The airplane awaits for mail to be loaded from dog sled in this 1935 photo.
Dog sled picture is courtesy of
Kasilof's past includes airplanes and people involved in granting them ground access. The next Kasilof columns intend to explore local aviation history.
For background, the first Alaska flight happened when Art Williams of Fairbanks enticed flyer James Martin to town in 1913. After Martin and his wife assembled the plane, he flew it July 4 for about 250 paying spectators. Thousands stood outside the fee area and watched, spending only their time. Financial success did not immediately congest airspace.
In the early 1920s several historic Alaska flights occurred. Billy Mitchell sent four Army planes to Nome from New York in 1920. Unlike Martin's bird, these planes had to wing-it all the way and, in fact, made the round trip. Explorer Roald Amundsen brought planes by ship to Wainright in 1922. He hoped to become the first to fly over the North Pole, but his pilot damaged a ski in a trial flight and the attempt was scuttled. Carl Ben Eielson is famous for airmail flights around Fairbanks, the first of which soared in 1923.
Perry Cole's house in the early to mid-1930s, with dog sled in the foreground. Comer Cole is the musher. The man facing the camera is unidentified in this 1932 photo.
Airplane picture courtesy of the
Planes probably begin landing in Kasilof on the river, beach or lakes in the mid- to late-1920s. This era coincided with an influx of fox farmers in Alaska, of which Kasilof boasted among the best.
The first airfield in Kasilof was apparently between Bergers and Williamsons. Joan (McLane) Lahndt, Dolly (Cole) Christl and the Pollard brothers remember the airfield, but it is so overgrown that no one remembers seeing a plane there. Mail planes began winter landings next to Perry Cole's house (now Pollard Lake) probably in the late 1920s. The mail sack would then be transferred to dog sleds for further delivery.
One of the early mail pilots was Chet McClean of McGee Airways. Russ Merrill landed on Tustumena Lake to service hunters in 1929. Later the same day he disappeared and eventually Merrill Field in Anchorage was named for him.
Sometime between 1935 and 1938 the Archie McLane and Doc Pollard families began to clear brush near Coal Creek. The forest at that time consisted of only young trees and brush. The clearing, accomplished with hand tools, became the Kasilof airfield. Archie built a drag and used his horses for smoothing the surface.
About 1945 Archie bought an Allis-Chalmers wheel-tractor and the Alaska Road Commission delivered a tow-behind grader for upkeep of the strip. The grader was retrieved in the early 1950s for use elsewhere. Because of the mail service, space was available for other cargo. For instance, Archie sometimes sent milk from his farm to Kenai.
In 1953, George Jackinsky returned to his fish site with a stateside bride. After the pilot put down on Turnagain Arm to extinguish a fire, he landed on Kalifornsky Beach where George and Jeanne deplaned. Earlier (late 1940s) George's brother, Adolph, 16, was killed near Ninilchik when a pilot took him for a short ride. George, as fate would have it, became a pivotal player in the Kasilof Airstrip.
This column was provided by Brent Johnson with the Kasilof Historical Society.
Sources: Dolly Christl, Al Hershberger, George and Walter Jackinsky, Joan Lahndt, George and Walter Pollard, Alaskan Aviation History p17-22 Stevens, My Life as an Explorer p102-107 Amundsen
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