Gary Zimmerman - Tape #ORAL HISTORY 2010-05-03-tp2
Gary Zimmerman was interviewed on April 10, 2010 by Don Callaway, Rachel Mason, Karen Brewster, and Shannon Kovac at the Van Gilder Hotel in Seward, Alaska. Return to part one of this interview.
Click to section:
Preserving the ice field
Friends he rides snowmachines with
First snowmachines in Seward
Snowmachining on Exit Glacier Road
Effects on hunting from the establishment of Kenai Fjords National Park
His father's guiding business and loss of hunting cabin
Filming of a commerical at Aialik Bay
Snowmaching in the Exit Glacier area before there was a road
Educational and work history
Fishing boat accident
Vision saving his life when drowning
Other family members in the Seward area
Working as oil driller and workplace accident
Overflow on the routes
Changes in Exit Glacier
Snowmachining on Exit Glacier
Wanting to keep the Park area open to everyone and equality in use and permit fees
GARY ZIMMERMAN: I want to see it -- I want to see that ice field, and I'm -- I'm a very strict snowmobiler. I mean, I -- there's nobody -- you won't find anybody in the state of Alaska that loves snowmobiling more than I do. I mean, I want to meet that fellow and let's go riding. But I want that ice field reserved -- preserved and reserved just like it is today, just like when I left it. Now, you go up there today, I guarantee it, you won't see one track up there, because it snows. I mean, every time we go back there we can't believe it because we were just here and we thought we had it tracked up. And it doesn't.
And I -- you know, I mean, if we have a belt problem, we don't leave any spare belts. Yeah, because if you blow a belt, you know, it kind of turns into a pile of nothing. Well, like in my sled, I have two garbage bags, so -- and I haven't blown a belt up there yet, but when I do -- and it will happen -- we'll -- we take out our product. Now, I know this hasn't happened on the ice field, but we was up Snow River here, you know, last year, year before, and I was with a friend, and it's the first time I've actually seen this on the snow, where he had one of his radiator hoses -- because we have antifreeze -- actually had a hole in it, and when we stopped, he leaks out a bunch of antifreeze. Well, we was able to repair the hose. And when he pulls ahead, I break out my shovel and my garbage bag, and I -- and, hey, you know, alls you had to do was just kick some frigging snow over it and who's going to know. But the thing is, I know. You know. So I take my antifreeze. And I think -- I wished everybody had the same attitude as I do about snowmobiling. Let's take care of our environment so, you know, they -- you know, because, I mean, alls you have to do is take the Park Service up there or something, have them fly over there, and there's a great big green blotch on the ice field, well, there's your first legit excuse, we need to cut them boys off. Well, if them boys are taking care of the area, then there's no reason to cut them off. And I know the whole group I ride with has the same mentality. As a matter of fact, that's probably the same with the Kenai bunch because there's a dozen guys in Kenai that come over here once in awhile. As a matter of fact, they were up at Nellie Juan yesterday riding with us, and they had the same mentality. We take out everything. You know. DON CALLAWAY: Could you itemize your group here within Seward, the guys you ride with.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: You mean how many there is? DON CALLAWAY: Yeah, or just their names. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, the main -- the main guys I ride with is my cousin Phil Zimmerman; Jimmer Dick. When I was an Arctic Cat dealer, he was -- he raced for me for years, or with me and for me. And you got Warren Albertson, he rides with me all the time. He's a real nice fellow. And then you've got my other cousin, Perry Zimmerman, he moved to Anchorage, and his boy Jake. And Jake's friend Brad comes with us quite a bit. Then you've got Dave, Dave's a UPS guy. He's a steady goer. He's -- he's got quite a few snowmobiles, got quite a few kids. He's got about a dozen snowmachines out there.
DON CALLAWAY: Really, wow. GARY ZIMMERMAN: And then we've got Mark Clemons at the Fish House. He doesn't get to go very much anymore because he's the coach of one of the basketball teams in town so he's always busy. And then you've got Ed Merritt. Ed's a commercial fisherman. He -- I've been riding with him and Jimmer probably the most this year. RACHEL MASON: Is Jimmer related to Packy Dick?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. Yeah. That's Jimmer Dick. That Louis' son.
RACHEL MASON: Oh. GARY ZIMMERMAN: And then you've got all the guys at No Sweat Auto. You've got Jessie Sweat, Tom Shay. Oh, jeez. There's Jason. I can't remember what Jason's last name is, and I should, his uncle worked for me for years. Then you've got all the guys at Terry's Tire & Lube. And then there's a bunch of -- and I only know one of them, but his group went with us a couple times. Travis. I don't know what his last name is but I've known him for years, and he's working on the AVTEC building over here. And as a matter of fact, I just seen him before I come up there, he said he's heading for Lost Lake this afternoon. And you've got Jason Lang, Benton Groom, they're State of Alaska boys at -- at the Highway Department, they're -- most of them are riders. Couple of them have backed off. Gary Ackerson, I think he's 70, close to 70. He still rides. We've got a guy out of Girdwood, and I'll have to think of his name. But he's 75, and he rides an old Polaris and he drags a scoop shovel, like you know you shovel -- you're shoveling corn, one of those big ones they've got for snow. Yeah, you see him going across, he's always a couple miles behind. But he's 75, you know, we give him all the grace he needs. But you can always spot him because from dragging that shovel, it looks like there's a -- you know, the snow's always flying about 10, 15 feet in the air. So, I mean, there he goes. Oh, God, I can see his name, but I'm -- I'm missing it. RACHEL MASON: That's a long way to drive from Girdwood. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. He comes down here quite a bit. And, of course, then you've got Jim Cooper and you've got the Coast Guard fellows off the Mustang, there's a bunch of them. I think there's -- I seen as many as, I think, four -- 14 of them.
As a matter of fact, I just came off Exit Glacier one day from up there, and I had my niece with me. Both my nieces ride and their boyfriends. But there's these Coast Guard guys come pulling in there, and so I'm shooting the breeze with them, you know, I've seen them. So anyway, they were -- they were heading up there.
So yeah, there -- there's quite a few snowmobilers in town. I mean that's probably the main circle that I run with, but just my exact main circle is probably my cousin Phil and Jimmer and Warren. You know. Like yesterday, we had all five, six of us up there. Well, Dave's actually the new guy now, but the five of the six of us, well, we've been riding together since 1969. That's how long I've been riding with those guys. KAREN BREWSTER: So that operation your dad and Joe Stanton were doing in '69, was that kind of the first use of snow machines around Seward? GARY ZIMMERMAN: They'd been around -- yeah. That was pretty close. But they'd been around. You know, snow machines have been around since probably the '60s, but then I think they probably started getting popular here, I'd say about '65, '66. Yeah. Yeah. We had a guy named Mark Moore was the Scorpion dealer, and this guy named -- oh, man, Bill Richart (phonetic) out at Mile 5 was a Ski Doo dealer. And then my dad was actually a Yamaha dealer in about '72 or '3 for a little bit. And we were working -- actually, I think he was working with that Jim Arness. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Now, do people snow machine up the Exit Glacier Road, you know, past where it's closed? Do people just go out on the road? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. That's a real good place to take your new drivers. And that's a -- that's such a great family area. It's just amazing. You go up there on probably any weekend, and you'll see men, women, and children, you know, with their snowmobiles towing an inner tube or a car hood. And you know, that's a lot of fun riding a car hood. I don't think you'd be brave enough to get behind my rig, but... RACHEL MASON: I don't think so.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: I really wouldn't recommend it either, but you know, you see them up there. And that's -- that's some of the little positive things. You know, if -- if it was up to me, which it ain't, I would close the -- I would shut down the park thing, just because -- and the reason that is, is because I'm a little bit scared that one of these days they are going to tell us we can't go. And that ain't right. So as long as they keep it like it is, we'll get along.
But I remember when I was a kid, you know, and I got pictures of that, too, of me and Rosco Livingston, I was in the sixth grade and we are up there playing and, well, we couldn't get on the glacier. Tried to get on the glacier with this little 10 horse Ski Doo.
So for the kids and families, Exit Glacier and going up to the bottom of Exit Glacier, playing around in that little valley and the next valley over and on the riverbed is a -- is -- is one of the greatest spots around. That and Summit Lake Lodge out at Mile 40 is another great spot. Carter Lake is a great spot to take your families because it's a real short trail, and the ice fishing is fabulous. And the hills, there's a lot of beginners hills, the kids just play and go nuts. But Exit Glacier is -- it's used by everybody. Like the other day, this is probably a week ago, I come down that road, there was people snowshoeing, cross country skiing, hiking, and a dog team, and us, all using the same place. And if you have good etiquette with your snowmobile, when you come across -- when you -- let's say you're going down the road doing 50 or whatever, and when you see somebody, you slow down, you know, to 5, 10 miles an hour, ease around them, 20 miles an hour, give them their space, wave at them. If you don't know them, you know, if they look happy, you stop, you take your helmet off. Because, see, it's like if a SWAT team comes at you, all these people, I mean, you're scared to death. Well, it's just like a snowmobiler. If you're not used to being around the snowmobile, and the guy is coming down the road 50 miles an hour and blows by you, well, that's not a good deal and that's a bad experience. But even when I was a dealer, and what -- what we've tried teaching even our young people that ride here, you know, the 20 ish group, that when you come across these people that are hiking and -- and driving, you know, stop. And even if you don't like them, it doesn't matter if you like them or not. Stop, and take your helmet off so that they can see that you're a human being, and ask them, how are you doing? Hey, do you need a hand? Are you in a bind? I mean, you know, do you have a broken arm? Like I went up to Lost Lake here six weeks ago. It snowed a bunch, and I went up the night before the trail opened. The closed sign was -- wasn't on the board, or I didn't see it. So I go -- well, it snowed a bunch, there was a foot of fresh snow there, I know there's 3, 4 feet, it's a moonlit night, so I go fireballing up through there by myself just to go to the cabin. That's usually as far as I go. Well, I got halfway up the trail, there was this lady, a skinny little thing just sitting there by the trail. Oh man. And when I seen her, I go, man, she looks like she's in a bind. So I pull up there, stop, take my helmet off. How ya doin', ma'am? Well, she wasn't very happy.
Do you know this trail's closed? Well, I guess it ain't for me tonight, but yeah, I'm just checking on you to see if you're all right. And I didn't see that, when I went back down, there was not a sign on there; and, of course, the Forest Service, we talked to them the next day and they informed us that we need to use a phone-in method. But still, the point was that she looked like she was in a bind. And -- and so when I came back down the hill, she was still walking out, and so I stopped and she seemed a lot happier the second time I seen her. You know.
But, you know, some -- some groups start thinking that they own the trail versus it's a multiuse trail. And it's just like that Lost Lake Trail. That was mainly put in, in about -- from '67 to '70. And Joe Stanton flew that -- that trail with his airplane, and let toilet paper out, you know, where they thought they should cut the trail, and Warren Albertson and Jimmer's dad, Packy Louis, was the first two guys to start building that trail to Lost Lake the way it goes now. KAREN BREWSTER: The winter -- the Winter Trail?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: The Winter Trail. Yeah. RACHEL MASON: Going back to what you said about the -- the moose line, can you tell us a little bit more about what the effects of -- you mentioned when Jimmy Carter came in -- GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, you know, I'm not a Jimmy Carter fan. So I don't know how deep you want to go there.
RACHEL MASON: Yeah. That's okay. But just --
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, you know. RACHEL MASON: -- just what the impact was. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, you know, it made our job a lot more difficult. And we actually -- that was probably one of the reasons why we quit hunting up in there. Because every time we went sheep hunting up there up on the Harding Ice Field, we listened -- we had -- we sold a 10 day hunt, which was two weeks. And we always told the client you have to plan to be weathered in for two weeks, so this is going to be a four week deal. So if you only got two weeks off and that's all you can spend here, this is not the place to come. But if you want a nice ram, a fairly easy hunt compared to what sheep hunting goes, this is the place you want to be. And so with that moose range line cutting across the front of that glacier, it's either 2 or 3 miles, well, you had to use sleds to get across the glacier, well, see -- RACHEL MASON: You can mark on there where it is.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, it's way down here.
RACHEL MASON: Oh -- oh, it's off.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: It's way down in this area.
RACHEL MASON: Oh, okay. GARY ZIMMERMAN: But if you -- if you -- when you get that window of opportunity, you cannot break camp fast enough, pack up your gear, everything, and get back because when you go out -- going in is a lot easier. When you come out, you have to come out of this big wind blown snow cave type thing and then go up the glacier, and this was difficult. I mean, it was -- it was -- it was not -- getting out of there was -- it was very extreme. KAREN BREWSTER: Especially if you had sled loads full of meat. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Right. Yeah, we had sheep, we had carcasses, you know, yeah. But then when you're up there for six weeks, six guys can devour a whole sheep pretty quickly. And as a matter of fact, the last time that we were weathered in, the first thing we did when that plane land was drain 5 gallons of gas out of his wing for -- for cooking. Because we were down to our last quart of av gas -- I mean, of Blazo fuel on the -- on the day we got picked up. But before we even started loading stuff up, man, we just had these 5 gallon Blazo cans, first thing we did is we filled up because there's no trees. There's no way to make a fire. You know, if you ain't got heat inside that tent to cook, you know, now we start talking about walking out or at least walking down to the tree line and, you know, now we're getting into some kind of a Daniel Boone type expedition, you know. And I think because the severity of it, you know. I mean, it was my recommendation -- people can go where they want. I -- I personally, myself, feel that I could go up there and do a sheep hunt just because the experience I had with my father and I know what to expect and -- and I know being weathered in for a month doesn't -- doesn't freak me out, doesn't bother me. I mean, it bothers you, but it's -- it's not that big of a deal. As long as you're prepared for it. RACHEL MASON: But just so I understand, is it because the area of hunting was restricted? GARY ZIMMERMAN: No. They just drew the line. I don't think anybody even to this day knows there's sheep in there except for me and a few others. When they built -- when they put that moose range line in, they just went down there and drew a line, you know. And they didn't -- KAREN BREWSTER: And now there's no hunting on that line? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, you can hunt, but not with motorized vehicles. DON CALLAWAY: But motorized vehicles are not permitted. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. And see, when we were hunting from the cabin, when the weather -- when the weather was -- you know, we'd go back and forth to the cabin. So you had a good shelter, you had a good means of transportation, you could drive your snowmobile in there, it was only a little 12 horse Ski Doo. And so if you see the weather start to blow in, you cranked it up, you went back to the cabin. Well, once they -- once they put the moose range line in, okay, now you don't have the advantage of having -- to be able to drive in there. So by, you know -- RACHEL MASON: You'd have to haul it out. GARY ZIMMERMAN: You'd haul it all in and you haul it all out. And then the weather. I mean, when it blows up there, you know, I mean, it's -- it's really -- it's whipping. They've got that weather station in up there, we go up -- as a matter of fact, that weather station is right here -- let's see, where am I? At Bear Glacier. Yeah, there's a weather station about right -- might be right here. DON CALLAWAY: Let's put a mark right there -- GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, right -- well, make sure I'm not -- oh, no, it's right here. DON CALLAWAY: I thought this was Bear Glacier. GARY ZIMMERMAN: This is Bear Glacier. And there's a weather station down low, maybe it might be right here. Yeah, I bet it is right here. This would be a weather station. We go there all the time, too, because they built it on -- it must always blow because there's always rocks there. So we go there and have a sandwich there all the time, too. But -- DON CALLAWAY: So this is, what, early '80s when you stopped guiding out there? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, I would say probably '78 or '80 was the last time we went in there. Yeah, we -- we switched to more of a -- well, caribou hunting and grizzly hunting, brown bear hunting. We didn't ever -- that's our -- and then we did a lot of -- a lot of goat hunting, too, especially -- well, we used to do a lot of goat hunting out at Aialik Bay. As a matter of fact, down on Aialik Bay, we had a -- where that -- well, I don't know if it's Park Service or Forest Service. What is it, Park's have a cabin out there? RACHEL MASON: I think it is Park Service. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. Well, before that Park Service cabin was there, in that same spot, that's where my dad's hunting cabin was. And the Park Service comes in there when they thought they owned everything, which is sore feelings on the Zimmerman family, burns our cabin down to the ground, didn't pay us for it, and built that cabin in the same exact spot. Now, I don't know what -- what -- I mean, why don't you just, like -- why don't you just take it and use that cabin? I mean, what was the point of actually burning it down? And that always was a pretty sore spot with my dad because we did a lot of -- that's a real good area for hunting. Well, back then it was a real good area for goats and black bear. You know, we did a lot of hunting in Aialik Bay. And it's a beautiful place, too. That was a great place to take clients because you had Aialik Glacier, you had Holgate Glacier, and then from that cabin, if you've ever spent the night out there, you could hear that -- those glaciers rumble all night long. It's pretty fantastic. A matter of fact, they made a -- I was in on this, too, about -- might have been '72, they made a Contact commercial out there. It was 1972. Yeah. The cold Contact pills.
RACHEL MASON: Yeah. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, anyway, they are -- these guys are filming and Kimo (phonetic) Knighten, which was Keith Knighten's kid, that was one of the pilots that always flew up here. They are making this commercial, and a great, big iceberg comes and falls off the glacier, makes this mini -- mini tidal wave, washes a bunch of people into the ocean. I'm talking like they are going to die. And Kimo Knighten dives in. Kimo Knighten was the center of our basketball team, he was like 6 foot 7, and he hardly ever wore shoes and he was tough as nails, he was like a Grizzly Adams. I mean, he was a bad ass. And he just dives in the water and saves these people. Yeah. And it's a pretty fantastic story. RACHEL MASON: These are the ones in the commercial? GARY ZIMMERMAN: No. Kimo, I don't even know what Kimo was doing out there. He was like a guy who packed these bags or something, you know. He was like a laborer, I guess. And anyway, they had these people out there and they are making this Contact commercial. The ice falls off, like I told you, makes this tidal wave, and they are standing on this rock and the water comes over, drives them off into the bay, and Kimo Knighten, I don't know, well, we'll just say comes out of nowhere, dives in there and saves these people. RACHEL MASON: Good thing he was there. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. That's a -- that's an Aialik Bay thing. Yeah, he was pretty popular around town for a while. KAREN BREWSTER: So on the people who -- I'm wondering about snow machining up the valley before Exit Glacier Road was there. Did people snow machine up the valley? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Oh, yeah, you went right up the river. KAREN BREWSTER: And the river's safe enough to travel? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Oh, yeah, you'd cross the river because it's way low. It's water skipping. See, you can cross a lot of water with a snowmobile. You can take -- if your snowmobile is sealed up, you can take your snowmobile and run across this bay and back. Of course, you can't stop and you don't want to hit a wake because you -- but once you get moving. But yeah, like I say, I've got lots of pictures of Rosco Livingston and myself, we was up there a long time. He's in Fairbanks, he's a retired teacher. And anyway, I got lots of pictures of us being up there as kids. KAREN BREWSTER: So you would just go up the valley before the road was there, you would just snow machine up there? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Just go right up the riverbed. You know, right -- well, I mean, it's just like right now, if you go out and throw your snow machine out at Medco, let's say. I don't know how much snow is out there, but, well, you can go up to where they got the road closed. And if the road wasn't there, we'd drop there and just water skip across them rivers and just go right up there. KAREN BREWSTER: Were other people doing it or just -- GARY ZIMMERMAN: Oh, no, there were lots of people back then. Yeah. Every -- oh, everybody, well, we were a smaller town. I think, we had 12 , 1500 people here, but snowmobiling is -- has always been a real popular sport around here. Yeah. Yeah. DON CALLAWAY: Could you -- could we go back and talk a little bit about your life history. You moved here when you were in the fourth grade. What year, again? GARY ZIMMERMAN: That would be -- we showed up here early '69.
DON CALLAWAY: '69? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. Then, well, I went to Seward -- I went to school in Seward. And I went to AVTEC. I was in the very first state of Alaska oil tech program. And that's -- they brought a -- they brought a rig up from Oklahoma, and a guy named Hal Corbin was a lead instructor, I would imagine you'd call him. And they put on a oil technology program. That was involved with all the components of a rig. They gave us an EMT course, we had welding courses. It was a great school. Before I went to -- did that, I was working for Ray Anderson down here by the waterfall. That used to be Anderson Seafood. And we were building that warehouse that's there now, that's been up and down a couple times since then. And so anyway, I -- I went into the unemployment office, and Shirley Reynolds -- Dave Reynolds was one of our basketball players -- she was the unemployment lady. And I say, yeah, I want to draw unemployment. And she goes, hey, do you want to go to an oil technology program? And I go, no, no, I don't want to. I was, like, 17 years old, and I was going, no, I don't think so, you know. Or 18, right in there.
And I go -- she goes, yeah, but we'll pay you. Oh, yeah? Well, what do you mean you'll pay me?
She goes, well, we'll give you, like, I think it was $350 bucks a week, and you can draw unemployment, too. I'm going, like, jeez, that's 5 , 600 bucks a week for, like, going to hang out in class. And I go, yeah, okay, I'll do it. So anyway, I go out to AVTEC and I showed up three days late, because that's how the process worked, and I walked in there and I seen this Hal Corbin. Well, I seen -- I knew Hal Corbin because on one of those explorations out of the ice field, my dad had a real serious heart attack. So I actually got out of school at the end of my sophomore year and went to work in the woods over in Anchor Point, logging. I was driving log truck at 15 years old in the woods, and run -- run skidder. And at 16, I was driving on -- I was actually running a three axle tractor trailer on the highway. And -- and I used to be the milkman at Matanuska Maid. I'd go out and get all the dairy products. And then when they were bringing in the pipeline equipment, I hauled a bunch of stuff for Lynden Transports through Harry McDonald. We were Whitewater Enterprises then, but now you guys will recognize the name, he's Carlile. So Harry McDonald is Carlile.
I was actually his third driver he ever hired. He hired me at 15. And I see Harry every now and again and I ask him to this day, I says, hey, how many other 16 year olds have you put out on the highway? He goes, you're my first and you're my last.
So he gave me some big breaks there. And my brother Ed was working for him. And I went -- like I say, I went to the oil tech program and got out of there, and then I was -- went to work for -- went up and did some interviews, and Hal Corbin gave me this card from Chad Chatterman (phonetic) of Rowan Drilling, he was the president of the Alaska division, and so I went up there and went into his office, and I was sitting there. And this little old man was sitting behind the desk, and he goes, well, can I help you out there, young fellow?
And I go, yeah, I'm looking for Mr. Chad Chatterman (phonetic). And he goes, well, that's me.
And I go, well, Hal Corbin said you'd hire me. I went to the oil tech school. And so anyway, they interviewed me, and they told me if my folks would sign a release, I could go to work on Thursday. So I didn't have a driver's license then. I mean, I had one but I didn't have one that moment. And so I took a cab out to Seward Highway and I hitchhiked down to Seward, and my folks signed the release, and got a bunch of gear together, and flew to Prudhoe in October of '77. DON CALLAWAY: You were 18 then?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: 17.
DON CALLAWAY: 17. GARY ZIMMERMAN: My folks had to sign a release. And so anyway, I worked on Rowan 26 and 35 and Rowan 34 and Rowan 41. And I worked for them, oh, a couple of years, maybe. And then I went to work for Arctic Alaska Drilling and we went to Bakersfield, California. And we built our first rig, a great big rig, an ice rig, in Bakersfield, and then transported it back to Alaska. Stayed with them a couple years, then their name changed. Brinkerhoff took them over and I worked for Brinkerhoff Drilling for a couple years. Then they got slow, and then I went to work for Alaska United, and Alaska United had three different names, so it isn't like I worked for three different companies, but we were Vanguard, Alaska United, and I can't -- the other one skips. And then I went back to work for Pool Arctic Alaska in the oil field, and then whenever there wasn't a rig running -- you know, you don't -- the longest I've ever spent on one rig was five years. And anyway, when I wasn't working, then I'd go commercial fishing. My brother in law, Harold Porter, he's passed on, he was a driller for Nabors Well Service on 1 ES, and a commercial fisherman. So I've gillnetted in Cook Inlet, I've fished herring in Wells Bay and -- and Prince William Sound and Togiak and Cook Inlet. And I've gill netted in Cook Inlet for salmon. And I was also, I've salmon seined in the Sound as a skiff man. I've worked Chignik, and I've worked Kodiak. I've crab fished in Kodiak. And we were chicken farmers. Me and my dad built a chicken farm in 1980. We were Alaska Fresh Greatland Eggs. DON CALLAWAY: Here -- here in Seward? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. We had 22,000 layers on at Mile 7. We built it from the ground up. We got an agriculture loan from the State of Alaska, we did that, also. You know, so, I mean, you just got to do what you got to do to make a living. But in Seward, I mean, I've -- I've lived a few other places. When my mother got elderly, we moved her to Kentucky because the weather's nicer and I had a sister there. And I've drilled gas wells in Colorado. I've pushed tools in Colorado. I was a field superintendent in Colorado for a while, but most -- you know, it just kind of overlaps. You know, sometimes you're taking -- like if it looks like it's going to be a big summer, I'd take the summer off, you know, because we're working 2 and 2. The first seven years I worked at Prudhoe Bay we worked 2 and 1, and then they switched to 2 and 2, so a lot of times you could get the summer off, you'd -- or you take a six week stretch off, but, like, you'd take your vacation nonpaid, for -- so you'd end up with six weeks off and so you'd go commercial fishing. And me and my dad had a halibut boat. We used to long line. As a matter of fact, I had a boat called the "Allons," it was built in World War II. And it was a wood tender that would go from ship to ship, and we found it and it was thrashed, but the wood looked pretty solid. So we went and got -- this guy's name was Clay, Mike Clay's dad, I can't think of his name, but he was an old Norwegian wood boat builder. And -- or he'd been around it a lot. I wouldn't say he was a builder. Anyway, so he kind of supervised us and keep us going in the right direction. And before that, we -- we'd built -- we'd commercial fished in two smaller boats. I've been on a boat sinking 25 miles off Aialik Bay. We was in the water for 2 hours on a halibut opener -- well, probably about an hour and a half. And we got -- we got hit by -- the weather was really bad and it was -- it was deck loaded with fish and we had the boat go down. And we all survived that.
As a matter of fact, the driller superintendent for Nabors Drilling, Dan Hebert, he's still our superintendent, he was one of our deckhands at that time. So we've had a -- RACHEL MASON: How did you get rescued, or -- GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, my dad -- well, the boat swamped. And I just thought it was -- I had the engine going and the pumps going, so we was looking good, and then we got hit by another wave, but we was in really rough seas. It wasn't like a rogue wave or something, we were just getting pounded.
And anyway, my dad says, put on your survival suit. And I go, no, I can get it going, I can do it, I can do it.
And I looked up at him and here's dad and my Dan -- Dan Hebert standing there in survival suits. I figured it was time.
So I just got my survival suit on, and he was calling mayday, and I guess they heard it in Valdez. And Valdez got ahold of Kodiak, and we cut the raft off. And when he said jump, and the boat was starting to roll and go down. We jumped off and we're in the water. You know, there was no more water. I mean, there was no more boat. There was lots of water, believe me. And then -- and then it ain't nothing like they try and teach you in one of those classes. I ain't saying the classes are useless but they are pretty useless. You know, I mean, you don't bob around like a cork. Every time you start to feel your body raise up, you better get all the air you can because you're going under. I don't care how big your survival suit is. RACHEL MASON: Oh, wow.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: It sucks.
RACHEL MASON: Yeah. GARY ZIMMERMAN: And anyway, yeah, I remember seeing a C130 flew over us, and then a Coast Guard auxiliary boat picked us up. And that was more horrifying than actually having to jump in the water.
And I was warm the whole time. I was not cold, chilly one bit. I was perfectly fine in the survival suit. But the thing was, is that's the people that might need some lessons, because what they do -- well, I'm not saying they do it. It is -- of course, that was a boat sinking in '87, so I'm sure it's new and improved since then. But those people, they tried to come alongside you and grab you. Well, that's not a good thing. When they start to come alongside you, you think about that poster, I mean, this is what happened to me. I actually thought about that poster in the boat harbor where it shows that guy all chewed up by the prop. And that's the only time that I could actually swim. When I was in my survival suit, you know, and I was a lot younger than I am now, and that -- real quick, it seemed like we were a hundred yards apart. And I'm trying to swim to that raft and I couldn't make it. So I figured, well, okay, I'll lay on my back. Well, then, you know, you get hit by a couple waves, that don't work. So then when you're laying on your back and then you try and get your feet back underneath you, where you're kind of buoyant, and that's the trouble, when you get your feet underneath you -- if you've got more than one person, you want to lay on your back and make like a little -- like a -- like a piece of driftwood, you know, floating around. But when you're by yourself, it's -- it's -- it's pretty intense. RACHEL MASON: It was lucky you guys had got into your survival gear.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, it was very lucky. But that guy that's trying to pick me up, he was trying to come -- come alongside me, and that's the only time I actually did swim, and I was -- I was swimming away from him for, like, my dear life. Because I figure, this son of a gun's going to run me over. You know, so he's -- yeah, I didn't like it. But it was sure nice to be on his boat when we got on. RACHEL MASON: I bet.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: So when did your dad pass away?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: '91. Yeah. DON CALLAWAY: So when you're working in Prudhoe and you had your 2 off, would you come back to Seward? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. 90 percent of the time. Yeah. DON CALLAWAY: They fly you back to Anchorage and then -- GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, they fly you to Anchorage and then you're free to go. We used to fly mostly the BP charter, but now they have a lot of the -- some of the jobs like when we were working for Conoco when they first got started up there, and we flew commercial, that was -- that was nice. You know. Yeah.
And then when we flew for Rowen -- when we worked for Rowen, we used to fly the BP charter, and then Rowen bought their helicopters. And anyway, then they decided that they needed to fly us up there with some airplanes. And they was a lot smaller, they weren't a jet, and that was not comfortable at all. You'd have to fly around Mount McKinley, and we -- we had three or four real bad experiences with that, and so, you know, we -- they finally switched back to a commercial flight. Yeah. DON CALLAWAY: So during this process, you know, can you -- I assume you got married during this time? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, I've been married -- well, this is my second marriage. Yeah, I got married -- I got married to this real nice, beautiful woman, and she was from California, and I think, oh, somewhere around '84, and we parted ways in '87. Yeah. As a matter of fact, I don't know if I should really tell this part, but that -- she actually saved my life in that boat sinking because what happened is I kept going under the water, and it's just the honest god's truth, you know, but anyway, I was going under the water, and I'd open up my eyes and I'd be looking out and I'd see all this water, and going, man, I'm not going to make it. I mean, you know. And I -- you know.
And I'm Catholic, so I'm -- like I'm repenting and stuff, and man, I -- I should repent today. You know, I mean, I try and stay up on that because you never know if you're going to get whacked, you know. So I'm re -- I mean, I actually had time to repent. And so anyway, finally I was -- like, I was in the water probably maybe an hour or so, and I was just exhausted, and this big old wave comes over and pounds me, and I'm way under and I look up and I -- I think, you know, maybe there's 20 feet of water above me, and I thought, that's it, man. This is it. I'm -- I'm going to pass away. I'm dead. You know. And in this -- her face flashed in my mind. And I thought, if I die, she's going to get my Corvette. Her name was still on the title. And man, I tell you what, I came alive. And that's the honest truth. RACHEL MASON: Oh, I thought it was going to be like you saw her beautiful face. GARY ZIMMERMAN: No. Hell, no, because she was mean. I mean, you know. Yeah. No, everything was fine.
RACHEL MASON: Her meaness saved your life. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, yeah. She would, too. She'd a took that Corvette. And I said, I ain't dying today if I have to swim to town. And man, every time a wave was coming up, and I was all fired up, I mean, I wasn't going down. There was no chance of me drowning that day. Yeah. But I was -- I mean, I was just wore out. And so she gave me the second wind.
RACHEL MASON: That's good. GARY ZIMMERMAN:And I seen her -- I hadn't seen her for a long time, and I seen her a couple years ago, oh, about seven or eight years ago, she came to Seward. She calls me up. And so she wanted to go have coffee. And so, ok, I said, yeah, that sounds safe. You know. And anyway, I told her that story. I said, yeah, you remember when we sunk that boat?
She goes, yeah. I says, yeah, your name was still on that title, and you saved my life.
There was no way I was giving up that Vette. RACHEL MASON: Did she see the humor in that? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, she did. Yeah. She's actually -- you know, she's a -- she's really a nice gal. We were just young and wild and, you know, I mean, I was working in the oil field, I was probably a derrick man or something back then, or a loader operator, and, you know, that's -- those kind of stories can't go on tape, of what when on on the North Slope, you know.
RACHEL MASON: Oh, yeah. GARY ZIMMERMAN: But she -- but yeah, she turned out. She's fantastic. She's got great kids, you know, they're very well mannered. Yeah. I'm glad for her, actually. KAREN BREWSTER: When did you get married to your current wife? GARY ZIMMERMAN: We got married about seven years ago. And I've known her for 30 years, too. Yeah. She -- I'm -- Laura and my sister Peggy used to be flight attendants for Reeves Aleutian Airlines. So I was, like, 17 or 18 years old, and I was working for that Rowen, and I'm sitting in my sister's apartment off of Wisconsin in Anchorage. And I hear a knock on the door. She comes in.
Those Reeves Aleutian gals, they used to give them this real nice red parka, kind of a Russian style, or Eskimo style parka, zipper, with this beautiful wolf thing on top, you know, wolf tail or whatever. She walks through the door, and I'm going -- man, I was just smitten. You know, I couldn't hardly speak.
DON CALLAWAY: Thunderbolt. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. So anyway, you know, I didn't say nothing. And so when she walks out the door, I thought, well, I better go ask her if she wants to go to the movie. I got brave then. And I did. And I says to my sister, I said, well, what's that gal's story?
Oh, she's going out with a pilot. And I'm thinking, well, roughneck at Rowan Drilling, airline pilot, ah, what's the use. It's out of my league, you know. But anyway, but the funny thing was my sister and her have always been friends, and I bumped into her on and off over the years. And we actually were visiting on the phone. And anyway, her -- her husband didn't work out after 20 years. And so when Peg told me that she'd been divorced, I figured, well, I'll just call her up. I'm a little braver nowadays. Funny, that pilot didn't work out so good. You know, so yeah.
My -- my wife, she's beautiful. She's a little bitty thing. She's been with Alaska Airlines for 30 years. You know. She's -- she loves snowmobiling. She doesn't fish, she doesn't hunt, and I like that part, gives us a little space in that area. But if she did, she could go whenever she wanted.
But we enjoy a lot of camping, we have a beautiful camper. We have a Keystone Raptor down there in Kentucky, so we tow around and we go -- it's a toy hauler so we've got four wheelers in the back of that and bicycles. And we like going to the national parks. We -- and we like going to NASCAR races, like we've been to Daniel Boone State Park, for example, or Cumberland Gap, and you know, we've been all over the East Coast. Shiloh Battlefield, we do a lot of things like that, too. But yeah, she's pretty energetic. RACHEL MASON: That's great. Is she from around here? GARY ZIMMERMAN: No. She's -- she was born and pretty much raised in Seattle. RACHEL MASON: Oh.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. Yeah. As a matter of fact, that's where she lives.
RACHEL MASON: Oh.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. DON CALLAWAY: And how about brothers or cousins in the area? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Both my brothers are deceased. My brother Eddie died in Togiak spotting herring. It was a midair conclusion with Dick Moll. Margaret Anderson's husband Ray was in that plane wreck, too. My brother was flying for him. DON CALLAWAY: When was that, again? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Jeez, you know, I think it was '80; 1980 or '82, somewhere right in there. Then my little brother died out here at Nash Road in a one car car wreck. A mysterious wheel come off his truck. And so that's -- we won't go too far there. And then I had a little sister that passed away in 1969, so the only ones that are left is my sister Peggy. She lives in Kentucky, her husband's a UPS mechanic. He works on the composite bodies, and is a jet engine mechanic, too, so he's worked for Rolls Royce and a few of those companies. And my sister Joan, she lives in Nikiski, and she's married to a nice fellow, his name's Bill, Bill Boutalair. And he's an avid hunter, snowmobiler, and he's got more of a utility type sled. And he's a lineman. And has been a commercial fisherman. Her first husband, Harold, I think he died in right around 1980, in a -- he hit a tree with a snow machine. It was a freak accident. And so anyway, that's what killed him. So then she remarried this guy. And I have nieces -- it's funny, my sister's kids in Kentucky moved up here. One's living with me now and one lives downtown. And two of my sister's kids in Kenai moved to Elizabethtown, so they kind of swapped kids, I guess. Adult kids. And my cousins, my cousin Phil is probably one of my best friends. He lives out here at Mile 7. He's got G & P Enterprises, he's self employed. And my other cousin Perry, he works for -- used to be the phone company manager, been with this GTE back then for many years. He lives in Anchorage. I don't see him very often.
So that's probably my -- the main family that I -- we have lots of family in Wisconsin, you know, or in Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois area. You know, you see them every 10 years once or twice, you know, that's -- yeah, but to see them on the street, I probably wouldn't recognize them. DON CALLAWAY: And what do you do now? What -- GARY ZIMMERMAN: I work for -- right now I'm off work, but I was -- I was injured with working for Aurora Well Service. A hose came out of there, weighed a couple thousand pounds, and crushed part of my skull. It happened to me three years ago. So I went -- you know, I was off work four or five days, or whatever, and went back to work, and anyway, I've been fighting a case of severe vertigo. And anyway, I quit working for Aurora, and that's when I went to Colorado, and I was drilling for Patterson Drilling down there, we were drilling for oil and gas -- well, yeah, gas wells, by the -- by the Grand Junction area. DON CALLOWAY: Right.
And so anyway, I started having -- about every three weeks after I was slammed on the head, I'd have a -- I have these electrical shorts. And it feels like -- I can feel them coming on, and I can see you and I can hear you, but while I'm having this short, I can't respond, and it feels like you're getting nicked by electricity. And so, you know, I was having these once every three, four weeks, and I was not really too concerned about it, you know, because I always had a warning. And, you know, I mean, I've always been -- which is maybe wrong, but I was always taught, you know, you're a man, you need to work; man up and go to work. Well, when I was working in as -- I made it as field superintendent, I was talking to a friend of mine at Nabors, which I've worked for Nabors on and off since 1984. And so we're talking about it, and I sent him a couple good hands that wanted to go to Alaska. And so anyway, old Don calls me up and we're talking and I told him I was field superintendent, and he goes, you know, if you're up here, he says, we'll -- we could put you pushing out here. And, well, it's the first time in my oil field career I asked, well, what do you pay? Because I was figuring, you know, if it's good pay, it was a check, big checks. And the check was about a good 30 percent more than what I'm making in Colorado, and I'm making good money in Colorado. So I talked -- it's the first time I ever even talked it over with the wife because she usually just lets me go with it. You know, if I think that's what we need to do, that's what we do, just we don't try and make an issue out of it. So we came back to work for Nabors a year ago this July. And I'm drilling for them on Rig 16, we're doing a modification, and my vertigo was -- in the last three years has been subsiding. But, you know, but -- and I don't tell people I really have a vertigo problem. And so anyway, in December, Nabors shut down a bunch of rigs that were unexpected, and they sent me out to 19 AC and they offered me a job as assistant driller and motorman. See, now, that's good jobs. Pay is good.
Well, then, as a working person, I was working every day, and then on my days off, we had bought an automated wood splitter, it was called a Chomper. We could -- we could cut -- we could process up to five and a half cords of firewood an hour. It's all automated, kind of.
And so I was working for Nabors as a motorman, so let's say, I started in January, it was actually before that, and then cutting wood on my days off. Well, the vertigo started getting worse, and I started having more of these electrical shorts. Well, then, by July, July 14th, I went to supper, come back from supper, at 6:00, and I was really feeling bad, so I sat down on the steps in the motor room that goes up to the air compressor room, and I lost about three hours. So I went to the medic, the toolpusher, and he comes out and was -- and I told him I was sick and I barely could get to the medic. He said, oh yeah, you've got a flu or dehydrated.
Well, I wasn't getting any better. So I went to town and they -- since then they've done a bunch of testing on me and they -- they've found out underneath my brain here, where I got hit on the head, I've got a big dent up there, it forced my brain down on my brain stem and caused inner ear damage to where there's problems in there. And I have -- where your brain lays in there, I have microtears in my brain. So when I work at a consistent basis, it causes these electrical shorts to get more active. And so they were supposed to do surgery on me on March 13 and 15th. DON CALLAWAY: Of this year? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. But right before the -- I was ready to go, you know, if you guys think you can do something for me, you don't have to explain it, just do it. You know. And so anyway, the insurance company calls me up and they go, well, we want to have another opinion. Well, we've already had about 10 of them. And so then I was a little bit upset about that at first, but then I talked to this other workmen's comp lady friend of mine, Tammy Lindsey, who is an expert. She said, no, this is a good thing. And she looked to where they was going to send me to a place in Portland and another place in Seattle to have another -- another -- DON CALLAWAY: Another workup. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Another workup. There you go. So right now, I'm just -- my two neurologists, my inner ear guy, and Dr. Lord, who used to be in Seward, they just say they -- just be as active as you can be and we'll work on it. So I says, well, does that include riding my snowmobile? And they go, yeah. But he says, if you go riding for two days, then you need to take two days off. And so riding my snowmobile and ice fishing and waiting to be healed. Yeah. That's what I'm doing now. Yeah. So when they don't let us go riding snowmobiles, then I'll have to go out here in the Gulf of Alaska and chase halibut. KAREN BREWSTER: So when does the snow machine season end for getting up on the ice field? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well --
KAREN BREWSTER: -- on average. I'm sure it varies from year to year. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, I think this year you can go up there until May 15th. You know, it depends how fast -- well, it depends if the Park Service gets picky. Because if they open up that road and then we can park up there by the turn around by the bridge, well, that would extend it a long ways. But do they want you sitting there? I don't know. We'll have to find out. But I'd say, you know, May 1st is what the Forest Service says for Lost Lake unless we have extreme amount of snow. And that's not going to be this year. That trail's pretty thin right now. But you know, and when you walk up the trail, it looks bad, like at Lost Lake, but if you was to walk up there in the summer, the mud and stuff that you see on Lost Lake Trail is actually sitting on a big rock anyway, so it isn't like you're ruining out causing -- KAREN BREWSTER: But going up to Exit Glacier you're on the river and then up that valley. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Up the valley. But see, this valley is all full of snow. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: So you can go around. There's -- there's one, there's one creek crossing about here, right where this line is, and that creek's real shallow, so you can go in and out of that creek. And this other creek crossing, we don't even go through that. We drive around through the woods, through -- we -- we just zigzag through the trails and went around this loop here, it's about a mile detour. So yeah, May 1st, you know, I would say. You know. RACHEL MASON: Why do you not go on that, that creek crossing? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, because it's a nice spot, but when you go cross the creek, the bank's real steep, and then you've got to make -- right when you go up the bank, it's maybe 6 foot high, then you've got to make an immediate left because there's a rock there. So if you got all ambitious or something where you got bounced wrong and you pinned it, you could slam into that rock and cause, you know, physical damage or damage to the sled. But now, if you -- we haven't been doing it, but when you come back down, you could go shooting across it because it's real easy. But you know, I mean, I'm anti-water, so I just prefer to go through the woods, even though it takes longer. KAREN BREWSTER: Do you have problems with overflow on any of your routes? GARY ZIMMERMAN: No. No overflow. That's mainly a lake issue. Yeah. Like Bear Lake is real bad for overflow. Carter Lake -- not Carter Lake, but Crescent Lake is up there at Mile 30 is real bad for overflow. Trail Lake, another real bad one. Yeah. I don't like the overflow. That's just bad news. RACHEL MASON: Has that overflow situation changed over the years? Is it more -- is it more of a problem now than it used to be? GARY ZIMMERMAN: I think Bear Lake -- well, this year they had -- they didn't have overflow, but there was so much rain, they had a bunch of rain on the lake, so that was an issue. But no, I -- I don't really see any change in that. There's a -- if you go up Snug Harbor Road, and I don't know what the name of that lake is where that dam's at, that lake is a real bad lake for overflow and I don't know why. But, you know, we just stay completely away from that area. KAREN BREWSTER: Now, what about all the years you've been going up on the ice field and you've looked at Exit Glacier, have you seen the glacier changing? GARY ZIMMERMAN: You know -- you know, boy. If you look at my 1970 pictures when we were playing up there with the snow machines, you know -- you know, I don't know, that's -- I might not be a good one to ask there. I think those signs are pretty funky, myself. To say the glacier was here in 1970 or '60, and I'm going, well, I don't think so. I don't think it was much farther than where it is right now. But I -- I'd definitely tell you it's changed because I know this wall of ice has changed big time, and I know Exit Glacier has changed. I think it's easier now than what it was. I think the crevasses were wider and deeper, and I think the pictures that I have, you know, would show you that. But it has definitely receded. Has it receded as much as the signs? I don't know. I think that's a tourist thing. You know, I mean, that would be good. The glacier was here in 1970s. Well, no, wrong, I don't think it was there. But you know, yeah, it's definitely receded, though. KAREN BREWSTER: You guys never snow machined actually on Exit Glacier? GARY ZIMMERMAN: No, we didn't have enough horsepower. Yeah, you have a 20 horse Scorpion, that's all, you ain't going far. KAREN BREWSTER: And now you can go --
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Oh, I can go right up through there. KAREN BREWSTER: Up the glacier.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Oh, yeah. I could go up there this morning. I could go up there this afternoon and give you a thrill. I'd just blow -- I'd just blow right up through there. I mean, it'd just be -- KAREN BREWSTER: So there's enough snow it fills in the crevasses? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. I mean, you want to stay on the ridge, too, especially when I've seen that guy on that snowshoe. If you snowshoe up in there, I will take my snowmobile. You know. KAREN BREWSTER: So can you put on the map where you would go? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, no, this -- this ain't detailed enough. But you would -- you would have to -- well, right here, you just go right up to where I seen that snow -- that snowshoer, looked like he came up partway, and then he went this way, and then, of course, his tracks get out of sight. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: But that would not -- if they said -- but, you know, there's -- there's two ways to look at this, going up Exit Glacier. If -- if one person seeing my track go up there, you know, then do I want you riding a sled up there? I'm not sure. You know, I'm not trying to say that I'm better than anybody else, but I know I have lots of experience. So would I want an inexperienced crowd trying to drive up Exit Glacier to get on the ice field? You know, well, if I was going to be honest with myself, I'd say no. Unless, you know, I just -- but, like, from my group or -- or a Seward guy, yeah, I'd say go for it. Because you can ride that ridge.
It's like going up Trail Glacier out at Moose Pass. You go up to Hunter, up where the tracks are at, if you take a right at Hunter and you go up to Trail Glacier, you go up there and you go -- you got to go straight on that ridge. And I mean on the ridge. I mean, don't you be going 50 yards to the right and the left because alls you've got to do is fly that glacier in the summer and you'll see why you stay on the ridge. And it's very tempting because you're going up the ridge, it's a long glacier to get up into Upper Paradise, but you look at them big fields out there and all them crevasses are closed, yeah, I'm not going out there. That's why this summer I'm going to fly this ice field with Steve Schafer or somebody, and I just want to see if them expansion cracks come back, see if, you know, the winter thing just fooled me. KAREN BREWSTER: Well yeah, to me, looking at it, standing at the bottom of Exit Glacier, you know, in the summer, imagining that somebody could get up that by snow machine is pretty phenomenal. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. Well, I --
KAREN BREWSTER: Because you look at it and you go, I don't see how that's possible, but I've never seen it in the winter. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, if she gives me permission, I'll go up this afternoon and I'll show you how it's done. SHANNON KOVAK: It's not up to me.
KAREN BREWSTER: But, yeah, it looks like it would be pretty treacherous. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. You need a -- you need a high horsepower rig, you know, you need at least, you know, an M8, and all. I mean, because -- well, once the guy makes a track and goes up through there and then you come back on the track, well, that's -- you've got yourself a road. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: You know.
KAREN BREWSTER: And everybody's going to follow it. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. And that's -- and that's -- you know, and for me to even suggest, you know, that you shouldn't ride on that glacier, you know, I feel that you're trampling on people's rights. You know. DON CALLAWAY: But for safety reasons.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: For safety reasons, you know. And then, you know, and how are you going to sit there and tell, yeah, Warren, you can go; or Phil, go ahead; yeah, Gary, knock yourself out. And then let's say you get some people down from Anchorage and say, no, you can't go. Well, you know, heck, they might even be better riders than us. DON CALLAWAY: Well, but --
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, I wouldn't be afraid to -- RACHEL MASON: Or they might not know anything. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. And that's the whole point, you know, like on any glacier, you know. It's just like this little valley here, Avalanche Alley. Like when I took my father-in-law up there -- that's our -- our nickname for it. When I took my father-in-law up there, when he flew up here, I told Ray, before he even came up here, there is -- you're not going to pressure me. We're not going up there just because you're here. I don't care if it costs you 500 bucks or a thousand dollars to get here or 10,000 or a hundred thousand, it's -- we are going to go up there and we're going to stop. And we're going to sit there and we're going to look through our lenses and zoom it in, make sure all that stuff's avalanched out because you get a foot, you want that snow on the bottom of the hill. You know. RACHEL MASON: When did your father-in-law come up here? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Oh, it was like last -- well, he just -- he just went home yesterday. So he's been here since Tuesday. RACHEL MASON: Oh, okay.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, Tuesday. I took him up there Wednesday, and then he thought he was going to go riding on Thursday, but that Wednesday's ride was all he could really -- wanted to take.
RACHEL MASON: Uh hum. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. 82 years old. RACHEL MASON: That's cool.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: I know. Yeah, it just amazes me. Yeah. RACHEL MASON: Okay. Well, you've told us a whole lot about the glacier and about your experiences. Have -- do you have anything else that you'd like to make sure that we know about? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, you know, I know this will be my little political statement, but I think that -- you know, I hope that they don't ever close this to snowmobilers. And I think -- DON CALLAWAY: By "this," you mean here, but also the recreation area, right? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Right. Oh, yeah, that would be horrible. You know, if they -- if they start pulling that maneuver, you know, the people will come out, just like -- they've had other meetings here where they are going to close some area, and people get pretty fired up about it. You know. Like you've got, like, Oscar Watsjold, he just had his birthday, 90 some -- years old, Monty Richardson, those -- those might be two guys you want to talk to. They were -- they were skiing and hiking up through there, you know, in the '50s and '60s. You know, I mean, it should be open to everybody. But the only thing that I would like to see change is everybody that cross country skis across that ice field, they should have to pay a user fee just like the snowmobilers. You know. And I'm serious. Because they charge me $35 bucks a year to register my snowmobile. Okay. If you've got a pair of skis -- and I got two snowmobiles. So that's 70. Dave Hettick, he's got 10 or 12. So look what it costs him for his kids to ride. So if you're a skier, you should have to register your skis and they put the sticker on your skis just like they do my snowmobile. And if you're a hiker, you wear one of those ski pass things like they got at Alyeska. You know, fits on your zipper. Well, I paid my 35 bucks. And move that ski pass from coat to coat. And -- and I think that would be fair. But right now, all the snowmobilers, you know, nationwide are paying their state fee, or whatever it is, to ride in the areas, where cross country skiers, snowshoers, dog mushers, and hikers, they don't pay nothing. KAREN BREWSTER: Is that for even on the Exit Glacier Road? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, yeah, I think if -- yeah, I think if you're cross country skiing anywhere. KAREN BREWSTER: But for you as a snow machiner, if you just wanted to go on the road, could -- GARY ZIMMERMAN: Oh, yeah. If I take my snowmobile and I take it out to Bear Lake, which is -- I take it on Bear Lake Road, or I take it on a road that's not -- let's go back in the Caribou Hills, that's not a road, that's just old seismograph trails. Okay. I've got to spend 35 bucks to register my snowmobile.
And now they've gotten so picky about it, if you buy a new snowmobile, they register them for you right there at the dealer. And, you know, I'm not complaining about 35 bucks because they say, which I think it's to interpretation, that 80 percent of the money or 70 percent of the money for your register fee goes to maintain trails and fix things up is what the original spiel was about 10 years ago when they started doing it in Alaska. But I'm just saying, you're on Lost Lake Trail, and you're a skier, and I have no problem with that. I will stop just about every time to check on your wellbeing. But I want to see a sticker on your skis where you paid 35 bucks. Or let's say, okay, let's say they pay 15 bucks, or it's 5 bucks. But it's one person, so I'm one person on a snowmobile, they charge me 35, I'd like to see them charge everybody 35, and that would actually -- not only I would have a good schnicker off it, but the more money that we would get because not only -- I think they say there's 40,000 snowmobilers in the state of Alaska. So that's 40,000 $35 bills. Well, let's say there's 40,000 skiers.
Now, let's take their 35 bucks; and let's say there's a thousand dog mushers, let's get their money; and, you know, your snowshoers and your hikers, if you're going to hike up Lost Lake Trail or, you know -- you know, you see people running up this trail in the winter in their little jogging suits. That's cool, but I want to see that tag that they paid their 35 bucks to use that trail and that will bring in more money to maintain these trails. If it's actually true where 70 or 80 percent of the money goes to work on the trails. You know. And, you know, and as far as, like, search and rescue is one other thing I'd like to mention a little bit. Whenever somebody's lost in the Seward area -- my dad started Bear Creek Fire Department is another thing he did. And we put the search and rescue in out there, my dad did, and my uncle George.
Anyway, whenever somebody's lost and a call goes out, there's not a snowmobiler in town that is not out there on the search and rescue. And we don't care if you're a dog musher, a hiker, or whatever. We go look. And you know, and that's one thing that I always like to throw in there. You know, when the -- when the call's out for help, you ain't going to find a better group of people than your snowmobilers to go -- go searching. Yeah. That's pretty much about it. RACHEL MASON: Okay.
DON CALLAWAY: Shannon, do you have any questions or anything? SHANNON KOVAK: No, it's like Gary just read my mind. Every question I had, you just addressed it, so, yeah. RACHEL MASON: Okay. You said you've got another question?
KAREN BREWSTER: No, we have one minute.
RACHEL MASON: Oh, okay. GARY ZIMMERMAN: I want to thank you for having this meeting and doing this Exit Glacier project. I think it's a good thing. I'd like to have people know that, you know, there's a -- there's a great, big world out there, you know, in Alaska, this backcountry in the winter, backcountry riding is nothing but the best. And there's a lot of people that, you know, if you're not a very experienced rider, there's people that will take you. All you have to do is go to your local dealer and have a cup of coffee and they'll -- they'll show you what to do.
RACHEL MASON: Thank you.
Gary Zimmerman - Tape #ORAL HISTORY 2010-05-03-tp1
Gary Zimmerman was interviewed on April 10, 2010 by Don Callaway, Rachel Mason, Karen Brewster, and Shannon Kovac at the Van Gilder Hotel in Seward, Alaska. Gary moved from Illinois to Seward in 1969 with his family when he was in the fourth grade. For a few years in the early 1970s, Gary's father, Ed Zimmerman, operated a snowmachine tourism business on the Harding Ice Field at the top of Exit Glacier. Gary has worked as a driller in the oil industry and as a commercial fisherman. He is an avid snowmachiner with detailed knowledge of the Exit Glaicer area and countryside around Seward. In this interview, Gary talks about his dad's snowmachine tourist operation, hunting, changes in wildlife populations, and his love of snowmachining, being a responsible snowmachiner, and snowmachine access issues. He talks about snowmachining and hunting in the Exit Glacier area, snowmachining and skiing on the ice field, changes in the glaciers, the road to the glacier, his thoughts about the establishment of Kenai Fjords National Park and use and access issues. Part two of this interview.Image Gallery
Click to section:
Growing up in Seward
His father, Ed Zimmerman, starting the snowmachine tour operation on Harding Ice Field
Marking the location of the tour operation and base cabin on the map
Snowmachining and skiing on the ice field
Wildlife seen on the ice field
Hauling snowmachines up for the tour operation
Being safe on a snowmachine on the ice field
Access routes up Exit Glacier and to the Harding Ice Field
End of the snowmachine tour operation
Guiding sheep hunting trips
Changes in the ice field and glaciers
His father's guiding operation
Snowmaching on the ice field and glaciers
Driving snowmachines off the ice field after the tour operation
Construction of Exit Glacier Road
Running the snowmachine tour operation and first downhill skiing experience
Weather conditions on the ice field and glaciers
Being weathered in at the cabin for six weeks
His father's job as tour operator
Effects of construction of Exit Glacier Road
Love of snowmachining in Alaska
Marking snowmachine routes on the map
Locals who snowmachine and equipment used
RACHEL MASON: Good morning. My name's Rachel Mason. I'm here with Gary Zimmerman in Seward, and we're at the Van Gilder Hotel. With me are Shannon Kovac, Don Callaway, and Karen Brewster. So to start, Gary, maybe you could tell us a little about your -- your early days. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, my family moved here from -- I was born in Wisconsin, but we moved here from Illinois in 1969. And I moved here, I was in the fourth grade. We had a uncle lived up here, he was in the Wildwood Air Force Base, and he was always telling my dad about the hunting and fishing, and my dad's an avid hunter. And they had saw -- several saw mills in Seward at the time, and my dad was a sawyer, so he came up here first, and then -- then my mother followed him later, about three months later. And we actually lived out Bear Creek for the last 30 some years, I guess, and I just moved in town just in the last two years. And that's a little bit different for me. So I live out at Clearview. And we started right off the bat, you know, being my dad was a hunter, so he -- he was an assistant guide for a guy up in Talkeetna. I can't remember what his name is now. And so then he got his guide license, and my dad was a big game guide and commercial fisherman for probably about 25 years.
RACHEL MASON: Wow. GARY ZIMMERMAN: And so besides doing that, you know, he worked in the saw mills and worked for the state on the highway and the airport. And -- and then we got involved with the hunting with Joe Stanton of Harbor Air Service. And there was a fellow named Jim Arness from Kenai. He owned a dock. Arness dock. And all the freight from Kenai used to have to go across his dock. And he owned a little snowmobile dealership that was called Dirt Ski Doo. So in '69 and '70, they decided that they were going to put a cabin up on the ice field with a ski wheel plane. The first few times they flew up there they actually landed on floats, with a 180 with floats. And so that was kind of a -- several rough experiences with that. And so he actually put skis on the plane. And the first year they built the cabin in there, it was gone. And I think there's still two snowmobiles buried up there. They would be little Olympics. And then in '70, we went back up there. Of course, I was a kid, like, fifth grade, and my dad ran the cabin part. And so as a fifth grader going to the Harding Ice Field with 16 snowmobiles sitting there and all the free gas and candy bars you can eat, this was a good thing.
RACHEL MASON: Yeah. GARY ZIMMERMAN: So we used to fly people -- well, I didn't, but Joe Stanton flew people, and Keith Knighten was also involved in this, he was a pilot. And they'd fly people up there with a ski wheel plane, and they would get out and they would rent these little Ski Doos. I -- we had some 16 horses and 24 horse power sleds. And we had one double track Alpine. And they'd get out on the -- we had this cabin, and they'd get out and they'd rent these snowmobiles, and they'd drive all over this first main field from Exit Glacier. RACHEL MASON: Can you mark on the map where the cabin was? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, my best recollection, I'd say was probably right out here in the middle of the first field. And there's a cabin up there right now, a little hideaway cabin, I think, that the Park's put in, it's about right here. We were over there just the other day. And the window was broke out, it was blowed half full of snow, but it's a well built cabin. But the field was right out in here. And what they'd do is they'd fly up here with a ski wheel plane, and we had one double track Alpine snowmobile for the skiers. And we had skiers from all over the world, and a lot of local skiers, but -- and we had a long rope, and I would tow these skiers. We'd come down to this area, down this area. And we'd pull them way up in here, and there's a lot of steps and bowls in this -- on this deal here. And they would ski down to the bottom. I'd drive back down there with that double track snowmobile, and I'd pull them back up. And you're talking, you know, June, July, and August.
RACHEL MASON: That's cool. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, the weather would be 60, 70, 80 degrees, whatever it is, but you're up there in shorts with ski boots on, and you would get a really -- the reflection from the snow, they didn't -- I don't even think they had sunblock back in the '70 -- early '70s, but man, they would come out of there sunburnt. And we'd also pull them up in this area, a lot. You could go up here. And then overlooking Bear Glacier, you can come up here, park your snowmobile up here, and the people would ski this area, and we'd also pull them up in here. And then -- so we tried to keep all the main people -- we'd keep them out in just this main field, out in this area.
DON CALLAWAY: You can draw on RACHEL MASON: Yeah, you can write on there, too. GARY ZIMMERMAN: All right. Well, they would just -- we'd try and keep most generally, because these -- back then, those snowmobiles only had 5 gallon tanks, if I remember right. And we'd keep them in this area here, you know. Basically. RACHEL MASON: When you say tow them, would they be like a -- GARY ZIMMERMAN: Just like towing a water skier. Yeah. Because, you know, we didn't have chair lifts or anything.
RACHEL MASON: Yeah. GARY ZIMMERMAN: So we just had -- I think we had a broomstick handle, you know, tied off to a rope, and they would be about 50 foot behind this old Alpine. It, you know, didn't have much horsepower, but it had two tracks. So we'd tow them up there. And in the middle of the day in the summer, in -- in the morning, the snow is as hard as this table. I mean, it's just rock hard. But it softens up real quick. So by the time the -- the tourists would be showing up or the skiers, it would be softened up. And by the middle of the afternoon, they'd be riding in -- you know, if you step where -- weren't wearing skis or whatever, you'd probably sink in a good foot.
RACHEL MASON: Yeah. GARY ZIMMERMAN: And the skiing was fantastic. And but me and my dad, in this cabin, we used to go up -- early -- real early in the morning, like about 5:00 in the morning. 5:00, 6:00. And we'd always come up the top of here. And this is a -- a -- this is three different mountain ranges, but just let's say this is at 3,000 feet, and this probably goes up to 3,500, 4,000 foot, but the snow would be so froze you could drive your snowmobiles up through some extreme areas and actually get up on top of these mountains. So we'd be sitting up on top of here and we'd be sitting up on top of here, and we'd go up there just about every morning it was clear, and you can watch game crossing this ice field.
RACHEL MASON: Oh, wow. GARY ZIMMERMAN: It was absolutely amazing. We'd see goats. Further down the ice field is an incredible place to go see sheep. And then out in this field here, several times we had wolverines crossing the ice field. And we -- we seen this one wolverine one time that we knew it was a world record. He was old and he was huge. As a matter -- when we first seen him, we thought he was a small bear. And anyway, he was going by the cabin, maybe a hundred yards from the cabin, and he'd stand up on his back feet, like this, and he'd just look at you. And so we took our snowmobiles out there and we stayed probably 4 or 500 yards from him, and we'd stop, and he'd just look at us. You know, because he's pretty wild -- to see a snowmobile, I'm sure, for him.
RACHEL MASON: Yeah. GARY ZIMMERMAN: And so anyway, you know, we thought that was plenty of distance because we didn't want to give him a heart attack or something. RACHEL MASON: What years are we talking about here?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: This would be 1969, and the biggest year was the summer of 1970.
RACHEL MASON: Oh.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. RACHEL MASON: For the skiing?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: For the skiing. And when they really decided that -- in 1970, that's when they took 16 snowmobiles up there.
RACHEL MASON: Oh. GARY ZIMMERMAN: And when we were hauling -- The snowmobiles back then were real small. If you took the skis off, you could fit one in the 180. And so we were hauling them up there. Joe was hauling them up there with a ski wheel plane, and on a second or third trip up there when he dropped the snow machine off, when he went to leave, the right hand bungee cord that holds the ski up, broke. The ski flipped down, and he flipped the plane.
RACHEL MASON: Oh, gee. GARY ZIMMERMAN: So we towed -- well, actually, we towed two different planes up there. And so they decided, well, that was too risky hauling the snowmobiles in the airplane, so they hauled them up there with a helicopter. And Jim Arness, they brought -- flew everything up there with him. And it worked real well. RACHEL MASON: And were -- you were just a kid then?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, I was, like, fifth grade.
RACHEL MASON: Uh hum. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. It was incredible. We used to take markers, like those red markers you're talking about, but we made big ones. And wherever we didn't want people riding -- well, wherever the glacier -- glaciers recede from the ice field, that's where you want to stay away from, that's when it starts expansion cracks and all that. And you know how tourists are, if you don't put up a great, big, red sign, they will just -- you know, by -- where they get this trouble is when you go up there, if you go to the ice field, if you hike up there or if you fly up there, or if you ride a snowmobile up there, when you get up there, the first thing you'll notice is how insignificant we are because this thing is so big. You know, it's -- it's like uh -- the biggest problem you have with going to the ice field nowadays with the snowmobile is you can't pack enough gas. See, I'll -- I'll go up there, my -- my tank has an 11 gallon tank, and I'll pack 8 gallons on the back, and so when we go up there now, we pick different areas that we're not going to get sidetracked, and we go to this area and take a look. Because if you go from the top of this here, this -- this -- this mountain here, back to the truck where you park on Exit Glacier Road is 24.6 miles. We have about a 60 mile range. So, you know, you don't get much playing.
So when we go up there now, we pick -- you know, definite areas that we want to go to. But just in the last month, me and the guys I run with, we've been up in here. We've been out here. This right here is some real good hill climbing right here. This is the first time even from myself we come down into this valley. We were sitting up in here. And if you go down to here and come back up in here, right now if you go up there, this mountain here has a cornice that sticks out. It must be 50 feet off this bowl mountain, it's -- it's like a bowl mountain like this that sticks out 50 feet, and it's probably 20 foot thick.
RACHEL MASON: Wow. GARY ZIMMERMAN: And -- well, I have pictures of it, but like I say I've had problems with my laptop so I couldn't bring them in today. But if you see this -- this cornice, I've never seen nothing like that in my life. I mean, it just -- you know, I hate to say it, but it just kind of freaked us all out. We're going -- of course, we didn't go over there and mess with it because you're really asking for trouble, but -- but to just see that phenomenon, you know, you'll never -- the views that you see are unbelievable. But -- so while we -- like I say, we've been up in here. And I was up in here. Then last -- last Saturday, we came up and we ran across the front of Exit Glacier, and we came around through here, and then --
RACHEL MASON: Mark it. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Okay. Well, we came -- this was our trip yesterday -- I mean, last Saturday was like this. Then we came over here. And as a matter of fact, we seen five guys, maybe it was four guys, cross country skiing across it. So actually, we went around them, you know, so they had their peace. And if they would have been stopped for very long, well, then, we would have swooped in on them or -- well, that might not be a good way to put it. But we would have pulled over and said, hey, you guys all right. You know, I mean, we don't swoop in on anybody. But -- DON CALLAWAY: How did they get there? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, they skied -- they must have come up Exit Glacier. Well, that's the way they were heading, so I know that's how they got -- you know, they come up through this way. Then I seen some guy on Exit Glacier -- well, I didn't see him but I seen his tracks. At the bottom of it, somebody went up through there with snowshoes. And so I was going to follow his tracks up there, but anyway, I decided to come up -- this is the way we come up. We come up this way.
RACHEL MASON: Oh, okay. GARY ZIMMERMAN: This is called Avalanche Alley. It's real steep. It's really dangerous. This is one of the few years we could even get up there.
RACHEL MASON: Really? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. It's maybe one out of five you can go through there. And where we got lucky this year is we got so much snow off the bat in the first of December, and all this must have avalanched in, and then we had that about 10 days of rain or something over Christmas. The weather was terrible, but I think it made it for ideal conditions because then it iced all these mountains up, and so every bit of snow that goes on now, it all falls in here and it covered up this river. So you're actually just driving up the riverbed when -- especially when you get in here where it's steep. So all the snow off the mountains slid into there. And the snow is probably 50, 60 feet deep here, and you're just driving over the top. And you shoot up into here and then you go this way. But, like, since we've been up there in the last month, we've been on top of this. And we've been over in this area. As a matter of fact, you can come over here and you can overlook Seward from about -- well, there's a knob over here, I'd say it might be about roughly right there, and you can actually see Seward. And when you get up here, too, then you're looking out the bay, and you can see Cheval Island, Rugged Island, you know, the whole Gulf of Alaska, you get the whole view. And you're at about the highest point. My cousin's snowmobile's got a meter on it that tells you the height. The highest we were at was 5420. And when you're at 5420, the view is just breathtaking. And I'll give you guys a bunch of pictures of that when I get back. RACHEL MASON: Could I ask you about when you guys used to do the -- the skiing, how long did that last? Did they -- GARY ZIMMERMAN: We did it for a whole summer.
RACHEL MASON: Oh, okay.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. RACHEL MASON: And then after that you didn't do it anymore?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: No. They figured if they got -- if we could get 60 days of sun, they'd make good money at it. But, see, there's, like, times up here in this cabin where me and my dad, we were weathered in there one time for six weeks. And what happens is that cabin, was -- yeah, six weeks right there, stuck in a cabin. But anyway, the sun would melt out around the cabin. And so during that six -- that storm, there was about a maybe sitting, like, in a 4 foot pedestal from -- well, the wind blows so hard that it blew the cabin off the pedestal. So that -- you know, pushed it off. And so we're in there, like, it's on an angle. It was about a week later, Stanton got in there with his plane, and he went, flew back to Seward and got a -- some block and tackle, the old wooden type. And so we took a block and tackle, we tied it on to the side of the cabin, and hooked it up to that Alpine snowmobile, and was able to pull it back level. So then from there on about once a week we just moved the cabin. We'd move the cabin 15 feet. And that wasn't fun. RACHEL MASON: Were you still using that for guiding hunts?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, we used it for guiding hunts in the fall.
RACHEL MASON: Oh, okay. GARY ZIMMERMAN: And what we'd do is -- of course, back then, everything wasn't as restricted as it is nowadays, but there was no Moose Range line [Explanatory note: Kenai National Moose Range established in 1941, renamed Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in 1980 and purpose expanded to protect all wildlife species]. That was before Jimmy Carter. And anyway, when Jimmy Carter became President, they made the Moose Range line, I think it --
RACHEL MASON: I see it's marked on there. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. It became the D-2 land pact, D-2 land bill or something I think it was called. But anyway, if you take this from -- we'd leave from the cabin, and you'd drive around this mountain because back then, the snow machines weren't like they are now where you can just kind of fireball over the top of whatever you want. And we'd actually go in this direction, and we'd come around. And out here in this field here, and I didn't see them the other day, which really kind of alarmed me, because when we were sitting up here, up here, on this rock pile here, we were looking out on this next field, and I was telling the fellows, well, there's a bunch of expansion cracks out on that next field. And when we used to go out there, my dad and I, we'd have to drive around these expansion cracks to get past where the sheep hunting was. And what happens was you got a glacier down there, Tustumena Glacier, and then there's several more glaciers further down where the sheep are at, but you could never get to them sheep because you'd have to fly into Green Lake or Emma Lake. And the hike from Emma Lake or Green Lake up to the -- where the sheep were at, you know, you'd have to be a world class mountain climber because the alders and stuff are so thick. We used to take safaris from there and we'd walk down, and so, you know, you're basically downhill all the way. But it was still so treacherous, and the rain, your packs would weigh 100 pounds if not more, and it was -- it was a very bad experience. And we only did it a couple of times and we thought -- the first time we did it the weather was so bad, and we used that for an excuse. And we thought, well, if we caught good weather, it wouldn't be so bad. Well, the time we even did it in good weather, the -- the -- it was just horrifying. RACHEL MASON: Was sheep hunting the main kind of thing that people wanted to do? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Back then, yeah. See, my dad, he got his guide license by then. And so Stanon would fly him up here with a ski wheel plane, and then we had -- we had snowmobiles, and these snowmobiles had these little ski booses, like a little trailer. And of course, you know, we would hook them up to the sled, to the snowmobile, the sled to the snowmobile, and we'd put our hunting gear in one, and then you'd take two clients down to where the sheep hunting was. And what was nice about that is, is that -- well, one thing, you didn't have to climb a mountain. So you'd pull out onto the -- pull out onto where the sheep were, within a couple of miles where they were at, and we'd always find a big wind blown area next to a rock. And we'd set up this big wall tent and we'd just move in, and then we'd hunt. You literally -- you'd still have to climb up these mountains -- like I mean -- well, we don't have the map where that was at, but you'd still have to climb something like this way out here in these big bowls, because where the sheep were at was where the glacier would recede. So you had to kind of walk downhill, go up the mountain and around the backside to get to a sheep. A sheep's not like a goat. When you goat hunt, you just go up there and blast them. You know, I mean, they are pretty stupid. You know, they just don't run, but a sheep, they have, like, seven power vision eyes, and you even make one step towards them and it would be -- they would be gone. But when I was a little kid, when me -- when my dad and I found this area, we knew that these guys would come -- we had a radio that kind of worked sometimes. And they said, yeah, there's no clients today. So dad and I -- dad says, well, because there's no clients, we are going to go exploring. So we took two snowmobiles with two -- two of the little trailers, and I remember we packed about 20 gallons of gas. Back then, that was a lot. And so we went back here and we went clear down to where the -- just looking around, you know. And so we went past Tustumena Glacier, and the next glacier is real flat. But it's a real dangerous glacier. There's holes -- when if you walk down this glacier, you really need to pay attention because there's -- a hole will show up the size of this table or maybe twice the size of this table. And when you throw a rock in that hole, there's no bottom. And it's really a freaky deal. It's like a mine shaft. Well, [coughs] excuse me. So anyway, we went down -- the first time we went down this glacier, it was just flat, glaring, it was just solid ice. And on the left side, there was a mound of rocks, maybe a hundred yards wide and a hundred feet tall, you know, left over from the glacier receding. And I'd drive -- my dad's over here monkeying around, you know, maybe a mile or two off to the left, and I'm going down this glacier. And I'm, like, in the fifth grade, you know. This is 1970. I mean, there's no cell phones, you know, there's no video games. I mean, so for a kid, I mean, I really feel really fortunate to have lived through this experience. But I go around down this mountain and I come around that rock pile, and the rock pile on the backside made a U shape. And I come around and, you know, this is a 10 horse Ski Doo, top speed is 30 miles an hour, it's probably 12 horse, it's 30 miles an hour, so I'm probably doing all of 10, you know. And I'm putting around and I come around this corner, and not even 25 yards away was six rams laying down. And I'm going -- I couldn't believe it, I'm looking at these rams, you know. And so I turned off my little Ski Doo, you know, my little yellow Ski Doo, and I'm standing there and they are looking at me, and they all stand up. So when I -- and I'm not 25 yards from these things. And I go to step off the machine, and they start kind of walking off, looking at me. And when I'd step on the machine, they'd stop and they'd come back to it. So I'm sitting there for about 45 minutes, I'm just going, I cannot believe it. I mean, I -- I could have picked up -- well, I could have picked up a rock and I could have fireballed it over there and whacked that sheep. I mean, that's how close they were. So really, how far can you throw a rock. And anyway, so my dad comes around the corner about a 45 minutes later, and he's all upset because he hasn't seen me for an hour, you know how dads are. And he comes around and he's going, well, where -- he started saying, where the hell have you been? I go, shhh. He comes around the corner and he sees these sheep, and oh, my God, you know. So we're sitting there looking at them. And me and him both probably sat there for another hour. And we'd play with those sheep. We'd mess with them. We'd stand up and we'd step off the machine, and there they'd start to move off. And they'd be watching you. They would -- I mean, it was clear -- as soon as you would step back on your machine, here they'd come. And anyway, we went down in that valley, and off to the left there's a great, big, monstrous bowl in there. And there was -- there's -- probably still is, in the summer, there was hundreds of rams in there. And on the other side of the valley is where all the ewes were. And there was hundreds there. And anyway, when we started hunting in there, and even after we -- we continued to hunt through there, probably until about, oh, I think the last time we went in there maybe was 1980. But I think we went in there for about 10 years. And we'd take out anywhere from two to not more than six rams a year. I think our biggest year was six. I mean, we could have went in there with 50 hunters and raided it, but we wanted to preserve the stock. And plus, we didn't want people to know where they were at. And so anyway, you know, because it was easy access. RACHEL MASON: Are there still sheep up there? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, they are still loaded in there. But see, now if you go up there -- well, see, then -- then they got -- we got -- like I say, we got Jimmy Carter in office and he put in this -- in this Moose Range line across the ice field, so then we had to start landing our plane on the left side of the line. And I have pictures of that, which I couldn't bring you today. But then we made these trailers, sleds out of old cross country skis, and we'd stack all our gear on -- on the trailers, and then we had a rope, and two guys would pull and two guys would push. And so you had to go 2 miles across the ice field. Well, 2 to 3 miles to go across the line because you couldn't take a motorized vehicle in there. And so then we would go down there -- down there with wall tents and -- excuse me -- and do our hunting that way. It was absolutely a fantastic time. The -- the scenery, it's like when I went up there this year, again, it's been a long time since I've been in there, but it was just so exciting to be back up in there again. And -- RACHEL MASON: What was it that you said, there was some -- you saw some alarming developments just the other day? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, see, out here I'm not seeing the expansion cracks.
RACHEL MASON: Oh. GARY ZIMMERMAN: And see, now, I don't know if those show up this summer. I'm going to definitely fly over it this summer with Steve Schafer, he's one of the local pilots, and I'm going to look for them cracks. Because any other time I've been up in there in the winter, these cracks were big enough to where, you know, you'd always see them. So when we came -- we're up on this hill here, and we came down this -- this hill here, and the other day, last Saturday, and then we came clear across over here to about where -- RACHEL MASON: You can mark it. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, we came -- we -- we run across here, and there's probably 3 foot of snow -- it was just like -- it was like riding your watercraft on a lake or riding a boat on a lake or going out the bay on a smooth day. And we're going -- we went across, we were probably doing about 30, mainly to conserve fuel, but you could do a hundred across there if you had the power. And we came clear over here, and this is Bear Glacier here, and we think we were clear down here above Holgate. And, of course, then you'll see more rock formations and stuff down to where, you know, you'll go past Northwestern Glacier, and I think you can go -- I wouldn't be surprised that you could go right into Nuka Bay. You know, if -- but the whole problem is with this ice field is so vast, is -- is packing gas. You know, gas is what will hold you back. [coughs] Excuse me. RACHEL MASON: How long did your dad continue with the guiding? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Oh, we did that -- he did that for a total of 25 years. Yeah. We -- he -- but we got into -- once we, you know, every -- every time we ever went sheep hunting in there when we just used ski wheel plane, we'd go in there for a two week hunt, we'd be in there no less than four weeks. You're always weathered in two weeks longer than you thought you were going to be. You know, we've spent six weeks up there. The last time we hunted in there -- [coughs] excuse me, I've got a tickle in my throat. [coughs] But -- but maybe we should take a little break.
RACHEL MASON: Yeah. Okay.
(Break taken.) GARY ZIMMERMAN: -- skiing, you would probably be -- in all those three areas, you'd be in 3 or 4 feet of powder snow right now. The snow is so deep the other day when we went up there, when we come up the glacier, with having my father-in-law in the front, which he weighs 150 pounds, he probably had 160 pounds with his gear on. I have an M 1000 with a turbocharger on it, so I'm running about 300 horse. And this hill, this hill is probably -- it's a good -- it's over a half mile long getting up through here. And it's really steep. And it's the first time in my life that I rode a snowmobile going up a hill about 40 or 50 mile an hour, and I had 6 inches to a foot of snow all the time coming over the hood, going uphill. Now, if he wouldn't have been on the front of the sled, I would have -- you know, my skis would have been probably 6 inches off; but with that extra weight, it was an amazing -- it was an amazing sight. DON CALLAWAY: And you come this way? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, we come this way and then we shoot over through here. It's just like if you go up there, if you was to go up there today, or any day, but you come up the top of this glacier, you can play -- you can play this whole area right here and you don't even have to go out on the ice field. I mean, you can -- you could -- you could never go out -- well, I mean, you could never go out on the ice field. And you could play in this area for the rest of your life and you'd be totally content. Because, I mean, you drop down and you can see all these different elevations, and you go down this big ravine, you come up the other side and you overlook Seward. And you can see Mount -- well, you can see as far as the eye can see. But anyway, the other day, like I say, we ended up at Holgate. And alls we did -- and this was -- we put 128 miles on from the truck around through here, and come over to here, then come -- of course, then, we were playing around on a bunch of these mountain ranges. But it's amazing when I show you the pictures where, you know, you've got four or five of your good friends and you're right up at the peaks, and that's what's so wild about the pictures. You know, you're not only -- you're not only there, but we take pictures all the time with the snowmobiling, but to be right up at these peaks, and then you take a picture, you're standing by the peak with the Gulf of Alaska in the background, with me and my cousin. I mean, it doesn't get any better than that. And then all our sleds, we run all these -- every snowmobile up there has got -- has got a little hot dogger in it. So we make a bunch of ham and cheese sandwiches or Hot Pockets. Yesterday my cousin had White Castle hamburgers.
RACHEL MASON: Wow. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. And so we put these hamburgers in there, and then it runs on -- it gets warm from your exhaust. KAREN BREWSTER: You put that on the muffler? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, puts it on -- put it on the muffler. And so you're out there riding, you know, and you know, you're all kind of worked up and you're sitting on top of -- I mean, you're sitting -- I mean, for an example, you're sitting on top of this Holgate Glacier on top of the peaks, and you're overlooking the Gulf of Alaska and it's a beautiful day. I mean, you can see as far as Japan. And you open up your hot dogger and pull out that ham and cheese sandwich and, I mean, that dude is steaming hot. And you pull out your Diet Coke or your water, and [phone rings, Gary turns off cell phone] -- anyway, you sit there and you pull out -- and you're having this sandwich with your drink and maybe a bag of chips or whatever, beef jerky, and you're overlooking these views. I mean, you can't get a meal like that at a steakhouse. I mean, it's fantastic. It's the best meal you'll ever have. And of course, you're up there, like, with my cousin, we've been riding together since -- for many years; and, of course, my good friend Warren and Mark Clemons and Jimmer Dick, you know, we've all been riding -- we've all been riding since grade school. So, I mean, we probably got a couple hundred thousand miles on altogether, at least a hundred thousand if I was to guess and be conservative. And the riding up there is fantastic. And man, I just think everybody should go up there. RACHEL MASON: And have you noticed a lot of changes since you first -- when you first went up there in the ice field itself? GARY ZIMMERMAN: I -- the only thing that alarmed me is I didn't see the expansion cracks that I knew I'd drive up there and I'd see them. Because I told him, I said, we were sitting over here visiting, and where -- this is really steep here. And I was thinking about hitting this one hill with my rig because, like I say, I have a turbocharger on it. So, and my friend Warren, he said, "Yeah, you go hit that hill, I'll get the camera out, and we'll just movie the carnage." And it was pretty steep, so I said, okay, I won't. And so when we're sitting there, as a matter of fact, we're having a sandwich right here, right out here, so when we decide to go over here, and I says, yeah, when we go to the next field we've got to watch these expansion cracks because they are big, and it ain't like, a little crevice, so they're so visible, we'll just drive around them, zigzag through them. And when we got to here, I didn't see the cracks, and that bothered me. Now, maybe we got that much snow this year, maybe the wind blew just right and filled them for the -- but a crack that big, you know, it just seems -- it doesn't seem possible. But yeah, I guess it is because they weren't there.
If you fly over it today with Steve Schafer over the ice field, when you get out to this next field, you will not see -- I mean, these cracks are -- because when we were hunting, we'd come around -- or sightseeing, or hunting, we'd come around this valley, and we got out here, and we'd have to drive around these big expansion cracks to get over to the Tustumena area. And they are not there. And so I would imagine they are probably just blown full of snow. Could be. I'm definitely going to go up there probably the first week of September, I want to fly over it and see if they're there. You know. But that was -- that was -- that was the only thing that really alarmed me. And what -- what did alarm me, too, was like this wall of ice has changed. I got pictures of that, too. Back in 1970, at the end of the year, when we brought the snowmobiles out, instead of paying for a -- paying for a helicopter to fly them out, they had this bright idea that we could take three snowmobiles at a time, we'd come through here and we'd drive out. Well, this here used to be just a straight wall of ice. And so we tied all three snowmobiles together, and me and my dad, and Lynn Lockett, you know, our neighbor kid, and we went down this wall of ice, and it was a lot steeper than we ever figured it would be, and we didn't have studs in the track back then, and then the sleds took off, and it was a free ride. And we got to the bottom and we couldn't drive them out, so we walked out. RACHEL MASON: You can mark that on there. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. Well, anyway, this is the old -- old snowmobiles. Anyway, we walked out here, and down in the valley, the Army was playing Army. That's long before a road. And anyway these guys, they couldn't believe that two -- two kids, two kids and my dad come walking out of this valley. So anyway, they were on the other side of the river, and that river just roars through there in the summer. And so anyway, one of the Army helicopters came in, the guy got on the radio, and he come in there and they picked us up and flew us back to the airport. That's how we got out of there. And then when we got home, we got ahold of Jim Arness and he hired a helicopter and went in there and got them out. Got those three out. And another time we was out here in -- on this ice field, we had a radioman up there, his name was Bruce Tornberg (phonetic), and he was fixing the radio. He got weathered in. It was one of those times we were in there for, like, four weeks. And this guy was kind of cracking up. And you know, he's literally going crazy. The -- it really bothered him. So we took three snowmobiles over to the glacier. That was long before there was a trail. And we walked down the glacier. And we got on this side and there's another time when the Army was in there, and this river coming off the bottom of -- of -- of Exit Glacier was a lot more violent than it is now, or it seems like it was. And so anyway, these Army guys were on the other side of the river, and they tossed us a rope. And I said, "There ain't no way. I'm not doing that." So Bruce, oh, he had to get out of there. So anyway, he ties the rope around his waist and he steps in that, and there's, like, 10 of these Army guys hanging on to the other end. And he steps in that river, and it was that quick, he pops up on the other side. You could hear the boulders rolling in the bottom of the river. I'm not getting in that river for nobody. Man, I'll walk down, I'll hike up over to, you know, up to Lost Lake and come down that way if you had to, but you weren't going to cross that bad. But anyway, next thing you know, it was an hour or two later, here comes another helicopter, and we got a second helicopter ride out of there. And on building that road up there, Herman Leirer started that, but my dad was the Cat operator for -- for the first big portion of that, when Herman Leirer was building. I don't remember if he was building out of pocket or if he had a grant or whatever. RACHEL MASON: What was your dad's name? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Ed Zimmerman.
RACHEL MASON: Ed Zimmerman.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. RACHEL MASON: He was one of the people that worked on the road. GARY ZIMMERMAN: He was the original Cat operator for -- before the -- you know, when they were talking about trying to get a road in there. Yeah. But that's -- KAREN BREWSTER: On that snow machine operation you guys had going in '69, '70, with, you know, people coming up and riding snow machines or skiing, who were your clients? Were they local people from Seward or they were tourists, or -- GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, we had tourists, we had local people. Over at the Petro Marine building, used to be the Seward Trading Company, was one of the main grocery stores in Seward for many years. Bob Stanton was an avid skier. He'd go to Europe every couple years and ski, I don't know, the Alps, or whatever they do over there, you know. He would be up there, I mean, every week skiing up there. That was back -- I think he's still alive, too. He must be close to 90; 80, 90. I think he lives in Oregon now. But he skied that ice field, and I mean, he was -- he's the guy I remember the most. But yeah, we had people from all over the -- all over the world. When my brother Eddie, he was -- he was in the Air Force, and he was home from Vietnam, he flies up there, comes up there, and my -- my very first downhill skiing experience, he -- we got a snow machine and a rope, and there was somebody left their skis up there, and I remember they were Head skis. So I go, okay, this can't be too much of a big deal. So he tows me to the top of this hill up here, about where this point is. So, you know, I've never skied before, and getting towed was no big deal because it was pretty much a straight line, and you know no one ever said nothing about leaning or any of that business. So I get up here and so he's laughing, and I'm kind of figuring I'm in trouble, how all this works out. And so I'm kind of -- you know, I'd side hill this way for a ways, and then I'd stop, and I'd turn around and side hill this way for a ways. And so anyway, my brother, he goes, yeah, he goes, you know, you're just chicken. He had more words than that to say about it. He was pretty colorful, too. And he goes, you just got to look where that cabin is and point them skis right to that cabin. You know. And I'm thinking, boy, this don't sound like a good deal, you know.
So I keep zigzagging a little bit more and he's just giving me the business. So okay. So I remember pointing them skis, Head skis, I remember seeing that -- I looked down at that cabin, and the front of them skis, you see that word "Head," and I'm going, this ain't good. But I did it anyway.
And I shot down this hill, and I'm all tucked in like -- you know, like a ski jumper or something, and I'm going, hey, man, I'm flying. I mean, I don't know how fast I was going. I don't know, maybe around 40, 50, maybe. I don't know. It was way too fast. So I'm thinking, well, you know, I'm going to have to stop here, figure out how to stop these things. And I remember I was going so fast for so long that I actually was thinking about watching the Wide World of Sports. I thought those guys on the -- on the thing, you know, they just kind of go like this, and stop, you know. Oh, jeez. I did that move and next thing you know I'm launched like Superman. And of course, it's all nice, soft snow and the wreck was -- was -- it was pretty spectacular, I thought. And anyway, so he's laughing, and I remember, I see his laugh today. And he was just laughing. And anyway, I says, "Okay, that's enough." And so I got the skis in my hand, got these boots on. And he goes, no, he goes, I'm not letting you on that snowmobile. He says, if you want to get home, back to the cabin, you've got to ride them skis. And you know, and if you try and walk anywhere up here, it's virtually impossible, you know, if you don't have snowshoes or a ski. So I remember having to put them boots back on and he towed me back to that cabin. And it was probably 12 years before I ever slapped on another set of skis. You know, because it was a pretty -- I found out the value of going to Alyeska and hiring a guide, an instructor. RACHEL MASON: How come you guys didn't keep doing the skiing operation with the -- GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, it was the weather. You know, if -- you know, if it's all -- it's all about the weather. You know. That's -- but right up there, it's the best skiing -- well, some of the best skiing in the world. I think I'm right, but this is supposed to be the second largest actual ice field in the world. And the skiing up there, you know, if a person went up there -- and the reason that, like, you can ski at Alyeska on a bad day, because you have trees defining the area. Up here, like even to this day, when we'd go up there and we're snowmobiling, when them clouds start to move in, we get out of there. Because you cannot see in front of you at all. It just socks right in. But if you had trees, rocks, terrain, or a trail where, you know, you have a definition, but when you get up here, it's just goes complete whiteout, you can't see, you know, 20 feet in front of you. It's real scary driving. I mean, I've drove up there a lot, especially when I was a kid, in bad weather, because when you'd be weathered in, you'd still play around the cabin just to break the boredom, even in the high wind. But it's so amazing that the depth perception is so -- that it doesn't work. Where you're looking at the side of the machine and you're watching your ski, and just seeing the ski in the snow is -- it fools you. But I think, yeah, if a -- you know, helicopter skiing up there would be fabulous. If they took a Snow Cat up there, you know, if they had a -- if you -- if you flew in a Snow Cat, like you see where they use -- where they haul 8, 10 skiers in it, man, they'd have the best skiing in the world. It would be fantastic. RACHEL MASON: When you were weathered up there for six weeks, what did you do to pass the time? GARY ZIMMERMAN: We had a radio. Me and my dad played cards. And you know, we'd -- I'd ride my snowmobile around the cabin. You'd go out and you'd hike, even at like -- the wind would be severe. But you'd go out there and you'd just go for small hikes within the visibility of the cabin. And -- and the worst part about that, the last two weeks that we were in that six week stretch, alls we had was clam chowder in the can. RACHEL MASON: I was wondering what you lived on.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, we ran completely out of food. And anyway, to this day, I've not eaten any clam chowder.
RACHEL MASON: Yeah, I bet. GARY ZIMMERMAN: That pretty much did it for me. Yeah.
RACHEL MASON: Yeah.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. But... KAREN BREWSTER: What other amenities were in the cabin? Can you describe the hut? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, you know, I can't remember if it was like a 12 by 16. We had a gas stove, ran on propane, because you had no firewood. And then we had a Coleman white gas backup stove. We learned that lesson real quick after we were stuck up there. And we had two -- we had Army bunk beds, the old steel type cots, would have the steel posts between them. Oh, they're maybe about 3 foot, you know, so you'd put them together. And then on the back, on the outside, we had a -- a portable outhouse where everything was operated with bags. And then we'd freeze it in the snow and haul it out.
All the trash, everything was all hauled out. Even our paper items, we didn't burn nothing. Because even back then, well, we figured if we weren't good stewards of the environment, someone would complain. And the complaining wasn't near like it is nowadays. You know, I mean, you know. I mean, I don't know if, like, these four fellows here or whoever they were, I don't know if they -- I mean, I'm sure when they seen us come shooting through there, it probably ruined their day because they thought they had the whole ice field to themself. That's why we stayed way out. But like I said, if they would have been stopped, we'd have checked on them. And you know, because there's always some kind of a verbal confrontation between the extreme cross country skiers, are more verbal than the snowmobilers. You know. So yeah, that's -- that was our -- we packed everything out. Everything came out. All trash, cans, you know, the human products, everything. And we -- we melted snow. And that's one thing when you melt ice field snow in the summer, versus your snow in the winter. Let's say you take a gallon -- I'm probably wrong, so someone will probably dispute this, but what I remember is we'd take a gallon of the ice field snow in the summer, and it was a lot more compact than your regular snow. And for a gallon of -- gallon of snow packed, you'd get like a half gallon of water. And might even have been a little more. Where if you take a gallon of snow, you're going to get about this much water.
DON CALLAWAY: Right.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: The -- the intensity of it.
DON CALLAWAY: The density. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, the density is what I mean. Yeah. And so... KAREN BREWSTER: And so what was your dad's job? What was he doing up there? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, he was the -- he was the operator. Well, we maintained the snowmobiles and, you know, we -- we -- when a tourist would come in there, you know, we had this little -- you know, before even safety was cool, we had a little safety speech, you know. Where if you're driving out to -- like Bear Glacier was -- like Bear Glacier was always a magnet for the tourists. And so anyway, we put all these big red signs across the front of Bear Glacier to keep people off of them, and we'd explain to them, you know, if you see a red sign or -- alls it was, was a piece of plywood 2 foot by 4 foot on a stake. So if you see anything red out there, stay away. And you know, we'd just give them a big safety speech. Then if all the sleds would be rented, we always had two that we didn't rent. So then dad, he'd stay at the cabin, and he'd send me over on this mountain here and with a pair of binoculars, and I could be watching these, you know, tourists -- that'd be a nice way to put it -- watching the folks cruising around. And then if they were getting stupid or something, or if I thought -- as a little kid, he actually gave me a responsibility. But, you know, if I thought that these people were getting out of bounds, you know, then I'd go cruising over there. Hey, how you all doing? You know, you having a good day? You know. You know, just sit there and visit with them for a minute. Well, the reason I stopped, you know -- and they all knew who I was because when we got off the plane, most of them. You know, it's kind of a bad area over here so we need to kind of veer off this way or something. You know. KAREN BREWSTER: It's interesting that he let them -- your dad just let them go without --
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: -- supervision.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: No. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: There was no guide.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. Take off.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. That's interesting. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, you see, if you go up there -- have you been up there?
KAREN BREWSTER: No. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, see, when you go up there, you know, looking at this map, we're sitting here, you know, 1 foot by 18 inches. You know, you go up there and you step foot right here. Let's say I was to haul you up there on my snow machine, take you to this spot right here. When you look at that ice field, you're going to go, oh, my God. I didn't know this thing was that big. You know. I mean, it's so vast. It's -- you know, I don't know what are they saying, I'm probably wrong in half my statistics, but I think they said it's the size of Rhode Island or something, which is a small state. But, you know, this thing is huge. You know, it's a total of 80 miles long, 10 to 30 miles wide. And right out here, that snow's 3,000 feet deep. So in the summer it's just flat. You know.
And so -- and when you -- now if you have a nowadays sled, let's say you had 15 snowmobiles, even if they are only a 500 or a 600, well, they all have 10 gallon tanks, and if you was to turn people loose with that, you know, they probably would get themselves more in trouble than what we had. You know, we had 10 horse Ski Doos, 16 horse Ski Doos, and I think we had some 24 horse Ski Doos, and they all had a 5 gallon tank. So they really probably weren't going to get too far out there. But yeah, we just cut them loose. And man, they would just have a ball. RACHEL MASON: Did you advertise or did they advertise in magazines or something? GARY ZIMMERMAN: No. I'm not sure all about that. I know they had to have a -- they had a advertising at the Harbor Air Service. And I think most of that just went with word of mouth. We even had a -- Red Boucher was up there, the lieutenant governor. And my sister was up there when Red Boucher was there, and he's quite a -- was or is -- was quite a lady's man, and my sister, she was fairly attractive, and so Red was visiting with her all the time. RACHEL MASON: Yeah. Was your sister involved in all the snow machining? GARY ZIMMERMAN: No, they just would come up there and hang out. Yeah, they would come up there for a day or two here and there. RACHEL MASON: Well, I'm wondering about the road, when they built the road, was that in order to encourage tourism or -- GARY ZIMMERMAN: Right. That was Herman.
RACHEL MASON: So it was Herman's idea? GARY ZIMMERMAN: I would say -- I'd say that was all Herman Leirer. But that's -- you know, he was a visionary. You know, he -- that -- that's -- I'd say a hundred percent of that credit. I don't know how -- of course, I was a kid so I didn't know any of the particulars of -- of how he got the land rights or whatever to go through there and cut a road. You know, they probably didn't even ask anybody. We'll just get a Cat and make a road up there. You know, I don't know if it's federal, state, or private, you know, but back then it wasn't -- I don't think you had to worry about having a permit. RACHEL MASON: Uh hum. Do you remember your dad or others talking about what was -- what was going to be the result of the road? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, yeah, it was all access to that ice field.
RACHEL MASON: Yeah. GARY ZIMMERMAN: You know, I mean, you know, I remember hearing them talk about a ski resort up there, you know, because all these guys were flying. You can get around easier in the '50s and '60s, an airplane is -- you know, everybody -- a lot of people had them. Well, they still do. But -- so, you know, people flying over the ice field, and you'd fly Herman Leirer over there and Joe Stanton. And Jim Arness, you know, he was, as far as I'm concerned, what I remember of the '60s and '70s here, you know, he was a real entrepreneur from Kenai, and he could see it. You fly over there and, then you know, you see Alyeska or you see an advertisement for Vail, Colorado, and they go, well, this is way better than Vail. I mean, I've been to Vail. I wouldn't waste my time. I mean, but that's like -- and that's like snowmobiling for me. And, I mean, I'm a diehard -- the fight will be on when they try and close it. But what I'm saying is that I've snowmobiled Wyoming, a lot of the good places, and Idaho, and Washington, and Montana. I've been out in a bunch of those areas, now, I don't have near the miles down there that I got up here, but when you live in Seward, Alaska, you know, I mean, the snowmobiling here is a hundred percent better, or, you know, there's more area, there's -- the views are more fantastic. It's safer.
What's so safe about snowmobiling in Alaska, or in -- on the Peninsula, especially the Seward area, our treeline shuts off at a thousand, 1500 feet. So you're not -- you're not boondocking. You know. You're just going up there to -- like going up to Lost Lake. The only reason they use that 3 miles of trail is because as soon as you get up to Lost Lake, the area, the trees quit. So you have -- you know, you can go play in the trees if you want, but this is all wide open running. Not that you run a hundred miles an hour, but it's all this big hill climbing and side hilling and deep powder riding. And I think with the group that I hang out with, it's like yesterday, we was at the Sergeant Ice Field. And we'd go right to the top of some of these peaks, and we'd sit up there for an hour. You know, it's better than watching TV. I mean what's a better thing than going on top of a -- up on top of Goodwin Glacier or Godwin Glacier up here like where we were at yesterday. We were sitting up there for an hour having some Hot Pockets and a soda pop and looking at the Gulf of Alaska. I mean, wouldn't you rather have your kid sitting up there on a snowmobile or sitting home playing a video game? I mean, you know, it's incredible. The views and the scenery is -- is -- I just can't -- I wished I had the vocabulary. And I'm not even sure an English scholar would have the vocabulary, to take that man up here on top of one of these peaks and let him overlook the whole valley, and okay, now you tell me how you're going to put this on paper. You know, you can see the pictures, like I was showing you a couple off my Ipod -- Iphone, you can see the pictures and you kind of get, okay, you know, a 2D picture of it, but man, when you're standing up there and you've got it in 3D and you've got, you know, a wide vision, it's -- it's something that just -- it runs a chill down my back. KAREN BREWSTER: People who mountain climb, I think, have the same --
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Same thing. KAREN BREWSTER: I was going to ask you on this map, this part you're talking about, your access. Because this map is sort of hard with the divide there.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Right. KAREN BREWSTER: How do you -- where do you park your truck on the road and how do you go up? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, right -- well, I don't know, I think the -- where is the road? Right here? Exit Glacier -- I don't have my glasses so -- we park wherever they -- they got the thing closed off. You know, where they quit plowing. KAREN BREWSTER: Where the gate is?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. It's right past that Wind Song Lodge, on the left.
RACHEL MASON: Oh, okay. GARY ZIMMERMAN: So you park there. We pull up to the fence, we unload. Because we don't like driving our sleds on too much pavement. We avoid that.
RACHEL MASON: You want him to mark this?
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Go ahead. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. Well, I think -- I think the gate is somewhere, let's say there. And then we go up the road, and -- let's see here. We're here. Is this the road here, I guess? They really don't have that marked real good. The Resurrection River road. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, because that's the glacier. So that would --
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Okay. All right. Here's the river.
KAREN BREWSTER: -- be the road. That's where it crosses right there.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Okay. That's the bridge right there.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Okay. We -- we go past the bridge about a hundred feet, we drop down the bank, we come underneath the bridge, and then we head right up this valley here. This is the easiest way to get up there. And that's -- like I say, as long as it's avalanched. And right now is -- if you want to go -- if a person wants to go to the ice field, now is the time. That's what I -- when my father-in-law talked me into taking him up there, and he's 82. I told him, okay, Ray, but you need to tell them you ain't coming in to work and you need to come now. Not next week. I'm not taking you up there next week, now is the time. Because the weather showed us a two way win -- two day window was Thursday and Friday. It was actually nice Wednesday, so we took him up there Wednesday. Yeah. And if you come down this way and go over -- and you get over to here, you can come down and go through these valleys. This is some beautiful riding in here. It's all experienced riding, though. I mean, if you're -- if you're -- if you're a little gun shy, you don't want to go play over here. But with the guys I ride with, they are all old, experienced guys.
So we work our way through these hills. There's a real bad valley right in here, I think it's probably -- probably about right here. So when you're coming over here, you've got to pick and choose your way through here. And you'll get right up on top.
Right up behind Marathon there's a knob. From sitting right here, you look over that -- look towards Seward, and you'll see that it looks like a thumb sticking up. There's peaks like this all over, and then there's this round thing sticking up. Well, that's where you want to get to, and that'll take you right up behind Marathon, right behind that peak, and you'll overlook Seward and you'll see everything. DON CALLAWAY: What -- what do you do when the avalanche corridor is not passable? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well we go to Lowell Point.
KAREN BREWSTER: Which is where? GARY ZIMMERMAN: That's out there 2 miles off the road. But that's -- you've got to be really extreme to get through there. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: So you come up the other way? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. You go up to Lowell Canyon. But that is -- I don't recommend anybody going up Lowell Canyon. We've been up through there a few times, and you know, I wouldn't tell anybody about Lowell Canyon. DON CALLAWAY: So -- so it sounds to me, correct me if I'm wrong, getting on the ice field is real problematic most years.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Oh, yeah.
DON CALLAWAY: So you go up -- GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. You might not go up there for another 10 years. Or you might go up there every year for the next 10 years. But -- but what was nice about this year, that early snow we had, we had -- you know, remember how much snow we had in the first of December? I mean, we were just going nuts. Well, man, this is going to be -- oh man, we got to -- we had our snow machines cranked up early and ready to go. You know, I mean, here, it's a beautiful year. And then that rain came at Christmas, and we -- you know, a couple of my buddies that ride were going to go buy a new -- Oh, I'm not going to buy a new sled now. I said, quit making excuses. You know you can go. I mean, I don't care if it rains every day in Seward, there's still good riding here. You've just got to go. You know, I mean, you can't use that as an excuse. You've got to get past further than the front door. You know, that's the problem when you get older, you know. Like for me, when I come home, I hang up all my snow machine gear. I have this place right there inside the door where it all dries out nice, and I have it all hanging there. My bibs, my avalanche beacon, my pack, my helmet, my gloves, so I use no excuse not to go. Oh, I can't find my gear. Well, when you're over 50, that's the first thing you'll say. Oh, you know, I've got to put on my pants. There's no excuse. So, I mean, you've got to make yourself go. And that's where guys this year, several of them didn't buy new sleds. And -- and boy, I tell you what, the couple guys that like to ride with us that didn't buy sleds this year, were getting new ones, and they sold their old stuff, oh, yeah, we'd be calling them up and giving them the business. You know. KAREN BREWSTER: There's -- so there's you and your group of friends who obviously go up there. Are there other people in town?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Is it a popular thing to do? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, the -- the mayor goes -- well, he ain't the mayor no more. Dave Crane goes whenever he can. He goes with us quite a bit. He's a great fellow, too. He'd be a good one to talk to about snowmobiling. As a matter of fact, I don't know why I didn't mention it to him. Dave Crane.
The chief, both of -- a couple of past chiefs, Chief Brosoe (Dave) used to ride with us all the time. He's moved out of town. And Chapman, Walker, they all rode with us. You know, there's a whole -- yeah, there's a slug of people. And then you have the younger crowd. They like Lost Lake more because they -- just because they haven't been up there very much. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, it sounds like if you go up to the ice field, you have to know what you're doing and go with somebody who knows. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, that's what we do. And when -- whenever we ride up there, too, if we have a newbie with us, someone that's new, we only go as fast as our slowest rider. And for as much experience as you see up there, when, like, say I call it my group, it's not really my group, but the guys I know, you know, we're not -- we have high horsepower sleds, but it ain't like you're going up there doing a hundred miles an hour. You know, because it's all -- all our snow machines have real long tracks, or deep paddle tracks. You know, you have a lot of horsepower. We just mainly got it for going up on these mountains. A lot of times you have to zigzag, side hill and switch back to go up through them. You know, that's why this year I bought a turbocharger. KAREN BREWSTER: In deep snow
GARY ZIMMERMAN: In deep snow --
KAREN BREWSTER: -- you need the high powered machines. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. I was -- I was on -- I was up by Godwin Glacier yesterday, well, there was one machine on top of the glacier and the rest of them were at the bottom of the glacier. Yeah. DON CALLAWAY: So how long do your machines last? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, the one I got I'll probably keep five years. I probably could keep it longer, but you know, and -- and there's no use buying a new -- for me there's no use buying a new snowmobile next year because I have a bunch of custom things. I have -- I have a different suspension, it's called an EZ Ryde, it's a very expensive suspension. And then I have the turbocharger, which is -- you know, it's -- it's taken me about three years actually of saving and rat holing money to put the sled together that I have now. Yeah. DON CALLAWAY: So the turbocharger is after factory use that -- GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. He bought -- I bought it from Boondocker's. It's a Boondocker turbo. And I'm running about 300 horse, where the rest of these guys are run running 150, 170. You know, but...