.
The 515 Club had three of the greatest bar tenders in the world, Bobby Taylor, Orville Smith, and Jack Norton. I was sitting next to an elderly gentleman (probably in his late 40’s). Bobby came over and asked how things were going. I told him that things were not going too well and that I probably would have to find a job that would take me through the winter months.
Bobby asked me what my Navy experience was. I told him I was a Sonarman and had electronics training. He said I shouldn’t have too much trouble finding work with that background (Bar tenders know everything!).
At that point the gentleman sitting next to me wheeled around to talk to me and in doing so, hit his drink with his elbow and splashed it all over me. He drank sweet Vermouth. Profusely apologetic, his insisted on paying for the cleaning. I told him it was no big deal and not to worry about it. He gave me his card. It said, “Luke Hetfield Federal Electric Corporation Assistant Personnel Manager”.
Bobby set us both up with free drinks and Luke said that he had overheard me say I had electronics experience. He said that the DOD contract with FEC had called for 10% indigenous personnel (locals) and that they were having trouble filling that quota. He asked if I was interested in a job in that field. I told him I was willing to listen.
He explained about White Alice and described the work requirements. I told him I would think about it and asked what the salary was. He told me $175 a week while in the 16 week training program here in Anchorage, $225 a week on site and in about 1 to 2 months, you should qualify as a Tech A and get $265 a week. Free room and board was an additional benefit. An electronics test would be required.
Those salary figures blew me away. Where was the place I should go to take the test? He pointed to the address of FEC on the card and set up a time on Monday. They gave me a test my Grandmother could have passed.
Later on Monday, Luke told me I passed and I signed the contract to start in Class 15. He wanted to know if I knew of any others who might be interested. As a member of the Jaycees, I passed the word around but got no responses. But I did know John Keefe (a 515 Clubber) and knew Art Jablonski for about two years. Art had just gone through a messy divorce and ended with John in Class 16.
The moral of this story? If someone spills a drink on you, don’t complain - it could be your lucky day!