A number of years ago, I wanted to send Dad’s polar bear back home – to the family homestead in Alaska. Dad had shot the bear in 1958 when we were living in Tanana, Alaska, where he was a physician at the Alaska Native Service Public Health Hospital. He’d gone to Point Hope with an Inupiat Eskimo employee and guide. After Dad died, the bear had come to live with me – in Colorado.
I thought I could just have the bearskin hitchhike on one of my brother’s driving trips back north. At the last minute, I’d checked with the Canadian border crossing. They didn’t care if it was driven through Canada – as long as it didn’t remain in Canada. The United States customs was much stickier. They immediately hyperventilated because it is illegal to shoot polar bears – now. They demanded proof of when it was shot, where, and by whom. I replied that I could send them my book, “Alaska Bush Pilot Doctor.” They required extensive paperwork – which would take six months to approve – if it was approved. I gave up. The polar continues to live with me.
Having this drama as a historical backdrop to relocating animals, dead ones, from the Lower 48 back to Alaska, I was concerned about relocating Mom’s Moose head, which over the years had wandered from Alaska to Kansas to California.
I mentioned this to my California cousin, Don Gaede, because Mom’s Moose was presently at his mom’s house. He happened to mention it to our relative, Jim Gaede. Jim Gaede suggested the Doerksen fruit truck that goes to Alaska every summer. Don relayed the suggestion back to me. I contacted Matthew Doerksen, Ben Doerksen’s son, in Alaska. He thought the predicament of traveling across the borders with a moose head was amusing – and actually a non-issue. He said to contact his Uncle Dan Doerksen.
I emailed Dan and Wanda Doerksen. “This will work,” they said. (Nothing like Mennonite connections.)
Who are the Doerksens and what is “the fruit truck”?
“Over 30 years ago, my brother Ben lived in Alaska and got hungry for some fresh California fruit. We sent him a box of peaches. His friends and neighbors found out about the fruit and wanted some too.
That’s how Tree Things was born. We now deliver to 9 various locations throughout Alaska in a 4-day period, five times each summer. We sell fruit only in Alaska. We do not have a nation-wide business. You indeed are special to us.”
After several years of sending a few boxes of peaches to Ben and his friends, Dan and Wanda were taking 50 boxes of peaches to the San Francisco airport and putting them in a container heading to Anchorage, Alaska. Before long, Ben’s business had expanded to several towns. In 1982, he died unexpectedly. Dan and Wanda continued the business, but with driving an 18-wheeler up the Alaska-Canada (Alcan) Highway five times over the summer, with driving times of four to five days.
That’s a brief history of the Doerksen fruit truck.
Here’s more of the current history-making story
May 6, 2015, Wanda:
Dan is finally really looking at the size of your moose. It is not so much the weight but the size it takes: W-57 inches, L-65 inches, H-51inches. It is the equivalent of 1 ½ pallets.
May 25, 2015, Don:
Great news, Dan came here this afternoon with his trailer, and with the help of Justin, we got the moose crate up on the trailer.
June 3, 2015, Wanda:
Dan loaded the box with the forklift into the truck and off they went. He was heading to Kingsburg to get berries and somewhere else for peaches. I heard the moose sigh with relief to make the long trip home. 🙂
Dan goofed. He discovered he did not have enough space to take the moose. He drove back to Reedley and brought the moose to the truck yard. He is shocked for miscalculating but we figured the moose was dead and would not mind a little more warm rest. He will leave Wed June 24 and arrive in Anchorage Monday June 29.
On June 29, 2015, Dan and his sister Nadine headed north with Mom’s Moose, surrounded by cherries, berries, oranges, and other fruit. On July 6, my brother, Mark, met the crew in Anchorage, loaded the crate onto his utility trailer, and hauled Mom’s Moose back to the Gaede homestead.
Fifty-seven years later, the moose is back in its natural habitat – but most likely needing to reacclimatize after being in warmer climes for decades.
Oh, and there’s a bit more to the story. When Ben Doerksen first arrived in Alaska, around 1969, he looked up my father, Dr. Elmer Gaede. Within short order, Mom had him sleeping under our Gaede-80 Homestead roof, rather than in his pick-up, and she was feeding him tender moose roasts and cauliflower straight from her garden. In November 1974, Dad delivered Ben’s son, Matthew, in Soldotna. The Doerksens and Gaedes go way back, helping each other out. Those are the stories that bring the true smiles.