Deconstructing history: Alaska Picker salvages, upcycles WWII-era Quonset hut
Every building has a story and that’s what Kelly Turney loves about salvaging old structures.
Turney co-owns Alaska Picker, a business with shelves stocked full of antiques and vintage items from Alaska and beyond.
His most recent project is taking apart a WWII-era Quonset hut.
“This one was drug out in the late 50s and placed out here on a homestead and they lived in it for a few years before they got their cabin constructed,” Turney said.
Deconstructing history isn’t easy. Turney puts hours of sweat into the process, prying out rusty nails that haven’t budged in more than 50 years.
This is the second Quonset hut he’s helped reclaim in the past couple years. The patinaed metal will be a huge hit in his Palmer store.
“Some people use it as wainscoting or on the trim of a bar,” he said.
Upcycling and do-it-yourself projects are popular with people looking to make something new out of old materials.
“Up in Alaska we’re not as old as say, the Midwest, where you’re tearing down 1800s era barns in Ohio or Indiana. This is our history. Yeah, it goes back to WWII and it’s a neat piece,” Turney said.
Lumber from some of Palmer’s icons line the walls of Turney's store near downtown Palmer.
“It doesn’t get more local than this. This is the McKinley Barn out on Bodenburg Loop. This is actually a Colony barn that collapsed about 12 to 13 years ago,” Turney said.
In the 1930s, 203 families from the Midwest settled around Palmer as the Matanuska Valley Colony. Barns built during that era are now few and far between.
Reclaiming old wood is just part of his life and business; as a hobby, Turney likes to photograph some of the barns that are still standing.
“Family members who maybe grew up there and haven’t been in Alaska for 30 years or 40 years. They tell those stories on your Facebook page and that jogs another person’s memory,” Turney explained. “So it’s really more just a primer for people to tell the history they know of these buildings and places all over Alaska.”
One of his favorite parts about taking down a building is finding little treasures hidden within the walls. One panel from the Quonset hut had a drawing of a Greek bust with the word Apollo stenciled underneath.
“Probably the manufacturer I would guess. So I can go back now and Google this and get a little more history on the maker which is cool,” Turney said.
It’s a business taking pieces from someone’s past and giving them a future with a new family.
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