Ralph Charles Ault was born in Colorado. Shirley Baker Thirlwell was born in 1932 in Cheyenne, Wyoming and at the age of 12 moved with her family to Alaska in 1943. Ralph and Shirley were living in Anchorage when they met and married in 1953.
The Aults filed on a homestead in the Funny River area in 1957 but did not prove up. They moved to the Kenai area in 1961 and successfully filed 160-acre homestead on the North Road in 1964.
Shirley has had varied experiences - She did hospital work, was the 1957 March of Dimes chairman of the Greater Anchorage area, was one of the first cooks on Phillips Platform in Cook Inlet, managed a laundry and dry cleaning business for 10 years, was a cook at the Moose Lodge, a bartender/manager, hospital worker and setnet fisherman for five years.
Mr. Ault passed away in 1969. Shirley married Lawrence DeVault in 1971 and continued to live on the North Road homestead until 1994, when the couple moved to Wyoming. Shirley died in 2016.
Shirley was a lifetime member of the Women of the Moose, Carry the Red Stole Collegian Degree, a charter member of Pioneers of Alaska Auxiliary #16 where she served as their first secretary, and was a lifetime member of the Nikiski Senior Center. She enjoyed crocheting (which she sold and gave as gifts), cooking and gardening. She was also involved in Cub and Boy Scouts and Little League.
Shirley's children are Harry Thirlwell, Joe Thirlwell, Frank Ault and Carol Ault Munger.
As pioneers of the Peninsula, we were rather late comers, not arriving until September of '61. At the time, Mr. Ault worked for selective service at Elmendorf Air Force base out of Anchorage. Both of us being farm-bred were always wishful of a homestead on the Peninsula. At that time the army was at Wildwood. Mr. Ault put in his name for a transfer, if there was ever an opening at Wildwood. It was rather a standing joke among all his fellow workers, as openings at Wildwood were virtually unheard of, and then usually were filled with personnel from Kenai. But he did secure a position as of August 1, 1961. Homes for rent were more impossible to find than homes for sale in the quite peaceful settlement of Kenai. But Mr. Ault coming from pioneering determined stock, found a home 3 miles north of Wildwood. I arrived bag, baggage and 4 children just in time to start the 3 older children in school. Those were the days when all grades were in one building, still standing on Main Street, Kenai.
We were ever hopeful for a homestead, even more so as we did not care for paying rent. In the winter of 1963-64, we received word through homesteader, Mr. Leo Spencer, that land next to him was available. The state was just beginning to put in the extension of the North Road past Daniels Lake. So we file right away and on July 31, 1964, we moved onto our 160 acres.
We went into our first winter in an 8 by 40 foot trailer. Winter hit hard and early. In fact, we received our first and deep snow on October 18th of 1964. Although we had it quite easy compared to earlier homesteaders, that first winter was hard. No water, no electricity. We got our water from Bishop Crek, a mile away. Until almost Christmas they 3 boys slept in sleeping bags in a tent. With very little money we were trying to build an additional room onto the trailer. We managed to complete enough by the day after Christmas to move the boys in from the tent.
This room was heated with a barrel stove loaned to us by Tex Robbinet. Believe me, that extra 16 by 16 foot room felt like a mansion. That little trailer seemed to grow smaller every day with 6 people. The roofing was heavy black plastic that first winter.
There is a large lake about 200 yards behind the house where the boys set snares and caught many rabbits that were a great help in the food line. Wildlife was quite abundant back in those days. One spring day our youngest son, Frank, was headed back to the lake. He and a black bear suddenly found themselves face to face. It's hard to say which was the more startled; each made an abrupt about face and scampered off in opposite directions.
We had an old D-4 Caterpillar with 24-inch pads and a D-6 blade on it, with which we did our clearing and improving on the land. Mr. Ault worked as an operator at the new Standard Oil Refinery and I worked at the new Peg and Roy's laundromat, but we managed to get enough clearing completed that first fall to put in a large garden our first spring. In gardening we enjoyed trying many and varied vegetables. We found that artichokes just will not grow or develop, but found that sugar beets and mangels do grow. As to whether they will develop, we never learned, but found out the moose do love the greens produced by them. In fact the moose like the mangels and sugar beets so well that they never once bothered our other vegetables.
During the summer months rather than haul precious water for bathing, I'd give the boys a bar of soap and towel and send them to the lake. During winter they experienced bathing in the old round washtub. They also learned how to wash clothes in that same tub on a washboard.
Mr. Ault was a great outdoorsman and taught the boys hunting and fishing. They put many a rabbit on the dinner table by using snares. We enjoyed lots of fish with the boys caught in Bishop Creek. Moose and black bear were plentiful in those days and the meat house was kept full. Our prove-up crop was petkus rye, and what a beautiful crop. Planted in September and October it really developed the following summer. I've wondered why farmers in this area haven't grown it.
We got electrical power about our second year. The first time our daughter, Carol, saw the yard light come on, she ran inside and tried the water faucet. She was just 6 years old and couldn't understand why there was no water.
In February of 1967, Geophysical Survey drilled a 100-foot well for us. We didn't get it connected until the late summer and it lasted about a year. We had only about 30 feet of plastic casing and believe that a couple of sharp earthquakes undoubtedly closed it off. In 1969 I had a local driller come out and he went 367 feet before getting a well.
Mr. Ault hoped to develop a small farm, but alas before he could realize his dreams, he passed on in June of 1969.
Raising the 4 children on the land and teaching them how to live with and off the land was good for them all, and I'm sure helped to give them a better understanding of life. I still live on the homestead and plan to remain so until it is my time to pass over.
The Ault family have ever been pioneers since arriving in America in 1776 on the ship "Davey" from Amsterdam. There are Aults from East to West as well as in Canada and Alaska.
- Shirley J. Ault DeVault
This 1942 Dodge army ambulance with airplane balloon tires and plow was used for breaking ground.