Thursday, February 9, 2012



About eleven years ago I hauled some gasoline, lumber and freight for the watchman at Sung Harbor Cannery. One of the items was a huge 1000-pound tractor tire. In return, he gave me four huge 12 by 12 Douglas fir timbers that had been lying on the dock since the late 1960’s. Two of them were 16-feet long, one 30-foot and one 34-foot long. The shorter ones had rotten spots on them but the long one was in perfect shape. I didn’t know what I was going to do with them at the time but i loaded the short one on board and towed the longs ones behind the boat. After they laid on the sand spit for a year I figured out how to use them to build a hanger.
 I dug a row of 3-foot deep holes and put railroad ties along the bank at the top of the beach. I leveled them with a chain saw and spiked the 30-foot 12 by 12 down on top. Then I dug two six-foot deep holes into the beach 34-feet apart and using the jinn pole on the cat blade picked them up and put the two 16-foot-long 12 by 12 timbers upright in the holes. I drug the huge 34-foot long timber over and using the 3-inch diameter drill pipe jinn pole stuck picked it up one end at a time carefully placing it on top of the upright timbers. This was a very delicate maneuver because it could have tumbles off at any time. I centered it with a sledge hammer and tow nailed it down.

The next day I flew to town and got Dan Heathers to help me peel poles. I harvested about twenty-six poles six to eight inches in diameter on the butt end and about thirty-feet long. It took three days to peel them. We peeled the bark off from them using draw knives. Dan works for me once in a while whenever I need a hand. He's the best worker I ever worked with.

I used the jinn pole to pick them up and place them on top of the big timbers. I spiked the poles down with 8-inch tree nails. 

[A jinn pole is a kind of sky hook. The first thing you do when you buy a bulldozer is weld a four-inch pipe coupling to the top of the blade on one side and weld another one about three-feet down on the arm. You take a 16-foot length of drill pipe and mount an eye-bolt on one end. You stick the pipe down into couplings. When you want to lift something you tie a rope to the eye bolt and fasten the other end to the thing you want to lift.

Because the shoreward 12 by 12 timber was 3-feet longer than the back timber I placed an extra pole on the ends so it fanned out making the opening of the hanger 38-feet wide. When I nailed down the 2 by 6 nailers for the roofing I let the two by sixes stick out an additional two feet and put upright poles under the ends to support the walls. This made the opening of the hanger about 40-feet wide. The Cub has a 32-feet wingspan so I had over three-foot clearance on either side.

Now all I needed was metal roofing. It was November and our boat was put away in Kenai for the winter so there was no way to get the roofing hauled over. I took Dan back to town and bought enough 12-foot long sheets of roofing to cover the entire building.

My neighbor, James Isaacs at Silver Salmon Lodge hauls stuff under his little J-3 Cub all the time. He once landed on the outside beach to show me how much he could carry under his plane. (Showoff) He had several sheets of plywood two, four by six timbers and a huge 6-inch steel well casing tied under there. At the time I couldn’t believe it. He also has a rack welded to his landing gear to haul big propane tanks.
 Well, I thought to myself, I will roll two sheets of the steel roofing into a big cannoli and tie them under my plane. I went back to Spenard Builders, bought a 16-foot-long two by four and a roll of duct tape. I stuck the end down the roll of roofing and lashed the end to the tail wheel spring. The other end I tied to the cross struts of the landing gear under the middle of the plane. When I took off it flew just fine but it made the most God-awful nerve racking sound you ever heard in your life. When I landed in Tuxedni Bay my nerves were so shot that I vowed to never do that again.

Meanwhile back in Kenai I encountered to guys from Kasiloff who said there were going to pick up a boat in Homer and bring it up to the Kasiloff River. They volunteered to take my roofing to Tuxedni Bay on the way back to Kasiloff if I would take them to Homer. I agreed and loaded the rest of the steel roofing into the back of my pickup and drove them to Homer.

They loaded the roofing into the cockpit of the 32-foot gillnetter and departed Homer. About a week after I arrived back in Tuxedni Bay I called around to find out where my roofing was and got the bad news that they had broken down in the middle of Kachemak Bay. They didn’t check the transmission fluid before they left Homer so their transmission went out. Somebody towed them into Seldovia so they got drunk for a couple days. When they sobered up they chartered a plane back to Homer leaving the boat in the Seldovia boat harbor along with my roofing.       

It was unusually warm that December of 2003. I harvested broccoli sprouts out of our garden the first of December. I watched the weather report for the next week or so. Day after day the winds were less than 15 knots from the north. So, about the middle of December I decided I would take the skiff across Cook Inlet and get my roofing that was still in Seldovia.

With extreme tides ranging over twenty feet and strong winds Cook Inlet can be one of the roughest bodies of water in the world. Anyone attempting to cross it with two outboard motors in the summer when the weather is nice is considered crazy. I was going to do it in the winter with one outboard and the additional danger of making ice. I mixed 30-gallons of outboard gas for the old 50-hp Mercury put on my Carharts coveralls, hip boots and rain gear. After leaving our home I headed in a direct line from the cannery entrance to Seldovia. 

In the middle of the Inlet I crossed close astern of a Sea Land tug and barge. I know they thought I was completely crazy and I thought so myself out there with one old outboard in an open skiff in December with the temperature hovering around 20 degrees.

When I got to Seldovia my roofing was sticking up at a 45-degree angel out of the stern cockpit of the 32-foot boat. It would have never made it to tuxedni Bay. One good and it would have slid out over the side into the drink. I stacked it down into the bottom of my skiff and lashed it down through the scupper holes with ½ line so that it wouldn’t shift.

I slept in the cold cabin of the boat and took off for the fuel dock at eight in the next morning. I bummed a cup of coffee and bought four candy bars for the trip. After fueling up I took off into a fresh northerly breeze. I reached Anchor Point without incident and continued up along the coast until I was abreast of the Stratski microwave tower.    

My motor was cutting out before I got to Sterisky Tower so I removed the cowling to discover that one of the wires attached to the primary of one of the four coils was arching. I cleaned the contacts and tightened up the coil nuts and sprayed everything with WD-40. It ran fine after that.

By that time it was noon and there was a good chop running down the Inlet. I pulled the stern plug so that the water would run out and got underway. The spray was coming over the starboard side and hitting me in the face. I couldn't run fast because of the chop. There were a couple places in the middle of the inlet where the swell were so bad that I had trouble keeping the 20-foot skiff pointed in the right direction. I bailed the slush ice with a five-gallon bucket to keep up with the water coming in.  

It took another five hours of spray in the face to get into the entrance of Tuxedni Bay. I had been standing up and bailing water nine hours. I was chilled to the bone and more hypothermic than I had been in my life. I am used to running around in a skiff in the winter but crossing the Inlet in the winter is pretty hard core. It was dark by the time I entered the cove. Mary was really worried about me and I was damned glad to be home.

I screwed the roof down the next day and moved the plane inside. And, people wonder what we do with our spare time in the bush… 

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