episode 1

A Cracker Tin on a Raft

Episode 1

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Ephemera Hope in Hard Times
Washington During
the Great Depression
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Audio Transcript - Episode 1

A Cracker Tin on a Raft

MP3 - A Cracker Tin on a Raft

On Sunday April 21st 1940–15,000 people crowded along the Tacoma waterfront at Pt Defiance Park. Along the shoreline, on jetties that were sinking into the mud from the weight, and in a flotilla of tiny craft bobbing in the choppy waters—they were hoping to catch sight of a listing, yellow boat crewed by a family of 7 children, their mother Mollie and their father Paul Satko— an unemployed welder, inventor, engineer and impressario. The boat was described as a 'cracker tin on a raft', it was so light and unshipshape looking—eight foot wide, 11 foot high and 40 foot long. But the family—and Paul in particular—insisted it would get them where they wanted to go. And where they wanted to go was Juneau, Alaska—and a new life free from the poverty and hunger of Depression Era America.

The Tacomans were watching bemused, hopeful and probably a bit disbelieving as the family was sent on their way by the city's mayor-elect Harry P Cain. The drum and bugle corps of the Veterans of Foreign Wars provided the military style fanfare and the Young Men's Business Club provided the sandwiches. The celebrations to mark 50 years of Washington's statehood were still fresh in the memory—people had been growing beards and wearing big hats and generally getting carried away by the idea of an imagined pioneer past—pioneer chic you might call it. And here was a pioneer family in real life, heading out in search of a better future right before their eyes.

The day after the grand departure—Tacoma's health department set fire to a wooden shack on the mudflats. They said it was so rat infested that it was unfit for human habitation. This is where the Satko family had lived for the previous year as they built their boat. Where they'd planned their future life in the Promised Land - Alaska - and where their baby son Jimmy had died several months earlier.

'For all his craft's tipsyness, the 49 year old unemployed welder confidently has christened it the Ark of Juneau, and as it rolled away from the wharf Sunday seemed confident of reaching his destination. Cook inlet, Alaska.

He donned his captain's cap, presented by the Young Men's Business Club which sponsored the festivities, set a gift alarm clock in the pilot house and started the 13 year old truck engine which is the craft's sole power plant.

The cheering citizenry heard farewells via loudspeaker from the builder and captain; from Molly Satko his 36 year-old wife; and from children, Hazel 19, Edward 17, Joe 15, Grace 11, David 9, Billy 7, and Betty 4—his happy but extremely unnautical crew.'

An unnautical crew—in the words of the Seattle Times—chugging northwards into the teeth of a brisk Puget Sound breeze. On the last leg of a journey that started four years earlier in the state of Virginia—in the throes of the Great Depression.