When a group of pioneers of the fishing and processing industries comes together, you’re bound to get an earful of colorful stories.
One spring day, I got dragger Al Burch, and processors Bix Bonney and Jim Major, to share their stories of fame, fortune and misfortune in the trade. Now that Jim Major has passed on to the next life, those stories assume a special status. Major is fondly remembered as one of those “salt of the earth” guys who was always a gentleman.
Major got involved in the fisheries as a teenager living in South bend, Washington, but it was a different kind of fishery than he engaged in as a man. He went into the mud flats to fetch oysters, which he put in bushel baskets and carried to a small little flat-bottomed floating unit.
Long before Major got his boots wet and slimy in the fisheries, he served in the United States Navy. He was stationed in Japan and met actor Mickey Rooney, who was being filmed in the movie “The Bridges at Toko-Ri.” Major had a photo of him and Rooney to prove his story.
In the early 1960s, Major traveled to the village of Ouzinkie to work for Erling Bendiksen, who had made a deal with Grimes Packing Company. According to the agreement, if Bendiksen provided the tenders, he could have part of Grimes’ crab production. Major’s job was to act as an advisor in the canning operations.
Major said he was kind of a “flunky” in Ouzinkie as he watched out for Bendickson’s operation.
One of his duties was to deliver a steamer — a heavy piece of processing equipment — to its destination.
But Major couldn’t get anybody to help him move it, he said. The Grimes supervisor apparently wouldn’t let workers help Major out.
“He had the locals brainwashed. They wouldn’t talk to me,” said Major, who claimed that the supervisor thought that Major was there to take his job.
But Major found a way to accomplish his task.
He struck up a relationship with the Grimes’ cannery floor lady and her husband. Through that relationship, he was able to get some helpers to move the steamer while the supervisor was in the other side of the bay working on a water line.
Major had a lot of time on his hands while living in Ouzinkie. He offered to clean generator gaskets.
“I didn’t have anything (else) to do. What was I supposed to be doing 24 hours a day with nothing to do? The lights went out at nine o’clock. I was just sitting there. No radio, no telephone. No lights, (so) I can’t read,” he said. “That was my initiation to Kodiak Island.”
Major stayed two months in Ouzinkie, then he moved to Seward where he became the manager for the Eastpoint processing plant.
“‘Eastpoint’ was our label,” Major said. “Our corporate name was Queen Fisheries. Everything (that Queen Fisheries owned) in Alaska except in Bristol Bay was known as Eastpoint,” he said.
In 1962, Major and his wife Sharon (Horton),whom he had met in Seward, moved to Kodiak.
Major worked under the supervision of Howard Anderson, who managed an Eastpoint shrimp plant that Bendiksen leased in a 3,000-square-foot section of the King Crab processing plant (now Ocean Beauty) on Marine Way.
The 1964 earthquake and tidal wave wiped out many of the surrounding buildings, but the King Crab plant was still intact.
“We were back in business in five weeks,” Major said.
He surmised that the King Crab plant and the nearby Alaska Ice and Cold Storage building withstood the 1964 disaster because their foundations were secured to the pilings.
Eastpoint remained in the King Crab building until early 1968, when the company leased a portion of the Alaska Ice and Cold Storage.
Eastpoint was forced to look for space elsewhere when the owners of Cold Storage sold the building to two business partners who were trying to get into the lucrative shrimp fishery.
Land became available for Eastpoint when Bob and Helen Hall agreed to sell property to Bendiksen on the Near Island channel. The land had been the site of the Halls’ flying service, Kodiak Airways, which was moved next to the property occupied by Alaska Fresh Seafoods.
It took two and a half years to build the new Eastpoint plant. In the meantime, machinery was stored in a warehouse on Mill Bay Road and the Eastpoint crew worked out of an office in back of Norman’s.
“We started building the dock in the fall of 1972,” Major said.
Shortly after the new Eastpoint plant opened, plate freezers were installed to handle salmon that was shipped from Bendiksen’s plant in Bristol Bay.
“We were flying fish from Bristol Bay to Kodiak and processing and freezing it here,” Major said.
In 1995, the Eastpoint plant closed down and Major signed an agreement stating that he wouldn’t work for any other processing company until the plant was sold. Four years later, the Eastpoint building was purchased by local buyers who leased it to a number of businesses, including processing operations.
Once Major was free and clear to take a job in a processing plant, he got an offer to work at Alaska Pacific Seafoods, which, ironically, is in the old Alaska Ice and Cold Storage building that Major and his crew were forced to leave in the early 1970s when the building was sold.
Reflecting over a long career in the fishing industry, Major said the most enjoyable part of his work had been “meeting people and working with the fishermen. Every day there is something new to look forward to. You don’t get bored.”
Jim Major will be long remembered as one of the finest in the processing business. Kodiak is a better place because he passed through.