Adak Island - Salvaging Items Left Behind
Alaska Picker Picks AdakUncovering items left behind in one of America's most remote outposts, Adak.
Story and photos by Kelley Turney
At Alaska Picker we are in the business of stories and junk. People share stories daily, some true, some exaggerations, and some just that, stories. In the past six years we have traveled all over Alaska, chasing junk—Delta Junction to Dutch Harbor, Cordova to Kenai, Northway to Nenana. One thing has always held true, the farther out we go, the better the stuff gets. About three years ago we had two gentlemen come into our store in the same week. They didn't know each other, had different occupations and told a similar story with the same conclusion, “You should go to Adak.” Hmm… Adak … old closed Navy base out in the middle of nowhere, I'm down. One of the gentlemen said, “You see this furniture over here,” pointing to a military style mahogany dresser, “I saw a warehouse full of this kind of furniture on Adak.” I asked him, “Did you take any pictures?” “No,” he replied. I continued my near interrogation of the poor guy and peppered him with questions. “Which warehouse? Where on the island? Who do I contact? Are you going back out there anytime soon?” All my questions were met with nonspecific responses and no clear answers. He had gone out to Adak to do some communications work for a company he no longer worked for, so it ended there … until a few days later. “Hey have you ever been to Adak?” “Why?”
McDonald's Drive Thru - Adak had a McDonald's back in the day. Probably one of their most remote locations ever. “Oh there is some really cool stuff out there. They left everything. There is a movie theater, swimming pool, church, post office, bowling alley and gym, and warehouses of furniture. There is even and old McDonald’s on the island.” This guy had a little familiarity with the island and its layout. He said some of the “good stuff” was two to three miles from the docks. He then became the recipient of my next blast of questions. Again, no photos, no plans of going back out there, and no idea of who to contact. So as with most stories we hear at the shop, we relegated it to the back burner.
Adak from Above - When we climbed the rocky hill we could see Adak on one side and the ocean on the other. THE HISTORY: At one time Adak was the 6th largest city in Alaska. It housed around 6,000 military personnel and dependents. It held an important strategical location in WW2 for the Army in the retaking of Kiska and Attu Islands from the Japanese. Adak flourished as a Cold War era Navy base. A lot of secret squirrel stuff happened there—nuclear weapons, nuclear submarines, spying on the Russians, etc... The base was assigned for closure in the early 1990s and at the end of 1997 it was officially closed. There were still some personnel on the island till late 2000. In 2004, the Department of the Interior completed a land swap with the Aleut Corporation for over 47,000 acres of land on Adak. The Aleut Corporation now owns and controls most of the island, base buildings, and their contents.
Bering Chapel, located on Bering Hill, it is one of the oldest remaining structures on Adak. THE MESSAGE: In August 2016, I came into the shop early on a Tuesday morning. I looked up and saw a number 1 flashing on the answering machine. A lady’s voice on the message said in a nutshell, “You helped a friend a few years back with an estate in Anchorage. I am trying to help a friend who is attempting to empty warehouses and buildings on Adak.” I called her back and she began to enthral me with a similar story about the mythical furniture warehouse on Adak, amongst other things. I mentioned to her how we had heard this story before and I had to say that if she didn't have any photos then it would be difficult to commit to anything. “Send me your email address and I will send you one,” the lady replied. THE PHOTO: I am sure you all have heard the adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Well, how about four thousand chairs. With one picture she had our complete and unfettered attention. I quickly called her back and asked, “Do you have anymore photos? I can't go to Adak for just chairs.” She replied, “Give me a few days and I will send them with a contact person.”
Mythical Furniture Warehouse - This is over an acre of 1950's - 1980's furniture from the old Navy base. THE WAITING GAME: Will she actually send me more photos? Was it all a ruse? To good to be true? To keep my mind from obsessing, I started researching Adak. I watched every Adak video on YouTube I could find. Google Earth was no help. I tried to answer the questions: How do we get things off the island? Barge? Plane? How do I get to Adak? Then the magical email arrived. THE EMAIL: Late in the day I heard a ding on my iPhone. I clicked on it with anticipation and boom… I had about a dozen photos of the interiors of two of the warehouses, the Public Works Building and the Furniture Warehouse. As I swiped through the photos my mind began racing. How?, What?, Who??? With that series of photos and a couple more phone calls, we were going to Adak. THE AUGUST SCOUTING TRIP: I was packed and ready with extra clothes, food, batteries, flashlights, headlamps. I had heard of people getting stuck in Adak and didn’t want to be caught unprepared. There are only two scheduled flights to Adak a week, Thursday and Sunday. I met my contact, Ken, at the airport. An amazing, kind and soft spoken man, Ken had been to Adak several times. His job was to attempt to empty some the remaining buildings in good condition for further economic development on Adak. As Ken and I talked on the plane we found out we lived on the same street.
Bering Theater - Located in the Recreation Hall on Bering Hill. We hit the ground and within 30 minutes were looking through buildings. I took hundreds of photos with my iPhone and hours of video with my GoPro over the next four days and three nights. We must have looked in over 30 buildings and most had three floors and a basement. There was no power to any of the buildings so I could only see what my flashlight would allow. The highlight was the Fleet Hospital Warehouse where all the furniture was stored. Over 40,000 square feet of furniture, stacked 8 to 12 feet high. Hundreds of thousands of dressers and chairs. Rows and rows of furniture dating from the 1950s to the 1980s. The sight reminded me of the scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark when they are putting the crated Ark of the Covenant into storage.
Swimming Pool - There are several swimming pools on the island. This one is just down the hall from the Bering Theater. By the last day it was hard to remember what was where. We spent the last day revisiting the best locations, measuring furniture and other items, tagging them with pink flagging tape in the event we were able to come back. THE PROPOSAL: After getting home and decompressing for a day or so, I sat down with my fiancee, Becky, who is the other owner of Alaska Picker. We discussed the cost, not only of money but the time and energy that would be spent on this potential project. It was much larger than anything else we had done in the past. We then sat down and wrote the proposal to the Aleut Corporation Board of Directors. With the proposal submitted, we waited two weeks for word back. Then in mid-September we received notification that our proposal was accepted. Now the work would begin. THE LOGISTICS: Logistics took nearly six weeks to get lined out. Let's start with flights. Alaska Airlines flies to Adak two days a week, and the round-trip fare is around $1200. Next, lodging. The Aleut Corporation rents some of the old base housing units out by the night, around $200 a night for two people. Then there was the big one—shipping. The obvious answer was a barge. We went with Samson Tug and Barge. We had used them before on a pick in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor in 2012 and they were great. I called up Samson’s Seattle office and the gentleman at the end of the phone said, “Where are you shipping from?” and I replied, “Adak.” He laughed and said, “Oh, Adak, my favorite 4-letter word.” At that point I became a bit concerned. Was this really worth it, was it even feasible? Come to find out there is not a regular barge service to Adak anymore, but they had a barge due out there in October. The last barge of the season. It was time to pop the question, “How much?” The ballpark figure was around $5000 per 40-ft container from Adak to Seward. Top that off with around $1000 per container to get it trucked from Seward to Wasilla. Lastly, we had to figure out transportation around the island and to move the big stuff. The Aleut Corporation rents vehicles on the island for around $65 a day. This was a time when it matters who you know, not what you know. I needed pallets to put everything on for shipping. I was given the number of a gentleman named, Dustin. He owns Premier Harvest, a seafood shipping/processing business on Adak. I was able to locate pallets on the island and Dustin was able to finish out the logistics of a flatbed truck, fork lift and short term storage for the pallets till the barge arrived. We brought all our own food and drinks (beer and wine included). Tools and lighting had to be rechargeable and packed in as well. We found some great LED 1500 Lumen shop lights that were worth their weight in gold on the trip. I even bought a drone to take on the trip with my GoPro. We shot nearly 20 hours of video. The video was converted to 11, 8-10 minute episodes by Nomad Cinematics and is available to watch on YouTube on our channel, TheAlaskaPicker. THE CREW: The crew that was going to pull this off, well, that was the best part. My future father-in-law, Bill, was in. He always wanted to go to Adak and figured this was his only shot. I also met Joe and Mike through a mutual friend and they were in as well. So in late October we made the reservations and planned to be there when the barge arrived to pack the pallets and load them into the container. THE PICKING TRIP: When we landed in Adak it was eerily calm. Like no wind at all. Adak is known as the “birthplace of the winds” for good reason. We immediately began scouting and playing tourist. We knew the next couple days would be long and hard. The bad weather eventually came and we battled winds blowing 50 mph and sideways rain. Mold could be found in every form you can think of. Over the next six days we packed over 30 pallets of items from Adak. Furniture, work benches, signs, barrister bookcases, a post office mail sorting table, reclaimed doors and flooring, and whatever else we could find that fit in the parameters of our proposal.
"Adak Carpet" - Nature is slowing reclaiming everything. This is an office inside the Public Works Building on Adak. People always ask what was my favorite thing we found on Adak. I am partial to our salvage of the center court eagle from the old Bob Reeve High School. The school building is like most on Adak, ravaged. Mother Nature is taking the island back. Wind, rain, sun, rain, snow, wind, rain, repeat for the past 20 years. Paint was literally peeling and dripping off the walls and ceilings. New and old furniture and office equipment was crammed into rooms, sometimes as high as the ceiling. Everything there is wet with 100 percent humidity, 100 percent of the time.
Sea of Chairs - This is the picture that made us go to Adak. We estimated there are 3000 chairs stored in this warehouse. We explored nearly every floor of every building we had access to in that week. In the old Bering Theater, Joe and I found a catwalk above the theater allowing you to walk from the projection room to the stage without being seen from below. The creepiest building by far was the abandoned hospital and dental clinic: operating rooms, an X-Ray laboratory, and the morgue. The most beautiful building was the Bering Chapel. Built in the late 1940s, it is one of the oldest remaining structures on Adak. Again, weather has taken a toll on this beauty and I am not sure it will last too many more years with the huge holes in the supporting sidewalls and roof. THE HICCUPS: There were really very few hiccups on the trip. We overcame the lack of light issue in the buildings by being able to open some larger bay doors. We are all Alaskans so we just rolled with whatever the weather handed us for the day. We ran out of beer while we were there and paid $22 for a six pack of Dos Equis. I got addicted to sour gummy worms, thanks to Joe. The barge ended up being nearly three weeks late. Luckily, some of Dustin's guys loaded the pallets in the containers for us. No Wifi or reliable phone service was a blessing and a curse. It was a week before the general election so not having to deal with all the political ads was a huge plus, but not being able to talk to my loved ones for a couple days when the phones were down was hard. The best part was we didn't see any rats. We heard stories about huge rats running around the island. All we saw were a few small long-dead ones. THE REARVIEW MIRROR: Adak is a special place for many reasons: history, natural beauty and its people, just to name a few. Its remoteness is calming and mesmerizing at the same time. No stop signs, sirens, traffic, or “noise.” When this adventure first started I didn’t imagine we would spend the better part of four months with just one pick. I hadn’t imagined phone calls, emails and messages on social media from all over the United States, even Brazil—from people who grew up on Adak, had family members serve in the military on Adak, got married, baptized, and had children on Adak. Who would have thought this place 1200 miles southwest of Anchorage, in a different time zone and nearly at the end of the Aleutian Chain, would be so endearing to so many. It is truly the “birthplace of the winds.” By Kelley Turney, Alaska Picker | Follow Alaska Picker on Facebook March, 2017 https://www.thealaskalife.com/blog/adak-island-abandoned-alaska/
I was stationed there from Dec 79-Dec-80 in Supply as an AK. I worked at the P3 Hangar, but had lots of visits to the Blue Shed to get aircraft parts. Returned in 1981 as a member of VP-4 and again worked at the hangar. It was a great place to serve. I have a picture of Mt. Moffat hanging in my rec room at home.
Speaking of night mares….. Remember “Nightmares With Maxwell” on the only available tv station? Dad was stationed there twice. Once when the Seabees paved the airport tarmac (don’t quite remember the dates), and again when I was 7 and 8 years old, in the mid 60’s. Still many fond memories for me.
I was stationed on Adak from 94-96 and was a Postal Clerk there. We would go to the terminal and unload the mail from the Reeves airline and bring it back to sort and hand out. Would love to purchase that mail sorting table you got from there, spent alot of time at that table. Would go back to Adak in a heartbeat to visit again, great memories there for sure!
I was in USMC working as a communications technician for NSG in 1961-62-63 on Adak. The quiet, remoteness and beauty will always be remembered.
I wa stationed there ‘80-81; anchored the evening news and hosted a morning radio show while assigned to Navy Broadcasting Service, Det 21; Armed Forces Radio & Television Service. Worked part time at the pool and used to ride my moped in the tunnels…still have some copies of our weekly television news magazine “The Adak Journal” somewhere with several stories I did with local Fish & Wildlife folks assigned there, including visits to some of the uninhabited neighboring islands. Best 12-month tour of duty of my 22 years in the Navy — would love to revisit and often do in my dreams! Thanks for sharing and conjuring up some memories!
I was also there 63-64. I left just after the big earthquake in 64
I was there Jan 81 thru Oct 81. Personnel . No McDonalds then. Anyone going to Anchorage always brought back a bunch of burgers. Reeves Aleutian was quite the ride! Once the Seebees lost a bus. A Reeves pilot found it as he was flying in. Someone had driven it off the end of the pier. The spy ship Arnold came in every so often, no pictures please! I once took some pics up at the pet cemetery and inadvertently took some in the direction of Navfac. Had a friend in the Marines who warned me I was the subject of a search! Hid camera. Sure enough, they came looking for me. I pled ignorance and they left. Had a civilian friend who was a linesman. He was working on a pole at Navfac. Marines made him come down and lay on the ground until they confirmed he was supposed to be there. Back up the pole he went only to go through it all again as the guards failed to notify the next shift about him! LOL! So many funny memories on that Island. Also where I met my husband.
My grandfather was stationed there during World War 2. He was in the Navy at the time. He had served in the Army in WW1 and tried to enlist again after Pearl Harbor, but he was too old (he was born in 1895) and the Army wouldn’t take him. The Navy took him for non-combat, support role. I recently found an old photo album of his that included his photos from Adak and from the Battle of Attu. His photos range from pictures of the old quonset huts, church quonset huts, etc right up to the Battle of Attu. There are some graphic images of dead Japanese soldiers, downed planes and even fallen US servicemen. These pictures have never been seen by the public. I wonder if there is any central database that I should send copies to.
Stationed on adak in 88-91 I worked Police Dept also I was a AK1 I love ADAK my family did to my name is Jeffery Parks my wife Gloria worked the the daycare. was
photos of the aircraft incident 1969 www.adakalaska.net
I was at Adak -vp-28 in 66-67 I still have night mares of that place
I was at Adak 1966-67 Vp-28 I would drink all the Olympia beer I trying to forget where I was
My dad was stationed therein ’59 to ’61 while in the Navy. He talked about it a lot over the years.
Love, love, love the show even if it did break my heart to see it in such ruin. A pickers paradise for sure. My Dad was with the Coast Guard and this was his second time there. 1965/66-1967/68. I have very vivid and amazing memories of Adak even though I was SO young. Being swept down the street towards the cliff leading to “Seal Beach” in a “Willa Waa” resulted in a rope being affixed to me anytime I went out the front door when it snowed or the mere was wind. When wasn’t there wind? Our back window view was of Mt. Moffett or maybe Mt. Sitka? We lived on a circle and in the backyard was the central playground and field where we all played. I very distinctly remember tinkling my “big girl” pants as I was being potty trained on the center of that very floor at BRHS. I didn’t get in trouble but my older ex half sister who was a student there did. I will have to go to the cold storage unit and dig out all the pictures I have. The totem pole, the “forest”, picking wild berries, sliding down the hills on cardboard, the stuffed bears in glass cases at the Airport. Taffy pulls, quilting bees, sewing circles and canning fruits and vegetables parties. Salmon that just swam in your hands. Adak is always going to be a very magical and special place to me. Such a shame to have let it go to waste the way they have. I often wonder if there was some way the homeless of America could be offered a place to stay there while working to help clean it up as a way to get off the streets and back on their feet?
And yes.. I’m just as sappy and sentimental over Governors Island too.
I was in the C-54 “Kodiak Crew”. We flew out to Adak from time to time. Sometimes, we’d fly the USO Show there and then on out to Shemya. (sp?) We also flew dependents back and forth to and from Kodiak to Adak. This was around late 1962 and 1963. Often times, the weather was challenging getting in and out of Adak. We would deice the plane in the hangar load inside the hangar and quickly taxi to the active runway. If we could see the 2,000 foot marker beside the runway it was a go…if not, back to the hangar for another deicing.
My first job after completing Navy Supply Corps School was Supply Officer of Fleet Aircraft Service Squadron 114 (FASRON-114)at the Naval Station Kodiak, AK. I spent a couple of nights at Adak on a 1954 liaison visit to meet people and learn things. Some of the P2V Neptune planes we supported made frequent landings there.
I visited Adak onboard the USS Dixon (AS-37), now long gone as well, in July 1988.. Had a wonderful time. I, too, remember seeing my first bald eagle up close and personal there. Let’s face it, they were everywhere! Played softball on the field there by McDonalds, shot some pool at MWR I believe it was. Naturally, spent a lot of time in the club there too. What was it called? Tundra Tavern wasn’t it? I remember I had bought a t-shirt from the club and wore it for many years after. It truly was a beautiful place.
Here’s the history of why Adak was “abandoned”. Give it a read.
Can’t talk about Adak, without talking about the weather! And that was MY job. Helped run the weather office for a year, ‘91-‘92! My barracks was along the runway and it ran 24/7. So many friends!
Spent six months there in 1985 deployed with a Navy VP squadron flying on soviet submarines. Most non-flying time was spent playing poker or reading. Lonely without family but squadron mates became family. Arrived home at Moffett Field, CA between Thanksgiving & Christmas. Good memories!
Tom the dog’s name was kiska and he would drink beer off of the homemade bar and old Smitty was the cook we would use roaps between barrecks and generator building when the wind would blow the snow I was assigned with climbing the 800 ft radio tower to maintain it and change lights you could see for miles from stop of that tower
Bob Tullius Nov12 2018
Adak was our destination to replace a sub periscope that was damaged from ice. We spent three days while repairs were made. Scope was flown up from New Orleans. I remember everyone was friendly and amazed that we were there. Very cold as we arrived with no foul weather clothing. Great memory and now neat to learn more about Island history! Grateful they were there for us.
Was there 73-74. Navy Corpsman worked in the Dispensary. Best Duty Station of my Career.
I was a storekeeper on Adak in 1968. Being single, I lived in a barrack – four bunks to a cubicle and one small locker each. Food was good, gym was good, movies not so hot. I remember “three dot night” at the club, where Olympia beer was a dime if the label had three dots on the inside. A supply ship would arrive every two weeks – lots of work for everybody in the supply department.
It’s been a while, but the memories are still strong.
stationed in Adak l956-7 as ct3. remember the earthquake…miss the ROCK.