Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Urban Rahoi, Interview 1, Part 2

This is the second part of a two part recording of Urban Rahoi speaking at the Pioneer Aviation Museum's public lecture series at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska on November 20, 2012. He talks about about his remote hunting lodge at Partmigan Lake, the different cabins he built at the lodge, and flying B17s during World War II. On May 20, 2013 Urban realized one of his dreams, he flew a B-17 again. To read more about this, click here to vew the article that appeared about this event in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2012-24_PT.2

Project: Pioneer Aviators Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Nov 20, 2012
Narrator(s): Urban Rahoi
Videographer: Leslie McCartney
Transcriber: Sue Beck
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska State Library, Institute of Museum and Library Services
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
Slideshow
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Sections

Landing an airplane on ice and problems with icing up

Hunting cabins built from culverts

Bankers

Getting started in Fairbanks and pioneering spirit of community

Hauling ore from a mine

Remote landing at night

Carrying heavy loads when guiding

Performing as an acrobat in his youth

Building an airplane as part of A&E license school

Remembering other pilots and members of Fairbanks aviation community

Airplane being hit by flying debris during World War II

A difficult landing during a check ride

Flying in to and supplying Ptarmigan Lake Lodge

Current airplanes and continuing to fly

Early days in Alaska and flying with Al Wright

Flying in World War II

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Transcript

URBAN RAHOI: All them airplanes that landed on the ice. Hajdukovich was coming back from Seattle empty with a DC-3, so he picked up a load down there for me and flew in there and stopped on the way and dropped the load off.

But the DC-6 had been there several times and they had an interesting thing happen with the DC-6. He came in there that year and they were hauling up north so they came in the first of May. And it happened to get cold then.

There was a slush on the lake and they landed and it went to take off. And they were having trouble accelerating, so I got in my airplane and tried to call them on the radio. I wanted to see what was going on. Why they weren’t just jumping right off, you know.

So they took off toward the end down at the lake down there and they slid all the way down and he turned around and come back. And he’d get off and then he turned around again. I told the guy with me watch they are going to put the flaps down a little harder and they are going to over boost the engines and pull the tail way down. And sure enough they pulled it down. But that was a big mistake.

If I could have got on the radio -- they didn’t have the radio on. They got to Northway, landed, and blew all four tires right there in front of the lodge.

They got iced up and froze the brakes. So Richard Wien is coming. I knew he was coming down. So when he got there, I said where the hell is the airplane? They have been gone for hours and it ain’t back. He says it ain’t going nowhere. It is sitting right in the middle of the runway in Northway.

So, but then I -- oh, I had the boxcars in there. The C-82 has been in there. They hauled my -- see I’ve got a unique deal in there. I got culverts -- aluminum culverts I made into cabins and I put five inches of urethane on the outside and put a thing -- a bench across the end and I put a king mattress, fit perfect, and you can actually sleep four people in a king mattress.

Got a nice shelf there and a table and a bench and a gas stove in there. Now you get four people in there when it’s cold and you don’t need much heat. It will heat up in there just four people. That’s how good they were for retaining heat. But that’s my cabins up in the mountains.

Now the Park Service, they’d like me to get them out, but this one guy -- head guy told them no, you can’t do it. I got grandfather rights 'cause they were in there about ten, twelve years before the Park was made, see. So they haven’t tried to kick me out on that one yet.

But if you ever hunt like that, you’ll sure like it. 'Cause, you know, my philosophy was if I can keep a guy warm and dry and give him a good meal, he’ll last a long time. You sleep on that ground, which I’ve done many years down there, you get one of these dudes up there about the third day he's done.

He ain’t going to make it anymore.

And that's how this culvert idea came up. That's why the bankers threw me out the door all the time without opening it. I got these crazy ideas.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So they're multi-plate that you could fly in?

URBAN RAHOI: Well, I was -- for years I did it on floats.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: But I mean these culverts were --

URBAN RAHOI: I flew them in with a helicop -- I flew them in to the boxcar and then a guy -- this is kind of unique story, too.

They were mining -- prospecting up in there. It's what they call tors up there north of Northway about forty-five miles.

And the head guy was in Northway having lunch one day. And I knew him from other deals, you know, and he's got a foreman there.

So I stopped in and had some lunch with him. So we got talking. He says, Urban, I can help you. It won’t cost you nothing. I thought what the -- what kind of deal is this.

So what they were doing they were using that helicopter about fifteen hours a year -- a month and paying for 72.

He said you get the fuel in there, and he said I’ll come in and do the lifts for you. It only took him two hours to lift all that stuff where I wanted it.

It’s unbelievable how fast it happened and just one, two, three -- bam, bam, bam.

And then I built the pipe -- you know, for your gas barrels how you put a tank up on a stand. Well, I put them stands in there and we put two of them on a stand, but we didn’t get the other four of them done.

But he did one at 6,000 feet up there -- 6,500 feet up. He put that thing right on the stand for me.

That’s nice, too, because you get up there and -- we used to sleep up there in tents and the snow on top of us and push the tents down and everything, you know. This way here we go up there and if it snows bad, just get the cards out boys and the coffee pot.

For a while you know, sit and enjoy yourself instead of getting out there killing yourself.

So as you can see, I’m kind a different guy. Like I said, I always tell the bankers when I go in talk with them they don’t want -- I’ll tell you a unique story about bankers though that will blow your mind, too.

The banks in this town would never loan me much money, never. So when I started Lakeview Terrace, I went down and wanted $50,000 to buy transformers and wires just to start the first part of it.

And I’ll go back a little bit on this one before I finish that part. In 1964, I’m on the assembly and Elmer Rasmuson came up here and made a dedication at the university and then he got on the subject of Fairbanks. How bad we were -- we ain’t developers up here. We’re kind of backward and everything. And I can’t use the words I used on him here, because I’d get thrown out.

And anyway, they were pretty bad. Anyway, so I happened to go down -- I was going to the camp and Ed Merdes says, hey, Elmer’s going to be in Delta hunting geese on Friday night and Saturday night, you know. So he says when you come in Friday night, stop in and have supper with us. So I did and I had supper with Elmer and his kid Ed there and we got on banks again.

He said, Urban, I told you I’m not that kind of banker. I said, well, put your money where your mouth is then. So he said I tell you what I’ll look at your place on Sunday night when we fly back to Anchorage. And I thought that was just a lot of bull. He would just come in and they’ll be polite.

So he came and he looked everything over -- looked at the books, looked at the plans and everything, and looked at what we'd done.

And then he turns to me and he says how much you want? How much do you think I asked for?

I asked him for a million dollars. And that fast he turned to Mark Langley and says see that he's got it by Tuesday.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh, wow.

URBAN RAHOI: There’s a banker. That guy was a banker. And he made a lot of loans like that. I knew with the fishermen, you know, million dollar boats and that. And he looked at the people.

And I asked about this one particular one. He said I know the granddad, I know the dad, I know the kid.

And both those guys paid those boats off in two years out there fishing crabs.

That’s the kind of banker I like. But now you can’t do that anymore. A banker can’t do that. And that's sad.

But when he give me that and said see he's got it by Tuesday I nearly fell over.

But why is it local bankers, you know, like we had plenty value to make the loan in what we had already built, but there was an attitude in this town. I think they didn’t like my attitude. And consequences a lot of people will take it down on you, because they don’t like your attitude, you know.

But to me I’ve been a sincere guy. I come up here and -- if somebody complains about Fairbanks and just like that deal with Elmer. He complained about Fairbanks being backward.

I don’t know how many people -- there might be some of you people in this crowd that realize how a town and a country develops. And I go back to -- this is back to ’47 and the town was right there at Gaffney Road, right?

You been here that long haven’t you? Somebody's been here. But anyway that was the end of town.

I lived out there across from Big Ben Gas Station. I built my first little house. On -- a guy had a piece of land there. He was a mechanic for Seltenreich over there.

And, I asked him if I could build a house there that first winter so I could live some place, you know.

And he said sure. Build it right over there.

So I built this house and I framed it up in three days. I framed it up and got it all, except the door and the windows. Went down and got my wife and got back here in the middle of October. It was colder than hell.

So I stayed with a friend overnight, went in and put the door in that. Went to the NC Company -- I ain’t got no money. I explained to Tom Downes what my problem was. And he says have you picked out the stove? And I said, yeah, we picked out the stove over there. He said can you get it home. I said no. He said, well, take that little guy in the back. He's got a pickup there. He'll deliver it for you. With no money down.

They give me the stove. I take it home and I’ll pay him later. I didn’t pay him until next summer -- what-you-call-it.

So I go out there and then the next day we got a bed in there and that. And they didn’t insulate it, so we -- I went right in back -- now this is getting right down to real pioneering.

To get the wood in. How do you think I got all that wood in to burn? I ain’t got no car. I ain’t got no tractor. So I wrapped up about five logs. They were about that size. They were fire kill and they’re standing out -- you just push them over they’re rotten in the bottom, but they’re solid gold up above, you know.

Wrap about five of each size and put a rope around my neck and hang them under my arm and lift all that load and then drag them home like a horse. And that’s how we kept -- I kept the house warm for two years out there when I moved out to the other one too the same thing.

And that had to be so cold in the winter the damn dogs would go home and say the hell with you.

But to me, that’s real pioneering, see. So, I’m the kind of the guy that nothing is going to stop me. If I make my mind up to do something, I’m going to do it.

And just like flying -- all the flying I did. Like that Norseman hauling ore. Now, I don’t know if I told you about the -- Moraldy , if you don’t tell the airplane, I don’t think it knows the difference."

I won’t tell it either. And just kept on flying. Into Nenana. We’d load it on the flatcar down there and they were shipping it out. And that went on for about two years.

They’d get it all mined. I’d go down and work a couple days and haul it all out of the mine and then load the cart.

So they said -- my first taste of it down there, too, was a -- there was an engineer down there that was surveying up there by -- on the other side of the mountain there. And I had that airplane on skis and in the wintertime they want to land in there, you know. So I landed up on this ridge and it was not too short -- it was kind of short.

So I would just go up the hill a little bit and make a turnaround and park there and then do what I got to do and then take off downhill and get off right away, you know. And that engineer after the two -- first two flights he would not fly with me no more.

And I still do it --

Last year I was still doing what I’ve been doing all the years and what-you-call-it land at night -- pitch black night down there at the lodge. And I have two lights down by the horse corral. And one flashlight up at the other end on the hill. I can line them up straight with the runway -- come around and land there straight ahead. And a couple guys in there asked me never to do that when they’re there cause it scares the hell out of them.

I said you’re scared what about me.

But I will not take people in at night like that. I’ll haul groceries and stuff in, but I won’t take people in the dark. But that is quite a thrill.

The last time I did it was -- it was kind of daylight out at Beaver Creek. I thought ah, it's going to be nice. I'll get in easy. I’ll be able to see the runway. When I got in there, it was pitch black. You got out of that airplane and you couldn’t see nothing.

But I’ve done it all my life. I like it on the ice. It's a little -- little better landing on the ice 'cause you got more -- more room to work with, you know. And I used to fly these things at night, too, all the time.

I don’t claim I’m the best pilot in the world, but I do pretty good.

PETE HAGGLAND: I remember hearing the question from back here about why did you go down there and, you know, I was there in 1954 when I was just a kid. And, but, the lake trout were like that and there were ptarmigan all over.

And I remember Urban coming down off the hill packing a sheep and he was taking a break out on the trail on the flat. And he took his pack off his shoulders and he set it down right on a hornet’s nest. And he came into camp fairly fast.

URBAN RAHOI: You know one thing?

PETE HAGGLAND: What? URBAN RAHOI: In all the years I did, that I packed a whole sheep down I never cleaned them up. I’d throw them all on this pack board I had. I had one of them old military ones -- a plywood board. It was a little longer than the standard one.

The other ones were about six inches longer and would reach up above your head here.

And you could set the head hanging over your head here to get the balance on your body. And walked the whole thing down.

And I did all these, and one day I took a guy and his wife up there and I did that and the poor guy was -- he could hardly walk up there on them rocks.

And, you know, I’m hopping over a rock, and I got over around the side and I put the sheep down. I thought you idiot you’re making a big mistake here. You’re showing that guy up in front of his wife.

And I never did it again. I take them down first, and then I go back and get it.

Well, it’s -- it’s kind of a sensitive subject with your wife and that, you know. I just didn’t want to show him up because you get them dudes up here they have a hell of a time climbing the mountain without doing anything else.

But I have been a real strong body all my life. I worked all my life. I laughed when I went in the service because when I was in high school we had a guy that was a circus guy -- acrobat in the circus and so we decided we would be acrobats, too.

And for three years -- the last three years of our high school we did this acrobatics and before that the basketball game would have hardly any crowd at all, you know. And after we got this show going, hell, they’d have a full house every time.

But this guy was going -- he taught us how -- we’d go a walk -- climb a ladder about a six foot ladder and do a handstand on top. And one of the acts I did with him was I would be on the rings and swinging with my body.

I had my arms like that, you know. Then he would come up with a towel and put it around my neck and he’d do stuff underneath me. And the end of the act was we’d be swinging up and I’d let go like somebody slipped, you know, and then we’d just come down.

But everybody, oh, oh, oh -- they’re falling, you know. They didn’t realize. And then we had another act. I’d lay down on the damn mat and he’d come out and he’d do a handstand on my hands and then he would kick his knees.

His foot came down on my knees and we’d flip up and he's doing a handstand on top of me like that. It was a hell of a deal.

And to do that I had to do -- I’d go over and do a handstand and then push up and down against the wall, with my feet against the wall so I could keep my balance.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Was that done here in Fairbanks or?

URBAN RAHOI: No, in Iron Mountain, Michigan. Yeah, we had a hell of an act there.

This guy was good. He was in the circus all summer doing his acts.

So we did all that we could. It was a good thing to keep us busy.

And then on the nights I didn’t do that I went to a night school under the WPA or whatever they call that class during the depression days there.

So I did that, too. I’d go to school and then we did the -- got my A&E license back there then -- the first one.

And the instructor we had was a guy by the name of Hizerman . Old guy. He was a flyer and he was a mechanic for the Ford Garage down there, but he did airplane mechanic on the side.

And he is a -- he built -- I think he built at least six or seven airplanes in his lifetime. Good, nice airplanes. So when we were taking that class them two years, we built an airplane.

It was a low wing airplane, but it had a BB-65 on it and the airplane was kind of heavy.

So it always flew like that. But when you got the nose down she flew nice.

And that airplane is still there. They got the museum now.

I went back up there and I saw that thing. It brought back memories. And each one of us got to fly it.

He had dual controls in it and everything. But it's a low wing -- It looks like the -- something like that P -- what the hell is that P-26 or whatever it was -- that old Boeing with the wire braces on the wings. It was a fighter pursuit -- fighter -- they had them had Selfridge Field.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Eight shooter .

URBAN RAHOI: Yeah. I go back a long way. You know, I really wanted to buy a what-you-call-it the Navy -- first fighter they had with the mid-wing. Oh, what was it? It had a right engine in it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You talking about a Grauman?

URBAN RAHOI: No, I don’t remember who built this one now. It was the first fighter. All metal with a mid-wing on it.

What the heck was the name of it now?

PETE HAGGLAND: Grauman Wildcat?

URBAN RAHOI: Wildcat, yeah. Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Did you know Walter Bullwinkle?

URBAN RAHOI: The name sounds familiar. UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah. URBAN RAHOI: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: How about Tim Sanders? URBAN RAHOI: Huh? UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Tim Sanders?

URBAN RAHOI: Yeah, I remember the name Sanders. But, I don’t remember which one.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: He died in May. He was about ninety-four.

URBAN RAHOI: We’re all going to go some day. It's a matter when.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You mentioned John Huber earlier. Is that Fairbanks John Huber?

URBAN RAHOI: Yeah, yeah, the one that used to be on the city council and that.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Was he a pilot? URBAN RAHOI: No. UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No, he wasn’t.

URBAN RAHOI: He was a shortwave radio operator. UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah.

URBAN RAHOI: He did all that radio work around here and that for everybody, you know. And what-you-call-it.

He was the one that answered that call and he solved the problem.

Now how many guys would think of that dredge deal though, you know. I only flew over there a few times and I saw that.

It came back to my mind. If it was glaciered, I had it made. But otherwise the creek zigzagged in the bottom, you know.

You could never have landed otherwise and, of course, all the creeks usually by December they're getting pretty well glaciered up here.

I ran into a lot of glaciers like that in the creeks.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: When you were flying the B-17’s, did you wear your flak suit or did you sit on it?

URBAN RAHOI: No, what-you-call-it, we usually had the parachute. It was optional. You could have the parachute on or you could just sit in the back -- against your back and not have it on -- what-you-call-it.

We didn’t -- the only one that had the flak deal was the guy in the front.

That you’re sitting out there pretty well open. Although if there was the -- the only real hit I got over there was a chunk of flak probably about as big as your thumb came up through the floor right between the co-pilot and I right like that. And lodged into the radio that's up on top there.

That is the only thing I ever got hit with, except another one. It went up through the cock -- apparently through the cowl flaps and hit the back of the engine 'cause there was no evidence on the cowling that it had been hit.

So we flew back all right. The airplane -- and it worked good all the way back and then we went to start it the next morning it wouldn’t go. So they pulled the cowling off and here there was a damn crack in the back there where it hit. It was a bit nice that we got back.

But one of my check rides was a hairy one like that. The check pilot down in Sebring No, hell no.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What’s on your bucket list? URBAN RAHOI: Huh?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What’s on your bucket list to do?

URBAN RAHOI: I never think ahead. I just do things as they come. Tomorrow I got to drive to -- I got to load up with groceries in the morning. Go buy the groceries. I’ve got the fuel oil in the barrels already and I got the three barrels of meat bones from Delta I picked up on the way in last time.

And then I got to pick up all the groceries and I’m driving to Tok. They are going to have my airplane in the hangar tonight and then I will go down. It will be nice and warm. I can load her up and go back into the camp tomorrow. Spend Thanksgiving there.

Oh, I’m going to tell you something, too. If you guys want to look at that lake he's talking about, just go on the computer and look for Ptarmigan Lake Lodge. She's got a whole array of pictures in there -- some really beautiful pictures. And you can see what the hell is actually there. I mean you already looked?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No, I haven’t, but I will.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Is that in Alaska or in Canada?

URBAN RAHOI: Alaska. I’m right on the border. I'm five miles on this side of the border. Now the unique thing about flying out of Beaver Creek -- Beaver Creek is five miles on that side of the border and I'm five miles on this side and only 30 miles away.

It's a 15 minute flight. And I laugh at this.

This TSA guy he says well, you still have to drive down to -- to Beaver Creek in order to what-you-call-it haul -- get your load there. I said, yeah, but I can -- I can bring 16 loads of hay in that airplane with one load with the truck down there, so I’m only burning that much fuel. 'Cause he was arguing on burning fuel with the truck going down there.

Well, that truck goes to Beaver Creek a lot -- cheaper on fuel than that airplane does, so --

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What airplane are you flying back and forth now?

URBAN RAHOI: I sold my -- a guy come and asked me for my 206 and I kind of stalled him for a while and he kept hammering me -- on me about it. He wanted that airplane -- that particular airplane. And I said why?

Because he said it's exactly what I want for what I am going to do. Well, he took the airplane and flew it down to New Orleans, put it in a box and took it to South Africa.

And since they bought it, they went through five engines. That’s how much flying they're doing down there. I don’t know what -- it’s some missionary deal or something.

And here about two months ago they crashed. And the two guys walked out of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What did you replace it with?

URBAN RAHOI: I had the 182. I wanted to sell the 182 and keep the 206.

One thing about buying the 206 I can double two and a half times my load. Cut down the time of flying then. I got -- you understand I can still fly in that.

As a matter of fact, this is an interesting story. I’m flying -- I’m driving from Iron Mountain, Michigan to Indianapolis. I’m driving through on 94 bypass in Chicago I get a phone call. I thought well who in the hell is calling me now. It is Larry Zonka .

He called me. He says, "Urban, you want to fly a B-17?" "Yeah." He says, "Well, call this guy Brooks down in St. Louis. And he will set you up."

So I call him and then it -- he was pretty well ready to go. And I said, "Well, who's going to be the co-pilot?'

There came the hooker. It's the chief FAA inspector in St. Louis. And I ain’t got a medical.

So I took my medical the first of the month and already could cancel out the other one. So I got no medical then until they approve it. Well, they did approve it. Here last week they approved it again.

And what happened, I'd have had it sooner, but the damn med -- examiner down there went on a three week trip some place so nobody's doing our work up here for Alaska.

So I got it yesterday -- got the new medical, but I turned it down. UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: What date did you first come to Fairbanks?

URBAN RAHOI: Huh?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: What date did you first come into Alaska?

URBAN RAHOI: In June of ’47. Yeah. That was an interesting trip coming up here, too.

UNIDENTIFID MAN: What years were you flying that Norseman in and out of Barrow for Wien?

URBAN RAHOI: It was in the 50’s -- sometime in the 50’s. I’m not -- I don’t remember exactly when.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I was one of those kids that would stand behind the tail and you'd blow us clean out on to the ice.

URBAN RAHOI: Oh, that’s Al Wright sitting there. You know, I remember a thing about him.

Yeah, I come up here and he hadn’t got his license yet. Remember that, Al? Said he couldn’t pass the test, so him and I sat down, by God we worked it out and he passed it. And he was in the flying business.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: That is why he came up to start with. URBAN RAHOI: Yeah. Sorry I didn’t see you sooner, Al. We kind of started out together. I have always been kind of proud of him.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Say, Urban, you flew B-17’s during World War II? URBAN RAHOI: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How many missions did you fly?

URBAN RAHOI: Five.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Five missions. And that was where? Over Germany?

URBAN RAHOI: We flew out of Italy, but what-you-call-it -- what happened, I was slated to go to Berlin on a mission. And, of course, you know in Italy them generals had to go to Berlin. They shouldn’t have went, but they did.

And only two airplanes out of 28 got back to the field. The rest of them got shot down.

'Cause they were over that flak targets all the way and the fighters all the way, you know. And I was on that -- I was slated to be on that flight.

Two of my crew members got sick and were in the hospital, so they scratched me. I woke up and I thought what the hell, what’s going on? I’m sleeping yet and I'm supposed to be on that mission.

Then I found out that they had supplemented another crew. That's why I think the old Lord is with me all the way, 'cause the crew that took my place nobody came back alive.