Joe Crosson

Photo courtesy Fairbanks Pioneer Museum

Fairbanks pilot Joe Crosson, and probably radio engineer Bob Gleason, with a Pacific Alaska Airways plane. Photo courtesy Fairbanks Pioneer Museum

The following excerpt from a much longer article give us a great description of the thrill of the early days of aviation here in Fairbanks. From the Fairbanks Daily News Miner, Nov. 29, 1929:

Airplane flight to Livengood with Joe Crosson

Joe Crosson had promised me a thrill. Wednesday morning, I stopped him on the street and asked him to set a definite date for said thrill-to which he replied, “Drop around the field at 12:30 and I’ll take you to Livengood.”

So, I immediately rushed to my lawyer, made out my will-saw to it my insurance was all paid up, issed the family goodbye-made arrangements with Mrs. Hufman to play the piano for me at the theatre, and meandered up to the field.

Upon my arrival at the hangar a quartet, consisting of Hatless Joe, Hutch, Tom Girard and Bill Basham sang “Nearer My God to Thee” — and we were ready to go.

Joe flew over town a while, (making his final tests) and then to prove to himself that his eyes were okay, skirted of the N. C. Co. smokestack, flicked a few ashes off the top of it — felt satisfied and then headed for Livengood.

Then we started climbing. Sixteen hundred feet when we passed Goldstream. Twenty-eight hundred as we hurdled the Chatanika river. That river! Of all the ridiculous meanderings for a river to take. From the air it seems as if for every 100 feet forward the pesky river takes it moves 400 feet backward and around.

Forty-two hundred feet elevation as we fly over Wickersham Dome. The vastness of that country can only be appreciated from the air.

Below us is the old Livengood Trail—the Snow-shoe Roadhouse. How many old-timers had trudged their weary way across that bleak country — seven to ten days of hard travel on the tough trail — and here we were — covering that same distance now in but 35 minutes!

To the left the Tolovana Valley — cutting off at the left of Livengood. At the right, between two peaks, Wilbur Creek, now being operated by Joe Healy and Frank McGarvey.

Then Joe pointed to a hill and said, “Livengood is just around the point.” How could he distinguish that hill from the hundred in the vicinity was beyond me — but sure enough — as we came around it — there was the town, tucked away neath a blanket of snow.

To the right a long ridge, the source of the gold, with numerous creeks leading from it. Lillian creek, Ruth creek, Amy creek and Lucky creek.

Now our engine slows down — a few twists and turns and we head right for the field and make as pretty a three-point landing as you ever saw or read about.

We get out of the plane and stretch. Terra Firma feels firmer than it ever did before.

While Joe kept the engine going, I took a dash to town (but about 500 yards from the field) and bought a couple of bars of chocolate. I had heard of explorers using chocolate as emergency rations — and I figured we still had the trip back yet—and one never knows what may happen!

Then — back to the plane — clamor aboard — taxi up the field — a rush and a roar and we’re off again.

At 1,000 feet we ran into a fog bank. Up we climbed — 1,500 — 2,000 — 3,000 — at 5,000 we came to rest for a while. “Have you ever been any higher than this,” inquired Joe, to which I replied in the negative. “All right then,” he retorted, “as long as you’re looking for a thrill, I’ll take you up a ways.” And we climbed — and we climbed—and we climbed—and didn’t come to a rest until we hit the 9,400 feet level. Almost two miles high. Still a long way from Heaven — but a darn short way from Hell!

After riding at this height for a while I bravely inquired, ”No doubt you can land anywhere around here, if necessary, can’t you?”

“Oh, yes,” he casually replied. Feeling safe, I then delved into our emergency rations. We finished them just as we were over Minto Lake. Here are the famous Tolovana flats extending clear on to McGrath, bespeckled with thousands and thousands of lakes. The duck-hunters’ paradise.

Then the wind started playing tag with us. It would smack us on the back, hit our nose — drop us a way — and then the engine started sputtering!

And I’d just eaten the last of our emergency rations!

Joe said, ”The motor’s overheated, see that cap out there on the right side of engine, that has to be unscrewed. I’ll keep the ship steady, and you get out and unloosen that”

I looked at Joe — his jaws were set — my heart went down to my toes — did a couple of summersaults before returning.

Then the engine shut off — and so did my power of speech — and then as suddenly as it had died down it started up again.

Joe said, ”Everything’s Okay now. She cooled herself off on that last drop.”

And I knew that either a miracle had happened or that Joe was just a damn liar in the first place!

At 9,400 feet the country looks as flat as a pancake. Wickersham Dome with its 3,500 feet resembles a bump on a cucumber.

Now we’re getting closer to town. Over Goldstream, with tailing piles resembling so many igloos. Now we get to Chena Slough, then Fairbanks.

Then Joe started getting gay, turns the nose of the plane straight until she gets into a stall—then you feel the bottom of the plane fall out and your lunch starts coming up. The engine quiets down, the engine picks up speed and the nose of the plane comes up again. A sharp bend and you taste your breakfast—a spiral and you have recollections of last night’s dinner — a zoom, and you KNOW you’re a darn fool for ever telling him you wanted a thrill — and then Joe yells “Let’s see if we can dive under the bridge!” And he points her nose for Cushman Street bridge — and I tell him that I just remembered that my insurance policy didn’t pay double indemnity for airplane accidents, and would he please kill me with an auto so my family can get some benefit out of it — and he agrees — and we head for the field and land and I know I won’t feel the same for another month and someday I hope to take a LONG TRIP and have something to tell you about.

Note: This high-flying history nugget has been proudly brought to you by the Fairbanks Igloos of the Pioneers of Alaska who would like to remind you that more history nuggets are posted to our website at pioneersofalaskafairbanks.org.

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