Hrold Tilleson

Harold Tilleson is literally a “goldmine” of information and can share story after story of the quest for gold in Alaska’s Interior. He has nearly finished a book about his life and adventures titled “Walking the North in Search of Gold.”

Harold “Hal” Tilleson was born in Fairbanks nearly 76 years ago and has lived most of his interesting life in the Interior. A man of many talents, he has enjoyed taking pictures and making movies that document his history and has also collected many photographs.

In 1928 Hal’s biological father, Robert Isaacson, and his mother, Milda, moved from Washington State to Manley Hot Springs. Frank Manley had started the resort there and an uncle, Dan Green, ran the business. Hal had little contact with his father and remembers seeing him only twice, once when he was seven years old and again when he was 26. Many years later he was killed in Washington by a hit and run driver.

Hal’s step father, Hans Tilleson, immigrated to the United States from Oslo, Norway, in 1905, when he was about 17 years old. He lived in New York for a short time and then traveled to Alaska. With little or no money left when he arrived in Alaska, Hans walked from Valdez to Fairbanks. He married Hal’s mother and they had seven children but Hal was the only one who survived.

The family lived on a farm and Hal’s father also owned the Long Creek Mining Company from 1937 to 1953. During World War II they moved to Washington but later moved back and forth between Long Creek and the lower 48. Hal said that “back then there were no rules and regulations like there are now” and there was much more freedom in Alaska.

As a young man Hal held various jobs in the Fairbanks area. He worked on a road crew for several years and he mined Swift Creek in Ruby. He was part of a 26-man crew that built the original ice road going north and made some movies of the Hickel Highway, named after then Governor Wally Hickel, the second governor of Alaska. He also spent some time at Schrader’s Bluff, about 90 miles from Anaktuvak Pass. He worked at the platinum mine at Good News Bay, which was located about 100 miles down the coast from Bethel and was named Platinum, Alaska. In Washington he worked as a lumberjack. He retired in 1998 but has remained active in the North Pole community.

After two marriages that didn’t last, Hal met Naomi, nicknamed Snooks, at the Malmute Saloon in Ester and married her one month and five days later. They were married for 32 years and she died in 2001. They had lived in North Pole since 1969. Of their five children, four survive. Hal speaks proudly of his children. One son lives in Nome and does some gold mining. Two daughters and a son live in Washington and one of his daughters owns a travel agency.

What keeps Hal busy these days? Being too busy is more apt to affect Hal than not being busy enough. He reports that he spends time taking care of his home, he plays his accordion for his own pleasure as well as to entertain others at Santa’s Senior Center, he volunteers at the senior center to move tables for exercise class twice a week and he occasionally eats there.

For the past four or five years Hal has been writing a book which he has titled “Walking the North in Search of Gold.” There will be about 185 pages of written material, he said, but of major interest is a collection of about 436 photographs, most of which have been taken by Hal over a period of many years of gathering a photographic history of his life. There is also an 1889 photo of his step father sitting on his mother’s knee when he was a year old. The book is being edited and will be ready for publishing in the near future.

No doubt there will be new adventures for Hal in the future. With his positive attitude and active mind he will find challenges and activities for many years to come.

Story written by Mary K. Brockie

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