Surprise trade leads to longtime home in Fairbanks

Posted: Monday, January 24, 2011

FAIRBANKS — Call it a coincidence, or call it the log cabin Phyllis and Lloyd Welty have lived in for over 50 years.

Either way, the cabin the couple raised five children in came to them in a trade. The Weltys had moved from Fairbanks to Portland, Ore., in 1953 so Lloyd could get relief from the asthma he had developed while living in another cabin in downtown Fairbanks.

But after a year they decided to move back. Lloyd returned to Fairbanks while Phyllis stayed in Portland with their two young children while he searched for a new house.

However it was their neighbor in Portland who helped them find their little cabin in Fairbanks. The neighbor told Phyllis his friend was looking for a house in Portland and was willing to trade his Fairbanks house. Lloyd, still in Fairbanks, checked it out and decided the 20-by-20 cabin was a good deal. He had his attorney draft paperwork and made the deal.

“Might as well say on a handshake,” Lloyd said. “Except we never saw him, to my knowledge.” Houses traded, the Weltys returned north.

Phyllis had originally moved to Fairbanks in 1943 when her father’s job was transferred from Ketchikan. She met Lloyd, who had worked with her at Gulls Laundry in Fairbanks, in 1948 and they married early the next year. Lloyd was raised in Oklahoma but moved to Fairbanks in 1947 as a B-29 mechanic for the Army Air Corps.

After their marriage, they lived in a small cabin Phyllis’ father had owned (shortly after moving to Fairbanks he returned to Ketchikan.) It had been adequate, but they disliked being downtown since it was a major traffic area and the dust aggravated Lloyd’s lungs. The new cabin fit them much better, but it was small, and they knew they’d have to add on.

“To make it plenty big enough,” Lloyd said.

So Lloyd spent the winter cutting logs for the new addition. When summer came, Phyllis helped strip the logs, even though she was seven months pregnant with their third child. It took them five years to finish the 30-by-30 addition, which holds the living room, two bedrooms and a bathroom. Today, the dividing wall between the old cabin and the addition has not been covered by the Sheetrock and still shows the original logs. The small wall is home to a handful of Alaska memories; a sketch of their wedding portrait and a gray wolf fur Lloyd’s friend had given him.

There’s been a host of additions, repairs and remodels. The flood of 1967 completely flooded the basement and left 8 inches of water in the old cabin and 6 in the new. Their front porch floated away but four others floated into the backyard. They picked one and nailed it to the entrance until a neighbor asked for it back.

Lloyd never had time to replace it and now the only reminder of the porch is a “door to nowhere.”

“The way I figure, at least I’ll always have something to do,” Lloyd said.

Despite only four bedrooms, the cabin was perfect for the growing family. Except for one thing.

“Only thing (the five children) complained about was the bathrooms,” Phyllis said. “If they goofed up, they had to wait a while.”

The garage went up in 1970s. Before, their driveway had gone all the way through their double lot, from Cottonwood Street to Tamarack Street. The Weltys discovered the long drive was more a burden than a blessing after someone led a police chase right through their front yard.

The cabin has more than suited them over the last 50 years. When they moved into the neighborhood, Phyllis said there were two to five kids at every house. Perfect playmates for their five children.

The children are grown now, in both their cabin and in the rest of the neighborhood. Things are quiet now, the Weltys said.

But that doesn’t mean their cabin is. The Weltys children might not live there, but their grandchildren take turns rotating through the spare bedrooms.

That’s not to say they can’t fill their home. On Thanksgiving they hosted 12 people in the small corner that nests their dining room table for dinner.

“It’s was an ideal place to raise a family,” she said.

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