Village in the City

by Michael Hankins
(Arizona)

Alaska Village (circa 1978)

Alaska Village (circa 1978)

Alaska Village (circa 1978)
Winter time (circa 1978)
Kids playing badminton (circa 1967)
Jump rope session (circa 1966)

The serenity of living in a rural Alaska village is something I’d love to experience.

It seems a subsistence lifestyle has distinct advantages. Hunting and fishing to stay alive makes a person stronger both physically and mentally. Clean water and air untainted by pesticides and smog can only be healthy.

One of several Webster’s definitions for village is:

“A self-contained district or community within a town or city, regarded as having features characteristic of village life.”

For a tad over 4 years I lived in such a place within the city. Village residents habituated as close as thirteen feet away. We made weekly trips outside the village confines for food.

Recreational play and sporting events were held in the street. The place I refer to is rarely mentioned these days. A problematic stigma still exists for many people having lived there.


In 1966, before leaving Texas for Alaska, dad informed us we’d be moving to a village. At twelve years of age I didn’t know the true meaning of such. I envisioned living like my childhood heroes Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett in a log cabin. Dad stretched things a bit. He’d secured a space at Alaskan Village Trailer Court in Anchorage, Alaska. That’s where we were to park our 10 x 55 foot mobile home.

My father was a military man serving in the United States Air Force. Just like clockwork every 3 years we’d move. Dad deemed it financially prudent for us to live in a trailer. With his meager government salary any means to possibly stretch a dollar was taken.

Our vagabond life began at George Air Force Base in Adelanto, California. From there dad pulled our little home on wheels to Craig A.F.B. in Selma, Alabama. Brooks A.F.B. in San Antonio and Reese A.F.B. in Lubbock, Texas came next. Ultimately Elmendorf A.F.B. in Anchorage was dad’s final assignment. I’m sure some folks referred to us as trailer trash, although I don’t recall hearing the derogatory term. If anything it was spoken behind turned backs.

Our journey to Alaska was an adventure in itself.

Breaking a trailer hitch on the rough and tumble AL-CAN Highway meant a full day of repairs in Fort Nelson, British Columbia (Canada). Coming across the narrow Matanuska River Bridge in Palmer, Alaska - dad got a bit too close leaving a bright green stripe on rusty steel beams.

The morning we rolled into Anchorage was overcast and wet. Misty cold rain helped wash layers of dust from car, truck, and trailer. Our first meal was hamburgers and fries at the Lucky Wishbone restaurant. We spent the night at Mush-Inn Motel on Concrete Street.

Early the next morning dad backed our sun-faded New Moon trailer into Space #299 - 7800 DeBarr Road. I was happy to see kids playing. At our previous home in Texas, my brother Jim and I had to depend on pets for companionship. I sensed this trailer park was going to be different!

Our first week at the new residence was spent ‘skirting’. That was something new to me. Skirting meant taking plywood and insulation, then using it to build a mini-wall completely around the bottom of the mobile home. Not doing so resulted in frozen pipes and a cold floor come winter. I witnessed more than a few people make that mistake. By November most of those procrastinators were outside with saws and hammers. Yellow sawdust sat prominent on fresh white snow. Jim and I became good at skirting and leveling trailers. Our talents were called upon numerous times to help neighbors.

There were many brands of mobile homes within Alaskan Village. Some of the names were most unusual: Schult, New Moon, York, Vagabond, Nashua, and Marlette to name a few. Residents of the park would actually argue what trailer was best. To this day the name Vagabond conjures up gypsies, tramps, and thieves much like the song by Cher.

A fence separated our trailer court from split-level homes. A few home owners forbid their children from walking to “The Village”. That’s what some people called the place. Mom joked those parents probably thought their kids would never be seen again.

I knew one boy trying to woo a gal from the other side. The girl initially took an interest in him, but soon after the budding relationship fell apart. I believe it had to do with concerned parents not wanting their daughter socializing with presumed ‘po folk’.

My brother and I had paper routes for several years. We delivered both The Anchorage Times and Anchorage Daily News. There were winter days when the temperature plummeted well below zero. That could last for weeks. Large bundles of papers were dropped off at the Alaskan Village office. Right outside the office was a small block structure housing a large water pump. An electric heater inside kept pipes from freezing. Water piped throughout the park was supposedly Artesian. To this day I’ve never tasted sweeter.

Knowing how to slyly get inside that locked structure was taught to us by a previous paperboy. A screwdriver hid inside a cracked cinder block was the key. These toasty confines saved our butts numerous times when the temps were frigid, and papers were late. Having 2 paper routes at the same time during school months was not conductive to good grades. My Clark Junior High report cards are a testament to such.

Since there was no playground, village kids hung out in the street. It wasn’t unusual to see them playing baseball or badminton. Jump rope was another favorite activity. The speed limit was 5 MPH so vehicle danger was of little concern. During winter months those fortunate enough to own snow machines drove them for transportation. My brother and I used ours to deliver papers. Of course with it being noisy, we didn’t fire things up on the morning route.

Some of the names I remember from my paper route days are: Sanborn, Cloud, Rooks, Malone, Staley, Leland, Jones, Bingaman, LaCau, Greene, Maya, Kunda, Northcutt, McElveen, Roberts, Clapp, Giland, Rich, Dyer, Fostervole, Collyer, Martinez, Wardlaw, Vincent, Giradet, Kennedy, Fisher, Chron, Hahn, and Zobel.

Hooky bobbing was a common village activity during winter. If a car drove past with snow on the back window, it was easy to run up and grab the rear bumper. With slick icy streets a kid could get pulled quite a distance without the driver knowing. As dangerous as it sounds I do not remember anyone getting hurt.

There was an ongoing rivalry between trailer courts. Rangeview Mobile Home Park was approximately 3/4 mile down Muldoon Road. There were guys from Rangeview who liked to bully Alaskan Village kids; vice versa. One of the Rangeview clan wore a thick metal chain around his waist. He had a reputation as being tough. There came a day that my brother went berserk, tired of this fellow’s pushing and shoving. We had to pull Jim off the boy after so many lashings. Bullying ceased; at least from that fellow it did. I wouldn’t call such gang activity, but it was definitely a turf war.

We moved out of Alaskan Village in 1970. Within 10 years the park started going downhill. The trailer court originator and developer Roy Metcalfe died. Kids called him “Old Man” Metcalfe. Mr. Metcalfe took pride in his sprawling endeavor. He’d cruise slowly through it each evening in a blue Ford Thunderbird. A detailed park map tacked to his office wall had a cluster of trailer spaces circled in pencil. Mr. Metcalfe deemed this ‘the trouble zone’. Space #299 was smack dab in the middle. I only knew this because a friend’s mom worked there as secretary.

There were close to 400 trailer spaces by the time Roy Metcalfe passed away. Infamous real estate developer Pete Zamarello purchased the facility soon afterwards. He let things quickly slide into decay. By the time Zamarello died the village resembled a war zone. Burnt and unoccupied trailers were everywhere. Crime was rampant. City officials including most people living in the area were glad to see the village closed.

Today very little remains of my old haunt. Walgreen’s occupies a portion of the grounds as well as Begich Middle School. A new fire station takes up a small spot of land. Townhouses have been constructed with more development planned. A Krispy Kreme Donuts, Body Renew Gym, and BurgerFi Restaurant now occupy the general area where the block well-house once stood. I’m sure that Artesian stream still flows unobstructed many feet below the structures.

For the most part kids I grew up with in Alaskan Village turned out to be successful. They enjoyed careers in business, education, management, ministry, law enforcement, construction, military, and health care. One lucky fellow went on to fly 747’s.

In another 30-years undoubtedly all memory of Alaskan Village Trailer Park will be erased. The majority of folks having lived there will be history as well.

I doubt there’ll never be another place like it.

Trailer parks are quickly becoming extinct. In 1966 had the choice been mine, I would’ve chose a rural Alaska village to live in. There’s no doubt Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone would do the same. Fate placed me at this village in the city. It was still an Alaskan adventure; an experience that I’m thankful to be part of!

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Navy Wife in New Moon
by: Carol

Being a Navy wife with 2 small children we purchase our 1963 10 x 55 New Moon in Meridian Mississippi for $5,000.

It had a front kitchen, living room and 3 bedrooms in a row. Moved it to Memphis, TN; then Sanford, FL; and finally Milton, FL in 1968 where we sold it and moved into government quarters. It saved us a lot of money during those years.

Great story, you should continue writing.

I read your story because I know your Aunt Wava and used to work with her in Kansas. Now living in a condo in the high desert of Southern California as a great grandmother of 4 little boys.

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Excellent Story
by: Candy Baca

Your story brought back fond memories of our move to Valdez, Alaska in 1976.

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Thank You for your Story
by: Lisa Stroman

This is what we are missing in life anymore, the passing on of stories...storytelling.

Thank you for sharing your memories Mike, they are very precious to those of us that remember life in a simpler time. Not that there wasn't problems or heartache, but our focus was on the good parts of life.

Please continue your work (pleasure, I am sure) as a storyteller...the world needs more.

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Love Your Story
by: Anonymous

We also moved to AK because of the military, and our first home was in Glenn Caren on Muldoon.

Many fond memories living there until there was enough space for us to move on base. Thank you for the walk down memory lane through your tales.

Alaska is still my home to this day and we truly miss having you as a neighbor. I love being able to read anything you write.

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The Good Old Days
by: Fred Salter

We moved to Alaska in 1962 from Pennsylvania and also lived in a trailer court.

Ours was in Juneau, Alaska but our experiences were similar to Mike and his family. Well written article about the history of Anchorage from a personal level which is much more interesting to read than a matter-of-fact account without the heart Mike puts into it.

Thanks from one Alaskan to another.

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Great Story
by: Glenda Turner

I enjoyed the story! Mike, your memories are amazing.

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Village in the City
by: J Beckman

Awesome story of growing up.

I felt I grew up right down the street. You have a great way of portraying your childhood. We did not buy our fun, we made it.

So different from the kids growing up today.

Great job Mike

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Great Story and Memories
by: Gunnar

This is a great story Mike.

Would have loved to have seen village life first hand. I'm sure you have a lot more good memories and great stories from that place.

Thanks for the read.

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Memories
by: Anonymous

I really enjoyed this article as it brought back a few memories of my own.

I lived in another trailer park in Anchorage (Four Seasons), for a time, after first moving to Anchorage. Like the author's father, I did so to save money to buy my first house.

Your article brings back visions of life in such a "village"

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Love the Shared Memories
by: Kay Farrell

Awesome memories and so well written that I felt like I was walking the journey.

Thank you to you and your family for your service to our great country. We must never forget all the reasons we continue to have freedom and your story is another great reminder.

Again, thanks for sharing your great story.

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Memory Lane
by: Carla

Mike and I bought a mobile home in 1976 from one of the last dealers in Alaska. Put it in the "village" on Boniface. Yeesh......!

Great article Mike. Could easily picture the "old" Anchorage.

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Great Job
by: Janice Cross

Great job Mike, I learned a lot about how things were (in Anchorage) before we got here.

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Fun Times
by: Bob Malone

Growing up there was a lot of fun for sure.

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Thanks for Sharing your Childhood
by: Ali Judd Elder

I've never been to Alaska or lived in the snow but through your story I could see the kids in the street playing and laughing.

You helping out your neighbors, I could feel the snow and it's bite and I could taste the sweet artisan water that ran beneath the ground of your childhood home.

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Best Memories
by: Nancy

What a time we had running the streets in AV (Alaskan Village). Memories made and friends that have lasted over 60 years. Thanks Mike

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Love Your Story
by: Britt

This reminds me of the stories from when my great grandparents "settled" Chugiak and Palmer.

And the stories from when my mom moved up as a little girl. It's the little details that pack a big punch here.

Great work, Mike. I can put myself there.

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Alaskan Village Trailer Court
by: Barbara Williams

I loved living in Alaskan village.

My dad was in the Air Force and we lived there from 1968-1971. We moved there when I was 11. We lived in space 282. I remember that there were lots of kids there and we all ran wild and had great times.

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Past Memories but not Forgotten
by: JSH

I remember this trailer park, we lived in the new section for three years. This article brought back some fond memories of being a resident here. Thanks Mike

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Great Story
by: Jeff Thimsen

Had many friends from there. Lonnie Wick was one.

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Walk Down Memory Lane
by: Anonymous

Thanks for the story!

I grew up around the area. So much has changed and continues to change every time I get to visit.

It's nice to be able to visualize how things used to be aka the good ol' days!

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