Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
George Hohman
George Hohman
George Hohman talks about a local eatery in Bethel, Alaska called Leen's Lodge, about learning to fly from some of the famous pilots in Bethel, and he tells a story about the pilot, Pat Smith.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2011-27-02

Project: Bethel Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Jan 27, 1996
Narrator(s): George Hohman
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum
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Sections

Memories of Leen's Lodge

Following Joe Sallison in bad weather

Pat Smith flying a Pilatus Porter

Pat Smith's run in with the law

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Transcript



George Hohman: You know, when I first came up here and it's been, what, 30 some years ago. Thirty-five years ago. It was a great joy to go down to Marsh's Lodge.

You know, I'm sure there -- I'm bringing this up because I'm sure that there are lots of stories in your experience and some of your background that need to be retold.

But Marsh's Lodge became -- it was Marsh's Road house and, I think, then it became Leen's Lodge, if that's historically accurate.

But great prices where they had tables that many people could sit at, I think 4 or 5 or 6 on each side.

The servings were in bowls. You know, you took what you wanted.

As many potatoes, as many pork chops or whatever was on the menu that night, as many times as you wanted.

It was a real nice rural Alaskan Bethel type of a situation, very informal and very good food. Burgie Leen, Burgie Marsh was a fantastic cook and it was always a joy to sit at her table.

She was first married to Clarence Marsh and then she took up with this airplane mechanic named Art Leen.

Art Leen had a tremendous sense of humor and told lots of stories.

He would come out of the kitchen where he was working and he'd have his apron on and he'd be, you know, spotted and greasy and he'd have to tell the story.

Well, old Spike McLain was from Juneau. He was up with the MA&I crew.

The Minor Alterations and Improvement crew with the BIA and he was kind of the foreman.

And he was sitting there and here comes Art, you know, laughing like that comic character. He had a joke that he had to tell.

So he came out in his work uniform and he sat down at the table. He was all set to start and Spike McLain says,

"Where else in the state or in the country do you have at to sit with the hired help when you eat?"

That took all the wind out of Art's sail. He just turned, got up and went back into the kitchen and continued to scrap the grill clean or whatever he was doing.

But think about that folks in Bethel. Remember some of these good old stories.

Well, I remember -- all these old time pilots. Jimmix [Samuelson] and Joe Sallison and Ray Chris and Pat Smith contributed to my education, limited as it is, as a pilot.

I probably got about 4300 hours piloting command out here in different operations and these fellows, I imagine, have 60,000, 70,000 hours apiece, right.

And I remember one time we were supposed to go to Tuntutuliak. The weather was kind of bad. This is not a long story but it's --

Unknown Voice: Was it bad? George Hohman: No, it's not bad, it's not long but -- oh, the weather, the weather was bad. It was down and so forth. Joe says, "No problem, just follow me. Stay on my tail. " Right.

So Joe took off and I took off behind him. We didn't have much visibility and I was just amazed.

I don't know, Joe, if you remember but I was amazed. He took me right into Tuntutuliak,.

How he found the village, he crossed the river, I saw the Kuskokwim go by us a couple of time.

Bee lined, right straight. Didn't waste a minute or an ounce of gas.

There's Joe's chief supporter right here, Mini.

I talked to JB this afternoon and he was going to try to get in to talk about some of his flying experiences, specifically about Pat Smith.

Pat Smith was a big bear of a guy and truly a gentleman, I think. Just as sweet as anyone can be.

He told me one time about JB was flying a 206, I think he said, and sitting beside him was his young son, Rodney.

They were coming in from the tundra, I believe and here was Pat flying 4913, that old Pilatus Porter that Ray Chris used to have.

The Pilatus Porter was a big airplane that was designed for flying in the Swiss Alps, I believe.

Had tremendous short field, high altitude landings and takeoffs. But it wouldn't go very fast, right.

I think it would cruise about 90/95 miles an hour. Fifty foot wing span, great lift, but no speed and they just flew right on by him.

JB told his little boy Rodney, "There goes a fantastic pilot. You know, he's a great pilot. He can fly backwards", because he passed him.

They passed -- they passed him going so fast and then JB said a couple days later they bumped into Pat Smith.

He was in the store and Rodney goes up and says, "Can I shake your hand. You're the greatest pilot in the world." Pat said "Why?" And he says, "Because you can fly backwards."

Pat -- I happen to have been fortunate enough to be a partner of Pat's in Bush Air when that was formed some time in the early 70's.

But I remember a story about old Pat. You know, true to Bethel custom, Pat enjoyed Saturday night, right.

And he was out enjoying one particular Saturday night and the troopers -- the troopers at that time had responsibility for the policing action.

We didn't have a city police force so they were responsible for maintaining law and order.

Somehow they misconstrued the situation and they thought that they had an individual that was out of order, right?

So they had the paddy wagon there and they were going to put Pat in the paddy wagon down by the Joe Lomack Building where Jimmix's office used to be and so forth.

Pat really didn't want to get in the paddy wagon, you know. And they tried to convince him. Now these were people that were trained in how to handle people, physically if necessary.

And how to confront these kinds of situations. They were supposed to be in command. Well, Pat didn't want to get in the paddy wagon. It was as simple as that.

And the three troopers that were there couldn't get Pat in the paddy wagon so finally they came to their senses and they said, "Mr. Smith, would you mind coming down to the court building on Monday morning?" and Pat says, "Sure." (

So that's the way they resolved that one. And Pat did go down and I don't know what the rest of the story is but Pat was an Akiak boy

and it may very well be that the judge, who was from Akiak, was pretty understanding of the, of his situation on that particular Saturday night episode.