Galen Gray was born in 1917 in Missouri. Having served in WWII, he was living in Spokane when he met and Charlotte Rahl and married her in 1947. His work life included helping build the Grand Coulee Dam, veterans' housing in Spokane, and construction of the Wildwood Air Force Station in Kenai.
In 1950, he and Charlotte homesteaded 144 acres of land in Nikiski, for which they finally received a patent in 1955. Their first home was an army tent. On that land they raised seven children and ran a supply store, called Tanglewood Supply, that later expanded into a gas station and snack bar.
Galen & Charlotte Gray, c1951
(Photo credit: Glen Gray)
He was born an only child into a farming-come-carpentry family in Parnell, Missouri, October 26, 1917. Until 9 years old, he was a true "show-me" boy. Then the family heard the call, "Go west, young men, go west!" So they did. The young man worked as a carpenter and learned construction, too, and finally ended up at the bottom of Coulee Dam in Washington State breaking rocks with a sledge hammer. He had no way of knowing that one of the little girls looking down over the edge watching the workers would one day celebrate his Silver Anniversary plus with him.
She was born fifth in line and called Denagee Marie to start with. It was a hot June day in the 1929 Oklahoma town of Kay City. At 2-1/2, she was adopted out to the Rahl family of San Angelo, Texas, and renamed Lottie. When she was 11, her Daddy died, and at 14 the family moved on to Spokane, Washington, and she nicknamed herself Charlotte. Not many summers later she visited the construction site of Coulee Dam, and watched the men sweating in the rocks far below.
Galen E. Gray and Charlotte W. Rahl committed themselves to one another for life on that blustery day in November of 1947. Shortly afterwards they were picked up by the police for driving away in a stolen car! A chivaree joke that nearly caused them to spend their wedding night behind bars!
Thus began a new life full of interesting and exciting adventures.
The spring of '48 found them in Fairbanks, Alaska. Galen was working construction for Birch, Johnson & Lytle at Ladd Air Force Base. Early in '49 they headed back to the Lower 48 in time to birth their first child, Gary Ellis Gray, born March 2, 1949, a little redhead, in Spokane. Odd jobs here and there but work was scarce, so late winter of 1950 saw the Grays motoring back up the Alaskan Highway to Anchorage. Since the Alaskan economy is like an accordion, all stretched out or all squeezed up, i.e., "boom or bust," the early 1950s provided a lot of construction work for Breeden & Smith in commercial building for the next 2 years.
During that time, Maryam Arlette Gray came to life in the old Providence Hospital in Anchorage on January 13, 1951. Another little redhead.
When the road to Kenai opened in the Spring of 1952, 6 friends were on it, looking for a place to plant their roots. The North Kenai Road only went as far as 7 miles north at that time, and the nearest available land for homesteading claims was beyond that! Having each found his territory Over Yonder, Shannon O'Brian, Wally Van Sky, Carl Seaman, Roy Smith, Galen Gray and Milton McCaughey rushed back to Anchorage to file their claims. Today Galen says that what homesteading really was, was the Government betting 143.44 of their acres against 16 of his dollars that the family couldn't build a shelter and live in it for 3 years without starving to death! To this day nobody is hungry, but there were days ... when those beans tasted mighty good! And days when John Monfor's potatoes and salmon visits were a welcome sight.
Meanwhile, back in Anchorage, the Grays are packing up and preparing to move to Kenai to that homestead spot 11 miles north of Kenai on the North shore of Bernice Lake and that is where Galen and Charlotte and their two little redheads pitched the 16 by 16 army tent and gear. Every day Galen went to work on the construction of Wildwood Air Force Base, and every day Charlotte scrubbed diapers on the special washboard that Galen built to accommodate the rounded stomach of a 7-9 month pregnant woman! Pretty soon, back in the old Providence Hospital in Anchorage again, Arle Raym was born on July 12, 1952. When Arle was 4 days old, mother and son flew out to Bernice Lake and joined the rest of the family, by now on the Homestead Place. At that time, it was little more than a tangle of woods and brush; thus, it acquired its name, Tanglewood Ranch!
In its new location, the 16 by 16 army tent was to be called home all that summer and fall of '52. Shortly before the first hard freeze, the log cabin was ready to move into. Though it wasn't any bigger than the tent, at least it WAS modern - it even had a hand pump by the INSIDE sink, no less!
As the construction work ran out at the base, Galen worked in Civil Service for the post engineers, but in order to stay at Wildwood Air Force Base, he was required to begin in Anchorage on the bottom rung of the ladder and work his way back out to Kenai. That was where 1953 went to. When the family returned tot he homestead in early 1954, they brought with them another little pink bundle. For Karma Marie had been born, again at Providence on January 29, 1954.
As a government employee, the family was entitled to certain privileges, i.e., commissary rights, emergency medical care, etc. But as this new community became ever more populated, private people began more and more to pick up these businesses and services formerly rendered by the government. And so it was to be for the Grays.
Galen had lost his commissary rights, so he and Charlotte decided it would be a wise idea to order large quantities from Seattle. Thus, they stocked their dirt cellar with case lots of canned food.
Soon the neighbors began stopping to buy this or that, Charlotte displayed a sample of each commodity on the kitchen table and the neighbor became the customer as Charlotte took her list down to the dirt cellar and returned with the filled order. Such were the humble beginnings of the Tanglewood Ranch Supply, so called to allow room for expansion into other areas of goods should they so desire at a later date. Charlotte's eyes would twinkle as she confessed to not being very good in math, and admits that is why the tablet and pencil were always kept in the bedroom, so as not to embarrass herself to tears! It was a great day of expansion for the grocery business when the adding machine arrived!
Oddly enough, it seemed that with each human addition to the family, the house gained a new addition too. This time, though, the house grew UP faster than the kids, and a second story was added just before Sabia Ann was born on the 2nd day of November, 1955. By word of mouth the neighborhood grocery business continued to grow.
And so did the family! The homestead house never did get completely finished, but it seemed the family was to be rounded out by a final splash of pink when Tawna Grace arrived August 22, 1957. (However, Tami Darlene, who arrived at the Grays in 1982 is living proof that you never make assumptions into God's plan.)
With the grocery business, it finally became necessary to get into it properly, or get out of it altogether, for the supply was rapidly outgrowing the house. Galen put up a Quonset hut on state-leased land up by the road and Tanglewood Supply Company emerged as a "downtown" business in 1959. The Quonset hut measured 20 by 48 feet and was originally split in half - the front half for business, and the back half for storage. Business was good and expanded fast. The shelves along the outside walls of necessity had to curve in an arc overhead as they followed the contour of the hut. The big cooler, which always marked the back row, kept getting pushed farther and farther back as more space was needed, until finally, Galen traded some lots for Hubert Johnson's cabin and moved it out back of the store to use it for storage. Galen came home from Anchorage one day with two insulated boxes, one for refrigeration and one for a freezer.
The very first paid employee was Kathy Porter, who came in once a week. The little girls would sit near Mom and count beans while the folks sold groceries. Then came full-time help in the personages of Mim Tauriainen, Sonja Neadow and Nadine Gabbet. Within a year, pumps found a busy home out front, but as the road was widened, the gasoline, propane and stove oil menagerie had to be moved to the side of the building. By this time the boys were old enough to pump gas and count change, and with the help of Sam Hobbs this part of the business became the responsibility of Gary and Arle.
Back inside the girls grew tall enough to push a broom and dust shelves, to take inventory, stock shelves and price goods. Since the store was a main traffic area of the community, Charlotte recalls circulating petitions to get lights, telephones, mail delivery and a school.
Then the oil boom hit. Black gold; with it came the oil refineries that forced industry into what had been simply homesteading. Towns gave way to cities, and quiet was replaced with chaos. But people still had to eat, and money was easier now. Time was ripe for a snack bar so the Grays knocked out a side of the Quonset and built a kitchen. In no time at all, the 6 stools nearly tripled in number; chili burgers and hamburgers gave way to the Tanglewood Special!
In time, Charlotte began to have health problems, so she moved to the more temperate Arizona climate. Soon Galen and Sabia and Tawna, the only kids left at home by now, closed up shop and followed.
In 1971 then, Galen liquidated the business to Jesse Wade - the buildings, the equipment and the lease on the land. Jesse Wade moved it all to his own land holdings and levelled the property. Today all that remains of Tanglewood Supply Company is a few pictures and a 12-year legend. And 4 children scattered somewhere in the Alaskan frontier of progress. The 144 homestead acres were sold off in bits and pieces over the years. The house itself was sold to a Mr. Willard. The last piece of "Gray's Alaska" was sold in 1976 to Mr. Leon Quesnell.
As one door closed, so other were flung open wide. Charlotte and Galen moved on to Texas and spent 8 years wrestling with 27 apartment rentals! From the heat and bustle of Abilene, Texas, they found the clean air and quiet rugged peaks of Montana's Rocky Mountains. Their beautiful home is located on a mountainside overlooking the Missouri River. Tami Darlene Cox came to them as a delightful 11-year-old, and now adopted, served to keep Galen and Charlotte in touch with their youth, with visions of Canada dancing in their wandering spirits.
Retired now, but still swapping real estate, the Grays presently reside with their daughter Tami in Cascade, Montana, 40 miles south of the windy city of Great Falls. At one time they were anxiously looking forward to sharing some of these stories, happy and sad, with the "old friends." In fact, they were ready to pack their bags and attend the Kenai Community Reunion upon completion of this book. But time has a way of changing plans for us sometimes. For, with the completion of this story near at hand, Charlotte took one final trip and crossed over into God's Big Plan Up Yonder. She passed on in the wee hours of October 6, 1983, and left behind her a lot of people whose lives she touched along the way.
Gary Gray is a commercial fisherman who has bought and built on East Road out of Homer, Alaska. Arle, also a fisherman and construction worker, owns land and is building cabins at Anchor Point, Alaska. Neither of the boys are married.
Maryam was married to Harry House from Kenai, and together they had Christa and Ricky. Maryam and the kids are now living in Anchorage.
Karma married John Van Gelder and both are Alaska State Troopers in Palmer, Alaska - that is, when they're not home adoring their little Ian!
Sabia's husband, Sid Wieder, is a Tech Sergeant in the Air Force serving out of Malmstrom Air Force base in Great Falls, Montana. They and their three children, Jory, Savita and Jaison, live a hop, skip adn a jump around a mountain from the folks' place.
Tawna and husband, John Van Allen, are expecting their first child this fall (1983) in Abilene, Texas. And Tami is yet at home, "serving time" in the fifth grade of Cascade, Montana.
No longer is there a need for diapers in the bedroom, a roll of toilet paper in the middle of the kitchen table, or personal food loans from the pocket. Those are stories from bygone days as are the bar stories, the moose stories, rabbits, geese, goats and horse stories -- oh, and the loons calling from the lake.
From Spokane to Kenai, from tent to house, from cellar to Quonset, from little to big, from childhood to adulthood, from courtship to grandparents, from life to death - yes, from Yesterday til Today, here has unfolded the legacy of Charlotte and Galen Gray.
Galen Gray surrounded by his children
(Photo credit: Once Upon the Kenai)
In the late 1970s Galen began driving rigs across country and investing money to supplement his income. When his wife became ill in the 1980s, they moved to Montana until she passed in 1983, and then he moved back to Alaska, this time living in the Matanuska Valley and delivering newspapers to an area 100 miles across.
When health issues threatened in the mid 1990s, Galen moved to Vashon Island, Washington to live with his daughter, Karma Gray VanGelder. With limited transportation services on the island, they started a private car-for-hire company and he became the driver. He remained on Vashon Island until his death in 2001.
(Photo credit: Glen Gray)