Jess Bachner was interviewed on January 12, 1985 by William Schneider at Phillips Field in Fairbanks, Alaska. Jess' wife, Ann, was also present during the interview. In this interview, Jess talks about his work prior to becoming an airplane mechanic, his training and experience as a mechanic, and the changes he’s seen in aviation. He also discusses establishment of Bachner Aircraft Service and Phillips Field, as well as experiences going out to remote locations to repair and retrieve crashed airplanes. This is an excerpt of the original longer interview. For full interview, see complete transcripts of ORAL HISTORY 85-08, Part 1 and ORAL HISTORY 85-08, Part 2.
Digital Asset Information
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Work done prior to aviation
The creation of Phillip's Field
Building the Northway Airport
Beginning in the aviation business
The 1967 Fairbanks flood
Changes in the aviation business
Light aircraft and its demise
Maintaining light aircraft
Changes in the light aircraft
Repairing wrecked planes
The dangers of bad repairs
A hockey puck through a plane's vertical fin
Watching the weather
Learning to be an airplane mechanic
The future of aviation
Fishing, hunting, trading and trapping
Specialized work at Jess' shop
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WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: We have the pleasure of being with Jess and Ann Bachner today here at Phillips Field. And -- we're going to talk a little bit about your background, and living here in Fairbanks. This is Bill Schneider, and it's January 12th, 1985. So let's start off, Jess, by my asking you about your folks coming to Fairbanks and your early childhood here.
JESS BACHNER: Well, my folks came to Fairbanks way back in the early days. I don't know just exactly what date. Then they wound up in Livengood. Going to make a fortune in the mining industry which never happened. Eventually they moved to Fairbanks in, 'bout 1924 I think. '23 or '24. And my Dad went to work for the FE Company building some of their mess halls and bunkhouses, and that sort of thing.
He learned carpentry through his own manuals that he bought.
I was born in the old rest house. August 17th, 1919. So, I got a little time spent on Livengood before we did move back to town here.
I went to school half way through the eighth grade is all. And I quit and went driving truck. And, in the summer time. In the winter time we done work for the airplane outfits, Pollock and Wien, and Fairbanks Air Motive and some of those. Cleaning parts, and washing bellies, and gassing airplanes and that sort of thing.
Until about 1936, I guess, we bought a truck, another kid and I, and we went in the wood hauling business. We hauled wood from out in the Livengood road.
Made enough money to buy a new truck in 1937. We hauled wood with that, in the summer and fall 'til the road closed.
In '38, we bought another new truck. We made enough money with that one to buy another new one. In that year we started hauling from Valdez. I spent that summer hauling freight from Valdez. Click here to view film of the Richardson Highway. Then that fall, I think it was, we, I worked for (Al) Ghezzi driving truck, hauling a dredge to Livengood, and pipe and materials for the Livengood Placer Company, who were then building a dredge over there. And the Hess tunnel, which my Dad built, also. And some of their buildings, mess halls and bunkhouses and stuff.
Then I worked for Ghezzi continually then. Of course, in them days the roads weren't open the year round, they were just opened in the summer time, from about May till 1st of October generally.
In the winter time I'd work for the airplane outfits. Assistant mechanic, and scrubbing parts and bellies and stuff like I said before.
So, that's where I got tangled up with the airplanes. So I got a chance to work on a lot of the old timer's machines. Workéd with old Hutch, Ernie Hubbard, Ray Pratt, and Norm Weaver, Bob Osley. Oh, it goes on and on. Art Lean.
And of course in July 1944, my friendly neighbors chose me, and I spent my two years in the military. Which was all spent in Alaska. I wound up back in Fairbanks in the Ordnance Department.
And when I got out of the Army I went back to work for Ghezzi, but I only drove for -- I drove the first Kenworth that came to the country. Jimmy Morgan and I. And we only drove it for about, oh, I guess 6 months or so.
And we fell through a bridge with a big load of produce, so we gave her up. Didn't want to do that anymore. That was before they started putting new bridges and stuff in, and that was a pretty big truck.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Where were you coming up from?
JESS BACHNER: We were coming from Haines to Fairbanks with a load of lettuce, tomatoes and celery. We had about 24 tons on. And all those old bridges were wooden A-frame bridges, you know, and they'd been there for years.
They didn't quite hold up them heavy trucks. But luckily we made it. The bridge went away, but we made it across. All we did was break a trailer spring. We patched that up and got ourselves on the way to home.
Then I went to work for Fred Seltenrich, out on Week's Field. He had a -- he started one of the first public maintenance shops for light aircraft, and fuel concession. That was in the days of the non-scheds. (non-scheds = non-scheduled or chartered flights).
We took care of that for a couple of years, until the fall of 1948, he decided to give it up.
So we bought it. We didn't have any money, but he let us have it, and we eventually paid for it. We've been going at it ever since and this is, what -- what you see now is what it's come out if it in the past 35, 39 years, or whatever it is. Since November 1948, anyway.
Then we built Phillips Field here, in 1950. The Miller Hangar, I think the first landing on it was June in '51, if I remember right. In a big cloud of dust. And it's been improved, and graveled and paved and one thing another ever since.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: What was the first airplane to land here?
JESS BACHNER: Was a Navion, just like the one you see out in the hangar right now. Holly Evans, Navion.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: About the Northway Airport and your involvement in building that?
JESS BACHNER: Yeah, the first year, when was that, 1942, I guess. We helped them open the highway. We hauled all that material to build the Northway Airport. It was mostly asphalt, and this asphalt was in wooden barrels, and it had to be heated and run through a mixing plant. It isn't flowing material like asphalt is today.
We'd haul it to -- there was no road of course from Nabesna to Northway, so we'd haul it -- we'd go to Nabesna, and turn off and drive up Jack Creek for about 5 or 6 miles to a big barn at the Nabesna River. And then they flew it all over, from there to Northway.
And some of those old airplanes, Pilgrims, they had Pilgrims and Fairchild 71's and Boeing 80A, old Stinsons and Travelairs. And there was a fleet of airplanes there all one summer flying that stuff. They flew -- Well, we hauled 9,000 ton of asphalt alone, plus all the building material and the fuel and everything else it took to build the airport with.
The machinery'd take it all apart and take over in the airplane and put it back together. It was something similar to when they started the North Slope, they hauled everything in airplanes, and put it back together when they got it up on -- wherever they were taking it and put it to work 'til they could got some airports built.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Boy, those were some old aircraft there.
JESS BACHNER: Oh, yeah, yeah, but they got her all hauled. I remember they had a big boiler. It was a big heavy boiler, I don't know -- I forget what they was using it for. I guess for the asphalt plant.
And they reinforced the bottom of that big Boeing 80A, and it still looked like a old workhorse, you know. And they got that old boiler in there, but it flew, and they got it over there without banging anything up. I forget how -- it must of weighed close to 4 ton I guess or there.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: And that plane had enough power of --
JESS BACHNER: Oh yeah, it was 3 engines. Had 3 Wasp Juniors on it. 950 horsepower, I think they were. No 450 horsepower each.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Let's talk a little bit about your getting into the aviation business.
JESS BACHNER: Well, of course, like I told you before, we -- I worked around the old timers there for a long time, but basically earned my living at trucking. But then, after I got out of the Army, I got tangled up with Fred Seltenrich, and got my mechanic's license, and started to learn how to fly.
Well, no, I started to learn to fly before that. I started to learn to fly in 1942, I guess. But I never got my license 'til around '46 or '47. Anyway in the meantime, I worked for Fred there for a couple of years, and his basic business was, of course, we took care of a lot of small airplanes, like I said it was the first public maintenance facility for light aircraft.
But his big thing was fueling the non-scheds. He had 2 big fuel trucks, we used to fuel 'em, and wintertime, heat 'em up, get 'em ready to go. I built a trailer with 3 big Herman-Nelson heaters on it, and we'd just pull it around with a jeep, just pull up to a airplane, and throw those 3 heaters on it, one on each engine, one on the cabin, and couple hours, they're ready to go.
Well, that done pretty good for us. That made us some money. Got us over the hump for a start.
And we rented the old Gillam hangar. When we bought Fred out in '48, we rented the old Gillam hangar from Northern Consolidated who had got it through a merger with all those other people that were around there. Northern Airways, Bobby Miller's outfit, and Jimmy Dodson and, oh, I forget who. The Pollock I guess was part of it.
There was several, anyway.They all merged and wound up to be Northern Consolidated. But they had no use for the Gillam hangar. So, we rented it for, gee, pretty near nothing, you know.
That's where we got our start. We were there 'til they decided to close up Week's Field and run us off.
And then, this old man Phillips, who this Phillips' Field is named after, come along and said that he had this land over here, and he offered it to us for -- on a fifty-fifty basis.
If we'd want to build an airport and run it, he'd take fifty percent of the take from the land rentals for his -- from our use of his land. And that's the way it still works today. We've still got another 27 years on this lease to go.
But we built it in 1950, and we built the hangar in '51, spring of '51. And we've been building on to it ever since. Up until -- I guess the last we built on it was before the flood, wasn't it? Yeah.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: You built the little warehouse out here just afterwards?
JESS BACHNER: Yeah, that's right. When we -- after we got through cleaning up around here, we got a chance. Somebody ordered that warehouse, and when it got here they couldn't pick it up, and we got it for pretty near cost. So we bought it and put that warehouse up.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Tell me about the Fairbanks flood, and what it did to the flying business.
JESS BACHNER: Well, it stopped everything for quite awhile. We were shut down for pretty near six weeks, I guess, or maybe more than six weeks. It took us that long to just clean up the mess.
And then a course you're cleaning up forever, you still find stuff that laying around here that you missed you know, that's full of mud and silt, and papers that are all wrinkled up, corners, parts that are moldy. But we got over it pretty good. But it sure was a job.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: When you mentioned scheds, non-scheds, what do you mean by non-scheds?
JESS BACHNER: Well, you see, after the war, they surplused a lot of these airplanes, like C-46's and DC-3's, and some DC-4's. Oh that was about it I guess at that time. Most of the guys had C-46's. And it was open, that was before the CAB had locked 'em down for -- into controlled routes and stuff.
And a lot of these guys bought 46's and DC-3's and stuff and they started hauling produce and people and stuff from Seattle to Fairbanks and Anchorage. And they called 'em non-scheds, non-scheduled airlines, see. They'd just go when they had a load. They weren't scheduled to go anywhere at anytime. When they got a load, they'd warm up and go.
But, the Fed's got a hold of that real quick and shut 'em down. So that didn't last too long.
They got away with it for 2 or 3 years, but that's about all. But it was quite a job, especially in the winter when you had a lot of warming up to do. Sometimes we'd warm up as many as 5 or 6 of 'em a day.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Well, I'll bet you've seen a lot of changes in the aviation business over the years.
JESS BACHNER: Oh, yes you bet. A lot of changes in the types of airplanes. It started out with all those old low powered airplanes, now they're all high powered, turbo, and turbine airplanes. And a course, now they're pretty near -- about to extinct the piston engine airplanes. Cessna's quit building them, and Piper's quit building, practically. All going to turbines. But they're so expensive, it kills the -- actually kills the light aircraft industry.
So anybody wants to fly for fun, they've gotta hang on to what they got. Or trade on the used aircraft market. And they're awful expensive. Parts are getting impossible to get. A lot of the parts people have -- due to lawsuits and everybody so sue happy, you know, they sue you at the drop of a hat, you know, for everything.
Like Bendix Corporation they don't want to make any more mag parts, and Delco-Remy just went out of business, and A.C. Sparkplug is gone out of business. Oh, you could just go right on down the line and half of the parts people have gone out of business. So it's getting hard to get parts for those old machines.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: But you've been in the business 30 years or so, and probably have more parts than anybody, huh?
JESS BACHNER: Well, yeah, but you can't replace them. When you run out, you're out.
Like right now, we're sitting here, we can't get any -- what was it yesterday the guy wanted? Oh, Bendix mag parts. He needed some distributor blocks and some points, I guess it was. And you can't get 'em. We've had 'em on order for 6 weeks, and they don't come.
So I don't know what he's going to do. Have to buy something different, I guess. Or find something in the junk pile.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: History of light aircraft is something that you've kinda majored in the last 30, 40 years.
JESS BACHNER: Yeah, well, see, there wasn't -- there was a few light aircraft before the war, but it was basically after the war. There was Piper and Taylorcraft. Taylorcraft went broke, and Piper bought him up of course.
Piper pretty near went broke in '46 and '47. They over built, and they couldn't sell the airplanes, 'cause the guys who got out of the army didn't have any money. And it was pretty tough going there for awhile, but it got going about, oh, in the early 50's, it got going pretty good.
Our best times were probably from 'bout '56 to '75, I'd say. And that was when the most of the -- when they were really selling, and building lots of light aircraft. When I say light aircraft, I mean aircraft that use flat engine ships, opposed to cylinder engines, not round ones.
Two and three and four and five place airplanes up to six place. Single engine. And light twins with flat engines.
But now that's going way downhill again now too, the cost of things. Most of the airplanes you see out here, right now, they just sit here, they never move. Guys can't buy gas for 'em.
They just pay the parking, you know. They hardly ever fly. A few 'em, but I'd say than less than half of them do any flying that amount to anything anymore. And they used to be flying -- the area used to be full of 'em here all the time.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: But it used to be that at least for rural Alaska, the light aircraft was the supply link and supply horse.
JESS BACHNER: Yes, that's true. Even way back in the early 30's when Noel Wien and those people started, they were bigger airplanes, but they were still single engine airplanes, you know, they had the old big round engines on them. But they're the ones that really opened up the mining country, and the trapping country, and all that.
But of course, when the light aircraft come along, there's lots of that going on now too, with aircraft like the Cessna 185's, 170's, 180's, 185's, 206's, 207's. And light Twins, Aztec, Navajos, some Beeches. Not too many Beeches in this part of the country, 'cause their landing gear won't take the rough stuff, hardly.
But they've played a big role in it, and they still are, but it's -- of course snowmachines and those kind of mechanical contrivances are taking over a lot of it, too. Snowmachines are getting so dependable now that these guys don't think anything about taking off on a snowmachine and going 200 miles across the country.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: What do you think your biggest challenge has been in maintaining these small aircraft?
JESS BACHNER: Oh, I don't know. It's a matter of keeping up with them. They keep, you know, they never build two alike, you gotta keep -- everytime they come out with a new model, you gotta buy a new bunch of parts. That's probably the worst thing. Is trying to keep ahead of them, keep the things on the shelf that you need to keep 'em going.
Then of course, the cost of labor and everything got so high that we had to got out of the rebuilding business, cause nobody can afford it. That's mostly a do-it-yourself deal now. So, we've kinda backed down on that.
We'll sell 'em all the parts and pieces, but they can't afford to have us to do it. They can't pay for it. It's too expensive. So, they're all doing it in their garages, and their own shop or --
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Do they have to get that signed off then?
JESS BACHNER: Oh yeah, they gotta have somebody look at it and sign it, but that's a -- like I say, there's an AI around every corner now. So, some of 'em, sign it off by mail, some 'em sign it for 25 bucks and never see it.
It's like one guy told me yesterday, he says, "All I have to do is have a current photo, and, in color for him, and he'll sign it off." Then nothing's done about it, so they can't -- a legitimate shop can't compete with that.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: And there've been changes too, in the type of aircraft?
JESS BACHNER: Oh yeah, well, back through the '50's and the early '60's, it was mostly fabric airplanes, you know. They were metal structures -- very few wood structures anymore, but metal structures covered with fabric. Now the last -- since then, since the '60's --
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Since the '60's there've been some changes.
JESS BACHNER: Yeah, they've went more to metal airplanes. They're all sheet aluminum and metal structures, different type of structures. You don't use much tubing in them anymore, so there's no welding, it's all formed units, and riveted together and bolted together. Metal covering.
So, it's an all together different ball game. But even then you can't afford to -- there's very little repair, and they -- these high powered machines now, and they wreck 'em, they really tear 'em up. So, they aren't hardly worth fixing. Parts cost too much.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Been some changes in the price of fuel, too. I suppose that effects flying.
JESS BACHNER: Oh yeah, well, you see, fuel's up to, what -- we're selling it for a $1.91 a gallon now. So, it costs a handful of money to fill up the fuel tank, you know.
And these things, they don't go very cheap. They burn -- well, the average engine now in the light aircraft will burn anywhere from 8 to 12 gallons an hour, depending on the horsepower.
Like, say, a 150 burns about 8 and a half gallons an hour. And a IO 520 Continental, it burns about anywhere from 11 and a half to 13 gallons an hour. Depending on what the conditions are. So, it's a little expensive just for fuel alone.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Let's talk a little bit about repair in the old days, when you used to make house visits.
JESS BACHNER: Well, yeah, we done a lot of that. We’d go out and load all our junk and our tools in the airplane, and go out in the snowbank and dig one out, and fix it up and bring it home.
But it was tough because there was no communication. Nobody knew whether you got there, when you wore gonna be back. Or you didn't know how bad it was wrecked, the guy just said, "Oh, it's just hurt a little bit, all you need is a piece of tubing and a welding torch, and fix it up in a couple of hours, and bring it home."
Well, I went on one of those trips once to Kantishna with Hutch for Pollock Airlines, and that's what the guy told us. We got there and he'd run this brand new Stinson SR 10 down through a stump patch, and tore the whole landing gear section out of it and everything. Seven weeks later we got home, after welding a new whole section in it. And patching it all up.
We had a lot of fun on that trip. We were down in Fanny Quigley's country in the Kantishna. We rented one of her cabins, which was about a 10 by 12 log cabin. Click here to view film of Fannie Quigley in Kantishna.
The mail plane come in once a week. And every mail plane she'd get a gallon of Everclear. Course she had to use up about half of it the first night. So we could depend on every Wednesday, in the middle of the night she'd get up and shoot the smokestack off our cabin with a 30.06, and we'd have to get up in the middle of the night and get up there and put the smokestack back.
And then we had some other fun, too. Ol' Hutch he'd get to playing with the radio and put his teeth on the stove. Bob Ausley, the other kid that was with us, he decided it was too cold in there, so he'd get up and put a stick of wood in the stove, boil Hutch's teeth. In them days, the teeth, the false teeth were formed in wax, you know. Of course, they'd melt all over the bottom of the bowl.
So we'd sit there all night trying to put his teeth back together, but that didn't work. So, I'd have to grind everything up into hamburger and soup for him.
But we had a lot of fun, some of those trips. But when our first business started we done a lot of work for Wien, and we were flying lot of those old 170's, and 180's, and they'd bust 'em up for one reason or another. We'd go out and pick 'em up and bring 'em home, fix ' em for ' em. There was a1ways a big snowbank job out in the brush somewhere.
Sometimes you'd be gone for 2 or 3 days, and sometimes you'd be gone for a week, you never know. But we done a lot of that. It was tough duty. And we finally give it up. We had to quit it. Course for the same reason, it got so it wasn't worth it anymore.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So, you've dealt with a lot of different repair cases, huh?
JESS BACHNER: Oh, yes, yeah, we get -- you know, these guys will get the cheap job done, and every once and awhile they bring it in, they think maybe before something happens, they better get it looked at pretty good, so we'd look at it.
It's unbelievable some of the stuff you find. Like we found control cables that'd been routed the wrong way, and they'll wind up two or three inches short so they tie 'em together with a piece of safety wire.
And you find bolts they forgot to put the nuts on, and the wing strut fittings. And all kinds, all sorts of things like that.
Oh, I don't know, there -- it's -- well, Cessna's, now this is a factory defect that we found in Cessna's here about, let's see, when was that? It was 6 or 7 years ago, I guess. It was in the 185's and 206's.
We had two or three customers got new airplanes, and the first inspections we found the aileron cables wrapped around the fuel lines that come down the right hand doorpost. And they were wrapped clear around the fuel line, just sawing away at the fuel line. If they'd went for another fifty hours probably, they saw the fuel line in two and spill all the fuel all over, and maybe caught fire or something.
Those are the kind of things you find every day. Find the engines. We find people that -- do-it-yourselfers put standard bearings on an undersized shaft and then they wonder why it sounds so loud. All kinds of things like that, you know.
We had one guy, he bought an airplane in, I think it was in Colorado somewhere. In Luscom. And he flew it all the way up here, had an 85 Continental in it, and he says, “I can't”, he says, “I've flown quite a few airplanes, but he says this one rattles pretty bad, he says I can't use ---" He was a preacher at Fort Yukon.
So, we got to looking at it, and we said, "Oh boy, something's wrong internally on that thing." We took it apart, and sure enough, they'd put standard bearings on a 10 hundred crank shaft. But it made it all the way from Colorado to here. Pretty fortunate.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Well, that's a lot of responsibility. Do you ever have trouble sleeping at night, wondering if the mechanics got the job done right?
JESS BACHNER: Well, if you do it right. No, we don't have any of those kinda guys around here. All our guys know what they're doing.
Yeah, we've had the same crew for -- all the guys -- well what we've got left, been here 7, 8 years, some longer. Well, we've had guys who were here for 12, 13, 14 years. ANN BACHNER: (Inaudible)
JESS BACHNER: Yeah. When was that, ' 61? Yeah, 1961, I went and got a new Tri-Fisher at the Lockhaven, Pennsylvania factory. They had -- they were fabric airplane of course, and their dope process, they'd changed to speed it up. And they were spraying hot dope on these machines. They put the fabric on the fuselage, and then wet it down to shrink the fabric, so it would take all the wrinkles out, and then he'd spray with this hot dope.
And of course it never penetrated the fabric, see. The dope'd just sit on top. So, we come with these airplanes. We've sold about -- gee, I forget how many. I think we were done the limit on them, though if I remembe rightr. Anyway, we were coming home, and we run into a temperature inversion of about a hundred degrees. It was sixty some below on the ground, and sixty some above in the air.
Then when we come down through that temperature inversion into the cold, that thing just exploded. Sounded like firecrackers going off in there. When we got on the ground, there wasn't a piece of fabric that didn't -- there wasn't a piece of fabric two inches square that wasn't cracked. So we had to refinish the whole airplane.
And I think if I remember right, we refinished about 10 or 11 of them that year. From them bum dope jobs. ANN BACHNER: (Inaudible)
JESS BACHNER: Oh, the guy drove the hockey puck through it, yeah. That was the same trip.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So, so you -- that was on that same trip at Norman Wells you had the problem too, huh?
JESS BACHNER: Yeah, it was about 72 below, I think. The guy said, “Well, you'd better put those airplanes in the hangar.” They had a great big hangar there that was abandoned by the military. So we -- there was four or five of us there. And so we put all these airplanes in the hangar. But in the hangar, they had a hockey rink and a curling rink.
And so we're sitting in the hotel this night, and a guy calls up, and he says "Hey," he said, “Hey. You own that Tri-Fisher that's in that hangar?” And I said, “Yeah.” Well, he says, “You got a little problem,” he said, “We were having a hockey game,” and he says "One of the guys drove a hockey puck right through the middle of the tail end of it."
And a course with that cold weather, it'd just exploded, you know. It made a hole about 10 times big as a hockey puck. But we went and got a heater, and patched it up, taped it up, got it home. But the guy was sure -- he wanted to pay me for it and everything else, but --
Who would ever think that they'd drive a hockey puck through your airplane. It was clear across the hangar, too. Clear on the other side of the hangar.
But it had a great big hole in the vertical fin. Oh, we were there --
Oh, another thing, yeah, we were stuck there, let's see was that at Norman Wells. No that was at--
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: That was Edmonton?
JESS BACHNER: Yeah, we came into Edmonton, and it was cold. It was about 40 below. And foggy. Real foggy. There was a friend of ours that got there the day before, couple days before I guess.
And so we went in and we asked him, and said, "Hey, how come you’re still here? Gee, we thought the weather was good yesterday." "Oh no," he says, "the weather was no good yesterday, and no good today." And he says,"How'd you guys get in here?" Well, we said we just come in. It's kinda foggy, but we made it. It's getting colder. Supposed to -- we were stuck there for 4 days.
But anyway, this guy -- come to find out he went to check the weather, and he raised up the window blind and about a foot from his window was another building that was whitewashed. So he'd been looking out there at the whitewashed wall all the time checking the weather.
He'd been sitting there 3 or 4 days checking the weather on the whitewashed wall. So he had to go someplace else to check the weather after that. But it was cold and foggy. I think we were there 3 or 4 days and finally got out of there. That trip was cold all the way. All the way.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: You went the inside route? JESS BACHNER: Oh, yeah. Yeah, we come --
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: And why were you bringing that plane up, was that to sell, or -- ?
JESS BACHNER: Oh, it was a new one, yeah. Sell it.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So did you normally ferry planes up to sell 'em?
JESS BACHNER: Well, I just went to the meeting with it. They used to have yearly conventions in them days, you know. Which they've quit nowadays. But I went to 2 or 3 of 'em. You'd always bring an airplane home, when you come home.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: When you were learning to become an airplane mechanic in the early days, how did that happen? How did you learn it?
JESS BACHNER: Well, you just got a job scrubbing parts, or working on airplanes. Helping the mechanics, and watching what they do, and they taught you. Like Hutch, and Eldred Quam and Ernie Hubbard. Worked for them for years at Wien's and Pollock’s. And eventually Ernie Hubbard and Quam worked for me for 11, 12, 13 years.
But it was just a matter of watching. Fred Seltenrich, he taught me a lot, too. But you just picked it up watching and doing, like the welding.
Of course, in the old days you used to have to be able to splice cable, which you don't do anymore, they use copper clamps nowadays. But compressed sleeves they call them.
That was the toughest thing I think that I had was learning how to splice that cable. I still don't know how. I did know for awhile, but you forget it. It's pretty tough.
Some guys it was automatic, you know they could just do it automatically. It was tough for me to learn how to splice cable, but welding was easy, and all the rest of it was easy.
Course I worked on cars and trucks before too, you know, which helped a lot, with the basics of it.
It's mostly just a matter of watching, I never -- I studied some manuals, I had the Ross manuals and stuff, but they didn't help much. All you could do was get some of the general ideas out of the manuals. You had to do it. Mostly experience.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Let's talk a little bit of the future of aviation, and what you see.
JESS BACHNER: Well, I don't know. I don't see very much, but -- course, we're kinda fortunate, everything we've got here is paid for, and we can just sit here and grind along, as long as the taxes don't eat us up. Which they're trying to do.
But, we got people on one side of us folding up, and people on the other side trying to start up. So, I don't know where it's going.
I know the business is gone way down. We used to have -- at one time we had as many as 17 people working here. Now we're down to four.
It's hardly -- it's pretty hard to even pay the heat and light bill. With only four people working.
But, now the highway department -- the State claims they're going to put a 4 lane highway right down the middle of our runway, so that'll finish that off. So, I don't know what'll happen. I don't -- I haven't any idea. They don't talk to us, all they do is talk to the newspapers and the radio people, and scare all our customers off, but they don't come and talk to us. So we don't know what's going to happen.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Well, how about your own feelings? What do you have in mind? I know you told Debbie when she did an interview with you, that you wanted to go to Circle Hot Springs.
JESS BACHNER: Go fishing and hunting and trading and trapping, like Fred says.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Scare some bears away.
JESS BACHNER: Yeah, that's right. I got a cabin at Circle Hot Springs, got one up the Richardson Clearwater. Got a good boat.
We can trade off. Go back and forth. The bird season up at Circle, summer season on the Creek. Winter you just have to do what ever comes along.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Well, that's good, thank you.
So Jess, there's been some change in terms of general maintenance here at the -- with aircraft, is specialized?
JESS BACHNER: Oh, yeah, you see, we used to do everything, we used to do a lot of fabric work, and rebuilding wrecks, just everything general maintenance. But it's got to the point now where it's pretty well specialized.
It's a -- like I say, all them guys run around with a tool box in the back of their pick-up, doing all that kinda stuff. And when the customer gets to the point where he finds that the guy he's had working on it can't fix it, then they bring it to us. We get to fix it. So it's kinda a specialty shop now.
We've still got a few steady customers. People that have depended on us for years, like Bud Helmerick, Tom Classen, Mike Hartman. Few though, stand by us, you know, don't fool with those other type of people.
I don't know. Maybe it's enough to keep us above water.
So far this winter luckily the weather's been warm enough so it hasn't eat us up in fuel and fuel bills, but course then the big snow come so that ate us up in plowing. So, it's one thing or another.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: You had to do apprenticeships?
JESS BACHNER: Oh, yeah, you had to have 2 years of apprenticeship signed off by a licensed mechanic before you could even qualify to take the test for a mechanic's license.
And then you had to take a written test, and what they call a practical test, from a licensed mechanic which consisted of welding and splicing cable, and wood splicing, and fabric work.
You know, just the general maintenance, and the knowledge of engine, magnetos, carburetors and valve systems, and so forth.
But nowadays they go to school for 6 months or a year, or whatever the course is.
And read the books, and if they can pass the test, away they go with a ticket. They don't have to know anything, except memorize the stuff in the book so they can pass the test.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Okay, well thank you very much. I think that was good.
JESS BACHNER: Yeah, very good.