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From Fairbanks to Advance: How did it happen?

Posted Wednesday, July 18, 2007, at 7:36 AM

When my husband asked me to look for a farm in Missouri in 1974, he had a specific criteria: First, it had to be in the middle of nowhere - no neighbors to be seen in any direction. Second, it had to be in the hills. Third, he didn't want a house, so we could build our own. Fourth, he preferred one near his hometown of Dexter, while I wanted one near our old college town of Cape Girardeau. This meant a compromise somewhere in between.

I left Fairbanks, Alaska in July of 1974 with our 5-month old son Todd and took Alaska Airline to Springfield to show off our first child to my family. Then mom drove us to Southeast Missouri, so my husand's family could meet their first grandchild.

The tomatoes were ripe in the garden in July, and I should have known that we would never be able to stay away from Missouri the rest of our lives....

All the members of the family were only too happy to help us look for a place, so we would come back home. A real estate company in Dexter had a farm listing between Advance and Bell City, but the agent couldn't take us until later in the week. Ah, you know we didn't wait! I had done my first teaching at Bell City in 1964, so we knew the area.....sorta...

Off through the hills we searched, trying to find the farm, which was about 180 acres - and in the "middle of nowhere" right enough! (Sorry , neighbors, if you're reading this, but you have to admit the truth!! It was even more isolated 30 years ago!) Of course, we had to stop and ask directions of the few farmers we saw in the fields. David Tropf was in the front yard of his old family home, and he gave us directions to a washed-out gravel road. We had to leave the car and walk in.

It looked good - an old house was falling down near an ancient barn. It fit the bill! It was so grown up that we jumped a startled coyote, who scuttered off like a crawdad....

I stood in the middle of the land and used up the last of the film in my super 8 movie camera.

When my husband later saw the film, he made a decision, flew down in the fall of '74, and closed the deal. We had never even driven through the town of Advance, much less met one single soul! When I think back to it, I can't believe that we moved into an area without meeting any of the local residents! What a decision!

My husband Dale moved fast after that. He bought a trailer to keep up near the barn and hired his dad to take care of the farm on weekends, while we were supposed to stay in Alaska until we had earned enough money to pay it off.

HA! That was the plan, anyway!

In January, I think, we came "out" (which is what they call it when you leave Alaska) to spend a week or so at the farm. As if that wonderful vacation weren't enough, we had to face the rigors of Alaska when we returned. As we sat in the airport at Anchorage, they read the temperatures over the loudspeaker: 25 degrees in Anchorage, -60 degrees in Fairbanks. All the heavily-clad Fairbanksans just shook their heads and laughed.

Usually whenever anyone returns to Alaska from the lower 48, friends and family meet them at the airport, but -60 degrees is not really much fun, even in a climate where the people are used to it. In fact, you can get used to anything down to about -40, and after that - it's just plain miserable no matter what. Vehicles don't like to run at less than -40. Our car was plugged in at the house, but when we walked by it, we accidently tapped against the heavy-duty extension cord, and it broke! Dale had to round up another cord immediately and go out to hook up the circulating heater underneath the hood --- otherwise, it would never start the next day. The next day? Heck, it wouldn't start within an hour, if it weren't plugged in!

I think that was the beginning of the end for our Great Experiment in the Far North......

Well, gotta leave for work this morning, so this blog entry will have to end for today...

From the hills of Tillman, Missouri, this is Madeline DeJournett signing off......

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Fairbanks at -60 degrees Farenheit. I can't imagine it. And for it to never get lighter than about dusk in the winter. Oh my. What hardy souls you must have been to make that trek all the way north and live there for years. Was it glorious enough in the summer to make up for the winter? Then you move back to SE Missouri where the summer heat can fry you like a stip of bacon. Yup. Hardy. That's what you were Yes, some would say "foolhardy." (some for going to Alaska, some for coming back)

Missouri is the farthest North I've ever lived and the winters are hard enough - although they've been pretty mild lately. Maybe it's global warming. Let's get THAT thread going in your blog.

-- Posted by Ducky on Wed, Jul 18, 2007, at 3:54 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Yes, Ducky dear, the summers were MARvelous! Twenty-four hour daylight is a wonderful thing when you're young and energetic! I don't think I would like it now that I'm old and tired.....

That state is to cold for this old mail man, I had a friend transfur there for a while and loved it.

-- Posted by bent nail on Wed, Jul 18, 2007, at 4:53 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
We loved it, too! Even with the cold, dark winters. We were up there a total of seven years, and I wasn't ready to come back, but I went along with my husband's decision -- and considering how early he died, it's a good thing, I guess. I'd hate to be stranded up there without him!

Actually, every day was an adventure. There were so many things to see and learn about. If I get the energy, I'll write about Nome. Fascinating. I think I may be able to find that photo of a dead walrus on the beach.......the one that the little kids were using as a trampoline.....

Gee, don't you think that sounds exciting?? Getting to see a picture of a dead walrus!! Whooee!

Was it a cloned walrus?? (Oops, wrong blog!)


-- Posted by goat lady on Wed, Jul 18, 2007, at 7:33 PM

Goat Lady!!!! You're sneaking that cloning issue into every blog now, aren't you.

-- Posted by Ducky on Thu, Jul 19, 2007, at 12:49 PM

Now, look here, Ducky! Cloning is an issue of great sociological and psychological import.

I feel sure that - in the Great Brave New World of the Future - walruses will be in much demand for their excellent blubber, which can be made into ice cream and healthy (though somewhat fattening) snacks to be eaten while we are watching late night Letterman. Might make his musician (what's his name?) a little more tolerable, ya know....

Mac the Knife? No, that's not it...

-- Posted by goat lady on Thu, Jul 19, 2007, at 6:30 PM

It isn't surprising how you "winged it" in moving to Advance, considering the spirit you showed in moving to Fairbanks when it was an extremely remote, and barely civilized small city with an inhospitable climate. When you moved to Fairbanks it probably wasn't even cultured enough to have a McDonald's -- and little ole Advance even has that sign of advanced civilization.

-- Posted by FJGuy on Thu, Jul 19, 2007, at 9:27 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Oh, my stars! I do believe we have snagged a reader who has been to Fairbanks, folks! No doubt about it! How else would you know that, in fact, Fairbanks did NOT have a McDonald's when we moved there in '69!

I guess the trip up over the Alaska Highway prepared us for the lack of such luxuries as McDonald's, though. The farther we went, the less civilization we saw. I've heard that it's much more populated through Canada now than it was 37 years ago.....

Have you been over the highway -- or do you take the sissy route and fly??

I drove the Alcan a number of times. In the summer driving its 1,400 miles of washboard gravel would shake your teeth loose and create huge plumes of dust for the drivers behind to darn near choke to death on. The road was treacherous to drive in the winter, because it was a solid sheet of ice that during frequent whiteouts looked almost identical to the surrounding countryside. There were no markers or guard rails to let you know you were straying from the road until you suddenly went kerplunk.

Although the scenery is the same today, driving it is now a pedestrian experience since it has been civilized with pavement and markers.

I believe at the time the only direct flight out of Fairbanks to the lower-48 was a red-eye midnight flight, which I did take several times.

You are right. There was no McDonald's in Fairbanks in 1969. When it was built in the summer of 1971 it was the largest McDonald's in the world. As you know, its opening was a huge event in Fairbanks that caused traffic jams. Ronald McDonald even showed up to celebrate that gourmet fast-food dining had come to the far north wilderness.

-- Posted by FJGuy on Fri, Jul 20, 2007, at 2:31 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
"Gourmet fast-food" - that's good! I would call that an oxymoron --- like "jumbo shrimp," or "cold fire," or "Military Intelligence..." (oops, better not go there!)

I've wondered what the Alcan looked like these days; however, I seriously doubt that it's "pedestrian" in the wintertime, no matter how it's changed. We drove over it one year in December, of all foolish things, and there were semi-liquid glacier-type things moving down the hills and over the road! As we drove our motor home through them, they would splash up onto the windshield and coat it with an instant sheet of green ice!

I think my husband must have said to himself, "If we live through this, I'll never do it again!" Of course, he would never have let me hear that. I was 7 months pregnant at the time....

So, are you telling me that the entire 1,400 miles is PAVED now?? I cannot believe that! Even around Sheep Mountain??

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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at advancensc@sbcglobal.net.
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