Urban Rahoi was interviewed on March 8, 2014 by Karen Brewster and Barbara Cellarius at the National Park Service office in Fairbanks, Alaska. In this first part of a two part interview, Urban talks about getting started as a hunting guide in Alaska, lessons he learned from guiding, his thoughts on game management, and his experiences flying in Alaska.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Wrangell-St.Elias National Park
Date of Interview: Mar 8, 2014
Narrator(s): Urban Rahoi
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster, Barbara Cellarius
Videographer: Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
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Coming to Alaska
Getting started as a hunting guide
Creating backcountry camps
Lessons learned from guiding
Thoughts on game management
Building a lodge
Flying out of Beaver Creek
The value of planning
Interaction with other guides
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KAREN BREWSTER: Is March 8, 2014 and this is Karen Brewster and Barbara Cellarius. And we're here with Urban Rahoi in Fairbanks, Alaska at the Park Service office. And we're gonna talk about Urban’s connections with Wrangell Park and guided hunting and his Ptarmigan Lake Lodge.
So, thank you, Urban for coming to see us this morning.
URBAN RAHOI: It will be pleasant I’m hoping.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Thanks. But before we start talking about the park, could we just -- could you tell us a little bit about where -- when and where you were born?
URBAN RAHOI: I was born in Iron Mountain, Michigan which is in the UP which to me was a great land to be born in, because it was a lot of recreation. I was a hunter and a trapper and everything.
It was a natural for that and we had perfect for skiing and all these environments that a young person loves to do. And the only thing differences today and then we had to clear our own ski slides down the hills. Brushed them out and that and the skating rink we had to flood it ourself and clear the snow off ourselves or we didn’t have any skating.
So it was kind of makes you a different attitude of what you do in life.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: And when were you born?
URBAN RAHOI: January 7, 1919. It probably was right at the end of the war.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: And then when did you come to Alaska and how did you come to Alaska?
URBAN RAHOI: I came to Alaska in 1947 and it's kind of unique cause the way it -- I wound up here I got kicked out of college and for flunking two subjects. And I went home and told my wife well I’m -- I'm out of there. We gotta go do something else.
And I went out to the airport and the guy told me there's a guy in Iron Mountain that's buying an airplane and he's going to Alaska with it to do charter service. So I -- this friend of mine had a T-6 so we jumped in that and put her in the back and we flew to Iron Mountain and talked to the guy. We made a deal to come up here and buy an airplane and come up and that’s what -- that's what I did.
A month later I was on my way with a float ship, flew across to Seattle which was a good experience flying across trying to find gas and that. Flew up to British Columbia and the coast and went up into Whitehorse and then into Fairbanks through Burwise (phonetic).
KAREN BREWSTER: What kind of plane were you flying?
URBAN RAHOI: Piper PA-12. And, whatcha call -- it was a three place airplane on floats.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So you had learned to fly before you came up to Alaska?
URBAN RAHOI: Oh, yeah. I started -- I start -- I learned to fly in 1934 and kept flying. I actually intended to become a commercial airline pilot and get a physic -- my commercial in about 1940 -- ’41. But then the war come along and I changed.
I talked to a friend of mine in Escanaba and he says don’t take your commercial now. He says join the Air Force and get a hell of a good education on flying and that and that’s what I did then in ’42.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: And what so -- when you -- initially when you came to Alaska then you were working doing the -- the air charters?
URBAN RAHOI: We were doing air charters, yeah, for miners. And, of course, I think I chopped my own hand off in my advice to people because I told the miners up around Wiseman I says load the damn draglines on barges and bring them to Fairbanks here and start baling for the government and make some money cause gold mining wasn’t very rich in them days.
So that’s what we did -- started doing flying up north in the Brooks Range. My first trip up -- when I got here was up to Chandler Lake on the North Slope to bring two guys from New York up. They were going to study the Natives up there cause those Natives were the most premier living of all the Natives up here. They hadn’t changed.
So it was kind of interesting deal going there because there were some fine people there, but they sure lived a tough life. And I got a kick out of them because they were using little .22’s small caliber guns to kill the caribou and these guys had them big cannons and he let them use, what you call it.
There must have been two caribou one behind the -- and they shot it and two of them fell down. He thought that was great.
KAREN BREWSTER: Do you remember the name of the guys you took up there?
URBAN RAHOI: No, that’s in ’47. But, you know, one of them was mixed up with the National Geographic Magazine. They were there to make the study.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: And then how did you get started with being a hunting guide?
URBAN RAHOI: Well that was ’54 I -- I got started in that. See actually the whole thing about going down to Wrangell’s in ’49 I took my -- I was mixed up in the fighter squadron out here at Ladd Field. I was a member of that for 10 years and my cousin lived in Tok.
He come up to there him and his wife. So I went down and I told this guy -- the operations officer -- I was assistant operations officer, I said let’s go hunting sheep down there in Ptarmigan Lake, you know. I heard about it from another guy.
So I picked up my cousin down in Tok. We went in there in ’49 and in them days the sheep season was only 10 days long and moose season was only 15 days long. Why it was so short was with so few people I could never understand that.
And what you call -- and I came out of there and then in ’50, ’51 I went down to north -- down into Ancho -- Los Angeles to get my A&E license. Then when I come back, I went back in there. I bought a Pacer on floats and then went back in there and started guiding in there.
And I had guy by the name of -- I can’t remember the name -- his name now -- right now, that came in as a guide to guide in there and I flew him in and then he got me my guide license and that.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: The other gentleman was a -- was a guide before you?
URBAN RAHOI: Oh, yeah, he was a guide -- he had been a long time -- term guide here and I was talking with him and he said, yeah, I love to go down there and guide there. So we went down there, but the unique thing was there was a fair amount of sheep, but there was no moose or caribou there.
Predation had pretty well cleaned them out and there was actually from at that time from the White -- Shoshanna River to the what you call -- Robertson River there were no sheep.
There were just practically nonexistent because of disease or something had killed them off, but in that particular area where I was there was an abundant amount of sheep. So I decided to keep going there then after that. If I went in and filed on that claim for a campsite.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: For a campsite or a homestead?
URBAN RAHOI: A campsite. T&M site.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: A trade and manufacturing site.
URBAN RAHOI: But anyway if I would have known then what I know now I'd have filed a homestead. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay.
URBAN RAHOI: A hundred and sixty acres and then I wouldn’t have any conflict with the park service cause I could do anything I wanted the whole thing and I could even make that U-turn.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So how many acres did you -- did you end up with?
URBAN RAHOI: I originally got five acres. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay.
URBAN RAHOI: But then when ANILCA come in later on, I applied for a runway and that was kind of a unique experience too because I wanted a fairly long runway and the two people that come up from the states to do this thing with me they said well why do you want a long runway, you know, because look at these other ones. They’re short -- 12, 1,500 feet.
I said well instead of an argument I’m going to tell you what airplanes I expect to be using on this runway and then you go talk to the FAA and then let them tell you what I need. They came back and they said well you need 4,100 feet and a 1,000 foot fan on the end. I said yeah I’ll buy that.
And then as a consequence the guy traded some other land I owned in the park there -- owned -- so I could own the runway so there wouldn’t be a public runway and they gave me a little adjoining land included and when they did all of that they still owed me $2,000 -- compared -- the difference between the value of that one and this one here.
What you call -- so then we got the runway going and I started building in there -- my house and everything.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So that was after the park was created then?
URBAN RAHOI: Yeah. I was -- I started the house and that before the park. But I needed a runway cause I was just using the 185 on floats in the summer and skis in the winter to go in and out of there, so there was a period in between there you couldn’t get in and out, so that made a necessity of the runway.
KAREN BREWSTER: So when did you start having the -- so starting in 1950 you flew in there without a runway?
URBAN RAHOI: On floats yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: On floats. URBAN RAHOI: We used floats back then.
KAREN BREWSTER: So it took until 1980 to get a runway? URBAN RAHOI: No, it was in the 70’s.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So that was before ANILCA?
URBAN RAHOI: No -- ANILCA, yeah, the runway would be just when ANILCA got in. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay, so --
URBAN RAHOI: I did it immediately when they passed the law. Chuck Budge was the park manager at that time. And I -- I called him and asked him about it and he said well meet me over there and explain to me what you are going to do and I did and showed him the whole thing and he said, Urban, before I leave -- when I explained I’ll trade, he said before I leave we’ll have her done and we -- and he did do it.
KAREN BREWSTER: That was a long time to be going in there without a runway.
URBAN RAHOI: Well, yeah, but the thing what do you do instead of, you know? So actually if I'd a -- if I'd have have filed 160 acre homestead I wouldn’t have to do nothing cause I would have a mile long and a quarter mile wide. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
URBAN RAHOI: So and that's why, you know, I was never a selfish person. And if I had a selfish person I’d have had -- I would have filed the homestead I’m sure, but because the thing that would have gave me all that thing I could have had fenced it in and been a fence for the horses, but I never believed in doing that in spite of the park service I figured, I keep it opened up and the thing -- my horses never go more than about five miles away and they stay within the limits.
I don’t know why they do, but -- cause other people’s horses take off on them and everything, you know. But I think the reason why is because we fed them in the wintertime. Grained them all the time.
And the thing this equine society comes in and says we got to water them, we got to do this -- all this stuff for them and so I just told the park service I don’t have to do that with mine because when they get hungry and they’re in trouble they come in and they’ll let you know because they’ll even go rub against the house.
It's unbelievable what these animals do in respect to wanting to to get you something to eat.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So how many horses did you typically have?
URBAN RAHOI: I had 18 was the most I had because whats you call I had two guides working and then if you are going too busy, you want to let them rest otherwise (inaudible). It is that way. As a matter of fact, I was hoping of a deal where I could go from the highway out here in -- into Shaman Lake into Ptarmigan -- the Shoshanna and over to Nabesna.
A trip right through which would take a week, you know, but I could never put it together. And the one reason why I couldn’t put it together because I wanted to put a big culvert at each main stop point out there so that we could have the kitchen there and everything without tearing up the whole country.
And I had a unique thing request one year there, these people from Phoenix wanted to come up we would have needed 120 horses to do it and I called the park service. I says hey don’t ever let this get out of hand because if we ever do that we are going to desecrate the damn country and let’s have a limit on horses for doing this kind of stuff.
So you can see I have been pretty much for the park too cause, you know, 120 horses going through there would just desecrate the whole country.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So you used the horses to get once your clients were at -- got to Ptarmigan Lake then you used the horses to get them out into the back country?
URBAN RAHOI: Right, right. You see I -- it was cleared with customs went with me on it that we could take the horses out to the highway there at the sawmill by the White River and go all the way through back and forth which, of course, the customs ain’t working that way no more.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: And you mentioned culverts. So is that what you use for your back country camps?
URBAN RAHOI: Yeah, that’s right. I brought them in before the park got there. It was -- I didn’t -- I never could find a spot where there wasn’t rocks sticking up in the bed. So I saw a culvert or a big culvert one day and I thought, hey, you know, if I take that and put ends on it and then urethane around it.
And just show you how good they are, I had two English couples came over for skiing. And they actually stayed in them culverts at twenty below at night and they said they were perfectly warm all the time cause I had a rig so you could heat them then and that.
And it was unique because you get in there and my philosophy was if you’re taking a client out and he can stay warm and dry and eat good, he can go for quite a while, but you sleep on the ground for about three days they’re done. And that’s why I did it. Then I got a helicopter and airlifted them in there.
And that was kind of unique too. I hauled them in with a -- with a -- with that boxcar I hauled them in there for me cause there was no way to get in. And we got them there and we got them rigged up and we had to use 500 D Model.
Picked them up and lifted them right up there on -- at 6,500 feet on top of the mountain. They actually put it in a cradle.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: And did you go in from Northway?
URBAN RAHOI: No, I went in from -- we hauled them in there -- we flew them into the cabin there.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Oh, okay.
URBAN RAHOI: The cabin and lifted them from there and that was a unique experience too because it didn’t cost me a cent. And what happened was a miner up north of Northway he is paying 72 bucks a month for the rent of this helicopter. He uses it about 18 hours and I happened to see him and we knew him good before.
And he says, Urban, get some fuel in there for me and I’ll go in there and lift them for you on the weekend and he did.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Wow.
URBAN RAHOI: See this whole thing of attitude amongst people works out and we work together.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Working with the right people.
KAREN BREWSTER: So where are these culvert cabins in relation to the main lodge?
URBAN RAHOI: They’re out there probably the closest one I think is about five miles or so and the thing is you can walk -- you can go up there and hunt in a day back and forth, but it was more enjoyable to get up in the morning there and be right up there at the bottom of the mountain right there and then you go out and stretch and look around. Oh, there’s a sheep right there, you know, and everything.
And it's just kind of atmospheric deal and I got a kick out of this doctor of mine from -- that did my knees from Bemidji down there came up last summer -- him and his wife and their two kids stayed in there.
And he was a veterinarian up here for 12 years before he went and became a bone doctor out there. So he come up and they went up there with the horses and he says, you know, I was sitting there watching them horses and they’re like moose.
They’re nibbling on this and that. So they eat this grass -- they got the selection of food and they have learned and these horses were bought out of Kluane Lake down there and they had been raised all the time in the wild.
And it was kind of unique the way I got them. I got 18 horses at one time and it was four mares, five colts and six two year olds.
And the reason I got them like that because I wanted to get them young ones in there and then they’ll stay better, you know. And the next year after that two of the mares took off and went back to the highway. And my guide said well we better go get them. I said, hell no, they didn’t take the whole herd this time. We ain’t bringing them back.
Cause, you know, in other words they take the whole herd out there we would have had a hell of a job getting them back.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: And once you brought the horses in, were they there permanently or --
URBAN RAHOI: Yeah. Yep. They stayed there. Yep, they -- like I say, they didn’t hardly ever go more than about five miles away for some reason. I think it is because of the feed and the grass is good there too, you know.
And the snow is never very deep in the Ptarmigan, except once in a while you get a year like two years ago when we had six feet of snow in there.
KAREN BREWSTER: So how does it work with your clients, you fly them into the lodge?
URBAN RAHOI: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: And then you go by horseback to these little cabins?
URBAN RAHOI: Yeah, yeah. Well, the first years I did it I flew the guys -- people from here. We just had that one little cabin and that was really fair chase cause I took a pack on my back and him and whats you call it and take his rifle and we walked.
And the thing -- the unique thing was the reason why I thought about the rocks because when we got some place and it got dark that’s where we slept right there. This was up on the side of the mountain or down or whatever and that got -- so I noticed that the guys were getting pretty beat out.
And then I started thinking about that culvert deal and it's unique because I have a king mattress in there in the bag and turn it sideways you can sleep across and you never -- if it is long enough, you can actually sleep four people there. So it worked out real good.
KAREN BREWSTER: So then you first went in by walking and then how did that change?
URBAN RAHOI: Well, these guys get tired out -- these guys from Outside. See I could walk up a mountain and never stop. I just keep going. I set a pace and I just -- that’s it and whats you call it and I had a unique experience one day. A guy brought his wife along and I always pack the whole sheep in, you know.
And we got up on this place and it was big rocks in there. So I grabbed the damn sheep and I put it on my back and I took off across the rocks and I got around the corner I thought -- you damn idiot you’re making that guy look bad.
So I dropped the sheep and went back and got them and brought them down and then went back and got it myself. I never did it again.
That would be embarrassing, you know.
KAREN BREWSTER: To have somebody else carry your kill?
URBAN RAHOI: Yeah, I’m carrying the whole damn kill and jumping across the rocks and he is having a hell of a time walking across there.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: He is struggling to keep up with you?
URBAN RAHOI: Yeah. And I never did it again. That taught me one hell of a lesson right there. See you make the client looks -- you make him look good.
KAREN BREWSTER: So he carries part of the load?
URBAN RAHOI: No. KAREN BREWSTER: No. URBAN RAHOI: Nothing at all.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: But you’re not running ahead of him? URBAN RAHOI: No more.
KAREN BREWSTER: You carry the load, but you walk at the back? URBAN RAHOI: No. KAREN BREWSTER: No.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: But you stick together?
URBAN RAHOI: I take them down and go back and get it. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Oh, okay. And --
URBAN RAHOI: How would you feel now about your husband if I’m packing a whole sheep down and all he is packing his gun and he is having a hell of a time?
KAREN BREWSTER: I don’t think it would bother me, but I understand your point.
URBAN RAHOI: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: I understand -- that is why I was asking. I understand your point, so I was asking how did you change and that was --
URBAN RAHOI: That changed me right there. KAREN BREWSTER: You changed it that you left the sheep and went back and got it later?
URBAN RAHOI: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yes. URBAN RAHOI: Yeah.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So I’m curious how much of the lessons about guiding you learned from experiences like that and trial and error and how much you learned from more experienced guides?
URBAN RAHOI: I never worked with a guide outside of that old timer until I got my guide license.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: At the very beginning?
URBAN RAHOI: Yeah. And I did a lot of things different than they did and there was a way I did things.
KAREN BREWSTER: Like what?
URBAN RAHOI: Pretty hard to explain. Well, how will I put this? It is kind of a hard thing to decide what the heck you would do different, but I just did different even what they did in the way I did it that’s all.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So you weren’t copying other people. You were --
URBAN RAHOI: No.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: You were figuring out how to make it work yourself?
URBAN RAHOI: If I took you up to get a sheep within two days you will have your ram. Regardless. Where these guys would sometimes take five, six days to do it and that’s the same experience I got with the guides that are there right now.
He sat there for six days waiting for the ram to come to him. They don’t come to you.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: You got to go find them?
URBAN RAHOI: It is an accident when you happen to stand there and they walk into you. You got to go after them and do what you got to do to get them, but then -- the one thing we had a different deal in there too because of the fishing at Ptarmigan that.
Like they can fish -- go fishing -- when they get in -- relax and go fishing while we are doing the work and cleaning them. It makes a hell of a unique difference for the person enjoying it too, see.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So you had other activities people could do?
URBAN RAHOI: Yeah. Well, the other thing is too I have actually -- I hurt my business in some ways at times too because I was pretty insistent about them guys that bring a wife -- their wife along.
If the wife couldn’t come, how about their daughter or a son? Well some of these old timers say well they’re married and that.
Well, how about the grandchildren then? I got someone so mad they wouldn’t even hunt with me, but I just feel that way about it. This is a family -- so it would be a family deal. When we hunted back home -- deer, it was a family deal, you know, out there.
Everybody enjoying it altogether and that’s why I try to run that too, but it was hard to do it and getting the money in there because there are so few of them want to take any of the family along.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So it sounds like your experience learning to hunt and going hunting growing up in Michigan --
URBAN RAHOI: That’s right.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Influenced how you saw your guiding business?
URBAN RAHOI: That’s right. I felt the same way about that. It is the -- and the ones that brought their families and, you know, I think back to some of these guys that brought their son or daughter, you know, they were jumping up more than when they killed their own.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yes.
URBAN RAHOI: They were more excited and that’s what made -- that made me enjoy it more.
I totally enjoyed it when it was like that, but otherwise most of them hunts -- a trophy hunter, I wouldn’t even -- I won’t even book a trophy hunter because they're nothing but trouble. Give you a hard time all the time. But if a guy comes in and wants to hunt sheep and if you get a big one, I had a guy get a 47-1/2 incher.
And he wasn’t even looking for a trophy see -- a super trophy. I have had several 45’s. They were not trophy hunters. They were people coming hunting and we just happened to find one you see.
And they went home happy and it just makes me happy when I see somebody being happy like that. I killed one sheep. That’s all I ever shot and I figure well, I got my kids to shoot one. They shot one. That’s enough.
And then I get in an argument with these guys that want to kill more and more, you know. They think it’s great, but what’s so great about killing more. That’s what makes no sense to me. Now when I killed a moose, it was for meat.
It wasn’t for -- so it wasn’t one for a trophy dealer, you know. Like I say, I have a different philosophy than most of these guides.
KAREN BREWSTER: The idea about the whole family coming is that partially it is a lodge -- the family comes and they can go hiking or they can go --
URBAN RAHOI: That’s right. KAREN BREWSTER: Fishing while -- URBAN RAHOI: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: The other one goes hunting? URBAN RAHOI: Yeah, that’s right.
KAREN BREWSTER: Maybe the family doesn’t want to go hunting, but they have other things they can do.
URBAN RAHOI: They can go fishing. They can sit there and, you know, I have had wives come back that just stay in the lodge and they enjoy each other and then they’ll go out and walk around in the woods there and look around, but they just enjoyed it.
And I think that’s a great way to be a hunting deal in itself. That’s why I have a conflict all the time when I go to those conventions because I -- of my attitude, but I can’t help it. That’s the way I feel about those kind of things, you know.
And to me I could not go hunting like these trophy hunters do -- just to hang another horn on the wall like that -- like it makes you great. I don’t think that it is that great really.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, you’ve been a hunter your entire life.
URBAN RAHOI: All my life, yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: And so what is it that makes you want to do that? What does it give you?
URBAN RAHOI: More or less getting out there and like I say, I’ve gone up many times that I could have killed an animal and just enjoyed looking there like my son-in-law. I got a culvert up at 6,500 feet on top of the mountain right where the sheep are walking around there, you know, and everything.
And he went up there to get a ram here a couple of years ago and he said, you know, it was so beautiful up there I didn’t even shoot one. He said I just sat and watched them, see? He really enjoyed it up there.
That’s the philosophy I look at a thing is not -- it is nice to kill one and maybe put one on the wall. I got one on the wall down in the camp that’s all I got.
But I think that’s what hurt my business too was a little bit because of my attitude of doing this, but I don’t care. But I tell you what though up until two years ago I had a hundred percent success in hunting because I won’t book a guy unless I’m pretty damn sure he is going to get something whether it be a moose or a caribou or whatever it is and that’s how I feel about it.
KAREN BREWSTER: So how do you know where the animals are? Someone wants to go sheep hunting. How do you know where to take them to ensure they get one?
URBAN RAHOI: After you have been in the country for a while you pretty well know what’s going on -- you learn that, but right now it's either sheep. Where we would normally would see many, many sheep on these feed beds up there, not a one. Nothing. It’s really tragic what’s going on over there and it is going to be a hell of a fight to get it back up -- to get that back up again and it is going to take a lot of predator control and everything else to do it.
KAREN BREWSTER: So the animals aren’t where they used to be?
URBAN RAHOI: No. They’re down. There used to be over 2,000 sheep up in there and now there is about 300. That six feet of snow here a couple years ago.
As a matter of fact, I thought we were going to lose everything. We would end up with practically nothing. Them other ones survived. God only knows.
KAREN BREWSTER: That was my question. What do you think is causing that decline?
URBAN RAHOI: Well, the thing is if they -- the wolves -- the predators had plenty to eat cause they were dying all over the mountains there and they knew where they were. So they survived through the spring. If we would have had the six feet of snow in March, they’d have made it. They could -- they had enough body weight to survive and that is always the way I look at it.
And whats you call, you go back in ’54 we had the same thing happen there back there in ’54. We had the deep snow. And the sheep were right there around the cabin.
They were going through there trying to find something to eat, but hey the snow was about that deep. They were plowing through -- the moose and everything were just plowing through it. And it was almost so bad you wanted to kill them all cause they are suffering so damn bad. They ain’t getting nothing to eat and their body is going bad.
KAREN BREWSTER: So in ’54, did the sheep population decline?
URBAN RAHOI: It declined then, yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, because of the snow.
URBAN RAHOI: As a matter of fact, after that happened I didn’t see moose or caribou for several years. We never saw anything at all and I ain’t afraid to admit I got cyanide and I took care of it.
And the animals came back up and it is just like the Forty Mile Country, you know. When I came here there was 250,000 caribou in this area -- in that herd.
KAREN BREWSTER: Is that the Nelchina? URBAN RAHOI: It went down to 6,600.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: The Forty Mile herd?
URBAN RAHOI: Yeah. Down to 6,600 and that’s when they got desperate and they got the helicopters in there. Killed the wolves off and that and cut them down. Now it is up about 70,000.
And it took a lot of hard work to get it back and actually I think if we hadn’t done something you could have eliminated the caribou literally. And that’s why I disagree with the park service so much and the attitudes they got because they’re not looking at reality and that’s one thing I have to look at is reality in this world. No offense to you.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: No, I understand.
KAREN BREWSTER: And you’re allowed to say negative things about the park service.
URBAN RAHOI: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: In this recording, that’s what I’m saying.
URBAN RAHOI: Well, I don’t care because, you know, I’m 95. I surely must have learned something in practically 70 years up here that people don’t realize. And it is something you aren’t going to learn in a book cause it just seemed like there is stuff that never got in a book.
And when I came here, like I said, from the Shoshanna to the Robertson there was no sheep period. There are sheep now, but they’re down again -- they’re way down. And whats you call, I think what is happening is just predator -- between predation and the normal things that happen -- sickness and that, it has gone bad.
Like I say, when we had 2,000 sheep in there, I remarked to the park service when they got here that it was in decline. And like I said, I look at -- at my guide area like a farm and that’s the only way you can look at it in reality if you want to be in business.
You got to look at reality and say this is a farm and if you take care of the crop, you’ll have more business then. But the thing if you don’t take care of things and keep the balance and I know I’m tolerant of most of the people and the attitude but I can’t help that because --
KAREN BREWSTER: So has -- talk about the role of the wolves with this sheep decline. Is it because of the wolves?
URBAN RAHOI: Actually our biggest decline was because of coyotes.
KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, really.
URBAN RAHOI: Yeah. It was kind of unique cause I was driving down a hill down by Burwash. We hadn’t -- didn’t see any coyotes up till then and the damn -- I see a pair of eyes on the road down ahead there and I thought, oh, oh, a wolf. I get up there it is a damn coyote. I stepped on the gas and tried to run over him, but I didn’t get him.
And it was about a few years later -- well, we noticed was -- it was kind of unique because I’m over on the American side -- on the Canadian side over here was all these concentration of sheep along the White River. And I noticed a noticeable decline within a couple of years bad it went way down.
And we thought what the hell is going on here and then we happened to see a coyote over there in Francis Creek. I said oh, oh, we got it.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So when would you say the coyotes started showing up?
URBAN RAHOI: It is about fifteen years ago or so. I am not sure of the exact year, but that’s --
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So fairly recently.
URBAN RAHOI: And they got sick fast cause there was so much to eat and they just took them down hard and then with the snow that helped -- the rest of it killed it off. Now the coyotes are down and the wolves moved in again so the coyotes are down.
But we are still seeing some coyotes. Normally they say a wolf -- the wolves come in the coyotes are -- literally are gone. And, you know, you talk about these animals it's unique because now there's foxes in there.
And we had a unique experience with foxes cause I was putting in bait -- to bait the wolves down and the coyotes down so we could shoot them and there was a pack of 13 wolves laying out there by this bait pile I got out there -- meat that hadn’t thawed out.
This fox comes up and he takes a little piece -- takes another little piece out of the pile and the wolves just sit there and look at him, you know. So he goes over and he grabs a big, big chunk and he started dragging it.
This wolf goes over and runs him off and puts the thing back on the pile. And, you know, a guy needs one of them super cameras down there so you can do these shoots -- shots from way off. And the thing I laugh at is because people don’t see this stuff when they’re in there because you’re not there long enough.
And the first cabin I built when you sat down you couldn’t see out the window so a couple of moose walk right by and we didn’t even see them, you know. So the lodge now I got them big bay windows you can see out there and it is amazing if you’re watching what you’ll see with the different animals and birds and that.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So when did you build the bigger lodge?
URBAN RAHOI: I started that just before the park service got there.
KAREN BREWSTER: You built the lodge originally?
URBAN RAHOI: Yeah. No, no, I built this -- it was 12 x 20 foot cabin. Just a plain cabin and I had at the one end I had three double bunks, Army bunks from the old days, you know.
And then I had a table over here and a stove -- wood stove over here to cook in and then I added on to that -- two bedrooms on it the next and then I had a C-46 come in and they brought a big load of lumber and then we added the front room on it and a bunch of other stuff on to there.
And I’m trying to find all that movies of this stuff that we did back then.
KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, cool.
URBAN RAHOI: Cause in ’46 was unique. There was -- (inaudible) flew it in. So we went down with a Cub first and inspect the snow. The snow was about as deep as this table almost.
KAREN BREWSTER: Four feet deep.
URBAN RAHOI: And whats you call, so we got out and looked it over and he kicked around and he said, well hey, it hasn’t drifted this winter so we can land right in this snow. So anyway we went back and they loaded the 46 up with all the lumber and everything and he come in and landed.
And when he landed, we were taking a movie of this guy -- a friend of mine, was taking a movie of it and when he touched down the snow exploded. Just like if he crashed, you know.
We went holy crap and he comes taxing out of it and he taxied up to where we’re standing there and I said well, can you taxi it over around the point here and by the house where we want to put the house.
Yeah, he taxied over there. We unloaded it and I could not believe how short that airplane got off that lake with the snow on it.
KAREN BREWSTER: That was before the runway?
URBAN RAHOI: Yeah, that was on the lake.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Cause you were landing on that lake. URBAN RAHOI: Yeah, it’s on the lake, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: A frozen lake.
URBAN RAHOI: Well, most all the stuff that is in there has all been landed on the lake -- on the ice. We had to plow the runway -- the ice. The day -- the year we took the Herc in it didn’t snow until March so there is five feet of ice on there.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: It would be a nice airstrip.
URBAN RAHOI: A good solid air --
KAREN BREWSTER: So you first built that cabin in what year -- that 12 x 20?
URBAN RAHOI: That was ’52 I think -- ’52 or ’53. I'm not sure cause we were sleeping on the ground in the tent and I said I got to get a cabin here. We can’t keep sleeping on this.
KAREN BREWSTER: And then when did you build the extend -- what’s now the lodge -- the expanded one?
URBAN RAHOI: I’m not sure the exact year. It was before -- just before the park got made.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So late 70’s maybe?
URBAN RAHOI: Yeah, cause whats you call, I got it in there and that’s why I wanted to get the runway cause now I got -- if I can get constant business -- summer business everything I was thinking then we need a good runway in there for good airplanes. Then it got to be all year too.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: And did you have folks coming in -- I mean we talked about how people would bring other family members with them. But were there other kinds of activities that people would come in not to hunt, but to go horseback riding or anything like that?
URBAN RAHOI: We had a few, but not -- not many. See I had some travel agency from Germany come over and the cost of getting in there was the whole problem. It was very expensive to get to that part -- they could come from Germany and damn near be cheaper to make that whole flight than --
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right. URBAN RAHOI: It was to get into Ptarmigan Lake.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right. URBAN RAHOI: See.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So did you usually fly out of Fairbanks or Tok or Northway?
URBAN RAHOI: With the 185 on floats I did a lot of flying out of here. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay.
URBAN RAHOI: Because gas was only about 35 cents a gallon. Now it is six dollars. That’s a hell of a difference.
KAREN BREWSTER: But you also flew from Beaver Creek at some point, didn’t you?
URBAN RAHOI: 1964 I started flying out of Beaver Creek and I flew till two years ago when they told me I couldn’t do it anymore and I am mad about that because surely I have proven that I could be trusted and to do it.
And the head guy at the Customs on the border he says, Urban, I don’t know why we bother you at all. We know what you’re doing, but the people in Anchorage they won’t accept it. I think they got kind of an arrogant attitude.
See my philosophy in life is but to make things work. I don’t care what it is you make it work and if it works, you don’t screw with it.
And it kind of unique because how I got this thing started was a thing in itself. I went and seen the American Customs. They says no. I went to the Canadian down there at the same time because it is only 20 miles. Talked to him and he thought this was great. You’re going to save all that gasoline and I can’t understand a guy back in ’64 even talking about that, you know.
It was great and I knew it would be. So I went in there and then I would come back and I talked to the Americans again and they said no. So they didn’t know I had a good friend over there in the Treasury Department.
The treasurer himself knew me. We knew each other from deals, you know, and that experience. So I called him and he said, Urban, hang up the phone. Don’t waste your money. I’ll take care of it.
Twenty minutes later they called me and -- from Anchorage and the guy says what’s your problem? I says you’re the problem. He says explain it to me and I told him what. And he says we’ll take care of it. That was it.
And from then on I went down there and whats you call, I didn’t have to do nothing at the American Customs. They just checked back in.
And then it was about twenty years ago we had a little problem. Some new guy come in and he started this crap, you know. So I talked to the guy and he finally agreed to let the Forty Mile come down and fly for me -- haul the stuff in. I says now if there is any trouble let’s figure out how we can cover everybody’s butt so nobody is exposed.
So we come up with the answer with that. I’ll make a list of all of the stuff I’m taking in and how many flights and all the whole thing. So I did that for that next years that I give him that slip and I went through it.
And then the Canadians their attitude when I drove up keep going and I could bring people and they wouldn’t even check the person. They wouldn’t check me or check the person even that was with me.
And the first couple of trips I made in there that first year the guy would come out there and check me every time and the head guy come out and said what the hell you doing there? The guy is checking me out. He said go back and leave him alone.
And it's so simple. Why can’t we trust people? And that has been my phil -- big argument in life is working together. Even in the government -- local government or anything you do if you can work together you have success.
It is just like that railroad spur I built out there. That’s what makes me mad at the park service about this gravel. I built that railroad spur, Bobbie Mitchell and I, out of our own pockets. Cost me 230,000 bucks, but look what it achieved because we built it high enough to dike the river out too.
Built all the streets out there, put in 8,000 feet of sewer line, trunk line to get all the sewage cleaned up out of that end so they don’t dump it in the ground.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: This is here in Fairbanks? KAREN BREWSTER: This is --
URBAN RAHOI: In Fairbanks, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, this is your trademark in Fairbanks.
URBAN RAHOI: Yeah. I did that whole road -- all the roads in that section of land over there. Now that’s why I get exasperated when the government is so tight you can’t even wheelbarrow gravel for God’s sake, you know.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you’re flying from Beaver Creek that changed after September 11th when the --
URBAN RAHOI: No. KAREN BREWSTER: Rules changed?
URBAN RAHOI: No, no, no. What happened there was kind of unique cause I called down there to this gal that was running the same place at the airport in Customs there and I asked her about that deal. And she said well there’s five airplanes sitting here now. We can’t get into Cana -- Alaska.
I said what do you mean? Well, because 9/11 they shut it all down. So I called Anchorage and chewed out the head guys in Anchorage. Within an hour them people were flying to Northway.
I said how stupid can you be? One of your own people are sitting there for God’s sake, you know. And to me that exasperates me when people get panicked like this and shut the whole country down when it's unnecessary.
They are good American people just trying to get home here, you know.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So is it more recent than -- than 9/11 that you have had trouble getting across the border?
URBAN RAHOI: Never had any trouble after 9/11 until this -- two years ago. They got so gung-ho about terrorists and that that they got extreme in their attitudes. It was kind of unique cause my wife was dying two years ago in September there and she was supposed to die by end of July according to the doctors.
So I called Jeff down there and I said Jeff, I got to go in there -- three trips out of Beaver Creek and I’m going to go down today and I’ll be back tonight, you know. So I took and left here and drove 320 miles -- made three trips in there and drove 320 miles back.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Wow.
URBAN RAHOI: At 91 years old. Now to get that thing done depend on the lodge in there and I came back and then they cut me off. He says you can do it now because they are not going to arrest anybody until October.
KAREN BREWSTER: Did you at some point with your family and your wife did you live at Ptarmigan Lake Lodge?
URBAN RAHOI: No, we never lived -- we used to go down and spend a lot of time there though.
KAREN BREWSTER: You never lived there year round?
URBAN RAHOI: No, because I was -- the kids were going to school and then also running the business here and all this other stuff that was going on.
So I mixed up in a lot of things -- I should have dropped a lot of things and enjoy my life more instead of fighting these political battles.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you were a hunting guide for part of the year and the other part of the year you did construction and other things here in Fairbanks?
URBAN RAHOI: And a lot of politics trying to get things done too.
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.
URBAN RAHOI: You see the thing I wanted to achieve things in the city. Classic example I fought for a number of years and won technically was to move the railroad between the Mitchell Highway lanes over to the airport. We were going to put the depot over at the airport and once the railroad and the highway department agreed to it, I thought -- I assumed well, okay, I can get on to these other things now.
Well, according to some friends of mine and some politicians didn’t like it going to be that way -- the train going through there, so they killed it.
But yet I could have eliminated all the railroad crossings from the depot to the power plant on Ladd Field -- Fort Wainwright. Now you might wonder how in the hell could I be so intelligent about that.
That goes back to that highway job I had back in the thirties because back before that, you know, you guys are too young for that, but the highway used to go -- all the highways went for three miles and then you went over a mile and then you went -- it was zigzag all the way over to the next town, you know.
So in 1936 VanWagner got to be highway commissioner and he decided I want to change it. We are going to modernize this country. So instead if you go over in the Upper Peninsula -- Lake Michigan there, we built the road -- new road along the shoreline all the way there across to Blaney Park over there by Manistee and then we kept the road going pretty straight all the way across and shortened up all them roads, see.
And we did that to all the roads. In 1941, I went down to Ypsilanti. We were design -- working on the survey for the highway from Ypsilanti to Flint -- expressway because of the war. See.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you worked for the highway department in Michigan before you moved to Alaska?
URBAN RAHOI: Oh, yeah, yeah. That’s where I got my experience. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.
URBAN RAHOI: With this planning ahead. See when I was on the Assembly -- Borough Assembly, I actually -- the highway department had a meeting with us and I wanted them to get the right-of-way for the Mitchell Highway for this other highway across -- design all this stuff now before we build a town and they looked at -- who the hell is this idiot?
KAREN BREWSTER: You were ahead of your time perhaps.
URBAN RAHOI: Well, I have been way ahead of my time all my life. I was looking down the road a long ways see. And that’s just like everything else like the park service. We could have cooperated together and do a lot of things together instead of fighting each other.
Now when you guys got that thing or the McCarthy there, I was the guy that talked to Stevens and Murkowski. They wanted my opinion on the whole thing and I said don’t pass it up because that is something that you are never going to see again.
KAREN BREWSTER: What’s -- is that you mean having access to Kennicott Lodge?
URBAN RAHOI: Yeah, the mine there -- saving the mine. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
URBAN RAHOI: You know, have you ever been down the railroad grade on that? Doesn’t it amaze you how they did that? KAREN BREWSTER: Yes.
URBAN RAHOI: In 1919. I look at that and I just think these guys were the greatest guys in the world. They did the impossible literally.
KAREN BREWSTER: I think about that on the road to Skagway too.
URBAN RAHOI: Yeah, that’s right, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: And that train and how they did that. URBAN RAHOI: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
URBAN RAHOI: And that is -- you can see how I’m a different person when it comes to that kind of stuff. I look at that and I look back on these people what they did and achieved.
And you look at another thing the Grand Coulee Dam. And you ever seen the movie on that?
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
URBAN RAHOI: What do you think of that? KAREN BREWSTER: It is amazing.
URBAN RAHOI: Built with picks and shovels and wheelbarrows.
KAREN BREWSTER: It is amazing. Well, I think what you did starting your lodge out at Ptarmigan Lake from nothing and back in the fifties pretty amazing pioneering too.
URBAN RAHOI: Well, the only thing that people ask me how’d you do that? To me it was simple, roughly simple. It was just common sense.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: You just did it.
URBAN RAHOI: I want to get a grader in there that -- that scraper and I know that scraper is 11-1/2 feet wide, but I didn’t know what the Herc was. So I measured the Herc. It is 10 feet four inches. So you know what everybody said? I guess you are going to have to drive it in.
I said no I ain't gonna drive it in. I went back and measured the back wheels. They were 10 feet -- nine feet, eight inches. So I took it out to a welding shop out here -- a friend of mine and I said okay, let’s start chopping.
And we cut it apart, put her back together and drove it in the Herc. Now how much brains does that that to achieve this kind of stuff to achieve what you want to do back in there, see?
Now also the park service says they don’t want no heavy equipment according to the latest stuff I was reading in any of there stuff. Well, how do you achieve anything even like building your headquarters? You got to have equipment in order to build it.
So, in other words, then you guys shouldn’t have been able to build your headquarters because you’re going to use equipment to do it.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you brought in heavy -- scraper so you could build --
URBAN RAHOI: Move the gravel, yes. Build the runway and achieve all that stuff, see.
KAREN BREWSTER: You brought it in a Herc? URBAN RAHOI: Herc, yes.
KAREN BREWSTER: That landed on the lake? URBAN RAHOI: On that lake, yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. But how did you clear the snow off the lake so you could land the Herc with the scraper?
URBAN RAHOI: We -- well, we walked a little bitty cat -- a John Deere -- 350 John Deere cat -- a little loader and we took that little loader in there and cleared that runway -- 6,000 feet long with that little loader. It took a few days.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Did you walk that one in?
URBAN RAHOI: I walked that one in, yeah. When I -- when I walked that in, I brought them boats in too. They’re on that Rock Lake over there, two boats. And a bunch of other stuff and that was an interesting trip in itself too.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So did you come in from Canada?
URBAN RAHOI: Canada -- from the sawmill. We came from the sawmill and come up the Beaver Creek there and that was quite a trip because we did it in December, you know. My son and my sister’s son was up here and it was kind of interesting. They had lots of problems and different things to cope with, you know.
And then they got down there at the mouth of Ptarmigan Creek and they didn’t -- they left the damn cat in gear and forgot you got to put it in neutral to start and they couldn’t get it started.
So I walked down there and just as I got there they figured it out and put it in neutral and got it started. I walked that whole nine miles down there in the snow.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, at least you got a ride back.
URBAN RAHOI: No, I walked back. KAREN BREWSTER: You walked back.
URBAN RAHOI: He drove it back and I walked back again too.
KAREN BREWSTER: And so what year would that have been about?
URBAN RAHOI: That was in ’72 or something like that, way back.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: You mentioned Forty Mile Air. URBAN RAHOI: Yeah.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: So you worked with them some times?
URBAN RAHOI: Yeah, they didn’t do flying in the beginning cause I did my own flying hauling people because they -- using these commercial outfits your people would get delayed.
So I took the 185 and I’d pick them up right here in Fairbanks and I say the gasoline was real cheap. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right.
URBAN RAHOI: So I’d fly them straight through because I wanted -- now if you came there you want to go there right away. You don’t want to stop and spend a day in Tok. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Sure.
URBAN RAHOI: And all this stuff. So I -- I’d just fly them direct -- take care of them. It was nicer cause that’s what they wanted to get in there and start enjoying what we got.
KAREN BREWSTER: But after a while did that change?
URBAN RAHOI: No, actually what happened I had lost my God dang insurance so I can’t haul people.
KAREN BREWSTER: No, so that’s why Forty Mile Air now hauls people in?
URBAN RAHOI: Yeah. Yeah. I have them all right in direct. And I usually drive them down to Tok in there.
You know gasoline is getting to cost a lot of money too, you know, and things are getting expensive as heck.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: And I know that there is some other guiding operations in that, you know, in the general area (Inaudible) and out of Shoshanna, were those -- do you know if those got started about the same time as you --
URBAN RAHOI: Well, see -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: Or did they come in later?
URBAN RAHOI: McNutt -- there was a guy in (inaudible) years ago before McNutt and McNutt come in there way after I was there -- probably about twenty years or so after I got there and there was a guy up on the White River had a place up there that was guiding there.
And he -- he died and then Baden (phonetic) got it and Baden was a pretty tough guy on bears and that because when I come in there, there was lots of bears. You could fly the White River and you could see six, eight bears in just that little flight up there.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. Brown bears or black bears?
URBAN RAHOI: Grizzlies and whats you call, so the game was down bad. The moose and the caribou were down pretty hard because of it. Now I understand too, you know, just like the sheep. When the sheep were up over 2,000 there, I talked to the Fish & Game if there was some way we could maybe kill some of the ewes or something that were barren, but they’re eating the country up and that was a no-no.
Nobody would ever like that one at all, but I look at it from a balance. I don’t want to see the wolves go completely, but we have to keep a certain number -- a ratio and everything. They say I’m a farmer. I was raised on a -- pretty much on a farm too.
KAREN BREWSTER: So when these other guides that you were talking about, was there a conflict between you guys over territory or animals or your clients?
URBAN RAHOI: Well, see up until the guide districts were put in there, everybody -- they always went everywhere. I didn’t. I hunted my own area there, but these other guys because they didn’t take care of the damn predator balance I had more game in my area than the other guys did.
So they took and started coming down -- right down near me before they made the guide district and I give them that joint use. That was a big mistake because they ignored the lines anyway and like I said, (inaudible) created a bad situation for himself because he over booked and too many guys didn’t succeed, you know.
You don’t -- the other thing is you don’t let a guy sit around the camp for a week like that and never get out hunting because you’re over booked and you can’t handle it. So I -- I booked just what I could handle and would take care of people in the proper way so they would be very happy.
And then actually we -- we let guys stay for a week after if they wanted to stay because they just enjoyed. Maybe go out and fish a little bit. In September, maybe go up and shoot a few birds and that and relax. I had one guy stay three weeks.
BARBARA CELLARIUS: Enjoy their time in Alaska.
URBAN RAHOI: Totally did because he went out with the guys and handled the horses and everything, you know. And took care of stuff like that. He said I never enjoyed a hunt so damn much in my life.
And, you know, and it got down to the last couple days and he hadn’t got his ram yet and so we took him down there by Ophir Creek -- the Rocker Creek down there on that bend and there were some rams up on top there and he got a beautiful almost 39-1/2” head. Prettiest head you ever saw.
The curls were nice -- everything you want, you know. And he went up the first day on the day before the end of the season and they spooked them. They didn’t get a shot. They go back down and stayed at that camp down there on the Rocker.
They look up there the next day and there they are back there again. So they went back around them and came over and he got it. The last day at three o’clock in the afternoon.
You know, to me that’s what makes a nice hunt out of it when people you take care of them like that. And he helped with the camp there. And like I said, he enjoyed that and every time I go to the convention I see him.
God, he has got to buy me lunch and everything. He says, Urban, my God you’re the greatest guide. I said no, I’m not. I said it just I’m just the guy that likes to do the things that I do.