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Diane Carpenter
Diane Carpenter
Diane Carpenter talks about the first car that came into Bethel on an F27 airplane. She also tells a few stories about the characters in Bethel who like to play practical jokes.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2011-27-02

Project: Bethel Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Jan 26, 1996
Narrator(s): Diane Carpenter
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum
Alternate Transcripts
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The first car that was brought into Bethel on a plane

Going to the Northern Consolidated hangar in Anchorage

Parking in front of the hotel

Unhappy workers waiting at the hangar

VW Beetle arrived in Bethel

Floating the VW

VW conquering the Bethel mud

Practical joke

Bethel cars have personality

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I know we're about ready to go but I just thought since I had mentioned earlier about bringing the first car in to Bethel I thought I'd tell a little story about that car because it was kind of a famous vehicle around here.

That little blue Volkswagen was -- it sat -- what a pilot had told me, he said, "You know," he said, "Northern Consolidated is going to start flying those F27's in here and they've got that big, they modified it and they had this big cargo door on it.

They could even ship a big -- a small car in there." I said, "Really," I said, "Oh, living up at the hospital it's real hard for us to get back and forth." I said, "I'd love to have a little car."

So we bought this little Volkswagen and then there was, they didn't have time to get it out here.

It was still sitting in Anchorage and I was going in to Anchorage for a weekend and one of the guys out in the cargo office said, "You know,"he said,

"Your car is sit -- sitting right out there in cargo waiting to come out here." He said, "You could probably drive it while you're in Anchorage."

I said, "Gee, that's a great idea." So I went out to the cargo office and the guy out there was real nice and

he said, "Yeah," he said, "Go ahead and take it." He said, "I know it's not gonna go out there for 4 or 5 more days." So I went out, he gave me the key and I went out and got it.

Well, unfortunately, in order to get it ready to ship they had to take off the one fender, which, of course, had one headlight on it and both bumpers which had the license -- the license plate on it.

And, but that didn't bother me too much so I barreled out of there. I had my daughter with me and I ran into some friends on the plane and we were going to go out afterwards and I had a babysitter lined up for Kathy.

And so I pulled up in front of the Westward Hotel and went upstairs to put Kathy in bed and wait for the babysitter and parked in a no parking place.

Well, it was just sort of an unloading place. I wasn't planning on being there very long and fell asleep.

So anyway, I woke up the next morning and said, "Oh, dear, I've got that car just sitting out there. I hope it hasn't been towed away."

So Kathy and I went downstairs and sure enough the car was still there. So we took off and Kathy was watching for cops as we took the back roads as much as...

Audience member: Bringing them up right.

So, we drove around. Didn't have any problem all weekend and took the car back to the airport and said, "Well, here's the Volkswagen. Sure hope you get it out there with weekend."

You know cargo guys were always real friendly. We had a good relationship and all of a sudden there was this cold atmosphere in this room.

This guy was glaring at me and he said, "Boy, if you had any idea what we've been through this weekend because of you."

I said, "What's the matter?" He said, "Well," he said, "we got a call from the police."

They said there was this car illegally parked in front of the Westward with no license plate and no headlight and the only thing it had on it was a sticker from Continental Motors.

They called Continental Motors. They couldn't tow it away because they didn't know who it belonged to.

They called Continental Motors and they said that car is supposed to be out at Northern Consolidated Airlines to go to Bethel. Somebody must have, one of their employees must have taken it and was driving it around.

So the guy who had let me take the car hadn't written it down anywhere and he was no where to be found

And nobody knew...all they knew was the car wasn't there and so, anyway they weren't too happy about that.

Anyway, I finally got it to Bethel and one of the reasons that I had selected that car was because I had heard it could float. (Laughter)

And also, that you could get it out of the mud. That was one of the reasons, you know, because of the legendary Bethel mud that I wanted, that I thought a car instead of having to have a big truck could work in Bethel.

So everybody said you cannot float a Volkswagen. I said, I read up about it. You can, they will float.

And so then finally, a couple weeks, right after that, there was an article in the Fairbanks paper about a boy, a Volkswagen had been parked by the Chena River and a little kid in it,

and he starts it, he lets out the brake and it goes down the bank and it's floating in the river.

And it floated long enough that they were able to get a boat and tow it over to the shallow side, the other side and pull it up and save this kid.

So I had my, I had my proof. Well, my husband did not want me to float the Volkswagen.

(Laughter) I was, so I was, I really wanted to very badly. So anyway, about three months later I was in Anchorage for a weekend and I came back and I asked Bob, you know, what was the news, what's been going on while I was gone.

He said, oh, not too much. Then we went out. Had a little picnic out by Hangar Lake, a bunch of us, and "Oh, I floated the Volkswagen".

I said, "You what?" He said, "Yeah, we decided to go ahead and float it." I was so mad.

"I was the one, it was my idea. I was the one that wanted to float that Volkswagen. How come you all did it while I was gone?" I was just really furious.

And then he said, "Well, I felt bad about it, too," he said, "but it just kind of came up. We were out there and had a piece of rope and we just towed it", he told me how they did it, everything.

I was not only mad at him. I was made at Georgie Shaney and Ray Miller and Jimmy Hoffman and Harold Elliott and the whole bunch of them.

So I stormed downtown and accosted them one by one and then left them have it.

They were telling me, you know, this is how it happened and everything. About three years after that Bob confessed to me that they had not actually floated the Volkswagen.

He just told me that story in order to get me off his back and then I was mad all over again. But the worst part of it was that that bunch of liars, Bob had not even worked out the story with them.

Lying came so naturally to them. All I had to do was just mention this and they just invented details.

And you know, I think it was in the genes or something. I don't know what it was but, anyway that...

Audience member: Maybe it's the Bethel water. Diane Carpenter: Maybe that's what it is. But, I never did get to float the Volkswagen, but

I almost had a baby in it because if it hadn't been for...the mud was so deep. I was trying to get down to Dr. Jackson's office and Bob was trying to get me there and the mud was really, really deep and

any other vehicle would have gotten stuck. But we finally got through the mud and got there in time.

But, another thing, Susan might remember this. I was teaching down at the old log school and I'd zip over to the Roadhouse for lunch and the,

I'd always stay there just till the last minute and zip down and bunches of - who was it? Art Conquest (phonetic), let's see, my brother and I don't know who else, all the rest of this...

Susan Murphy: Jerry Leave (phonetic), Charlie Lieberman (phonetic) Jerry... the motley crew of senior high school students down there.

So I'm sitting in the Roadhouse at two minutes till one and I dash out to get in the Volkswagen and get to school on time and start the engine and nothing happens. It just sits there.

Then I began to notice how many people there were just casually leaning against the door of the Roadhouse.

It turned out the boys in my class had just taken out, just gotten a little block of wood and just lifted up the Volkswagen,

put it under there and it was just that far off the ground that the wheels were just spinning away but it wasn't gonna move.

Finally they took pity on me and my fear of the wrath of Mr. Skeen and they let me head on to school.

But one thing that I do know from that experience and from the experience of a lot of other people is that people in Bethel have a lot more affection,

whether it's a love hate relationship with their vehicles around here, whether it's their snow machines or their boats or their cars or their trucks

and they have a personality and they have a tremendous potential for evil

and they know, they know when it's just the absolute worst time to do something to you and that's when they do it. So thank you.