James Barrack

1950s photo of James Barrack.
1950s photo of James Barrack.
Before Jim Barrack started his mining equipment and heavy hardware business, he had experienced some of the ups and downs of a newcomer who had come to Alaska out to make his fortune.

In 1905, just out of college, he headed for Seattle with $37.50 in his pocket. He bought a $35 steerage ticket to St. Michael and lived for three days on the remaining $2.50 until he could board the steamer. He arrived in Fairbanks the summer of 1905, coming up the Yukon and Tanana Rivers on the steamer Swatka. His dad, who had arrived the previous year, advised his son to try his hand at mining. He did and he found that in the fall all he had for his winter's living was experience and the memories of a lot of hard work. He took a job with Charles Schutman, who owned a blacksmith shop on the corner of Wendell and Noble, directly across the street from one owned by James' dad.

In 1909 Barrack joined his father, John Barrack, in the blacksmith shop business that made thaw points for miners on the creeks, pick points and other tools with which to recover the gold that was making Fairbanks a big town.

In 1912 the two Barracks merged with a firm called "Brumbaugh, Hamilton and Kellog" owned by Henry Hamilton. The original three partners started the business in 1904 but two of them sold their interests to Hamilton in 1906.

Portrait of James Barrack for his 1904 graduation from Utah State College.
Portrait of James Barrack for his 1904 graduation from Utah State College.

In 1915, John and Jim took over Hamilton's interest in the hardware business and changed the name to Samson Hardware. From then on, all the miners on the creeks bought shovels, wheelbarrows, picks and cable that bore the name, Samson. The shop was centrally located on the miners' side of the Chena River—yet still very close to downtown Fairbanks.

John Barrack retired in 1917 and moved to California where he died in 1930.

Through the business Jim was the first commercial shipper of automobiles, Fords. When he received the automobiles he wondered what on earth he was going to do with them. Three customers promptly settled the problem and he ordered more.

In January 1921 he married Ruth Campbell. She had visited her brother William in Alaska for a year in 1919. She returned to Iowa, where she was born. James traveled stateside to marry and then returned with her to the Territory.

September 15, 1924 the Barracks first daughter, Barbara Jean was born. This was followed a year later by a second daughter, Beverly Ann, and a third daughter, Bonita Rae, in 1928.

James and his daughter, Barbara, at Samson Hardware. Photo circa 1945.
James and his daughter, Barbara, at Samson Hardware. Photo circa 1945.

Because of his mining investments, he became the first to incorporate the use of tractors for freighters and mining. In 1926, Barrack with a group of other men, formed the Nome Creek Dredging Company and built a dredge. It was the first electrically operated dredge in the interior.

The Barracks, now a larger family, built a home on the outskirts of town in 1929. This home of Dutch Colonial style was built with hardwood floors, a stone fireplace and sawdust for insulation. Because of its size people thought a new hotel was being built on Cowles Street!

In June, 1949, the youngest of the three sisters, Bonita, married Burnell H. DeVos Jr.

In 1951 and on the occasion of James and Ruth Barrack's 30th wedding anniversary, they announced the plan for their eldest daughter, Barbara, to be married to James Frank Dickason Jr. in June.

Portrait of James Barrack in a fur parka during the 1940s.
Portrait of James Barrack in a fur parka during the 1940s.

In September of that same year Beverly Ann, the second daughter, married Wilber Paul Kicklighter.

In January of 1954, at the age of 70, James Barrack died in Seattle.


James Barrack is also mentioned in this article

Barrack Memorial Carillons

Notable People:Ruth Barrack


All photos courtesy of Bonnie DeVos

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, August 8, 1951

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, January 1, 1951

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, December 20, 1954

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, January 20, 1955

University Relations UAF 1955, News Release

UA Public Affairs files, Barrack

Unmarked article, Barrack Retiring After 46 Active Years, circa 1952