Thursday, April 2, 1953: Half-baked Alaska

Posted on April 14th, 2006 – 9:04 PM
By Ben Welter

Two young brothers purportedly set out for Alaska one afternoon and landed back in their St. Paul home, via a police station, less than 24 hours later. The charming tale caught the attention of newspaper reporters in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The account below is from the Star. In an interview that follows, the younger brother explains what the pair were really up to.

SIDETRACKED

2 Boys Get
Nowhere on
Alaska Trek

THOMAS ENGLUND, 12, and his brother, Charles, 9, of 400 Iglehart avenue, St. Paul, set out “to explore Alaska” after school Wednesday, but they got fouled up in directions.

At 7 a.m. today, 15 hours after they started the journey, a police squad sidetracked them a little more than a mile from home – and apparently headed south.

They were hitch-hiking at Summit and Western avenues when Officers Ray Beck and Harold Harrington came upon them after an all-night police search started by parents of the boys, Mr. and Mrs. Harold Englund.

The boys had pitched camp, sleeping on the ground, at Hidden Falls, near the Ford plant, for the night.

After a breakfast of liver taken from the family refrigerator and cooked over an open fire, they set out on the first leg of their trip today.

Their equipment included a duffle bag loaded with 40 pounds of clothes and a peck of potatoes.

Their “trek to Alaska” was converted into their regular walk to school an hour later.

TV watching
The boys watching TV in this 1954 photo from one of the Minneapolis papers are not the Englund brothers. But they’re from the same era, and they’re mighty cute, even from behind. Mom was no doubt scolding them for sitting too close to the television.

April 2006 update: Chuck Englund, now 62 and living in Chaska, is a mechanic at Unisys. He’s married, with a “whole bunch” of children, all grown and gone. He still has the clipping of the Pioneer Press version of his adventure in St. Paul more than 50 years ago. It was his older brother’s idea to run away, and it had nothing to do with Alaska.

“It was on Easter vacation, and we didn’t want to clean the attic,” Chuck recalled. To avoid the chore, they stuffed a duffel bag with clothes, blankets, potatoes, a chunk of liver from the freezer and a bar of soap, and hit the road. They walked several miles from their house on Iglehart to Hidden Falls, where they spent the night. They built a fire and cooked a few of the potatoes. He recalls liking liver as a kid, but they didn’t eat the liver that night. They curled up by the fire, wrapped in blankets, and tried to sleep. “We heard strange noises and that was scary. Otherwise it was OK.”

By morning, they were ready to go home. Did they get any rides? “No, we weren’t allowed to hitchhike,” Chuck said, a hint of youthful obedience in his voice. “We walked the whole way.” A pair of police officers stopped them about a mile from home and asked what they were up to. That’s when the boys made up the story about hitching to Alaska. “We had to tell them something,” Chuck said. “We must have seen something about the Gold Rush on TV.”

The hungry boys were taken to the police station, where they were given oatmeal and peanut butter sandwiches. “Dad came and got us, took us home and went back to work. He wasn’t too happy.” The punishment? “We had to clean the attic right then. My dad never would ground us. Never gave us a licking, either.” How about mom? “She was just glad to see us. She just gave us hugs.”

Neither Chuck nor his brother Tommy, who’s now retired and living in Isanti, ever made it to Alaska. “I wanna go,” Chuck said. “My wife doesn’t wanna go. Been to Canada to fish, but I guess that doesn’t count. Maybe after I retire.”

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