Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Captain Jim Binkley
Captain Jim Binkley
"Captain Jim" Binkley, Jr. talks about riverboating on the Yukon River. This recording has been edited.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2008-04-03

Project: Fairbanks Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Mar 2, 1996
Narrator(s): Captain Jim Binkley
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.

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Sections



The river is a part of one's life

The charm of the river

Learning river boating

The beauty of the river

The wonderful Native people along the river

Learning the Yukon River

Cooperative lifestyle of Native people on the Yukon River

Delivering mail to the villages

Enjoying meeting Native people, trying to learn languages

Getting started with river boating

Hauling barrels of high-octane fuel with his heroes

Transporting newlyweds on the freight barge

Hauling fuel to Galena during WWII for Russian airplanes

The steamer "Klondike"

Different riverboats he worked on and the excitement of river boating

The demise of the river boat

Starting the tourism business with the Godspeed

Learning about Rivers and Athabascan culture from Peter Simple of Fort Yukon

Story about a man overboard

Howard Luke's mother Susie, who was a remarkable woman

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Transcript



This recording has been edited. CAPTAIN JIM BINKLEY: So many memories flood back when you hear these stories about other things that happened, other people’s experiences through the years.

But the river, as Effie explained, becomes a part of your life. Very much so.

There are people who love it, and the people who don’t like it. The people who don’t like it move away from it.

But the river itself holds a charm that is so different than almost anything else. I’ve had the occasion to sail on salt water, been on some fishing boats and army freight boats, all sorts of conditions.

But there’s nothing, absolutely nothing quite so fascinating as operating on the river.

I was fortunate, in the years that I was on the river to have been able to operate on most of the Yukon River. As a matter of fact, I had navigated boats of good size all the way from Dawson City in Yukon Territory clear down to the Bering Sea.

Last summer, Mrs. Binkley and I took our 24 foot inboard boat to Whitehorse in Yukon Territory.

And we took 10 days to go down from Whitehorse to Circle City. I’d been as far as Dawson before, so that completed the whole thing, all 2200 miles of the mighty Yukon that I’ve had the privilege to operate upon.

And it brought back some good memories, because my father sailed on the Yukon River in the gold rush days out of Whitehorse in Yukon Territory.

And my two uncles, his two brothers, also operated in that part of the world. And when we were through the famous Thirty Mile River country we stopped at a place called Hootalinqua and went ashore, and looked around in the trees, and we found an old stern wheeler back there.

Trees were growing through it in places, and it had been there a long time. Canadian government had erected a sign, having the name of the vessel on there and who it was operated by.

By the Sidestream's Navigation Company in 1913. Who were the owners of the Sidestream's Navigation Company?

Captain Sid Barrington, and Captain Charlie Binkley. That was quite a find. Quite a thrill for me to be able to see that.

It brought back all kinds of memories that I had heard as a kid.

My dad died when I was just a kid, and I learned my river boating from my two uncles, specifically one uncle who started me on the Stikine River, up in British Colombia and southeastern Alaska.

But it’s fascinating that rivers play such an important role in so many countries in its developmental stage.

The Mississippi River of the continental United States, and the Columbia River, and the rivers of the state of Washington, the Skagit for one, and the Frasier and the Skeena.

And the Stikine River on which I got my start in southeast Alaska. And the Taku River, and of course the Kuskokwim and the mighty Yukon River which outdoes them all in its beauty and its challenge to navigate.

Richard talks about some of the challenges in navigation, and truly it is something. Saltwater navigation has its difficulties and it has its weather and terrors, but the river work takes more than anyone could imagine to be able to do the things that you do,

and it’s constant; it never lets up on you. It’s trying to get you all the time and you have to find a way to get over the top of that. And it takes training and experience to do that.

And people like Howard and Richard that have done that for so long understand what I’m talking about.

But there’s a beauty to it too, that Effie has spoke to; an absolute beauty. I can remember being on watch on the Yukon River up in the Yukon Flats in the middle of summer,

where the midnight sun would just barely dip to the horizon, and come back again. And I had the 6 hour watch that Richard referred to from midnight to 6am, piloting a boat coming up the Yukon.

And the incredible peace and beauty that one sees on the river, at that time, with the sun just on the horizon and the beautiful shadows on the mountain and little bits of snow coming down like little spider webs in shadows in the distance, those mountains that Effie spoke of.

It’s absolutely almost a religious experience to experience that sort of thing.

I think the thing that impressed me most, and impressed Mrs. Binkley and I most after we started in our business was the wonderful Native people who we met along the river.

I have great admiration and respect for the Native cultures, and I was first hand experiences as a young man coming from Wrangell in southeastern Alaska.

I was a newcomer here, and I wasn’t a newcomer long, because I was accepted at so many of the villages. And I tried to learn the language, the Athabascan language, but I discovered that each village had a different dialect, so it was extremely difficult to do.

And I couldn’t remember one from the other, so I got into serious trouble several times trying to make one fit the other.

But recently, I learned part of the dialect from the village of Eagle on up into Whitehorse from a friend of ours who lives in Eagle City. And I wanted to know how do we express the fact that we’re hungry?

And he said the Athabascan Indian phrase for I am hungry is “[Athabascan]", and then he said, you must also add “[Athabascan]." And I said, "What’s that mean?" “Well, [Athabascan] means I’m hungry, [Athabascan] means beautiful woman."

So he said you won’t go hungry any place! But it’s always a challenge to try to remember some of those words.

The sternwheelers of course were the first means of transportation into the country, bringing freight and supplies to the first traders and trappers and prospectors that came into the country.

And they were helped by the Native people whom they encountered along the way, and there's an interesting curiosity that most of the villages along the Yukon are about 100 miles apart, give or take a few miles either way.

That was about the range of the sternwheelers and their need for wood. So their wood camps were established and a sort of trading post sprung up, and the Athabascan people who were nomads at the time, were attracted to these trading post, because they found a whole new way of life, an entirely new way of life.

They became villages along the way, and they supplied the wood that was spoken of earlier for the steamers to get up the river, so there became an association between the western culture and the Native culture at those spots along the river.

And they helped each other in so many ways and of course it was the knowledge of the Indian people along the river that caused the White people, the western folk, to be able to survive in this incredibly harsh climate here in the interior.

And I think that respect is shown by so many people and that admiration, too. I felt that the first time that I encountered so many folks along the river.

They were helping me all the time, in what I was doing. I had to learn some incredibly long stretches of river as other people who have done this know, it takes a tremendous memory to do this because you can’t make a mistake.

You got to be right every time. And the ones that I learned from were the Native pilots from along the upper Yukon through the Yukon Flats up to Circle City, and it took me almost three years to find my way from Fort Yukon to Circle City.

It’s an incredibly difficult place to navigate. And it was the Native pilots from Fort Yukon who taught me that, so that I remembered it.

And there weren’t very many White people who knew that, that route in that manner.

But as the stern-wheelers came into the country, there were about 250 during the gold rush that I’ve been able to find in the books that I’ve read that brought the freight and supplies to the people of the interior.

And of course it totally changed the Native people’s way of life. Totally changed it. And they began to assimilate themselves into the western culture.

And then gold mining began to flatten out, and then it was trapping. And in the beautiful years of the early 1940’s where I had the privilege of being all along the Yukon River, I encountered families who were very close together.

There was a dependency, one upon the other in the families. And the great respect for the elders.

And the great discipline on the part of the children. And I was impressed how families worked together. They were trapping in those days and they traveled by dog team in the wintertime.

In the summertime they had small boats, some were outboards, and some were long skinny inboards powered by a single or a twin cylinder gasoline powered engine with a propeller that they could raise and lower in the shallow water.

In the summertime, they would catch salmon and put it up for food to be used for their dogs on the trap line in the wintertime.

And this was a cooperative effort from each trap line and from each village the family was spread along the rivers set up their fish wheels and catch salmon and air dry it and smoke it, and bale it up in bales about 30 pounds to the bale.

And then they would use that by hydrating it in the wintertime and feeding their dogs which they’d depend upon for transportation. So there was a system, an economy that kept this beautiful culture going.

And I was impressed. We would move families from one place to the other, the entire family, with all their dogs and even their boat right along side from one place to the other, and I was impressed with the discipline of the kids on board.

But even more impressed when we would land at a campsite they were about to put up ah, the total organization to set up that camp in almost a matter of minutes, because everybody knew what to do.

The kids were gathering sticks, the women were getting out the tea pot, getting a tea ready, the men were cutting down the brush, the tents were going up, the dogs were being tethered in places.

A campsite appeared in a matter of minutes, because of this discipline, this organization that they had going to put it together and I always admired that. It was just a remarkable thing to watch.

And we delivered mail along the Yukon for years. I was a pilot on a boat for three years out of Fairbanks where we made a 2000 mile journey every two weeks, so we served about 10 major villages including Tanana and Rampart that you’ve heard from before.

And there were fish camps in between. And in between these villages were about a 100 miles apart, the people would set up their camps, and their mail would go to the village, so they would have to go to the village to get their mail.

So I suggested to the captain of the boat, perhaps we could separate that mail on the boat, and I could take an outboard and ashore when I was off watch, and deliver these and get a deck hand to do it when I was not.

Then these people wouldn’t have to go to the village to get it. So he agreed with that. So we would separate the mail, and I got to know almost every fish camp between the villages along the way,

and that was a great joy for me to take that mail ashore, and spend a little time, and have a cup of tea, then get in the outboard and catch up with the big boat and get back on board again.

I got to meet so many people. And I marveled at the tents that were made by the women. They were canvas, canvas bats they had taken, and they were hand sewn, beautiful stitches just as even as you could imagine on this entire tent.

And the ground was covered with fresh spruce boughs, and everything was just as neat and tidy as you could imagine. And I took great joy in meeting so many.

And the interesting thing to me was then, that very many of the elders did not speak English. But the younger people did, so they would translate for me and I'd try to pick up these words but as I'd mentioned before, I'd get them all mixed up from one place to the other.

Somebody said to me one time, some of these Native girls are very pretty. And I said yes they are. "Which village has the prettiest girls?"

So I said, "Well there was Tanana, where Effie comes from, and there was Eagle, and there was Circle City, and there was Fort Yukon, Beaver, and Stevens Village, and Rampart."

I guess they were all pretty, along the way. So he said, "Were you ever stuck on any of those girls?" I said, "Yeah, I was stuck on all of them!"

But truly they were fine families, just golden years for me.

And experiences that I had on the boats, I started out as a deckhand here working for George Black who lived in Fairbanks and had a supply service along the river, and had the vessel the Idler that Richard spoke of earlier.

And I worked for him for three years, but I had training previous to that, that I hadn’t related to George, so it didn’t take me long to move up to the wheelhouse, because I had that experience that other people on board had not have.

And we had a lot of fascinating experiences along the way, and this was when I became acquainted with the interior. Well, having been born in southeastern Alaska where it rains a lot, I appreciated this marvelous climate.

And I haven’t had the desire to go back ever since. And I left there in 1940 as I mentioned earlier, and Mrs. Binkley and I met at the University of Alaska and we married shortly thereafter.

We started our business, our excursion business, while we were still students at the University. And she was aware of my, my affection for the Native cultures, and she too had the same feelings so she did a great deal of research on it.

Much of the stuff that we do in the summertime is dedicated to that remarkable culture. I think people go away from our trip understanding more about what it’s all about. How amazing it really is.

And I quote often times the words of Michener, the author who researches so many cultures of the world, and when he wrote his book "Alaska," he paid tribute to the Native cultures of Alaska which is something that I will never forget.

Many people overlooked it, the very first part of his book, and I'll try to remember the phrase.

It said, “The Indians and Eskimos of Alaska are the most exciting people ever to inhabit this planet."

What a compliment, by a man who researches so many cultures. And indeed I agree with that, too.

Working on the boats was exciting for me. I can’t remember when I didn’t want to be a riverboat driver, because I grew up in that atmosphere.

And I had heroes in the early days who were the captains of the gold rush. I thought of those famous names, and thought, gee, maybe someday I’ll meet one of those guys, if he’s still around here.

Then during World War II, it was necessary to move a great amount of freight from Nenana to Galena.

Galena was a stop-off point for the airplanes being delivered to Russia during World War II. Fighter planes and bombers were going to the Western front by way of Fairbanks; Russian pilots flying them.

It was necessary to service them and refuel them. So we took thousands of gallons of high-test aircraft fuel down to Galena. And there was so much freight to be moved, there weren't enough pilots and captains to do it.

They brought boats in from other parts of the country to do this, and then the old captains came out of retirement to be involved in taking this freight down the river. Helping to train the younger guys who weren’t quite mature enough, including myself.

So I got to meet some of those old-timers that had been heroes of mine when I was just a kid. Then I got to work with them.

Not only did I get to meet them, but I worked along side of them. Not only did I work along side of them, I worked right in the wheelhouse as pilot for Charlie Adams,

who owned the boat that founded the town of Fairbanks. I made two trips as pilot on the steamer Barry K with Charlie Adams as the captain and me as the pilot.

Talk about a thrill of a lifetime to do that.

Then I worked for Captain Sid Barrington, who had been my father's partner. I worked with him, oh, let’s see...

Kid Marion who was a famous Canadian pilot and Guy Street, who was another one, who had been a friend of my dad's in the early days, and some of the old mates who were coming back out of retirement and working.

What a great thrill it was to do that. I must tell you the story that goes with this. One of the mates was an Irishman by the name of Mike Mulroney.

And he had a deep Irish voice, and you could hear him from here to Nenana when he talked. We left Nenana, headed for Tanana, and we didn't take many passengers in those days, very few as a matter of fact.

The captain of the boat decided that he would take aboard a young couple who had just been married in Nenana, and were going to Tanana.

Well, it was unusual, and the purser assigned them to a state room on the officer's deck way up on top. Now this, this was an exciting, exciting event to take the newlyweds down.

It was falltime, so we had to tie up at night. We weren't able to travel in the dark. And the staterooms of those things are about 5/16ths of an inch thick, and you could hear somebody burp about four state rooms away.

So, that night we tied up and everybody of course had a silly grin on their face, and suddenly we heard this female voice say, "Clarence, I can hardly believe we're married. Clarence, I just can't believe we're married."

And this went on and on, and finally Mike Mulroney's big Irish voice boomed up in the night, "Clarence me boy, hurry up and convince her and we'll all get some sleep!"

Stories that must be told.

The amounts of gasoline necessary to refuel the Russian airplanes, we couldn't take on barges. It simply could not get enough down there.

So someone devised the idea of rafting it down by making rafts of gasoline drums of 100 octane gasoline. They made of it the units of 25 drums of gasoline with a 2 x 4 frame that held them together.

They would put a series of these together with long poles to hold them. And people of the villages and people from Fairbanks with their small boats would take a raft of whatever size they thought they could handle.

They got, I think, $5 a barrel to move this stuff from Nenana to Tozi [Tozitna] cache which is just below Tanana. Then they would make them into huge rafts, and bigger boats would take them down to Galena where the cranes would lift them out of the water and stack them on shore.

And that gasoline went from drums right into the airplanes that the Russians were flying over to the Western front. Thousands upon thousands of drums of gasoline went down the river.

Some were stranded on sandbars, some were lost. It was not usable really in outboards because it was 100 octane gasoline. It would burn up the machine, so it wasn't of use to anybody.

But it was a massive effort to get that stuff down there, and exciting to see it go, and it was tough for the bigger boats to dodge that stuff. Most guys were coming down the river with drums of gasoline.

The biggest boat that I had the occasion to work on was the steamer Klondike, which was a Canadian vessel. When I first started, there were nine steamers still operating; there were 5 Canadian and 4 American.

The Canadian vessels were the Klondike, and the Keno, and the Casca and the Whitehorse and the Aksala.

I got to pilot two of those, the Aksala and the Klondike. And on our side, American side, was the steamer Nenana, which Richard worked, and there was the steamer Alice, and the steamer Barry K, were the three steamers.

And the steamer Yukon was another one. It had been a Canadian vessel transferred to American registry, registered in Skagway.

Well, I got to pilot a little less than half of those during the military days, and it was extremely exciting.

Ordinarily, you work your way up as Richard explained earlier; you start down on deck, and you work your way up until somebody dies, and you get another position.

Because of war time we were able to move to different vessels and do different things, so I got to work on a lot of them. And freight is measured in tons that you put on the barges, and it's extremely shallow water, and it's very swift and it's hard to get that stuff down there.

And it can be in some instances, very dangerous. The biggest load that I was involved with was 1,200 tons of freight we took out of Dawson for Circle City.

And that’s a big load of freight, and that was on the Yukon. In those days 500 tons was considered a big load, so 1,200 tons was, was remarkable.

I worked with some of the Canadian pilots in bringing that stuff down. And then out of Nenana, hauling military freight captain Sid Barrington who came around with the Canadian vessel, the steamer Aksala, hauled freight to Galena, and I got to make several trips on that vessel, too.

We took the same amount of freight out of Nenana which was unheard of, outlandish, but we managed to make it because the reward was very great.

He was an old-time gambler, and that’s just what he was going to do. "How would the freight get to Dawson?" Freight came into Dawson by way of the White Pass and Yukon route which starts at Skagway.

Goes up over the pass into Whitehorse, then the smaller boats would take it from Whitehorse down the Yukon to Dawson, transfer it again to another boat, and go down from Dawson to Circle City.

There were two ways the freight came in the early days; from the mouth of the Yukon up, and from the head of the Yukon down, to the gold rush area.

Exciting times, exciting times, and a very colorful time in our historic past. There's nothing quite so exciting, I don't think, as river boating. It just gets to you.

I retired after 50 years in the wheelhouse, but if I get on the boat and operate a little bit next summer it'll be my 58th year on the river.

And I was noticing as I was coming up, I had a little trouble trying to walk a little bit straight. After a certain age one becomes nothing but a maintenance problem.

I had both hips replaced just 90 days ago, so it’s a marvelous that modern medicine can do that, but it’s remarkable that I'm able to walk as well as I do, so I've enjoyed it very much.

But I'd be glad to respond to any questions that you have. "Jim, how far up the Tanana have you gone?"

Right to Fairbanks. I've gone a little farther in smaller boats. There were some that operated as far as Northway during the...

before World War II. Oh wait a minute, Doc Gordon, whom some of you may remember, operated a boat up that way. But that was tough water, very difficult. It's a real fretwork of channels up there, hard to do.

The airplane replaced that. You see, the economy changed. It brings up a good subject. In the early days, the villages would stock enough food in the course of a summer, enough supplies in the trading post, to see them through an entire winter because their supply came in a period of about 120 to 140 days.

So they had to inventory that stuff, and stock it and take care of it until the first steam boat arrived the following year. Then the airplane began to come into play. Airstrips were built at the villages, airplanes became larger.

A merchant then could order his material on a 30 day basis instead of putting out the huge expense of taking an entire stock in one summer. He could do it incrementally. And of course pass the added cost of it along, along the way.

But that was the demise of the riverboat. That was the end of it. Places like Northway were hard to supply in the early days, before they had a road.

When I first arrived in Fairbanks it had a population of 3,455 people. When Mary first arrived it had a population of almost 4000. So we have seen it grow, as some of you have, too.

I'm very proud to be an Alaskan. I'm proud to live in the interior and proud of the people that I know. A couple of questions.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: What about, non freight, faster boats such as the public health outboard and the Godspeed which you started off with?

CAPTAIN JIM BINKLEY: Yes, the public health vessel was almost like a barge. Had a terrible entry, and a very blunt bow and they put outboard type propulsion on the back of it. Now, it was a fine idea,

well thought of, but it was very difficult to carry out, difficult to navigate. I turned down a pilot’s job on that boat for the very reasons that we speak of.

The Godspeed was a little vessel that had been built for the Episcopal Church. Bishop Bentley, who had the mission in Nenana, operated the Pelican for one boat, then he had another boat called the Godspeed.

He used it when Bishop Gordon took over for Bishop Bentley, when Bishop Bentley retired. Bishop Gordon found airplanes a better way to get around.

So he wanted to sell the Godspeed. There was a need for a visitor trip on the Chena River, so Mary and I bought the Godspeed from Bishop Gordon and started in business.

And we'd known Howard Luke for a long time, and learned much of our Native culture, modern Native, how we do it now and so on, from Howard.

And we stopped at his camp for many years, which was good for both of us in doing that. And that was the beginning of our business.

The employees were Mary and me at that time. We could carry 25 people on the vessel. Now we have many buses waiting for us when we come back, almost that many.

In the earliest days of our business, it was pretty exciting because we started this business right from scratch. And we were raising our family at the same time.

I was growing a beard one summer, early in our career. And Mary was working, and she was 7 or 8 months pregnant with our second son, Jim, and she was lifting some aluminum chairs up one day to put them up to keep the wind from blowing them away, and one of the passengers said to me, "Do you think your daughter should be lifting those heavy chairs?"

That was their last day on the boat that summer. Our next two children were born in February.

CAPTAIN JIM BINKLEY: Yes. AUDIENCE MEMBER: I think you should mention one of our old friends many, many years ago from Fort Yukon that helped do so much when you first started.

CAPTAIN JIM BINKLEY: Yes, indeed, I think I should. Peter Simple is his name. Peter was a resident of Fort Yukon and he was instrumental in helping me become a proficient riverboat pilot.

And he was probably one of the most remarkable people we ever met. He was an incredible guy.

He taught himself how to read and write. He was born way up on the upper Porcupine River, and he and I became very fast friends.

And then after Mary and I started our business, Peter came over with us for many years, and many of the things we learned about the Athabascan culture we learned from Peter.

And he was truly, truly a remarkable man. Incredible person. He was a good riverboat pilot, he was a story teller, he was an actor, he would...

he spoke perfect English, but in speaking to the tourists he would use a pigeon, because he thought that it would sound better, and they would accept that better, and that would complete their picture of what an Alaskan Indian was like.

And, that acting ability, as I found in other Native people that worked with us through the years, beautifully done, just a God-given talent. I'll give you an example.

People talk about calling moose. And you would explain to people this was done at the mating season, so that you had to use a psychology in calling moose, that the bull moose, you could hear him grunt, but the cow made a different sign.

So he would call like a bull moose, and the other moose would grunt. He'd know there was a bull there, then he'd call like a cow, so he said, bull moose, hear my cow call.

He'd come running through the brush looking for romance, and all he'd find is hungry Indian!

He could have explained that in the same words that I'm using right now, but add so much drama when he did it the other way; remarkable person.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: His last name, you never said? CAPTAIN JIM BINKLEY: Peter Simple. His last name was Simple, there was nothing simple about him at all, truly remarkable guy.

I had occasion to be in the Bering Sea during World War II, and also the Aleutian chain. I prefer the Yukon River.

The thing you have working against you on the ocean is the elements, of course, that’s the tough part. But the river is a joy, although it has its challenges.

Richard spoke of somebody going overboard. During World War II they were bringing a boat from the Kuskokwim around to the Yukon, it was called the Hazel B No. 2.

And it was a 100 foot twin screw river towboat, a very powerful tug. The captain got to Tanana and refused to bring the boat up the Tanana River.

He'd had enough trouble getting that far. So the Army put me on the steamer Alice, and sent me down to Tanana to bring that boat back up.

And they had a green, outside crew, all military guys on there, and I was in the Service at this time. I had volunteered, went into the Service. They put me in the Air Force and unlike sending me to the South Pacific as they did Richard, they kept me here.

One of the unusual things that the military did. Unusual time of logic. And assigned me to the Yukon River to help pilot boats, so I piloted all kinds of different boats as an Army person.

And I picked up the Hazel B No. 2 at Tanana. And we had two barges we were pushing, two big heavy wooden barges. And I had to check the deckhouses out on sounding. So I got two sounding poles that I found at Tanana, and I coached these guys in sounding to give us the depths.

The sounding pole is like a wooden pole, about two inches in diameter, painted in one foot increments. White, green and red, so that you could tell the difference in feet.

You put that down, and you touch the bottom and you'd hold that with your hand, and you could see how many feet there was depth on each side of the barge. But it could be dangerous in shallow water if you put it in front of the barge and it stuck in the mud.

The barge is pushing ahead, and it would catapult you right out into the river. So I explained this danger to these guys, and of course, somebody wasn't listening.

And we came across Squaw Crossing in a place called Slack Water Crossing, and I was cutting through a slough, and we had two barges ahead of us, and I had the captain of the boat and myself in the wheelhouse.

And I had these guys go out and sound. And of course, this guy stuck his pole right down in the mud, and it catapulted him right out in front of the barges, and I went right over the top of him.

Swift water. We traveled close to 300 feet on those barges by the time he got to the boat, so I turned it sideways real fast, signaling the engine room to turn the screws off so we didn't cut him into pieces.

And the only guy on deck at that time was the other deckhand, so I jumped from the wheelhouse down to the main deck and grabbed the rail to break my fall, and broke some windows and the rail off but it stopped me.

And we launched a skiff that was on deck that had come around with the boat and had cracks in the bottom about a quarter of an inch wide. Once we launched the boat, we were in danger now!

So I took off my shirt and with my jackknife I cut it up and stuffed it in the cracks while the other guy was rowing, and we spotted some hair on the top of the water.

We got to him, and I got a hold of his hair and pulled the guy over the stern of the boat, over the transom. And he was a young, strong kid from the Bronx, in New York, and he was huffing and puffing, and he looked at me, and he said, "I think I lost my watch!"

I said, "Pal, you almost lost more than that!" He had no idea that the Tanana is very unforgiving of people who fall into it, so he was very fortunate to get back.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: There's just one other thing that you should mention, that gets a lot of credit, is to Howard Luke's mother, she was so important in our beginning of...

CAPTAIN JIM BINKLEY: Indeed, she was a very remarkable person, Howard's mother, Susie. Was a product of the time prior to the coming of the Western culture.

And her ability to adapt to the new culture was absolutely remarkable. Many of the things that we learned about the Athabascan culture, very actual factual data, we learned from Susie.

And those were very wonderful times. She's a remarkable woman. It's going to end like an Eskimo dance, on one foot here.