The Roadhouses Of Alaska

  (Photo, Country Journal)  Real Life At The Talkeetna Roadhouse  JOURNAL MIDWINTER SPECIAL   Carroll Close at work in the Talkeetna Roadhou...

 

(Photo, Country Journal) 

Real Life At The Talkeetna Roadhouse 
JOURNAL MIDWINTER SPECIAL  


Carroll Close at work in the Talkeetna Roadhouse (Roadhouse wall) 

What did it take to run a roadhouse in early Alaska?

The Talkeetna Roadhouse was operated by Carroll Close and his wife, Verna. They bought it in 1951. They fed their customers at a long wooden table. On February 26th, 2024, while rummaging through a bookcase for something else, I found the notes I’d taken of an interview I had with Carroll Close. 

A big wood stove had come with the lodge, and it was used exclusively for their mammoth meals. “Things taste better off a wood range,” Carroll said. "We can feed a lot of people off that stove.” Still, he limited his table to 18 people.

He bought his groceries by the case. He bought 1,000 lbs. of flour at a time. “It won’t go so far as you think,” he commented. That’s because he baked 45 loaves of bread on baking day –  using 6 ovens altogether. Meanwhile he kept the 6-foot long range running all day long, the split wood piled high beside it in the kitchen – the coffee and beans simmering at the back. 

When he made toast, he salted the black iron top of his sizzling stove before slapping down the bread slices, and flipped them when they turned golden.

Ravenous trappers and mountaineers dished their meals onto classically blue imported English willow plates. The breakfasts were ham, hash browns, eggs, toast and homemade jelly. The suppers were roasts, vegetables, baked beans and slabs of homemade bread. The coffee was always free. For many, this was a second home. 

Although climbers came in the spring, the Talkeetna Roadhouse was beloved by hungry locals. Every evening they respectfully trooped in to eat, wearing their winter boots, caps and jackets, eagerly scraping the chair legs across the floor. They reached for the food and talked of trapping and front-end loaders. It beat another supper of peanut butter and pilot crackers.

Verna and Carroll seemed, from the outside, to be grumpy. But, inside, they were cream puffs.“We like to sit back and watch everybody enjoy their food,” Carroll Close told me confidentially. At night, he said, he and Verna liked to eat popcorn – "with our feet up.” 

It was a time when Alaska was small and we all expected to know each other. This was a front-row view of the Alaskan roadhouse tradition. 

Then – as now – the work never seemed to stop. Said Carroll, somewhat proudly, in wonderment: “We’re here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!  Why, we haven’t been out in 14 years!” 

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