Connie's "Good Day."

Vagabond

Connie "Vagabond"



Today turned out to be a good day for flying. I didn't reach my planned destination. I used up $45 worth of fuel, at $3.25 per. And ended up spending the night right where I started. But it did turn out to be a great day for flying.

Why does the end of my work week and crummy weather thru the Alaska range always seem to coincide? My week working at McGrath Flight Service Station was over. I needed to get home, check mail and mow the yard. The housing in McGrath is, maybe, a couple of minute walk to the FSS. So I started my hourly walks to the FSS for weather updates. All morning the weather was way down. I went and had breakfast again, then started looking around for someone to go to lunch with. By 4pm a brave soul or two had given pilot reports thru Ptarmigan Pass claiming it was flyable. By that time I just wanted to get in the air. First I had to hit the McGrath post office for Dewy's mail.

Dewy....Dewy is the only person who lives in the old FAA site of Farewell Station. The FAA had a flight service station there for years. Mainly to give weather reports on the mouth of Rainy/Ptarmigan pass. (One of the main east-west passes thru the Alaska Range) It was closed down about 10-15 years ago. Some say because the well went dry. Others say because two of the FAA employees were threading to kill each other. What ever the reason, Dewy has been the care taker . (Until you have lived with the same small group of people month in and out, with no roads to anywhere, no phones, no TV, no escaping the folks you work with it is hard to appreciate what it is like).

Back in June I had stopped in at Farewell and told Dewy I would bring out his mail on my trips back to Kenai. The stop is right on my way and you just never know when being on Dewy's good side might come in handy. Besides I knew the weather was OK to Farewell, it was the pass that sounded questionable. From Farewell I could poke my nose into the pass and make up my own mind.


The old FAA site of Farewell Station. This is the whole complex. The blue house is where Dewey lives."


It worked great getting to Farewell. As I got closer to the Alaska range I had to dodge a few rain showers and the clouds were on the dark and ugly side over the range. But conditions were good over Farewell, I landed on the long runway taxied over by the housing just as Dewy was immersing from his house. We talked a little I gave him the mail and he invited me in for some coffee. His house is in a lot better shape then I expected. fairly neat, no pile of dirty dishes always a few fresh flowers in a jam jar and my feet didn't stick to the floor. Which, if I had to describe Dewy is about the way I would describe him. (Right along the lines of a unmade bed, with most of his teeth gone.) About the time I was ready to leave Dewy offered me a small pail of just picked blueberries. He explained how much he likes picking them, loading up a 4 wheeler ATV with bug dope, bear gun and off he goes.

Walking out to the plane we heard then saw Wood's Air DC3's coming in with fuel. I know Warren, the pilot, and hated to pass up a chance to say Hi. Besides watching those old planes land is such a hoot!! Dewy and I walked to where the DC3 stopped. The cargo doors were opened by Warren and a moment later he tossed out a DC3 or maybe a DC6 tire what ever it was, it was big. He had my curiosity going. The rest of his crew began rolling out 55 gallon gas drums, which were rolled right out the door bounced off the tire then Warren rolled them out of the way. A pretty slick system, sure beats wresting with those drums.

I didn't stay too long for fear the DC3 would blow my Tripacer right off the runway when they took off. I said my good-bys and as I was heading to the plane I heard Dewy saying "There goes a really nice lady." Sure made my day.

Heading into the pass was just about like I was afraid it would be. Just a little below my comfort zone. I might have been able to follow the river, but I would have been right on the deck, those mountains valleys can seem so narrow. One trip last year I spooked myself turning around in the pass. I didn't need to do that again, so I headed back to McGrath. Besides there are bison to look for in the Farewell area, (I've only seen them once last year). and moose to check on. By the time I was back in McGrath life was good again.

As I was tying down the Tripacer Bob wandered by and wanted to know if I wanted to catch a ride with him out to Colorado Creek, a gold mine. Why not. He needed to take Mike, a geologist, out there. As normal, being the smallest person on board I was tossed in back.

Colorado Creek is about 35 miles north of McGrath. The creek has been mined since sometime in the 30s. I understand over 50,000 ounces of gold has been brought out of there. (Thatís 4,166.6 pounds of gold! In Troy ounces which is 12 ounces per pound). Colorado Creek seems to be pretty normal for a gold mining strip. The runway is in the bottom of a valley on top of the tailings. All of the building are along the side the runway clinging to the sides of the valley. Most of the building look like they were builded back in the 30s, til taking a closer look at them and noticing maybe a built in sink or the cupboards are a little more updated. It's almost like following a time line thru the building, (or by the old vehicles rusting outside).


Turning final at Colorado Creek"


When landing at these places you forget about a normal pattern. Downwind would be thru a mountain and final has a dog leg to get around the end of the downwind mountain. I can't even see the runway til on a fairly close in base. Colorado Creek is one of the flatter strips, but it's still one way in one way out. Something about it being in a canyon.


At the approach end of Colorado Creek."


Right now with the big mining company drilling test holes to see if it would be worth their while to go into full production there is the special upper camp approach. (So the folks in the upper camp will know this flight is for them or to have someone come down and meet the plane. The upper camp is about a 1 mile up the valley). Come over the ridge drop down low over the camp and follow the canyon out over the runway. Do a 180 in the valley and come in to land. Kindof like a secret hand shake. By the time we were on the ground the other Mike was coming into sight on his 4 wheel ATV, with a duffel strapped on. He need to get into McGrath to catch the next mornings flight into Anchorage. As Bob was shuffling the one Mike out of the plane with his gear and getting the other Mike and his gear into the plane Migan showed up with a ATV and trailer full of core samples...so OK, I'll have to ride back to McGrath in the back of the plane cuddled up with bags and bags of rocks.

While waiting for the transfer of "stuff" to happen I wander over and said Hi to Ron and his family. They live in the real camp along the sides of the runway, and have been coming out here every summer to mine for the last 18 years or so. Ron's dad came out here back in the 30's when they were using Stager Wing Beechís and Pilgrims to get in and out of McGrath. The whole family was along side the runway doing of all the bizarre things...hitting golf balls down it. Not a blade of grass to be seen. To tee off they had a small square of green carpet. Sometimes you just have to make do.

The whole sight just seem out of place to me. Here, in the middle of no-where Alaska in a place with no running water outside of the creek, the only electric is when they turn on the generator. Everything from toothpaste to heavy equipment fuel is flown in. They don't even have a phone. (Cell phones don't work in this part of the world). To get a message out to Ron and his family it goes out over the PBS radio station in McGrath. Every hour they announce all the messages. Yet the whole family is out doing something as normal or as Lower 48 as playing golf.

On the ride back home crammed in between all the rocks I couldn't help but think what a good day it had turned out to be. Maybe the weather was bum in the pass but in the long run I think I ended up with the better adventure.

Connie

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Last Modified on April 12,1998
All images and text copyright 1998, Barbara @ Babes & Airplanes