The Fact of the Matter Is. . .
From the Files of Gustavus Historical Archives & Antiquities (GHAA)
Q. Did the pioneers of Strawberry Point recycle their products & resources?
A. Not in the way we think of today. They did not possess an attitude or understanding of conservation in terms of saving the planet. What they did do—likely better than we do today, was reuse and multi-use nearly everything under the sun. There was little or nothing that was not evaluated for alternative creative applications. Some of the ideas used by everyone years ago would today be considered unsafe. None-the-less, “save everything” (just in case some part of it might be needed), was the unspoken motto.
Containers of every description were horded like gold. Any glass jar would translate to canning supplies with the sealing of poured wax tops. Tin cans held feed, hardware bits and pieces, bacon or bear grease on top of the stove, early garden starts, pantry storage and a hundred other uses. Empty barrels of fuel and oil could be used as a tank farm by rigging them together in series—plumbing them directly for their intended use, then subsequently used as floatation devices for scows, rafts, and docks. With lids removed, they became rain barrels, catching the rooftop run-off which became a ready source for fighting structure fires and prized for the “soft” water used for washing hair. Finally, large barrel drums could be split and flattened and used as staggered “shakes” for roofing material.
Magazines and old newspapers were layered under floors and stuffed in walls (along with sawdust) for insulation purposes. And yes, last season’s Sears and Montgomery Wards catalogs were reused page by page in Gustavus outhouses as a utilitarian (if not soft) Charmin alternative. Other paper products in short supply—like gift wrapping paper, were carefully removed, ironed and stored for the next special occasion.
Muslin sacks once filled with staples like sugar and flour became dish towels and aprons. Fabric was saved, cut and pieced for quilts. Complete dress outfits were taken apart, resized and sewn for new recipients. Buttons, zippers, ribbon, trim, etc. were carefully removed from unserviceable garments and stored as a virtual “notions” department store.
Hot water had to be first pumped by hand then heated on a wood or oil stove. It is easy to see why bath water was shared, starting with the cleanest person and adding hot shots along the way. And the galvanized tub may have been doing double duty in the barnyard just moments before. Dishwater was carried out and dumped on flowers and gardens (along with any coffee grounds), and was believed to be “food” for the plants.
Structures already built were recycled and moved around to meet new needs. The original Parker boathouse, for example, was moved to Glacier Bay and became the first cook shack for the Leroy gold mine. In addition to other relocations here and there, parts and pieces were dismantled from the original schoolhouse and reused in buildings around “The Flats”.
In a variety of other examples, burnt down candle wax was used for lubrication on the bottom of homemade snow skis, lead from dead batteries melted down and shaped for fishing weights, and tire rubbers used for protective flaps, boat bumpers, and children’s swings. Boats built at “The Point” contributed port holes, lights, wheel, and props to the next one. Thin deer hide strips were used for buckboards and other ties. Goose and duck feathers were plucked and gathered for beds and pillows. Even the chassis from an old car was created into a ditch digger “tractor” with the concoction of an old gas engine driving a wood water wheel.
A little known fact that demonstrates pioneering experimentation from the bounty of the land was the use of “the blue glacial mud” found about 2’ under the sandy soil. This substance was dug and gathered and “made wonderful paint mixed with a little oil and water”. Bill White Sr. reported it was so durable that “several of our outbuildings have stood all conditions of weather!” So there you have it. Strawberry Point was such a special place that even oil and water could mix and apparently get along!