The WAWLI Papers, page 1


by Jim Chemi

Wrestling As You Liked It -- October 14, 1950

KANSAS CITY -- Jerry Meeker, the Montana heavyweight wrestler who is a familiar mat personality in the Kansas City area, has returned to the Memorial Hall ring in Kansas City, Kansas, and brings with him a vivid account of his Alaskan wrestling tour.

Jerry organized the first large-scale wrestling barnstorming tour to ever venture into the Yukon from the United States.   I remember reading about the professional baseball players who go to Cuba and other Latin America republics during the winter months.   I thought that we could do the same with a group of wrestlers, only our slack season is during the summer months.

Last summer Meeker revealed his plans to five other top-notch heavyweights who happened to be in Jerry's home town of Great Falls, Mont.   They liked the idea and could visualize the greenbacks rolling into their pockets.   It was agreed that the six of them would meet in Anchorage, Alaska, around June 1.   The other members of the traveling group were Lou Sjoberg, Pat McGill, Stu Hart, Tony Verdi and Leo Wallick.   They wrestled all Alaskan opponents.   Jerry secured matches for the group in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Valdez, Ladd Field and Kodiak.   With a full schedule lined up, Jerry decided to take his wife, Cele, and their 12-year-old son, Jerry Jr., along for the trip.

Jerry bought a new car and a house trailer to make the 2,500-mile trip from Great Falls to Anchorage.   The entire tour required eleven weeks.   Then came the bad news.   There were no buildings in Anchorage large enough in which to hold the matches, so the matches were staged outdoors.   This same pattern had to be followed in every city.   The general prices charged were $2, $4 and $6.   But the crowds jammed the outdoor arenas for the first two stopovers, then the rains came, cloudburst after cloudburst.   The prices for food and housing were so high that the wrestlers, who are always known to be heavy eaters, just about broke even.   The trip was a financial failure, but at least we had the satisfaction of wrestling before packed houses, Jerry remarked.

Jerry said that it would take a battalion of the National Guard to get him back to Alaska.   Asked why he felt so disheartened about our arctic territory, Jerry started to quote prices.   According to Jerry it costs $5.00 for a haircut and a shave.   A one-pound loaf of bread will cost an Alaskan housewife one dollar.   And here are more prices:   Steak, $2 per pound; milk, 80 cents per quart; hamburger sandwich, $1; ice cream cones, 25 cents; soda pop, 50 cents and up; watermelon, 40 cents a pound; shoe shine, 75 cents; breakfast (ham and eggs), $2.50 to $4; full-course dinner, $7.50 and up (mostly up); hotel room (sharing bath with twenty to thirty other guests), $8 to $20 a night.

Asked about the new Alcan Highway, Jerry merely scowled and shook his head in disgust.   I paid $1.04 per gallon for gasoline along that so-called highway.   If you car ever broke down, well, your folks would not hear from you for a long, long time.   Meeker said that in Alaska itself gasoline could not be found anywhere for less than 94 cents a gallon.   Why, you even must pay for your drinking water.   There are no central water systems in either Anchorage or Fairbanks.   Weater costs a minimum of one dollar for one gallon, or five gallons.   I was unfortunate for the largest can I had was the one-gallon variety.

How does the working man fare under such high living costs? Jerry ventured this statement:   The average worker must make most of his money during the summer months for there is twenty four hours of daylight between June and September and the men work as many hours as they can.   In construction work, the average 'working day' consists of 18 hours.   Many men work a full twenty-four hours, sleep four or five hours, then return for another 24-hour shift.   It is food, especially, perishables, and housing that costs the most in Alaska, Jerry stated.   However, clothing prices are about the same as in the states.

Jerry said that he and the other making the trip ran up against plenty of stiff opposition among the Alaskan heavyweights who challenged them.

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