History

True Tales From An Alaska State Trooper

Written by
David Carpenter

We had the boys singing “Home on the Range” as we drove the last ten miles into Delta for the first time in June 1974, knowing there were bison in the area. We fell in love right away with this small town, located at the junction of the Alaska and Richardson Highways. This is one of the few towns in Alaska that you can travel out of in three different directions by road, each going through completely different terrain. Following the Richardson Highway northwest takes you through a hundred miles of hilly country to Fairbanks. The Alaska Highway to the southeast leads you through mountains and by numerous rivers to Tok and then east to the Alaska/Canada border. Taking the Richardson Highway south leads you up and over a high mountain pass with rugged snow-capped peaks and glaciers on both sides. There was a lifetime of experiences possible in this wilderness country filled with wild animals. It was perfect for our young family with adventurous blood, ready for hiking, fishing, and exploring.

The town had no side streets then, just the highway. There was a lumberyard, general store, liquor store, bank, trooper post/courthouse, and four bars. The building of the Alaska Pipeline was just getting under way in the early 1970s and there was a pipeline construction camp located just a few miles outside of town.

The previous state trooper had quit and left the town without any form of law enforcement for a few months. The local people had gotten used to that idea and some were getting drunk and racing their cars up and down the highway, right through the middle of town. The middle of town just happened to be where we three troopers had just moved in to our state-owned mobile homes. It didn’t take long for the locals to learn that we were there and active.

Dave Carpenter’s last day working as a blue-shirt trooper. He is standing in front of the Arctic entry to his family’s mobile home. The rough looking shed on the left was the Delta jail before a new one was built. June 24, 1975

Our mobile home was secured tightly to a cement foundation, because, as we later learned, a previous mobile home on that site was hit by the famous Delta wind and sent across the field, rolled up into a ball. Out in the side yard of our residence was an old weather-beaten shed. It was about four feet wide and eight feet long. There were no windows—just a solid wooden door. It had been the local jail before the new one was built.

We were advised before leaving my previous post in Anchorage that our state housing in Delta was completely furnished, so we sold all of our furniture, beds and all. I felt bad for my wife, Linda, when we walked into the trailer to find it empty except for a telephone sitting on the floor, the phone Linda needed because she was expected to be my volunteer dispatcher.

A wide variety of people lived in Delta. There were the locals who made their living in areas such as farming, retail sales, government work, or working for the newly arrived pipeline camp. There were the non-resident pipeliners who were mostly from Texas. We also had soldiers from the nearby army base at Fort Greely, numerous hitchhiking transients, and the Sleepy Hollow bunch. Yes, we had Sleepy Hollow people. They lived back in the bush off a dirt trail and were trying to remain old-fashioned in a relatively modern world. They had a hand-painted sign on their trail that read, “If you enter Sleepy Hollow, be prepared to step back 50 years or you won’t come out alive.”

Linda and I worked together giving driver’s tests and issuing licenses, another trooper wife’s volunteer job. When we started cracking down on drivers and their licenses, many of the Sleepy Hollow people hurried in to get their outdated licenses renewed. One man’s license had not been renewed for so many years that it was handwritten. This is the honest truth!

The amazing thing about the different groups of people living in this area is that none of them got along. This was never more obvious than in the bars. We had one bar in particular, the most popular in town, where many fights took place. After repeatedly receiving calls to come and break up bar fights, we troopers recommended to the owner that he hire someone who might be able to keep the peace and stop the fights before they got out of control. The guy he hired turned out to be a bigger problem as he was tougher than any three guys combined in town, and he loved to fight. We weren’t getting called to break up bar fights, but too many patrons were getting roughed up. So we had to recommend that the bar owner either calm down his new employee or get rid of him.

A number of comical incidents happened while we were stationed in Delta. One of them was the “Case of the Barefoot Burglar.” I received a call one night about a lodge out on the Clearwater River that had been broken into and money stolen from a secret cabinet.

As I approached the lodge, with flashlight in hand, I did a walk-around checking all four sides of the building. There in two feet of snow, at twenty below zero, was a set of footprints. Not boot prints, but bare footprints. I was dumbstruck! They went up to a window, which had been broken from the outside. The burglar then had walked across the barroom, located the money, and went back out the same window. The tracks then went a few hundred yards to where he had parked his vehicle.

I took photos and drew sketches of the footprints and tire tracks. We didn’t have digital cameras or smart phones in those days. I interviewed the few people who were in the living quarters of the lodge, took foot measurements and eliminated them as suspects. It was pretty apparent that whoever the barefoot burglar was, he was going to be suffering some foot damage.

I put out the word around town and it wasn’t long before the bar directly across the street from us called and said a kid showed up there with frostbitten feet. I picked him up. He was 17 years old and very talkative. He said he knew we could identify boot prints and figured if he went barefoot we wouldn’t be able to track him down.

Then there was the case of the “Peanut Picker.” This story is somewhat of an embarrassment to me, but I’ll include it anyway. While driving through town late one night, I saw a tractor-trailer rig parked near the highway in the parking lot of one of the local bars. The side door on the trailer was open and I saw movement in the dark interior. Thinking that possibly someone was getting into the contents while the driver was in the bar eating, I turned my patrol car around and came up alongside the trailer door with my window down. I shined my spotlight inside the door and instantly a large gray object came reaching out of the trailer toward my face. It had a finger-like protuberance on the end of it. It happened so fast that, even though I was seat-belted in, I felt the car roof crushing the top of my Stetson hat as I nearly jumped out of my skin. Then I realized it was an elephant!

I got out of the patrol car, walked around to the driver’s side of the rig, and saw “Jumbo the Elephant” painted on the trailer in large letters. I checked the cab and found the driver sleeping. After I woke him he explained that whenever he stopped the rig, he had to open the trailer door for Jumbo, or the elephant would get nervous and start rocking the trailer. I made the mistake of letting my friends know about the “Peanut Picker” incident and took serious ribbing for a long time afterward.

Winters in Delta are severe. It can get just as cold in Delta as in Fairbanks, but while Fairbanks doesn’t get much wind in the winter, Delta does.

When the temperatures were colder than forty degrees below zero, school was called off. We saw our thermometer go down to eighty below zero! The three trooper patrol cars had to stay outside as none of us had a garage. In the coldest part of the winter that caused several problems. We had to back the vehicles into our driveways when we arrived home because when the vehicles got extremely cold we couldn’t shift the gears in and out of reverse.

There were three heaters on my rig: one for the dipstick, one on the engine block, and one in the vehicle cab. There were still no guarantees that it would start, so I had to leave it running all night when I was on call. Around three o’clock in the morning I would get up and drive over to the highway department’s garage where I refueled the rig. I would then bring it back home and go to bed, leaving the car running. Even when we did everything right and were able to get our vehicles into gear, we still had the problem of all four tires being flat on the bottom and frozen that way. Many times we had to drive to emergency situations with ‘square tires’ for several miles until they finally rounded out.

A lot of people make the mistake of driving in the wintertime with their car heater on high and their coat on the back seat. That works fine until you crash your vehicle and are pinned in it, unable to reach your warm gear and get it on. When that happens in severe cold, unless someone arrives on the scene immediately, you are in danger of freezing to death. We never had anyone freeze to death while I was in Delta, but we did send a few accident victims to the hospital with frostbite injuries. Leaving the heater turned down and being dressed warmly could have prevented those injuries.

We had many interesting incidents in Delta involving bison. They are a beautiful animal and we enjoyed having them around. I remember one moonlit night we were awakened by a couple of sharp barks from our Labrador who was in his doghouse outside. After those two barks, he was silent. I jumped up out of bed and looked out the bedroom window. I was stunned at what I saw. Right under our window, about three feet away from the house, was an entire herd of bison running by as if they had been stampeded. Even more incredible, there was no sound. We had about two feet of snow on the ground, but still you would think there would be some kind of rumbling sound. There wasn’t. It was dead silent and very eerie with the moon in the background reflecting on the snow and the herd of bison running. This “ghost” bison herd was within a few feet of our dog’s house, and he was cowering in the back of it, not making a peep. That was probably the smartest thing that dog ever did.

We had plenty of moose in the area also. It’s not uncommon in Alaska for a moose to fall through thin lake ice. Sometimes they are able to get themselves out and sometimes not.

One day I was flagged down by a local man who said there was a moose trapped in the ice on Quartz Lake, just a couple miles away. We drove back and found her still there, about thirty feet off shore. I was able to walk out to within ten feet of her and throw a loop from my emergency tow rope around her neck. We hooked the other end of the rope onto the back of the man’s four-wheel-drive pickup, and by pulling very slowly and carefully, the moose was able to get back up on the ice. After about ten minutes of standing and catching her breath, she trotted off into the woods. That was the first time I had rescued a moose from a lake, but it would not be the last.

I started to realize that while I was breaking up bar fights and chasing tail lights, the Wildlife Trooper was doing the things I had actually come to Alaska for. He was running the riverboat and climbing mountains as part of his duty. So in 1975, Linda and I put in for a transfer to the “brown shirts” (Wildlife Protection). We were accepted and offered a choice of transferring to either Valdez or Kodiak Island. Luckily, we picked Kodiak, which was a great place for a family. It turned out to be one of our most enjoyable posts.

David retired from the Department of Public Safety in 1994 and is a lifetime member of the Fraternal Order of the Alaska State Troopers. After retiring to Idaho for a few years, Dave and Linda moved back to Alaska where they currently live in Wasilla near their sons and families.
No items found.

True Tales From An Alaska State Trooper

History

Author

David Carpenter

David Carpenter was born and raised in Gratiot County, Michigan. He married his high school sweetheart, Linda Thum, and attended Central Michigan University. At the age of 26 he moved his family to Alaska. He spent 20 years working for the Alaska Department of Public Safety. They were 20 years of excitement, adventure, and danger. Dave attended the University of Alaska and received his Police Administration degree. He retired from the Department of Public Safety in 1994 and is a lifetime member of the Fraternal Order of the Alaska State Troopers. After retiring to Idaho for a few years, Dave and Linda moved back to Alaska where they currently live in Wasilla near their sons and families.

We had the boys singing “Home on the Range” as we drove the last ten miles into Delta for the first time in June 1974, knowing there were bison in the area. We fell in love right away with this small town, located at the junction of the Alaska and Richardson Highways. This is one of the few towns in Alaska that you can travel out of in three different directions by road, each going through completely different terrain. Following the Richardson Highway northwest takes you through a hundred miles of hilly country to Fairbanks. The Alaska Highway to the southeast leads you through mountains and by numerous rivers to Tok and then east to the Alaska/Canada border. Taking the Richardson Highway south leads you up and over a high mountain pass with rugged snow-capped peaks and glaciers on both sides. There was a lifetime of experiences possible in this wilderness country filled with wild animals. It was perfect for our young family with adventurous blood, ready for hiking, fishing, and exploring.

The town had no side streets then, just the highway. There was a lumberyard, general store, liquor store, bank, trooper post/courthouse, and four bars. The building of the Alaska Pipeline was just getting under way in the early 1970s and there was a pipeline construction camp located just a few miles outside of town.

The previous state trooper had quit and left the town without any form of law enforcement for a few months. The local people had gotten used to that idea and some were getting drunk and racing their cars up and down the highway, right through the middle of town. The middle of town just happened to be where we three troopers had just moved in to our state-owned mobile homes. It didn’t take long for the locals to learn that we were there and active.

Dave Carpenter’s last day working as a blue-shirt trooper. He is standing in front of the Arctic entry to his family’s mobile home. The rough looking shed on the left was the Delta jail before a new one was built. June 24, 1975

Our mobile home was secured tightly to a cement foundation, because, as we later learned, a previous mobile home on that site was hit by the famous Delta wind and sent across the field, rolled up into a ball. Out in the side yard of our residence was an old weather-beaten shed. It was about four feet wide and eight feet long. There were no windows—just a solid wooden door. It had been the local jail before the new one was built.

We were advised before leaving my previous post in Anchorage that our state housing in Delta was completely furnished, so we sold all of our furniture, beds and all. I felt bad for my wife, Linda, when we walked into the trailer to find it empty except for a telephone sitting on the floor, the phone Linda needed because she was expected to be my volunteer dispatcher.

A wide variety of people lived in Delta. There were the locals who made their living in areas such as farming, retail sales, government work, or working for the newly arrived pipeline camp. There were the non-resident pipeliners who were mostly from Texas. We also had soldiers from the nearby army base at Fort Greely, numerous hitchhiking transients, and the Sleepy Hollow bunch. Yes, we had Sleepy Hollow people. They lived back in the bush off a dirt trail and were trying to remain old-fashioned in a relatively modern world. They had a hand-painted sign on their trail that read, “If you enter Sleepy Hollow, be prepared to step back 50 years or you won’t come out alive.”

Linda and I worked together giving driver’s tests and issuing licenses, another trooper wife’s volunteer job. When we started cracking down on drivers and their licenses, many of the Sleepy Hollow people hurried in to get their outdated licenses renewed. One man’s license had not been renewed for so many years that it was handwritten. This is the honest truth!

The amazing thing about the different groups of people living in this area is that none of them got along. This was never more obvious than in the bars. We had one bar in particular, the most popular in town, where many fights took place. After repeatedly receiving calls to come and break up bar fights, we troopers recommended to the owner that he hire someone who might be able to keep the peace and stop the fights before they got out of control. The guy he hired turned out to be a bigger problem as he was tougher than any three guys combined in town, and he loved to fight. We weren’t getting called to break up bar fights, but too many patrons were getting roughed up. So we had to recommend that the bar owner either calm down his new employee or get rid of him.

A number of comical incidents happened while we were stationed in Delta. One of them was the “Case of the Barefoot Burglar.” I received a call one night about a lodge out on the Clearwater River that had been broken into and money stolen from a secret cabinet.

As I approached the lodge, with flashlight in hand, I did a walk-around checking all four sides of the building. There in two feet of snow, at twenty below zero, was a set of footprints. Not boot prints, but bare footprints. I was dumbstruck! They went up to a window, which had been broken from the outside. The burglar then had walked across the barroom, located the money, and went back out the same window. The tracks then went a few hundred yards to where he had parked his vehicle.

I took photos and drew sketches of the footprints and tire tracks. We didn’t have digital cameras or smart phones in those days. I interviewed the few people who were in the living quarters of the lodge, took foot measurements and eliminated them as suspects. It was pretty apparent that whoever the barefoot burglar was, he was going to be suffering some foot damage.

I put out the word around town and it wasn’t long before the bar directly across the street from us called and said a kid showed up there with frostbitten feet. I picked him up. He was 17 years old and very talkative. He said he knew we could identify boot prints and figured if he went barefoot we wouldn’t be able to track him down.

Then there was the case of the “Peanut Picker.” This story is somewhat of an embarrassment to me, but I’ll include it anyway. While driving through town late one night, I saw a tractor-trailer rig parked near the highway in the parking lot of one of the local bars. The side door on the trailer was open and I saw movement in the dark interior. Thinking that possibly someone was getting into the contents while the driver was in the bar eating, I turned my patrol car around and came up alongside the trailer door with my window down. I shined my spotlight inside the door and instantly a large gray object came reaching out of the trailer toward my face. It had a finger-like protuberance on the end of it. It happened so fast that, even though I was seat-belted in, I felt the car roof crushing the top of my Stetson hat as I nearly jumped out of my skin. Then I realized it was an elephant!

I got out of the patrol car, walked around to the driver’s side of the rig, and saw “Jumbo the Elephant” painted on the trailer in large letters. I checked the cab and found the driver sleeping. After I woke him he explained that whenever he stopped the rig, he had to open the trailer door for Jumbo, or the elephant would get nervous and start rocking the trailer. I made the mistake of letting my friends know about the “Peanut Picker” incident and took serious ribbing for a long time afterward.

Winters in Delta are severe. It can get just as cold in Delta as in Fairbanks, but while Fairbanks doesn’t get much wind in the winter, Delta does.

When the temperatures were colder than forty degrees below zero, school was called off. We saw our thermometer go down to eighty below zero! The three trooper patrol cars had to stay outside as none of us had a garage. In the coldest part of the winter that caused several problems. We had to back the vehicles into our driveways when we arrived home because when the vehicles got extremely cold we couldn’t shift the gears in and out of reverse.

There were three heaters on my rig: one for the dipstick, one on the engine block, and one in the vehicle cab. There were still no guarantees that it would start, so I had to leave it running all night when I was on call. Around three o’clock in the morning I would get up and drive over to the highway department’s garage where I refueled the rig. I would then bring it back home and go to bed, leaving the car running. Even when we did everything right and were able to get our vehicles into gear, we still had the problem of all four tires being flat on the bottom and frozen that way. Many times we had to drive to emergency situations with ‘square tires’ for several miles until they finally rounded out.

A lot of people make the mistake of driving in the wintertime with their car heater on high and their coat on the back seat. That works fine until you crash your vehicle and are pinned in it, unable to reach your warm gear and get it on. When that happens in severe cold, unless someone arrives on the scene immediately, you are in danger of freezing to death. We never had anyone freeze to death while I was in Delta, but we did send a few accident victims to the hospital with frostbite injuries. Leaving the heater turned down and being dressed warmly could have prevented those injuries.

We had many interesting incidents in Delta involving bison. They are a beautiful animal and we enjoyed having them around. I remember one moonlit night we were awakened by a couple of sharp barks from our Labrador who was in his doghouse outside. After those two barks, he was silent. I jumped up out of bed and looked out the bedroom window. I was stunned at what I saw. Right under our window, about three feet away from the house, was an entire herd of bison running by as if they had been stampeded. Even more incredible, there was no sound. We had about two feet of snow on the ground, but still you would think there would be some kind of rumbling sound. There wasn’t. It was dead silent and very eerie with the moon in the background reflecting on the snow and the herd of bison running. This “ghost” bison herd was within a few feet of our dog’s house, and he was cowering in the back of it, not making a peep. That was probably the smartest thing that dog ever did.

We had plenty of moose in the area also. It’s not uncommon in Alaska for a moose to fall through thin lake ice. Sometimes they are able to get themselves out and sometimes not.

One day I was flagged down by a local man who said there was a moose trapped in the ice on Quartz Lake, just a couple miles away. We drove back and found her still there, about thirty feet off shore. I was able to walk out to within ten feet of her and throw a loop from my emergency tow rope around her neck. We hooked the other end of the rope onto the back of the man’s four-wheel-drive pickup, and by pulling very slowly and carefully, the moose was able to get back up on the ice. After about ten minutes of standing and catching her breath, she trotted off into the woods. That was the first time I had rescued a moose from a lake, but it would not be the last.

I started to realize that while I was breaking up bar fights and chasing tail lights, the Wildlife Trooper was doing the things I had actually come to Alaska for. He was running the riverboat and climbing mountains as part of his duty. So in 1975, Linda and I put in for a transfer to the “brown shirts” (Wildlife Protection). We were accepted and offered a choice of transferring to either Valdez or Kodiak Island. Luckily, we picked Kodiak, which was a great place for a family. It turned out to be one of our most enjoyable posts.

David retired from the Department of Public Safety in 1994 and is a lifetime member of the Fraternal Order of the Alaska State Troopers. After retiring to Idaho for a few years, Dave and Linda moved back to Alaska where they currently live in Wasilla near their sons and families.
No items found.

Author

David Carpenter

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