On a Wing and a Prayer

The following excerpt was taken from a thrilling newspaper story written by Don Adler after he went for an airplane ride to Livengood and back with pioneer aviator Joe Crosson. The original story was much longer, but it has been shortened to fit the format for reading as a history nugget.

Fairbanks Daily News Miner – December 13, 1929


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— Kissed the family goodbye—made arrangements with Mrs. Huffman 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.

The baggage, including Sam Godfrey and myself were thrown in the plane—the door was slammed—and with a loud swish and a swirl we sped across the field—the ground left us—and Joe, Sam, God and me were alone. Joe flew over town a while, (making his final tests)—and then to prove to himself that his eyes were okay, skirted off the N. C. Co. smokestack, flicked a few ashes off the top of it—felt satisfied and then headed for Livengood.

Trying to sound important I asked him what compass direction we were going to take. To which he replied— “We don’t use a compass on so short a flight. See that snow covered hill out there —(they all looked snow covered to me—but on general principles I agreed)—that’s Wickersham Dome. We keep just to the left of that. That’s about thirty some odd miles from here and considered the half-way point. After we pass that, we go on a way—pass a few more hills—go to the right of one of them—and as we get around it, you’ll see Livengood. You can’t see the town until you’re right over it.”

I then inquired— “But how about a foggy day, don’t you use your compass then?”

“Compasses are not practical on such short trips. In case of bad weather, you feel your way. It’s like putting a cigarette in your mouth—you bring your cigarette up—and find your mouth is there! It’s easy!”

Then it dawned upon me what is really meant by the “natural sense of direction” and I thought back of how I had tried to feel my way around the house the night before—and had stubbed my toes—and, and yes—feel your way around, it’s easy!

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 anywheres 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—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!

Now we get to Chena Slough—Fairbanks—and beyond that the mighty Yukon—still open in many places. 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 history nugget has been proudly brought to you by Men’s Igloo No. 4 and Women’s Igloo No. 8 of the Pioneers of Alaska Fairbanks.

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