One of the things Alaska is known for is its vast abundance of big, hearty, “ruff and gruff” men. While they no longer outnumber Alaskan women fifteen to one, they do very much still exist. Two of them came to StoryCorps Barrow on Saturday and showed that Alaskan men can be tough, kind, and sentimental all at the same time.
Eric Estes brought his co-worker and friend, John Long, to StoryCorps for a couple of reasons. One is that John has a wealth of knowledge about Alaska. After all, John was just six-years-old when he sailed on the SS Aleutian through the Inside Passage and arrived in Alaska. The year was 1947, twelve years before Alaska saw statehood.
John’s stories can often be seen as historical accounts. He remembers seeing Anchorage for the first time in 1947 when the city was made up of just three streets. “It was pretty primitive compared to what it is today,” he said. At the age of seventeen, John joined the Territorial Guard, now known as Alaska’s National Guard, in Ketchikan.
In 1963, while serving on the National Guard, John had the honor of holding the Alaskan Flag over the head of Alaska’s first state governor, William Egan, as the very first ferry ship of the Alaska Marine Highway arrived. Since John’s mother had been a precinct chairman in Ketchikan, Governor Egan would go to their house for dinner when he was in town. John said Governor Egan had a photographic memory, “He was quite a remarkable character. He was a great governor.”
John worked as a pipe fitter in Alaska for twenty years in many of the state’s industrial plants. He worked at a pulp mill in Ketchikan and one in Sitka, at all the refineries in the Kenai, and worked on oil development in Deadhorse. John also helped build the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. This involved sixteen-hour days and seven-day weeks. “I like to tell [my grandkids] that I built the Alaska Pipeline all by myself,” joked John. “The other guys just stood around while I did the job.”
Alaska, as a state, is unique in that it’s still home to many people who, throughout the past 50 years, have literally helped build it. John is an example of one of these people.
The other reason Eric brought John to StoryCorps is a reason many people use StoryCorps â to express appreciation. Eric commended John on his personality. “You’re such a happy-go-lucky guy. And you do have a sympathetic ear, I’ve noticed, with the other co-workers. You try to help a lot and you pass on your knowledge. Hopefully I’ll be able to pass on more of my knowledge.”
Eric also took the opportunity to express respect. He marveled at all the hard work John continues to do, work that’s mostly done by younger men. “You’re a sixty-eight-year-old man and you’re still doing it,” Eric said to John. “To tell you the truth, I’m amazed that you’re still out there fighting this. Most people would just give up but you haven’t and I admire you for that.”