Balhiser, Charles

1884-1934 | Alaska Railroad Locomotive Engineer

Charles Balhiser was born in Morrow, Ohio on February 10, 1884, to Jacob Balhiser and Ella Grimm. His father was a German immigrant and his mother, Ella, was born in Covington, Kentucky.

Charles Balhiser began his career as a railroad man in 1901, working as a telegrapher and agent on the Central Pacific Railroad at South Milford, Pennsylvania. He served as an agent and dispatcher on the Pennsylvania line from 1902 to 1904. In 1905, he moved west to Idaho to work as a relief agent and dispatcher for the Northern Pacific Railway Company. He took the job of firemen for the Northern Pacific Railway Company for the period from 1908 to 1912. In 1912-1913, he accepted a promotion as an engineer with the Northern Pacific. From 1913 to 1915, he was manager of Western Union in Lewiston, Idaho.[1]

In 1905, Balhiser met a young woman, Esther Jane Slatter, born on February 18, 1890 in Spokane, Washington. The two were married in Spokane on November 6, 1907. The Balhiser’s first child, Margery, was born in Spokane in 1915.[2]

At that time, after nine mastoid operations, Balhiser was told that he had only about six months left to live, and was advised to do whatever he wished to do. He wanted to go to Alaska. He and his wife, Esther, decided that he would proceed to Anchorage. Esther followed with baby Margery as soon as she was old enough to travel.

Balhiser went to Anchorage in 1915, and immediately set about building a home for the family. Mother and daughter embarked on the steamer S. S. Mariposa when Margery was three months old. When the S.S. Mariposa approached Bella Bella in British Columbia in October of that year, the ship hit a rock. Fortunately, all ninety-five passengers were able to safely abandon the ship. They were transferred to another ship and finally arrived at Ship Creek.

Balhiser spent his first year in Anchorage working to supply water for the community and was eventually hired on as a locomotive engineer for the Alaska Railroad. A second child, Charles Kenneth, was born in 1921 at the Alaska Railroad Hospital in Anchorage. Their home was Cottage No. 20 on Third Avenue, part of the housing built by the Alaskan Engineering Commission for its employees.

After spending nearly twenty years as a locomotive engineer, on January 4, l934, Charles Balhiser died suddenly after suffering a ruptured appendix. At the time of his passing, he was second on the Alaska Railroad's seniority list.

 Esther Balhiser's life in Anchorage centered on her home and family, yet she found time to devote to public service, serving on the Anchorage School Board as president from 1926 to 1930.[3] She was a member and past matron of the Order of the Eastern Star. She was also a member of the Pioneers of Alaska, Igloo 15, in Anchorage. After her husband's death, she was employed by the Alaska Railroad as head housekeeper at the Curry Hotel from 1936 to 1951, when she retired.

Esther Balhiser died at Providence Hospital, in Anchorage, on July 27, 1972. Charles and Esther Balhiser are buried in the Masonic Tract, Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery.



[1] “Chas. Balhiser is Called to Eternal Rest,” Anchorage Daily Times, January 5, 1934, 5.

[2] Certificate of Marriage, Charles Balhiser and Esther Jane Slatter, date of marriage, November 6, 1907, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Washington State Board of Health, November 9, 1907, Washington, Marriage Records, 1865-2004 [database on-line], (accessed January 12, 2013).

[3] Helve Enatti, “Anchorage Public Schools, 1915-1951: A Thirty-Six Year School District Development Study," (master’s thesis, University of Alaska, 1967), 354.  See also, "Will Clayson Chosen Mayor in Tight Race," Anchorage Daily Times, April 6, 1927, 8.


This entry for Charles Balhiser originally appeared in John P. Bagoy, Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1935 (Anchorage, AK: Publication Consultants, 2001), 32-33. See the Charles Balhiser file, Bagoy Family Pioneer Files (2004.11), Box 1, Atwood Resource Center, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, Anchorage, AK. Photographs courtesy of the Balhiser family. Edited by Mina Jacobs in 2012.  Edited and revised by Bruce Parham, July 15, 2016.

Preferred citation: Bruce Parham, ed., “Balhiser, Charles,” Cook Inlet Historical Society, Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1940,

Major support for Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1940, provided by: Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, Atwood Foundation, Cook Inlet Historical Society, and the Rasmuson Foundation. This educational resource is provided by the Cook Inlet Historical Society, a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt association. Contact us at the Cook Inlet Historical Society, by mail at Cook Inlet Historical Society, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, 625 C Street, Anchorage, AK 99501 or through the Cook Inlet Historical Society website,