Hank Simonson

Hank died in 2009 aged 92. He was a founder member of our train society. His humor, humility and knowledge are sorely missed.

Hank was born in 1917. Hank’s father had emigrated from Finland and come to Fort Bragg to join Hank’s uncle falling trees. Hank said that his father never got over the size of the trees that he chopped down – the largest trees in Finland were no more that 12 inches diameter. When his father had saved enough money he brought his wife and two children from Finland by ship and then train across America knowing not a word of English to join him in Fort Bragg.

Hake, Hank’s real name in Finnish, was born nine months after his mother arrived. His birth took place on Smith Ranch on Keane Summit which was on the Albion railroad. When Hank was nine months old his family moved to Fort Bragg and lived in a house on the Kalevala property in the house at the southwest corner of Harrison and Redwood. Hank walked at nine months and had a bad habit of running naked across the road to visit a Finnish neighbor. The family then moved to Glenblair and lived there until Hank was about six. There is a picture of Hank’s house at Glen Blair on page 41 of Denise Stenberg’s book, “Glen Blair – The End of the Line”. Right is a picture of Hank taken when he visited GlenBlair when he was in his late eighties. The tree he is leaning against was close to his house. The family moved to Irmulco where Hank’s mother received what to here was a gift from the gods – a faucet with running cold water in her kitchen. Heretofore she had always carried water from a well or pumped water from a well. Hank’s family moved into Fort Bragg when his father started work for the ULC (Union Lumber Company)

Hank’s family, like many immigrant families, spoke their native language at home and he did not hear and learn English until he went to school. Hank’s father played the violin and his brother was an accomplished on several instruments. The Finns were a large community in Fort Bragg and had their own Sulo band – see picture above.

Hank recalled going to Finnish dances on many a Saturday night with his parents. The booklet right published by the Mendocino Historical Society in 1988 tells in detail the influence of the Finns in Fort Bragg and how they kept their heritage alive.

Hank’s father bought his first car from the garage which still exists in Elk. The Simonsons lived in Fort Bragg but went all the way to Elk to buy the car even though there were dealerships in Fort Bragg. The reason for the trek was that the garage owner, John Matson, spoke Finnish – and Hank’s father, who had emigrated from Finland, felt much more comfortable dealing with a fellow countryman in his own language. If you go to the garage in Elk today you will find the fifth generation of the man Hank’s father dealt with running the garage!

Hank attended Fort Bragg High School and whilst there was encouraged in his interests in wireless and photography. Like a lot of the folk who grew up in and around Fort Bragg Hank’s first job was working for the ULC (Union Lumber Company). IN Hank’s case it was as an electrician. One of Hank’s earliest jobs was to maintain the only telephone line in town which ran from the Company Store and Depot out to Ten Mile River. Hank recalled nearly coming to a sticky end one day when the speeder he was barreling along on whilst going out to Ten Mile encountered a steam engine approaching from the opposite direction. Fortunately he and his two companions “bailed out” in the nick of time. Hank received bad bruises. Both his companions had broken bones. Hank also performed the daily service on the monorail cabs in the ULC yard.

With the full permission of the mill supervisor Hank and his friend were refurbishing a small sailing boat acquired from the ULC on ULC property. The ULC superintendent encouraged the “boys” and offered materials from ULC stores, as well as advice and encouragement. The gas tank for the boat was salvaged from the bottom of Oak Street, now known as Glass Beach. There are cliffs all around the Mill site and the only way to launch Hank’s Stubby II was off the ULC pier. Demolition was kindly held up until the “boys” finished and then Stubby II was lifted off the pier into the water – see pics below.

Bow of the Stubby II
Hank is off to the right side

The stern of the Stubby II

Hank believed that his boat was the last one ever launched off the pier. Because of the outbreak of WWII the cruise that Hank and his friend were to make was never materialized.

Hank served through the WWII in the Navy and afterward worked as a civilian with the Navy until he retired. He worked on the electronics on many of Navy’s aircraft carriers even when they were in combat. He learned to fly. He sailed. He became an amateur astronomer grinding his own lenses and building his own telescope. He married Flo just as America entered the war and they were married for 70 plus years. Hank returned to Fort Bragg to live in Flo’s parents’ house when they retired.

Hank had very fond memories of his father-in-law, Cap’n Larsen. Dolly Efishoff was at home in the Noyo Harbor as any fisherman. She worked and lived there. The cutting left comes from the Mendocino Grapevine and Dolly was the source. Alas, we do not know the date. As the cutting indicates both the first high Noyo bridge and the current one are named after Hank’s brother-in-law who was a fighter pilot and was lost in combat in WWII.

Hank was a founder and active member of our Train Society and loved working on the electrics. He was “doc” to many of our ailing engines. And, he was “UNPAID Presidente Extraordinaire” of the Ain’t Goin Nowhere Railroad.

Pacific Tales – Fact and Fiction Based on Life in Mendocino County
by Don Nelson and Ro Peterson. Published in 1995 by Tunnel Hill Press of Fort Bragg

This slim volume contains a number of useful essays based on interviews with “old-timers” of the Mendocino Coast and articles from the Fort Bragg Advocate. There are several articles about the Finns on the Mendocino Coast (of whom Hank was one) which provide interesting insights to their way of life here and the customs they brought with them from Finland. Another interesting “chapter” is “Life in the Redwood Choppers Camp” based on interviews with “choppers” which gives provides a good look at the food fare in the logging camps. Hank’s father was a chopper all his life. The photographs, alas, are of poor quality.

Property of Club Member Tony Phillips