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Urban Rahoi, Interview 1, Part 1

This is the first part of a two part recording of Urban Rahoi speaking at the Pioneer Aviation Museum's public lecture series at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska on November 20, 2012. A few days before this recording was made, Urban had passed a physical so he could keep flying at the age of 94. Urban talks about starting his flying career in 1934, learning to fly when he was young, his U.S. Air Force experience during World War II, flying B17s, returning home, and attending college. He then talks about coming to Alaska, working with Jim Magoffin and Al Wright at Interior Airways, getting to know interior Alaska, a rescue on Nome Creek, and crashing his plane in British Columbia after mechanical malfunction and his rescue. He also talks about an airplane crash in Fairbanks without any injuries, the different aircraft that he has flown, problems with flying a Norseman, sabotage of his airplanes in Fairbanks, his lodge on Ptarmigan Lake, his proposed route for the railroad, working as a hunting guide, and different hunting seasons before statehood.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2012-24_PT.1

Project: Pioneer Aviators
Date of Interview: Nov 20, 2012
Narrator(s): Urban Rahoi
Videographer: Leslie McCartney
Transcriber: Sue Beck
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska State Library, Institute of Museum and Library Services
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.



Learning to fly

Joining the military

Flying B-17s in World War II

Flying and going to college after the war

Coming to Alaska, and being reported missing

Starting Interior Airways and learning the country

Participating in a search and rescue operation

End of Interior Airways

Rescuing a woman at Nome Creek and landing in dangerous conditions

Rescuing a pilot and airplane that had caught on fire

Childhood memories

Crashing an airplane near Prince George, Canada

Surviving more airplane crashes

Engine blowing up while flying a Noreseman

Flying on skies on the North Slope

Quitting a high paying job on the North Slope to be home with his wife

Reflections on life, achievements and being humble

Water put in his gas tank

Flying supplies and equipment to his remote lodge

Dislike for defeatist attitude, and thoughts about Susitna-Watana Dam and sustainable lifestyle

Passing a check ride in a J Bonanza with a difficult instructor

Staying calm in stressful situations

Wife of 70 years

Views on development of highways and railroads

Lodge at Ptarmigan Lake, keeping an airplane at Beaver Creek, and crossing the Canadian border

Joy in helping people

Guiding, and choosing Ptarmigan Lake location

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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


PETE HAGGLAND: Tonight we have Urban Rahoi here. Of course, most of you know him I think. Dermot had a nice article in the newspaper about him. He is 94 years young. Still flying actively and doing very well.

URBAN RAHOI: Passed my physical. PETE HAGGLAND: And -- URBAN RAHOI: Today.

PETE HAGGLAND: Acts like about a sixty year old. URBAN RAHOI: I sweated it out though.

PETE HAGGLAND: Yeah. Urban is here and talk about some of his quote early and even his later exploits in the aviation field. I don’t want to get him started on politics, but --

URBAN RAHOI: No, don’t get me started on the dam.

PETE HAGGLAND: But we’re happy to have him here and we want to do some more of this stuff as we go along through the year and some of the other old-timers that are around so we’re fortunate Urban flew B-17’s during the Second World War, started flying before then I think what in 1937 was it?

URBAN RAHOI: It was ’34. PETE HAGGLAND: And ’34 and so he has got a couple miles under his belt. So I am going to turn it over to Urban and just you take it from there and --

URBAN RAHOI: You mean I’m just supposed to BS these guys for an hour? PETE HAGGLAND: Sure.

URBAN RAHOI: Where do I start? PETE HAGGLAND: Well, start with your early -- early times and then I am sure there will be a few questions show up here as we go so.

URBAN RAHOI: Okay. PETE HAGGLAND: So -- I’ll thank you. You’ve got it.

URBAN RAHOI: Look who is sitting in the front here. Actually my career started in ever since I was a little kid before I flew. I loved flying and my aim was to fly. Can you hear in the back?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: LESLIE MC CARTNEY: Is the mic -- PETE HAGGLAND: No, that’s for here. URBAN RAHOI: I will try to talk a little louder. Can you hear now? UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE:

URBAN RAHOI: Anyway before I started flying I loved flying. I used to go down to the airport all the time and it was just lucky the guy that had the air -- school there and everything was a friend of the family so he took good care of me all the time and that’s how come I started flying as early as I did and got to go flying the airplane.

And we flew -- the way he did it he had a little airplane -- model airplane like that or something like that, you know. And before you’d go up he’d explain everything. He’d make the airplane move and explain all these different maneuvers.

So he had a full understanding of what you’re going to do and what was going to happen up there before you got there. As a consequence when you got two hours, he says we’re wasting our time I might as well let you go, but he said we got to go up one more flight and do three spins and it took half an hour to climb up there and it only took a few minutes to come back down with that little 40 horse airplane.

But that was the start of it and then I was lucky in the years between then and 1940. I went to work for the highway department in ’35 and I worked over in St. and Seward and all over and there was some guys over there doing weather sounds with an airplane so I got to know them real good. And they said you might as well fly and I’ll just ride along.

So I built my hours up because I wanted to get the 250 hours. Cause I wanted to originally get my commercial license eventually, but in them days it cost $7,000 to get a commercial license and fly their airplanes. So if you can get the hours built up before there it wouldn’t take that many hours to get your license then.

Well, then I kept working in the highway department until June of ’42 and then I went and signed up in the Air Force. I would have signed up sooner, but you had to have a college education before that and you couldn’t be married was one of the big items.

And then they needed more people so they said well we’ll take anybody that wants to sign up and you can be married or -- and you don’t have to go to college. So then I signed up much to my wife’s hating because she didn’t like flying, but she agreed to it under the conditions I told her it would be.

And then I went to Camden, Arkansas for my first flying lessons. See I didn’t tell the Air Force. Luckily I met a friend of mine down in Escanaba Willie Arneson and he was a -- had a flight school and I went down to Escanaba to do something.

I don’t remember what it was, but I happened to meet him on the street and he had an officer’s uniform on with a major’s hat on there. And I thought who the hell is this guy? He looks pretty nice by God, but I knew him with coveralls and half shaven and half drunk all the time.

So I see this guy. As I walked up to him, he said my name and then I knew who it was. I said what happened? He said he was a fighter pilot in World War I.

He had this flight school so the Air Force got him back in to run a flight school out there at the university up there. And we got talking and I told him in two weeks I’m going down to Milwaukee and sign up.

And he said don’t tell them you know how to fly which was damn good advice because they put you in a DC-3 or something and you could be a flying sergeant or any damn thing.

So I went through the Cadets and went that and I did it -- when I got through with the Cadets, I was in study and so on the last part of the schooling with twin engines they held me there for an instructor for a year and a half.

The reason I got out of there because they brought B-25’s for our half of the damn school so I had to go and I went up -- we had to go for an interview. I said well I want a A-20 or a P-38. He said yeah you got two choices -- B-17 or B-24.

So I took the 17 which to me -- maybe you guys won’t believe it, but the B-17 is a four engine Super Cub. That’s my interpretation of that airplane from all the flying I’ve done.

And what-you call-it you’d be amazed how short that thing will come off a big airplane like that if you did the right procedure.

Then I went down to Sebring, Florida for my next stage in the B-17 and then they wanted me to stay there as an instructor there too and I said no, I want to go all the way now.

So I got a crew and we moved up to Avon Park, just above Sebring and did our two months training there and then I went from there to Savannah.

And it was kind of unique going to Savannah because it made me a lot of money because -- and when you’re transferring as an officer like that from an instructor, you know, you get paid for all these transfers, but these sergeants didn’t like to pay you.

So I got a master sergeant there and he says let me see your records so I give him the record. He say you got a lot of money coming here which made me happy.

So he paid it all out and my wife got the check and I went on up to Newfoundland and across the Atlantic over into Africa and then over to Algiers where we started flying our bomb missions -- a couple of them. Then we moved up in , Italy.

Well, we get up there and then what happens to me? We have a little problem with crews -- pilots. So we have a meeting just like this, you know, and the general gets up there and he is talking about things. So I get up -- smart ass and made a suggestion.

Guess what he said to me. One little sentence. He says you know what your job is don’t you? I should have said nothing and sat down. So I didn’t get no more missions in. So as a consequence I stayed the whole damn war over there where guys were going home in about four months -- five months they’d go home if you flew your missions.

And I used to kid them -- the general about have some young guy do it. He can get with these Italian girls. I got a wife at home. And, of course, I love my wife very much. We spent 70 years together and it was a good 70 years.

But then when I come out of the war I went back home there and went to and Tech University. And a flight surgeon over there had warned me about when I get home because I had went through a lot of things and it was busy all the time. I kept flying all the time -- everything I could. I’d make trips down to Africa with people or all over the damn country.

And he says you’ve been working pretty hard and you haven’t shown any stress or strain at all. He says watch out when you get home. If you start having any problems at all, he said shut everything down and leave.

Go do something else. Well I got to the university and I start cramming myself. I wanted to do it in three years. Well, it happened to me. I just crammed too damn much and I couldn’t get everything done and I was flunking two subjects and they were both women instructors.

And I got in trouble there because they would start talking about the war and I told them forget the damn war. I’m coming here to learn something. That’s over. And, of course, I flunked both of those classes, but I went to the register before -- two weeks -- six weeks before.

I said I want to drop them two subjects because I know I’m going to fail them. He said well you’re doing so good in these other why not keep going and try it. I said I don’t think I’m going to make it because I’m helping my brothers go to college and their wives are having trouble around there -- they’re fighting so it is getting too much for me.

So I did the next six weeks with it and, of course, I got a letter kicking me out. So I went in and seen this guy and I says well what’s this about? He said well you flunked two subjects. I said yeah but we had agreement that you weren’t going to do this.

Well, he said that’s the rule of the college. I said yeah but I got another rule. And he said what’s that? I said my dad is a legislator in Jun -- in Lansing and he is on the finance committee giving you the money. Well you can imagine what happened then.

Well anyway but I decided to leave. It just happened McLaughlin came down at that time and was buying an airplane in Iron Mountain and there was a guy by the name of Lindberg. He had a car sales and he had a AT-6. I always flew back seat for him because he was afraid of flying and he wanted me along to keep him out of trouble which was good because he’d ground it many times.

And it is yours any time you want to go. So I loaded my wife and we flew down to Iron Mountain and talked to McLaughlin and we made a deal and bought a Super Cruiser on floats and came up here.

And that was a good exciting trip too coming up in them days coming across to Seattle. There is no place to get gas so you had to figure it out where you land and where you get the gas.

You know, I’ve been lucky in life because I landed at places -- the first place I landed was a little motel on a river there. The guy went and got me my gas and everything. Helped me get it all gassed up. The next morning I take off and I wind up just northwest of Great Falls where I am going go into Great Falls and getting low on gas and I see a T-Craft landing on a field over there.

I thought well hell he has got gas. I land there and he got me gas. I got into Great Falls and I looked at that river there and all them bridges and power and I thought where the heck do you land, you know.

And guess what happened? Here comes another Super Cruiser on floats flying right down beside there. So well I’ll tail him in, by God landed there.

The next day I flew over to what’s that -- Whitefish Lake -- that big lake in Idaho over there and landed on the south end. There is an airport right there and I went from there to oh just east of Van -- over in Washington State.

It’s a bunch of lakes there and there was a guy had a float place there. We landed there and gassed up and then I went to -- down into western Washington there’s an air base there -- big lake, hotter than heck there.

And I gassed up there and boy I started climbing out of there and the engine got hotter than heck. It was extreme temperatures. So I went back and landed and finally I took off again. I said hey we got to go. We got to get to Seattle so we went. Went all the way to Seattle and landed there and I had this little -- this one Cocker Spaniel with me all the time all on this trip as company.

And we land in Seattle and I had to wait until my landing gear caught up with me again and then I went up from there up to Vancouver and checked in. And then I went up to Goose Bay, but what happened at Goose Bay I called.

The weather was extremely bad so I went and landed in this little bay and I called the FAA or CA whatever they are over there and told them what I was going to do, but they didn’t forward the message to the headquarters. So the next day they are out there looking for me and I just zipped up to Juneau.

And I found out about it when I was up in Bettles when I found out about it and called in and said I’m up here in what-you-call-it so they quit looking for me. But then they sent me a big bill for search and rescue.

So I turned it over and wrote down that I had called this station down there and told them where I was and where I was going to go and that. So I never did get an answer to it so they must have wrote it off. And then we come up here and started Interior Airways. Al Wright and I and McLaughlin.

PETE HAGGLAND: They’re not still looking for you, are they?

URBAN RAHOI: No, no, no, but it had my family upset down in Michigan. It was in the news, you know. And my mother and dad didn’t even know about it and my aunt come over and said he is missing up there somewhere in British Columbia there, but, you know, my wife made a remark to Tommy Olson one time and I believe it too.

She -- an accident down there and I disappeared and he called her and told her about it and she said, don’t worry Tom, God is his co-pilot.

And I tell you what truly I believe in my life the things that happened to me somebody was riding sidesaddle with me. It has got to be cause there is no way I could have made all of this myself.

But anyway we got up here and we made it and started Interior Airlines. And it was kind of unique deal there. I started learning this country right away and what I wanted to do whenever I went some place I’d dogleg over a different route coming back.

And what I was looking for is these dog trails and cabins, because I figured if I’m out there at 50 below and go down I want to know where all these things are so that's where I’m going to put it down. I ain’t going to put it down way over there.

We lost two guys in around 1949, ’50 there.

Froze to death because that -- and they were within distance of cabins if they would have known they were there they could have made it. But I looked at it from that standpoint and my safety and I’m going down this one place up here east of Bettles and I am going along the creek and I see an SOS sign down there.

I thought my SOS what the hell, so I swung around and a guy comes out waving his arms and everything. And I thought well geez he’s in trouble. I don’t know what the trouble is, but he is in trouble.

So I went into Bettles and I called the Tenth Rescue and the Tenth Rescue helicopter comes up and they forced landing down south of Bettles but they land right next to a lake so I flew the gas in and got him into Bettles. And I thought I was going to lead him over there to that guy.

Here comes a DC-3 and a Twin Beech and I thought what the hell. So then I said well I can lead them over there. No, no, take this -- you get into the DC-3 and show them where it is and they’ll lead them over there.

So that’s what happened. They led them over and then the helicopter went and picked the guy up and brought him over to Bettles and they were going to give him a ride to town. He said no, no, I’m going to go back with that guy he found me, you know.

And the guy was George Vasinsky . He worked for Jessen’s Weekly -- one of the editors for Jessen’s Weekly at that time.

And then, of course, Interior we broke up. The thing didn’t work out good between the three of us -- between us and McLaughlin namely, but what-you-call -- Al Wright went his way and I went my way.

And I’m really glad I didn’t go that way -- Interior Airways because I’ve enjoyed my life much more and my wife -- I’m kind of a funny guy. I like -- I’m a married man. I want to live with my wife and kids. Now in my life I’ve done other things too than flying.

And it was in 1949 or ’50, I can’t remember exactly -- 1949 it was I got a call and they said they wanted me to go up and rescue some people -- a woman up in Nome Creek. I thought well there ain’t no place to land in Nome Creek.

Nobody has ever landed there. So I hung up the phone and after a little I call him back. I says you know I got an idea and it was unique. When they dredged at Nome Creek, they dredged up and piled the gravel over here and then when they went over here they went on the other side. They piled the gravel over there and here is this creek that is coming down the middle and it is about maybe 80 feet wide or 70, 80 feet.

So I says I got John Huber, who is a short guy -- on short-wave. And it was unique because this guy up there he was a short-wave guy and he called -- everybody he could around here. Couldn’t get nobody and he got a guy from Australia answered him.

The guy in Australia called San Francisco through some way and San Francisco called up here and got John Huber out of bed to answer this guy’s calls up there.

To show you how things work in this world -- of course it is easier today with all this fancy crap we got, but anyway they call me. It was about 8:30 and I went over to Bachner’s and they told me about it -- about it and I said, well, yeah, I don’t know where you are going to land up there, but there is no place to land.

So half hour later I think I says talk about that dredging there and I said, you know, if there is glacier ice up there we could land there. So I got John Huber and he radioed up to them. And he said go up there and check the glacier ice. See how much glacier -- this is in December so it could be quite a bit.

And he come down and he said, well, yeah, it is glacier clean across the whole thing all the way up and there is about eight inches of snow on there. So I said, okay, I think I can do it. It is short, but I think we can make it.

So I went over -- took the airplane -- I kept it right in back of the house out there where I live. At that time it was only my house then there then and all four, but I had cut a little strip in the swamp down there so I could take off. I came over to Weeks Field, gassed up and before I could leave a major from out in the flight surgeon out there decided he wanted to go along with me. He didn’t know what he was getting into.

We took off and it was snowing pretty good so we went up the highway over to get to Beaver Creek. And we got over there by the Chatanika and he says that instrument don’t work. And I said, no, and we got at Beaver Creek and there was another one. He said that one don’t work either. I said, well, the less you got the less you got to worry about.

But I don’t think he was thinking that. Because I heard stories that everywhere he went he told the story about that trip.

Anyway, we got up there and this Jasper had fixed everything just the way I wanted it. Put the blankets at the end there so I could see where the runway was and everything good and it was right in line with the house so it was easy to get in there.

And then the flight surgeon went down there and took care of her and while he was down there Jasper and I went up to fix the runway there then, but I noticed this tailing pile though. They must have dozed the gravel out of the creek up here and made this pile. It was sloped and it was flat on top. I said, hell, we can bring the airplane up there and that will give me a little acceleration on takeoff, you know.

So we snowshoed that part of it and fixed the top and got the airplane turned around. Then we put the doc and her in that airplane and me and I’ll swear that airplane got off in a hundred yards after I hit the bottom.

Now somebody helped me get off cause that airplane could not do that with 115 horse, no way. But that airplane came right out and I just made a turn and came back.

And I went down the river about a few miles there and then was some little saddles off where things are to the side there, you know, where the ridge is and I happened to look over and could see into the Chatanika then, but it was still snowing a little bit. So I turned and went down there and then came in the back of Ladd Field and when I come around that hill they had the green light on me.

Land straight in front of the hangar there right on the ramp there. Landed there and they picked her up and took her out. And then the guys were going to walk away and I said, no, no, get back here. Two of you guys hold that cause I got to prop it. See I’m one of them proppers. I’m not lazy like a lot of pilots.

Anyway, propped them and it started -- took off and came home. And, of course, I was part of the 449th Fighter Squadron out there then from ’48 until ’58 and so they all were wondering what the hell is he doing over here with that airplane, you know. And that was kind of unique rescue because of all the circumstances connected with it.

And then I had another one. It was -- I don’t know how many years later. It was up -- I don’t know how many of you people remember the old gas station on Airport Road by the school on the road there -- the expressway.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The one with the palm -- URBAN RAHOI: You remember it, wouldn’t you?

That big gas station right there at the intersection where the library was. It was right where the library in that area. Anyway, that guy and another guy they were flying a Lockheed over to Anaktuvuk -- no, let’s see -- over in Canada anyway -- up on the McKenzie and they were coming back and the airplane caught on fire just as they crossed the border there and had to be a lot -- the pilot told the other guy he says hey go back and get a chute and get the heck out of here right now.

And he goes back there and the guy is still trying to get something to get the chute on, but he is trying to pick up rations and stuff, you know, and he said get out of here. He jumped out and he is lucky he got out when he did because he only made a couple of swings and he was on the ground.

So the other guy perished is all. They called me -- the CAP called me up and said about that thing and I said well I’ll go up there and take a look. So it is kind of unique trip that whole thing, too, because I took -- I had a Pacer on floats and a guy went -- we took 20 gallons of gas in the back seat.

So I went up there and flew around and I come back. It wasn’t too bad the first time I come back and then I put the 20 gallons back in there in the second trip went up there looking for him and we didn’t come back for a long, long time.

And they figured that Pacer that good for about four hours and we were out there about seven and they’re starting -- they were going to look for me, but by that time I had found the guy and he was -- I had been looking toward the river the other way to the northwest.

So I decided to work -- go through that village down on the -- I think it is the Salmon River down there. There is a village back up in there. I thought maybe he is going to head for there. So we start following the ridges there and, of course, this is about four o’clock in the afternoon and I’m getting pretty tired.

I left here at two o’clock and I just got about four hours sleep. And I’m flying along and the guy is standing on a rock there and I flew right by him and I went about three miles and I said to the guy -- he said Christ he’s standing on the rock back there.

By that time he had lite a fire and had smoke coming up here pretty good over there. He was burning the forest up. And then what happened right after that we get the word that the helicopter -- one of those bananas is on the way.

And the next thing we know the banana is sitting down southwest of us there about thirty miles on the ground he said and they got Herc dropping bales cause they got to pump all the fuel out.

So anyway they got to pump the fuel out of it cause they got some problem in there and then they were going to put the fuel back. So I dropped a note and says well where that black smoke is that’s where he is and I’m heading for Fairbanks so we got back here that night. But that was kind of a unique deal cause I’m looking for a guy walking around that forest up there.

But we found him by God just by using common sense and figuring where would he go? How would he go out of here if he is walking? And found him out there.

I got so damn many stories I can’t even remember them all. You know, I tell you what -- tell you a unique story that happened to me -- the head guy over at the highway department here and another guy they had been after me for about a year and a half, two years to write a story of my life.

So here just -- I -- he got -- finally got to me hard, you know, he says tell me why you don’ want to write it? Cause I said it is all BS.

And read it -- I could go on a lot of stories about rescues and that, but it is hard to sort all of it out. I -- I’m trying to think of some other ones like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Urban, it would be good BS. URBAN RAHOI: All of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: If you wrote it, it would be good BS.

URBAN RAHOI: Well, you know, a kind of unique thing came out of that discussion, too.

He said when I told him what it was, he says that’s the title. When I think about it, man who would turn down buying a book that has a title like that? I’m trying to think of some other things in my life, but well --

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So you originally came from Michigan?

URBAN RAHOI: Upper Michigan, yes. It was a good place for kids to grow.

We fished, hunted. We did everything and, of course, I get a kick out of people because there are some of you guys that have lived through part of the depression. I went through the whole thing and I never will forget those years back there.

And I will say one thing I don’t think we were ever sad or felt bad all the years, because we raised gardens and we did all the things that you could survive on yourself.

And, you know, one thing about -- I love about the world back then when you look at it everybody had a basement, but they had shelves in that basement and I think some of you guys know what were on those shelves. Mason jars full of food that we grew during the year. I’m trying to think of some more stuff here.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Did any of your kids become pilots?

URBAN RAHOI: No, none of them. It’s the same old story.

Just because you’re a doctor or a pilot or whatever, the kids will go -- probably go do something else and what-you-call-it, I think that’s kind of the way it goes. And really why I’m kind of a renegade, you know. But I’ll tell you another one.

This one will blow your head off. I was -- I was flying a what-you-call-it a 336. It was San Francisco for a guy and I don’t know why -- I got down to Watson Lake and turned south and I said this airplane is not going to make it.

So I turned around and started coming back and I said, "Christ, it's running perfect. What am I? Stupid." So I turned around and started going south again down that canyon or the shortcut down to Prince George and I get down there about halfway and all hell breaks loose.

The rear blade come out of the prop -- the back. Tore the damn boom -- one boom damn near off and all there was a -- there was an overlap on the top is there about that wide of a strip was all that was holding it together.

And I got it slowed down and under control -- reasonable control, but I can’t stop the descent. So then I make the mistake of looking out there and you can remember I said -- I said this is the end of the road.

This is where it's going to happen. And I never figured that airplane was going to hold together, but I got it down to about ninety-five miles an hour and she stablized. But I’m descending 300 feet a minute.

Now I’m halfway down there and it’s all wilderness. Then I see that I got down to maybe about two thousand and I’m looking ahead and I said there's two rafts out in the river out there and there's houses on them.

That’s got to be somebody that's cutting these logs here -- all this logging. But there was nobody in there. But -- now Bonita can testify to this.

They went by there before I did -- about six weeks. They said there was no airstrip there. But there was a 1,200 foot airstrip about sixty feet -- fifty, sixty feet wide cut right where that airplane come. Perfect.

You couldn’t ask for anything better. It was just as if somebody had actually deliberately planned that whole thing. And Bonita and Fran came by there six weeks or before that and they said there was no airstrip there. Remember that Bonita?

BONITA ?: Yes, I do.

URBAN RAHOI: So that’s when my -- I was missing, and Tommy Olson called my wife and says he’s missing down there. We don’t know where he is. And she says, "Tommy, don’t worry. God is his co-pilot. He’s okay."

Now I told my wife -- I left on two o’clock Thursday morning. I said to my wife I’ll be home on Pan Am tomorrow night midnight. I was home Pan Am. .

He knew that. He used to work for Pan Am.

But anyway what happened I crashed it and I set there for about an hour and nobody come by and then a boat came by and there was two Japanese in there. They were in there looking at the timber -- to buy timber in there.

So they’re going by. I guess him and the boat guy were talking all the time -- them two guys, you know, so they weren’t looking up. And they got down a ways and I was just going to let go with my 30.06 at them. We’ll ricochet a bullet over there and the boat turned just before I shot. And they come back and picked me up.

And then we went down the river and they were cutting logs in there and the river had two places down there. We had to portage the boat across the logs to get through, because there was no much timber floating there that they were floating down.

I got down to this Finley Forks and we pulled up to the bank there and what-you-call-it -- we’re standing there getting ready to go up the road there and I says I got to hurry to that radio station up there because -- short-wave radio because there are rescue airplanes coming.

And he says how do you know that? We haven’t even seen it yet. It’s an Albatross they got right engines on it. I’ll never forget them right engines. They got a perfect V all the time, you know. And here it comes and they had to go 28 miles up there. I figured if we can get there fast enough, they’ll notify them from Prince George -- do not bail out.

He’s all right. Then the next morning I got up and went to Prince George and got on the airplane, flew to Vancouver. The FAA guy down there -- whatever they him, interviewed me there for about an hour. I got on the airplane to Seattle and got there in time just to walk up and get on a Pan Am and go home.

Now if you can beat that for luck, I don’t know what -- how you say it.

But I’ve been in three major crashes. And I -- I had a 206 out here. I -- that kicked on takeoff and I crashed it. Tore the floats damn near off it and the wings were bent up in and I’m upside down -- landed upside down. And four of us in there and not a scratch.

Now, how lucky can you be?

And what-you-call-it -- Mike Dalton come out because she was working for the News-Miner then. She come out to see the wreck and write up an article and she says -- what the heck did she say about the airplane costing so much, you know.

I said hey four of us walked out with our -- are perfect -- that airplane -- I can go buy a new one. And that’s the story about flying I think.

Now another one and -- that happened and I still can’t believe I cut the engine.

I don’t even remember cutting the power on that engine off on mixture in the prop, but I did and, of course, I -- when we land -- if we landed -- landed it there I’m going to look at that engine and see if it come off the mounts. It hadn’t even come off the mounts, yet. I caught it that fast, but I tell you one thing that is a thrill.


URBAN RAHOI: Well, you know, that other prop hung on for I don’t know how many seconds, but the windshield was a blur -- absolute blur and the whole airplane just shaking to hell.

And I thought holy man, you know, and then the other prop broke the nuts -- bolts off the blade -- the hub and went out underneath and it scratched it right underneath the center of the airplane -- the mount -- the engine there.

So I thought, oh man, but you know when you think of it you got that little deal about that wide on each side, why in the hell couldn’t it have went out that way or down that way or something. Why -- it went out -- straight out the side like that.

Well, you know why? Did you ever think of that? What the hell -- you had that little string on a sling you know, you didn’t throw it straight up or down. You threw it out the side. And that always stuck in my mind all this time. So and -- can you hear me yet, you guys?

UNIDENTIFIED MEN: Yep, yep, yeah, yep.

URBAN RAHOI: I'm just trying to think of all these things, but I -- see I’m 94 years old. I forget a lot of things. I have to stop, go back and try to remember them.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How many different airplanes have you flown?

URBAN RAHOI: I think in these kind of things you can name it. Well, I had a hell of an experience with -- that’s another one, yeah, that damn beast over there -- that Norsemen. My checkout ride in that --


URBAN RAHOI: -- was I took off from Weeks Field, went around and came back and landed all by myself. And then we parked by Seltenreich's there and loaded it up with a big load and a guy in the back and a guy in the front with me to go to Wiseman.

So I taxied up on this end of the runway over there by the bakery, take off, and just as I break ground and start climbing up, the engine blew up. Not -- that’s -- I ain’t got an hour in the airplane yet even -- my fifteen minutes.

So I pulled the throttle way back and it seemed to me the power seemed to hang on and the guy next to me wanted to jump out. And I kept arguing with him to stay there everything is okay.

And Rusabank and Levery owned the airplane. And Levery and Rusabank they had a Call -- Rusabank had a Call Air -- that low wing one. And they jumped in the airplane started the engine and full bored it right from the start there and took off across the runway at Weeks Field over toward the woods there to go down and see where I’m crashing.

And I was following the road -- the old road -- gravel road down to Pike’s Landing then. I figured I’d put it on the road if I had to, but it hung on. So I made a slower turn and came back and landed on the west end. And when the airplane stopped rolling, they pulled it off. She was done.

Now they found out what the problem was after the second one I had like that. And the second one I was hauling ore out of antimony down there from Stampede and we were hauling pretty heavy loads about twenty-eight hundred pounds. And when the FAA guy found out about it I says, you know, if you don’t tell the airplane I won’t tell -- it don’t seem to know the difference. And it didn’t. It flew good. No problem with it.

Anyway, the second engine I landed at Nenana and it started up again. It sounded right, so I flew it into here. We had a lot of trouble hauling the engine out. When I got here it was fogged in.

I thought, ah, shit, I got to land out there at Ladd Field and right over at the end of the runway down there where the curling -- the Carlson Center is there was a little hole there I could see the end of the runway and I just drove her in there. Slid her into there and rolled up into the bog, but the -- second one.

Then what they did is they took the engines over to Wien, 'cause Wien had a big overhaul shop down there. And they took the engine apart and they found that they were sandblasted. They had left sand in them. So they had a whole bunch more. They took them over and torn them all apart and there was all that sand in them so we had the same trouble over and over again.

So once they got the sand cleaned off, I know I flew Norsemen’s up in the -- at Barrow for Alaska and some of those had 1800 hours on them when they were still flying. They burned a little oil, but they were still flying.

And what we would do we’d fly out on skis and we had these drill sites where they were doing and we’d land on the skis. I don’t know why they always picked a hill to set up on so we always would land uphill -- if they would have gone downhill.

And I remember those days, because we didn’t have the fancy nav like you got today where a guy can just dial in something and you go there. Right there. It was -- it was pretty bad. You got to navigate.

And then the other job I had up there was a kind of unique job.

They modified an L-5, and they had two big 12D batteries in there. They were AD batteries and -- which were mounted in the back. And then it was a sounding deal and my job was to land. And wherever put a mark on that map, that’s where the airplane had to set right there. 'Cause they wanted a shot there.

And that airplane had double oleos deal combination on the skis. Them skis would just walk all over the place and it was kind of unique.

I flew that for two months.

But they made a deal with me to bring my wife up there 'cause my wife and I wanted to be together all the time. So two months later they said nah, we ain’t want a deal. I said, "Well, that's your two week notice." So -- cause money -- that’s one thing about my wife. Money never meant anything to my wife and I.

We always looked if we had three meals a day or enough to eat and a dry bed to sleep in, we had the world by a proverbial ass -- pardon my English. So we lived good that way cause we didn’t worship money or that and we lived a very happy life because of it.

And so I quit that job, you know, and you won’t believe I made four thousand bucks a month flying that L5 up there because it was so dangerous. And I say it’s worth the money and the company -- United Geophysical was the company that worked with for they were willing to pay it.

And the guy, what-you-call-it -- Bob Lund couldn’t believe that I quit for that kind of pay, but he said don’t tell anybody else how much money you’re making. They were making 750 a month.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What year was that, Urban?

URBAN RAHOI: That was in the early 50’s. When they were doing all that work up there for the research and that.

Like I say, I lived such a wonderful life and a full life that -- and the secret in life is what my wife always says. It’s never been boring. Of course, I don’t know what the heck excites other people or that, but, you know, the only philosophy I have had in life to me this has been -- to me has been a normal life.

Now I’ve made -- went out and rescued people and brought them in, but you never seen my name in the paper. You know what I’m known as in the paper when I rescue people? Some unknown bush pilot.

My name has never been in the paper. But, you know, I looked at it -- I go pick the guy up, bring him in town at the airport, land him, and then go home and go to work. I didn’t sit around to brag about it or nothing. I just went home and done my work.

And, of course, I've had a unique life because flying -- I’ve got lots of hours -- about eighteen thousand hours, but it was made on the side mostly, because I was out there building stuff and developing. And then I'd be flying at night. Flying guys over to Minto Flats or down to Malozi or somewhere hunting and that. And different trips. And then I got a lot of winter trips that paid off real good.

And there are people that call me from the states to go up in the Brooks Range that -- they call me and I said, well, gee, why don’t you call him? No, we were told that you would do the job and you’d get me there. Well, I guess I did get everybody there. So the business was good that way, but I only did most of that flying in the evening after work.

That gets to be pretty hard work, you know. But the thing is I think I’m pretty fortunate in never having a -- been hurt -- injured.

The only thing I lost was these two front teeth and that was the first with that Super Cruiser.

We had a bad deal back in the early 40’s there -- late 40’s cause a lot of people in Fairbanks didn’t like us. There are three of us got the same treatment -- water in our gas tanks.

UNIDENTIFIED LADY: Oooh! URBAN RAHOI: I mean water not just a cupful or that -- water and I know I didn’t put water in my tank because I always shammied it and never put it in without a shammy and always drained it, but this unfortunate -- this first particular day I was flying the preacher down to Al Wright to get married.

No -- Jack Coghill and I didn’t check. I had a clean shirt on and everything. I didn’t put my hand in there to feel if there was any water. Cause I always not only checked it with a deal, but I always felt water up in there with my hand cause there are bubbles that will form.

Drops will form in your hand if you do it. So I didn’t do it that day and that was a mistake, but -- so I don’t know why I’m alive yet though because the averages were against me for the number of accidents I’ve had -- crashes and that.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Urban, what are you going to do next?

URBAN RAHOI: There's a smart ass out there. UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Keep on flying, Urban.

URBAN RAHOI: Well, I got my physical again, so I’m going to keep going. I’m going down tomorrow and haul groceries and that into the camp there and what-you-call -- Another thing that is unique because, you know, I got a lodge down in the mountains down there and I always get a big kick out of people that come in there, because they say how’d you get this in there? How did you get a -- I got a scraper in there and a Cat and all that, you know. And the funny thing is the first -- the Cat and the scraper I hauled in with a Herc.

Now this really show you how inflation works, too. I got that scraper and the Cat hauled in there and they hauled the scraper from here down there and took it out and then had the Cat in Northway. They picked it up there and it cost me $5,600.

Now if I broke down hauling them across country it would cost me a lot more money than that so I figured I’m going to save some money on this thing. But that same trip today would cost me probably about 30,000 bucks.

And that’s what upsets me a little bit -- cause I got some other stuff to haul in and then I got -- I had another scraper -- a 12 -- Uke 12 hauled in there and that’s kind of story in itself, too, because the Uke 12 is eleven and a half feet wide and a Herc is 10 feet 4.

So everybody tells me, well, that’s the end of that. I said no it ain’t the end of it. 'Cause I got a good friend out there old what-you-call's welding out there. And I went out and seen him and I told him what I wanted to do. I want to cut it up and rebuild it. So we took it out there and we tore it apart and we made her -- the rear wheels her 9 feet 8 inches wide. So we kept in that 9 feet 8 inches and drove it into the Herc and flew it in.

Now this is why I get mad at people that are defeatists, you know. And I'll tell you one thing, there's three words that are not in my dictionary -- impossible, can’t, and no. Big on the no, see, 'cause I think that’s the big failure in our lives today is that word "no".

And I've been working on Susitna since 1955. And it upsets me because -- I’m going to tell you a little secret now. This is deviating from this here stuff, because my life is a mixed up deal.

'Cause I've been mixed in a lot of things that I thought were good for us and good for Alaska.

But if you look at -- just before the pipeline I went to the legislature and wanted them to build Susitna -- the Watana Dam. If they would have built the Watana Dam -- now each -- each pump station would have saved 3,000 gallons an hour.

If we pumped with electricity from the dam -- 3,000 gallons an hour for five lift stations. That comes up to 15,000 gallons an hour. Now figure for the life of those pumps if we had built the dam and pumped it, we would have saved.

And these are things in life that always bother me. And I am a queer on another thing. I’m not an environmentalist or that or one of these radicals, but I believe -- I’ve been building super insulated houses and that since 1940.

Now you go to that house of mine out there now I’m living in I burn less than two gallons when it’s 60 below. Now to me I look at it and the other thing if we would have had electric heat we wouldn’t have these critical -- they’ll kill us old people around you.

When you think of the whole picture and how much would that be worth in time and money to us all these years. I don’t mine -- I like to get on this one because this to me is so important up here and just like the Park Service now. They want me to quit burning wood and haul oil in there.

This is ridiculous. I got a non-renew -- a renewable product I’m using and then I’m going to haul in stuff that’s non-renewable? I thought you’re crazy. I ain’t going to do it. Then they had a meeting last -- this last spring and just show you how stupid they are.

They had two foresters there so they’re making a big speech and I said, well, wait a minute. Let’s look at the whole world here -- this whole thing about me in here. I says have I desecrated this land, show me where I desecrated it. Yeah, but he says a normal forest has dead trees in it.

Well, I’ve been burning them to heat the lodge. . So you wonder why I get upset in life and it is wonder I ain’t got ulcers or some damn thing. No, I don’t need that. Meanwhile, I’m trying to think of other things here, but it’s hard 'cause I get my mind on so many things.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How many different airplanes have you flown? URBAN RAHOI: Oh -- UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Like about the Norseman, what else?

URBAN RAHOI: Well, I’ve flown just about every one of them small ones -- the Stinson’s and the Norseman’s and this one here like that one. That one reminds me of a good story. I don’t know if you guys ever knew Cliff Fairchild. He had one of these. And he took off and it caught on fire and somehow or other his foot got stuck in back of the rudder.

And he is in there and the airplane is burning and he finally got loose out of it before it got him. It happened right over at Weeks -- at the Metro -- not the -- the airport over here -- Phillips Field. But I’ve flown the Twin Cessna, both the 10 and the 20 and I think the Bonanza -- that German -- the Barron. I had -- oh, here is an interesting one on the --

I had a Bonanza -- a J Bonanza. And the guy I bought it from it was an estate deal in the states and it had just like an airline panel in it. So what-you-call -- Tommy Olson and the guy who used to have the flying school.

Anyway, they were edging me that I couldn’t pass an instrument check without taking the link of that, you know. So I said okay I’ll apply for the test. I went and took the written and got 87. I didn’t even study for it and there was one problem I couldn’t solve in there.

There is no way. I looked at everything on it. So I took it up there -- the guy sitting there -- I said hey this thing don’t come out. The answers aren’t there. So he checked it all. He said oh, yeah, it’s wrong. So here I would have been knocked down in points for something that wasn’t even there.

So anyway I signed up and, of course, the guy I get is the one that everybody said was more chicken than anybody around and we took a ride. Well, we took off and three hours later we finally land.

And he pulled every trick in the book on me, but see I’ve been a flight instructor, so I thought you idiot you ain’t going to pull that stuff on me 'cause I pulled that on the students all the time. I know.

But anyway on the last approach we were coming in -- I’m coming in a glide slope and I get to the marker -- just about to the marker and he says the marker's out.

So I just pushed the throttle in easy and took off and started going toward the low freq out at Ladd Field there. So we got just get turning and he said, "Ah, call the tower and land."

So I go around and land and make a 270 land there and get out over there and he -- we get out and he says, "Well, you flunked the ride."

I says, "Well, why did I flunk the ride?" He said, "Well, when I told you the marker was out," he says. "You didn’t go right away.

I says,"Let’s get one thing straight here. When we took off, the map fell on the floor and I asked you to pick it up and you says pick it up yourself cause I’m not here. How could you tell me the marker's out if you’re --" . I’ll never forget that .

And then he says, "Urban, that was one of the finest ride I ever had.

But I had a unique experience in the military, too, because every base I was at when somebody -- colonel or somebody come from Washington to check the school or that, who the hell do they pick on -- me. Every time. I got it and, of course, this guy in the B-17 happened to be the same thing.

He took me up there and he started horsing me around and then he started to fail me. One, two and three. And I thought what the hell's going on here? So he kept going like that, you know, we were flying around. And finally he let one off.

I thought what the heck happened now.

So I’m flying along and all of a sudden the altitude started tumbling a little bit. Horseshit. I didn’t change the air so that’s the reason I was turning it over. And he said, "Just for that," he said. "go back and crank the gear down and crank it up by hand."

And you’re standing in the bomb bay with your legs spread and cranking, you know. And meanwhile he's figuring out what he's going to do with me next. And he set me up -- I don’t know if you guys ever know, they set you up on a cone of silence so when you go in you hit the cone of silence and most guys will screw up and try to figure out where the hell are they, you know.

But like I said, I was an instructor for a long time -- don’t screw them things on me cause -- so I just turned right out and made my approach and went in and landed. I think it tee'd him off a little bit. But actually they thought something happened to the airplane because we were so long out there.

But he pulled every trick in the book that you could think of on me, but it didn’t work.

You know and then just like I say that deal down there in British Columbia with that airplane crashing. It never bothered me at all and when I flew the missions I flew, it never bothered -- the first flight never bothered me. All that flak didn’t bother me at all. I says, you know, I’m going to die I’ll die and if I’m not, I’m going to get back and that’s the way I look at the whole damn thing and all that stuff.

And here I am back by God, but we had some close ones. I was flying down the bucket here and there was an airplane, then me, and then the lead one and that guy in between us got shot out right in front of you.

Fell right out of the sky. So it makes you think though by God and you pucker up a little bit.

But I honestly I’m probably the happiest man in the world, although I’m not happy about my wife leaving cause you damn women are supposed to live at least 10 to 15 years longer than us.


URBAN RAHOI: That’s the rule, you know. I’ll tell you the story of my wife. She was a year and a half older than I was. So when she found that out, she decided she was going to cut it off with me, you know.

And I said you damn women are all the same, you know. I said now if you want to live with a man for the rest of your life, you better marry a 10 year old and you might make it.

So she decided I was a pretty good deal.

But that’s kind of the story of my life. And I still haven’t given up on the dam or a lot of other things. Now you’ve seen the article in the paper there on that opinion page.

Well, I’ve been fighting that battle since the '60’s. I was on the borough assembly and, of course, I’ve been a developer and I worked for the highway department so I had a lot of experience with this kind of planning and that and the problems.

But I -- the highway department had a meeting with us and I wanted them to set up and plan the whole thing back then and get the right-of-way to develop all this country. And actually it didn’t work out quite as good, but at one time there I had the federal railroad and the highway department to design that route you saw in the paper across there to split the highway and bring the railroad through in the middle to the airport.

The depot was going to be sitting at the airport and what-you-call-it that would have been beautiful because we would have took all the crossings in town clean over to the power house on the base would have been gone. And that makes me so disgusted with this world.

That’s why I’m going down to camp. My address will be down at Ptarmigan Lake. And then you guys will have a hell of a time finding me from now on. Especially Pete there.

But that’s why I’ve enjoyed my life. I love doing things and as long as I’m working and achieving something, I plan on keep on going in spite of everything.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Urban, are you still keeping your airplane at Beaver Creek?

URBAN RAHOI: No, they kicked me out of there last year. The TSA. I’m fighting it though. Murkowski is fighting it for me in Washington.

No, I’ve been in and out of -- flying out of there since ’64 and, you know, the head guy Jeff at the border down there when this happened he said I don’t know why they’re bothering you because we know what you’re doing.

And Murkowski asked me if there was ever an incident there -- any kind of incident. I said never. There has been no problem. As a matter of fact, the Canadians have been beautiful down there in the way they treated me. As a matter of fact, the Mounties they’d come around and try to help me load the airplane here at the end you know.

I told them to get the hell out of here. And they said, "Well, why? I said, "Well, if I don’t load that airplane today, tomorrow when you ain’t here I can’t load it no more." So he said, "You got my phone number." He says, "When you need help just call me." And that’s the kind of people they were down there. And the custom people were real good.

If you came through with me, they wouldn’t even ask for your identification. That’s how much trust they had in me.

And two of the women that were in charge down there said. "We love you, Urban, because you proved that we can make this thing work."

Things like that can work, you know. And that’s the sad thing about this world. We can make more things work like that and work -- people work together it would be better. I’ve helped a lot of people in this town get started.

My brother used to get mad, because I’d -- I’d give people the gravel, you know, to get started in business and they paid me within a year or so. And everybody paid me, but one guy and maybe some of you guys -- hell, I know that guy that had the junkyard down on South Cushman there by the bend and he screwed me out of a chunk of money.

Then, of course, he eventually left the country because everybody else got on him, too. But I love helping people, you know, 'cause to me that is what this world is all about. I’ve helped a lot of people like down in this -- two couples lived back in the mountains there and I used to pick up that fifty percent stuff at the store there and haul it down for them so they could afford to live down there.

And one of the kids now of that one family one kid is a Marine pilot and the other one's in the Army as a pilot and helicopter pilot. So they did damn good being lived out there.

They lived out there and the parents taught them. He was a highway department employee and he got his pension, so he moved out there.

So I used to hire him for guiding and that and cooking so they could help them make the thing, you know. And to me that's this whole thing is about in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Are you still guiding down there?

URBAN RAHOI: Yeah, I still got -- I got number one license. That means a lot, you know. I’m better than anybody around Alaska.

What a bunch of BS that is? You know, people -- normally people live there, because no one likes them. I don’t look at it that way though. It is just that I happen to get it that’s all. And I’ll tell you why I got it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What caused you to go to Ptarmigan Lake?

URBAN RAHOI: You tell me why I went there? UNIDENTIFIED MAN: 'Cause it's beautiful.

URBAN RAHOI: In ’49 -- I went there in ’49 and Bill Waugaman said. "What you doing down there?" He said, "Look at all the animals we got around here."

I said, "Bill, it's getting too crowded." But he came down there. You know, I have to laugh at him because he's supposed to be such a sharp shot and all that.

And so we had some bait piles over there on the side -- the lake by the house there and coyotes keep coming out on it, you know.

He missed every shot. Boy, we give him the raspberry after that. And we got a hole in the wall where you can shoot out there.

No, I still don’t know why I really why I went down there 'cause there was a lot of hunting around here, but I just -- my cousin lived in Tok and then -- forgot his name -- and another guy -- an Air Force guy and I were operations officers out here at the fighter squadron.

So I told him come on let’s go down there and we’ll go hunting sheep down there, you know. It was only a 10 day season. See back then up until we got statehood sheep season was only10 days up here and then moose season was only two weeks and then the caribou season was about -- it was a little longer.

But then after the state got it then they made sheep six weeks and moose were a month or more in different places and caribou for long periods of time. And I could never figure out why the federal government didn’t do it the same thing so.

But I just -- like I say, I don’t really know why I went down there, but I went down there and never left again.

That wasn’t a mistake, 'cause I filed in there, you know. In ’51, I filed on the land down there and I got it. And then when the Park got in there, I made an application for a runway. And there's two guys came up there to check this thing out on the runway for me and they were arguing about why do I want a long runway.

He said look at that one over there. There is 1,100 feet long, you know, in bush trips. I said, yeah, but I tell you what. I’ll give you a list of the airplanes I expect to land here. You go talk to the FAA and see what they say. Three weeks later they call me back. I got to give you a 4.100 feet and 1,000 foot fan on the end.

So that’s what I got now and I own it. It is fee simple. It was in the Park at the time, but that Chuck Budge, the guy that was there. He got it done for me, but that -- he was a different person from all these other people we’ve had.

He was out there to help you and work with people and that. And then he -- when he got out of the Park Service, he stayed up here. He stayed here for a while. I guess he moved down there somewhere in Arizona or somewhere now.