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Dick Proenneke

November 27, 2009

I wrote about Alone in the Wilderness a while ago and am still finding myself watching it late at night. In fact it was on PBS just a couple of nights ago, and I realized it could just be on my tv all of the time and I would be happy.

I did a little looking around and found this out:

Dick Proenneke was born May 4, 1916 in Primrose, Iowa. He had 3 sisters, Helen, Lorene and Florence and 2 brothers, Robert and Raymond.

He learned his carpentry skills in the US Navy during WWII. Dick spent 6 months in bed recuperating from rheumatic fever while still in the Navy. It was during his recuperation he realized how important his health really was, and he started thinking about living a simple life in Alaska.

Dick Proenneke became a diesel mechanic after leaving the Navy, and later, he moved to Oregon to ranch sheep.

In 1950 he moved to Shuyak Island, Alaska to ranch cattle for a short while. Then he got a job working at the Kodiak naval base as a heavy equipment operator and repairman.

For years Dick worked on and off as a commercial salmon fisherman, and as a diesel mechanic. He even joined the Fish and Wildlife Service and worked at King Salmon.

In 1967 he retired and spent the summer scouting the best location to build a cabin at Twin Lakes. That summer Dick began cutting the logs that he would use to build his cabin the next year. In the fall he returned to Iowa where he spent the winter preparing for his adventure in Alaska.

Using only hand tools, no backhoes, no chainsaws, no electric drill, just hand powered tools Dick built his cabin. Many of the tools he used to build his cabin were also hand made by Dick.

The cabin measured 11′ by 14′. It had a gravel floor, windows, a dutch door, a fireplace, and a moss covered waterproof roof. He had to build all his own furniture too, chairs, tables, desk and his bunk. He also built a cache to store his food out of the reach of the animals.

One of my favourite parts of the film is watching him make the hinge for the Dutch door. That alone makes me want to build my own wood cabin.

I have a friend who is living in White Horse who I would love to visit. I think it should be a requirement as a Canadian to visit the True North Strong and Free.  Not that I wouldn’t want to visit Alaska, but I think that the Canadian North might be more romantic.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 27, 2009 5:11 pm

    My sentiments exactly … I saw this film last winter and it rekindled my long held wish to visit the Canadian True/Far North before it melts into oblivion. Go while you still can! I used to envision a life in White Horse to be just like the fantasy north of Northern Exposure re-runs …! Are you watching the Billy Connolly series just now?

  2. November 27, 2009 11:52 pm

    PS – forgot to say – lovely blog – and hope to visit your shop someday!

  3. November 28, 2009 10:41 am

    Thank you D.

    I haven’t seen Billy Connolly on tv for a while, you are you referring to the comedian?


    • November 28, 2009 6:01 pm

      Hi V
      Yes, ON’s public broadcasting channel is currently airing Billy Connolly’s latest travel series, Journey to the Edge of the World [Canada’s far north – mostly]: So far he’s been out east, up to Iqaluit, Baffin Island, through the Northwest Passage, Tuk, and Dawson City, and onto to BC next. The scenery is stunning and the folks lovely. Hope you can catch the series there in BC, if not, there’s a book and a dvd [only in UK at the mo’; his travelogues are excellent, he’s really quite an engaging, affable and observant guide]. It’s nice to see Canada’s landscapes and peoples presented with such enthusiasm … hello CBC? I’m afraid he’s no DP, though … apologies!

  4. V.E.G. permalink
    December 11, 2009 4:59 pm

    By the way, Dick Proenneke had a another brother named Paul. Paul died very young.

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