The Sou'wester
of the Pacific County Historical Society and Museum
Fall 2001, Volume XXXVI Number 3
Last modified on May 17th, 2003 / Contact the Museum / Web editing done by Brian Davis
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Volume XXXVI, Number 3                                                                                 Fall, 2001
The Life Savers of Klipsan
Life Saving on Parade
A quarterly publication of the Pacific County Historical Society
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ISSN #0038-4984
Copyright, 2002, by the Pacific County Historical Society.  No portion of this publication may be reproduced in any form without the written permission of the Society's Editorial Board.

The Sou'wester is a quarterly publication of the Pacific County Historical Society and Museum.  The Pacific County Historical Society is a non-profit 501(C)(3) organization in South Bend, Washington.
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In addition to the Sou'wester, the Society publishes a monthly newsletter for its members and operates the Pacific County Historical Society Museum in South Bend, Washington.

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  • Pacific County Historical Society Board of Directors:
    • Ron Hatfield
    • Gerald Porter
    • Marion Davis
    • Sue Pattillo
  • Pacific County Historical Society Officers:
    • Vincent Shaudys, President
    • Robert Gerwig, Vice President
    • Elizabeth McCollum, Secretary
    • Bud Cuffel, Treasurer
The Pacific County Historical Society welcomes contributions of articles and/or photographs relating to Pacific County history and culture.  Although care will be taken in handling all submitted materials, we assume no legal liability or responsibility for loss or damage.  Materials accepted for publication may be edited for grammar, clarity, and/or length.

Design and electronic page layout by Charles B. Summers, South Bend, Washington.
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Fall Issue, 2001
  • Contents
    • Introduction:  Page 2
    • The Life Savers of Klipsan:  Page 3
    • Life Saving on Parade:  Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Demonstrations: Page 12
Cover Photo:  Launching the Dobbins Lifeboat from a beach cart required strength and teamwork.  the much lighter McClelland Surfboat, although not designed to be self-righting, was often preferred for beach work.  Both boats incorporated airtight compartments for buoyancy.  Ilwaco Heritage Museum Photo #2283pb14A.
Also see the Ilwaco Heritage Museum web site.
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     I would like to dedicate this issue of The Sou’wester to Ken Inman (1883-1970) a US Life Saving Service Surfman, Ilwaco Fire Chief, Mayor, and service station owner.  Besides his official duties Ken was an amateur historian of the local Life Saving stations.  His collection of shipwreck and life saving materials were donated to the Pacific County Historical Society by his daughter Gay Peterson, and sister Mrs. Fred Nolan following his death.  This issue would not be possible without them.
     Ken joined the Life Saving Service in 1903.  According to a Tacoma News-Tribune story about Ken from the late 1960s all new recruits were tested for their swimming and waterman skills, as well as their tolerance of rough water.  All boat handling in the service at that time was under oars and sail. Fishermen, who also worked under sail and oar at the time were, according to Ken, frequent casualties in the vicinity of Cape Disappointment, where he was stationed.
     The skills and experience gained by Ken’s Cape Disappointment crew earned them the privilege of representing the Service at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle in 1909.

Ken Inman
Inman, and his recent bride, Maude Davis, spent a year in the city demonstrating the skills used on a daily basis in the Service to large exposition crowds.  Besides the breeches buoy, and capsize drills, the Life Saving Service was able to introduce the public to the latest motorized life saving boats.  Notably, the photos from the exhibition show only the oar-powered boat being capsized, not the powerboat.  Reorganization, and technological changes were happening before every ones eyes, and Ken was there collecting the evidence, and saving it for your benefit.
     I would also like to thank Larry Weathers, former editor of this publication, for permission to publish the history of Klipsan Lifesaving Station submitted with a National Register of Historic Places Nomination in 1979.
Bruce Weilepp, Editor
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The Life Savers of Klipsan
By Larry Weathers
     The site of the former Klipsan Beach Life Saving Station was placed on the National Register of Historic Sites in 1979 because it was judged to be a significant reminder of late 19th Century mariner attempts to battle the sometimes treacherous weather on our Northwest coast.  For 58 years the life saving station stood watch over the transportation lanes near the North Beach Peninsula (Long Beach Peninsula).  In high velocity gales, dense fog and pounding surf, life saving crews from Klipsan recovered the drowning victims of many wrecks.  It was no easy task and it took surfmen with strength and dedication.  The motto of the service was Semper Paratus (“Always Prepared”), and in the name of humanity they were.  The low pay, non-existent retirement benefits, and perilous work conditions attest to it.

The McClelland surfboat is ready to launch for the wrecked French ship Alice in 1909.  The life saving crew arrived to find the crew had already escaped.  Her cargo of cement was a total loss, however.  PCHS#2001.27.397.
     Living in a world of steadily advancing technology makes it difficult to imagine the emotions that shipwrecks aroused in the men and women of the 19th Century.  Generations have now grown up along the shores without ever hearing the cry of, “Ship Ashore!”  But at one time emotions did run high, and nowhere along the West Coast was it dreaded more than the area at the mouth of the Columbia, known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific.”
     The Klipsan Beach Life Saving Station, first known as the Ilwaco Beach Station, was established in 1889.  It was once one of 19 Life Saving Stations protecting the West Coast from Nome, Alaska, to the Golden Gate.  For nearly 60 years the Klipsan Station provided humanitarian, as well as salvage, and navigational assistance to mariners.  Although lighthouses, beacons, and similar navigational aids had been in use around the world for centuries, organized physical assistance for shipwrecked mariners in the United States did not begin until 1785.  The first American lifesavers were voluntary associations, modeled after the British efforts.  The Federal Government made no attempt to fund these associations until New Jersey Congressman William A. Newell (later Washington Territorial Governor, 1880-1884) made an appeal to the House of Representatives in 1848.  Social reform was a popular movement at the time in many social welfare institutions from prisons to hospitals and to social welfare.  Congress provided token funding for a life saving effort that year, but it was decades before sufficient funds would be appropriated to build and operate an adequate number of stations on all coasts.
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     While lighthouses and beacons were being established on the West Coast prior to the Civil War, life saving services lagged behind.  The U. S. Life Saving Service (U.S.L.S.S.), a non-military division of the Treasury Department, first studied the situation in 1871.  The first West Coast U.S.L.S.S. station was located at North Cove in early 1877, possibly under the mistaken impression that North Cove was closer to the Columbia River than it actually was.  A station at Cape Disappointment, just inside the mouth of the Columbia River on the Washington side, was established later the same year with a paid keeper and volunteer crew.
     The North Cove Station was similarly staffed by a paid keeper and volunteer crew, and quickly became known as a challenging keeper assignment.  Getting a crew of volunteers together on a stormy night to risk their lives in the breakers sometimes proved next to impossible.  Many times the Keeper found himself with one loyal volunteer “Lighthouse” Charley Ma-Tote, from the nearby Shoalwater Indian Reservation.  In 1884-1885 crews were hired and paid a salary for both North Cove and Cape Disappointment.
The ship Glenmorag grounded near Ocean Park March 19, 1896.  Two of her sailors were killed while attempting to escape the wreck.  The rest arrived safely ashore, although some were injured.  Attempts to salvage the British ship were unsuccessful, and the iron ship was cut up on the beach.  Her figurehead was salvaged by one of her sailors, William Begg, who stayed in the area the rest of his life.  The figurehead graced Begg's yard for many years.

Edwin Loomis.  PCHS#10-18-84(3)
Erosion in the North Cove area eventually destroyed the North Cove Station in the mid-20th Century, necessitating a move to nearby Tokeland.  Some structures from the Tokeland Station exist today, although its staff was consolidated with Grays Harbor Station in Westport during the 1960s.  The loss of a Tokeland Station boat and crew in 1946 is described in the winter 1996 Sou’wester edition.
     Continued loss of life and property during the 1880s convinced the Superintendent of the 12th District U.S. Life Saving Service in San Francisco to establish a station between North Cove and Cape Disappointment.  In July 1889 a commission, under instructions from the Treasury Department, surveyed the North Beach Peninsula of Pacific County, Washington Territory, for a new life saving station.  The commissioners were instructed to find a suitable location that was not too expensive.
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     The commission settled on a piece of property approximately 14 miles north of Cape Disappointment, and 12 miles south of the entrance to Willapa Bay.  The area was known as Ilwaco Beach, and the property belonged to a bachelor named Edwin G. Loomis.  Edwin, and his younger brother Lewis, owned parcels of land throughout the Peninsula.  An indefatigable promoter, Lewis was also the principle owner and president of the Ilwaco Railroad and Navigation Company.  In fact, tracks of the I. R. & N. Railroad ran along the eastern boundary of the proposed station property.  The brothers pointed out how convenient the location would be for the new station, and indicated that it was important that the decision be made quickly.  In the commissioner’s report to Samuel I. Kimbell, General Superintendent of the Service, Washington D.C., dated October 16, 1889, they wrote:
Map of the North Beach Peninsula showing the location of Klipsan Beach Life Saving Station in relation to other communities and the Ilwaco Railroad.  Kroll's Map of Pacific County, 1922.
     “Mr. Loomis being at the time in precarious and failing health, and the property conveyed being valuable, sought after by private parties, (an offer of two thousand - $2000 – dollars having been made therefore as a site for a hotel), at his suggestion and in view of his physical condition, and the fact that in case of his demise the property would pass into hands involving reviewed negotiations and serious delays your commission assumed the responsibility of making the deed of record, trust….under the circumstances may receive your approval.”
     The Commissioners had purchased the two-acre site from Loomis for $350 in July of 1889.  Edwin died on November 5, 1889.
     The property chosen for the life saving station was the most ideal site in the area.  Major consideration had been given by the commission to the frequency of wrecks in the immediate vicinity, as well as to the good launching and landing position for surfboats.  Additionally, the main track of the Ilwaco railroad ran along the eastern border of the compound.  As an added incentive Lewis Loomis generously proposed placing a side track along the northern boundary of the property leading to the water.  This spur ran to the boathouse overlooking the ocean.  A flatcar was placed on the spur beside the boathouse, so that the crew and boats could be quickly transported to wrecks several miles north or south of the station.
     Between 1889 and 1892 volunteers from the local community manned the station.  On stormy evenings a solitary volunteer watched over the beach.  Downed ships were reported to Cape Disappointment by telegraph.
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Map of the Klipsan Station grounds and buildings from 1891 to 1905.

     In 1891 preparations were finally made for a permanent station and paid crew. F. W. Ritten and Company was contracted to build the necessary station buildings between May and October of that year.  Volunteers manned the station until the end of the year.  In November a British ship disintegrated on the sands near the Ilwaco Beach Station, and seven men were lost.  Manning of the Station with a full-time, professional crew was expedited.
     Life saving stations were built in stylish, but standardized architectural styles, depending on the period of construction.  The first buildings at Ilwaco Beach Station were “Marquette” style, after the first station of this type built on Lake Superior in 1890.  The architect, Albert B. Bibb, also served as an inspector of stations.  Heavily influenced by the popular Shingle Style of the time, the “Marquette” design was Bibb’s last for the Service.  By way of contrast, John G. Pelton of San Francisco designed the keepers residence at North Cove in the slightly older Queen Anne style.  The boathouse at North Cove was of the earlier “1875” type, with gable end and some decorative woodwork reminiscent of both Carpenter Gothic, and Stick Style architecture.  The early history and design of American life saving stations is well described in The U.S. Life-Saving Service: Heros, Rescues and Architecture of the Early Coast Guard, by Ralph Shanks, and Wick York (1996).
     The Ilwaco Beach Life Saving Station was a patrol station manned by eight men, including the keeper of the station.  Known as surfmen, the crewmembers had to be able-bodied, and experienced watermen.  None could be over 48 years of age, and all had to be able to read and write.  The local residents called the keeper, usually from the local area, “Captain.”
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     Besides the buildings and crew, three basic pieces of equipment made up the backbone of the life saving stations: boats, beach apparatus, and lookout tower.  Early in the life of the Service (1848), a study of life saving techniques used by surfmen was made.  Two basic methods were found to be already in use.  One involved rowing a lifeboat out through the surf to remove the crew and bring them back to the beach.  The other method involved the use of a small cannon, called a Lyle Gun, which shot an overhead line from the beach to the stranded ship and enabled the rescue to be carried out with a breeches buoy.  Strong tides and sandy shoals on the East Coast were especially hazardous to small boats, and the beach apparatus employing the Lyle Gun was considered the best alternative in most situations.

The North Cove Life Saving crew practices operation of the Breeches Buoy rig.  Everything needed was carried in the beach cart to the right.  Anyone who has ever ridden in a Breeches Buoy seat will remember it as the most uncomfortable ride of their life.  Its use in actual life saving on the West Coast was rare.  PCHS#1998.50.2

A wrecked gillnet boat becomes a beachcombing curiosity.  The sad story was all too common, although the specifics in this case are lost to time.
     On the West Coast, however, boats were more widely used, particularly the self-bailing Jersey style surfboat and the Dobbins self-righting lifeboat.  Measuring 26 feet and weighing 900 Lbm, the surfboat was considered easier to handle in the Pacific surf, and better suited for the West Coast squalls.  Surfboats were stored on a specially designed four-wheeled wagon that could be pulled by men of horses and driven into the water and disassembled for launching.  Surf boats were manned by six men with twelve to eighteen-foot oars.  Dobbins type lifeboats were also oar-powered, but were heavier than surfboats, with raised deck structures at both ends to make them self-righting.
     The Ilwaco Beach site was especially suited for its role as a lookout and patrol station.  The beach has a very shallow slope and unbroken by promontories or rocks for approximately 12 miles north and south of the station.  The surfmen stood tower watch in the daylight hours, except when foggy, and patrolled the beach three miles north and south of the station, one man each way from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.  Foggy day watches were sometimes surprised by literally stumbling over the bodies of drowned sailors.  More welcome for the frugal lifesavers were the discovery of ships’ furnishings among the flotsam.  When patrolling the beach the men carried a clock and costen flares that would burn red for one minute when lighted.  The light was used to show a wrecked vessel that it had been sighted, and sometimes to warn vessels when they got too close to shore.  When the lookout saw a vessel in distress, he reported to the station, and the keeper would ring an alarm bell.  The crew then ran to the boathouse and prepared for the rescue.  The beach, or boat, wagon was pulled to the scene of the wreck either by horses, or by the surfmen themselves.  By 1900 horses were trained to go into the surf with the wagon to launch or retrieve the boats.  During World War I and II the surfmen patrolled the beach on horseback.
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     Life saving surfmen were frequently called upon to perform services in the neighborhood of their station, which they were not necessarily paid to do.  The records show that they often rescued bathers, would-be suicides, persons who had fallen from the docks or vessels, etc., and sometimes women assaulted on the beach.  Persons in urgent need of medical or surgical attention were conveyed to places where such attention could be secured, and from time to time surfmen assisted in fighting local forest fires.

The sailing ship Potrimpos, grounded December 19, 1896, north of Long Beach, Washington.  No loss of life, but she turned on her side during salvage attempts.  PCHS#10-6-70-3 M, Ken Inman Collection.
Life saving boats ready for action.  The Dobbins self-righting lifeboat is on the left, and the McClelland self-bailing surfboat is on the right.  Both boats rest on specialized wagons designed for launch and retrieval.  Beach launching was a capability and skill that was sacrificed after motorized rescue craft were developed.
     To save lives aboard a ship in distress, the crew drilled regularly to improve their time in launching the wagon-mounted gig.  Each day, except Sunday, the surfmen drilled or cleaned equipment.  Twice each week during the summer season the station held practice drills.  Visitors were welcome to view the station and its equipment in action.  Vacationers came from all the towns along the beach by horse and buggy, railroad, bicycle, and afoot to be entertained.  A regular attraction of the Ilwaco Railroad’s summer schedule was to stop once a week to watch the drills.  In order to accommodate the crowds, boards were laid on flatcars for seats.  If a wreck drifted in, the railroad would make a special stop so that passengers could walk up on the sandridge and view it.  For this and other reasons, the railroad soon gained the nickname of the “Irregular, Rambling, and Never-Get-There Railroad.”
     The station drills were usually performed in two stages.  The first was the surfboat drill.  The climax came when the men rowed their self-righting craft over the tumbling breakers.  By shifting their combined weight they would roll their craft over and right it again.  It is hard at this distance in time to imagine the awe such a death defying demonstration held for Victorian viewers.  The second phase of the drill involved shooting a line with the Lyle Gun on land and rigging a Breeches Buoy seat to reach a simulated ship’s mast in the sand dunes.  While the drills were underway an officer explained the finer points of life saving with an invitation to come back in winter when the shipwrecks were more likely to occur.
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1891 construction plan for the Keeper's dwelling at Ilwaco Beach (Klipsan) Station.  National Archives record group 26.  PCHS#12-29-79-1.
     The year 1896 will be especially remembered for marine disaster.  The steamer Point Loma went aground in February, the bark Glenmorag in March, and the sailing ship Potrimpos in December.  A first-hand account of the stranding of the schooner Zampa on nearby Ledbetter Point in 1904 can be found in the Autumn, 1984, Vol 19, No. 3, Sou’wester.  The Ilwaco Beach Station crew, lead by acting station keeper Joel E. Edwards, assisted the Zampa’s crew in securing the beached vessel, which was eventually refloated.  Not all incidents were so routine.
     In 1912 the name of the Ilwaco Beach Life Saving Station was officially changed.  Theodore Conick, keeper of the station at the time, submitted the name “Klipsan” to the district office.  The new name was attributed to retired shipmaster Captain A. T. Stream, who was developing a town site adjacent to the Station. Klipsan, or Klipsun, was said to be an Indian word meaning, “setting sun.”
     As 1915 approached great changes were on the horizon for the Life Saving Service.  Gas-powered rescue boats began displacing the oar-powered lifeboats.  Recruitment of healthy, qualified surfmen became much more difficult.  Crew left when they found they could make more money doing other things in private, or less hazardous pursuits.
     An effort to consolidate the small U. S. Life Saving Service and the U. S. Revenue Cutter Service into one agency resulted in their merger in 1915, forming the U. S. Coast Guard.  The personnel and traditions of the old U. S. Life Saving Service were carried over carried over to the new organization.  The push for efficiency was also evidenced by another name change.  The station was now to be known as Klipsan Station # 309.
     Between 1915 and 1947 the need for staffing Klipsan Station waned with advances in marine propulsion and communication.  Sailing ships disappeared.  Steam-powered vessels were less likely to be driven aground, although the number of motorized pleasure boats rapidly grew.  The entertaining beach drills declined as the motorized lifeboats were able to patrol north and south of the Columbia River on a regular basis.
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Klipsan Beach Station No. 309 life saving crew circa. 1912.
     Klipsan Station became a post for government activities other than life saving.  During World War I more personnel were brought to the region to guard the beach.  Stations like Cape Disappointment and Klipsan were reinforced. War’s end brought another decline in staffing.
     During Prohibition days (1918-1932) the cargo of the bootlegging gas boat Alpha went aground north of Klipsan Station.  Armed Coast Guardsmen from Klipsan endeavored to protect the cargo while waiting for revenue officers to arrive from Tacoma.  Not wanting to fire on their neighbors, however, they allowed many local “sea gulls,” to carry off quite a bit of the loot.
     In the 1920s the U. S. Navy Department moved into the compound alongside the Coast Guard crew and ran a radio direction finding transmitter.  This “Compass” station caught and transmitted signals sent from passing ships.  It allowed navigators to estimate their position and avoid danger.  By World War II the invention of radar and LORAN, a long-range radio navigation aid, made the “Compass” station obsolete and the Navy Department moved out.  During this period the station continued to operate as a life saving station, but the problems were different.  The crew often rescued automobiles caught in the surf during clam digging excursions.  Eventually the station became a training site for Coast Guard personnel who were then transferred to other stations, as well as a rest and recreation compound for servicemen.
     At the end of the War the Treasury Department found that the Klipsan Beach Station had outgrown its usefulness and made plans to close it.  Steamships, airplane patrols, and electronic communications and navigation aids combined to make such small stations obsolete.  On January 8, 1947, the last caretaker was removed and everything of value in the buildings was stripped, including the plumbing.  The station was abandoned after 58 colorful years.  When the Treasury Department closed the station, plans were made to remove all the buildings.  The land reverted to the descendants of the Loomis Family, from whom it had been obtained.  Many of the buildings were already useless hulks, and one was being used as a chicken coop.  Demolition, however, never occurred.  The rundown station was given back to the Loomis Family as it was.
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The original boat house after it was turned into a private residential apartment.
     On March 24, 1949, the Loomis Family sold the two-acre compound to T. L. Matthews, and his son T. A. “Bud” Matthews.  The older Matthews had built several of the newer buildings during the 1920s.  The Matthews family refurbished the floors and walls and rented some station buildings as summer cottages.  In the mid-1960s Bud Matthews started the major remodel of those structures left standing.  He sold the property after remodeling, and today ownership of the former station compound is divided among five families.
     Much of the popular literature of the late 19th Century spoke of those in life saving service in such phrases as “Heroes of the Surf”, and “Storm Warriors.”  The Coast Guard, which replaced it, certainly deserves the same glowing terms, but the fact remains that an era has passed.  The crack of the Lyle gun is no longer heard.  Today’s dramatic rescues are accompanied by the roar of a helicopter, and usually occur out of sight of land.  Gone is the drama of the keeper standing erect in the stern of his surfboat, urging his crewmen to pull their plunging craft to the rescue.  Gone, but not mourned, are the major shipwrecks which used to occur with regularity near Klipsan Beach.  The surviving Klipsan Beach structures remain today as a reminder of the special men who tried to make our dangerous shoreline a safer place.
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Life Saving On Parade:
The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Demonstrations
By Bruce Weilepp
     The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (AYPE) at Seattle in 1909 was a popular event reflecting Pacific Northwest activities and products.  The Exposition was the perfect opportunity to promote the booming region to a national audience.  One of the most popular attractions at the event was scheduled live demonstrations of life saving skills featuring the Cape Disappointment crew.  An illustrated booklet depicting the AYPE demonstrations (PCHS#10-6-70-4) was donated to the Pacific County Historical Society by the Ken Inman family of Ilwaco.  The following pages reflect life saving technology of the time, including the introduction of motorized lifeboats.

The AYPE Lifesaving Station on what is now the University of Washington campus.
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Firing the Lyle gun (obscured behind the smoke).

Attaching the Breeches Buoy line to a simulated ship mast.
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A real dunking during the Breeches Buoy demonstration.

Safely ashore in the Breeches Buoy.
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The Dobbins life boat underway with oar power.

Rolling the Dobbins self-righting life boat.
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The Conqueror, one of the first successful motor lifeboats, puts in an appearance at the A-Y-P Exposition.  While she was designed to be self-righting, there is no evidence she was rolled for an audience.  Her oarlocks also suggest that gasoline power was still not completely trusted.
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Large photo of Service group at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.  Names are on the back.
Top row:  Oley Oleson, Howard Culver, Cap Wickland, M. Bartholomew, B. Anderson.
Bottom row:  Greenbrook, Will Brumbach, (unknown), Sonerson, Charles Thompson, Ken Inman.
PCSH#10-6-70-3 (p).  Inman Collection.
Vintage AYPE 1909 Souvenir Sword Pin
(Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition)
Vintage AYPE 1909 Souvenir Sword Pin
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