Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Ginny Wood
Ginny Wood
Ginny Wood talks about her adventures with airplanes in Alaska, and almost landing at Creamer's Field when first arriving in Fairbanks during a snow storm in January 1947.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2008-04-05

Project: Fairbanks Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Apr 3, 1996
Narrator(s): Ginny Wood
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

Flying old military planes in the winter

Bad weather, worse visibility

Finding their way into Fairbanks flying in poor visibility

A scary introduction to Creamer's Dairy Farm

Searching for a job

Starting the tour company with Chuck West

Tourism to Creamer's Dairy Farm

The business of the Creamer's

Saving Creamer's Dairy

Raising money to protect the farm

Fairbanks' participation in preservation

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Transcript



This recording has been edited. Well that was back in -- that would be the first day of 1947, and -- Celia Hunter and I had been hired to deliver two planes to Fairbanks and it took us 27 days to get them from Seattle to Fairbanks, because it was December,

and nobody in their right mind was going to take a couple of puddle jumpers, war surplus, beat-up planes to Fairbanks in December. And we had Christmas in Fort Nelson, and New Years in Northway, New Year's Eve in Northway and we decided we are going to get those planes to Fairbanks by the first of the year.

We at least got them into Alaska in the same year we started; but -- so we took off from Northway, and by this time Celia could receive, and I could send on my radio, so we had this hand signals flying along.

So I would call the...for weather, and since she would receive and then she'd give me hand signs of what it was, and we knew the weather was coming in.

We got over, we got over Big D [Delta] and -- so I called in for the weather in Fairbanks and flew over her plane, and she said, a thousand feet and -- one mile visibility.

Ok, so we... Over Big D I said, "Land?" And she said,"No! Straight on."

So we went on, and then we got the visibility, and the ceiling kept getting lower and lower, that we could just look down and see what we call 26 Mile, which is now Eielson Air Force Base.

And we weren’t supposed to land there, because that was military. So we went on, and we followed the railroad track then, and we picked up and we finally came over a town which had to be Fairbanks, but where was the field?

So I got on her wing so that we wouldn't run into each other in this, because it was snowing hard, and we could just see straight down, and we couldn’t see very far ahead.

And so all of a sudden she wiggled her wings, "Oh, I have the field in sight." So we came down, me following her, and we were 30 feet off the ground and it was not the airport; it was Creamer's Dairy! And we thought that the silo was the, was the tower, and -- so then we pulled up.

And we weren’t on skis, we were on wheels, and we could just faintly see this green light, red light, green light, red light, they had us at Week's Field, which was then just about where this library is.

They had us in sight, and they finally, -- oh, that's... Because Week's Field was on the edge of town, and so it wasn't out you know a field, out like Creamer's where you saw it, it just stood alone out in town.

That looked like the landing field, so that was my first introduction to Creamer's Dairy.

And, the second thing, that summer we ah... Well, I should say that it turned 50 below for the next month here, and Pan-Am did not come in, they couldn't fly at that weather.

So in the meantime it warmed up once one day to 20 below, and the fellow that bought the airplanes wanted to know if we wanted to take a bunch of cargo over to Kotzebue.

And we thought oh, well that would be fun. We'd already lost our jobs back in the northwest. We'd been flight instructors at different places, but they'd replaced us.

And so we did that and got weathered in out there for another two weeks, three weeks, I think. Oh in Galena, then Kotzebue.

When we came back, we got interviewed by a young fellow named Chuck West, who had just quit his job flying for Wien Airlines, and said he was starting the first travel service north of Juneau.

And it was going to be in Fairbanks, and would we like to work for him, but he couldn't pay us very much but ah. Anyway, we went to work for Chuck, half the time we were flight instructing, and other times we were working for him, depending on how much money he could pay us.

And how much it... any time he didn't have money to pay us, we just went out to the field and instructed. And decided that gee, we better stay around for the summer and see what it's like in Fairbanks. Well, when the summer came, the first tourists started coming over the highway.

It had just been opened to... One day we were, this travel service that Chuck had was an old tin shack down on First Avenue, and some people walked in, they'd just come over the highway, and they wanted to know if there was any tours you could take around Fairbanks, and we said, "Well, could they come back this afternoon?"

Well, Chuck was out for lunch, he came back, and we said, "Chuck, if you didn't have such a beat-up old car, we could probably get people and show them some sights around here!" He says, "You didn't tell them no, did you?" We said, "No, we didn't. We told them to come back."

He says, "Well, I'll see what I can do." So he was on his way to the bank to see what he could borrow to buy a car, and over the highway came this big airport limousine, an 11 passenger limousine.

They asked, "Hey buddy, any place I could sell this rig?" Chuck said, "Well step into the bank." Next thing you know here’s Chuck outside beeping on the horn he said, "Will this do?"

He says, "Ok you girls, you go out and make up a tour." And so we started out, and that’s what we did for the rest of the summer with that rig.

And we found out well, we would go out to, remember um, the gal, what was her name that mushed dogs, the only woman dog musher up here then -

No, it was Effie, wait a minute, I think I have it down here somewhere...Ah, she lived um, I’ll come to it in a minute. Anyway, we'd take people out to her dog kennels. Jackie Landrau.

And then we would go out to Creamer's Dairy, and we went and talked to Charlie, and he said oh, yea bring them in, that’s alright. Always there was -- people who would get off the train, and would come up by boat then take the train, go down to McKinley Park, and they'd stay in Fairbanks a couple of days, and they'd come take the tour.

And we'd go out to Creamer's Dairy, and Charlie would show them around the creamery, and there was always somebody from Kansas or Iowa that, boy this was the highlight of his trip to Alaska, to see they raised cows up here! Can you imagine raising cows?

And -- so just to see those Hollsteins out there, and then he would see... Charlie would tell them stories about you know how they distributed the milk; they'd have to have a fire in the wagon that took them around so the milk wouldn’t freeze, and you have to keep those cows in the barn for well,

Don can tell you how long, most of the winter. And boy, people from the states just wide-eyed, that was one of the highlights of the trip, was going to Creamer's Dairy.

It seems like people that are tourists always want to see something that reminds them of home. And then we go out to Ester, and have the dredges and so forth.

So we got to know the Creamer's.. As this lady said, they were always friendly, they... He always had time to stop with, talk to anybody and answer their questions, and in the meantime he had to run a farm and get the milk out and so forth.

And then as Terrence said, as soon as the... later on when they started bringing, flying in cargo and flying in produce, and then the, what really put Creamer's, Creamer's out of business or made it hard to make a living, was because they were competing with fresh milk that was flown up from the states.

And also this -- what was the stuff they used to sell? You know, some of you old-timers here. You got it frozen, then you re-constituted it? It was better than powdered milk.

Because other than that you had powdered milk, and it wasn't the instant stuff then; to make milk out of powder was wasn't very good tasting, and it took quite a beating to get it into milk. So then when they brought in this frozen stuff that you could re-constitute with water, -- that was, people were buying that instead of...

But anyway I think the story that I guess they wanted me to tell, and I wish there were other people here that were more active in it is how we got Creamer's Diary, because ah...It was becoming apparent that Charlie was not...

it was costing more and more, and he wasn't making any money, it was trying to operate. This probably should be Don's story, telling not mine; I can only tell it from our standpoint.

When we thought, well gosh, we can't lose Creamer's Dairy, because all those ducks and geese that come in. That was sort of a spring rite for Fairbanks.

And -- just if you didn't have those fields there, well gosh to go out to the University and not see those cows in the fields, or not see those fields and so forth,

and then -- it, they... I wasn't there, but I know Bob Weeden and Celia Hunter and a few others that were when they were negotiating for it. What they did, was the community raised enough money and there were kids that took money out of piggy banks, and there was the Ladies’ Garden Club had little socials or something.

And I remember Mary Shields one time we'd picked her up hitchhiking, she had all these boxes of cake mix that she'd gotten from the, some store had donated, and she gave them to her Campfire girls to make cakes with, and then they had a cake sale out at...

It was snowing hard, out there just below the college, those group of buildings at College Inn...

were all these little kids out there selling cakes to save Creamer's Dairy Fields from being subdivided.

And -- what they did was raise enough money to put a down payment to hold it until they could get, and I wished I, I had someone, either Bob Weeden or Celia here that could tell you just exactly, maybe Don can tell the story of how they could get the, if we could hold to get matching funds for, so that they could buy it.

And because there was... the banks said that it had to be sold to one buyer. They didn’t want it in pieces, the money in pieces.

And that meant that somebody didn't just come down and plank all that money at once; and so what I think what was amazing, what to me was amazing, was the Alaska Conservation Society and the Ladies’ Garden Club, and a few other people that really -- were behind this trying to see what we could do to save the land.

And the... Well what was so great about it was this community, there was nobody that was against it; everybody was for it. It was really nice to be an environmentalist and have everybody thinking this is a great idea. And well, let's do it!

And so the community participation in it, and then it went to the legislature, they passed some funding for it, I think um, this was just before they'd struck oil, but they hadn't started the pipeline yet.

And had the pipeline, had it been another year or two years, I can't remember quite, you would have had the pipeline company. That would have been a perfect place to put all that pipe.

As it was, they got that land on the Steese Highway out of town, and cut all the trees down, and the pipes were there. And then of course, by the time the -- pipeline was finished, all the entrepreneurs and real estate developers and everybody from outside was up,

and that land would have been subdivided and looked just about what you can see, you know from Fairbanks, from the Fairbanks city limits out to College would have been just one ticky-tacky houses probably.

And -- I think that it's something that, to go by there in the spring, and see all the ducks and geese coming in, and remember that this was just one of those things, it was just like as you said the Wal-Mart thing, we can't have that.

We've got to have those fields and I think that was one of Fairbanks’ finest hours when they rose to the occasion and got the funding for the fields, and the other one was when they kept Wal-Mart from getting the University fields.