Hauling Salmon and Kids

by | Jun 9, 1998 | Helping

I was sitting in my jeep on the crest of the second hill on the center fence line Saturday evening watching 38 deer eat corn I had put out a half hour earlier. The scene from that vantage point is really something. The sun is over my right shoulder and highlights the lower hill and I can see camp and my runway almost two miles away. Sipping my coke my mind began to wander about some of the deer that have been taken on the lease over the years. The sun shining low on Scheuenemann Flats made me recall the big buck that Curtis had taken there back in ‘84. It’s a monster and if you go to the IBC bank in Laredo, take a look; it’s the largest one in there.

A plane droned by at about 4000 feet on its descent into Laredo and made my mind wander back to ‘78 and ‘79 when I was a partner in a Fairbanks salmon processing plant. That was an interesting time. We had a Bellanca Scout, a T-206, and a T-207. We had stripped all the seats out of them, installed belly tanks, oversize tires, Robertson S.T.O.L. kits and the large tail mods on the two Cessnas. We would fly out to different rivers, land on the sand bars and buy subsistence fish from the Indians and fly them back to Fairbanks to process and ship them to Japan and the lower 48. With so much daylight there during the summer we would find ourselves flying 24 or more hours without sleep until it would catch up with us and we would just flop for 12 or 15 hours at a time.

Anyway it was my day to work the Yukon and I took off towards Kotzebue to get loads from the fish wheels between there, Galena and Bettles. We were based at the little airport at Cheena Marina. It was a gravel strip on the west side of town and away from all the b.s. at international. I gave the 207 a preflight and hit the switch, the big Lycoming whined, coughed and roared to life. Checked all my gauges and taxied down to the end, checked my mags and had a 25 rpm differential which is exceptional. I rolled the trim indicator above take off position and cranked in 20 degrees of flaps because I had to get the nose way off the ground before applying take off power because the big Lycoming would suck up rocks thirty feet in front of it with the nose low and lots of power applied. I started my roll easy and the nose came up about thirty knots, with only 500 lbs. Of fuel it came off at 48 kts. And only 20 in. Manifold pressure.

Soon as I had about 15 ft. Under me I went ahead and rolled the trim down to take off position and applied 32 in. Of manifold pressure. The big Lycoming growled with power and we went up like a homesick angel. Wow! 3000 ft rate of climb for a prop is pretty hot and a real thrill. I squawked at international and they gave me winds aloft so I leveled off at 4500 pulled the prop back to 2400 rpm and manifold back to 28 inches, set altitude hold. In a minute I was looking at a steady 155 kts. It wasn’t long and I saw the river coming up so I started down to cruise the shoreline, you had to watch out for other planes along the river doing the same thing.

We had deals cut with several of the Indians so we always had fish to haul. I dropped down to the edge of the river near my first stop, put the prop in full rpm and raked the small house with prop blast where the people lived that operated that fish wheel. The kid came out of the house and headed towards the wheel as I turned into the wind and got set up to land next to it. Pulled it back and put in full flaps and 65 kts. Approach, I touched the gravel with just the lightest bounce and taxied up to the fish pen.

I hadn’t seen the little guy for about four days now and figured he would have a good load of fish, he was about 10 yrs. Old with black hair and eyes like polished obsidian and the most engaging smile you ever saw. I got out of the plane and he wasn’t taking the fish out of the pen when I walked up. He said his mom was still sick and wasn’t making “many sounds now”. I wondered what he was talking about. I knew his mom was expecting but I didn’t know when she was due and the last time I was there he just said she was sick, I didn’t read anything into that. I asked him what was wrong with his mom and he said he didn’t know.

I hurried up to the little house and he took me inside where she was laying and all she could do was moan a little. There was blood on the mattress and she was very pregnant and had been in labor I guessed all those days until she finally gave out. I made her drink some water because her mouth was dry as powder. She kept touching her stomach but couldn’t talk. I panicked and yelled at the boy to grab her foam cushion she was laying on and get to the plane. I don’t even remember carrying her but I threw the fish baskets out of the cargo door along with the supplies they had asked for from town and laid her in back on her cushion.

I cranked up, grabbed flaps, hit the trim and I guess was off in a hundred feet. I climbed to 6500 so I could radio Fairbanks and then set the prop square at 28X28 for max speed. The tower switched me to a standby channel and pretty soon I had a nurse on. I told her what little I knew and she said it sounded like a breach birth. I set the trim for a max descent into Fairbanks International, they said they would have an ambulance there to get the woman to the hospital.

About five miles out, I called the tower and they told me to go into a holding pattern that there were three airliners ahead of me. I shot back that I had an emergency and was coming in and the airliners could get an enema if they got in my way. We hit the runway hot and ground talked me to the waiting ambulance and they rushed off with her. There I was standing there with this little Indian, three airliners mad at me, a 400 lb. Fuel burn and no fish for the plant. I knew the little guy’s father was working another fish wheel west of Galena so I went back to Cheena and fueled up to wait for the morning. I took the little guy into town and bought him a change of clothes, the ones he had on smelled like salmon bait.

We then went to the drugstore and got toothbrushes and smellgood stuff. We then went to the cabin and he got all cleaned up and I threw his clothes in the washer. We then headed over to the Gold Dredge Restaurant and I had iced tea and he had a Shirley Temple. I then ordered us a steak dinner and he cleaned his plate. I couldn’t believe it; he ate as much as I did. We then headed for the hospital to see what we could find out about his mother. They told us they had to take the baby by Caesarian section and they would be fine but would be in the hospital for sometime. I guess she had been in labor for a week before I got her in, probably saved her life too.

The next morning I strapped him in and we took off to go find his father. We started stopping at all the fish wheels east of Kotzebue and the little guy would go in and inquire about where his father was and tell the other Indians what I had done and that he had had his first Shirley Temple, steak dinner, plane ride and showed off his new clothes. Anyway, we got a lead on his dad and took off, on the way I was thinking of all the lost revenue we had lost with all this mercy flying. About a half hour up the river, I spotted the fish wheel they had described and set up to land. When the plane stopped, he jumped out and gave his dad the news, I told his dad I didn’t know what to do, I couldn’t leave him by himself at the other fish wheel so he sent his older brother with him back to his house to run the wheel.

We landed and the pen was full of fish. We went to work and I had a full load in a short time and got in the air, the big Lycoming was groaning with 2000 lbs. Of salmon in her but we made it to the plant before dark. Things went along till the end of the chum run and we got the plant shut down for the year. Then it was time to deliver the last checks to all the operators that we had been buying from. I took the ones for the Yukon and it just coincided with the release of the little guy’s mother and sister so I flew them back out.

We carried cash to cash the checks that we took them because they had no way to cash them 200 or more miles in the middle of nowhere. Everywhere I stopped everyone really welcomed me with all kinds of gifts, pelts of all descriptions –moose and caribou quarters, ptarmigan and smoked fish. Holy smokes, I had never had a welcome like I was getting and didn’t understand until later. It was gratitude for helping the young woman. When I got to the little guy’s house his father and brother came out and we talked awhile and I gave them their checks but they said they didn’t want to cash them; they would be going to town soon and would bring them in then. I waved to them as I lifted off and returned to Fairbanks, still with the thought of the lost revenue, at least$15,000, I mused.

Well, the fall came and I was leaving when we had an opportunity to sell the operation, I negotiated with the new people and they didn’t want to pay that much so I took them to the main winter camp of the Indians and introduced them, to my surprise all the Indians said they would sell only to me or the people that bought the company, no one else. This really made my day and we got our price. Later when we were settling up the loot, my partner handed me a letter from the little guy’s father and brother. In it were the two final checks I gave them. Across the front was written “Thanks a million, void.”

Mark Crider cccoat@swbell.net

Luke 6:31-32 Do to others as you would have them do to you.


Hauling Salmon and Kids