My Northern Wisconsin

Covering Ashland, Iron, Lincoln, Oneida, Price, Rusk, Sawyer, Taylor, and Vilas Counties


"North to Alaska" is the first story in this column.  Click here to read it first.

Written by:  Sandy Onchuck


Shortly after the July ’72 flight to Alaska, Dennis was determined to return to the land he had fallen in love with and homestead there.  He spent months preparing for this adventure and was eager to see what awaited him in the last frontier.  He planned to drive his parents’ old 1937 Pontiac, which they had purchased in the late ’50s for $85.00.  Even the bravest of men might have rethought driving a vehicle that old on the Alcan Highway, but not Dennis.

He had the ole girl in tip-top shape, even replacing the fuel line hours before his departure.  He had initially put Plexiglas over the windshield but almost got seasick driving to town and back and decided that was not a “go.”  But he was prepared, from the screen bolted to the front bumper to protect the headlights and radiator to the homemade top carrier.

Once he decided to move he methodically began gathering equipment and gear that he would need to survive during his first year of the new life in the wilderness.  This included a one-man cross-cut saw, axes, an adze for hewing logs to build a cabin, a spade, a hoe for gardening, and smaller hand tools for construction and other miscellaneous needs.  Household items included cast iron frying pans and pots, a campfire stove, bed rolls, and kerosene lamps.  He took three rifles, ammunition, a fishing rod and reel, several traps, and snowshoes.

He hoped to get some property near Mt. McKinley and live in a 9 x 12 camping tent while he was erecting a small log cabin.  During the three months of Alaskan summer with all the daylight hours, he expected to accomplish a great deal; such as planting and harvesting a garden and building a cabin.  I think his expectations at 25 were unrealistic, but the one thing that sets him apart from others is the fact he has always dreamed big and has accomplished more than the average man.

Many of the youth in the 1970s were disillusioned with life and just wanted to get away from it all.  Dennis had no such thoughts.  He loved life, but like many outdoorsmen, he just wanted to experience the wilderness.  The trip to Alaska the previous year had sealed it for him, and the lure of the great outdoors was drawing him.

The last entry in his journal the night before he left Phillips read, ”Well, my friends, this is the last night I will be writing at the kitchen table until only the LORD knows.  May HE lead and guide me through all I must face in the times ahead.”

It had been five days since he had left home and several days since he had crossed the border into Canada.  He had enjoyed a brief visit in Minnesota with Charles and Juanita Peterson whom he had met the previous year when he and the guys had been stranded in Fort St. John.  He was enjoying every minute as he traveled along.  He was only a few miles east of Grand Prairie, Alberta when BOOM!!!  The old Pontiac lunged forward.  He frantically pumped the brake pedal but to no avail.  It took all his strength just to keep it on the road until it coasted to a stop, which took at least half a mile.  As he was struggling to keep it on the road his mechanic mind was trying to figure out what was going on.  He thought maybe his fuel tank exploded, but no, the car was not on fire.

When he finally came to a stop he realized he was trapped.  The driver’s side door was jammed and all the backseat contents were now scattered all over.  All the boxed-up gear was pushed forward trapping him inside.  It took a while but he finally managed to clear enough of the debris away from the passenger door and kick it open.  After he finally exited and walked around the vehicle he was totally baffled about what had just happened…

....The story is "to be continued" in the next publication.  Watch the Off the Road Again column for future stories.

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(This post was last modified: 06-09-2023, 01:47 PM by My Northern Wisconsin.)