Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
LeNora Conkle

LeNora Conkle was interviewed on October 19, 1993 by Bill Schneider and David Krupa at her home, the Eagle Trail Ranch, near Nabesna, Alaska at Mile 58 on the Tok Highway. The road down to her place was under some scrutiny, since she wanted to make some improvements and the National Park Service had informed her that she had to get a permit to do the work. She and her late husband, Bud, built the road and adjoining airstrip. So, she had been involved in lots of meetings on that issue with the National Park Service and the Department of Transportation. LeNora and Bud came to Alaska after WWII, when he got out of the service. He learned to fly and then got into the guiding business at Tanada Lake, and later at Wolf Lake. In this interview, LeNora tells about their life in the hunting camps and the life she and Bud made together. Now she lives in the house they built, and there are many reminders of their life. The many pictures, setting-strip, float pond, visitors, young people that admire her, the life she has led, and even the fight to preserve her claim are evidence of her commitment to the way of life she and her husband shared.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 95-71-11

Project: Wrangell-St.Elias National Park
Date of Interview: Oct 19, 1993
Narrator(s): LeNora Conkle
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider, David Krupa
Transcriber: Sue Beck
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.

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Sections

Personal background and how she got to Alaska

Arriving in Fairbanks, Alaska

Finding and moving to Tanada Lake

Working during the summer and building the lodge

First customers at Tanada Lake and buying an airplane

When the Supercub sank into Tanada Lake, and the rescue operation

Building up the guiding business, selling Tanada Lake Lodge, and hunting out of Wolf Lake

Meeting people, and use of fair chase hunting ethics

Changes that occurred after establishment of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Home schooling

Changes that have occurred over the years

Perceptions of children today

Living with bears, and respect for other people's property

Guiding in the old days

Effect of balloon tires on airplanes, and guides that would scare game

Oldtimer Harry Boyden, and changes in hunting methods and length of trips

Sense of community

Changes in types of people coming into the country

Advice on how to manage the area along with meeting local concerns

Story of a downed military aircraft

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Transcript

BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. Today is October 19, 1993. I’m Bill Schneider. Dave Krupa’s here, too. And we have the pleasure of doing an interview with LeNora Conkle.

And we’re here at LeNora’s beautiful place. It’s called the Eagle Trail Ranch at Mile 58 on the Tok Highway.

And this is a place that has a lot of meaning to you. It’s a spot back here where you and your husband have made a life. And we’re drinking coffee and eatin' some homemade pie that LeNora’s made. So, thank you for taking the time to treat us here.

Let’s back up a little bit and tell us a little bit about your life, where you were born and a little bit about your parents.

LENORA CONKLE: I grew up in Idaho down in the Snake River country, where it was terribly, terribly hot in the summer times that I always swore up and down I was going to go to a cold country sometime when I grew up. I didn’t like those hot, hot summers.

And I didn’t mind the cold in the winter time, but my brother and I - he was two years older than I - was always gonna go to Alaska when we grew up. Well, he went to Alaska when he was sixteen and I didn’t get to go, and it practically broke my heart.

So, it ended up I live in Alaska and he lives in the State of Washington.

But when I met Bud Conkle when he was in the Marine Corps in San Diego, it’s all we talked about, was going to Alaska.

And the way I met Bud Conkle, it was during the war and they were all -- you always picked up the boys that were hitchhiking on the road.

And I was out with my car that day, driving around. I picked up two young Marines, gave them a ride, and all we talked about was Alaska, so we had a lot in common.

And eventually, why, here we are in Alaska. My mother’d always told me not to pick up hitchhikers, but --

BILL SCHNEIDER: Bud and you were off to Alaska right away, or -- no, he was in the war, right?

LENORA CONKLE: I met him before he went overseas, when he first -- and he said, “When we come back -- when I come back, we are going to Alaska."

But there was very few of the Marines that were coming back at that time, so I really didn’t expect to go to Alaska.

I had a house and I had a business and pretty well settled in San Diego and kind of liked the climate, kind of liked the country. Had everything going well for me.

Bud was one of those kind that didn’t take no for an answer, and when he come back from the war, why, he says, “We’re goin’.”

We bought the first civilian jeep that came into San Diego right after the war. And my daughter -- my daughter in San Diego had a horse. We traded her pony for a trailer and loaded -- loaded that trailer and headed for Alaska.

And we had brand-new tires on the jeep, but you couldn’t buy tires after the war, so we had -- we was always patching tires all the way to Alaska.

Took us six weeks from San Diego to Fairbanks. But we stopped and fished all the way, and camped and enjoyed it.

And we drove the highway, the Alaska Highway, while it was still a military highway before -- we drove in June -- June 1946.

BILL SCHNEIDER: That road has changed some.

LENORA CONKLE: Apparently. We’ve driven that highway nine times. I always fly now. I prefer to fly.

BILL SCHNEIDER: So when you came up, you came into Fairbanks?

LENORA CONKLE: We stayed in Fairbanks three years and looking around and seeing -- but when we left San Diego, we knew that we were going to find a place out where we could have -- where Bud could do some big-game guiding because as he’d grown up in northern New Mexico, and he’d always lived out.

And he’d spent a lot of time out in the mountains and stuff and he guided. He was a real old New Mexico cowboy.

He’d always hunted and fished and never lived in a big city, so that was our goal.

And we discovered Tanada Lake Lodge -- I mean, just Tanada Lake, and we both liked it so well, that was where we wanted to settle.

So every dime every time -- both of us were working in Fairbanks and all the money that we got --

The first year we were up there we had to have a dog team. There was no point living in Alaska without a dog team. And that was really something. Sled dogs educate you real fast.

And so then we bought a boat and motor and we bought supplies to go out.

It took us three years before we ended up going out to stay and jarred loose in Fairbanks and went out to Tanada Lake.

We both liked it real well, picked our location where we would build the lodge. And then we -- everybody told us we was going so far out, so far out away from the city and away from Fairbanks, away from Anchorage, that we’d never have any customers.

But right off the bat, right away within the next year or two, why, we started getting hunting -- hunters and fishermen, because the Wrangells were good then.

You know, good -- well, noted for their Dall sheep. Lots of moose, lots of caribou, lots of grizzly bears.

Took LeNora quite a little while to get adjusted to those bears. Learn to live with them.

BILL SCHNEIDER: How did you find Tanada Lake?

LENORA CONKLE: It was just an interesting trip we’d taken with some friends. We’d been to Valdez and then they said they had been up the Nabesna Road, “Let’s take a drive up.”

Well, we was always willing to go see new country. So we drove up quite a little ways, up to -- well, what’s Twin Lakes now, we drove that far.

And from the areas you can look across and see Tanada Lake. So, there was --

There was an oldtimer that lived at the end of the Nabesna Road, where Bill Ellis’s live now. Well, Harry Boyden, and he said that good trapping over Tanada Lake and it was a big lake, and told us a lot about the country, so we came back.

We came back then in the fall with our dog team. And there was another trapper there with his dog team and he went with us over to Tanada Lake in the wintertime, and we liked it over there. Just what we saw of it, what we could see.

So we hauled the boat and motor in and a bunch of our stuff, and then we went back to Fairbanks.

And I got out from under the shop -- the shop that I had, and Bud quit his job out at Ladd Field, and we just went out on our own.

BILL SCHNEIDER: So Bud quit his job at Ladd Field and you struck out, headed out into the woods?

LENORA CONKLE: We loaded our sled dogs and my cat. And we went up the Nabesna Road, and we stayed in a cabin up there next to Ellis’s, almost the end of the Nabesna Road, all that winter.

And then we would take the dog team and go over to Tanada Lake and look around over there and decide where we were going to build.

And then we went -- went back to Fairbanks then after -- in the spring. And Bud stayed out there pretty much of the time, but I went back into Fairbanks and stayed. I guess I still had my shop and -- and was working there.

And then we gathered up everything we thought we were going to need and just broke all ties out of Fairbanks. And we just lived in a tent all summer over at Tanada Lake. Had a -- I guess it was about a eight-by-ten wall tent. It wasn’t very big.

And we spent the whole summer -- it rained all summer -- and we was always drying our sleeping bags out. But we’d go across the lake, take -- Tanada Lake was a mile wide, six miles long.

We’d cross the -- go across the lake ‘cause that’s where all the timber was. And cut logs all day and stack ‘em up, peel ‘em.

My job was peeling. And then Bud would tow ‘em across the lake with the boat. Because we had our boat and motor over there and pretty much our supplies.

But I kinda laughed a few years later when these people would pay a huge big price to come out to go fishing, and Bud and I was always arguing whose turn -- who had to go catch fish for our supper, who had to catch fish to put it in the dog pot to feed the dogs.

And it was raining, “Oh, I don’t want to go. You go.” And “Well, no, I went last night. I gotta do this, so you go.” So we knew we had to go catch fish, and there were just lots of fish. Good lake trout and grayling, so we had plenty to eat.

And we worked all summer long, and Fish and Game planes used to fly out there and stop in and visit, take our mail, bring us news, take our mail.

But we had the old Sears radio, the old farm radio, and we’d get Caribou -- um, Tundra Topics out of Fairbanks. We’d get messages.

And then all summer long -- all summer long, why, we would hike, backpack, across from the lower end of Tanada Lake at Tanada Creek across seven miles across to where we had our jeep parked on the Nabesna Road, and then we’d go down to Slana for supplies and our mail.

And then most of the winter, why, we spent most of the winter up there.

But by that time, why, we had a cabin. Just, I think it was eight-by-ten cabin built, but we didn’t have a floor and we didn’t have a roof on it yet. We just had some hand-hewed logs on -- for the floor, and they weren’t nailed down. And if you didn’t step carefully, one of ‘em would reach up and slap you on the behind.

And then we had a tent over the poles on the roof, which wasn’t -- which meant getting wood, stoking fires all the time.

But then the next summer -- next summer somebody gave Bud a whipsaw. Man, I’m telling you that was something! Anybody ever whipsawed lumber, why, they really, really understand what it was.

And my job was on the bottom, pulling the saw back down, and his was on top. Where I got all the sawdust and he was always accusing me of riding the saw. And I would get mad and walk away and sit on a log until he’d come coax me back to help him.

And -- but I wanted the roof so bad and I wanted a floor, so finally I’d go back and help him whipsaw some more -- some more of the logs.

And then once we got those finished, and the floor and roof, I said, “No more of that. You can just go find yourself another partner. I’m not doing any more whipsawing.” So he agreed with me.

So later, why, we kept -- after the years go on, why, we kept adding another room or another -- another room. And the first log -- the first one, there was a lot of big cracks. And the second room we built on was not quite so bad. And the third one, the big eight-by-twenty living room, was really notched really nice. It was really nice.

And I’d planed and varnished all those logs so it was nice inside.

And then we started getting a few fishermen right away, and Bud -- after we went back when I got pregnant with -- with our son. It was such a surprise. I really didn’t expect that.

And so that -- thought we’d gonna have to give up that -- those plans, and back to Fairbanks again. So we went back to Fairbanks that winter.

We stayed at Tanada Lake all that summer and kept building and adding on to our place, and then, let’s see. That was the third year.

That was 1950 when we went out there. And then in ’52 went back in wintertime and Colin, our son Colin, was born in end of October.

And then Bud took his flying on the GI Bill at the old Weeks Field. Collie Evans was his instructor. He’s a well-known pilot out of Fairbanks.

And we bought Cleo McMahan’s J-3 Cub. And we’d -- we’d start our business with that, and after about the fourth year, why, we bought the Super Cub. It was one -- just two brand-new Super Cubs came into Fairbanks, and they give us a fair price for J-3 at the old Bachner’s Aircraft.

And so we were in big business. But he had banked practically on the Super Cub, so he went fishing out of Cordova for one of the highest boats in the (Prince William) Sound that year, and finding fish. And he made enough money that summer to pay off the airplane.

And then that winter, while our airplane was nice and shiny new -- it was along towards -- I guess it was in November and we had -- we had -- was gonna go to Anchorage for a couple weeks and the ice was on Tanada Lake. It was forming real good, so we assumed it was real strong when he got back.

And it was just a nice sunny day -- sunny day, and we had a place by that time, just a cabin on the Slana River that we’d just -- was living in when we’d come down the Slana for our mail.

And so I was -- I was staying there and he didn’t come back. Didn’t come back. He’d flown up to Tanada Lake and he’d asked Junior Duffy if he wanted to go with him and, of course, you never fly an empty Super Cub.

So he took the supplies, winter supplies, up and he had a bag of sugar, sixty-pound bag of sugar that he set on Junior Duffy’s lap.

And when he didn’t come back, why, I called Cleo McMahan to go up and see what -- why he hadn’t come back.

Well, he had -- he was on wheels and he should of put his plane -- he should of stayed home that day and put his plane on skis, but it was a nice sunny day and he wanted to go and he’d put his skis on another day.

So he just landed at Tanada Lake and started to roll towards the shore, and the Super Cub dropped through the ice at Tanada Lake. And that was quite a -- that was quite a deal to get that Super Cub rescued out of the water.

And just about drowned poor old Junior Duffy. He just about drowned ‘cause he had that sugar on his lap.

And Bud says, “We gotta get out of here quick.” And he looked around and Duffy hadn’t followed him out. So he goes back, crawled back on the wing of the airplane. And was sliding across the ice. The ice was just barely holding him.

And pretty soon Junior’s hands come up, reaching for the edge of the airplane, and he grabbed a hold of him and pulled him out.

And then, Bud never wanted to be rescued. He always wanted to walk out. So by the time Cleo McMahan had flown up and looked, there was nobody at the lodge and he saw the airplane in the ice and he figured, "Uh-oh. I know where they're at. I’m going to have to go back and tell LeNora."

And he started following -- saw these tracks. To start with, he thought they were bear tracks. And he started following the tracks. Well, sure enough he come across them walking down on the Nabesna Road.

So they rescued the Super Cub. It took -- that was quite a rescue operation. One of the -- Art Smith out of -- working for Bachner, he was a mechanic there, and he was noted for his rescuing airplanes in all types of positions, so he come out.

Everybody came out and stayed out the lodge. Everybody came to help. Cleo used to fly up and help, and they got the airplane out of the water. It wasn’t too badly damaged and Bachner’s put it -- had it all ready for him by hunting season again in the spring.

And then we hunted out of Tanada Lake -- Tanada Lodge. We kept -- Our business kept building up, and hunting was good and we started getting more non-residents hunters, and he was taking resident hunters because there was lots of -- lots of game. Lots of fish and lots of sheep. Lots of moose, caribou, and bear. Lots of grizzly bear.

And Bud wouldn’t -- would always instruct his guides not to let any of his non-resident hunters take anything under thirty-eight inches. We had their choice -- lots of rams, lots of Dall rams there, and that was his specialty.

And we had a good business there for twenty years at the lodge before we ever -- ever sold out there. And then we homesteaded a hundred and sixty acres here on Cobb Lake and bought -- bought horses and outfitted with horses. And then we would hunt over at Wolf Lake in the Nutzotin Range.

BILL SCHNEIDER: How come you sold out the Tanada Lake?

LENORA CONKLE: Well, we were getting crowded. We were getting crowded.

This was about the time that some of the well-known guides that put the big wheels -- big balloon tires on their airplanes and almost wholesaling the game out of the country.

And Bud just didn’t like the competition to have -- and some of those -- we always called them pirates.

Some of them weren’t hunting the ethical way. They were using their Super Cubs more or less for the hunting, and it got a little crowded and a little --

I don’t like to mention any names because some of them are still friends, but Bud just liked to have -- he’d had the whole area to himself and he had this other area over at Wolf Lake. Nobody else was hunting over there.

In fact, we named it Wolf Lake. It was off of the Snag, the Snag over in the -- on the slopes of the -- in the Nutzotin Range.

So we homestead -- had our hundred sixty acre homestead here and our little cabin down at the -- by the lake there where Keith -- Keith lives down there now.

And, you know, took the money that we sold the lodge for at Tanada Lake for, and built this modern log house here at Cobb Lake.

BILL SCHNEIDER: And then you would go with horses into Wolf Lake?

LENORA CONKLE: Yes. Yes, and that was another major project. Bud Conkle never let anything stand in his way of -- to reach his goal, whatever his goal was.

So we’d have to truck the horses from here, from the ranch, to Tok over to the Canadian border. Then we had the boys that were guiding for us and horse wranglers -- by that time we had a pretty big outfit.

And we’d always have four different camps which meant four guides, horse wranglers and a camp cook. I was always the camp cook.

And it would take the boys four and five days to ride their horses -- the horses in from the highway into Wolf Lake.

And Bud built an awfully nice cabin and high cache there, too. And it was just an awfully small lake, so it was only a Super Cub lake and we had no competition in and out of the Wolf Lake.

BILL SCHNEIDER: So would he fly clients in?

LENORA CONKLE: Yes, and it was my job when I wasn’t cooking in camp -- well, it was my job always to go get the hunters and get the groceries and stuff with my station wagon.

So, sometimes if I had to do all that, then we usually had somebody cooking at base camp and then I’d go out to spike camps to cook.

Now that area -- that area at Wolf Lake, we had sold it, to -- and our horses when we finally -- finally give up.

But Bud had ended up -- he had a master guide license and he ended up with three exclusive guiding areas. And one was in the Chugach Range, where he hunted Dall sheep down there. And then he had a brown bear hunt on the Alaska Peninsula and then his Wolf Lake area.

And then we had another area across the Copper River from -- from here from Eagle Trail Ranch across where he would take later hunters for bear and moose -- to late moose hunt.

So then in -- always in January -- in March -- in March, he polar bear hunted for ten years on the pack ice out of Barrow. And for eight of those ten years Cleo McMahan was his partner, and then last two was Bill Etchells out of Kenny Lake.

BILL SCHNEIDER: So you met a lot of people, I guess, who came up as clients?

LENORA CONKLE: Oh, yes, we had good, good people over the years, and we still keep in correspondence with an awful lot of them. A lot of them come to visit Alaska and spend time here with us.

And we traveled a lot. We’d go out the Lower 48 with our -- in the wintertime and show pictures and book hunts. So we really, really was doing real good in the hunting business.

Bud was always fair chase. And he liked the horses. He preferred to hunt with horses. He liked them. But he still had the Super Cub for transportation.

And there were a few times some of the hunters would get a little irked ‘cause he wouldn’t take his Super Cub and go fly out where it was easier to get the game, but he would never operate that way.

And if they wanted that game, they had to work for it.

So, Bud died before all these changes. Before -- before all the changes. When the National Park first came in and we were inholders in the Wrangell–Saint Elias National Park, we had no idea.

We just ignored the fact, or didn’t pay any attention to it. It was across the Copper. Then we began to realize that we’re inholders in the Park. They had taken the boundary from the Tok Highway back.

So, it made so many changes for us, but Bud was gone by the time the majority of changes were made. So those -- as far as the hunting went, it didn’t affect him that much, where it has affected -- like our son.

Our son grew up at Tanada Lake and was on correspondence and kind of isolated. And he grew up with grown-ups all the time and hunters, and that was his background.

And then he went in the Army when he was eighteen, and then he got his flying, too, because he’d always been able to handle that Super Cub. In fact, he’d -- he’d taxi it around and park it for Bud when he was about twelve years old on.

And it was interesting to have him as a baby ride on my lap for so many years in the Super Cub. We always had the same Super Cub. And then as he grew older and got his license, he would be the pilot and I’d be in the back seat.

And he had rebuilt it twice, right down from the framework on.

But he couldn’t see the future of hunting with all the restrictions and the changes that are happening to Alaska now. So he went on to do his own thing, as most young people do anyway when they grow up.

BILL SCHNEIDER: And he’s commercially flying now?

LENORA CONKLE: Yeah. Yes, he’s a pilot for Wright’s Air Service out of Fairbanks.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Tell us a little bit about homeschooling.

LENORA CONKLE: That was -- that was a project for me on top of everything else, because his father was always flying and wolf hunting and doing all kind of trapping and doing all kinds of more interesting things than for Mom teaching him school.

So it was always a hassle to get him to settle down to his work -- to his schoolwork. And especially if his dad was going flying and said, “Oh, let him go with me today, because he can do that tomorrow.”

LENORA CONKLE: Are you guys making out okay? UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh yeah. LENORA CONKLE: Okay. Oh, I should of --

BILL SCHNEIDER: LeNora has some guests here that are having some dinner. That’s what we’re hearing in the background.

Well, let’s talk about some of the changes that you’ve seen over the years and some of the things that you’re involved in now.

LENORA CONKLE: Well, I don’t know where really to start with the changes. They’ve come on us sorta slowly.

And where I haven’t been so involved in the hunting business anymore where I was really cooking and camping right in with all the hunters.

And it was so interesting when they came back from their hunts and I would hear their first-hand stories right away. And then they would correspond. So ever since Bud’s been gone and I’ve got this nice, big, big house all to myself and lots of time, why, I’ve been writing.

And writing these stories because I was so familiar with all of them. So I’ve had two books published now. One’s Wind on the Water. That was our life at Tanada Lake when we built up there.

And then the other book, Trail of the Eagle, is all Bud’s hunting stories over the years.

So, I’ve watched the changes and I’ve heard all these young people and have been so involved with so many people that are hunting that -- the subsistence hunting -- and there so many changes that all I can say is we had Alaska when it was free.

And we’re all -- so many of us that have known the freedom that we had and the good life in Alaska, that we’re concerned about the younger generation, our grandchildren, and what the younger people are seeing and how they’re going to cope.

And I don’t think that any of us ever depleted the game supply or the wolves or -- With us, we used all the game that we -- that was taken. Because all the guides -- the boys that guided for us and boys that worked for us, they would take the meat home and we used all the meat altogether unless -- other than what the hunters would take.

But the changes that I have seen is the new type of people that are coming into the country.

And the one thing that we don’t -- we don’t like to see is the way the Park, National Park Service, thinks of it as their park. And we think of it as our park, because we are part of the government and we’re the ones that are supporting them.

And we try to -- we try to -- we realize they need parks. We realize that, because there’s so many people coming into the country all the time.

But some of the -- some of the restrictions seem so unnecessary. I think a lot of -- I don’t think too many people really -- you’ll always have people that are pirates and that'll -- that need watching, that need monitoring, that need laws for them.

But for the average people, they’re not going out there to desecrate the country and tear things up. We like the country and we take care of it.

BILL SCHNEIDER: You were mentioning that you're worried about the children and the experiences that they might have. Can you talk about the value of the way of life that you provided for Colin?

LENORA CONKLE: The kids nowadays with all their TV watching, with all their Nintendo games, and with the younger generation, unless their fathers or their family hunts and takes these kids hunting and teaches them the value of the game and how to take care of it and what to do, they have no concept and they’re not interested in the country.

They’re not -- all they want is the money to buy all this -- new games. This is the younger generation that I’m seeing.

Now, the ones that I -- in my particular family, my grandkids, they’ve always had the opportunity of -- of living out here at the ranch and the freedom of rabbit hunting and a few things.

And their dad has taught them how to use guns. And I can’t really, really speak for too many other children that I’m not that close to.

But we’re getting a new element with the drugs, and we don’t -- we don’t -- it worries us. It worries us.

And then we have a new element that come into the -- moving into the country. They’re going to live off the land and they want to shoot every -- every bear that comes through is gonna charge them and every animal.

They really have a different attitude. They don’t understand how to live with this game.

When I came to Alaska, I had never lived out. None of my family hunted. I’d never lived around grizzly bears. I was never half as afraid of the bears that I could see as the ones I couldn’t see.

But I learned just like the guides and the ones that live out with the bears. You can always have a mean one now and then, but the majority of times they’ll -- they’ll go on their own if you don’t have all this -- anything around that will attract them. Food and trash and garbage.

So I’ve lived with bears for a good many years. And I don’t like to have them -- they have come and tore up our cabin a time or two, and they got into Wolf Lake cabin a couple of times, but I have never minded cleaning up a mess that a grizzly bear has made half as much as I have when people come into your cabin.

And it was the policy when we came into the country, you never locked the door, you left wood, and there were groceries in your cabin and anybody could have the use of it.

Now what we don’t like to see, and I cannot prove some of this, is the way the Park Service has burnt down a lot of cabins and made people move them or leave. Or leave, where they can’t --

I don’t know what they’re going to do. I don’t know what they’re going to do with Wolf Lake cabin. That -- those are nice cabins, and it's --

I think so many times in all these clubs that we belong to -- Alaskans Unite, the Outdoor Council, and the various -- the various clubs. These people that go out in the woods and hunt, and you get an emergency and those cabins mean a lot out in the woods.

DAVE KRUPA: Tell us a little bit about the system of guiding in the old days. How did the guides -- I assume they worked together to try and divvy up the areas?

LENORA CONKLE: Yes. Yes. In our area, of course, we had -- we had a big area at that time. And up in the Wrangell Mountains there’s two -- well, three lakes where they hunted.

And there’s a real old -- Cleo McMahan, he was -- he was one of the guides that used to come in there. And he would -- he and Bud worked together a lot on those lakes up in the Wrangells and the Sheep Hills.

And McMahan would ask Bud, “How many hunters do you have and what -- where are you hunting them?” And, you know, what area.

Well, then Bud said, “Go ahead and you hunt on that end of the lake and then we can keep -- you know -- then these other guides will see these tents and our camp, and they won’t bother. Then they’ll go find their own areas.”

So that was pretty much a policy at that one time. And then we started getting some new -- newer ones in, and they’d move right in -- right in with you.

You know, right -- bring their hunters and leave them or set them out or something, which wasn’t a very nice -- nice policy.

But sometimes you tolerate some things. And then sometimes you can ask one of them. You know, like, “I’m hunting here. Why do you bring your hunters in?” And they would respect that.

But then you had the others that -- that would hunt there anyway and create a little problem, which the guides, you know, they have their likes and their dislikes. And to this day, why, they always avoid those guides if they can. They just don’t like to have anything to do with them.

And that’s some of the policies at that time. But we didn’t have too many of those that -- until -- until they got the balloon tires and the bunch out of Anchorage, mostly out of Anchorage, one or two of them out of Fairbanks and they started wholesaling the game.

They’d have two pilots, two airplanes, and -- and get their hunters a sheep and out they would go.

DAVE KRUPA: For those who don’t know about planes and the -- what’s the effect of the balloon tires? What does that change?

LENORA CONKLE: They can land in a lot of places where you couldn’t. You could land on rocks and they’d ride over --

They call them the balloon tires and they’d ride over the rocks and would land a lot better than the hard, smaller tires.

And they could land up in the, you know, right up near in the top of the hills on the snow.

One -- one pilot, he was -- he was a noted, excellent pilot. Man, he’d land in places that no other pilots would dare land.

And he’d take off -- some of the hunters that he had flying with him had hunted with us later and said, “Man, you get in that airplane and he’d take off and it was either fly or fall,” you know. Just no room -- no margin for error at all.

But it was right up high in the Sheep Hills right close to the sheep. Well, of course, that drove all the other sheep out of the area.

And some of them even come in and buzzed -- buzzed sheep out of the area from our hunters a time or two. That we was concerned about them getting shot down. Some of the guides aggravated enough to shoot an airplane down.

And I think they knew it. And I -- I know a couple instances where in another hunter’s area they did shoot -- shoot a plane and hit the gas tank and spewn gas, but the guy landed it okay.

But they would buzz the game out of away from hunters. They’re just that type, which, thank goodness, we didn’t have very many.

Yeah, you ask the question and then I’ll ---

DAVE KRUPA: We’re back on. I was wondering if there was any memorable experience or event from the old days that really kind of sums up for you what is important to retain from those days.

LENORA CONKLE: Well, there’s always -- always people. When there’s people, there’s always a variety of people. And I was so fascinated with all the oldtimers in the country.

And old Harry Boyden, an Englishman, he still had his English accent. He lived at the end of the Nabesna Road.

And his stories -- he was a packer for -- in the earlier days ahead of -- ahead of us. They would book thirty-day hunts. And they hunted with horses.

And then I think with our generation, with us when we started coming into the country and hunting, we were some of the first with the airplanes.

And, although, some of these oldtimers didn’t like the new -- the new way of hunting, ten-day hunts and fifteen-day hunts, they would express -- they would express their resentment or say, “Well, this is the way it was in the old days. This is the way we did it, and that was really the way to hunt.”

Well, yes it was. It was. But nowadays even -- even at the time that we were hunting, we started out on fifteen- and twenty-day hunts. And then it got down to ten-day hunts.

And now I sorta gather they’re going into the quickie hunts. You can go in, fly in, you get a sheep one or two days, then you fly right back and you’re gone -- you’re gone again.

So the whole way of hunting -- but I think this is why Bud kinda enjoyed the horses more, because people that wanted to hunt with horses were willing to hunt longer and go for the hunt more so than just quickie get the game and get going.

But the cooperation of the people when I was pretty much a greenhorn on living out -- I had lived pretty tough in Idaho and really was capable of doing a lot of things, but when you cook for hunters, I have -- I had a lot to learn. And I learned. I learned.

Some of the -- I guess my personality, I guess, is trying to please people. They realized that I was really trying. I had a few fiascoes, but people were always patient with me, and showed me how to do things.

And at that time, really, there wasn’t too many women, not very many kids in the country. And these oldtimers always enjoyed people and company, and especially somebody would listen to their stories.

We didn’t have any stories to tell yet, so we were listening to their stories. And they were interesting. And they were tough. They were really a tough breed of people.

So then the year -- the same year -- the same year that our son was born, there was five baby boys born in this area that year. That year.

And that was -- there was no school. The only school was at Copper Center, so we were all --

So some of the people did later board their kids at the school out at Copper Center. It was a Catholic boarding school of some kind, but I had Colin and correspondence.

But people were helpful and if we would -- at that time if -- I think still, airplane pilots still cooperate and help each other. At the time that Bud’s airplane went through the ice at Tanada Lake, there was just a lot of people came to help.

And people offered to help, and if we got caught in a storm or come down -- were flying and come down with the airplane coming from Tanada Lake down, we could stay overnight with various ones. They’d put you up and come and invite you.

An interesting part was everybody knew your business. So if you wanted to know what your business was, all you had to do was go down the highway a ways to the next place and they’d tell you what was going on, because it was always interesting what everybody else was doing.

And the country is -- I don’t know whether some of the changes are good or bad. I don’t know ‘cause I’m just satisfied with my life and the way it’s been. I just hope for the future of the younger generation that they will have the privilege of hunting. Those that really like to hunt.

And there’s -- Alaska’s such a huge state, there’s room for everybody. Backpackers, canoers, fishermen, and the hunting and the pilots, the airplanes, and horses. There’s a lot of outfitters with horses yet.

So Alaska’s noted for being a state for big game hunting, so I hope they don’t change that too awfully much. We don’t -- what a lot of us oldtimers don’t like is the new laws that were -- the new ones that come up want everything. They want the government handout. They want the government welfare.

They want things handed out on a silver tray, where we always had to work for what we wanted. And that’s the way we try to train our son and our grandchildren, and so far so good.

DAVE KRUPA: If you were giving advice to, well, the Park Service for sure, but also perhaps the Department of Transportation with the plans to put the road through on the Nabesna Road, what would you want to give them by way of advice about how to look at this area for the future and how to manage it, really, and meet the concerns of local people?

LENORA CONKLE: We’re getting a -- a lot of the early, early people are gone now. Not too many of us oldtimers left around here, so I’m not too sure I know what is going to be real good.

I know that the Wrangell–Saint Elias National Park is a huge park and that people are going to want to access into it.

And if they can update the Nabesna Road and put it in condition so that just the average people -- I don’t know about the big expensive motorhomes -- whether to put it -- put the road in the condition that those type of people will be happy with or keep it more on the rustic side so that the country isn’t changed that much -- so it’s still has these -- still Alaska has this atmosphere, the early-Alaska atmosphere without updating it or modernizing it too much.

Put the campgrounds in where they can camp without having to have all the -- everything so modern. Every time you put modern stuff in, it brings new laws, new regulations.

And if they’re going to have concessions, let the people that live in the area that need to make a living, let them do it in preference to the Park putting in the concessions and doing the -- the transportation and the parking areas.

And I don’t know what all they would plan for the area, but I don’t think it should be on the order of the parks in the Lower 48 or McKinley. As overcrowded as McKinley is now and regulated in the way it is.

I think it should have a little more freedom and a little more breathing space.

Now I don’t know whether they could ever monitor the amount of people that go up and down that road.

But I don’t think that people like the Ellises that live at the end of the Nabesna Road and live there with their families and make a living, and some of the other people along the road should almost put them out of business.

I’m under the impression from what I hear that a lot of the people are really concerned about how they’re going to make a living.

And some of the boys -- and I gather in the mining, some of the mines, which I’ve known a few personally, I’m a little -- some of those kids are raised -- even some of their grandfathers had mines, and they didn’t know anything else. They didn’t know how to go out and make a living anyplace else. They’d grown up with it and that was their lifestyle.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Thank you very much. This has been a very enjoyable evening, and appreciated your sharing and your honesty and the lovely blueberry pie.

LENORA CONKLE: My pleasure.

DAVE KRUPA: Okay, we’re just going to add one more story here. LeNora's going to talk about a downed military aircraft that's well known locally.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. We’re on.

LENORA CONKLE: More money on the deal and more interesting. Yeah. It's added to it, so -- Okay, now when do you -- ?

BILL SCHNEIDER: We’re on.

LENORA CONKLE: We’re on? Oh, okay. Okay, now, as near as I can remember all the details, ‘cause it has been a while, but we were all so fascinated with that situation.

And this plane was coming -- and living in the area where you can see Sanford all the time and this mountain, and knowing that airplane was there and knowing those bodies are still in that airplane, it’s real interesting to all of us.

And it was talked about constantly for a long time, so as near as we all know, they were coming from Northway heading towards Gulkana and it was a clear night.

It was a clear night and they had all the instruments in that airplane, and nobody can figure out why -- why they didn’t clear? Why they were off course enough to hit that mountain.

And they think maybe -- just all kinds of theories and stories, but they think maybe it set it on automatic pilot and were, you know, doing back or -- I don’t know that they would be snoozing.

But there was no -- really no excuse they could come up with for that plane to crash.

So when it crashed, when it hit the mountain, it started a snowslide, you know, a real slide. And it was on a real bad -- it was up near the top and they could never get to it.

Even with the helicopters there’s no place to land, and apparently the helicopters’ wind would create another avalanche or slide.

So at the time that we were -- we could go -- they had changed the road down there at Gakona somewhat. But there was a turn-out there, that you could stand there and look across and see where this plane had hit, where it crashed.

And then there was -- it had burned and the whole side of the mountain was scarred there. And different ones claimed they could still see some of the wings or some of the plane's --

Well, they tried all types of ways to get up, up to the -- where the plane had crashed. And they just had to give it up. Nobody could ever get to it.

And one well-known -- I guess I don’t know whether he was a guide, but he had dogs and he was a well-known mountain climber and stuff. He tried to get up there with dogs and he had to give up. It was too dangerous for slides and stuff.

So that’s -- there’s supposed to have been -- these pilots were paid off. They’d delivered those --ferried those airplanes over to China over to Chang Kai-shek?

And they -- the word is that they were paid -- paid off, you know. They had all this money on deck.

Now the story is circulating that Roosevelt -- there’s a tape or something on there between Roosevelt and Madame Chang Kai-shek over some kind of dealings. And they’d give a lot to get a hold of that tape, plus all this money that’s on -- on board.

And the pilots that ferried the airplane over there were on that plane. They wonder -- and of course now there’s no sign whatsoever -- it’s all worked down. Snow’s on top of it.

And they think in fifty years -- ‘cause the plane’s been there fifty years, it may work out the bottom. They’re waiting for it, for that.

DAVE KRUPA: When was the last attempt to recover it?

LENORA CONKLE: Not too long ago. Not too many years back. I can’t say whether it was -- whether --

Somebody went up there. It didn't last -- I think it was five years. ‘Cause there was -- in this article I’m going to mail to you, it tells some of that background.

I've kind of lost track. I can’t pinpoint the years now. I can’t even remember the year that plane crashed.

But it actually -- it has a lot of interest for people around this country, and I’m sure that other areas are still real interested in it.

That everybody remembers that airplane that crashed, and is still there with all those bodies and all that money. And every year, every time you hear it now it’s more. More money, more --

And the theory that Roosevelt, President Roosevelt, made some kind of a deal with Madame Chang Kai-shek, whether there’s anything to the story or not it, but it sounds like a fascinating tape they would like to get a hold of.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Thanks much!