These images and the associated text come from a series of emails between Larry Taylor and Randy Sauder. Randy's father Harvey was the Tukuskoya Camp Director in the mid to late sixties. They are very interesting shots of the Lake with Randy's recollections for explanation. I especially enjoy looking in the background to see how the shoreline has changed.
Below: My father, Harvey Sauder, Tukuskoya Camp Director about to head over to Burkeshore Marina and then home to Anchorage. This was taken on a Sunday in mid winter so it was around 2 PM in the afternoon as the sun was getting ready to set. Note the flashlight on the back of our Ski Doo. I was the one that took this picture. My belief is that the channel from Flat Lake into Mud Lake would have been somewhere behind my Dad over to his left. (circa: winter 1965-66).
This photo dates to about the winter of 1965-1966 when we snowshoe’d the 8 miles over from Burkshore Marina on Big Lake. At that time the old channel between Flat Lake and Mud Lake would’ve been on the opposite side of the lake through the tree limbs to the far left of this photo. It would not be until about about the summer of 1968 that the new present day much improved wider channel was dug.
Yes, my memory is that the new wider channel now in use between Flat Lake and Mud Lake was dug about 1968 (9 years or so after the 1959 statehood). A year earlier in 1967 special celebrations took place during the Fur Rendezvous to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the Alaska territory purchase from Russia. Somewhere I still have a patch or coin that commemorates the event. In those days you may recall that Anchorage only had 3 B&W TV channels and no live feeds from the lower 48. This was before satellite TV and we were still using rabbit ears to pull a weak signal. Any Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley or David Brinkley news cast came via 16mm reels that were flown up from the lower 48 and then rebroadcast 5-6 hrs later. And all channels went off the air about 1 A.M. until 6 A.M. the next morning. “Whats My Line,” “Password” and the “Jack Benny” variety shows were popular evening shows at the time. As memory serves, color TV was first broadcast in Anchorage about 1967.
In the mid to late 1960’s my father, Harvey Sauder, was a pastor in Anchorage as well as Youth Director for the Alaska Mission of Seventh-day Adventists. The job included being in charge of Camp Tukuskoya on Flat Lake and other camps around Alaska.
During this period a prominent Alaska physician by the name of Dr. David Ekvall lived in Anchorage. He was a close friend of my father and Ekvall’s daughter Jennifer was a classmate of mine. In the early 1960’s Dr. Ekvall donated a wooden boat to Camp Tukuskoya (see attached picture) which we called the Kia. It was slow. But over the years it ferried hundreds and hundreds of campers across Big Lake to the Flat Lake camp and back. In those days Ekvall had an indoor swimming pool at his Anchorage house (the only one in Alaska at that time) and we loved to swim there during the winter. He also had one of the first color TV’s in the state and I recall seeing a color broadcast (“The Monkeys”) for the first time at his house.
The year 1968 comes to mind for the new Mud Lake/Flat Lake channel construction because the wider channel was only there for about one summer while we still lived in Alaska. It was in January 1969 in the dead of winter that we moved from Anchorage. We drove down the Alaska Highway and encountered temperatures in the Yukon as low as minus 75 degrees below zero plus wind chill factor. At one point we had a wheel axle on our small towed trailer that literally broke off from the bitter cold. We unloaded everything into the car and just abandoned the trailer. It was so cold we had to put alcohol in the gas every so often to keep it from freezing. We also had to plaster duct tape inside the car doors because the rubber seals shrank letting in the cold air. Any exposed skin literally went numb within seconds. Needless to say the trip was just another Alaska adventure.
As for who dug the new channel, my belief is that it was the Army Corps of Engineers. However, I can’t say for sure. It may have even been a private excavation group hired for the job but that is pure speculation. I just recall that it was a massive improvement in depth and width over the little snaking channel that previously existed between Mud Lake and Flat Lake. The original Mud Lake/Flat Lake channel was shallow with a rocky bottom and there were large roots protruding in from below the tundra on both sides. The result was that the boat outboards often hit bottom. I remember the first time it happened we didn’t have an extra shear pin in the boat. It was a week day and there was very little boat activity on Flat Lake in those days. My Dad and I had to paddle our 16’ foot boat back through Mud Lake to Big Lake. Finally, a passing boat spotted our plight and towed us back to Burkshore Marina. After that we always carried extra shear pins in all the boats.
My Dad learned that if you slowed down but kept up some moderate speed going through the channel that the boat stayed up on the step and hit bottom less often. With that knowledge, maintaining some speed in the small channel became standard practice for the Tukuskoya boats. Other boats on the lake also adopted the practice. There were at least 2-3 turns in the old channel so you had to be on your toes. And when the boats were full of campers they wallowed and it was more difficult. The challenge was when I was skiing through the old channel and we met another oncoming boat. It happened a number of times but we somehow always avoided hitting anyone. Whenever the weather was agreeable my Dad would let me ski the 8 miles from Burkshore Marina over to the camp and back upon our return. Negotiating the two channels (especially the Mud Lake to Flat Lake channel) while being towed was just part of the experience.
A huge advantage of the new channel was that it was straight rather than what previously amounted to little more than a crooked dug out creek connecting the two lakes. A person could probably earn a living dredging scrap iron from all the outboard motor shear pins that were lost in that old mucky channel. If my memory is correct, the new channel was dug at the very beginning of the summer shortly after ice breakup. I don’t recall seeing any of the dredging work. By the time we made our first trip out to the camp in early spring I believe it was already finished. But the large cleared area and wide dirt swath along the new channel sides left visual evidence that work had been recently done.
As for the channel between Big Lake and Mud Lake, I don’t have any recollection of a change taking place with that channel in 1968. My memory is that it was never a problem to go through that channel and I don’t recall ever losing a shear pin at that location. There may have been a slight widening in that channel in 1968 as you suggest, but I don’t recall it. The big improvement that stands out in my mind was between Mud Lake and Flat Lake. Perhaps if you send some pictures of how that Big Lake to Mud Lake channel looks today I might be able to tell you more?
By the way, in those days many of us referred to Flat Lake as Mirror Lake. That was because the lake would get so glassy in summer which was wonderful for water skiing. Lastly, if any of the Flat Lake residents have the time and opportunity, I’d love to see a Utube video of in and around Camp Tukuskoya and just driving around the lake by boat. Lots of wonderful memories there.
Below: The Kia which in the early 1960’s was donated by Anchorage Physician Dr. David Ekvall to Camp Tukuskoya. That’s me as a 12 or 13 year old headed off the diving board in stripped bathing suit. The boy in white T-shirt in the middle of the group is my buddy Chuck Sandvik who’s father Kent Sandvik owned the famous “Butte” in Palmer. The new channel was not yet dug when this circa 1966-67 picture was taken. When dug, the excavation of the new channel was clearly visible from the camp where trees were cut down and dirt was pushed back a fair distance on either side.
Below: This is a picture from a boat looking back at Camp Tukuskoya about a hundred feet or so off the dock and old “Cook Shack.” The spit of land where the campfires took place is to the right and out of frame. One summer night we saw the most spectacular Northern Lights we ever saw while in Alaska by that campfire. Your present day home would be about where the right edge of this photo is located but on the other side of the spit and across the bay. The white boat on the other side of the dock belonged to Nils Ambjornsen. The Ambjornsen family was from Norway and they owned the cabin on the left side of the small island opposite where you live. Their children went to school with me in Anchorage. Jon, their oldest son, was an expert snow skier and a fairly good water skier as well. The Ambjornsen’s often came over to the camp to visit. And, we Tukuskoya campers often used canoes to paddle over to their place. One interesting difference between then and now is how trees have matured and grown in over the last 40 years. Perhaps there was a forest fire around the lake back in the 1920’s-30s? That would explain why trees were so much more sparse in the 1960s than they are today. Speaking of fires, to the left of this photo is where we accidentally started a small forest fire near the time this photo was taken. A pit used to burn cleared trees was located outside the left frame of this photo. On one occasion, unknown to us, the fire burned down roots into the tundra and then re-emerged yards away. We thought the fire had been put out. However, when we returned a few days later the area was engulfed in flames about a hundred yards to the left of the dock. As memory serves, the burn area was perhaps several football fields in size. Fortunately, it was caught soon enough and firefighters were able to put it out with no damage to the camp. It could have been a real disaster for the camp as well as the entire Big Lake area had it had a chance to mature into a real monster. (circa: 1966-67).
The attached photos might be of interest to you and your Flatlake.com readers. These were taken in the 1960’s while I was a teen and my father, Harvey Sauder, was Director at Camp Tukuskoya. The two photos show how Flat Lake looked before and after the new channel to Mud Lake was dug. The channel from Big Lake to Mud Lake was also widened and dredged a bit that year. The spring of 2018 will mark the 50 year anniversary of the channel being built. It was a huge improvement over the prior narrow snake winding channel where we regularly lost sheer pins on our boat motors from hitting bottom. At that time there was no road to Flat Lake or where the new channel exists. During summers the only way in was by boat from Burkeshore Marina or float plane. In winter it was by ski plane, snowmobile or an 8 mile trek from Burkeshore with snowshoes or cross country ski’s. 50 years ago this winter (1965) a friend and I went across on snowshoes in bitter minus 30 degree weather with a blowing wind. Never was I so glad to arrive at Camp Tukuskoya where we built a fire to thaw out.
Wow, what a blast from the past. There are so many great memories spent up there. In answer to your question about the channels, believe it or not, I regularly skied through both. When we moved to Anchorage in the fall of 1965 the channel between Mud Lake and Flat lake was winding, long, narrow and not very deep. We sheered many sheer pins off our outboard going through. Consequently, my father found that if you kept the boat at a slightly higher speed and kept the boat up on the step it would actually go through better than if you slowed down and just putted and wallowed through. It wasn’t high speed but it wasn’t slow either. And obviously when we met a boat we had to slow down. If I was on a ski rope that became a challenge as I would wallow in the water. However, I was only 12-13 years old and small in those days so I kind of didn’t sink all that much even at slower speeds.
As I recall, when you went into the old channel (from Mud Lake heading towards Flat Lake) you went in at an angle to the right for a short distance (30-50’?). Then it turned slightly to the left for a longer period (generally straight but not straight) and then left again into Flat Lake. Trust me, in those days when two boats went by one another there was not much room on either side. And the channel was very rough and not uniform per se. About the summer of 1968 a new channel was cut between Mud Lake and Flat Lake which was rather straight, much wider and much improved over the earlier version.
As for you’re second question about which cabin was first on the lake, I’m afraid I can’t help you on that one. When we were in the area there were probably about a dozen cabins on Flat Lake. As there were no roads in, I’d be surprised if anyone lived up there year round. In those days, the only way in during the summer was by boat or float plane. They were likely all summer cottages. Snowmobiles were just in the process of becoming popular so perhaps a few people went over in winter on those. But I doubt the cabins were winterized so it probably didn’t happen often. Attached are a few pictures where you can see most of the cabins at that time. If you look sequentially from top to bottom I’m giving you a pan of the lake (L-R) from the front of Camp Tukuskoya. Perhaps that will help. These would all have been taken between 1966-68.
Below: Looking left from the Camp Tukuskoya dock towards the small island. As I understand it, your place is to the left and across the bay from that island? As you can see, there was a cabin visible behind the boat on the island. My memory is that there were two cabins on the island. Another, towards the other side or end of the island is where I believe our friends the Ambjorensens lived. Behind this island to the left there was at least one other cabin where Dave and Donita Strike lived. It would be in the general area of where I believe your place is now located. To the hard left of the photographer on the other side of what we called the spit, the water was quite shallow and I don’t recall any cabins over there. Hard for me to remember for sure but I think there were perhaps two more cabins straight ahead in this photo. The roof tops may be visible in this photo. The channel into Mud Lake would be somewhere about where the right side of the photo ends.
Below: This photo kind of continues on from where the above photo leaves off. The channel into Mud Lake would likely be just out of frame to the left. As you can see, there were what appears to have been about 4-5 cabins along the far side in those days.
Below: Again, this photo continues the pan to the right from the above photo. The cabin between the first two skiers on the left is the same cabin seen above the middle skier in the above photo. In this photo below you can see what appears to be two additional cabins. One appears between the second and third skier and one is at the end of the island just at the right edge of this photo.
Below: This photo shows a continuation from the above. Just above and to the left of the diving board you can see the cabin that was at the far left end of the island on the left.
Below: Continuing the pan and looking from the Tukuskoya dock towards the two islands across the lake. On the island to the right I don’t recall any cabins, certainly not on this side. On the far side, I recall that there was at least one cabin but I think it was on shore on the opposite side of the lake rather than the island. But that is seen through a young boys eyes and 44 years of memory and I could be wrong. As kids we would sometimes canoe over there around the islands and it seems like we sometimes explored that particular cabin on the far side of the lake.
Below: Winter 1965-1966 scene when my Dad drove a bulldozer from Burkeshore Marina the 8 miles across Big Lake, Mud Lake and Flat Lake to Camp Tukuskoya. The slow trek took most of a day as a friend and I snowshoed alongside through bitter cold wind and minus 30 degrees temperatures. The dozer (likely used in the 1942 construction of the 1,300 mile Alaska Highway) was purchased in the fall of 1965 by my father from the Fort Richardson Army base surplus. During the next few summers Dad used it to expand the Tukuskoya common area. Being a pilot, Dad also considered using it to build a short dirt runway at the camp to land small planes. A landing strip would’ve allowed for a 20 minute flight from Anchorage rather than the two hour trip then required from Anchorage to Palmer (via the old Glenn Highway) to Burkeshore by car and finally 8 miles by boat across the 3 lakes. However, it was determined the boat access from Burkeshore was adequate and it was never built.
Below: Anchorage GI Johnny Fullbright standing in front of the Camp Tukuskoya flagpole with the island visible across the lake. The modern Tukuskoya camp sign now resides on the bank somewhere over his left shoulder. This photo was taken during the winter of 1965-1966. My recollection is there were a couple cottage cabins (hidden from this view) on the other side of the lake beyond the island but none to the right of this photo near the camp where the water got shallow at the end of the lake. Since this was before any roads existed to Flat Lake, there were only a few summer cottages and no year round dwellers on either Mud Lake or Flat Lake.
Below: Speaking of trees, I'll tell you a couple of interesting stories. In the 1960's when we brought the bulldozer over from Burkeshore Marina to the camp it was used to clear the open area that you see to the left of the lodge by the lake. In those days there was no grass. Only weeds, rocks, holes, tundra, mud and the like. In this view, the lake and where the current Camp Tukuskoya sign now sits is directly behind the photographer. The old "Cook Shack" or lodge (by the dock) would be directly to the right of the photographer perhaps 100' away. The existing cabin is visible up the hill in the trees. In the early excavation it was tough going for the dozer. From about this point to the left towards the small bay (several hundred feet) the ground was extremely soft. It was tundra, muskeg and wet. The dozer got stuck on several occasions and it was hard work getting it out. This photo below shows one such occasion. My father, Camp Director Harvey Sauder (left) and Alaska Mission Pilot Alan Baldwin are working to get it out.
Below: This photo was taken during a 1966 junior camp at Camp Tukuskoya prior to much of the tree clearing. The lake is obviously to the left of the photographer and the "Cooks Shack" or old lodge is directly behind about 50 feet away. The dock was behind and to the left of the photographer. Somewhere to the left of the pile of logs would be generally where the current "Camp Tukuskoya" sign now sits by the lake. During that summer, excavation took place in between junior camps and other camp retreats. By the way, I'm the boy in white T-shirt, fourth from the left. (circa 1966)
Below: Another view during excavation. It was summer but you can see everyone was dressed warmly. The lake is to the left and the old lodge was directly behind the photographer about 50-75 feet away. The dozer is visible in the distance in newly cleared area. The tent (used to house campers) had been purchased by my father, camp director Harvey Sauder from Army Surplus in Anchorage. On one particular weekend when there was no camp I was taking a nap in that tent. My Dad had taken the boat back to Burkeshore to pick up some folks and I was alone at the camp. At one point I woke up half asleep and wandered out about 20 feet in this direction towards the lodge. Suddenly, I detected movement off to my left about 50 feet away. It was a black bear meandering along at the base of the hill. In a moment I was frozen with fear. Fortunately, the bear had no interest in me and kept moving towards the lodge. Another time my older sister Jeralyn was sunbathing on the table seen here in the foreground with her eyes closed. At the time she also was alone at the camp. She suddenly had the sensation of being watched, opened her eyes and found herself face to face with the same bear. Petrified with fear she just laid there. After the bear moved off a short distance she ran to the dock and was prepared to swim for it if the bear followed. It didn't. Many at the camp had similar stories but no harm came to anyone. The bear once broke into the lodge and ate several dozen cookies. (circa: 1966).
Below: During the clearing process limbs and excess wood would be burned in fires such as this. On one occasion, we left the camp for a weekend thinking the fire had been put out. However, upon our return a few days later the ground area and trees you see in the distance was in flames. What happened was that (unknown to us) the fire was still smoldering and burned down roots in the tundra and then reemerged to start a small forest fire. It was very fortunate that we arrived when we did. Fire crews were called and the fire was extinguished. Anytime thereafter my father was ultra careful to make sure that fires were completely put out before we left. I still recall carrying gallons of water to douse fires. It could have been a real disaster as forest fires have ravaged the Big Lake area in the past. By the way, thats my father, Harvey Sauder driving the dozer. (circa: 1966).
Below: A later view showing where more of the trees towards the small bay had been cleared. As kids we didn't mind the cold water and leaches. But as you can see in this photo, the small girls were still glad for the warm fire after their swim. This photo was probably a year after the initial clearing as there is a bit of grass (weeds?) in the open area. The girl second from right is Rhonda Sandvik who's grandparents and parents were early settlers in the Mat Valley. Their family owned the famous "Butte" in Palmer and her brother Randy still owns it as of this writing in 2012. (circa: 1967).
Below: Campers at Camp Tukuskoya saluting the flag at either sunrise or sunset. The lake and current Camp Tukuskoya sign would be behind the photographer perhaps 40' away. The old lodge would be to the right perhaps 100' away. The tent up on the hill was our family camp tent. It is generally where the new larger lodge was later built around 1975. Rough seating is visible behind them on the hillside where campers would sit and hear stories. (circa: 1966)
We used to regularly fight the great great grandparents of those same Flat Lake mosquito's you mention. They were huge, hungry and well represented. The only way we were able to survive was that each summer my Dad had the entire camp area sprayed. Sometimes it was done twice. We also relied on lots of OFF. Below is a picture (circa: 1966-67) at the camp of Johnny Fulbright who was then an Anchorage Army GI that used to help at the camp once in awhile. In the fall of 1965 or spring of 1966 Dad picked up the fogger from Army Surplus in Anchorage. As you can see it was about the size of a modern day leaf blower. It had a small gas motor that blew the stuff into the trees, weeds and grass. It worked and cut down the population a great deal.
1968 view off the Camp Tukuskoya dock looking across Flat lake which many of the locals called Mirror Lake. The glassy surface made for perfect water skiing conditions. The small white spots along the shore line were real estate sale signs. The brown boat at left was called the Kia and had been donated to the camp by Anchorage physician Dr. Dave Ekvall. The small green boat in the foreground was also a camp boat. Both were driven by 40 hp Evinrude motors which ferried hundreds of campers back and forth each summer from Burkeshore Marina to the camp. The other boat with hard top belonged to Dave Strike (standing in the boat) and his wife Donita who had a cabin on the lake to the far left out of frame opposite the small island. The taller boy in shorts looking down is me while the shorter boy is one of the Strike children. The higher floating dock at the end of the secure dock is what was used to tow much of the wood obtained from the Palmer Matanuska State Fair building the previous year from Burkeshore to Tukuskoya. Some of that wood helped restore this dock which had been partially underwater the year prior. The long shadows suggest this was a late summer evening about the time when loons would start singing their majestic calls.
© 2014 Rob Nuss firstname.lastname@example.org