Dale Carlson’s Mosquito Lake neighbors will miss his hospitality. "As soon as you walked in the door, he’d say, ‘Sit down and grab yourself a beer,’ Theresa Visscher said this week. Carlson died at Bartlett Memorial Hospital in Juneau on August 7 of respiratory failure. He was 91.
"He was a real sourdough. He could be a little crusty, but he enjoyed people and like a lot of old folks, if you ask them, he talked about his history. He had a lot of stories about the war, hunting, and Alaska in the old days," which he shared in his last months, said Marianne Rasmussen.
Dale Harlan Carlson was born in Oneida, Ill., Nov. 11, 1922, the third child of Chester and Eva Robbins Carlson and raised there on the family farm. He served in the Navy in World War II in the South Pacific on the USS Stark and told friends once he saw the ocean his life changed.
He returned to the farm for a few years, attended college on the G.I. Bill, then headed west to California and to Alaska in 1950, working first at Ladd Air Force Base, then as a gandy dancer laying track for the Alaska Railroad in Seward.
Nephew Wayne Hannam said Carlson hired on with Standard Oil in Ketchikan in 1952, later helping build the pulp mill and working there as a bleacher before joining the fledgling Alaska Marine Highway System as an assistant purser.
His Navy years had earned him sea credentials and he was able to get out on the boats when other seamen didn’t show up. When the Seattle terminal was completed and the Malaspina was sent on the inaugural voyage, Carlson told Rasmussen the regular purser, fearing chaos, became suddenly ill and so Carlson was sent to sell the first ferry tickets from Pier 48.
She said Carlson told her, "Upon arrival in Seattle it was raining hard and windy and there was no booth for writing tickets. chief engineer ‘Big Ears’ Beslin got on his horn in there and acted like he was skipper and it went from bad to worse.’"
Carlson’s first cash register was a green tackle box, which he disdained. "If you knew Dale he was very precise and organized when it came to paperwork," Rasmussen said. Carlson was the chief purser on the ferry Matanuska when he retired in the late 1970s.
He built several homes in Ketchikan, and loved to hunt deer and fish there and took annual trips up north to moose hunt, said retired ferry captain Dale Julian. "He did everything on his own. He had a couple of wives, but that was a long time ago. He was a happy-go-lucky guy and a good friend."
He said he saw Carlson, then 55, struck by a runaway Volkswagen on a snowy street. "It hit him, tossed him up in the air and spun him around like a rag doll." The recovery lasted months and left Carlson, who was small and wiry, with one leg shorter than the other but otherwise no worse for the wear, Julian said.
Saying Ketchikan was getting too crowded, Carlson moved to Haines in 1991 and built a cabin on Mosquito Lake where he gardened, smoked fish, hunted, and visited with his neighbors.
Following a fall about year ago, Carlson recuperated at Haines Assisted Living for two weeks, then came right back to his cabin. "His greatest wish was to stay independent and to stay in Alaska. He really didn’t want to go to an old folks’ home, and he got his final wish," Rasmussen said.
As Carlson’s health declined, family in Illinois tried to convince him to move back, but he refused. "He was a lot of fun, but ornery," said nephew Hannam.
Teresa Visscher said they would all miss him at Mosquito Lake. "He always made sure he had Halloween candy for the kids and to the end, he still beat me at cards."
Carlson’s brothers Bertis and Boyd preceded him in death. He is survived by sister Dorothy Hannam of Galesburg, Ill. and several nieces and nephews.
Condolences may be e-mailed to Wayne Hannam at firstname.lastname@example.org..
Carlson’s nephews are planning a trip to Haines later this year and will hold a small memorial service then. At his request, Carlson’s ashes will be scattered in Tongass Narrows.