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Conversation with Walt Kerr, 10 Jan 2006

by Linda Butler

Walt Kerr’s Dad was Robert (Bob) Albert Kerr.  He is a brother to Jack Kerr, Frank Kerr and Bob Kerr and a stepbrother? to Ross Penman.  The Jack Kerr, who was his brother is the father of Bill Kerr, who lived at Snow Lake.

Walt was only about three when he left Herb Lake, but he still has memories of living there.  His parents were good friends with Ralph and Mabel Bryenton who lived nearby.

He remembers that he was forbidden to go near the lake, but that did not stop him.  He was fascinated by the suspension bridge that went from the mainland to Bryenton’s Island.   One time, when nobody was watching, he went out by himself onto the bridge, however, when he got away from the shore, the bridge started to sway and he became frightened.  He crouched down onto the bridge and hung on, then screamed as loud as he could until someone came and rescued him.

One time he was playing with an old enamel pie plate and he ventured close to the water.  There was a steep drop-off to the water where the family lived and he went to the edge and threw the old pie plate into the water and heard the splash and watched it sink.  Then he ran back to the house as fast as he could, because he knew he wasn’t supposed to be there.

Gasper Richards used to visit and one time he said to Walt that he was there to eat some soap.  Walt figured that if Gasper ate soap, then it must be OK and so he tried it.  It gave him a vile taste in his mouth and he tried to spit it out and then ran to his mom for help.  It turns out that Gasper came for soup, but he pronounced it as soap.

Larsons lived nearby and they had a black and white Holstein bull.  Between Walt’s house and the outhouse there was a fence with a gate.  On one occasion his sisters took him to the outhouse and on the way back they saw the bull by a nearby rock face pawing the dirt and looking dangerous.  The kids were terrified and they ran to the gate.  The girls were slender enough to crawl underneath the gate without opening it but Walt was wearing short pants with braces, and as he tried to crawl under the gate, his braces caught on the bottom of the gate.  He thought that was the end of him, but his sisters pulled him free and dragged him to safety.

Walt’s dad was involved in prospecting in the Snow Lake area and he remembers the chunks of quartz with gold veins that were left on the window ledges.
In the 1930s his Dad trapped with his uncle Bert Calcutt.  At that time they were paid $5.00 for wolf pelts.  His Dad and Bert were successful at catching them, but a lot of people wondered how they did it and offered them drinks, hoping to get them to talk, but his Dad and Bert just made up stories.  They would say that they boiled their traps in oatmeal, and other funny things, but they never told their secret. 

Walt told me the secret though and I’ll pass it on to you. The wolves would follow the rabbit trails, which in winter would be packed snow.  A wolf would not walk on the trail near a spruce tree, but would instead walk around the tree.  The men used to poke holes in the snow so it would look like other wolf tracks going around the tree, and they would set their traps in this spot.  If a wolf came along the trail, it would see the indentions in the snow and assume that this was the trail that another wolf had made around the tree and they would get caught.

When Bob and Uncle Bert were first at Herb Lake they saw lynx tracks by the outhouse so they set a trap. Bert was the first to go out that way the next day and when he came in he told Bob that they had “accidently” caught some other guy’s sled dog in the trap.  Bert said he was trying to release it, but it tried to bite him, so he took a stick and killed it.  Bob went out and found that it was a huge black wolf caught only by its toenails.

Walt’s Dad wanted to get a job at the Laguna Mine but he needed a steam ticket.  He only had a grade four education, however, he obtained a book on operating steam engines and successfully wrote the exam for a third class steam ticket and got a job at the mine.

When Walt’s folks left Herb Lake, his Dad found employment with asphalt plants as they were steam driven at that time. In 1945 his Dad was employed in building an asphalt airstrip used for the Alaska Highway construction.

Although Walt was very young when he left Herb Lake, he always enjoyed listening to the stories his family and friends told of the area.

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