This is an excerpt from a recording of Fred Hupprich speaking at the Pioneer Aviation Museum's public lecture series at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska on January 20, 2015. In this part of the recording, Fred talks about his connection with the famous pilot, Carl Ben Eielson, who flew Fred's pregnant mother from Nenana to Fairbanks so she could have an emergency cesarian to give birth to Fred. Fred also talks about flying with Frank Barr and suffering bleeding ears after a sudden steep descent when flying in bad weather. The full video recording (ORAL HISTORY 2015-01) is available at the Oral History Collection, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections and Archives, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Pioneer Aviators
Date of Interview: Jan 20, 2015
Narrator(s): Fred Hupprich
Videographer: Leslie McCartney
Transcriber: Leslie McCartney
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His father calling Carl Ben Eielson to evacuate Fred's mother from Nenana to give birth to him
Carl Ben Eielson landing in Nenana, flying to Fairbanks and getting Fred's mother to the hospital
His father's previous contact with Eielson
Appreciation to Eielson for saving his and his mother's lives
Flying with Frank Barr in bad weather and having to make a sudden steep descent
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PETE HAGGLAND: I’ve known Fred for many, many years and -- he’s got some interesting stories. One of them, I think one of the -- only person that I know that’s still alive that rode with Ben Eielson in the Jenny that’s hanging in the airport, and --
That’s the first part of the story so --
And Fred I’ll let you take it from there and then we can talk about oh, a little bit about greasing the rails, and hangar on the ice down at Nenana --
FRED HUPPRICH: I can talk up some phony stuff. Well, all right.
PETE HAGGLAND: Take it -- take it away, Fred.
FRED HUPPRICH: Well, folks here in the early days we start in November 3, 1926. Well, my mother in Nenana was just about ready to give birth to me, but she was havin’ a -- quite a problem.
And the nurse there, no hospital, no doctors in Nenana at that time, but there was a nice nurse there, she was a mission nurse and took care of all the Native boys in the mission and stuff like that.
So they call her in. She looked Mom over pretty good. So I’m not knowing anything yet.
But anyway this nurse says, “Elizabeth.” My mother’s name. Said, "I -- I think this is pretty serious. I can’t quite tell you what’s wrong, but from the way you’re acting and doing nervous things and stuff," why, she says, "I think you ought to get to Fairbanks as soon as you can."
Well gee whiz, the railroad wasn’t runnin’. And no steamboats or anything, so my dad walked down to the depot. Well, there was a railway telephone line from Nenana to the railroad station in Fairbanks.
So he got on the phone there and -- guy’s name and station manager, Slim Johnson was his name. He’s slim.
I got a problem and it needs in a hurry. "What’s that George?" "My wife’s havin’ trouble and gotta get to Fairbanks." He says, "Well, will you call your agent in Fairbanks and see if he can’t get a hold of Carl Ben Eielson?"
Well, Carl was around and he got a hold of him someway. Maybe -- he was a high school teacher and of course he might have been teachin’.
Anyway, he got a hold of him. He says, "Carl, I’m in trouble. My wife is in bad shape. Can you fly down to Nenana and pick her up?"
He says, "I sure think I can, George."
Well, he had a canvas hangar up here in Weeks Field. And he always kept -- from the way my dad talked, a big barrel stove. Wood burner -- and he kept that airplane warm. It was --
The hangar was wrapped in tarps and everything. Just a T-hangar. And then he had a big flap going down the front and ropes to lift it up.
Anyway, I seen one of them before when I was a kid in Nenana. PIA.
Anyway, he says, "Yeah, George, I’ll sure get on it right now." So he went out and he drug his airplane out of the hangar and cranked ‘er up.
Had this watercooled engine in it. And so it was full and ready to go, so he cranked her up and away he went.
Well, he flew to Nenana and he was about 50 minutes gettin’ down there.
So he landed on the river in front of the railroad depot over the bank there everything and so they had my mom in this -- it was a Woody Model A.
They had her in there and they drove down on the riverbank and then down the river to where he had the airplane.
And had a whole load of caribou robes in there all mixed up. So they loaded her up in the front cockpit and packed her in there.
And Ben, accordin’ to Dad, sat there with his motor running just to keep the water warm -- not from freezing up or anything.
Of course, it only took ‘im twenty minutes to do the job, I guess.
And he turned around and took off. And he poured the coal to ‘er, he said. He told Dad, "I’ll pour the coal to ‘er, yeah."
And he made it to Fairbanks in 40 minutes. He must have had a tail wind, I don’t know. But he landed at Weeks Field and they had a vehicle here to put her in.
Hauled her right down to the hospital. Zipped up to the third floor, and that was the maternity ward.
And about 11:00 AM I was born by caesarian.
So that was fine. Everything worked out fine. She turned out in good shape, And I did, too.
So uh -- my mum had two boys older than I am. And when I showed up as a boy, she says, "No. You keep him right here."
And so she gave me to the nuns. And says, "Well, you take care of ‘im."
Well, messages went back and forth by railroad and finally convinced her. Took her six weeks to get back to Fairbanks to pick me up.
And we went by train that trip back to Nenana. And there I was, I grew up there in Nenana.
So Carl Ben was my hero, you know. And didn’t know him, never seen him.
Well, I’ve seen him in Nenana because years prior to this he used to fly mail to McGrath and other things around the country. Livengood and a few other places.
Anyway, he used to fly to McGrath, he’d stop in Nenana and fuel up.
Well, my Dad had a Model A truck. And course he worked for the NC and they handled all case gas, so he’d load a bunch of them on the airplane, or on the truck and go out --
there was a little dirt runway over just opposite the high school and stuff that’s there now. Over there in a little field. It was a farmer's field.
And he landed there during the summer months and whatever.
And Dad'd back the truck up and then just crack open them five gallon cans and Ben would stand on a box up there so he could have the wing about so high there where he could pour the gas in and stuff.
So they were pretty good friends when it happened.
And he got in there several times. Bad weather and he’d wrap the engine up and wait for the weather to settle down a little. And Dad'd bring him in and feed ‘im and then take him back to the airport and send him on his way.
But that’s about the size of my Ben Eielson story and uh -- It wasn’t really explained to me much until I was about 8 to 10 years old when Mom really sat me down.
And I always wondered how I got there and this and that. Well, she finally told me the story along with Dad.
And so I’ll never forget it. But I never passed the story on much in my life. I just kinda let it play it out, you know. But anyway, it turned out to be a pretty good system.
So, but salute to Carl Ben for saving my life and Mother’s, too. So, it was quite a deal.
Over the years, why I think -- I took up flying when I was 18 years old off of Weeks Field. There was an old guy by the name of -- his last name -- Al Olsen. Big, tall, lanky guy.
And all he had was J3 Cubs out here. I was working for Alaska Airlines at the time as a go-for and load freight and fuel up and this and that.
That’s when I was working in Carl Ben -- or -- Frank B --
PETE HAGGLAND: Barr FRED HUPPRICH: Barr, Frank Barr flew us over there to help put an engine in the airplane.
I was kinda the cook for a while. Kept the fire goin’ and helping the mechanics. There were two mechanics they flew in to change an engine.
Take the old one out put it in -- it was a Bellanca airplane that we were in.
Then he took off of that -- top of that hill and they let the -- he flew back over there to fly it back home.
Morris King, Morris King. Anyway, he flew the ship that cronked out on him.
And then Frank Barr was flyin’ that other one. It was a bad day, so we took off top that hill and went up on top.
You know, he knew where he was goin’. Knew where Fairbanks was, but he was trying to find a hole.
So we were out there about Dunbar on the Alaska Railroad and he finally found a hole.
He tipped ‘er over from about 4,000 feet right down to 8 - 900 feet or whatever it was when he broke out.
And when he landed at Weeks Field, I had drips of blood coming out of my eye. Popped these deals up here.
That put me in the hospital for a few days and stuff and – but --
Alaska Airlines didn’t make any -- didn’t give me any extra pay or anything for that even though -- I guess they probably paid the hospital. I don’t know.