Red Williams was interviewed on March 7, 1985 by Bill Schneider at his home in Fairbanks, Alaska. In this interview, Red talks about coming to Alaska with nothing more than the clothes on his back, learning to fly and making a business out of it. He also discusses combining teaching in the winter and flying in the summer, flying in difficult conditions, and close calls he had.
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Arriving in Alaska
Getting his start with mining
Learning to fly
Becoming an aviation cadet
Teaching at Tee Harbor, Alaska
Re-locating to Central
Earning his mechanic's license
Working with Transocean Airlines and teaching
Continuing teaching, and earning a master's degree
Getting into flying
The third wave of bush pilots
Safe flying practices
Flying a Norseman up on the Arctic coast
Not taking risks
Servicing a mine in the mountains
Taking off into the wind in a box canyon
Fur buyer rivalries
A midnight flight
Some fur buyers were senseless
Scary flights with ice fog
Getting into the "soup"
Continue as you are...
A mishap with the gas caps
Landing in the Bering River
Red Underwood to the rescue
Red's flight path was not reported as overdue
The aviation business was booming in the Arctic
Flying to Oliktok Point to help a burn victim
A difficult landing at Oliktok Point
Hurrying for nothing
Parting company with the Coastal Geodetic Survey
Fur buyers moved from using dog-teams to aircraft
Fur buyers were agreeable
Regular mail service changed the fur buying business
People in the villages used to be surprised by airplanes
People used to recognize Red
An emergency pregnancy
Competing for tourism business
The coming of large airstrips wiped out the small planes
Competing against other pilots
People wanted to see Fort Yukon
Combining teaching and flying
The advent of the scheduled commercial flights
A torn fingernail and a hornet in the pants
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BILL SCHNEIDER: That's good. Let's see. Today is March 7th, 1985,and we have the pleasure of being with H. O. Williams, "Red" Williams.
RED WILLIAMS: Some pleasure.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Some pleasure. And we're out here at your place overlooking Fairbanks from the hills. And let's -- let's start a little bit by chatting about how you decided to come to Alaska and then how you got involved in the university. And then we'll get into flying.
RED WILLIAMS: Well, I came to Alaska like many of these young people you see today, I was the hippy of my day, if you will. I had a pack on my back. We didn't have long hair in those days, but we had all the other characteristics.
I first came to Alaska just because I'd graduated from college down below, there was no work around, and I went all over the country and finally wound up in Alaska.
And I stopped in Ketchikan for a while and worked on a fish trap. And then I took the ship to Valdez and hitchhiked my way up from Valdez to Fairbanks.
Rode in -- got a ride with one of Ghizzy's trucks. And wound up in Fairbanks at eleven o'clock at night with two bits in my pocket. I spent that two bits the next morning down at the old Chena Cafe for a stack of cakes and a cup of coffee, and I was stony broke.
I walked around town, and finally got tired of carrying my pack and my rifle, and I stood them up against the telephone pole down in front of Wells Alaska Motors, which is -- which was located where Aurora Motors is now. And pursued employment without a burden on my back.
The Federal Employment Office was a cubbyhole over on Fourth Street next to the location -- the former location of the Christian Science Church. So I went there and I looked in the door and I saw four or five young fellows sitting on the bench waiting to get interviewed, so I just turned and started canvassing the businesses in town for employment.
Didn't succeed in finding any. Finally came back to the Employment Office, and as I started in, I decided to go in and sit down, and fellows were still sitting there. So I started in the door, I bumped into a real tall fellow. Big man. His name was George Gilbertson.
He looked down at me, he said, "Boy, do you want to go to work?" And I said, "Yes, that's what I'm here for." He said, "Well, come on with me." I didn't ask him what we were going to do, I didn't care, I was broke.
So we started out together and he looked down at me again, and he said, "Will you work on Saturday?" And I said, "Yes, I'll work any time, day or night."
He said, "Well, come on with me." Well, the girl at the desk said, "I haven't signed him up yet." He said, "I don't give a damn. Come on with me, boy." So we went off. It turned out that all these fellows on the bench were Seventh Day Adventists and wouldn't work on Saturday. And ever since that time I've had a very soft spot in my heart for Seventh Day Adventists. If it hadn't been for them, I wouldn't have had that job.
Well, George and his brother and another fellow named Bill Shoddy (phonetic) had a mine out off of Gilmore Trail -- off of Gilmore Creek right above where the tracking station is now on Hill Creek.
And I worked there until middle of September, the freeze–up. And then I went into town and I decided that I would -- I liked Fairbanks. And I was planning to spend the winter here, see what it was like.
So I acquired lodging at Francis Doyle's boarding house, which was located then where the National Bank of Alaska is in the Northward Building. Is now. And the board and room was rather reasonable, it was $68 a month. I was there a few days and a fellow whom I had met earlier suggested to me that we go out and take a look at the university out of town.
It was a small school. He and I both had graduated from larger schools. So we went out just to look at the place. And while there, we found that if we enrolled in the school, we could stay there for $45 a month room and board, which was cheaper than $68 a month. Click here to view film of campus life at the university.
So we did enroll. He -- we were there a few days and we -- we got a room together. And he -- my roommate suggested to me that we go check over the flying course at the -- the school was offering at the time.
Well, the federal government in about 1939 started a program called the Civil Pilot Training Program to create interest in military aviation among the young men of the country. Trying to catch up with the Germans.
And they had a course offered at the University of Alaska, which was a Land Grant College. And it was taught by Dick Ragel who was a professor of geology and happened to be a First Lieutenant in the Air Corps Reserve.
Well, I was one of the 10 picked. My roommate was too old for the program. And I signed up for the program, but there was a little clause in the application which said if you completed the course, you would apply -- you promised to apply for admission to the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program.
Well, I signed it. Completed the course successfully, and at the completion of the course, Dick Ragel had an application for Army -- Army Air Corps Cadet Program. So I signed that, too, and went off and forgot about it.
Well, the next summer I received a little notice from Uncle Sam saying greetings from President of the United States, and told me to report for a physical examination and processing to become an aviation cadet.
So I was processed at what is now Fort Wainwright, was Ladd Field at that time. And I was physically fit and mentally competent at the time, and so I became an aviation cadet. And that way I became interested or became active in aviation and in education. That was real planning.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay.
RED WILLIAMS: I -- I went to California. They shipped -- there was no training program in Alaska, of course, and I trained primarily in Santa Maria, California, basic, and Moffett Field in California.
Then I completed and graduated from the advanced flying school at Luke Field on March 16th, 1985, which happens also to be my wedding date.
BILL SCHNEIDER: What's that date again?
RED WILLIAMS: March 16th, 1942. Well, I was engaged in military flying. And in 1945, in September, I made a flight to Fairbanks, at which time I ran into Dr. James C. Ryan, for whom Ryan Junior High is named, who at the time was Commissioner of Education and had been my -- one of my education instructors at the University of Alaska.
And he offered me several jobs at the time, which were open, or we talked about several jobs which were open, but I was still in the Service and was going to be held in the Service for another six months after the war.
But after getting back down in the states, I got a telegram. I had given him my address, and I got a telegram saying they desperately needed a teacher at Tee Harbor, because the older woman who was teaching that found that the daily drive from Fair -- from Juneau to Tee Harbor was too much for her.
Well, I wired Dr. Ryan back that if he could get me out of the Service, that I'd take the job. Well, he contacted Governor Gruening and Tony Dimond, our delegate to Congress, and somebody else. I forget who else. Who else did he --
Well, between the three of them, they got me out of the Service. About two weeks later, Jane and I and our daughter were on the boat going to Juneau.
Well, we stayed that year at Tee Harbor, but in the springtime I was offered -- after my contract with Tee Harbor was over, I was offered a job with the Fish & Wildlife (Service) as a pilot mechanic stationed in Fairbanks, which was my first love. And at twice the salary. And I couldn't turn it down.
So we wound up in Fairbanks, then, in the local office here with Fish & Wildlife Service. And I stayed there for a year, at which time I decided to go into the flying business for myself.
And in, oh, about June of 1947, why, I went out to the states and bought an airplane and flew it back and started hustling, rustling around on my own.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Were you stationed then in Fairbanks when you set up the flying service?
RED WILLIAMS: Well, no. I'd really been sold a bill of goods about the need and the opportunity and down on the Kuskokwim in a little village called Aniak. And I took my business down to Aniak to -- to operate. But I started out in Aniak.
And I came back to Fairbanks. And I found that my business gradually centered around Circle Hot Springs. And the tourists wanting to go to Fort Yukon, they'd drive to Circle Hot Springs, and then I would fly them to Fort Yukon. Click here to view film of Circle Hot Springs.
And the weekend traffic there was enough that I made quite a bit of change that first year, and decided in the fall of '47 that I would locate over in that area.
Well, I couldn't afford to rent the cabin at Circle Hot Springs for my family, so Circle -- or Central was only 8 miles away, and Central had a little field, and the telephone line was up in those days, we had a telephone line between Central and Circle Hot Springs, so I bought a little place in Central.
And in the spring of '48 we moved into Central and have been located there ever since.
In the -- in the fall of '47, I decided that I would get a mechanic's license. And the big -- well, there was never any real big money, but the major portion of my income was from tourists in the summertime, so in around the first of October, I enrolled in Globe Vocational School in Globe, Arizona, and we spent the winter down there while I was getting my mechanic's license.
I got a mechanic's license and ground instructor mechanic's license and so forth. And I also got the ground instructor's license in meteorology, navigation, and civil air regulation, so that I could, if I wanted to, start a flying school.
I had that wild hair about starting a flying school and operating it with all these licenses or -- but that never came to fruition. Other things happened.
So we stayed and tried and -- and had some good years at Circle Hot Springs. But in 1950, the fires were so thick in the interior of Alaska that I decided to tie my operation down and I wouldn't fly anymore. Click here to view film of smoke in Circle City in 1950. There were too many people getting killed. And I had a wife and all these kids. I decided I didn't want to get killed.
So I was offered a job flying for Transocean Airlines at Point Barrow. There was no smoke up there. Nothing to burn. So I took a job -- tied my aircraft down and took a job with Transocean. I stayed with them a year.
And then in '51, I went back and flew for the Military Air Transport Service flying the Korean airlift for a year. And things -- the war got over down there in Korea, and we came back to Alaska. Click here to view film of unloading freight from a C-46.
And I tried to operate the flying business, but the airports had been expanded and Wien Airlines were flying in with their DC3's and F47's and so forth, and I couldn't compete with them.
And eventually, I decided to get out of the flying business and get back into teaching school because that was really my first love.
And we -- then since -- since 1953, we -- in '53, I taught school at Nikolai down on the Kuskokwim for part of the year. I was the fourth teacher in there. The other three couldn't stand it and they took off. One of them -- one of them just got off the airplane, looked at the village, and got back on the airplane.
They finally asked me to go down there. And I could stand it, so I went down and finished it. The next year Jane and I taught a two–room school at Fort Yukon. We stayed there two years. And then in '56 we went to Cantwell and taught down there.
But in the summertimes during these periods of time, I was still operating the flying service at Central.
But I -- in '56, I sold my airplane and got out of my own flying service. But in '58, I went back to flying in the summertimes for Fairbanks Air Service, and for about three or four years I flew summers for Fairbanks Air Service and taught school in Fairbanks at Lathrop High School.
I gave up flying commercially in 1960 because as long as I flew all my -- as long as I flew in my spare time, I couldn't grow professionally. I couldn't go to school, I couldn't -- I only had a bachelor's degree, I wasn't working toward my Master's, I hadn't been to college for 25 years, I was getting further and further behind in my education.
So I quit flying in 1960 and started going to summer school in order to get my Master's degree and so forth, get my administrator's certificate and get into administration. But I quit flying commercially.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Talking about when you came in as -- to flying.
RED WILLIAMS: Well, I came in -- I actually began my flying in Alaska as a student pilot in 1940. By that time, the pioneering of aviation was over. The pioneers, most of them were still alive at the time.
And I had the good fortune of meeting many of them, like Sam White was like a father to me. He gave me much advice many times all around the country when I ran into Sam many, many places. And Harold Gillam. And the Wiens. I knew the Wiens.
But these people were the ones who are the real bush pilots, if you will. They're the ones who pioneered the aviation here when there were no fields.
Now, I came in -- in my mind, sometimes I consider them the first wave of bush pilots. There are those who sometimes call me a bush pilot, but I -- I wouldn't put myself in their class at all. I was in the second wave of bush pilots, if you will. I -- I did -- I flew all over the country around here when there were very few navigational aides, but there were airfields at most villages. Most every place I went there was an airfield.
I didn't have -- all I had to do was find it. I didn't have to make it.
And this first wave of people, of pilots, if you will, landed on sandbars in front of the villages and so forth. The only times I landed in front of the villages was when I was on floats. I'd land in the summertime and on skis in the wintertime. And other times I landed on -- the fields had been built. Click here to view film of airplane on floats.
Now sometimes I think of a third wave -- wave of pilots who have come in who are very proficient in instrument flying and the use of navigational aides and who are actually doing flying, to me, in my opinion, much more dangerous than the flying that I did. These young fellows now are very proficient in keeping a schedule.
So the day of the bush pilot is over, though. You can't -- there's -- there's no such thing in my mind right now as bush flying. No such thing as bush flying. The airplanes are so much more reliable. The airfields are larger, and they're all over the country. There're navigational aides, there are lights on many of these little villages so you can go in at night.
And you can call it bush flying if you want to, but it's no different than flying from Chicago to St. Louis. Fact of the matter is it's easier. The only time in my life I ever got lost was between Rockford, Illinois, and Dayton, Ohio. I was really lost. I mean, the railroads were going every which direction, there were towns every place I looked, and there were highways.
Up here, if you run into a highway, you know where it is, you know which one it is. If you run into a railroad, man, you know exactly which one that is.
Down there, there was so many railroads that I finally had to land at a place and find out where I was. I couldn't -- there was too many towns. I was lost. It was the only time in my life when I was ever lost, between Rockford and Dayton, Ohio.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So you were kind of the second wave?
RED WILLIAMS: Yes, definitely a second wave. Not the pioneers. Sort of like the cleanup gang, if you will.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And the younger people that you see now flying around, they're relying much more on instruments and --
RED WILLIAMS: Sophisticated aircraft, much more, and sophisticated navigational aides. Yes.
BILL SCHNEIDER: But do you think that in their efforts to keep schedules and stuff that they are more dangerous now?
RED WILLIAMS: They themselves are not more dangerous, but the conditions -- in my book, the conditions in which they are flying are more dangerous.
I'm the alive–est coward in this country. I would never fly single–engine instruments. These people are flying single–engine instruments daily.
The Man Upstairs would never give me a guarantee that engine would keep running. Now, if He'd give me a guarantee that engine -- if I'd known all the time that engine would keep running, I would fly single–engine instruments.
Once I was flying a Norseman on floats up on the Arctic Coast between Tigvariak Island and Barter Island. There were -- there were a group of men from the Coastal Geodetic Survey who were based on Tigvariak Island, and they had been in there since April. And we were closing down the camps. And the camps were all coming in to Tigvariak. In fact, I was the one who was bringing them in. I brought them into Tigvariak, and I was to take them to Barter Island.
Now, a Norseman is a nine–passenger single–engine airplane, and I was on floats.
Well, I started -- there was a DC3 in Barter Island from Wien, and I was to fly them to Barter Island, they were to get on the DC3, and then they were to fly to Fairbanks. I started out from Tigvariak, and I got out about 15 or 20 minutes over towards the mouth of the Canning River, and I ran into a whiteout. I couldn't see a thing.
This was the latter part of September, all the freshwater lakes were freezing up. I was still on floats landing in saltwater.
And I ran into this whiteout and I couldn't see anything. And I made a 180–degree turn on the instruments. I had an instrument rating. I had had an instrument rating for 15 years or more. No. That's not true. I hadn't had a instrument rating for, oh, about seven or eight years. I knew how to fly instruments.
But I made a 180–degree turn on the instruments and got back out in the sunshine where I could see, and I started back for Tigvariak.
And a fellow was sitting alongside of me and he said, "Hey, what are you doing? What are you doing?" He could see we were going the other direction. And I said, "I'm going back to Tigvariak." He said, "What for? The plane's waiting on us in Barter Island." I said, yeah, "But I can't see. It's a whiteout there, you were with me, I couldn't see."
He pointed out over the ocean where the sun was shining, several miles out that way, and he said, "Well, it's clear out there." I said, "Yeah, but I'm not going out there." I never would fly out of gliding distance of land, even on floats. It's a long walk on water.
Well, he said, "Well, Farrington would." Well, Farrington was a fellow that had this run before I had it. And to this date, they haven't found him or his passenger or his airplane either. He disappeared one day. He had a Dr. Hamilton with him in the airplane.
But I just looked over to him and I said, "Where's Farrington now?" That shut him up.
I went back to Tigvariak. And I'm here talking to you. I don't know where Farrington is. I'm a live coward.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, I think that's real important. Noel Wien used to say that, too, he used to say that those that took chances would eventually get it.
RED WILLIAMS: Yeah, they did. Now, there's no one who -- who's flown any length of time, especially no one who's flown any length of time that I flew, who didn't get in some jackpots at times.
And I'm lucky that I survived a number of them. But -- because I -- I took some chances, but I didn't know they were chances.
In my -- I learned from these chances so that I didn't get into the same types of situations again. But you're bound to get into a situation that you haven't been in before. And if you survive it, you learn not to get into that situation again.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Give me an example of how you've learned from some of these situations you've been in.
RED WILLIAMS: Well, one of my most vivid memories of being frightened in a situation occurred when I was in Aniak. There was a rather heavy person there whose name was Wilson, and he had an interest in a mine way up in the mountains.
And I had a small airplane. I had a Piper PA12, which was only a three–place airplane. But he chartered me once to fly up to his mine. And we got up in the mountains at about 3,000 feet elevation where he had a little strip. It was not too long a strip, and it also was on a grade, had a fairly -- fairly good grade to it.
And I went in and landed there. And this fellow weighed maybe 220 pounds, started throwing a bunch of tools and iron and stuff in the back end of the airplane, and finally I just told him, knock it off, that was -- I had more than I wanted to carry.
So then I had to make the choice. There was a good wind blowing. It was blowing downhill. And I had to make the choice of whether to take off uphill into the wind or downhill with the wind.
And I'd never been in that situation -- in a situation as critical as that one, and I made the wrong choice.
I elected to take off uphill into the wind, which was all right as far as the field, and length getting off the field is concerned, it worked. I got off the field. The only problem was the ground was rising as fast as I could climb. And I was heading right into a box canyon.
And the ground was coming up to me almost as fast as I could fly. There was no hope. The farther I go into the canyon, the less room I would have to make a turn. It was squeezing me in.
And I had no choice finally but to just des -- make a desperate turn, a steep turn, overloaded, low speed, I never really got up a good speed. And I made the turn and I just mushed it around in this turn, I really wasn't flying well, and I missed that other mountain over there on the other side of this steep mountain about 50 feet.
And I -- from that situation, I -- I learned. The thing I learned is don't take off, period. Wait until it's calm, then take off downhill. I could have sat there for a week. And then sometime in that week the wind would've quit and I could have taken off downhill.
But that's -- that's the type of situation I'm talking about. Never again will I take off into the wind into a box canyon. Regardless of how well it gets off the ground. It's got to be able to climb faster than the ground is rising. That's an example of the type of thing I was mentioning.
BILL SCHNEIDER: That's a good one. Some of those people that you flew around in the early days, you mentioned some fur buyers and some of the finagling that went on there.
RED WILLIAMS: Well, one of my favorite fur buyers was a fellow named Leo Kay. He actually was a member of the Kozloski family from Palmer. And Anchorage also. They had clothing stores down there. And he changed his name to Kay and he ran a jewelry store, a curio store here in Fairbanks. Leo Kay.
Once Leo and I were on a trip in the middle of the winter, it was very cold, and we had planned to go from Fairbanks to Ruby, and then from Ruby we were going over to Hughes, and then Hughes over into the Kobuk, the Shungnak, and then down to Kiana, and -- and then on -- basically wind up at Kotzebue and then Nome and back.
Well, we made it as far as Ruby the first day, and lo and behold, after we'd settled in to Mamie Wigg's Roadhouse for the night, who showed up but Jim Magoffin and "Muskrat" Johnnie Schwegler.
Well, you'd have to know something about fur buyers to understand the real rivalry and sometimes enmity that's between fur buyers.
And Leo was just scared to death that Johnnie and -- and Jim were going the same way we were. So in order to get a early -- we were flying the same airplanes, so if we were going the same route, the one who took off first would get there first and get the furs.
So Leo asked me to go stay all night with Sam White, my old real original bush pilot buddy, and get up early and we'd beat Johnnie and Jim off.
Well, I stayed all night with Sam, got up about three or four o'clock in the morning, in the wintertime, mind you, heated up my airplane at about 30, 40 below zero, got it warm and ready to run, then went up quietly to the bunkhouse where I was supposed to be sleeping, but Leo was actually sleeping. Aand woke him up, he quietly dressed, slipped out, came down and we took off. Long before daylight in the wintertime.
The night was clear, though. About halfway to Hughes, I heard Jim Magoffin filing a flight plan with Fairbanks Radio from Ruby to Fairbanks. So all this hassle of sleeping on the floor at Sam's and getting up and flying at night in the wintertime was unnecessary. I had to laugh at Leo. Fur buyers are something else.
BILL SCHNEIDER: You had another story there, too.
RED WILLIAMS: Well, this concerned another fur buyer. But I was weathered in one time for eight days with Dominic Vernetti down at Koyukuk. I had a fur buyer with me.
Now, Dominic at that time was well up in the 70s, and he had a very attractive Indian wife who was about 20 years his junior or so. And this fur buyer kept making passes at Dominic's wife. And I was worried to death all this time that Dominic would kick us out, and we were there for eight days because it never got above 50 below zero all the time we were there.
And here this guy is trying to mess up our happy home. And the same guy did the same thing at Shungnak. And I was there on New Year's Day of some early '50s, I've forgotten which one, and there was a teacher there who was from Tennessee, big old ex cop.
He weighed about 240 pounds, about 6 foot 3. And he had a very attractive wife. And it was cold outside. And we were there for three days. The ice fog so thick you could cut it with a knife, between 50 and 60 below, and the wind was blowing 30, 40 miles an hour.
And we just couldn't move. And very kindly this teacher was letting us sleep on the floor in his living room. Well, we flipped. I sometimes had the couch and sometimes the fur buyer had the couch. That's -- that was our combination. They were feeding us and at least we were keeping warm.
And again, he's making passes at this guy's wife all the time. Sometimes I think that fur buyers just don't -- don't have good sense.
BILL SCHNEIDER: You were saying fur buyers don't have -- just don't have good sense.
RED WILLIAMS: Yeah, they don't know when they're well off.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, you must have had some pretty exciting adventures in your time.
RED WILLIAMS: Well, like all pilots you get into situations sometimes, whether they're exciting or not, they're -- they're scary. I suppose that one of my most vivid memories of excitement or fear or whatever it is also has a rather amusing slant to it.
It happened when Jane and I were teaching school in Fort Yukon. I came one Saturday into Fairbanks in the wintertime, it was quite cold, to conduct some business. I had a young chap with me from over there who -- and we stayed all night in Fairbanks, and then started back for Fort Yukon the next day on Sunday, flying an Aeronca Sedan on skis.
And we were fairly heavily loaded with all the stuff we acquired. And we had full tanks of fuel. And we took off for Fort Yukon. Well, we went straight across from Fairbanks up to the big bend of the Beaver, and then we went down the Beaver and broke out over the Yukon Flats there near where Birch Creek Jimmy's village is.
And as we got over the flats there, there began to build up a layer of ice fog. And we were on top of it, there was no problem. So we flew on to Fort Yukon. And Fort Yukon was just socked in. I couldn't see anything about it. I was talking to the CAA communicator there, he would say, well, I hear you, and all this kind of stuff, but I couldn't see down to get through this ice fog. And I tried to go down to the mouth of the Birch -- or rather the Porcupine and come back under it, but I couldn't do that. So finally I gave up and started back to Fairbanks.
Well, I got back down to the White Mountains there, and lo and behold, that nice, clear stretch of air that I had been in. That space, vertical space had socked in, too. And I had to keep climbing and climbing and climbing. And finally, I climbed up to about 8,000 feet, and I was still in this -- and I got into the soup and couldn't get over it, and I headed for Fairbanks because Fairbanks was giving on the radio about -- I think 18,000 -- 1800 or 2000 foot ceiling, which was fine.
Well, I was in this soup a little while, and I looked at my gas gauges, and they were beginning to be very low. Well, there was no range lag over where I was, the range lag was several miles to the east of me. And I began to realize I didn't have enough gas to go over and get on the range lag and ride it in.
So I called in to Fairbanks Radio, and asked them to -- since I didn't know precisely where I was, I was in the soup, I was heading the right direction but I was in the soup, and I called Fairbanks Radio and asked them to have Murphy Dome take a radar site on me and give me a precise location and compute me a heading for Fairbanks, the shortest distance. And they said, fine. Continue -- I think my number was three–six hotel, they said, continue as you are. I flew on maybe 5 or 10 minutes and I hadn't heard anything from them.
And so I called Fairbanks Radio and told them that my gauges were reading empty, and I would like the closest -- I'd like a plot and the most direct route to Fairbanks from Murphy Dome radar site. You know, they had the nerve to say, well, continue as you are.
Well, I flew on a few more minutes, beginning to get worried because my gas gauges were bouncing on empty. I call them in and said, "What's the status?" They said, "We haven't heard from them, continue as you are."
So I went on a few more minutes and, lo and behold, my engine quit me. I'm sitting there about 8,000 feet in the soup, can't see anything, my engine quit me. Well, I didn't know where I was. All I could do was just hope, pray, if you will. I was too busy to pray, I was just hoping.
So I let down, I put her -- put the nose down. And I was already flying instruments, so I glided and glided straight ahead all the time, just hoping I didn't run into a mountain. My altimeter kept going down, down, down, and finally it was down below 2000 feet, and I broke through the overcast without running into any mountains. And I was right over Creamer's potato field, which is where the dog mushers are right now.
Here I had a great -- it was dark, of course, by now, and here I had this great, big field with no obstructions, and I landed. It was dark enough -- when I landed, I broke my shock cables on my landing gear, but I still had my safety cables holding the gear together.
And that's all that happened. But I could have run into one of those mountains over there.
And that's as -- but, oh, the thing is, I forgot. When my engine quit me -- and this is the amusing part -- I gave a mayday. Mayday, mayday, Fairbanks Radio, mayday. Three–six hotel, or whatever my number was at the time. Mayday, mayday. And they said, "Continue as you are. Roger three–six hotel, continue as you are."
That's the only time I ever swore on the radio on the air. And I'm afraid I did give that feller a little bit of my mind. I'm sitting up there 8,000 feet, engine quit me, in the soup, and the guy's saying, as if everything is normal, continue as you are. I'll never forget that. Continue as you are.
BILL SCHNEIDER: -- yeah, you had another incident?
RED WILLIAMS: Well, I -- I was -- when I went to work for the Fish & Wildlife, I picked up an Army observation plane, surplus Army observation plane, an L1 down at Ketchikan. I flew down from Juneau to Ketchikan with old Sasseen, who was really one of the original Bush pilots in Alaska.
BILL SCHNEIDER: What was his name?
RED WILLIAMS: Sasseen. Old Sass we called him. But I picked up the L1 down at Ketchikan and I flew it up to Juneau, stayed all night in Juneau, and docked at a commercial dock there, and had them fill my airplane up with gas and so forth. The next day I was headed for Cordova because I was to patrol fish -- fishermen in Cordova for a while on temporary duty there.
So I flew along the Gulf of Alaska, went around Cape Spencer and Lituya Bay, and hugging the edge of the shore there. I flew across the Gulf of Alaska and finally landed up in Yakutat out in the bay. Taxied up to the wharf. It was Sunday. There wasn't anybody open anywhere, and I couldn't get any gas. But I had plenty of gas to go on to Cordova because I had the main tank and I had an auxiliary tank that was built into the airplane.
So I -- I really liked to have full tanks, but I had enough gas to get there. Well, I took off in Cordova and I flew on past Yakutat and I was going across Bering Glacier, and my fuel warning pressure light started to flash. Which told me that my main -- I was running on my main tank, and told me it was time to switch over to my auxiliary tank. So I did. I switched over to auxiliary tank. And the fuel pressure light kept flashing.
Well, I switched back and forth a couple times, then I finally switched it off on the auxiliary tank and let it run. And doggone engine quit on that auxiliary tank, which means I wasn't getting the fuel out of the auxiliary tank.
It was first time I'd used the auxiliary tank. It was a new airplane to me, first time I'd ever flown the airplane, so I figured I had a blocked line. So I flipped it back over on to the main tank where it wasn't completely empty, it was just giving me a warning that it was going to be empty very shortly.
And I was over Bering Glacier, which is not the best place in the world to have a forced landing, especially if you're on floats. But I got across the Bering Glacier, and I got over the Bering River, which was -- I breathed a sigh of relief because I looked down the Bering River several miles and I saw a cannery, a fish cannery down there. Well, that was great.
RED WILLIAMS: Well, I landed in the Bering River. I didn't fly down to the cannery. I landed in the Bering River because I wanted to save whatever gas I had to taxi up to the cannery. It was -- the engine was still running, though the pressure gauge was reading red.
So I landed out in the middle of the river and floated down to the cannery. And as I got very, very close to the cannery, I could see that that place was completely deserted. The buildings were falling in, the wharf was gone, the pilings were sticking up, but I had no choice. I was there. At least there was some shelter there.
So I taxied up to the beach in front of the cannery, and then I started looking around for a hose and a container or something I could siphon the gas out of this emergency tank and put it in my main tank.
Well, I finally found an old piece of hose and a can that I could use and so forth, and I waded out to the -- oh, now, while I'm doing all this, the tide has gone out and I'm sitting high and dry because the river was affected by tide there.
I'm sitting high and dry, well, that's fine, I didn't have to wade out. But I went out and I stuck the hose down in the tank and started to siphon, and the hose went in and it wasn't even wet.
Then it dawned on me as I'd taken the cap off that the little vent line which should have been pointing forward for pressure had been put on backwards and it was pointing backwards. So consequently, a vacuum had been formed on that little vent, and in this flight my whole tank had siphoned dry. The mechanic had put the tank on. See, I learned from that, never trust anybody to put your gas caps on. Put them on yourself.
RED WILLIAMS: By then I was sitting -- I had no fuel to siphon. I was sitting out of gas in a deserted cannery on the Bering River. Well, then I started really -- all I had was a couple of candy bars and a .38 pistol strapped on my side and that was it. That was my emergency equipment.
So I went up to the cannery and the old building, started looking around for a place or anything where I could sleep, and I -- as I went in these old buildings, here are bear tracks about a foot and a half wide. These big brown bears had been going through there regularly, so that made me wonder where I was going to stay.
So I started looking for high places that they couldn't get at. And as I was doing this, I heard an airplane. And I ran out on the beach and it was way down a ways I could see a float plane coming from the direction of Cordova. And I took off my shirt and I ran down to the airplane, near the airplane, and on high and dry. And started waving my shirt. And bless his heart, the guy saw me. Red Underwood from Cordova Flying Service.
BILL SCHNEIDER: What's his name again? RED WILLIAMS: Red Underwood.
And he landed out in the water, which was way out past my airplane, and I waded out there and told him what my problem was. And he said, well, he was on a charter and he had to take this fella over to where he was, but he'd be back in two or three hours and he'd land and we'd put some -- take some of his gas and put in my airplane.
So I stayed there two or three hours. And he came back and he landed. And we siphoned out 10 gallons of gas of his airplane and put it into mine.
And then I -- he took off. And then I sat there for several more hours waiting for the tide to come back in. And I finally took off. I landed in Cordova nine or ten o'clock at night, but still a little light, I landed on Eyak Lake.
And I was on a flight plan. I was at least 6, 7 hours overdue. No one had inquired. The two agents for whom I was going to fly in there in Cordova, one was in a poker game down in the cannery, the other one was in a show. The FAA, or the CAA at that time, which was supposed to -- hadn't even reported that I was overdue. I was on a flight plan.
And I was really unhappy with that whole -- whole bunch there. But what I learned from that was always check my gas caps myself.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Back when you were flying after the war, there was some demand for flights, yeah?
RED WILLIAMS: Oh, yes. Aviation itself was booming, but actually, there was a glut of pilots on the market and it was terrifically difficult to get a job as a pilot. Pilots jobs were a premium.
That's one of the reasons why a number of people went into the flying business for themselves. There just wasn't any other way, if you wanted to stay in flying, to keep flying, except to buy your own airplane and start hustling with it.
Now, there were -- the Arctic Contractors -- well, the Navy started exploration in -- I believe in 1944 and up at Point Barrow in PET 4. And that was a source of employment for pilots in Alaska for a number of years. But that was only good for about 20 pilots. There were about 10 who would be stationed at Barrow and then about 10 who would fly what they call the -- they would fly the C46s and the C47s between Fairbanks and Barrow. It was the supply line, the milk run they used to call them.
And then, of course, the Coastal Geodetic Survey were up there operating at the time, but they subcontracted through the Arctic Contractors, and used the Arctic Contractors planes at the same rate. The fact of the matter is I flew for a season and a half for the Coastal Geodetic Survey as I told you in the early instance. I was flying from around Tigvariak Island.
The Coastal Geodetic Survey and I parted company in the, oh, about May or June of '51. I was doing all their flying, I was flying for Transocean who had a contract with Arctic Contractors, but I was assigned to do all the Coastal Geodetic Survey flying. One day, oh, it was earlier than that, it must have been in April, or early part of May, but I was -- it was blowing cats and dogs and it was whiteout and blowing snow, and nobody was moving.
And I was in the Quonset hut where the crew quarters were, and the phone rang and it was the commander from the Coastal Geodetic Survey. And he said, "Hey, Red, we've had a bad accident over at Oliktok Point." He said, "A man is awfully badly burned, we've got to get him in." I said, "Commander, I said, have you looked out lately?" He said, "Yes, I know, the weather is bad," he says, "but this man is terribly burned. We've got to get him in, save his life." So I said, "All right, I'll see what I can do."
So I called up the field and told the mechanics out there to warm up my airplane. Fuel it up and get it ready, I was going to go to Oliktok Point. Old Irv Crane who was a Canadian bush pilot from The Pas, Manitoba, who was working for us volunteered to go with me.
And I told him, I said, "Well, Irv, there's only one -- only one guy can fly this airplane at a time. It's no use both of us getting killed. You might as well stay here." So he stayed. I went out to the airplane, out at the field and the airplane and they took a Weasel and hauled me over onto the lake. Of course, the airplane's on skis and the lake was frozen.
We couldn't see anything, but the lake was long enough to take off on. They hauled me over there with a Weasel and put me on one -- on the downwind side of the lake and turned me loose. Immediately the wind straightened me into the -- straightened the airplane up, and I was headed in the right direction. Wind was blowing, oh, 40, 50 miles an hour.
But this little airplane was a heavy airplane. So I took off on the gauges. And I got up about 2–300 feet and just stayed there. I couldn't see anything, but I could now and then catch a glimpse of the -- the ground. I couldn't see forward.
So I knew where Oliktok Point was. So I got up about 200 feet because there weren't any ice, and I got out over the -- flying over the ocean. But the ocean ice was very rough, and I knew there weren't anythings -- any icebergs out there or humps any higher than 200 feet.
So when I got out at the -- what I thought was the right timing, I let down just a little bit so I could now and then see.
Now, the -- I was out over the ocean and the bank, the land bank there was, oh, 10, 15 feet high. So when I hit that land bank, when I crossed it, I could pick it up. I knew that I was over land.
So I made a turn and got back and kept the land just off from the right where I could see it. I could just barely make it out. I finally came to the camp at Oliktok Point. I could see it. And I went out over the ocean, made a downwind turn, and went down a little ways and came back and got alongside the bank where I could see it and let down, and finally felt my way down and landed on the ice.
And I 'd been there before. I knew where the ice was cleared.
And I landed on the ice and taxied up to even where they came down from the camp to the landing strip there, on the ice. Well, I left my engine running, and in a strong wind an idling engine cools off much more rapidly than an engine that's not idling and covered.
So I sat there a few minutes, my engine was going to get cold. The temperature was quite cold, 30, 35 below zero, and it's a 30, 50 knot wind blowing. And finally, I shut the engine off, got out, and fought the engine cover and put it on, and started walking up to the camp.
Well, I'd just got up to the bank and I saw a guy carrying a duffle bag coming down over the ridge.
And I walked up to him and he said, "Red, are you in a big hurry?" I said, "Yeah." I said, "There's a guy burned here, I've got to get him back to Barrow." He said,"Oh, he said, I'm the -- I'm the guy with the burn." He said, "That happened yesterday." And he says, "There's an awful good movie on. Everybody's in the movie theatre. Could we watch the rest of it before we go?"
I said, "Nope. We've got to go now." I didn't blame him. So we went down and got him in the airplane.
And there was a -- in those days, a radio range, it was dit–dah–dah–dit–dit. So I pulled up and I got a little higher than my 200 feet, and I got up on the instruments and I flew down through -- straight southwest until I picked up the range. And the leg went right into Barrow, so I got right on that leg and rode it into Barrow.
And I could see down as I got to Barrow, I could see the Quonset huts and so forth. And I lined myself up with this little old lake and came in and landed. And it was not extremely dangerous, but it wasn't free and clear of danger.
So then when they brought the Weasel out and pulled the airplane back up to where we parked it to tie it down. I got in the Weasel and they took me back down to my quarters and they took this kid on down the Coastal Geodetic Survey headquarters. And I got on the phone and called up the commander and gave him my opinion of his operation.
And he called Fairbanks. Or first he called the guy in charge of pilots at Barrow and tried to get me fired, and they wouldn't fire me. Called Fairbanks, got the local manager, tried to get him to fire me. He wouldn't fire me.
And he called Oakland, the headquarters of Transocean Airlines, tried to get them to fire me. And they wouldn't fire me.
And then I transferred up to Umiat where I didn't have to do any of their flying anymore. Tthey put another pilot on their flying. But I parted company with the Coastal Geodetic Survey that day.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Fur buyers. And they really took on to aircraft. Aircraft really helped them get around.
RED WILLIAMS: Oh, I see. In the early days, the fur buyers would have to go around by dog team to visit the villages, and of course, it's a much more time consuming thing. And they couldn't get into as many villages because of the time lag. But after the advent of the aircraft, why -- or airplane, the fur buyers could go all over the country in a short distance, space of time and trade. Click here to view film of loading furs into an airplane.
Of course, many of the people -- many people have the idea that the fur buyers really went around and dealt with trappers. And that -- that was very unusual to deal with a trapper.
Fur buyers dealt with the traders. The traders would bankroll, if you will, or grubstake trappers on the credit, and then the trapper would use his fur catch to get off the books, if you --
And the local trader took a very dim view of a fur buyer buying directly from his customers. And he would -- he would not get paid.
This was a frequently used ploy. And then a trapper would get his grubstake from the trader in one village, and then take his furs and sell them in another village and then never pay the -- the fellow in the -- from whom he got his winter supply of -- or his winter supplies.
So the fur buyers didn't ordinarily deal directly with the -- the trapper. Unless, of course, they were in an area where there was no -- there was no store.
RED WILLIAMS: And the fur buyers were a rather unusual lot. And for my part, they were the best customers when I was in the flying business I could get because they -- they never quibbled over the price. They knew how much you were going to charge them for the airplane per hour. They weren't looking at their watches and took off and landing. They weren't writing down times.
When you got down to the end of the trip they'd say, "How much do we owe you?" And you'd tell them, and they never quibbled the least bit on it.
There were, though, some parts of fur buying that I really didn't like. And I have yet to haul a fur buyer around that didn't have a briefcase full of booze. And the booze was used not directly for furs, but to affect the bargaining process of the furs.
Booze went on -- when a fur buyer was in, booze would flow. It would flow in all directions.
So that -- that's one part of the fur buying that I didn't like. Other than that, why, they were my favorite types of customers.
And they went out, of course, the fur -- the traveling fur buyer is a thing of the past, as far as I know. Because the little trader went out. The fellow who was the middleman for the furs, you don't find these little stores in the villages. Or you don't find stores, independent stores in the village with the capital to finance the trapping of furs. I've been in the villages lately, well, especially I'm thinking of Beaver. in the town of Beaver, there're two little stores, and neither of them has -- the stock in either of them wouldn't fill up my bathroom.
I mean, as far as area. And both of them are operating in private homes. So these people have no capital to go into the fur business.
So when the -- oh, you might say big traders went out of the villages, then the traveling fur buyer became a thing of the past. Now they mail them out to the Seattle fur exchange or some fur exchange like so.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So regular mail service also changed the fur buyers' effectiveness?
RED WILLIAMS: Oh, yes. Yes. Mail service and -- there's another item that changed the fur buying, too, and that is there has been a decrease in the number of Native trappers through the years, for whatever reason you might find. And an increase in the non–Native trappers out there who are much more independent and businesslike. And who are less likely to become dependent upon a trailer -- a trader.
And let's face it, these traders didn't lose money on these furs. I mean, many of them became quite wealthy out there. Some of them who were not good businessmen, of course, didn't, but many of them went in with very little and came out with quite a bit. And it was all in the fur trade from the Native trappers.
And the non–Native trappers out there cut out the middleman as much as possible. That had a bearing on the fur buying. BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay.
RED WILLIAMS: We talk about the -- the transition from the old days, the new days, the middle days, and so forth, and there is nothing, I think, more illustrative of this than the incident that happened to me many years ago.
I was flying for Fish & Wildlife and I was going down below McGrath towards Stony River, and there was a little, oh, a cabin, a little place called Black Waskie (phonetic).
And I was going by there and a fellow ran out on the ice, just waved his hands, and waved, and, oh, just like that, and so I thought there was something wrong, and I wondered what was wrong. And so I went, made a turn around and -- and landed.
And it was on the river there, a clear space, so I landed out in front of his place. And he came running up, and I said, "What's the trouble here? What's the problem?" "Nothing, I just wanted to say hello."
You know. Well, that was -- see, the airplanes were not common enough or frequent up in there. Here's this guy -- the airplane was still something.
And in my day, too, in the wintertime especially, when I would land at a village, the whole bloody village would come down on the ice, down to the river, you know, to -- to see who it was, because airplanes were not frequent. Now you've got six, eight airplanes coming in every day, nobody -- they don't care who's coming in, or anything like so.
RED WILLIAMS: I remember once landing at Huslia. Now, Huslia is a village that was established -- it moved from place called Cutoff.
Now Cutoff was flooded about every spring, and so they finally decided they would move downriver on some high ground that wouldn't get flooded, and they moved down and they called the village Huslia.
And I remember I hadn't been into Huslia. My first trip into Huslia after having been into Cutoff a number of times, in the winter I'd had a fur buyer and we dropped into Huslia.
But we were walking up the bank and I heard some little four or five year old kid, yap, yap, yap, yap, yap, yap, in his Native language, and I didn't understand what he was saying. But another kid, eight or ten years old, maybe a little older, said, yap, yap, yap, yap, yap Red Williams. The little kid was asking, well, who's this guy? He hadn't seen me.
He's now four or five years old enough to realize that people are people, individuals, and wondered who this individual was.
And the other kid, though, had remembered me from being in his village.
And I slept on old Jack Sackett's store floor a lot of different times. And what's his name, Sam White used to practically live on that floor every other night. He made a lot of trips from Ruby over to Cutoff.
But it was -- you were an event in those days, if you will, when you came into a village. Everybody came out to see who you were. But no more. There's no more. I mean, it's commonplace.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. I guess, too, in the early days that medical emergencies, airplanes were just real critical in meeting medical needs. When the planes were reliable enough to get in.
RED WILLIAMS: Yeah. They -- I -- I never had too many medical emergencies. I -- once when we were teaching at Fort Yukon, about one o'clock in the morning the doctor, Dr. Palmer, came pounding on our door.
And it was socked in. It was snowing. And he asked me would I take a woman to Fairbanks. She's having a breach birth. And she had to get -- he couldn't handle it. He wanted to get her to Fairbanks. It would kill her.
And I told him, I said, "Doc, I'm teaching school here." I said, "You've got two commercial operators here. A Wien airline pilot lived next door to me, and Fort Yukon Air Service, Cliff Fairchild, was up in the cabin, get them." I said, "I'm -- I'm teaching school." "Well, they won't go."
And he said, "I tried them and they won't go. Will you take her?" Well, I said, "All right." But Wien did warm up my airplane.
They had a -- they had the master heaters and stuff up the field which I didn't have. They warmed up my airplane. So I got up and he called him and told them that -- asked them to warm my airplane up. Which they did.
So I went up to the airplane, and checked the airplane out. Surveyed everything. And then when it was ready to go, I sent word over to the hospital to bring her on. And came back, and the kid had turned around and been born.
Whew! I didn't want to go up there at 10,000 feet or 9,000 feet and fly on instruments all the way to Fairbanks, single–engine instruments.
Which I was -- I don't like single–engine instruments, but, well, I was proficient in them. I mean I could -- long as that engine keeps -- see, the only thing that bothered me was that engine running.
As long as that keeps going, I have no problems. When that quits, then I sweat a little bit.
BILL SCHNEIDER: -- economic situation was different for the early pilots, and for your group.
RED WILLIAMS: Oh, yes. In the early days, there weren't many of the pilots. And consequently, when -- when people recognized the convenience of aviation as vis–a–vis the dog team and the river polling boat and all this type of thing, there was heavy demand.
And the early bush pilots were as busy as they wanted to be. There wasn't the competition.
Now, at my group, after the war especially, World War II, much competition, there were so many pilots and so many people going into the business that it was very difficult to -- unless one had a good -- oh, unique service to offer, it -- it was dog eat dog.
Now, in my own case here, about the same time that I opened up here after the war, we had a group of us here, it was Bob Rice who ran the BRAT service, Bob Rice Air Taxi. And we had Randy Acord who had a Beechcraft Bonanza. Rice had a Navion.
And I was fighting -- and Magoffin. We all opened up at about the same time. Well, out of the bunch, Magoffin is the only one that really blossomed, and he blossomed because of the DEW Line connection he made in 1953.
But the three of us, Rice and Acord and I, were concentrating primarily on the tourist business in the summertime. We were very competitive for the tourist business.
RED WILLIAMS: And it was good for a while. And because during World War II, there was limited travel. And the farmers got good prices for their products. They couldn't go anywhere, and they stuck their money in the sock. And after the war they were all ready to travel.
And many of them would drive and especially with the challenging Alaska Highway, that was a big challenge. Many would drive up here and then want to fly to Kotzebue or Nome or Barrow.
And we were all in -- and Wien was getting -- finally got smart and started concentrating on tourists and in their Barrow and Kotzebue and Nome flight. A big round robin. Made a lot of money for them.
Rice and Acord were flying a lot over Fort Yukon, because Fort Yukon is 8 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and everybody wanted to go north of the Arctic Circle.
And that was my big thrust, too, because I -- most of my customers drove as far as Circle Hot Springs. Of course, I could fly them cheaper from Circle Hot Springs to Fort Yukon and back than they could fly from Fairbanks to Fort Yukon and back.
Until they put in the big fields and Wien could then take in the big planes. And when they did that, they just knocked the bottom out of us. They drove Acord out of business. They drove me out of business. And they drove Rice out of business. He went to work as a pilot for various and sundry companies, and finally became a helicopter pilot.
RED WILLIAMS: But they drove -- the big airlines and the big planes and the big airfields drove all the small operators out of business. We couldn't compete with them with a small airplane.
That's just like trying to compete with Weaver Brothers and their big 18–wheel rigs with a pickup truck, you know. Takes the same number of people to drive the truck, whether it's a pickup or whether it's an 18 wheeler, but the loads are different.
BILL SCHNEIDER: But you were in that unique position of being near Circle Hot Springs and Central.
RED WILLIAMS: Yeah. Yeah. I had a pretty good corner on the market out at Circle Hot Springs. Except on the Fourth of July, both Randy Acord and Bob Rice would come up there and -- and actually compete with me and steal a lot of business from me, if you will.
It would make me madder than the devil, but nothing I could do about it. It's a free public airport. They cut in on me -- on the Fourth of July, they'd come up there and cut in on me.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So there really was a tourist circuit. They would drive to Circle Hot Springs, and then you'd fly them to Fort Yukon?
RED WILLIAMS: Yeah, most of my customers were people who had driven -- who -- who had arrived, whether they'd driven themselves or come on -- on the bus, or the stage as they called it in those days.
They'd wind up by road, and still want to go over the Arctic Circle and see the old former trading post. The British found a trading post in 1847, and so forth.
Historic place. And biggest Indian village in Alaska, in the Interior of Alaska. And it had attraction. And I made a living for a while. Finally got wiped out.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So then you combined teaching in the winter with the summer business?
RED WILLIAMS: Yes. And that way, I -- I didn't really have to make my living completely from flying. But there did come a time -- I would -- for years, I would -- even after I went out of business for myself, when I was flying for hire, when I was flying for someone else, someone else's airplanes, I was always flying for hire.
I would be teaching in the winter and then flying in the summer. So I didn't have to depend on flying for my family's support.
But there came a time actually later when my flying barely supported the upkeep of the airplane. And that's when I got out of the personal flying business and went to work for others.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And when did commercial flights start to the villages?
RED WILLIAMS: Well, back with Ben Eielson.
BILL SCHNEIDER: I'm sorry, scheduled commercial flights.
RED WILLIAMS: Oh. Those -- those started in the late '30s. The mail contracts and -- but when we were in the early '50s, or late '40s and early '50s at Central, the scheduled mail plane was once every two weeks.
Okay. So there wasn't enough volume generated. And I -- I sometimes question whether there's a volume generated now that's -- to warrant these daily flights often. Mail flights into places. I think we're subsidizing a lot of letter writing.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So -- so the third stage after -- after you guys really was when there was an accelerated scheduled commercial --
RED WILLIAMS: Oh, yes. Yes. Yes. And -- and it was -- well, the schedules, they were really -- they were able to keep the schedules much more tightly with the sophisticated instrumentation and the navigational aides and so forth they have now. They're much able to keep a tighter schedule than they were 20, 30 years ago.
So it's much more reliable. I'm not going to say it's much more safe, but it's much more reliable. The only thing is it was just -- I figured that my group was just as safe as these people are now because we're here talking to you about it.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Anything else you'd like to add to the record?
RED WILLIAMS: No. The -- I would just like to say that in all the years of flying, the greatest personal damage that was done to either my passengers or me was one time I tore my fingernail on a landing. And that's -- I've never brought blood on anybody or myself.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, that's a real good record.
RED WILLIAMS: I -- my most horrible experience was I was flying a twin Cessna, I was landing at Circle Hot Springs with a full load of passengers, and a hornet was up my pants leg stinging my legs five times on the landing, and there was nothing I could do about it. That's my most horrible flying experience.
Can you imagine having a hornet up your leg? And he's sitting there and you're landing, you can't -- you can't take your hands off and start swatting -- just --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Thanks, Red. RED WILLIAMS: Yeah.