Joe Brooking McGaughey was born April 22, 1926 in Gilliland, Texas, the eldest child of John and Pleasie McGaughey. He enlisted in the Navy when he was 17 and was stationed aboard the USS Enterprise, where where he was serving during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
In 1949 he was headed to Alaska for work after separating from the Navy when he met Lillian May Hunt, a lovely young Canadian woman who had grown up in a homesteading family in Alberta, Canada and was working in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. Joe went on to Anchorage, securing a job at Elmendorf Air Force Base, and then returned to Whitehorse and married Lillian on July 20, 1948.
After living in Anchorage for a while, the couple decided to move to the Kenai Peninsula. They marked a parcel of land on Section 13 of North Kenai (down Island Lake Road) and then returned to Anchorage to stake their claim. Joe went back and built a small cabin for the family to live in for the first year, until they could build the larger log home suitable for their growing family that they called "The Big House." This would be their home for the next 20 years. To build the cabin, Joe would leave his Willys jeep at Ed Hendricks' place, then haul cabin materials on the toboggan the rest of the way. The cabin was built of poles and Temtex wood, which was a strong wall material. Until it had a roof, a tent was used to cover the top.
Heat came from an iron cook stove's firebox along with a kerosene heater. A gas lantern provided light. Their first winter in the cabin, temperatures got to 40 below zero. They dared not let the fire go out, so they took turns stoking it on the hour. At one point, when Joe was away and Lillian was ill, the tent they were using for a roof caught fire. Lillian poured water on it and then bedded the children back down in snowsuits and sleeping bags in the snow. Returning, Joe found them that way and wasted no time roofing the cabin.
On the homestead, raising their seven children, Lillian homeschooled, grew vegetables, hunted spruce hens for food, and protected the children from bears that ventured into the yard. She became a U.S. citizen in 1953. Joe worked in the oilfields, and ran his own bulldozer for road building, snow plowing and other jobs.
When the McGaugheys homesteaded, the nearest road was the North Kenai Road, which was five miles away. Getting in and out of the first homestead road was a challenge. They would go as fast as they could, hoping the vehicle would skip over the holes and puddles and trying to avoid trees. If they got stuck they would lay down spruce branches to help with traction. Often half a day would pass before they got from their homestead to the North Kenai Road. Generally, it was easier to just leave their car at the end of the road and walk the five miles from their homestead to the vehicle. Years later, a loop road (Island Lake Loop) was built which was closer, so they joined their homestead to that road with a 1/4 mile driveway.
Building the big house was no small task. Large spruce trees were felled and peeled, using a draw knife, for the bottom logs, which were set on a block foundation. Each log was grooved on the underside to fit atop the one below it, with insulation placed between logs. Joe would bring in logs from the woods and Lillian would peel them. As the cabin got taller, a block and tackle was used to lift logs into position. Neighbors came and helped with roofing. Rather than nails, the cabin was held together with wood pegs that Joe made by hand. The Big House was complete enough in April 1955 to house the McGaugheys. A 44-gallon drum became their wood stove and a gasoline-powered generator was purchased for electricity. Water was hauled from the lake and heated, then cooled to temperature by adding snow in winter months. Eventually a well was dug by Joe and some neighbors near the cabin, from which water could be pumped into the sink. Joe fixed the electricity so that when Lillian turned on a light in the house, the generator would start, and he built an A-frame to house the generator. Modern plumbing was eventually added, with electric wires wrapping the pipes to prevent freezing. They also bought an electric washing machine, which made homestead life much easier.
Blazo was a fuel used by many homesteaders. A gasoline derivative, it burned hot and worked well in cold weather. Blazo came in cans, shipped in wooden crates. Those crates were used by homesteaders for many purposes, and the McGaugheys were no exception. Blazo boxes topped sleds for holding children. They became cupboards in the kitchen and tables, seating and storage trunks.
His John Deere dozer enabled Joe to improve the homestead road. Lillian learned to drive the Jeep and would drive to Galen Gray's store on the North Kenai Road. The dozer was also in demand from neighbors to help with heavy work. Ken McGahan hired Joe to get a moose out of the woods that he had bagged but couldn't move. Mr. Moore, a homestead neighbor, hired him to move a little cabin on a sled, pulling it with the John Deere "cat." Neighbors were always welcome at the McGaughey's home, and everyone pitched in to help the other neighbors when needed. One neighbor was Calvin Daniels, who had a nearby homestead and visited the McGaugheys regularly. Other friends were Waldo and Ruby Coyle, the Enzlers, the House family, the Moores, Charlotte and Galen Gray, Murray Bell, Jessie Ainsworth, Ed and Alice Hendricks, Tommy and Henrietta , Dave and Daisy Bell, Mr. and Mrs. Burgess, George Hillstrom, May Cameron, and Bud and Betty Dye.
Life on the homestead was mostly fun for children, though helping with chores (hauling water and chopping wood) was part of life. The cabin sat near the lake, and a path led from the front door to the shoreline. Lillian had planted pansies and Sweet Williams along the front. King salmon (smoked with alder wood), moose, and spruce hens were food staples, along with potatoes, cabbages, carrots and peas from the garden and homemade bread. Groceries were ordered from the Best Western food supply store and consisted of canned, dried and packaged goods. They picked low bush cranberries, rose-hips and black and red currants and made jams and jellies. Lillian made syrup from birch tree sap and found edible wild greens in the woods. Other necessities like clothes and shoes, dishes, and homestead gear could be ordered from Sears & Roebuck or Montgomery Ward's catalogs (sometimes called "Monkey Ward's" by the kids). Lillian also sewed on a treadle sewing machine.
Joe continually worked to improve life on the home place. He built a greenhouse for growing tomatoes and cucumbers. Below it he dug a root cellar to store root vegetables. He grew hay and pitched it into haystacks, and he raised rabbits for food and fur. He also enjoyed whittling and oil painting. He taught the kids how to row a boat, make bows and arrows, and make fishing poles out of tree limbs.
Joe built a dory called the L'il Kathy, and Lillian would often row out onto the lake to pick lilies. From their front windows the children enjoyed watching the loons and listening to them call out on the lake, which they named Lily Lake. In the winter the frozen lake became the landing pad for their sleds and a skating rink, and in the summer it was a source of boating entertainment. The natural inhabitants of the lake were tiny sticklebacks, but Joe stocked it with Dolly Varden trout and other fish.
Members of the church of Christ, the McGaugheys held church services in their home and were later active in the Kenai and Anchor Point congregations. In bad weather, the small cabin was used as a "Sunday School" room, and the kids learned to sing church songs and were taught Bible lessons. They often held church in their home, with Joe reading scriptures from the Bible. In this way they learned the values that stayed with them throughout their lives. Knowing that they were Christians, a man named Tom Ross came to their homestead one day looking for answers from the Bible. After some study, he became convinced he needed to be baptized. Finding him a change of clothing, they went down to the lake where he was immersed by Joe. The next day was Sunday and Tom was there with them to be welcomed into the church. Friends from the Anchorage church of Christ would come down to visit, especially in summer when Midnight Sun Bible camp was conducted for two or three weeks on the shore of Island Lake. Those visitors included Ray and Grace Raymer, the Koons family, Pat McMahan and family, Billy Joe Mize and family, the Lipscombs, and Jack and Bertie Church and family.
After homesteading for a few years, Joe and Lillian became interested in fishing, first taking on a beach salmon fishing lease on Cook Inlet and then with their own boat, a wooden Bristol Bay sailboat he named “Bronco.” Lillian was a full partner in all of this, and the children were the deckhands and helpers. After selling the homestead and the boat, the family moved to Homer, Alaska in late 1962 where they fished with another wooden boat, “Charger”, in Kachemak Bay and surrounds. Joe sold the homestead to Murray Bell, who then sold it to the Millers, and it later became known as Miller's Hideaway.
Having read of an Australian government invitation for Americans to settle in Australia In 1964, Joe and Lillian decided to move there in their continued quest for adventure and opportunity. The McGaughey's life on the homestead is recorded in the book "Just Breathing the Air."
LIFE AFTER ALASKA
The McGaugheys settled on the northwest coast of the island of Tasmania in 1968, where Joe worked at an iron ore processing and export facility, Port Latta. As soon as he had earned enough, they had a new steel boat built, also called “Charger”, and embarked on a long career in marine construction, using the “Charger”, and later an aluminum boat called “Impact” as work boats on a number of important projects.
Although her eldest daughter Lydia had already returned to Alaska, Lillian did her best to keep rest the family together as they followed the work around Tasmania and Victoria. It was at this time that tragedy struck, with the death of her eldest son Michael, who died in an accident in 1972, at just 19 years.
When the Tasmanian jobs finished, Lillian and Joe drove the boat across Bass Strait, to Hastings, Victoria, to work in Westernport Bay. At that time Lillian kept house on an apple orchard in Tyabb. The children were all growing up, Kathy and John were working, and the 3 youngest boys, Paul, Bob, and Mark, were still at school. When the Tasman Bridge disaster happened in January 1975, Joe and Lillian went back in Tasmania with the “Charger”, leaving Paul and Mark to stay with their big sister Kathy and finish the school year, while her son Bob was already an apprentice electrician, living on his own.
By 1984, all the children had left home, and Joe and Lillian returned to Beauty Point on the Tamar River, northern Tasmania, where they bought an old house and fixed it up. In 1986 they went on a long trip, returning to visit kin in California, Texas, and Canada, also visiting the places they had lived in Alaska. After that, deciding they were still not finished with adventure, they sold the house and drove the "Impact" back across Bass Strait, all the way up the east coast of Australia, as far as Brisbane, Queensland, before heading south back to Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, which they used as their base of exploration for many years.
Joe and Lillian travelled around Australia in their yellow Ford Transit van, visiting sites that interested them, as well as family back in Victoria. In 2005, they decided to set up camp at a caravan park near the marina. Their children Kathy, Paul, Bob, and Mark, and their families all lived in the local area, the Mornington Peninsula, while John and his family lived in Hobart, Tasmania but visited regularly.
When Joe died suddenly on March 23, 2013, Lillian moved to Bayview in Dandenong, South Victoria, Australia, where she lived until her death on January 3, 2015.
Note: This article is a summary of information from Joe's and Lillian's obituaries and from the daughter Lydia's book, "Just Breathe the Air," which contains much more detail about life on their Nikiski homestead. Photos are from the book (with gratitude to Lydia).
Joe & Lillian McGaughey, c1950
"The Big House" - McGaughey Homestead
A Sketch of the Homestead (by Lydia McGaughey)
Joe McGaughey on his John Deere Dozer
Lillian and the Children on the Homestead
Smoking King Salmon over an Alder Wood Fire