The Army brought Jim Arness to Alaska. He moved here in disappointment with the way Seattle had changed in the days of World War II. He married Peggy Petersen in 1945 and came to the Kenai area around 1948, serving as captain of a freighter in Cook Inlet. Peggy, born in Seldovia, is the daughter of Jettie and Allan Petersen.
Jim changed vocations on completion of the Sterling Highway to Seward which routed Kenai Peninsula freight through that port and put the freighter out of business.
The Arnesses homesteaded in North Kenai in 1952 on Upper Salamatof Lake that is now commonly known as Arness Lake. He built the first marine freight terminal in the Kenai area which was the base for geophysical boats prospecting for oil in upper Cook Inlet.
His public service includes terms on the board of Homer Electric Association, 7 years on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, local agent of the Fisherman's Union and president of the Kenai Civic League.
The couple has two sons, Jim and Joe. Peggy was a teacher, co-owner of Arness Terminal, manager of the Kenai Chamber of Commerce for many years and is now manager of the Kenai Office of the Alaska Congressional Delegation. Her home and garden beside Lake Arness are her refuge and delight.
Young Jim was a year old when his parents brought him to Kenai in 1948 from Seattle, Washington, and he has lived here ever since. He fished commercially as a young man, and became an accountant in 1970. He is a member of the Kenai Chamber of Commerce. He and his wife Barbara have 2 daughters, Rebecca and Jessica.
The younger son of Jim and Peggy Arness, Joe, was born in Seward in 1951 and has lived on the Kenai Peninsula most of his life. Like many Alaska boys he worked within the family, commercial fishing and doing general dock work. As a general contractor his firm has built a number of handsome structures in the Kenai area. He has 2 sons, Jacob and James, and is presently president of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, continuing an Arness family tradition of public service.
(Please note that some information is out of date, having been written in 1985 for the book, Once Upon the Kenai. It is copied from that book, with gratitude to the Kenai Historical Society.)
Joe (left) and Jim Arness, sons of James & Peggy, celebrating statehood in 1959.
Many areas of early Alaska, in an effort to catch salmon easier and faster, developed various types of fish traps. These were, as a rule, comprised of a lead that extended from the high water mark on the beach, offshore to deeper water where the jiggers, pot, spillers and basic parts of the trap contained the salmon. The salmon swam in containment until the tender came and "brailed" or picked up the fish for delivery to the cannery.
The traps in the Kenai area were of heavier built construction to withstand the expected southwest winds and swell.
There were 13 of these large traps located along the shore of Cook Inlet between the Kasilof River and a point just south of the present Union Chemicals plant in North Kenai.
Most of the fish traps along Salamatof and Kalifornsky Beach were bu8lt with piling driven about 15 feet apart. Three-inch by 8-inch planks were spiked from piling to piling above high tide line, and chicken wire was draped from those planks to the floor of the inlet. That wire was used to direct the fish to the pot and spiller so that the fish were contained until picked up by the tenders from the canneries.
Each year, when the season was over, trap crews cut the wire off the planks, then the pile driver crews cut them down. Common practice was for 2 people with a dory to cut the planks loose on both sides of every other piling, then pull the planks down, tie them together until a quantity were assembled, then tow to the beach to be loaded on a truck or trailer and hauled home.
In my first effort to salvage those planks I took Odman Kooly Jr. with me. We left from the mount of the river, down to Kalifornsky Beach and worked at cutting planks loose through the flood and ebb tide, then towing them back to the river on the next flood tide.
I remember that first trip so well because as usual, we were late on the tide in leaving the river. Instead of waiting for sandwiches to be made, I grabbed a large cake on the way out the door. Needless to say, young Odman, who was about 14 or 15 years old, and I finished that cake off during those hours of hard work.
Ray Gee and I made it a practice of salvaging those planks for quite a number of years. Usually they were divided, but sometimes one or the other of us needed more than our share for a current building project, so one or the other would get less planks that year. But I think that over the years it worked well for both of us. Those planks were used among other things for an addition to our log house in Kenai, Ray's fish camp and cabin above the camp.
In 1952 I ended up with most of the planks when we built our homestead home in North Kenai. That structure, built on unsurveyed land near section 2-6N R12W S.M., now has a small addition and is covered with modern siding, is located on the intersection of Miller Loop, Hoyt and Arness Roads.
Originally the basement walls were planked, later replaced with cement, floor joists on 2 levels, plus roof joists. The 2 stories of plank walls made the appearance of an early day trading post.
A summer of salt air and water must have had a good effect on those planks since many of them are still in use, though the traps that were the reason for the planks have not been in existence since statehood. (1959)
- James V. Arness
Arness homestead cabin, built of fish trap wood.