2 pranks set Alaska's giant floating hot dog on its way down Matanuska River

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch
Graham Kraft, Andy Fischer, Eben Sargent, and Luc Mehl with the foam hot dog that washed up on a beach. Luc Mehl photo

The giant hot dog that’s now a moving landmark on the Susitna Flats west of Anchorage appears to have been the victim of not one, but two pranks. 

Left tied beneath the Old Glenn Highway bridge over the Matanuska River a decade ago after being swiped from Little Miller's Ice Cream near Wasilla, it was discovered there by the Miller family.

"We tried to recover the hot dog as it swung from the bridge over the river's current,'' Keith Miller, one of store owner Gary Miller's sons, said Thursday. "A tow truck was responding to retrieve it when a separate group of kids cut it loose and the recovery crew arrived just in time to watch it float downriver.

"It was a big deal to my family back then," he added. "It wasn't funny at the time.''

The hot dog, Keith said, was a Miller family trademark, first used at a family store in the community of Houston along the George Parks Highway and later moved to the summer-only store in Wasilla. A call to the Houston store in early summer had found no one aware of the dog's history, but Keith observed that was no surprise. 

"Most of the kids working up there were in grade school when it happened,'' he said.

Keith Miller said he and his brother went looking for the perpetrators, even though they'd never been all that enamored with their father's zeal for making foam food art. 

Along with the hot dog, Gary made a lot of giant ice cream cones.

"We thought it was ridiculous,'' Keith confessed, but the props were good for business.

And the kids weren't happy about having one stolen. 

"We were hot on the trail of the Colony (High School) kids but could never secure names,'' he said. "I would like to thank you for solving a 10-year family mystery as to who stole the hot dog."

Its location, he added, was known to the family for some time after it floated away from Palmer. Small-plane pilots flying in and out of the Palmer airport reported seeing it along the Matanuska for years before it finally made its way out into the tidal waters of Knik Arm and began a longer migration. 

The Millers could have hired a helicopter to retrieve it, Keith said, but such an operation never seemed worth the cost. Eventually, they just sort of forgot about the dog -- at least until Thursday. Keith said he got a text from his brother first thing in the morning with a photo of the story that ran in the Alaska Dispatch News.

And in one of those weird twists, he noted that one of his hunting buddies happens to be the employer of the young man who fessed up to knowing about the dog's disappearance.

"I just happen to hunt with (Allan) Spangler's bosses ... but didn't know until your article,'' he said. "It's funny. Alaska is still a relatively small world.''

In the story, Spangler, a 2005 Colony High graduate, admitted that he knew about the giant hot dog’s migration from Little Miller’s to Cook Inlet.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com