Hope On A Rope - Memories of Hope, Alaska
by Michael Hankins
The first time I visited Hope, Alaska, was the summer of 1966. My father transferred to Elmendorf Air Force Base (A.F.B.) that year from Reese A.F.B. in Lubbock, Texas. We arrived in Anchorage on May 17th and headed straight to the Lucky Wishbone restaurant. Dad was told they had the best burgers and fries in town. We spent our first night at the Mush Inn Motel. Back then Lucky Wishbone and Mush Inn were welcome sights for folks coming off the Al-Can Highway. Sometime in late July dad told us to load in the car for a sightseeing trip. Our destination was the historic mining town of Hope, Alaska. The Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm was in horrible shape. Things had not been totally repaired since the Good Friday Earthquake two years earlier. Driving through knee deep mud in construction areas, our 1965 Ford Galaxie 500 got stuck several times. On one occasion it had to be yanked out by a truck. Mom wanted to turn around at that point, but Dad was bound and determined to get through. He definitely had an agenda for doing so. It took a while before arriving at our destination. The 90 mile trip took five hours. Dad refueled at the only gas station in town. The rustic establishment utilized a vintage gasoline pump with a glass bowl on top. This is the type of pump where customers could see the amount of fuel being purchased. Prized collectibles—antique pumps are now worth thousands of dollars. Hope’s only service station also housed a small store and community post office. A gentleman running the place gave us detailed directions on where to pan for gold. The lure of finding precious metal kept my father glued to the steering wheel. Dad definitely had what miners call gold fever! We drove to a remote site along Resurrection Creek Road. A crudely labeled sign saying “Paystreke Mining School” was nailed to a tree. The placard instructed people to look for the man wearing a red hat. This fellow was the owner and resident mining instructor. “Red Hat” Haun showed us how his operation worked. We could either pan for gold or sluice it. Dad chose the sluice method because it meant more glitter. Red Hat had perhaps six wooden sluice boxes lined up along the creek. Each box had a rope tram line with pulleys going to a nearby hill. Five-gallon buckets were attached to the ropes. Newbie miners were instructed by Mr. Haun to only partially fill the buckets. A full bucket he said was extremely heavy. The shovel person would then slowly allow their bucket load back down the hill. The lucky recipient at the bottom would dump the dirt into a sluice box. The bucket would then be pulled back up. This routine went on for hours. Of course the more gravel or dirt placed into the box, the more gold. Thankfully we were Red Hat’s only customers that afternoon! Initially my brother and I were the ones dumping dirt into the sluice box. Dad and mom half-loaded their buckets slowly sending them to us. After an hour we changed positions. With our first bucket filled to the gills and overflowing, Jim allowed me to lower it down the sharp incline. For reasons unknown the wet rope slipped out of my hands. All I could do was scream, “Look out!” My parents glanced up in disbelief. Jumping out of the way just as the heavy bucket crashed into things, dad turned beet red before yelling. “Why’d you let go?” It was a question I’ve never been able to answer. The sluice box was totally destroyed. It appeared as if multiple sticks of dynamite had been strapped to it and detonated. Pieces of shattered wood floated downstream—their final destiny unknown. Lucky for us the burlap material containing gold was salvaged. “Red Hat” Haun said he was okay with the damage, indicating it happened at least once a year. When dad paid him at the end of our gig he forked out a few extra dollars for repairs. We eagerly took several flakes of gold home that day in a glass vial. Mom put the treasure in a clear bezel-style pendant which she wore with pride. When asked about it she informed people it was her “Hope on a Rope.” Hope continued to be one of my favorite destination points especially for camping and fishing. In 1968 I traveled there with my good friend Bob Malone. Bob and I stayed two weeks in a rented camper. We fished every day and hiked when not fishing. It was great fun being away from home. One morning we were walking along Gull Rock Trail, when out of nowhere a large dog came running towards us. I thought it was a wolf. The animal scared the “you know what” out of me. Bob didn’t seem fazed. It turned out the creature was ultra-friendly. An intimidating looking German shepherd mix, the playful pup had three legs yet seemed to get along just fine. He was more interested in what we had for snacks than anything. The hungry canine took to my Vienna Sausages like they were long lost friends.
[caption id="attachment_9648" align="aligncenter" width="677"] Sign for "Ressurection Creek Road" near where the author's family sluiced for gold[/caption] One sunny afternoon Bob and I met two nice looking girls riding a horse. One of the girls, Laura, was the owner of the horse. She was also daughter to the proprietor of the gas station. Laura’s blonde friend was in town with her family as part of a construction crew. Their company was building a new bridge across Resurrection Creek. Living in scenic Hope, Alaska, and having a horse was something many gals would die for. To this day I believe Laura is one of the luckiest people I’ve ever met! Late one evening Bob and I were walking back to the campground when we heard a blood curdling scream. It made us hasten our steps considerably. We couldn’t lock the camper door fast enough. Later on we discovered the noise came from a small pony attacked by a grizzly bear. When Bob and I went back to Hope the following summer our three-legged pal was there to greet us. Fortunately for his unlimited appetite I had an ample supply of canned sausages. Years later I discovered through Hope residents Hugh Moore and Ray Defrance the dog’s name was Augie. He’d lost his foot in a trap. Hugh informed me the girl (Laura) married a local guy and still lived in the area.
[caption id="attachment_9646" align="aligncenter" width="673"] Low tide on the Turnagain Arm near Hope[/caption] Hope, Alaska, has always been a special place to get away. At 19 when I was having a “woe is me” relationship problem, I had my brother drop me off with a backpack, an orange tent, a supply of food, plus a Winchester rifle. I hoofed it to the end of Gull Rock Trail then continued further. I’d always wondered what lay beyond. Walking the beach for a good distance I was forced to higher ground when the tide rolled in. I couldn’t go up down or sideways. The phrase, “trapped between a rock and a wet place” became a new saying. Sitting on a large stone for hours with no place to lay down was a lesson in patience. I kept thinking, “Hopefully the tide goes out faster than it came in!”
[caption id="attachment_9647" align="aligncenter" width="694"] A camp fire blazes[/caption] Gull Rock had been the site of a sawmill during the early days when the Alaska Railroad was being built. Cut boards were taken from there and barged across Turnagain Arm. Remnants of the old buildings were still visible in 1973. In one area an avalanche had swept down a mountain. The compacted snow was still trying to melt. I was able to hike up it almost to the top. Turning around and seeing how high I’d climbed scared me. Sliding a good portion of the way down made me wet and cold. Good thing there was plenty of old timber lying around for a fire.
[caption id="attachment_9645" align="aligncenter" width="685"] Coast near Gull Rock Trail[/caption] A week later when my brother picked me up I was stress free. Getting out of town for seven days revived my spirit—there’s something about being in the outdoors that does such. Years later, driving to the tiny mining town became a ritual my wife and I did often. We found something tranquil and peaceful about Hope, Alaska. Perhaps it was the name alone! Three years after Mom died I came across her gold filled pendant sitting in a box. It’d been carefully wrapped and put away. The tiny piece of jewelry meant lots to her where family memories were concerned. I can’t say exactly what Hope memory she cherished most. To me, the necklace helped rekindle one interesting thought, “Why didn’t I hold on to that rope just a little bit tighter?”
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I lived there from fall of ’86 to fall of ’89. I was 13-16.
Hugh is my Uncle…My family lived in Hope from 78 to 85 and it will always be home to me no matter where I roam.
The tides dont come that far anymore. I remember them going up to the cafe though. My husband at the time and I built a walkway in front of the cafe and bar for those times.
I too worked for Phil robinette in the early 80s .met Hugh Moore and his old cable d8 the Davidson’s at the gas station Tito, Artie at bear creek inn and the Quaddlebaums who where running the bar restaurant and cabins in Hope I think the bar was called Seaveiw and the tide would come up underneath it. Had a few in there. What a town!!
Enjoyed your story. I lived in Hope, AK from Nov 2009 to June 2013.
Thoroughly enjoyed your story. In May 2016, my husband I spent six nights on the Kenia Peninsula after cruising up the Alaska coast. We rented a car and spent two nights each in Seward, Soldotna and Homer. Driving back to Anchorage the last day, we went to Hope because I had read about it back home. Fortunately we were able to get some gas at the gas pump mentioned in your article. $5.00 a gallon. Ouch!!! But it was okay because we did not have enough gas to drive to Anchorage where we were to fly out from the next day. We made our third trip to Alaska last year in May. And it was the best trip of the three. Hoping to go back again some day. I love Alaska. There’s no other place like it on earth.
We have reopened Red Hat Haun’s gold school in Hope Ak, you can find us at the end of Resurrection Crk rd along with cabin rentals. At alaskaforestandtrail
That was a great story and loved hearing ray defrances name I ised to live in hope and rented our little cabin from ray and valerie defrance
Never been to Hope. But after reading the great article and the accompanying comments chock full of memories from people who knew people who knew people, I feel like I’ve been there many times. Wonderful story and memories indeed…
remember the fire works stand going up in smoke ,
Yeah I was there in 78 worked with David Brown,ate at Tito’s all the time.worked with Steve Robinette.stayed at Bear Creek Lodge.also worked with Willy Davidson logging.great memories I’ll never forget.gold mining with Phillip Robinette.
I miss Hope.
Wonderful story, I am married to Red Hat Haun’s grandson. We are the current owners of the property, yes, we still have "Red Hat Haun’s gold school! Check out our website alaskaforestandtrail.com for photos of today and yester year. Wonderful story!
The year we met Laura and her friend had to be 1968. We would have been 14 at the time. That’s the year the new bridge went in. So many years ago I have to use references like that to place a date.
I lived in Hope in 1987. Came from Wyoming as a mail Order Bride. Got married in Paystreke by Tom Williams to “Hindu” Don Burden. Knew Don and Joyce Ott and Tito, and Dead Pan Dan, and Don Johnson and Cracker Jack, and Buffalo and Geri and so many other wonderful people. Will never forget my year in Alaska and gold panning on Bear Creek. Probably most memorable year,are of my life.
We sure had a lot of fun in Hope. That is for sure. And if I remember right you are correct we made a bee line for the camper that evening.
Laura – That is so cool! Bob Malone and I thought you were luckiest girl in the whole world getting to live there. You are :-) There’s no better place in Alaska than Hope! Hugh Moore, Ray DeFrance, and Larry Anderson would keep me up on things. I went to school with Mike Dyer. His family owned a cabin in Hope at one time. I also worked with Jay Depriest. William (Bill) Lowe has filled me in on some history since this story published. I’m so happy this story made it your direction. God Bless! Michael Hankins
Correction on my comment. Change that to: “I also worked with Jay Priest :-)”
Another home run Mike, such a great story. We still eat at Lucky Wishbone at least once a week ??
What a wonderful story and memory! I am the little girl Laura. I still live in Hope, and still have a horse! We used to call Red Hat, Papa Haun and he was such a happy fellow. He used to sing a little song for folks that would visit. Your story brought back many memories. Thank you!
Great story about going down memory lane in Alaska. We took our kids over 30 years ago to pan for gold and they received their vial of gold as well. And yes, there is just something about being in the great outdoors of Alaska. I miss the beauty, smell, mountains and the peacefulness.
Love this. We live in Hope and love it.
Great story and memories.
Lucky wishbone! I poured that honey all over everything! Would love to go to Hope someday soon!
A wonderful story and pictures; brought back many memories of the days I spent camping, fishing and exploring in the 60’s and 70’s. Yes, the Lucky Wishbone did have some great food!