The Glenn Briggs Story
DOWN MEMORY LANE
Hogs — and the bacon, ham and sausage they produced — were the first commercial venture to be undertaken in Eagle River. Though lodges and roadside coffee shops were developing farther north, when Glenn Briggs brought the first pigs to his Eagle River homestead in 1943, there were no other businesses.
For a period of eight years, Glenn and Dale Briggs processed pork products for retailers in Anchorage, and for use in military mess halls. The first 50 hogs to arrive here were purebred Hampshires, hand-picked by Dale in Nebraska from herds that were particularly hardy. During the winter, pigs were bedded 30 or 40 to a shed, where body heat kept them warm. In fact, they would create so much heat that in extremely cold weather when they would leave the sheds to feed, the sudden exposure to the cold caused occasional cases of pneumonia in the herd.
Glenn recalls that winters were colder and snowier in the ‘40s than they have ever been since. It was not uncommon for the thermometer to dip to 40 below zero, he remembers, and to stay there for two weeks at a time. Winter months and heavy snowfalls caused problems in the daily trip to the military bases for hog feed, in the days when the road was seldom maintained. Often the only traffic on it was the Briggs truck and the Matanuska Maid dairy truck from Palmer.
Since those were also pre-power days, just keeping the truck running was a challenge. The Briggs brothers used kerosene lamps, which were lit under the engine so it would start in the morning. Glenn remembers that they usually started out for the bases at 7 a.m., breaking trail for the milk truck that would come later.
During the first two years that the Briggs lived in Eagle River, they cleared what is now Palos Verdes Subdivision and planted potatoes there. Later, it became a big clover field where sows and piglets grazed in the summer.
At first, the marketable pigs were taken to Palmer for slaughter and sold to the military bases. Eventually, the Briggs’ built their own slaughterhouse, where Chain of Rock Road is now, and began smoking ham and bacon and making sausage, which they sold to Anchorage retail stores. The slaughterhouse burned sometime after it had been sold to the Vanovers, who purchased the entire operation in 1951.
Glenn says that at the peak of the operation, the herd had grown to 700 hogs.
“It was not an easy life,” he said. “We worked hard because we had to make it go.”
The Briggs Bridge, which connects Eagle River Loop to Hiland Road, was dedicated in 1992 as a tribute to Glenn.
This article appeared in the Chugiak-Eagle River Star Bicentennial Progress Edition and was edited by the Memory Retrievers. This column is provided by the Chugiak-Eagle River Historical Society. Reach them at 688-4706 or visit the society at 18606 Old Glenn Highway in Chugiak.