Before the development of modern communication devices, H-boats often relied on carrier pigeons to reach their home base during emergency situations. An amusing story about two pigeons in particular was rumoured among many bush pilots. It has been said that Roy Maxwell*, the director of the Ontario Provincial Air Service (O.P.A.S.) from 1924 to 1934, sent all the way to Holland to order two supposedly fine message-carrying strain of pigeons at a cost of $125 per bird. This was in an effort to improve the blood line of the pigeons that his pilots relied on to relay information should they be forced down by engine trouble.
The story goes that a pilot, on flight from Sault Ste. Marie to Fort Frances, was carrying one of these pigeons in an H-boat when he was forced down by engine trouble. Upon checking the storage area where rations were usually kept, he discovered that someone had made an error and the cupboard was empty. When the pilot realized that he would still be a long time without food he weighed the pigeon's use as a communication tool against his growing hunger. He finally made the "shameful decision that a bird in the hand was maybe better than a distress message over the bush". This decided, the pilot proceeded to kill the pigeon and cook himself a $125 dinner on the lake shore. "The pigeon was later officially listed as missing in action."
The Red River Epidemic
Another example of the importance of the bushplane to the development of the North is the story of the Little Red River mercy flight. Diptheria broke out in 1928 in the remote village in Alberta. A dogsled team was used to send the message to the nearest telegraph station in Peace River, where it was then forwarded to the Ministry of the Board of Health in Edmonton. In turn, the Board of Health contracted Commercial Airways of Alberta Limited to transport the critical serum to Little Red River. Less than twenty four hours after the message was telegraphed to Edmonton, the aircraft was on its way. The crew consisted of Vick Horner, and Wilfred "Wop" May*. Due to an early nightfall, the plane was forced down in Peace River, when the serum was transported by sled to Little Red River. The quick delivery of the serum led to the prevention of an epidemic in the village. The crew returned to a hero's welcome and their mission of mercy was given international acclaim in newspapers worldwide, as it was carried out in sub-zero temperatures and the crew flew in an open cockpit.
Cargo & Supplies
Cargo was the main method of earning revenue for the bush pilots. They were usually delivering things to remote places, and fitting all the equipment into the plane could become a difficult task. Often pilots had to face the challenge of carrying awkwardly shaped canoes. In fact they sometimes had to cut the canoes into pieces in order for them to fit within limited space. Of course, this could cause problems if they needed the boat very quickly. At times, bush planes have crashed in the water, and passengers on board had to struggle to get the canoe back together before they sank. Eventually transporting canoes became an usual practice, and methods were worked out to carry them externally on the aircraft.
It was the more unusual requests that inspired some very creative thinking among the crew...
"Doc Smith says that the baby up in Sturgeon needs cow's milk."
"What makes you think we're running a dairy?"
"Well, we're getting a cow in on Tuesday night's train."
"What do you want us to do-Fly the cow in?"
"We'll pay you for it-whatever it's worth."
"A cow? A live cow? Sure we can take her, if Doc will give her a hypo."
The crew might be surprised by requests to transport unique items, but as bush pilots often claimed, they would attempt to fly in any kind of cargo. Bush planes were the only quick and useful type of transport into those remote areas.
Most of the cargo consisted of supplies for remote communities or expeditions in the North. Also many mines were built and supplied totally by air. One example of these efforts was the transport of 500 tons of freight to build the mine in Cassumit Lake, Ontario. There was no other way in which these resources would have been attainable, due to the marshy terrain.
One of the main duties of the bush pilot was to make sure that the communities they were supplying were never in need, and this duty they took very seriously.
An example of just how important this duty was to the pilot occurred on a geology expedition that involved bush pilot Neil Armstrong*, then working on the ground as a geologist while another bush pilot had the job of delivering their supplies. Every week, Armstrong would leave a list of supplies at camp when they went out, and during the day the pilot would come to drop off supplies and get the new list to fill.
While making up one supply list, Armstrong realized that his pants were beginning to wear out, and requested another pair to be delivered with the next supply load. When he returned that evening, the list was gone as usual, signifying that the pilot had received his order.
The next week, on the new supply list, Armstrong made sure to add a postscript "I certainly hope you got my new pants". The crew then went out to work, and by the time they returned the supplies had been dropped off and the plane was long gone. Armstrong went to the pants lying across his bedroll, but when putting them on he noticed they were not quite new looking and they were much too big.
He figured out the truth, that the bush pilot had forgotten to get the pants. When he had read the postscript, he realized his mistake and decided that he must do his duty the only way he could think of. So, he left his own pants, flying away in his long johns, in order to make sure that all the supplies had been delivered. Now that's dedication!
Source: "The Stuart Graham Papers: The Beginning of Bush Flying in Canada
Sat, Dec 31 2011 11:07 PM
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