A diverse group from NYC takes a fishing trip in the Pacific Northwest with an unexpected turn.
Wild Tales of the Great Northwest
(or at least told in the Great Northwest)
It was an absolutely beautiful day for flying. I was northbound in the right seat of a 1951 Beachcraft D-18 somewhere over Southern Alaska. To my immediate left was John Baker. John is a very interesting character. In times past, he might have been called a "Renaissance Man". He has filled many roles in the past. He holds a Phd from MIT in Physics, served as a professor prior to joining the Air Force in 1964. He flew combat in Vietnam in an old C-47 "Puff the Magic Dragon" with its 50-mm Vulcan canon prior to joining NASA as an Astronaut in 1969. He flew a Lunar mission in Apollo, although he did not actually walk on the surface. "Someone has to tend the fire and put out the welcome mat." he said, whenever asked about the mission.
We were heading out to one of John's favorite fishing holes along with eleven other New Yorkers trying to get away from the grind of the Big Apple. We were all equipped to "rough it" for five days and were eagerly anticipating getting our lines wet! Since John's retirement from the Air Force, he has been conducting tours, which usually include flying somewhere in his antique Beech. I was in the right seat because I have had some experience garnered in a Cessna 150 and John thought I could get a little twin time as well as give him some relief so he could drink his coffee and relax a bit.
John is a rough fit in the old Beech. His 6' 4" frame leaves something to be desired in legroom. I suppose the 18 was designed with smaller pilots in mind. The two front seats never slid too far back, as they run into the wing spar, which divides the cockpit from the cabin. He could easily have afforded a more modern aircraft with more room, but he said that there is something soothing about the steady hum of the two Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr.s delivering 300 horsepower each. The Wasp Jr is rated at 450 and is very comfortable at approximately 70 per cent of power. I must admit that even the slow beat of non-synchronization is relaxing and lulls one into a secure and even dreamy mood.
Off to the right I could see snow capped mountains reaching up to the sky above the horizon. That means they were pretty big as we were cruising VFR at 7500 feet. They must have been more than 50 miles east, but the air was very clear and crisp that fine October day and distance was an illusion. Ahead was a steady blanket of green trees interrupted at times with the many small jewels that were lakes. We had about 150 miles to traverse before arriving at the particular lake where the Northern Pike were waiting. They won't have to wait too much longer as the old 18 was making a steady 160 miles each hour that we were airborne.
Suddenly Fred, an advertising account executive, began shouting, trying to get John's attention. Fred has had his nose almost pressed against the left window the entire trip. He pointed out that the port engine didn't look quite normal. I looked closely at the engine and swallowed hard. The entire cowling was belching thick black smoke at every seam. I didn't see any flames, but to say that I was concerned is one of the understatements of the year. John merely shook his head and asked if I would mind if he took the controls.
"No", I shouted. "Please take the controls and be damned quick about it." I really felt that he didn't have to be so polite about it.
John took control of the situation as if it were another Times Crossword, or some other event that happened with amazing regularity. In a seemingly unbroken motion he pulled back the mixture to lean on the ort engine and hit the feathering button. He then turned off the fuel to the engine and shut down the generator. As the big propeller wound down to a halt, he killed the magneto, opened the starboard cowl flaps to the "trail" position and increased the power by six inches and the RPM by 200. He cranked in some right rudder trim and nose up trim to accommodate the slower airspeed at which we could maintain altitude with only one engine. All the time he was studying the smoke with his hand seemingly hovering over the fire bottle switch for the port engine.
The smoke quickly abated and John grinned as he stated " I hate it when this happens. At least we won't have to waste a perfectly good C02 bottle on it." John then started a slow turn to the right and called out "we are going to take a slight detour. I have an old friend who has a ski-lodge about 12 miles south-east of us."
"Albert is probably not open for business, but he has a nice 3,000 foot strip and hanger where we can park this thing for as long as it takes to remedy the smoke situation. "John said. " He might even welcome some company at this time of year. In any case, he has some coming soon."
John had the Beach heading about 122 degrees and seemed perfectly relaxed behind the yoke. He even turned and asked if I wanted to see what it felt like to fly the 18 on one engine. I looked at him rather askance and just shook my head back and forth.
Right then I really only wanted him to concentrate on getting us down in one piece; I didn't have the slightest desire to contribute to what I felt might be my ultimate demise.
In about five minutes, John pointed out what appeared to be the smallest postage stamp of a clearing that I have ever seen. There was a tiny cut between the trees stretching out ahead of us. It didn't seem as wide as the average two-lane road and I was absolutely certain that the 52' wingspan of the D-18 would not fit between the trees.
John seemed to sense my intrepidation and said, "Don't be concerned, the runway is almost 75' wide. I have landed there many times." He reached for the mike and announced on the Unicom "Beech 5287 Kilo on a three mile final for southeast runway at Albert's Hideaway."
He dropped the gear and added about 20 degrees of flaps. He reduced the power on the right and slowed to about 110. He grinned and said "We should be able to maintain single engine control quite a bit slower; the book claims 91 knots, but I like a little insurance.
We came sailing over the trees at the western end of the runway with scant inches to spare then lightly touched down on the turf as John pulled back the power and we were rolling down the runway. He was pressing the brakes lightly and brought the plane to a coasting halt on an asphalt pad directly in front of a good-sized hanger. John said " I tried to get us in close, there is no need for us to push this thing any further than necessary." It is an exercise in futility to try and taxi this thing on one engine."
"I am glad that we were able to get down with no trouble." John said. "I have landed here many times, but this is the first time I ever tried it with one engine smoking!"
"I don't want to hear that!" I said.
I really don't like it when John gets into one of his super modest moods. Sometimes he is so damned cool when anyone with any sense whatsoever would be screaming and running around in circles, he will say "tsk tsk"
We all exited the plane into the chilled Alaskan afternoon. John started opening the hanger door and said "We need to get the plane into the hanger soon as it will be dark in another hour. It will probably be in the low 20's tonight."
"I must apologize" John said, "There is only one way to get into the hanger and if you all will help push we can get in out of this breeze quickly."
We all quickly found a place on the plane to push and with John guiding the tail wheel the plane silently rolled into the hanger with a minimum of heavy breathing on our part. John started the hanger door down as a red haired and equally red-faced man came puffing up.
"Welcome to Albert's Hideaway!" he exclaimed. "I'm Albert Johnson and any friend of John Baker's is a friend of mine. The bar will be open soon as I can get there and we will rustle up some dinner shortly. I am here alone right now. I do mix a mean drink and I am perfectly happy to turn John loose in the kitchen and will be glad to eat someone else's cooking."
Albert looked like a German Burgermeister complete with his liederhosen, suspenders, and stocking cap. Later we found that he tried to dress in order to give his lodge the flavor of a Swiss Chalet. We followed his path through the trees, each of us carrying our gear.
As we cleared the trees we came upon a beautiful large "A" frame structure which appeared to have plenty of room for three times our number. Behind the lodge was a small lake, which had been absolutely invisible from the airstrip. All in all it appeared to be a fine place for an emergency landing!
John led the way into a large lobby-like room and indicated that we should pile our gear near the desk at the far end for the time being. He told us that he was sure Albert would show us to rooms after dinner. We then continued into a dining hall with a bar at the far end hiding Albert from the chest down. To the right was a fireplace complete with a roaring fire inviting us to present our chilled hands and backsides.
Albert called out "Welcome again! The house specialty is hot buttered rum although we have other drinks. We also have a complete selection of beers and the finest wine cellar in all of Alaska. Name your poison."
"We are here due to a mechanical peccadillo." John said, "I have insurance to cover situations like this so don't worry about a bill. Albert will be well c