Have you ever thrown a cup of coffee in the air and watched it freeze in mid-air? Belinda Puller has.
She watched that feat during a 60 degrees below zero cold snap she encountered while living in North Pole, Alaska. The North Pole is located approximately 13 miles from Fairbanks, Alaska.
The Pullers lived in North Pole for 20 years from 1976 to 1996. They lived within walking distance of the famous Santa’s House. They now live in the Irving College area and own The King’s Garden Nursery on Beersheba Highway. The Pullers love Christmas and sell live Christmas trees during the holidays.
Two of their sons still live in Alaska. One told his parents the temperature there on Tuesday was 46 degrees below zero.
“The coldest I ever saw was 60 below,” said Belinda. “We had to keep our cars running all the time and maybe shut them off for an hour or two. We had blankets to go under the oil pan. They were electric and plugged in the car so our oil wouldn’t freeze.”
Belinda said the normal for winter is from 0 degrees to 10 degrees below zero. “Twenty below or more is too cold. You don’t want to do anything. We would use electronic starts used to warm up cars like when at a child’s basketball game. We would remotely start the vehicles and let them warm up. It might stay that cold for one to two weeks. You get used to it. One year we had 63 inches of snow in one week. That was a record-breaker,” she said.
Belinda said most places in town, including schools, shut down when the temperature falls 30 degrees below zero. “When it gets to 50-60 degrees below zero, things don’t want to work right. When it gets too cold, planes shut down. They can’t fly right when it is too cold. It is not normal. A person can die walking even 10 minutes in 60 below weather. From North Pole to Fairbanks is 13 miles. If your car were to break down when driving, you could get frostbite like that. People will stop and pick you up because it is dangerous to stay out in the weather. We had to carry extra clothes and boots in the car.”
“In winter, you can drive over some places of the river because it freezes. That is not something I was always comfortable with,” she said. “In summer, you have to drive all the way around to the bridge.”
Belinda said the townspeople bet on when the Nenanna River will unfreeze. “They set a tripod on it and pick a day and time when it will break up. The tripod trips when ice breaks. Sometimes the pot gets as big as $100,000. Usually the ice breaks in April or May,” said Belinda.
Belinda said summer maybe 75 to 85 degrees during day. “The nights cool off. It is cooler in summer at night. When it is 50 degrees in Alaska, you can wear a T-shirt. It is a dry cold. Here, it is a wet cold and we have to wear more clothing here at the same temperature,” she said.
Belinda said the first time she encountered a Warren County snow, she felt like she was freezing. “In Alaska, we have a dry snow. The snow here is wet. My feet were freezing. Then I remembered I had my mukluks with me. Mukluks are only shoes that kept us warm when it was very cold in Alaska,” said Belinda. Mukluks are boots made by Eskimos from the hides and fur of moose and other wild animals.
Darel hunted moose while living in Alaska. Elk, salmon and halibut are also abundant in the area.
“We always used to have a freezer full of moose and salmon. There is no fat on moose. When they cut up moose, they get rid of all the fat because the fat on it tastes horrible. Moose are big. Bigger than a horse. Moose can attack if you get between mother moose and her calf. One almost knocked my husband’s Bronco off the highway when he drove between one and her calf,” said Belinda.
“Once there was a moose in our backyard. I went outside to take a picture and it came after me. I didn’t realize she had twins around the side of the house. I barely got back in the door,” Belinda said.
Belinda said the biggest problem with moose in summer is they eat everything in the garden. She said because of 24-hour sunlight, the vegetables get huge. She won a prize at the fair for having a 60-pound cabbage. “That was actually a small one. The vegetables get huge. They get so big. Oh man, it’s unbelievable,” said Belinda.
Belinda said the fish are also huge in Alaska. “We went halibut fishing and threw back 40- to 50-pound fish. They were too small. You are only allowed to keep two or three so we only kept the really big ones,” she said.
Belinda said the main difference between living in North Pole and McMinnville is the weather.
“I love the fact we have nine months of summer here. In Alaska, we had nine months of winter and three months of summer. During the three months of summer, it is daylight for 24 hours. The other nine months is dark. You only have a couple of hours of dusk-looking daylight during that time. I worked in a bank where they had special drapes and blinds which stayed closed and were light colored to make it look like daylight,” said Belinda.
“During the summer, it is always daylight. We played softball until two or three in the morning because we didn’t know what time it was. Sometimes, we worked in the garden till 4 a.m. It was always light out and we would lose track of time,” she said.
Belinda said North Pole, Alaska is decorated Christmasy all year long. “They have real reindeer and a train outside the Santa Claus House. The Santa Claus House started small, but now it is huge. Mr. and Mrs. Claus are there and it includes a huge gift shop. The kids at North Pole High School answer Santa’s letters. The post office would deliver Santa’s letter there because it is the North Pole,” said Belinda.
Belinda said the prices in Alaska are higher because things have to be shipped in or flown in. She did say the cost of living is higher in Alaska, but wages are also higher.
Darel worked in Alaska as a plumber and pipe fitter on the pipeline. Fairbanks is one of the staging areas for the pipeline, according to Belinda.
Allison Air Force Base and Wainwright Army Banks is in the area.
Barrow, Alaska is an Eskimo village located at the very uppermost top of the United States.
Belinda said North Pole is around 5,300 to 5,400 miles from McMinnville. It took them 13 days to drive here. “It’s a beautiful drive, but it’s a drive,” she said.
“I miss the beauty of Alaska. The mountains are just gorgeous. I don’t miss the cold. Since I’m older, it is not so fun snowmobiling in 20 below. Here, we have to take off layers to stay cool, there they put on layers to stay warm,” she said.
The King’s Garden is located on Beersheba Highway and specializes in Frazier firs, Norway spruce and Colorado blue spruce. Darel also makes large wreaths in a traditional circle, a cross, or a candy cane pattern.
Darel said their trees are fresh cut for them when they order them. “They are beautiful. They last a long time. One lady said she kept a wreath I made last year until April,” he said.
The King’s Garden is open Monday thru Thursday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m.