Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Alaska Tuxedo

          Here's a photo of Alaska's U.S. Rep Don Young decked out
          in genuine Filson threads that make up the Alaska Tuxedo.
          Notice the bag and the logo on the wall.
There are a lot of stories going around and a lot of opinions on just what an Alaska tuxedo amounts to. These days people claim any Carhartts suit will do, or any plaid shirt. But the folks who reallly know, say it's the Filson Company pants and jackets that make up the true tuxedo. How do I know, I met the guy who was there when they were invented. Here's his story. – TJ



Some time ago a magazine lady come to a friend of mine askin' about the Alaska tuxedo.  Now my friend's got some knowledge about Alaska and such, but he don't know everything.  He let her know about me and eventually she come to ask me the same question.  Now as you kin probbly tell I ain't much for writin' things down and if'n you think my language ain't so great, you oughta see what my chicken scratchin's is like.  Well, I come to know about the question and when I got the chance to be near one of these typewriter machines, I let her know what I know about the Alaska tuxedo.  See, I was there when they invented it.  Real funny how it happened.  Most of those boys is long gone now.  I guess I'm about the only one left who was there that night. So I get to write the history.

Happened back in the early Twennies.  Me and Spuds McWhortle was up the Koyukuk prospectin'.  Spuds had just broke with his partner Gravy Dickens the winter before and me and him set up our stake and headed upriver after breakup to look over some creeks up that way.  We hit a little pay along the way, but nothin' like we wanted until too late in the season to do anything about it.  They's a little crick up there just past the Alatna that hit our fancy and we begun working our way up it, takin' a pan here and there until we got near this little waterfall.  In the basin under that trickle we come across dust – maybe $25 to the pan and commenced to doin' some serious diggin'.  Spuds and me worked hardern' we ever remembered, we was so concentrated we wasn't payin' attention to the signs and freezeup caught us.  We'd planned to build a raft to get down but we come out of the tent one morning and durned if that creek hadn't froze all the way down to the Koyukuk and the river was about to seize up too.

So, whut we planned was to hike out over the ice hauling a sled with as much gear as we could.  The rest of our stuff we planned to leave 'cause we was sure comin' back to that crick in the spring.  We washed out all our clothes for the trip downriver and that's when we found we wasn't the only ones surprised by freezeup.  Now I don't know how much you all know about this sort of stuff, so I'll explain a little here.

When you wash clothes in the winter time, you hang 'em outside 'til they freeze, then you bring 'em inside and stand 'em up by the stove and by the time they thaw, they're dry.  Well, Spuds left the clothes out overnight and in the morning we got one of them Alaska surprises.  We come out of the tent and the whole place had been tromped over and everything but the tent itself was ripped to shreds.  Only one thing coulda done that and we knowed instantly it was a big old bear come through our camp that night.  Spuds' clothes line was ripped down and that fool griz had ate my long johns.  They say there's nothin' meaner than a bear out in winter and I think I can now say that's true.  Can you think of anything so cold and so mean he'd be hungry enough to eat a man's long johns, specially after they been wore a whole summer doin' hard labor.  This was one mean griz. I mean there wasn't nothin' left of them long johns enough to cover a kneecap.  We got to thinkin' we might not want to be there when them longhandles started actin' up in his stomach.  He was mean enough already.  So, we packed everything that was left in a big hurry and made tracks downriver.

There we was with winter comin' on bigtime and I had to make this hike without long johns of any sort.  It was cold and there was another problem, too.  I don't suppose any of you ever wore a pair of them heavy wool trousers like we used to have.  Them things weighed a ton, took two sets of suspenders and a belt to hold them up, specially after a summer's work and I was so skinny from it all.  It took all that to hold 'em up and that was without change and dust in the pockets.  Also, they was made of the roughest kind of wool imagineable and that come to be the big rub.

I tell you we trudged for days down that crick and then down the Koyukuk to the Yukon.  We was hopin' to catch the last of the riverboats up to Fairbanks, but we was too late.  Took us two weeks to the Big Yu and surefire, time we come to it, she was froze as solid as that old grizzly's brain.  We traded some dust for grub at the post there in Koyukuk, stashed some more gear and headed upriver for Fairbanks where we planned to winter out.

By this time that other problem with them pants was becomin' a real pain, if you know what I mean.  All that walkin' with that scratchy fabric in them stovepipe trousers swishin' back and forth was havin' an effect on my pore legs.  Time come we was in quite a parade of folks headin' for the Tanana and Fairbanks.  One of the folks we run into was Gravy, Spuds' old pardner.  Didn't take long 'fore they was squabblin' about this axe handle and that stove and they almost come to blows afore I stepped atwixt them.  That little Gravy ripped my shirt in the process and I tell you, I couldn't spare the threads.  We finally picked him up and dumped him in a snowbank and we continued on, me with even more ventilation than before.  Mind you this was early winter but it got down to the 40s below some of them nights on the river.  With them extra holes in my clothes, and them pants rippin' my thighs to bloody meat, we flat hustled for town.

We finally come upon Fairbanks and what a sight that town was, growing up along that slough all fancy and modern as a little town in Alaska could be.  It had some high-falutin' ideas, too.  All the boys was there.  Champagne Ricky was up from Kantishna country.  The Slough Goose come over from the flats.  Angus McQuarts must hit it big that summer 'cause when we come down Two Street he was marchin' along, blowin' his bagpipe scarin' wimmin and their kids right off the street.  He's the one told us about a big dance party comin' up that very night.

Now you might not think two guys just hiked all the way from the Alatna to Fairbanks'd in any shape to do no dancin', but I don't expect you kids comin' to Alaska these days know what it's like out there on the creeks all summer with just another smelly old sourdough to keep you company.  We'd get dizzy just tryin' to stay upwind from each other.  And, once we come out and got a chance to mingle with other folks and maybe some of them other folks is of the other gender, well, they ain't no tired in the world gonna stop us.

So, we was fired up for Angus' dance.  I even tried to tap a few steps right there in the middle of the street but I had to stop 'cause it was then I realized how bad them pants had tore up my legs.  See, all that rough wool rubbin' against my tender thighs for all them days just about tore the hide off me.  If I was going to do any dancing I was going to need some patchin' up.  And, I was going to need some new pants.

First thing we done was head over to Mizz Marble's bathhouse to get the dust off and trim a little hair here and there.  I soaked for about four hours, but I never got no redder than my thighs already was.  Mizz Marble, she gives me some salve to put on my wounded legs and that helped some.  She was all up for that dance, too and she told us the ladies of that town wasn't goin' to put up with no poorly dressed miners and we'd best be gettin' us some formal type threads or they wouldn't even let us into that dance. We paid up and then we went over to Spickle's store to see about some dancin' clothes.  Now, a guy lives like we do ain't got room in his outfit to be packin' around nothin' like a dancin' suit and even if he did, ours probbly woulda been tore up by that bear.  And I fore sure wasn't puttin' them wool pants back on.

Time we got to Spickle's and lookin' over his wares, he'd sold out most of his fancy duds.  There was enough guys in from the cricks with dust and everybody was gettin' gussied up.  He had a couple of them banker suits left but me and Spuds couldn't see much sense in buyin' one of them just to go for one dance.  Old man Spickle, seein' we was doin' a good job of resistin' spending any of our dust says he's got an idea.  Now Spickle's got this wife, well, she don't really belong in the country.  Mrs. Spickle, now she's a story in herself, come down from Dawson where they say she did more than just clean house if you know what I mean.  She's got more city ideas than Fairbanks can accommodate, I mean she reads things like fashion magazines and such and always dresses up.  Spickle asks his wife what she thinks would be the right stuff for us and she hauls out one of them magazines.  I'm sure they was both winking at each other, too.  She reads how this one fashion place says men's clothes should be what she called functional and geographical and how the clothes should fit the man, more than just fit, if you know what I mean. So, Spickle, right on her cue, trots out these olive colored Filson pants and says to me try 'em on.  I did that and then he shows me a nice wool plaid shirt about the same as the airbag on them bagpipes Angus plays.  They all looked me up and down and then Mrs. Spickle says it's missin' something so she comes up with this fancy lookin' piece of strung and ties a bow around my neck.

I musta looked pretty silly all told cause as they started to looked me up and down, they also started to smilin', then they started gigglin, then they all broke into real laughter.  Then Spickle plops this bowler on my head and they all crack up.  Just about this time, Ricky comes in and he's been celebratin' a little and he wants to know what's all that funny.  So they tell him they're me up for the dance and they falls to gigglin' all over again.

Ricky looks me over real good and then says he don't see what's all that funny, if that ain't an Alaska tuxedo, then he don't know what is.  And if a man can't wear an Alaska tuxedo and get in anyplace he wants to go, then the place ain't worth goin' into.  He says he'd just as soon have one, too, if they've got his size and they did and by that time Spuds decides he'll have one too and when we left, Spickle himself was looking for a waist size that'd get around him.

We paid up again and headed down Two Street to the saloon where the boys was gettin' ready for the dance.  A couple of them give me a pretty good ribbin' but when they seen the women eyein' us up to dance, they was askin' where they could come across a similar suit.  We told them it's called an Alaska tuxedo and Spickle's is havin' a sale.  We done some good advertisin' for that little store, 'cause by the time come for the dance, Spickle's sold out all them pants that had probbly been layin' around that store for the past ten years or so.  By the time we come to the dance hall, there's only about one guy in the whole town ain't wearin' one of them suits, except Angus, of course, 'cause he's got to wear his kilts.  The one other guy turns out to be the man takin' tickets to get into that dance.  He takes one look at them suits we was wearin' and says something like it ain't suitable attire for his dance  Now every one of the men in that town was wearin' them twill pants and plaid shirts and them string ties.  A couple of the rougher women had 'em on, too.  While we was stopped there at the door, McKinley-hip Martha shoved her way through the crowd to confront this fancy little ticket taker.  She allows as how she wants to dance and how she wants to dance with a man, not some panty waist in a waistcoat.  She says if he wants to dance with someone like an Alaska woman, he better go get the proper suit himself, and she pitches him into the nearest snowbank.  Then we all filed into that dancehall, leavin' our dollar at the door, just like the little dude mighta still been there.

I don't have to tell you we all had a grand time at that dance and from then on them tuxedos that Ricky named was the thing to wear if a guy wanted to get formal.  I hear they's a couple places in them cities now don't allow a fellow in if he's wearin' one.  Sure hope I never wander into one by mistake 'cause even at my age I could probbly tear up one of them citified joints.  Ain't no place in Alaska for that kind.

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Interesting quotations

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When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth. Kurt Vonnegut

“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a cheque, if you cashed the cheque and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.” Stephen King

The thing about ignornance is, you don't have to remain ignorant. — me again"

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I'm not a writer, but sometimes I push around words to see what happens. – Scott Berry

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A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. – Franz Kafka

We are all immortal until the one day we are not. – me again

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Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain Actually you could do the same thing with the word "really" as in "really cold."

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Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – Benjamin Franklin

It’s nervous work. The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums of money to get rid of. – Shirley Hazzard

So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence -- Bertrand Russell

You know that I always just wanted to have a small ship to take stuff from a place that had a lot of that stuff to a place that did not have a lot of that stuff and so prosper.—Jackie Faber, “The Wake of the Lorelei Lee”

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Life should be a little nuts or else it’s just a bunch of Thursdays strung together—Kevin Costner as Beau Burroughs in “Rumor has it”

You’re just a wanker whipping up fear —Irish President Michael D. Higgins to a tea party radio announcer

Being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are—Michelle Obama

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