Saturday, October 8, 2016

A Story Out of the Past from 2009


A Long Ride
by Teena Helmericks May 13, 2009
The river flooded (over the grounded ice) 8 days ago after a week’s unseasonable warm days above freezing. This flooding was 11 days earlier then ever before in our recorded history and several weeks before the usual flooding dates.
Jim and I were caught with some summer supplies still not home. Although they could be gotten later with multiple plane trips, it is much easier to haul them by snowmachine and sled. So Jim cruised upriver several miles until he could find a place he could still cross the river. This was last week, so once across the river he could drive overland to OTP, a rendezvous point with a friend who had trucked the supplies from Deadhorse for us. Jim retrieved the freight successfully. It turned cold again and the flood waters remained stable, so several days later, Jim made another trip over to the mainland to get us some fresh meat -several caribou. Then he made a third trip to collect fresh willow bushes for our yard.
This is where I come in. More mail-order groceries had arrived at the Deadhorse Post Office, plus we still needed some drums of aviation fuel. So Jim decided it was still safe for another trip across the river and I wanted to go this time. I needed to get over to the road system where we park our pickup truck on 3S Pad, 5 miles east of our house. Of course, the overflow water blocked the straight route we usual travel, so I needed to follow the round-about route Jim had been using to at least get across the river, and then I could travel overland over to where the truck was. (I should have been able to follow Jim’s old trail from last week to get close to where I needed to be.)
Jim showed me the route across the river on the map...I only needed to follow his trail. I left at 9 AM. No problem. It was snowing and very whiteout with limited visibility, but as long as I kept my eyes on the trail, I was fine.
At one point, the trail wound around a lot as Jim had been trying to find a safe way across a creek on which there was quite a bit of overflow water. I thought I was upriver on the creek we have to cross on the way to the pad where the truck sits.
About 1 ½ hours later I realized something was definitely wrong. Visibility was still poor, but I was seeing bluffs and mounds that were not supposed to be there, plus I should have been to the 3S Pad by then, despite the round about route. I knew Jim would be worried that I hadn’t called him to report being safely at the truck. I stopped to call him on my cell phone and let him know where I was...or maybe he could tell me where I might be. By then I’d figured out that I’d obviously been following the wrong trail, probably the one that took Jim south to hunt caribou, or the get willows.
NO PHONE! I had accidentally left my phone sitting on the counter still connected to the charger, and when I had checked my pocket before leaving home to make sure I had the phone, I had actually felt my little camera mistakenly. Now I knew Jim would be worried!
There was a big mound off to my left, so I left Jim’s trail and drove over to the high ground to get my bearings. Unfortunately, it was still too poor of visibility to see anything recognizable, but I was sure I was on Kachemach Mound - OH MY! So far off track. There was a slight SW wind blowing which helped me orientate myself, and I drove down off the mound and headed what I thought was east. It turned out to be more south then east. I should have turned straight back the track I had been driving. However, I kept stopping and re-correcting and had just spotted the top of a derrick which I thought was the oilrig on ODS, 6 miles north of our house. It was only a small point on the horizon. I headed for that, figuring I could be sure of my direction once I got closer to it and confirmed it was in fact ODS. I should be able to see our home by then too. I had also decided that I would just return home, relieve Jim’s worry, get my phone, get clearer directions to correct my mistake taking the wrong trail, and start out again.
About then Jim came zipping by me and stopped. He had left the house when it became obvious I was long overdue and followed my winding track until he caught up with me. As he drove along he would say to himself, “Why is she following my old trail that goes south?” Then as the trail started to cross the Miluveach River, he thought, “Surely she’ll realize where she is now. Oh no, she crossed and is still going. Is she going to go clear to the Kachemack River now!” Jim couldn’t leave my trail because visibility was too poor in the whiteout conditions to be able to just look around and find me. He had continued following my trail at a breakneck speed to catch up with me.
When Jim told me it was 11:30, I was astonished that so much time had passed since I left home. With few words between us, Jim took off in the lead and I realized he was leading me to 3S and the truck. It took us 45 minutes to get there with Jim leading in a straight line. If I had tried to get there on my own once I was sure of my location, it would have probably taken me several more hours. However, I assured Jim I had already decided to return home, had I still been out there on my own.
It was 12:30 before I was on my way to Deadhorse in the truck and Jim was on his way back home. I knew it would be a long day. By the time I finished the various errands in Deadhorse and got back to 3S Pad, it was 6:00 PM. Jim was there again to meet me, since we needed two sleds to get the groceries, mail, and fuel drums home. Again, it was a long, round-about way home via the upriver crossing we had to make to get around the water. It was 9 PM by the time we were back in the house, exhausted and hungry.
So, how did I get so turned around out there in the morning? There were several factors. To start out, I had misunderstood Jim about which way to go once I was on the mainland. Secondly, once I was on the wrong trail, even though I was aware that it headed south at first, I thought it would eventually turn and get me to the right spot because I thought I was on the first trail he made to go get supplies at the pad NE of 3S, where I needed to be. My focus was solely on the vague trail in front of me. Thirdly, when I crossed the Miluveach River, I thought it was just a bit upriver on the creek we normally have to cross when driving to 3S Pad. Jim had mentioned that he crossed our old trail to 3S at the creek the day he got supplies last week, and this is the trail I thought I was on.
Anyway, I suppose an important lesson learned here is that I should have had my GPS with me even when I thought I would simply be following a trail and not need it.
This is the second time Jim has had to come find me in the last few years when I was lost in a snow storm and whiteout. Both times, I was in no danger of severe cold, and would have eventually found my way home (I think), but having Jim find me got me to my destination possibly hours sooner then I would have on my own. Both Jim and I drove many unnecessary miles yesterday due to my mistakes. Jim takes such good care of me...if he can live through the trauma I cause him. :-)

Winter 2015

It has been a quiet winter so far here on the Colvile River Delta homestead, known as Colville Village. We slipped into freezing weather late September, and ice on the river was thick enough to set a fish net by October 3rd.  Ruby loves to go with 01c6e949090ca99bc6b3dc2e2411a77b52d025c299Jim and tries to help pull the sled. We do not fish commercially any longer, but only subsistently for what we need for ourselves and our dogs. We catch about 1000 # of fish in a few days and then pull the net for the season.

Late October, Jim made his anual trek south to visit our kids and take care of eye and dental appointments. He spent many extra hours cutting, splitting, and stacking extra wood for me, plus any other chores he coukd do ahead of time, before leaving. While he was gone,Teena “held down the fort” on the homestead and kept the house warm and comfy and generator fueled, serviced, and running smoothly. These days we have very modern and fast communications at the homestead that operate off a strong backup battery system, should electrical power fail, so Jim and I can stay in touch easily.  I did have one episode of  needing help, when the generator failed to restart properly after an oil change.  Thanks to cell phones, I was able to quickly get instructions on resetting an accidentally tripped toggle switch to the actuator on the generator.  Soon all was back to normal. 
While Jim was away from home he spent time with Aaron and Autumn, Isaac and family, and Derek and Cindy in the greater Anchorage area and then Jay and family in Fairbanks.

Jim & Aaron
When leaving the homestead to travel this time of year, we have to ride a snowmachine about 5 miles across the river and tundra to the closest point on the year-round road system to where we access our pickup truck.  There we switch modes of transportation, and drive 2 1/2 hours to Deadhorse where the commercial airlines operates.  Then a jet ride to Fairbanks or Anchorage. Reverse this to return home.
A few weeks after Jim returned home, Teena left for 10 days to enjoy some time with family and friends… mostly kids, and grandkids.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Have We Seen Changes Or What!

Our world has changed pretty drastically over the years since our Homestead was first settled. My husband Jim and parents came to the Colville River Delta to build a home and live here year-round in the mid-1950’s. In those days, no one lived permanently in the area, nor even in the hundreds of miles between Barrow, at Alaska’s northern most point to the west of us, or Kaktovik on Barter Island, near the Canadian border to the east of us.

There was a military instillation a little over 13 miles from us called a Dewline site.  (Distant Early Warning). It was built in the mid-50’s, with a few people stationed there for long hitches, to watch for foreign planes trespassing into US airspace. For us, it meant a few lights on the horizon to the northeast, otherwise there was nothing man-made visible in any direction from our house. We were truly isolated and living in a wilderness few others saw besides our own family and guests.

Then exploration and retrieval of oil started. In the early 1960’s our family became involved in guiding or providing support for early oil company sponsored seismic exploration efforts, plus guiding a  Sinclair oil rig and support equipment along the northeastern Alaska coastline from Canada and up the Colville River for further oil exploration work. Slowly, after the big discovery oil well was drilled in Prudhoe Bay in 1968, we began to see more distant lights off to the east as more and more oil drilling rigs and facilities began to spring up. Although there was a fever of activity with gravel mining, road and pad construction, and drilling activities, Prudhoe Bay was still far enough away so as not to affect our normal scenery or activities here on the Homestead. However, those lights did keep increasing during the 1970’s, but it was not the oilfield that brought the biggest changes for us.

In 1973, a new native village was started about 22 miles upriver from us.  Our homestead is located on Anachlik Island on the far eastern side of the 22 mile wide delta face. Nuiqsut village was established at the start of the delta on the western side. It was only a few families at first, but eventually grew much bigger into a community of over 400 people.  It was this substantial increase in the local population that brought the most noticeable changes to the area in which we live. A land must adapt to the influx of a large number of people and their activities, especially ones who partially live off the land through hunting  and fishing. Thus we witnessed decreases and changes in wildlife patterns around the delta area. We saw fewer wolves and wolverines, local caribou disappeared, some waterfowl had to move away from major boat traffic areas in summer, fresh-water seals decreased, and our commercial fishing operation gave way to subsistence users. The Colville River Delta  could not help but change from this increase in human habitation and activities. (Later, the encroaching oilfield would add to this impact.)

As the oil field continued to grow over the years and expanded west across the Kuparuk River, industry and all its infrastructure kept getting closer and closer to us. A few structures on the horizon and lights at night increased until it looked like a huge city off to the east of us.

There were advantages to this encroaching world to help offset the negative changes. First there was the Dalton Highway, or Haul Road, as it is more commonly called.  It gave us a ground transportation route to southern parts of Alaska via the road constructed to build and service Alaska’s new oil pipeline from the North Slope to Valdez. More year-round gravel roads were constructed to and over the Kuparuk River, into the new Kuparuk Oil Field. That brought ground transportation even closer to us.  Eventually a road was finished to Oliktok, where the Dewline was located, and we then had a jumping off spot to drive over the winter ice into the Colville Delta, where we live.

Ground transportation changed how we obtained our yearly supplies of food, fuel and other items. Previously we brought all our supplies north from Fairbanks on large cargo planes that also back-hauled our commercial fish to southern markets. Road access allowed us to truck supplies at lower costs and eliminate building a large ice runway for a cargo plane.

We bought a pickup truck and small trailer at this point and I (Teena) became the designated trucker, since Jim was the pilot. I began making several trips to Fairbanks a year. (My many trucking adventures are another story.) Plus trucking companies could now haul freight north for us.

Another advantage to the Prudhoe Bay Oilfield was the establishment of a new Post Office. For many years we had to personally fly our mail to and from the Barrow Post Office, 160 miles away. Once we shifted our address, we still were responsible for delivery and pickup of our own mail, but the Prudhoe Bay Post Office was much closer (about 60 miles) and located where we both flew or drove often. This cut down the expense, plus increased the frequency of getting mail.

Prudhoe Bay also provided closer air transportation for both ourselves and our guest or clients. Commercial airlines and air taxis began operating out of Deadhorse, the service area for the new oilfield. With both roads and runway, Prudhoe Bay now became the new North Slope hub for us instead of Barrow.

Another important advantage to having the nearby oilfield was access to scrap wood.  Previously our supply of firewood to heat our house came predominantly from drift willow that washed down the Colville River every spring during break-up. We had to make several trips a week with a snow machine and big freight sled to get enough wood to keep ahead of our consumption.  This also meant a lot of digging down through snow to retrieve the wood deposited along the low-lying  river banks or delta face. Knowing where this driftwood gathers ahead of time was paramount.

The oilfield has lots of construction debris, including scrap wood. When driving home from Prudhoe Bay, or anywhere else in the oilfield, we always had a load of wood to heat our home. Instead of round drift willow, we now burn mostly square dunnage.

In the 1980, the Kuparuk Oilfield, west of Prudhoe Bay, was being developed, and not only did we have lights much closer, but the buildings, rigs, and power lines were covering most of our eastern view by then. By the 1990’s we had drill sites within 5 miles of our place. Our landscape was changing rapidly.

On top of the permanent oilfield infrastructure to the east of us, we also had winter exploration operations beginning to surround us during the mid-to-late winter seasons when travel over ice and tundra became possible in the deep freeze months.  Oil work was steadily moving west with equipment busily making ice roads and then heavy oil industrial equipment moving to new exploration sites. Ice roads and ice pads sprang up all around us, some as close as only a few miles away. Seismic operations continued around us nearly every winter. Fortunately, all this activity was restricted to the frozen winter season.

Then the oilfield rolled on by us, as a big new develop named Alpine was built 12 miles to the west of us in the heart of the Colville River Delta. Later, more drill pads were added to this new development. All of this means more lights, buildings, runways, and activity within constant sight of our house. Support planes fly back and forth daily winter and summer.  In the beginning, we had to ask for respect that these planes stop using our house as a landmark and flying right over the top of us, especially with the huge transport planes that shook the China dishes in my kitchen cabinets.

Ongoing during the oilfield development, has been multiple environmental studies to establish baselines, plus continue monitoring any environmental impact the oil industry has had to the land and wildlife.  Our family has been an integral part of these studies over the years, from providing strategic baseline information to working with study groups and providing logistics support.

In general, we have had favorable impressions of the oil industry's stewardship of the land here on the North Slope. Yes, they have many federal, state, and local environmental guidelines and stipulations in which to comply, but from our experience, they go above board to safely and responsibly operate in this fragile environment.

One of the more recent changes for Jim and me has been my direct involvement in the oilfield since our children are grown and gone. From the early 2000’s, I have worked for various oil or oil support companies throughout the area. My jobs have included managing logistics, expediting supplies, participating in oil spill response activities, and managing remote exploration camps. I usually work what we call a 2&2 schedule, where employees work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 2 weeks straight, and then are off work for 2 weeks. Meals and housing are provided. Most oil industry jobs are shared between two employees who switch back and forth. Most workers live off the North Slope and transportation is provided to and from work (usually from Anchorage). Since I already live on the Slope, my commute is like other locals who work in the oilfield, usually by plane or helicopter from the home village.

All in all, we have maintained our independent lifestyle despite the many changes, but marvel at how different our extended environment has become and how nearby neighbors have ballooned over the years.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Summer Highlights 2014

I guess I should start with the first highlight, which wasn't a pleasant one.  Anachlik Island, where the Helmericks Homestead is located, was badly flooded during the Colville River Break-up on May 31st.  The height of water was the second worse flood since we have lived here, at 6.79 feet above mean sea level. All our buildings, except the main house, were flooded with up to 2.5 feet of water. The main house (or lodge) is sitting up on 3-4 feet of blocking, thus was flooded under but not inside.

Besides water damage to items inside buildings we couldn't get moved above the water levels, we have had to do a lot of clean-up of  drums, lumber, and other things that were displaced by the waters surging across our land. In some cases, the water carried huge chunks of ice that also crashed into objects with great force. Clean-up has continued off and on all summer.

      River water rising in yard. Boats secured. Broken ice chunks washing in.

    Deep Snow drifts around buildings help to protect some things, but doesn't stop water from flooding inside lower structures.

Firewood-cutting area flooded.  Eighteen inches deep water flooded into garage, seen in back of picture. Again, deep snowdrifts keep some items from floating away, plus give a safe place to park the snow machine.

In winter during high winds the snow is driven into deep, hard drifts wherever obstacles like buildings cause the wind to swirl and drop snow.  These hard-packed snowdrifts take a long time to melt and are still around our buildings during the river break-up event. Normally the snowdrifts are a great hindrance to mobility and outdoor activities, but are appreciated during spring break-up.

A second highlight for me involved a trip away from home to visit my mom, sisters, and other family and friends in Washington State, mostly north of Spokane in Colbert. Both my sisters and husbands and my mother live on adjoining properties they call Littlewood. My best friend since 4th grade also joined us, and we all had a wonderful time.

My sisters have beautiful homes and yards full of trees and flowers.

My sister Merrily took my friend Brenda and me to the top of Mt. Spokane on one gorgeous day.  Here we are at a pull off near the top. My sister Marti took me strawberry picking - below.

I now have lots of frozen berries for the coming months.

On my way home from the Washington trip, I spent a world-wind week with family in Fairbanks and Anchorage area. Leaving Spokane early one morning, I flew to Seattle, Anchorage, and Fairbanks, where I attended a birthday party for granddaughter Melody, then Jay flew his 3 kids and me back south to Palmer (near Anchorage) in our Cessna 206. We stayed 2 nights with Isaac and his 2 kids and spent an evening with Aaron & Autumn at their home nearby. It was a joy to have our 5 grand kids together, and watch them play and interact.
Jay and kids on walk (missing Danian, who was taking a nap.)

Getting fueled-up in Palmer as Jay readies the plane to fly us back to Fairbanks, July 2, 2014.

My mom accompanied me back to Alaska, so we could attend the family gathering at Harding Lake for the 4th of July. It was a beautiful day and we all had such fun.
Teena and brother Eldon riding jet-ski.

Wonderful water sports and family fun!  Mom and I on the dock below.

Jay flew me home on July 6th. Another beautiful flight home to the Colville.  Below is a shot looking down on the Haul Road winding up to Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range. Looking down on it from high above, it is impossible to get a true feel for how steep a climb that is. (I remember creeping up and down that route in my little pick-up truck pulling a heavily loaded double-axle trailer.)

I suppose it's time to  give you a little taste of summer flowers - always a highlight in my world. Besides our many Arctic wild flowers, my indoor house flowers were going strong.

This is getting long, but one more special trip with family was certainly a big highlight. In late August, I flew to Anchorage to meet my sister Marti and her husband Dick and friends Joe & Brenda Stoudt. We had spectacular days in Denali Park, drove through the tunnel to Whittier and spent a day there, and climbed around Anchorage's famous Table Mt.  These were all things I've wanted to do for a long time, but since most of my Alaskan Life has been primarily on the North Slope, they had escaped me for years. During a period of a lot of rainy days, God especially blessed us with gorgeous sunny days for all three of our special adventures. Add that to wonderful company, and we enjoyed ourselves very much. (Even a flight over a glacier was thrown in for extra for Brenda and Joe.)

The a Great One (Mt. Denali) behind Teena, Marti, & Dick.

Beautiful Autumn colors in Denali Park.

Waterfalls everywhere on the beautiful hills of Whittier.

I stopped in Fairbanks again on my way back home, and had a very enjoyable couple of days with Jay's family. 

Jim picked me up for our flight across the river to home.

                Home Sweet Home

Friday, September 27, 2013

C-46 Cargo Plane Saga of 1974

In the early days of life on the Colville River, our family chartered large cargo planes to bring the year’s supplies into the homesite and also backhaul our commercial fish to market in Barrow and Fairbanks.  In the fall of 1974, Jim’s parents Bud and Martha were living in Fairbanks during the winter months so the younger sons Mark and Jeff could attend public school.  The folks did all the arranging of the supplies and cargo flights from their end in Fairbanks and Jim was in charge on the receiving end of the flights here on the Colville.  One flight turned out to involve the most amazing set of circumstances we ever experienced in all the years of flying.  I will insert direct quotes from my journal at times, but use brackets for the added information needed to help clarify comments.
    To begin with, we had a number of extra people living here with us and helping that fall with our commercial fishing operation and all the various activities of daily life.  My brother Mark Wartes and his wife Denise (& baby son Marwan) lived here on the Colville with us at the time, plus my close friend Brenda Smith was here and a young man, Roy Nieman.  We ran numerous nets and caught thousands of pounds of whitefish during the fishing season, so much of this product needed transported to market.  These fresh-frozen fish were sacked or boxed up as whole, individually frozen fish.  They were stacked and made ready for transport to market when our annual supply plane came from Fairbanks.  We also had to ready empty fuel drums and propane bottles to return to Fairbanks.  Some years there were other “backhaul” items, like trophy hides and horns taken by our hunting clients from earlier in the fall.
    Another job in preparation for a cargo flight was building a runway out on the river ice, since our dirt runway was too small for a large plane like a C-46.  Jim would have to chose the best location on the river right out front of our property and spend many hours clearing snow off the ice to create a smooth surface about 5000 feet long for the big-wheeled ship.  This was done with the John Deere 350 tractor. Once the runway was done, then drums were lined up along each side from one end to the other about 100 yards apart, thus giving the pilots a clear view of the runway’s position and length. We used flare pots on top the drums for light in dark hours.  These had to be lit by hand and were shaped like large, hollow cannon balls about 6" in diameter with a wick sticking out of the top.  We filled them with diesel fuel.  We also used 42 oz. cans with rolled up pieces of burlap as wicks.  Someone would have to drive up and down either side of the runway to light or extinguish these flares before and after a plane landed and took off. Once the runway was made, it had to be maintained until the flights were over, which could be several weeks long, so if the wind blew, the runway needed re-plowed to remove any snowdrifts.
    We had no radios to communicate with a plane, nor phones or radios at this time to communicate with people on the Fairbanks end of the scheduled “Supply Run”.  Jim would have to drive the approximately 15 miles to Oliktok, the closest place that had a phone available to us at the US military Dewline Site called POW II.  This trip took at least an hour each way over rough ice or frozen tundra with a snowmachine. From there Jim could call his parents in Fairbanks to get and give the latest news. We also could get messages from Jim’s folks over a regular broadcast radio station that aired personal messages twice a day, morning and evening. However, this was not foolproof, due to occasional bad radio reception. But it was the best we had in those days.

    Excerpts from my journal:
        11-12-74   “...We got a message from Dad tonight saying the C-46 flight is planned for the 19th.” [Message came over message hour on KIAK radio station from Fairbanks.]
        11-18-74    “...We were up early and doing all the pre-flight preparations for the C-46 flight due in tomorrow.  Fish bags and boxes, drums, propane bottles, and trophies were all loaded on the two tractor sleds [30' & 20'] and then pulled down to the river by tractor and positioned beside the ice runway. It was after 8 P.M. when Jim and Mark were finally done, having worked straight through all day with only a short break to eat. [Mark and Jim were the only guys here now, since Roy had returned to Fairbanks earlier.] I did daily chores of feeding the dogs, checking fox traps across the river, and the usual house and baby duties. Plus, I sawed enough firewood to last for two days, since tomorrow is expected to be extremely busy.”
        11-19-74   “We got up at 6 A.M. and Jim went out and put heat on the tractor. The radio message last night said the C-46 would arrive at 10:00. We all got ready [which meant tractor running, dressed in outdoor gear, snowmachines ready to drive out on the river, and out-going mail ready] but soon fog and low overcast skies made the flight questionable in our estimation. However, we waited in a state of readiness until 11:00 before concluding the plane wasn’t coming.” [At some point over the next few days we got another radio message indicating the next C-46 attempt would be on the 23rd.]
        11-23-74   “Jim got up at 4 A.M. and put heat on the tractor...the plane was due in at 9:00. We all went out to the runway to meet it, but after waiting about ½ hour, we all came back to the warm house.”
        11-25-74   “Jim got up at 4 A.M. again and put heat on the tractor, but at 6:45, we heard a radio message that the flight had cancelled. Later in the day, Mark and Jim drove to the Dewline to call Dad to order snowmachine parts for Mark’s Johnson, in the hope they could come up on the next flight. Plus, both guys asked Dad to order new snowmachines for them from the Shontz store in Barrow to be picked up and returned to us on the C-46 back-haul, after delivering fish to Barrow.” [The normal routine was that the C-46 brought supplies from Fairbanks to us here on the Colville, we reloaded the plane with fish that was then flown to Barrow, drums of fuel that had been delivered by supply ship earlier in the year and other supplies from Barrow were then loaded on the plane and flown back to us on the Colville. Next the plane was loaded again with fish and rest of the backhaul to go back to Fairbanks.]
        11-26-74   “Again Jim got up at 4:00 to put heat on the tractor, but at 5:00 he woke me to tell me he was very ill with dizziness and nausea.  We think he had gotten carbon monoxide poisoning from driving the Nordic snowmachine yesterday with the broken muffler.  I got up to help watch the tractor.  Jim started it at 7:00 in-between lying down to rest.  The plane was due in at 11:30 and Jim felt well enough to drive the tractor down to the ice runway by then.  Mark, Denise, and I drove down to the runway by snowmachine shortly before the arrival time. [Both Denise and I carried our babies on our backs under our parkas: Marwan at 7 months old, and Derek almost 2 years old.] We all waited beside the runway for about ½ hour before returning to the warmth of the house.  By 12:30, we had given up hope again for the day and went about our usual daily activities.” [That night our radio message on KIAK told us the flight was rescheduled for Saturday, the 30th.]
        11-30-74   “Up again at 4:00 am to begin another “C-46 Day”.  Again we went through the usual routine and again waited to no avail.”
        12-03-74   “Another scheduled C-46 flight today and we proceeded as usual with Jim up at 4 A.M. and subsequent preparations for a 10:30 arrival.  But again, NO PLANE!  Today was the 6th failed attempt. The evening radio message from Dad told us that the plane had actually started to leave Fairbanks today, but lost oil pressure in one engine and aborted take-off.
        12-04-74   “We had another C-46 preparations morning. Again no plane. After lunch, Jim got ready to go check his trapline.  I was outside feeding the sled-dogs when Brenda ran up to me and said a big airplane was circling us. [Not sure why I hadn’t heard it.  Maybe the barking dogs.] It was the C-46 and it came in and landed. It was about 1:00 P.M. Jim had just put the tractor away, so he ran and got it started again and quickly drove down to the ice runway.  Mark and I dashed for a snowmachine and drove to the runway also.  Dad and Jeff (Jim’s youngest brother) were aboard besides the pilots. Dad gave us the story of woes from his end of the stupidity and incompetence of Fairbanks Air Service’s operation.  After taking 4 hours yesterday to get the plane loaded [and this was with heavy equipment to help], the oil lines on the plane froze up, thus the loss of oil pressure when the plane was ready to take off. Then this morning they were ready to take off when the pilot discovered the gas tanks were low.  The company personnel had drained gas from the plane’s wing tanks to fill the Herman Nelson heaters that were keeping the plane warm while sitting there on the ground.  So, a fuel truck had to be called to come refill the wing tanks, taking several hours.  The circumstances for all the previous cancellations and delays were all just as ridiculous. We were able to unload the entire load in 40 minutes, all by hand.”  [The only mechanized equipment used were the tractor and one snowmachine to pull sleds up below the big cargo door.  Supplies were handed down to us to stack on the sleds.  The outboard plane engine was kept idling for heat on the -30° F. day.]
C-46 arriving at Colville_1973
       C-46 arriving on Colville River Ice Runway 
Loading C-46_1973
 Unloading Supplies

Unloaded hay for goats_1973
Unloading Hay for Dairy Goats

12-04-74 continued  “All our non-freeze groceries were frozen, so Dad asked us to make a list of it all so it could be replaced or we be reimbursed by Fairbanks Air Service for the loss due to their incompetence (letting it freeze aboard the plane during the delays). It was cases of fresh eggs, fresh produce, can milk, pop, and other things.”

Loading Fish Sacks From Off Tractor SledLoading C-46 w-tractor & sled_1973Loading C-46 w-fish bags_1973

12-04-74 continued    “By 3:00, the plane was reloaded with several hundred bags of fish for Barrow and it took off, with Dad aboard.  Jeff stayed with us on the Colville, and helped Mark and Jim load the big tractor sled with another load of fish that is for Fairbanks.  At 6:00 the flares were lit in preparation for the returning C-46 from Barrow.  We waited and waited! Jeff kept the flares filled with fuel...we finally gave up and picked up the flares at 10:00 P.M. ...we fell in bed exhausted about 11:30, wondering what had happened to the C-46 this time.”
        11-4-74   “The morning’s radio message said that, ‘the C-46 lost an air cooler and is down at Lonely [another Dewline site between Colville and Barrow] - everyone is okay.’  The message gave us no indication whether this happened going or returning from Barrow. [It turned out to be on the return from Barrow.] At 11:00, Jim left for the Dewline at Oliktok to call Dad at the Lonely Dewline site to find out what was happening...When he got back, he told us that another C-46 bringing parts for “our” C-46 was due to land at Lonely at 4 P.M. and if all went well, they hoped to be back to the Colville by 9:00. [At this point, to add to the problems of the delayed flight, Jim had problems with equipment.  He couldn’t get the tractor started due to battery problems, so had to start our small portable Onan generator in order to use the battery charger.  To his exasperation, that little generator wouldn’t start and Jim had to take it apart to trouble-shoot the problem.  He discovered a rusty magnet, sanded it clean and reassembled the generator. Now running, Jim was able to put the charger on the tractor battery plus also rigged up a bright electric flood light on top the house for added visibility of our place for the approaching plane.] Jim finally had the tractor out on the river waiting for the flight to come in and all the flares were lit again shortly before the flight was due.  We waited, and waited! Jim drove the tractor back about 12:30, but kept it running.  Jeff picked up the flare pots about 1 A.M.  Jim and I finally lay down on top our bed with our clothes on in case the plane suddenly showed up.”
        12-6-74   “No message heard this morning. Jim had kept the tractor idling all night, but soon put it away.  In the evening, a message from Mom in Fairbanks said that the the C-46 was returning direct to Fairbanks and we were to listen for a further message concerning how Jeff and Brenda were to get to Fairbanks.”  [Jeff was missing school and Brenda was scheduled to return to her home in Washington state.]
        12-7-74   “We heard no message about any flight, so went about our day. The guys went trapping and gathering firewood until mid-afternoon. Around 5:00, we heard a C-46 fly over us and circle the buildings.  The guys rushed out and lit the flares.  [In December, the sun is no longer rising above the horizon at all.]  However, the plane did not land, but flew on to the POW II Dewline and landed on the big runway there. [We could see this by watching the plane lights.] Jim debated as to if this meant we were to take Jeff and Brenda over there, but we decided to wait a bit to see what might develop. About an hour and a half later at 6:45, the C-46 took off from the Dewline and returned to the Colville complex, circled twice, buzzed low over the runway and came around again and landed.  With the guys all out at the runway, Denise, Brenda and I sat at the house wondering what in the world was happening. I was getting ready to walk out to the runway when Jeff drove up on a snowmachine to get Brenda for leaving on the plane.  We all went along to hear the story of what had been happening.  Two days ago the crippled C-46 from Lonely had unloaded our 30 drums of fuel from Barrow while at Lonely, but had kept our two new snowmachines and mail aboard and attempted to fly to Deadhorse.  However, more mechanical problems forced them to land at the Oliktok Dewline, POW II, where the snowmachines and mail were off-loaded. [Remember, this is the Dewline about 15 miles from our place.] The plane then made it back to Fairbanks in the wee hours of this morning. Dad got another plane in the afternoon to fly north again...this is the one that circled and then went on to POW II at Oliktok.  It landed there to pick up the snowmachines and mail and bring them back to us. The guys had off-loaded the snowmachines using large planks for a ramp out of the cargo door. Now the plane needed loaded with all the fish for Fairbanks stacked on the big tractor sled up by the house.  It would take too long to try and heat the tractor, so we all worked hard to move all the fish bags by snowmachine and small sled.  A platform was created half way up to the cargo door of the plane by laying a sheet of plywood across the top of 4 fuel drums.  Fish bags were handed up from snowmachine sled to a person on the plywood platform and that person threw the bag on up to someone standing inside the plane.  These are 70-90 pound bags, mind you.  All of us girls helped right along side the guys.  The plane was loaded, Brenda and Jeff aboard, and on it’s way back to Fairbanks by 8:00.  What a job! 
        “The biggest irony of the whole ordeal was over the tractor.  Jim had worked so hard heating and having the tractor ready for days on end...then when the plane finally did show unexpectedly to be loaded, we didn’t have the tractor ready.” [The tractor pulled the loaded sleds of fish right up to the cargo door and the sacks could be loaded directly from the sled, which acted like a loading platform in itself.  The heavy sacks had to handled twice as much without the tractor.]
        [ To conclude this saga, there were later attempts to retrieve the 30 drums of our fuel left at Lonely, but the several attempts I mention in my journal failed due to bad weather.  I never found further reference to them, so do not know if we ever got that fuel. Another note is that we experienced many flight delays during the years we chartered large cargo planes to deliver our supplies, but never to the degree of this particular episode.]