Arvid Jenloft Nilsen Oral History Interview, 1982

Overview of the Collection

Nilsen, Arvid Jenloft
Arvid Jenloft Nilsen Oral History Interview
1982 (inclusive)
3 file folders
3 photographs
1 sound cassette
Collection Number
An oral history interview with Arvid Jenloft Nilsen, a Norwegian immigrant.
Pacific Lutheran University, Archives and Special Collections
Archives and Special Collections
Pacific Lutheran University
12180 Park Avenue South
Tacoma, Washington 98447
Telephone: (253) 535-7586
Fax: (253) 535-7315
Access Restrictions

The oral history collection is open to all users.

Additional Reference Guides

Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Arvid Nilsen was born on November 24, 1907 in Brasøy, Norway to Martin Kristian Jager Nilsen and Mathilde Mathisen. Arvid's father sold fish to make money and taught his children religious studies at home since they had to row to another island to attend church and could not go every Sunday. Arvid attended school for seven years, and after he was confirmed at the age of fifteen, he began sailing. The first year he sailed, he was a cook for eleven men, but when he was twenty-one, he went out on a freighter, where he was the coal trimmer. The freighter went up and down the coast, shipping fish and building materials, and also made long trips to South America. Arvid was later promoted to sailor and began working on a boat in Belgium, which sailed throughout the Mediterranean. From there, he went to an American oil tanker, which sailed between Antwerp, Belgium and Philadelphia, PA. Arvid stayed on this ship for four and a half years, before changing to a new Norwegian ship, on which he became an engineer after six months and remained for a total of seven years. This boat shipped apples, oranges, and other citrus fruits. During the war, he sailed between Panama and the West Coast of America and worked in refrigeration. In 1943, Arvid married his wife, Esther, whom he had met at a friend's house in Seattle while he was sailing on the coast. They were married in San Pedro, CA at a seaman's church, and Arvid continued sailing for a short time afterward. In 1945, he officially immigrated to the United States and settled down in San Pedro. He continued doing refrigeration work, and worked in Mercury, Nevada for one year on the atomic bomb. His job was to keep the instruments cool. When Nixon came into office, the funding for this job was cut, and Arvid moved to Watsonville, CA, where he worked for the union and got a job mounting steam boilers in the oil field. In 1970, Arvid retired and planned to live in Norway, where he had bought a house. He did not like it, however, and moved after a year and a half. He and Esther then moved to Gig Harbor, WA, where they built a duplex with her cousin, Marie Hageness. There, Arvid became active in the Normanna Choir, Nordlite Club, and the First Assembly Pentecostal Church. Although he was raised Lutheran, Arvid claims that the Lutheran church has too much rituals and not enough spirit, whereas the Pentecostal church allows him much more spiritual freedom.


Full Name: Arvid Jenloft Nilsen. Father: Martin Kristian Jager Nilsen. Mother: Mathilde Mathisen. Paternal Grandfather: Nils Nilsen. Brothers and Sisters: Bjarne Nilsen, Borghild Mathisen, Hjordis Ludviksen, Aasla Pedersen, Mega Brasaaggard, Jens Nilsen. Spouse: Esther Lund Nilsen.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The interview was conducted with Arvid Nilsen on January 20, 1982 in Gig Harbor, Washington. It contains information on personal history, work as a sailor, marriage, emigration, return to Norway, church and community involvement. The interview also contains a photograph of Arvid as a young man and photographs of Arvid and his wife Esther at the time of the interview. Also see Esther Nilsen. The interview was conducted in English.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

There are no restrictions on use.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Custodial History

The Oral History collection project was started during an experimental course on Scandinavian Women in the Pacific Northwest. Students in the course were encouraged to interview women and learn about their experiences as immigrants to the United States. The project was continued and expanded with support from the president's office and by grants from the L.J. Skaggs and Mary C. Skaggs Foundation, from the Joel E. Ferris Foundation and the Norwegian Emigration Fund of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The project was directed by Dr. Janet E. Rasmussen. The collection was transferred to the Archives and Special Collections Department.

Acquisition Information

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Processing Note

The interview was conducted by Inger Nygaard Carr using a cassette recorder. A research copy was also prepared from the original. To further preserve the content of the interview, it is now being transferred to compact disc. We deliberately did not transcribe the entire interview because we want the researchers to listen to the interviewee's own voice. The transcription index highlights important aspects of the interview and the tape counter numbers noted on the Partial Interview Transcription are meant as approximate finding guides and refer to the location of a subject on the cassette/CD. The recording quality is good

The collection was transcribed by Mary Sue Gee, Julie Peterson and Becky Husby.


Rasmussen, Janet Elaine. New Land New Lives: Scandinavian Immigrants to the Pacific Northwest Tacoma, Washington University of Washington Press 1993

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

The partial interview transcription highlights important aspects of the interview. Numbers may be used as guides to important subjects. Two numbers separated by a slash indicate that the first number is for cassette and the second for CD.

Container(s) Description
134, side 1 :
NOTE: The first part of the tape is blank. Look at his biography for his birth date and birthplace.
134, side 1 068:
Did not go to college. As soon as school was out Arvid went out and got experience. He began sailing when he was 15 years old.
134, side 1 073: SCHOOL
Went for three weeks and then had two weeks off. Went to school for seven years. Did homework when not in school. Learned the Psalms. Had one hour of Christian instruction each day. Learned woodwork and plant life. Had school most of the year.
134, side 1 103: CONFIRMATION
Had to stay three weeks with the minister for instruction.
134, side 1 105: CHURCH
Could not go every Sunday because it was on another island. They rowed to church. Father did teaching at home. Sang at home.
134, side 1 118: CHRISTMAS
Lots of goodies to eat: meats, coffee, lefse, and Christmas cake. Lots of baking. Usually killed an animal before the holidays so that they would have fresh meat. Christmas lasted a long time. Had first and second Christmas days. Had to stay home, could not go out and play.
134, side 1 137:
Arvid learned to knit, make net, and sew a little. His mother taught him these skills. Also learned how to spin on the wheel. Mother made most of the children's clothing.
134, side 1 145: FARM
Grew potatoes, carrots, and cabbage. Had milk and all the fish they wanted. Bought margarine, sugar, and coffee. Sold fish to make money.
134, side 1 155:
Father did not make a lot of money. "It was a living, that's all." Boys had to chop wood, carry water, and help people at home.
134, side 1 168: TROLL STORIES
They scared us. Talks about this some. Did not really believe in them but was still scared.
134, side 1 191: SAILING
Started sailing after confirmation. The first year he was a cook for eleven men. Second year was half share guy. The third year he became a third share. When he was 21 he went out sailing on a freighter. This was a pretty good life, better than fishing. They went up and down the coast. Shipped fish and building materials. Did this was for about two and a half years.
134, side 1 208:
Went to Bergen and then to Rotterdam and went sailing for nine years. Made 86 kroner a month. Sent some of this money home.
Poor food. No refrigeration, only cold storage and the ice melted fast. Had long trips to Brazil and South America, which took 37 days. Were shipping coal, corn and oil. Shipped corn from Argentina to Rotterdam. Took ore from Spanish Morocco. Took coal from England to Italy.
134, side 1 244:
Arvid was the coal trimmer for the first year and a half, shoveled coal to the boiler. Describes his tasks. He was 22 years old.
134, side 1 270:
Had three stowaways from Trinidad in the coal box, two colored men. Arvid had them help him and he provided them with food until they were discovered and put ashore. They had wanted to go to Europe because times were bad in Trinidad.
134, side 1 303:
Changed jobs because he was so skinny and pale. Promoted to sailor. Changed to another boat in Belgium, which sailed to the Mediterranean.
134, side 1 321:
Worked for an American oil tanker which sailed between Antwerp, Belgium, and Philadelphia. This was a Norwegian crew running a ship owned by Atlantic Oil Co. Arvid got his job through a hiring agency. Was on this ship for four and a half years, working in the engine room.
134, side 1 343:
In 1936 went to sail on a new Norwegian ship. He became an engineer after six months. Stayed with this ship for seven years. Shipped apples, oranges, and other citrus fruits. Shipped apples from the West Coast, Vancouver, Portland, and Seattle to Europe.
134, side 1 368:
In summer sailed to Brazil and loaded oranges to take to Europe.
134, side 1 372:
During the war, they were sailing between the West Coast and Panama. They made the boat into a truck transport ship. It was a big ship that went 18 knots, had four decks.
134, side 1 384:
Married in 1943 and then went ashore.
134, side 1 386:
During the war they shipped different cargo for the canal zone in Balboa, Panama. Shipped food, hay, clothing, and shoes.
134, side 1 398:
Good pay during the war. Took bananas from Costa Rica to the West Coast for United Fruit. Made $50 a trip with bananas if they were in good shape. Arvid worked in refrigeration.
134, side 1 415:
Went to school, Frank Wiggins Trade School in Los Angeles, California. Stayed here for four years. Went to night school.
134, side 1 421:
Did not hear from his parents during the war but assumed that they were all right because they were insulated.
134, side 1 434: LEARNING ENGLISH
Spoke mostly Norwegian on the freighters. When he came ashore he began to pick up the language as he worked.
134, side 1 446: IMMIGRATED TO THE U.S. IN 1945
Came through Tijuana, Mexico. No problems coming through because his papers were all prepared before he came.
134, side 1 466: MEETING WIFE
Met in Seattle when he was sailing on the coast. They met a friend's house in Seattle, Molvik. Wife's name is Esther Lund. They were married in San Pedro, California at a Seaman's Church. A very nice little occasion.
134, side 1 500:
The minister's wife was a friend of Arvid's. He knew her from Antwerp, Belgium. She was the daughter of a shipping master that Arvid got his job through in Belgium.
134, side 1 527:
After he was married he sailed for a short time. Health problems have slowed him down through, so he settled in San Pedro for a while.
134, side 1 547:
Sailed as an engineer on Tuna Clippers down to Mexico and Peru. Was in Panama for two years on a fishing boat belonging to a Frenchman. Boat was called Bertine. The crew was Japanese. They are raw fish and soy sauce as a main meal. Gone for nine months at a time. Esther lived in San Pedro, California. Then he got a job ashore in San Pedro.
134, side 1 601:
Moved to Monterey, California because he was working too hard in San Pedro. Did refrigeration work. Joined a union in Salinas. They built two powerhouses, a chocolate factory and a rubber plant.
134, side 1 630:
Worked with the government in Mercury, Nevada for one year on the atomic bomb. Arvid worked keeping instruments cook. He solved some problems in refrigeration and received a plaque from General Electric.
134, side 2 009:
Continues talking about work in Nevada. Worked here for one year until Nixon came into office and cut funding.
134, side 2 023:
Went back to work in Watsonville, California and worked for the union. Got a job mounting steam boilers out in the oil field. Pumping steam into the ground to heat the ground, which thinned out the oil.
134, side 2 033:
Retired in 1970. Went to Norway planning to live there. Bought a house over there but stayed for only one and a half years. Did not like it. He worked for the refrigeration company in Oslo. Did not like the long, cold winters. Nothing to do. People are more insulated in Norway.
134, side 2 062:
Moved back to the U.S. to Gig Harbor where they had been once before in 1939. They built a duplex with Esther's cousin, Marie Hageness.
134, side 2 076:
Active in Normanna choir. Also in the Nordlite Club. Took trips with the choir.
134, side 2 086: CITIZENSHIP
1950 in San Pedro, California. No problems with this.
134, side 2 089: CHURCH
Active in the Seaman's Church in San Pedro. He helped to build this. Active in First Assembly of God at 18th and Union in Tacoma.
134, side 2 094:
Was raised Lutheran but changed to First Assembly. When he was young he was not strong for the Lutheran Church, the spiritual part was not there. Lutherans are stiffer and have more ritual. The Pentecostal church is a freer church.
Too much ritual, not enough spirit. They mention God but not Jesus.
134, side 2 117: CHANGES IN NORWAY
People more independent, can afford more things. People are busier with themselves, do not go out of their family much.
134, side 2 135:
Claims Norway may have become the richest country in the world but people depend on the social services provided. They do not use their own talents.
134, side 2 149:
People are leaving the church because there is too little spiritual food.
134, side 2 154:
Still speaks Norwegian. Gives a clear example of the language.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Christmas
  • Confirmation
  • Education--Norway
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Family--Norway
  • Marriage service
  • Norway--Social conditions--1945-
  • Norwegian-Americans--Northwest, Pacific--Interviews
  • Norwegian-Americans--Social life and customs

Personal Names

  • Nilsen, Esther
  • Nilsen, Nils
  • Nilsen, Arvid--Interviews (creator)
  • Hageness, Marie
  • Mathisen, Mathilde
  • Nilsen, Martin Kristian Jager

Corporate Names

  • First Assembly of God Church (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Frank Wiggins Trade School (Los Angeles, Calif.)
  • General Electric Company
  • Nordlandslaget Nordlyset (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Normanna Male Chorus (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Seamen's Church (San Pedro, Calif.)

Family Names

  • Lund family
  • Mathisen family
  • Nilsen family

Geographical Names

  • Brasøy (Norway)
  • Gig Harbor (Wash.)
  • Mercury (Nevada)
  • San Pedro Channel (Calif.)
  • Watsonville (Calif.)

Form or Genre Terms

  • Oral histories


  • Government employees
  • Sailors