FAIRBANKS - I meant to write about these guys on the solstice, though it was not supposed to be the one with the longest night.
Last summer, on the day before the solstice, Sandy Jamieson, Frank Entsminger and Marty Rinio celebrated the 50th anniversary of the day they showed up in Fairbanks, as green as birch leaves.
Before reaching Fairbanks, they posed for the group shot you see here along the Top of the World Highway, barely able to contain their enthusiasm.
Jamieson, Entsminger and Rinio had gone to high school together in Great Falls, Mont. They loved hunting and the outdoors.
That’s apparent in the lives they’ve chosen. Paintings by Jamieson and bronze sculptures by Entsminger are on sale today and Saturday in an art show at the old home of the New Horizons Gallery downtown.
The lure of Alaska for these three may have started with the tales Sandy grew up hearing from his dad, a pilot during World War II, regarding adventures between Watson Lake and Fairbanks.
In their final months of high school, they planned a grand adventure for the summer of ’62. Marty said Sandy was the “culprit.”
They purchased a ’57 Studebaker, which cost either $200 or $325 — memories differ on that account — and they stocked it with hunting and camping gear, added leaf springs to handle extra weight and strapped a homemade carrier on top. They painted “North to Alaska” on the Studebaker sides.
The night of graduation they went to a party, which is why they didn’t hit the road until the next day at noon.
The rabbit cycle was high that year, which helped their diet and their budget on the way to Alaska, as they departed Great Falls with a total of $600.
Because of a bridge washout beyond Whitehorse, they went to Dawson and took the Top of the World Highway to Alaska.
After 11 days or so, they arrived in Fairbanks on June 20, 1962. Sandy was 17, while Frank and Marty were 18.
“We were just going to take a look around,” Sandy said.
Frank’s stepfather had been dubious about their staying power.
“He said I would come back with my tail between my legs,” Frank said.
After 50 years, it’s safe to say he was wrong. “We all found what we were looking for. In some ways, it wasn’t as accessible as Montana, but the people here more than made up for it,” Sandy said.
Sandy got a job with the USGS on a mapping crew, which allowed him to travel all around Alaska, while Frank and Marty also found work.
In time, Marty became a pilot and taxidermist, while Frank became a taxidermist and artist. Frank was already skilled in taxidermy and had done a bison for the Great Falls High School mascot.
Sandy studied biology, art and German at the University of Alaska and became a prominent log builder, guide and artist. He and Melody married in 1966.
“I don’t think any of us ever felt any strong urge to go anywhere else, after we’d been here a couple of years,” Sandy said.
About 200 friends of Sandy, Frank and Marty attended a solstice party last summer that had been dreamed up by Sue Entsminger, Frank’s wife. The abundance of friends the former Montanans made here is the “best thing we have to show” for living in Alaska, said Sandy, speaking for the three.
Sandy said they were such optimists in 1962 that they didn’t have second thoughts. “It came so naturally to us at that age. I hope it does to everyone,” he said.
Frank, a longtime Tok resident, said he had heard stories as a kid about Alaska and his interest was intense as a teenager. “At the beginning of our senior year, we started talking about it. We kind of all became of a like mind—thinking ‘why don’t we pool our resources and travel up there to see what it was like,” Frank said.
Frank had taken correspondence lessons in taxidermy when he was 10 years old and worked for a taxidermist as a teenager in Great Falls.
Frank said they were broke on the day they arrived in Fairbanks. He and Marty got jobs with Fred Pope at the Badger Store and Auto Court on Badger Road.
Marty said the Studebaker broke down just after they got to Fairbanks, when they were on the gravel road to the airport. “We had the hood up and an old-timer, Bud Dougherty, came out and invited us to stay at an extra building he had,” Marty said.
Marty had grown up on a ranch and learned welding and eventually started his own taxidermy shop, Gunsmoke Taxidermy. “Our dream in life was to live this northern Alaska lifestyle,” Marty said. “This is the best place in the world. I’ll never leave.”
Not many people can say that a move they made the day after leaving high school has made all the difference, but these three can.
(Sandy and Frank are having a weekend art show at the old home of the New Horizons Gallery downtown. The show continues today from noon to 8 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. There are paintings, prints, bronze sculptures, T-shirts and cards.)
Dermot Cole can be reached at email@example.com or 459-7530.