Jack Jefford was interviewed by Sandy Jensen on September 3, 1960. The location of the interview is unknown, although it is believed to be in Anchorage, Alaska. In this first part of a two part interview, Jack talks about how he learned to fly, some of the various places he flew including Nebraska, Oklahoma, Nome, and other parts of rural Alaska. He also talks about the importance of radio communication and navigation in flying and his role in establishing a network of radio facilities and remote airstrips around Alaska.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Pioneer Aviators Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Sep 3, 1960
Narrator(s): Jack Jefford
Interviewer(s): Sandy Jensen
Transcriber: Carol McCue
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Becoming interested in flying
Learning to fly at Reavis Flying School
Meeting Hans Mirow
Aviation work in Nebraska and Oklahoma
Arriving in Nome, Alaska
Flyijng Star Airlines mail routes
Flying fur as freight in the spring
Transporting miners and gold
Airplane use in the bush
The cut-throat business of flying
Pilots welcomed the Civil Aeronautics Authority
The progress in radio frequency ranges
Installing radio range stations in Alaska
Accepting a job with the CAA
Transporting a body from Nome to Fairbanks
Completing the body shipment
Ships getting stuck in the sea ice
Getting exact position of the ship from the air
Lack of modern equipment resulted in frustration
Alaska Defense Command's Commanding General Buckner
The increasing premonitions of war
The Japanese struck Dutch Harbor and the origination of King Chris
Network of airways and radio facilities connecting Alaska with the Lower 48
Flight from Alaska's Annette Island airstrip to Seattle
Checking radio ranges and courses
Construction of an airstrip at Cold Bay
Surveying for and establishing airstrips around Alaska
Constructing airfield at Galena
Commandeering a riverboat on the Yukon River to help with construction
Purchasing mishaps between Alaska and the Lower 48
Getting to know Russians in Nome through the Lend-Lease program
The Russian aviation program out of Nome
The Russian pilots shopping in Nome
A gift of vodka from General Jones
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JACK JEFFORD: My name is Jack Jefford, and I was born in Nebraska, in the little town of McGrew, which was about 20 miles from Scottsbluff, in 1910.
And I spent my early youth on a ranch in the northern part of the state and became interested in flying along in my teens.
About that time the -- the end of World War I, and the Post Office Department had a -- or was making an experiment flying the mail from coast to coast. And they -- one of the stops was at North Platte, Nebraska, in the central part.
And as a youngster, I used to go down and watch the mail come in, and like many kids was thrilled with seeing the famous pilots that --
I remember a few of them, Jack Knight, and Lee Hamilton Lee, and Willingham, that -- with their goggles and flying suits. Carrying the mail from coast to coast.
They had a revolving beacon, which, as I recall, was a carbon arc. And on an overcast evening, you could see it for a hundred miles or more.
Well, as time went on, the aviation began to grow up, and my first flying experience -- flying experience was at Denver, Colorado.
And I learned to fly at the Reavis Flying School. It was operated by Colonel Carlos L. Reavis who, in addition to the flying school, was Commanding Officer of the Colorado National Guard.
After I learned to fly, I got a job with a corporation at Ogallala, Nebraska, and flew the company airplane. They manufactured all types of electronic equipment for theaters, sound on disk and sound on film, as well as jeweler's equipment.
And the early electronic equipment in the theaters was subject to lots of breakdowns, and they used the airplane to commute to these various theaters and keep the gear operating.
This company sold equipment all through the southern states, and Montana to the northwest, and over in Iowa and Minnesota to the East and Northeast.
About that time, the Depression was being felt, and the company decided to sell their aircraft.
And by the same token, the theater gear was more reliable, and they decided that it wasn't necessary to keep the airplane. So they advertised it in the -- some of the trade journals.
And one day we got a wire from a chap by the name of Hans Mirow in Nome, Alaska, that he was on his way through the states to Germany on a vacation, and he was very much interested in buying this airplane.
So he arrived and I demonstrated the airplane. It was one of a few models made by Stinson, eight passenger with a Wasp engine.
And it hadn't been too successful in the states, I think due to more of the size of it, but it had appealed to Mirow for a cargo–carrying airplane for Alaska.
So he dropped in one day and I gave him a demonstration, and spent an evening with him, and he began telling me these marvelous tales of Alaska.
Talked of the fantastic salaries that pilots received up there, so I was bitten by the desire to go North.
So rather than do like so many had done and just come up in anticipation of getting a job, I told Mirow that if he ever knew of a job, why, to send me a wire and I'd come up.
So as it turned out, he did not buy the airplane, but this meeting did -- at a later date was instrumental in my coming North.
Some rum runners finally bought the airplane, and the last I heard of it, it went to Florida.
In the meantime, I went to Hastings, Nebraska, and operated the charter service and flying school, and managed the airport for the city.
About three years later, I -- I think I should go back a bit.
One year I spent at Oklahoma City flying a -- for the Weather Bureau. It was a contract for the Weather Bureau on high–altitude flights.
This later has been -- is being done with the balloons that we know as the RAOBS. But at that time, they called them APOBS, or airplane observations.
And they had a cage on the wing of the airplane and hung an instrument in this cage which recorded temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure. This, of course, recorded the altitude of the airplane.
And at 2:30 in the morning, 90th Meridian Time, I -- I'd make this flight to 17,500 feet or better, in which from Oklahoma City and with the rate of climb that we had to maintain to satisfy the Weather Bureau would take about an hour and 15 minutes, so -- or longer depending on icing conditions.
After this tour at Oklahoma City, I then managed the airport and operated the flying school at Hastings.
And one morning in 1937, I received this wire via postal telegraph saying that I had a job waiting for me in Nome with a salary averaging more than 300 a month, which at that time seemed like a fortune.
I accepted and arrived in Nome with a $5 bill in my pocket, which is -- seems to be more or less a pattern that all the chaps I know of that have come to Alaska, they seem to have arrived here broke.
My first look at Nome, I was greatly disappointed. The city's on permafrost and the -- no inside plumbing and the buildings are more or less shacks by the average standards.
And my feelings were that I would tough it out until I made enough to go back to Nebraska, and they could have Nome as far as I was concerned.
The first winter, though, as I began to make friends in Alaska and see the important role that the airplane was playing in the development of the Territory as it was then, why, I became fascinated with the Territory.
And, of course, have been here ever since and have no desire to ever leave here.
At that time, the economy of Alaska was much different than it is now. As I recall, the fishing industry was one of the biggest contributors to the Alaska economy.
And the fur industry and gold mining was -- and I think gold mining was second and the fur industry third, and that more or less wrapped up Alaska's economy.
Well, the Mirow Air Service that I worked for had bid and won a number of what they called Star Air -- or Star mail routes. They had been carried for years and years by dog team, and at this time, we were going to take over and do it by air.
And if I remember correctly, a Star route is a bid for so many pounds, usually it was 500 pounds, some routes were a thousand, of mail.
Some of them once a month, twice a month, and we had a few contracts that were weekly.
And the Post Office didn't specify how it was to be carried, as long as the mail was transported safely. It could be by air, by dog team, by boat, or any -- any means of transportation.
We had a run from Nome to Teller, Wales, and Shishmaref once a month. And one from Unalakleet to the mouth of the Yukon River and to Marshall where we made connection with Star Airlines, which now is Alaska Airlines.
And these were old routes that had been carried for years and years by dog team.
Pan American brought the mail in from outside through Juneau to Whitehorse, Fairbanks, and from Fairbanks to Nulato and Nome. And we had a -- a route from Unalakleet to Nulato and made connection with Pan American.
And even in those days, it -- one realized that the efforts that the Post Office department goes to and the expense to more or less blanket the country with mail.
The bulk of our freight in the early spring was fur. And one incident I recall in those mail runs is a -- a trader would put his fur, mink, or whatever it might be, in a mail sack and they'd put what they called a rotary lock on it. And this rotary lock was a recording lock, and every time it was opened, it would -- it would advance one number.
This -- this was done to protect the shippers from having maybe a trader along the line who happened to also be postmaster from opening one of these mail sacks and possibly taking out some pelts and then replacing them with inferior fur.
Because the -- the mail bill would record the -- the number on all these sacks of fur, and they went straight through to Seattle before the sack was ever opened.
We used to haul thousands of dollars worth of fur out of the Lower Yukon. Mink and fox, beaver, which in turn made its way to either Nome or Nulato, and then out to Fairbanks, where in turn it would go down the railroad and eventually out by boat.
During the summer, most of our work was for the mining companies. In fact, a lot of these mail contracts terminated in the summer, and it was -- the mail then was carried by boats.
The bulk of the mining around Nome was in the midsection of the Seward Peninsula, which at that time had many placer mines.
And when the first boat come in, why, we would work around the clock for days almost without sleep transporting these miners out to the various mines and their provisions and equipment and fuel for the dredges and various types of machinery they used in this operation.
And then, in addition to this we had more or less scheduled runs to each one of the companies that we'd bring them out fresh meat and provisions from the stores in Nome. And then haul their clean–ups back to the bank.
And I've many times had several hundred thousand dollars worth of gold on board the airplane when we -- when we arrived in Nome at --
You'd see the precautions they take in the cities for something of that value with armored cars, but it was treated rather lightly. Throw it in a pickup and someone would haul it down to the bank.
And to my knowledge, I never heard of a robbery over there, and I suppose if someone did steal one of these pokes, why, he couldn't get out of the country without it unless he went by air.
In the wintertime, we used to take a lot of prospectors out that would prospect in the wintertime, trappers, things like that. The tourists were rather scarce in those days.
We used to fly quite a bit for the Marshal's office. However, there never was too much trouble, but usually we picked up a few dollars from that group.
And the Bureau of Indian Affairs were always active. At that time, they had the hospital at Mountain Village, one at Bethel, Tanana, Kotzebue, and the area that I operated out of. And they would charter some airplanes from our company, as well as others in Nome to haul sick Natives into the hospital. Click here to view film of a patient transport.
And then occasionally the big VIP's from the Indian Service that would make a tour of all their schools and facilities, of which we would get a portion of that business.
And all in all, considering the fact that Alaska had no roads, why, it was quite obvious that -- that the -- that the airplane was -- was quite a factor in Alaska's economy.
I know back in the Midwest, you walk into a bank to borrow some money to buy an airplane, and the banker'd just laugh at you. In fact, you knew better than to even take his time discussing it.
Whereas in Alaska, why, a pilot with any integrity and reputation at all, financing was never a problem as far as getting money to -- to get into business.
And most of the companies were pilots like myself that come up to the Territory and work awhile for one company and then make friends with the group of people as he went along and decided, well, he just as well be on his own, and either get the bank or get an angel among one of the miners and get an airplane and a new company was formed.
All this was rather cutthroat. And we more or less had standard fares that -- that was mutually agreed as far as -- as the operators around Nome, but it was rather -- rather cutthroat and in order to get a job would underbid the next guy.
And lots of time in a slack season, why, many of the companies were -- were taking the work too cheap and something had to suffer, either their standard of maintenance or something like -- like that.
Well, as time rolled on, the World War II, of course, the first war between Britain and Germany started, and about this -- that time, the military had announced they were coming into Alaska.
And we had heard this rumor that both the Civil Aeronautics Board was coming up to regulate rates and grant routes to the companies.
And that also the Civil Aeronautics Administration, as it was known then, or I should correct myself, Civil Aeronautics Authority was coming into Alaska and establish airways and emergency landing fields.
This was welcomed, of course, by the pilots because the landing fields were -- the most of them were built and maintained by the Alaska Road Commission, and they were all quite marginal.
A few of the larger towns would have a fair airport by those standards, but the bush fields were -- were really sad.
And of course, the mining companies had their own little strips, and they'd built them just -- just big enough to operate out of. And that was all.
There was -- the Weather Service was very poor. The Weather Bureau was in Juneau, Fairbanks, and Nome, and strange as it seems, they -- they were not in Anchorage.
And we used to make flights from Nome to Anchorage and we would send a wire over to the railroad the night before, they would send us a message back what the weather was like, or sometimes we'd wire Star Airlines to give us a weather report in the morning.
And we'd -- we'd leave on the -- we'd leave on the basis of that weather.
In some ways, it was better than you'd think. We were getting ready -- the first year I was here, we didn't have any radio in the area planes, in the airplanes, but in 1938, they started equipping most of the airplanes with radios. Each company would have its own ground station, or some of them had several stations, and we were all on one common frequency.
And if signals were in, why, it would cover the Territory. And you could leave on a flight and in a little bit you'd hear another pilot, and they'd -- they'd exchange weather to one another, and it was really remarkable the information that was passed on at -- at that time in regard to -- regarding weather.
The -- the first thing that I knew of that the CAA was really going to do something in Alaska, an engineer showed up in Nome by the name of George McKeen (phonetic) and started making a survey for a low frequency radio range station.
Well, I'm flying this weather at Oklahoma City. I had an instrument rating and a good background for that time on instrument flying.
And I had always felt that -- that instrument flying in Alaska shouldn't be too difficult, given proper equipment and the proper radio aids.
And I've -- I've known of periods of a week or better -- in fact, I recall one period of three weeks that an airplane couldn't get into Nome from Fairbanks just on account of weather alone.
So I was extremely interested in seeing some radio facilities that would enable the Territory to -- to operate its airplanes on a better schedule than we were doing.
So when the CAA arrived in 1939, they started making surveys at Ruby and Fairbanks. The intent was to get radio range stations installed in the -- in the bigger cities, and then fill in the gaps and make airways as time went along.
A pilot by the name of Steve Davis came up with the CAA originally and had a -- they had a Fleetwings and an O–38 on floats and skis, and that's -- that was their fleet at that time.
Well, Steve Davis was a good pilot, but he wasn't acquainted with Alaska flying conditions, and while attempting to make a flight to Cordova, he got into a blind canyon back of Anchorage and crashed in this Fleetwing. This was in February, as I recall, in '39.
So the -- the rumor circulated over the Territory that they was going to hire an Alaskan pilot, so I made it known that I was interested.
I had been wanting to leave Nome and either get to Anchorage or Fairbanks. And as much as the cities were a little modern and most of my flying had -- had been from Nome or a good share of my flying had been to Nome to these cities, so I'd made friends in both places, and the Civil Aeronautics Authority's headquarters were established in Anchorage.
And I contacted Marshall Hoppin who was the regional administrator at that time, and filled out an application and waited.
And then as I recall, April 28th, I got the message that would I accept if offered a job with the Civil Aeronautics Authority.
Before describing my role with the CAA, I might mention a few unusual things that happened to me while I was employed by Mirow.
As I mentioned earlier, at times during the winter these little companies would get pretty hungry, and we were out to make every buck that we could.
It happened in Nome that a rather famous miner who was quite wealthy, dropped dead on the street as he was going home from a pioneers meeting. And his heirs in Ohio sent a wire up stating they wanted the body flown to Fairbanks and to come out by boat to Ohio.
Well, according to the local undertaker in Nome, that if a person died in the Territory, he could be brought in in a canvas shroud or any means that they could use to get him in.
But once he was into an established town, why, then the -- the body was prepared and it had to be shipped in a casket from that point.
So the -- our office manager made a bid of $700 to transport the body and casket from Nome to Fairbanks, which was quite a little chunk of change for us.
But he failed to check and take into consideration whether we could get the casket in one of our aircraft. So we went down and measured it up. And we had a Lockheed Vega, and even considered taking the engine out and putting the casket in from the front end, and then replacing the engine.
But we had an old Bach, spelled B–A–C–H, of which there weren't too many of them made, and it was a real dog of an airplane. Slow. And it had been originally a Tri–Motor, and they'd taken the outboard engines out and put a big Hornet engine where the center engine had been.
And it had several fuel tanks in the wings and the cockpit was just a maze of valves and plumbing.
And whenever I flew it, the only way I could be sure the thing would keep running was to open every one of the valves and pray.
The tanks were rather small, and the way this Hornet gobbled up gas, why, we didn't have enough fuel to go from Nome to Fairbanks. We had a pair of skis for it, but they had been left in Fairbanks, and they were monstrous things. It was impossible to bring them back in any other airplane.
So we decided to fly up to Fairbanks on wheels. And we found by taking the lids off of the coffin and taking the body out of the coffin, we could take the bottom half and get it through the door, and then replace the body and then put the lids on it.
So with that problem solved, all we had to do was to figure out a way to -- to carry some extra fuel. So we put a couple of 50–gallon drums of gasoline in the front end of the airplane, rigged up a pump out to one of the fuel tanks.
A chap by the name of Ray Decker, one of our mechanics at that time, was going with me, and his job was to transfer this fuel en route. And make this trip from Nome to Fairbanks.
Another problem was in the winter, why, we had to make Fairbanks. There was no other spot we could land with wheels. So the pressure was on us to get this show on the road.
And the whole -- the weather looked favorable a couple of days after we'd been awarded this contract to transfer the body. So we had our barrels in, and we went down to the local mortuary and picked up the coffin.
And I might add the remains was froze. So we took the lids off and laid the body out on a couple of saw horses, and got the lower portion of the coffin in, and then we put him in back in place, and then the lids on it. Cranked up the old Hornet and away we went.
So they had wired Fairbanks we were coming. Well, the weather was pretty good until we got about Tanana, and then we ran into this snowstorm. And we followed the Tanana River to Nenana and finally up to Chena Slough and landed at the airport.
Well, word had got around Fairbanks we were coming in with this, and there was sort of a crowd of -- of curious people around.
So the local undertaker drove out with his hearse, and he said, "Well, let's -- let's get it out of here." And I said, "Well, it isn't as easy as you think."
So I explained to him how -- we had to do -- we had to take the lids off and the body out, and then turn the thing up on edge and get it out. But it was sort of old hat to him. And, well, we -- we accomplished our mission and the company was richer by 700 bucks.
Another incident was the -- one year the first boat, the Columbia, we got word that it was northbound, and the Coast Guard Cutter had been accompanying it. And they ran into ice right off the -- to the west of the Yukon River delta.
Now, apparently the Columbia had been in an open lead, and then the lead closed up behind them, and they finally just come to a halt in this ice field.
And the situation got rather desperate as they -- they were running out of fresh water. I know I talked to a number of passengers on the boat, and they had prohibited any baths and was rationing the water.
And I think they were all right as far as food was concerned because the boat was loaded with produce and supplies for Nome. I mean, they could have broken into the cargo.
But there was several hundred miners coming in to the mines. After several days, why, they sent a wire into Nome requesting that an airplane come out and see if they could help them through the ice. There was a fog hanging over the water, and from the bridge, the skipper was unable to see any distance at all.
Fortunately, the weather was quite good, and we had a Lockheed Vega with -- with quite a long range, but locating the ship was quite a problem.
The skipper radioed his exact position, which I think he had taken by celestial observations .And we took a marine chart and, of course, to find it out at sea by dead reckoning presented more or less of a problem, so I decided to go around the coast to the mouth of the Yukon River and then run west so as to cut the distance down and eliminate the error as much as possible.
Well, we had this radio in the aircraft and one of the reasons I was chosen for the job is I could read CW, and the boat at that time did not have any voice communications. Everything was by code.
So we went out on schedule and we -- it seemed like hours away from land, and I was just about to turn and to fly more or less of a rectangular pattern when we saw the ship in the ice. And they had been making smoke to enable us to find them better.
So we -- we had established radio communications and we scouted around both to the west and to the east of the ship's location. At that time we were running low enough on fuel that I had to get back.
So we made arrangements to go back out earlier the next day. Well, I set a compass course from the boat's location, and flew this course and made landfall about Cape Nome.
So the next day, I took a reciprocal of this heading and started out again at Cape Nome and found the boat the second time. Well, coming in from the north, we found there was open water within about 5 miles of the boat.
And this fog -- we could see the boat with our vertical visibility, but they were restricted as far as seeing theirselves. So I -- we could talk to them but then they would reply and with CW signals.
So I -- we had a marine compass in the back of the airplane, so I'd give them these headings to -- and started them going north, and picking leads as best I could.
And finally I guess the skipper got a little exasperated and he -- the radio operator sent a message that the skipper said I had him going in circles.
So I called back, and of course, the skipper heard my words that if he didn't like it, I was ready to go back to Nome. So he said, no, to keep going.
And then we worked out a -- a simpler method of getting him through the ice. I'd just tell him to go left and then stop and straight ahead and then right.
And after I think about three and a half hours, why, we got him out into this open lead, and I told him he was in the clear and he had no more ice between there and Nome.
So as I recall, about 12 hours later, why, we noticed the smoke out to sea and the boat showed up in port.
And the skipper sent a -- one of the ship's officers in to find me and bring me out to the ship. Which I called on him and he gave me a box of fancy seafood and we had a drink together. And I saw him a time or two in years to come when he -- when he got into the port at Nome.
I often think if we had just some of the modern equipment like direction finders, why, we could have -- I could have homed right into the airplane from their signal, but as it was, it turned out all right, which is the main thing.
SANDY JENSEN: What did he have to say about the way you got him in?
JACK JEFFORD: Oh, he was -- he was -- he was real thrilled with it. He said if he ever got caught in the ice again, the first thing he was going to do was call for -- call for an airplane.
Then I went to work for the CAA in 1940. And the -- the General Buckner was -- was up here as Commanding General of the Alaska Defense Command, and Everett Davis was the air officer.
The Air Force at that time consisted of one B–18 that Colonel Davis operated out of Anchorage. And I think they had an O–38 at Fairbanks that Lieutenant Walseth had. And of course, they were restricted to a certain extent as far as getting around the country.
And I flew General Buckner all over the Territory. I took him up to Barrow one time and over to Nome. And he was just a splendid fellow. You know, he was killed in the Pacific during -- he was -- he was transferred from this command, oh, I think about '42 or '43, and then he was Commanding General, I believe, of the 10th Army.
But he -- he was very popular in Anchorage here. He had a -- one of his jobs, I think, was to sell the military to the civilians, which he did a very fine job of doing.
I know he had a New Year's party out there and had everyone in town out to it. And his -- his office was in an old log hut. I don't know whether they ever preserved that hut or not, but --
He had two Irish Setters, and I'd go out to see him and these two setters would lay one of them on each side of his desk, you know, just like they were guarding him.
He was -- he was sure a fine fellow. And I think did more to promote good relations between the military and civilians. He was just -- just wonderful that way. Everyone loved him.
We -- of course, then, as the -- the signs of war or the signs of us getting in the war increased, why, we began to get more and more money up here to -- to keep our program going.
And I know when the -- when the Japs bombed Dutch Harbor, I was at Cold Bay. And I had one of our engineers down here, he was head of engineering, a fellow by the name of Bill Seeley (phonetic).
And Morrison Knudsen Company was paving the runway, and it was -- it was paved with an asphalt emulsion. They mixed water and the asphalt together with some sort of an agent, and it was a very fast way of -- of paving. Though not as durable as a hot mix.
But then when the Japs struck Dutch Harbor, why, they were sending bombers and the fighters down there, of course, to -- to strike at the Japs.
And the engineers had the strip in at Umnak, I believe. Bob Reeve, he was flying Slim Delong around the country who was Morrison Knudsen's ramrod of their outfit, in this old Fairchild.
And our paths would cross all the time during this era. And of course, the main thing was just to get the job done as fast as possible.
But when they struck Dutch Harbor, why, we got word the bombers were coming, and they just bladed the -- this pavement down, and the B–17s and I think some fighters, P–36 would -- P–36's from Elmendorf was landing on that strip right after -- right after it had been laid.
And then during the war, we installed radio ranges, low frequency low radio ranges for the Navy down the Chain.
And then we flew a lot of -- we got a DC–3 then, let's see, in '42. It was a DC–3 that had been bought new by the CAA, and I think for the -- for the Civil Aeronautics Board.
And then the Aeronautical Center at Houston had it. And of course, we were desperate for airplanes and everything that would fly up here.
I know they needed gas at King Salmon, and everything in Anchorage that would fly right down to small airplanes was hauling fuel for the military to King Salmon.
So when they got this 3, then we -- of course, we had construction all over the country, and the commercial airlines -- of course, ours was the first DC–3 up here.
And so we were taking it into all these little strips that -- that you sometimes shudder now thinking of going in there with a DC–3, but we -- we had good luck with it.
And we called it the King Chris. And we -- we named it after Chris Lampo , who had spent a good share of his time in Alaska, and more or less it was the hotspot at that time, as far as the CAA was concerned.
So he devoted almost all of his energy and activities pushing this development of landing areas for national defense, and installing the low frequency radio ranges.
Then Chris and I, we -- see, Alaska was getting this network of airways and radio facilities, but we -- we still weren't linked with the states.
So Pan American was operating to the -- to the states under visual flying conditions through Whitehorse, Prince George, and the Interior route.
And they were -- they were more or less plugging that route, and understandably so because the weather was better back there, and they were established there in Canada.
However, Chris and I, thinking of it -- from -- from an overall standpoint was pushing putting an airway down the coast direct to Seattle.
And of course, we think of flying now with -- and now that it's developed where weather means nothing, why, we -- we had, though, a selling job to do. Even the military was sold on this route through Canada.
So -- and we had a station in Annette Island. The military had built the field, which is terribly expensive on Annette Island due to the type of construction they had to use, they just literally had to scoop this muskeg up and fill it with rock.
I don't think there's an airstrip in Alaska that's as expensive as Annette Island per square foot, or however you want to figure. And they did a terrific job. It's a wonderful airport, and still in good shape, and it's one of the key airports in the Territory.
So we -- we still wanted to -- to see this airway from Annette to Seattle knowing that even the short range aircraft -- and I'm thinking now of DC–3s that we had then, so they could leave Seattle and come direct to Alaska and get away from Customs and fly as little over a foreign country from the United States to Alaska, and that was the route for it.
And to prove it, why, we had to make as many flights ourselves as possible to -- for one thing, know what we were talking about.
Well, prior to our getting this DC–3, we had a Boeing, an old 247 Boeing like United Airlines had flown that we'd bought from the Celanese Corporation right at the beginning of the war. And we made numerous flights with that.
And we found that -- that as far as the instrument flying was concerned, it was a better route to the Interior because you didn't have to fly as high.
And while you did have more instrument weather, it -- nevertheless, you could -- you could fly it successfully. So we had -- we didn't have enough facilities to go from Annette to Seattle, so Chris and I, along I think with Marshall Hoppin who was our original manager, called on the Canadians at Vancouver,
and made arrangements for them to install a radio range at Comox, and one at Port Hardy, and another at Sandspit, which then would tie Seattle with Alaska.
And as I recall, the -- the United States Government furnished the equipment. And I think either the technicians and money to install it and then turned it over to the Canadians. And of course, that's this airway Amber 1 that everyone flies now between here and Seattle.
But I -- I feel that Lampo has -- has never got the credit that's due for a lot of that -- the work that he did up here. Of course, he depended on us for advice, but he spent a lot of time in Alaska.
He's an old pilot himself. He used to fly with the Baltimore National Guard. And then he was the first patrol pilot as they called it in that day.
And one of -- one of our duties is to -- to flight check all of the radio facilities for accuracy.
With the old low frequency ranges, it was comparatively simple. We'd go out and check these courses, and it's an aural signal. You just hear it, and you pick out some geographical checkpoints and see that these courses are where they should be.
Now the equipment's quite sophisticated and we have this omnidirectional range, which puts out 360 courses. And the checking is very complex and takes a lot of training for both the pilot and the --
They have a panel with a recording device to record the location of these courses under guidance of a theodolite. And I could go on for quite a long time describing that, but I think it sort of gets into a technical field that probably is not too much interest for this purpose.
SANDY JENSEN: -- mention how Lampo got that work started that you almost got into trouble over?
JACK JEFFORD: Oh, yes. Well, that -- that was Cold Bay. I remember when -- as I recall, the engineers were in Umnak, and the building is stripped there. And we were to build Cold Bay.
And they gathered several engineers, and I believe the Navy took them down on this -- on a destroyer to Cold Bay and dumped them ashore, and then they started surveying and finding a site for the strip.
And the -- they didn't have the funds approved to build the airport, but MK was ready to go. And of course, the -- the bidding was different.
Of course, the war was on, and you -- the bidding wasn't competitive like it is now. They just negotiated.
And so they had negotiated with MK to build it, and so Lampo said, go ahead and build it, even though the funds were -- had -- hadn't been appropriated yet. And he had really stuck his neck out there. Because if things hadn't --
And this, of course, was -- this was in 1940 when -- that was before the Japs struck Pearl Harbor. I mean, he -- he really was out on a limb there for --
But it was just a chance that he took, and it no doubt had a lot to do with the -- with the success that we had down the Chain.
And as we all know, it was rough enough as it was because it took a long time to get the Japs out of Attu.
It's hard to visualize it at this time, almost 20 years later, but without radio facilities and the military pilots at that time didn't have the training they have now, and the operational losses were very high down -- down the Chain.
The surveying the airways and establishing the -- the landing fields is a -- as it was done in the early day, and during the war years and comparing it to the way that it's -- it's done now, why, I know as an example, we took the airway which is known as Green 7 from Nome to Fairbanks and on east through Canada. We wanted to establish an intermediate field at Moses Point.
And one of the engineers, George "Buzz" McKeen , as he was known as, and later -- He recently retired as Assistant Regional Administrator.
He and I left on the Cessna and he had his transit and rod. We landed on the beach at Moses Point, and we made what they call a stadia survey and chained down the centerline for the runway, and to establish where the radio range would be located.
And wrapped it all up in one day. Of course, this survey was rough, but nevertheless, why, they went right in and established a landing field.
I was considerable help, as well as Al Horning, the other pilot that was hired about a month after I was hired by the agency.
We both -- in fact, Al had lived up here all his life, and he was well acquainted with the Bristol Bay area and the McGrath area.
And we were consulted all the time as far as the -- you might say we were the -- the two Alaska experts because the -- most of the top people at that time had just transferred up here from the Continental United States.
We -- another incident I recall was at Galena. When they decided to put an airfield in that area, I told Seeley, who headed up the program, that from flying over the Yukon, I knew that it was subject to floods in the spring, and that every effort ought to be made to establish the airport up on higher ground.
So we located a site just west of Pilot Mountain, which is, oh, probably 25 miles west of Galena.
And we went in there in the wintertime. Seeley himself surveyed it with a little mountain transit, and I picked up half a dozen Indians at Nulato and they went up with a dog team. And we camped there with a boiler and was digging holes to see what the -- the subgrade would be like.
Well, we found that there was considerable moisture in it, and the surface would have to be stripped and then allowed to drain.
It would probably take a year or better to let it thaw out and get dried out, so to speak.
Well, then about that time, we -- after I think it was Sommers Construction Company moved their equipment in and was actually -- had set up a camp and was -- was clearing and starting to build this runway up on this high ground, which is about, oh, 80 or 100 feet above the Yukon River.
Why, we got word that the Lend–Lease program was in effect, and that that winter, they would be ferrying all -- all the aircraft through this northern route to Russia.
And that the -- that the airport had to be built that summer.
So I was on the site with Seeley. We were over there in an old Bellanca on floats. And Seeley was one of these guys that really takes the bull by the horns.
He's in his element if you've got a war going on or something like that because he just sliced through red tape.
In peacetime he'd be in jail, but he's a godsend during war time.
And we knew that the Nenana was on its way downriver, so he told me, he said you go stop that boat and tell them to turn around and come back here and we'll move this construction outfit, which consisted of bulldozers and probably a thousand ton of gear. Fuel for them.
And we'll -- we'll put it at Galena, which we knew was thawed ground, and it'd just be a matter of clearing.
SANDY JENSEN: Were they on the way down to this other site then?
JACK JEFFORD: No, the boat was just going down river on its regular run. SANDY JENSEN: Oh.
JACK JEFFORD: But we had known -- we had known that it went by. So I took off down river, and I located the boat just south of Nulato. So I made several passes and landed in the river.
And the captain stopped the boat, and I told him that they wanted him to go back and move this gear to the -- well, everybody was in the thing as an all out war effort.
So he just turned the boat around and he had these long barges, you know, they push. So he moved it on up to this Bishop Mountain, as we called the site, and they loaded the gear aboard and transferred it over to Galena.
I think he had to make a couple of trips. It wasn't very far, 20 miles. He lost probably two or three days moving this summer's gear from -- and then he went on downriver.
And another -- another thing I recall, we used to -- see, heavy equipment was hard to get ahold of.
And we had a purchase order form called a 660, and it was just a little booklet with a number of copies that if you made a purchase for the -- in effect a little purchase -- a field purchase order.
And we would -- I know out of Nome and I've went out and -- and negotiated for a tractor or bulldozer out of a mining company and just gave them a purchase order for it.
But only in time of war could you do such a thing. Because otherwise it's competitive bidding, and in fact, the government won't as a rule even purchase anything secondhand.
And we had a few laughs. As I know when they were going to build the airport at Nome, as I recall they sent 20 bulldozers up there, D–7s, I think. Is a Caterpillar, D–7, that was before the D–8 came out, as I recall.
And someone in purchasing in either Washington or Seattle sent, I think it was 200 axes up there to chop down the trees. And of course, there isn't a tree within 50 miles of Nome that you couldn't cut down with a pocket knife.
At the -- I don't know whatever happened to the 200 axes but --
SANDY JENSEN: They didn't need all those bulldozers, either, did -- would they? JACK JEFFORD: Pardon?
SANDY JENSEN: I said, they didn't need all those bulldozers. JACK JEFFORD: Yes.
SANDY JENSEN: They need that many?
JACK JEFFORD: The airport at Nome and -- That was another one of Seeley's pet projects.
He -- he went up and made a deal with a mining company. You see, Nome has this tundra and permafrost, and to get anything to stand up at all it had to be built on these tailing piles. On this ground that had been dredged for gold.
And the airport at Nome is -- it's had to be -- it's heaved and settled some and been redone once since the war, but considering everything that went through there, why, I -- I think it -- they did a terrific job getting that airport in and on time.
I don't know how many airplanes went through there to Russia, but it -- I got acquainted with a number of -- a number of the Russians.
They were all -- I know there was a -- an Allison representative over there by the name of Cregar. And the P–39's they were flying through to Russia was equipped with the Allison engine made by General Motors.
And the one thing that Cregar had that General Motors furnished him was plenty of whiskey. He used to get Old Granddad by the case.
And his job was to keep the Russians happy as far as these engines were concerned. And there's nothing like a case of Granddad to help keep a Russian happy.
So we'd meet in his quarters with a -- with a good stock of Old Granddad. Why, I made it a point to get well acquainted with Cregar.
And incidentally, his brother who was this Laird Cregar, the movie star, he was quite the character. He played over in -- the lead in a picture called Hangover Square, I think it was. Laird Cregar.
Well, anyway, these Russians would drop in and they -- they're great to -- to try and impress everyone how rough and tough they are. And they'd -- they'd fill a tumbler up two–thirds full of this Old Granddad, you know, and drink it straight.
And they'd get soused just like anyone else, but they sure wouldn't talk. You know, they'd talk about anything but Russia.
And of course, if there's anything in the world that will loosen a guy's tongue, it's a -- it's a snoot full of booze. And there was one -- one chap they called Whiskers. He was the equivalent of an airline pilot.
And the way they operated out of Nome, they -- they usually would have a B–25 that was sort of the navigational airplane. And then they had this DC–3.
And where they were getting a flight ready to fly from Nome to Volkhof, that was their first stop, and it was about 4– or 500 miles, this DC–3 would shove off ahead about 4 hours, 3 or 4 hours ahead of the flight.
Then if he ran into bad weather, he'd come back before the flight ever started. But he's sort of just flying weather observation and radio his information to Nome, and then, of course, they was getting weather from Volkhof.
Then the B–25, which had a navigator, would -- and its cruising speed was equal to the P–39's, and away they'd go, and about flights of 7, 8, 9 airplanes, sometimes there would be a dozen of them.
And they'd shove off. And if one of them would get a rough engine, if he was almost a way over there, why, back they'd come in, you know, because we had to fix it. Once they landed in Volkof, why, it was -- they bought it because it was theirs.
But if it was on our side, well, then they'd bring it back for -- for us to fix it. Click here to view film of Lend Lease airplanes in Nome, Alaska.
And then this DC–3 would gather the pilots up and bring them back. And they'd be set up, then, for another flight.
They -- they had a number of civilians there and they had a fellow in the tower that would talk to them, and a lot of them couldn't speak English.
So when a flight would be coming in, you'd hear -- hear the tower speaking Russian to them.
And this Whiskers who -- who was a very competent pilot, and apparently flew an airline over there, why, we -- we was in Nome a lot and we'd have a few drinks together and I'd just sort of ask him about the facility there, of course, just talking shop, as it were.
And he -- he just wouldn't answer. Wouldn't -- wouldn't tell you a thing. Anything else, they --
And they bought everything that was loose in Nome. One of the -- one of the stores, the department stores, the story goes, had a bunch of these old Mamie Yokum type high–button shoes, and they had them for years.
And they bought these old -- these shoes and stockings and the cosmetics. Everything --
Every one of these P–39's would just -- the little turtle deck back of the pilot's head there's about 3 feet in there where you could jam full of loot. And they'd be filled with that stuff.
And the funny part of it was the money that they were spending was American money, but it was these old -- the old bills, you know, that's about twice as big as -- these big, old horse blankets.
SANDY JENSEN: Haven't been any of them in the United States for many years.
JACK JEFFORD: No, they're a collector's item now. I wish I'd have gotten hold of one of those old bills. Just --
I know General Jones was the Commanding General at Nome, and he gave me a bottle of vodka that some Russian colonel had given him.
And the glass in the bottle was substandard to our glassware. In fact, he set the bottle on the table and it had quite a list to it. It wasn't even square on the bottom.
And bubbles in it.
But it was genuine Russian vodka, and he gave it to me and he said, I don't want you to drink this until VJ Day.
So like everyone else, why, VJ Day, I -- we had a big celebration, and this bottle of vodka went, but it went in such a late -- late part of the party that I don't even recall what it tasted like. We -- we drank the bottle of vodka.