Sunday, November 20, 2016


It was the last day of the two-month contract flying for Temsco Helicopters.  The summer of 1986, I had been stationed in Eagle, Alaska flying sling loads and geologists around the area. The geologists were taking rock, soil and vegetation samples in hopes of locating another large oil field. Apparently, the earth leaves signs over the tops of these large oil deposits. Find the signs, drill a well and find out. Layman's understanding.

I was sitting at idle warming up the helicopter and checking "all green" instruments. Extra fuel was strapped onto the backseat. My personal belongings and other gear were neatly tucked and arranged for the return flight to Temsco, Juneau. I completed a last minute check and brought the power up for take-off. This was it, my last flight.  I doubted I would ever fly helicopters commercially again. Family and other life responsibilities. But flying had always been a mistress to me and I knew this was our last fling.

I picked up to a hover and took off to say goodbye at the Riverside Cafe. I told the gals and folks there I would fly in front of the restaurant and pause to say goodbye. I would then follow the Yukon River to Dawson City on the first leg of my return flight to Juneau.

I circled over the island in the picture above and pulled to a 50' hover over the shore line and directly in front of the restaurant. The folks and friends whom I had come to know as family came out with cameras, snapping pictures and waving. I was close enough to see their faces for the last time. I wanted to hover there for the longest time. With a lump in my throat, a last wave, I  dipped the nose and peddle turned left down the river towards Dawson City.

I worked sixty days straight that summer, flying in one of most beautiful places on earth. I have always said that there was never another job I would do sixty days straight with out a day off. I would have extended my tour there in a heartbeat, no questions asked. But family and other responsibilities were my chosen route.

As I continued a climb towards Dawson, I settled down and worked on putting emotions behind me. Should have been a man's man, thumped my chest in the good bye and flew off. But the folks of Eagle and the folks I flew with had became very good friends. The flying, the people and Alaska set hooks deep in me that summer. I doubted I would ever return and I never have. Not because I did not make plans or not wanted to. It just did not work out the way I had hoped. The parting that day was a final tear in a most wonderful summer experience.

I have likened Montana, Idaho and Washington State to God's country. The beauty is beyond my ability to put into words and I have said that God took a few extra hours as he painted that land. In the same sense, God also took a few extra hours painting the lands of Alaska. I can still feel this deep inside of me today, thirty years later. If I have several lives to live, I would choose one of those lives living in Alaska and flying if I get to fine-tune the choice.

Take a moment here and look at The Riverside Hotel and Cafe today. Arrow down and look at the photos. The second picture (with red truck) is looking down the Yukon River towards Dawson city. Take a few moments and look at all the pictures here. Beautiful area. 


The opportunity to fly that summer in Alaska came about through a series of events, needs and a yearning to fly again. I took a week's training and transition flying during the month of April with Temsco in Ketchican. Signed on to fly a two-month contract with them, an ARCO oil contract, out of Eagle, Alaska. Another pilot and I were to take two helicopters and fly to Eagle and fulfill the contract doing sling work and daily flying of geologists in and out of remote areas.

Our flight of two hugged the western shore of Lynn Channel to Skagway. My first taste that summer of the enormity and beauty of the lands we were to fly. We refueled at Skagway and picked up the Klondike Highway (Route 2) running NNE into the Yukon Territory. The clouds lowered as we climbed along with the highway. We stayed over the road with cloud cover keeping us low. One thing I always enjoyed about flying helicopters was moments like this. I would never venture into a low, slow flight in an airplane in "iffy" mountain weather. The abilities of a helicopter allowed us to run the highway and or land if we had to. At the top, we broke clear onto flat lands and low ceilings. Visibility under the lifting cloud layer was more than adequate to fly the highway north. 

We transferred to Alaska Highway 1 and landed at Whitehorse to refuel.  If memory serves me right, we continued on Highway 1, stopped and refueled from on board Jerry cans along the highway to make our next refueling point. Memory of specifics of all of that place fails me now.

We landed next to the highway when we crossed back into Alaska to clear customs. I will admit that two helicopters landing next to the customs building, adjacent the Alaska Highway was a cool moment. We idled down, set frictions and walked our paper work a few hundred feet into customs building. Cleared in just a few minutes, walked back to the helicopters and took off.

For all that I am trying to remember here and re-visit Alaska maps, I cannot remember if this was a two-day trip to Eagle. I think it was and twinges of an overnight stop somewhere along the Alasakan Highway tug at me. A refueling stop and overnight stay. Memories, some so clear like they were yesterday, others foggy. We did arrive near midnight at Eagle.

We quickly settled into a daily flying routine and learning the local area like the backs of our hands. If I landed in one far-off remote area, I must have landed in several hundred that summer. The helicopter is a wonderful machine for jobs like this. This was a dream job and flying contract for me.

If there is a downside to these kind of flying jobs it is that the jobs take pilots away from the family life. Hard to impossible to serve both unless the pilot lives where the helicopter operations are based. Jobs will take pilots away all over the world and these flying opportunities are always exciting and sights always to behold. But family and support awaits back at home base. If not this way, then the pilot will be gone months at a time, living out of a suitcase and home becomes a few weeks vacation. One half of the equation over time, suffers more than the other

  Breakfasts were early morning and the girls working the cafe would pack us a sandwich lunch and dinner was early evening when the days work was done. It did not take long to get to know many of the locals, the comings and goings of the small community and the surrounding landscape.

We met the geologists and they took to us as we took to them. Family in just a few days of working close together.

On the first days of flying, we were to sling-load parts for a drill rig just a few miles out of town.

We flew sling-line drill parts and set them in place at the drill site. Later that first day of flying, a fellow rode up on a bicycle to the other pilot across the runway. I noticed a “heated conversation” from the point of view of the bicyclist. He left and the other pilot came over and explained that the fellow said the next time we few over his house, he was going to shoot us down. We took his request to heart and mentioned it at dinner that night. Folks sitting around the dinner table new the man and confirmed he would shoot us down. We were "not in Kansas anymore" and many a day in that area reminded me of that. We gave that homestead a wide wide birth if we headed out of town in that direction. Two years of flying combat missions in Vietnam only to get shot down in Eagle Alaska ran through my mind.

My fondest memories are of the flying. The country around Eagle is hard, unforgiving and breathtakingly beautiful. Full of wildlife that supports the folks who live off the land. Transportation is by air to and from larger cities. But the hard work, beauty of the land and freedom are worth it. The lifestyle is for the young, the young at heart and the physically fit. 

When the two helicopters took to the same mission of working geologists in and out of an area, the end of the day would find us flying the Yukon River back to Eagle. We would hook up in loose trail formation and wind the same turns as the river to home base. Alaska then was a free place to fly like this. Not sure about today with all that has changed in the aviation community. But in 1986, rivers were free of power lines and obstacles. The freedom of flight still existed and we hooked into that when possible. The smiles on the faces of the geologists, as we weaved our way back, were smiles of young kids on a one-of-a-kind ride. They would often ask for flights like these to home base when we left the final area of exploration at days end. No arm-twisting needed!!

During the few weeks of forest fires in that area, those flights home had imprinted and paid-off as we had to fly low and under a smoke layer along a few of those rivers to get to a job site, personnel or back to Eagle.

Wildlife was also another feather in our caps on flights back to Eagle. Sheep on steep mountainsides were quite often a treat. We always gave wildlife a wide birth. Enjoyed them in their natural habitat at a distance. 

One day, we were weaving our way back at altitude, through green grass fields and mountains. Coming around a smaller mountain we entered lush acreage of tall grass. Off in the distance, a half mile to mile or so, a grizzly bear with a cub could be seen. I slowed down as we circled past. I can still see that Grizzly Bear here now as I write. This most beautiful bear, fur rippling as she stood on her hind legs, watched us pass by. One of the most memorable moments of the season. Lasted but a few moments, but forever imprinted.

The photo above is of a Piper bush plane that flew out of the small landing strip we operated out of. The pilot flew hunters and adventure seekers in and out the back country. We got to know him and quite often would see him flying in and out of near by areas during the day. After watching him hang that airplane on the propeller as he landed, I knew I would ride back seat with him anywhere, anytime.This plane is the Gold Standard of Alaska Bush flying. 

A final story.

We had a few shotguns available to us to have and carry. The geologists resisted for the most part, saying and believing that making noise as they went through the woods and underbrush was sufficient to keep bears moving and away. I latched onto one of the guns and would not let it go. Nope, this was my gun and do not ask to borrow it. It worked. Whenever I was alone with the helicopter, awaiting a call to come fetch the crew, I would take that shot gun with me as I wondered the landing site. I was surprised at how accurate a shotgun with slugs was. Did some practice shooting I did.

The other pilot brought a .44 Magnum revolver, long barrel in a western rig.  He always had it rolled up and tucked under the back seat. He too took that with him when alone with helicopter in the back country. I never gave him and that pistol much thought until the day he was attacked by a black bear. 

He had landed on a stream bed, shut down, picked up his fishing pole and wondered some yards down stream to fish the bend in the creek. He had forgotten his cigarettes and walked back to the helicopter to get them. He also picked up his gun (also forgotten) and headed back to the fishing hole.

He had noticed a stench in the air when he landed and learned later that he had landed in a river bed where the bear had a nearby kill.

As he was walking towards the fishing hole, he noticed movement on a small knoll along side the helicopter. He watched a black bear run down the knoll, jump onto the gravel river bed and head directly for him at a steady run. It became immediately evident to him what was coming. He pulled his single action pistol cocked it and fired a warning shot at the bear.

This story is being told for the first time at dinner that night with many a local sitting at the table. “You fired a warning shot at a charging bear”, one of them said and sideward glances between locals to including the laughs paused his story telling. Ya see, Dorthy, you do not fire a warning shot at a charging bear.
Six-shooter, five shots remaining. Bear still charging. Other pilot takes aim now and fires a stopping shot. Misses. Fours shots left. Aims, fires, misses, bear on the run. Three shots left. Keep in mind this is all happening in real time, not the time I have here to tell the story.

Shot four hits the bear in the shoulder. Pilot says he sees the dust fly from the hit. The bear is close now. Pilot cocks round five and takes aim. The bear slows down from the hit, turns and runs into the underbrush. To this day a great story. But the better story was the locals at the dinner table “bear-shaming” the poor guy to death. Folks living and working in Eagle, Alaska call it as they see it when they see it and where they see it. As it should be!!

We shut down operations the next day and were tasked with flying the area of the bear attack and shooting. Things like this are not taken lightly by locals. The bear needed to be found, good, bad or indifferent. We both flew hours with observers in the area, but never found the bear.

Geologists were armed to the hilt for the next few weeks, walking the Alaskan underbrush. And no, they never ever got to borrow “my shotgun.”

Somewhere in Eagle Alaska, they tell the story of the pilot who took a warning shot at a charging bear. Probably now in some early age school curriculum.

I cleared customs in Dawson, climbed to altitude heading towards the Alaskan Highway. Maps on my lap, correct orientation for basic VFR (Visual Flight Rules) navigation. Airspeed, if memory serves me correctly, meant an hour to an hour and a half flight to The Alaskan Highway to again clear customs next to the highway and then to follow that highway home to Juneau, Alaska.

A fuel stop next to the highway when needed and one other fuel stop location, the specifics of which eludes me now. 

I never really enjoyed flying helicopters at high altitudes. The scenery from Eagle to Dawson City to Juneau was all postcard worthy. But the majority of all of my helicopter flying was low to the ground and very little time at altitude. I've always felt most comfortable flying just a couple hundred feet off the ground. Something to do with freedom of flight and route determined by geology. 

I landed at Juneau, turned in the helicopter, final paper work and a rough two month pay check was handed to me with finals to be mailed out within a few weeks. I boarded a commercial flight to Sea Tac, Seattle the next day, and the story ends.

The folks at Temsco were grand people to teach me, to know, to work with and to work for. 

Eagle Alaska, Dawson City, The Yukon River, the people, the wild life, the crews and The Riverside Cafe. A grand summer 30 years ago.



What A Difference A Day Makes----Angelina Jordan.
Just discovered this young Norwegian singer. Winner of Norway's Got Talent. The voice! Where does this eight year old find that? If you miss Amy Winehouse, look at some of the other songs this young lady performs. 

Amy Whinehouse   Back to Black. Not edited for language. Adult

Angelina Jordan    Back to Black.  Re-written with age appropriate language. 



Keep the vehicles gassed up!!


Good news for jobs and our economy.


Farmer's Almanac has been off the mark so far this month of November. Predicted to be nasty with rain, flakes of snow mixed, blizzard like, miserable and worse. Sounded like a nasty start to our winter here, but all in all this month has been pleasant. Nights are chilly, wood stove going now to keep the chill out of the house. The being outside, coming, going and getting last minute chores done have been accompanied by nice fall weather. Satellite wood pile barely dented going into December.

Snow storms to the west and north west this weekend. It appears that we are but a few days away here from rain and snow mix. Colder day and night temperatures forecasted too. Thanksgiving Day a wintery mix. 

Wishing you and yours wonderful down time with family, friends and another Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixens. Hopefully politics will be set aside for more important things. 


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