Bill Says: With the coming of our first summer in Skagway, I'd completed the Alaska Municipal Police Academy in Sitka and was back in town in time for the onslaught of tourists. Our third police officer had resigned and Chief Hester was looking around for a replacement. Eventually, there would be four police officers due to the heavy summer workload and Chief Hester having to take a lengthy leave of absence for a blown colon, (something I would suffer from years later).
The Canadians were mostly a pretty good lot, but as with every nationality, there's some jerks. I learned how the liquor stores in Canada were owned by the federal government and they didn't sell the higher potent liquors; 180% rum and such. So, they came to Skagway and bought what they could put away in a single weekend and then go home with nasty hangovers. Skagway hosted several summer softball tournaments and as many as 56 teams would arrive in town from Fairbanks, Canada and Juneau for a weekend of softball. Campgrounds were packed, partying was hard and we had a lot of trouble.
Unique to Alaska was how Skagway's city limits went right up against the US/Canada border. The US customs station was 8-miles inside the border and the Canadian customs station was about 5 miles inside their border. This gave us a 13 mile length of road we often termed as no-man's land. The border was also located at the top of White Pass and nearly 4,000 feet above sea level. The Klondike Highway was steep at several spots and the switchbacks could be quite hazardous. I worked a lot of accidents up there, usually brought about by reckless drivers. I had one lady roll her brand new import to miss a squirrel. Now the border officially closed at midnight and the customs station locked up for the night. There was no gate and one of our responsibilities was conducting late night security checks on the station, which was also outside our comm system. Motorists who made it through Canadian customs but didn't make the midnight closure could park at the US station, but several times that summer I stopped border runners who tried to sneak through and this usually resulted in a $500 fine per passenger, imposed by US Immigrations. I once stopped a tour bus with 45 passengers and thought I should've got a commission from the feds.
Sometimes, when we had difficulties with Canadians we would give them a choice of being escorted up to no-man's land to spend the rest of the night, or jail. They always picked the road. We worked hand and hand with US Fish & Wildlife, Customs & Immigrations , State Troopers & State Wildlife Officers, US Park Rangers & Forest Service. We had a lot of National Park property within the city limits, including the mouth of the famous Chilkoot Trail and three large cemeteries.
If in the event we had serious problems with a Canadian or other non-US citizen, we could contact the mounties and work with US Customs & Immigrations to have this person blackballed from entering any us entry point- especially if this involved narcotics, major felonies or if the person had serious narcotic or major felony convictions in their home country. Canada apparently now prevents non-Canadian people with DWI records from entering if discovered at the border station.
With the arrival of the first cruise ships, ( Princess and Cunard lines), we were given a tour of the vessels. I soon learned how in many of these boats how different the conditions were below decks, ( not part of the tour). This is where the employees or crew lived, nearly all of them from third world countries and at well below US minimum wage. Below deck, these quarters resembled third world countries and I was shocked, but they operated under non-US flag and didn't come under our labor laws- accept for liquor sales and gambling while within the 3-mile limit. All the slot machine rooms were chained off, but minors could gamble out on the open ocean.
I once chased a crew member down about 5 decks for stealing a bicycle, which I watched him toss into the bay and finally caught him. This was my first look at the conditions down there. Sad.
That first summer, after Chief Hester got sick, Dennis and I began working 12-hour shifts and 7-days a week. I went that entire summer without a day off...well, in August I got a day off for when James was born in Juneau. Dennis, being the senior man, got days and I got nights, but we were often called out to back each other up. Most of our cases either involved bar fights, domestics in the campgrounds or disturbances in employee housing for the hotels, shoplifting, vehicle accidents, DWI's and some drug busts. By the end of summer I was wiped out and had lost all patience with jerks, creeps, perps, slimeballs and idiots. I would often park my patrol car on the main downtown roadway and walk the original boardwalk of 1898 to check the businesses, visit with tourists, conduct bar checks and make sure everyone knew I was out and about.
I learned just before leaving Skagway of how the bartenders had a bet going on about me. $50 to the first one who could get me to drink anything in their establishment. I never wanted it to appear that the bartender was slipping me some booze in a coffee cup or any drink container. I actually gained their respect in this and they helped me on some of my cases. I also rescued one bartender from a bothersome spook, which was terrorizing her one late bit strange, but she began reading her Bible after that and kept it behind her bar. She weighed about 300 pounds or more, was from New York and tough as nails, except when spooks were concerned. Her brother was a cop, killed on duty. I watched her wrestle a big drunk to the floor one night and knew her brother had taught her will.
Toward the end of summer, Officer Ed came aboard. He was a former Idaho Deputy Sheriff- don't recall what county. He'd been a cop for 7 years and had actually worked cattle rustling cases. He brought his wife and two teenage daughters with him. Ed was assigned to me for a week and then he was on his own. More later.