During this time of year spruce cones are abundant on trees along Eyak Lake. Photo by Dick Shellhorn for The Cordova Times

Investigating the legacy of Cordovans is full of surprises.  

Take Hughie Hosick, who gained fame operating the Steelhead tender for two decades on the challenging Copper River Flats. 

Assigned to pick up fish for North Pacific Processors at Kokenhenik meant crossing the toughest bar on the Flats.  

“Hughie set the standard that the rest of the tender fleet used to gauge their performance,” said North Pacific Processors Plant superintendent Ken Roemhildt. “My brother Don and I would hear him shout ‘weeeee’ into the mic during radio schedule as he surfed the Steelhead through the breakers of that entrance.” 

Yet who would have guessed that Hosick was of considerable fame in a country the size of Kentucky, and located over 3,000 nautical miles from Cordova? 

No, Roemhildt didn’t send Hughie and his faithful Steelhead to Iceland to pick up a load of cod. 

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Rather it harkens back to the early 1950s when Hughie worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for seven years, mostly running the Shad, a small power barge, around the Prince William Sound. 

And it involves something completely different than fish. 

Spruce cones. 

A ranger for the Icelandic Forest Service came to Cordova in the early 50s to collect spruce and hemlock cones to take back to Iceland for their reforestation program. 

Hughie Hosick’s legacy includes tendering on the Flats and Sound, as well as helping bring Sitka spruce trees in Iceland. Photo courtesy of Blake family  

Some Cordovans may still recall going out and picking cones by the bag full. 

I remember Davis Super Foods warehouse behind today’s Nichols Front Door Store was the collection center. A mob of kids gathered, and we were given burlap sacks that could hold 50 pounds of spuds, with specific directions to fill them with what we called “pine cones.” 

Heck, we were all experts at gathering them, as they were our summer replacement for snowballs in pelting our adversaries in neighborhood “gang” wars. 

As I vaguely recall, each bag was carefully weighed and we were paid the then princely sum of $10 for spruce cones. Pete Blake, Hughie’s stepson, remembered they were also interested in hemlock cones and paid double the price for them as they were so much smaller, it took much more effort to fill the bags. 

It was a good deal for Davis, as most of the “moola” was spent immediately when we passed the candy counters on the way out. 

Meanwhile, Hughie took the Icelandic ranger to McLeod Harbor on Montague Island and helped him round up 97 sacks of Sitka Spruce cones. 

As it turns out, the cones from McCloud Harbor were some of the most successful in the transplant program. 

Many years late, when Hosick visited Iceland, he was given the Royal Treatment, including a tour of the fledgling national forest that included spruce from Prince William Sound.  

And in fact, these days the tallest tree in Iceland is a Sitka Spruce that measures 88 feet. 

Incidentally, once upon a time Iceland had trees. Most of them were lost more than a thousand years ago, when Viking settlers chopped down the forests that covered one-quarter of the countryside. 

In only a century they cut down 97% of the trees for building material and to create pastures. The wood was also used for fuel to heat their homes, and to create charcoal to forge iron tools. 

Efforts at reforestation in the “Land of Fire and Ice” continue to this day. A long time popular Icelandic joke was “What do you do if you are lost in an Icelandic forest? Stand up!”  

I am told Hughie had a great sense of humor. I am sure he would have enjoyed that one.  

And he’d have taken pride and satisfaction in knowing that thanks to a trip to Montague with an Icelandic forest ranger, you now might not be quite so visible. 

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Dick Shellhorn
Dick Shellhorn is a lifelong Cordovan. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 50 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016 and 2020, and third place in 2017 and 2019. He also received second place for Best Editorial Commentary in 2019. Shellhorn has written two books about Alaska adventures: Time and Tide and Balls and Stripes. Reach him at [email protected].