The faithful old-timers

Posted: Friday, September 05, 2003

On the WaterfrontBy Elton Engstrom

He graduated from Georgia Tech. His name was Art Berthold. He was a fish buyer in Icy Strait in the 1950s and 1960s, where his boat, the Fern II, was a well known sight. Other men working in this famous fraternity were Gil Bixby buying troll salmon on the Elfin III and Ike Cropley on the Phoenix II.

At that time the troll season started in late April, when the king salmon showed up, and ended about Sept. 20 with the silvers. Many of the fishermen used small boats, and since there were cold storages only at Pelican and Juneau, they preferred to fish on the grounds and deliver to the packer and anchor up at night. They avoided a one- or two-day run into Pelican or Juneau.

Each week the Fern II would make the trip into Juneau with a load of kings and silvers of up to 50,000 pounds. In the l950s, I was working at the cold storage here. We would see how fast we could unload her. Two of us would drop into the hold and using two buckets, we would keep the deck hoist moving all the time, carrying the full bucket up while we loaded the empty. It took us about three hours to do the job.

In the l960s, before I moved to Yakutat, I continued to work with Art Berthold. I recently received a beautifully written letter from Floyd Peterson of Hoonah with which I want to conclude this week's column. Here is the letter:

"Your column, 'On the Waterfront,' brings back fond memories. One of my favorite fish buyers was Art Berthold, on the Fern II, who also packed for Engstrom. I remember selling my first king salmon to Art back in the early '50s when I was 11 years old.

"Art would stop in Port Frederick on his Icy Strait rounds about every three or four days and anchor in front of our house. I caught my 16-pound king right after Art had left for his next stop at Pinta Cove.

"I remember making a mess out of my fish as I clumsily tried to clean it, darn near cutting the head off. Someone suggested that I try to preserve it by stuffing it with seaweed until Art returned, but, I went a step further and got some ice cubes out of our refrigerator's freezer.

"I faithfully repacked the slowly deteriorating fish daily until Art returned.

Art shook his head, smiled and bought my ragged, but still edible, king salmon and then patiently showed me how to properly dress a salmon. I continued to sell fish to Art for over 20 years after that.

"A couple other favorite buyers of mine were Gunner and Lassie Ohman who tended Art's scow in Pinta Cove. They would always have a cool one and a couple of pieces of smoked salmon waiting for us when we delivered. I miss the faithful old-timers but the fond memories continue to remind us of them."

• Elton Engstrom is a lifelong Alaskan, retired fish-buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau. He can be reached at 586-1655.

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