My Brother Henry Lynn Tomingas
Born 11th November 1941 in Jackson WY
(born after a harrowing night ride from Moran WY skidding through an Elk herd across the road with the 1939 V8 Ford)
Henry must have directly inherited the wild spirit in Tiina Kinna, while there may be a younger brother that looks similar and sounds similar, there isn't another like this guy anywhere. He seems to stir things up wherever he goes and then he's on to something else. Even as the younger brother to Robbie, he had the power to convince him of some great adventure just right for them to take on. I call him a "situation creator", you might add an "outdoors man" to that. What Henry remembers about his toddler days is that he was always falling down, and in pictures it looks that way, but I think that is characteristic of the "Full Steam Ahead" attitude he has. I like to take my time and never fall, very cautious, very careful, bit by bit and never practice in front of anyone. My brother on the other hand attacks with a vigor and assurance that frightens most people. As far as falling down, he seems to have overcome that.
Once upon a time there were two very close brothers, Henry and Robbie, Robbie was sincere and earnest, Henry was mischief in its purest form, always plotting, planning and testing limits. Henry and Robbie spent the first ten years up at the Elk Ranch, then when I came along, about the time we moved to Jackson.
My mom remembers always being in a panic when Henry first learned to ride a tricycle. Invariably, he always headed straight for the creek. Water has always been a major feature in his life and maybe it started here. Every time she turned around, zoom, there he went as fast as his stubby little legs would pedal, straight down into the creek and crash, over he would go. But he never stopped, later in life he achieved many firsts on rivers and now on the oceans. He's picked up a little more caution though as the stakes went up, he just looks dangerous.
Robbie had managed to break his arm doing something, Henry had bashed his head and had a big bandage around it, so they looked something like that civil war picture except they were only ten or so. Dad was working and Mom had to run into town for a few minutes, so Henry talked Robby into going over to the next farm and pretending they were in a car crash so they could get some cookies and milk, maybe even cake! So they banged on the door and told the nice woman and husband that their parents had just got killed in a car crash and they hadn't eaten anything all day. And they did indeed get cookies and milk, and cake too! But then they saw a dust storm approaching, it was mom and was she mad. The lady or her husband had called a friend with the story and the friend ran into mom just after talking with them. She told mom that someone said she had been killed in a car crash and how they thought Robbie and Henry were orphaned and the nice couple in the next farm were taking care of them.
Moms wrath didn't faze Henry, he was already plotting the next adventure. To this day he will drift off when talking with someone, you just have to wait a few minutes for him to come back, sometimes he even remembers what you were talking about. What he's really doing is plotting and planning something. Usually after one of those episodes or one of his dreams where he is conscious but can't get out of the dream, he comes up with something brilliant and quite often off the wall new idea. I drift off a lot too, but unlike Henry, I have no idea where I go, usually it's some random full color snippet from my past that may be absolutely humdrum. I used to be able to call it artistic license, but since I went legitimate, I don't have any excuses left to stand on. The strange thing is Henry never stops, always creative and finding some unique and daring plan amidst the confusing mass of normalcy that makes up everyday in most of peoples lives.
After Robbie was gone, Henry started spending a lot of time in the wilderness with Hawks. This was during the DDT problem creating thin egg shells. Usually, a bird family will hatch more than it can support, then kick out the weakling of the group. Henry watched for these and then would take them home and raise them, teach them to hunt, then when they were mature enough, he let them go back to the wild. He raised Red Tail Hawks, Sparrow (Kestrel) Hawks, Owls, Prairie Falcons and even a Golden Eagle. Sparrow Hawks are thee personality in the bird kingdom. These guys are hilarious and very smart, we called the first one Dinky and it fit. Hoot was another personality, a Great Horned Owl, Hoot had a favorite trick. My brother would get his rifle to go chizler hunting for Hoots dinner, put on his old felt hat and Hoot would silently glide up onto the hat. He would stay there until after Henry shot, then he would go fetch his dinner. There's a great photo of Henry with Hoot perched on his hat.
When H. was 12, he had saved his money and bought a Jeep. For two years he would sneak out to the Elk refuge before anyone got up, then come home after dark when no one could see him. At that time, we had good old Woody Wormal as the town cop. He lived on the side of Snow King with his nice wife. Woody was a huge man and luckily, he never needed to run his bad guys down, he could always outsmart them. When Henry finally turned 14 he went to Woody to take his driver test to get his license, Woody said, "Oh you don't need to take the test, I been watching you for two years and your a careful driver so here you go". Woody it turns out, had very powerful binoculars and got up very early indeed.
This is an excerpt from a little booklet I'm planning for the Jackson Hole area about the history of the Snake River canyon, it turns out that Henry was a pioneer.
A Rapid History of the Snake River
ALL RIVERS START SOMEWHERE
The Snake starts somewhere up near the bulge of Yellowstone, you could probably pick any one of several candidates that merge to finally form the river, most people agree on Hart Lake. When the huge Glacier that moved into the Jackson area from up in the Bear Tooth mountain range, it brought with it tons of oversized hard cobble rock but no one can explain where it came from, perhaps an extinct mountain chain that was reduced to rubble and only the hardest rock remained. The glacier may have rounded the rock, but it is also possible to imagine a violent gigantic river smoothing huge boulders. The giant river could have been created when the hot spot that is Yellowstone moved in under a large glacier. Now that would have been a river to run, maybe somebody did. The have found Indian fire pits up on the sides of the Tetons that they think were there during the glacial period. After the glacier vanished, it left a legacy, the Snake river sitting on a cobble rock valley under the Tetons.
EXPLORATION OF THE NARROWS - Circa 1850
An early group of explorers the Astorians, found out about the narrows in the worst possible way, they built rafts with all of their supplies and headed down the Snake. It's a bit of a mystery why anyone would want to risk their necks in a narrow granite and limestone canyon in the first place, maybe they were just bored with the every day humdrum and wanted some adventure.
The very name Snake river is somewhat of a small mystery. This river has a braided appearance, not that of a snake and due to the cold winters, there just aren't that many snakes in the area, the name "Snake" river just doesn't work. As it turns out, the Indian sign language for snake, wind and fish looked very similar, you held your hand flat and on edge and then wriggled quickly like a fish or swept back and forth like a gentle breeze, or you slowly wriggled toward someone like a snake with a purpose. The Shoshoni Indians ("snake eaters" possibly from the same misinterpretation) really didn't spend much time in Jackson, too cold and you can't grow anything to eat there, but they had given the river it's name, I would like to think it meant wind river, not snake or fish although the latter is very likely due to the abundance.
As I was saying, the early Astorian explorers headed by John Jacob Astor, built this raft, loaded all their supplies on it and set off, they all nearly died in the river, and the ones that survived nearly perished from lack of provisions, but they were a tough breed used to this kind of treatment from the elements. There's a swimming pool, a few miles before the put in for the narrows where, when they were digging the pool, they found remnants of the boat construction from that ill fated party.
EARLY YEARS - 1940-1950
Pauncho Royce, Boots Allen, Phil Kent and Cookie, let's call them the first modern generation, all colorful names for bigger than life colorful characters with stories of their own and they all contributed to legacy of river rafting in Jackson Hole. My brother Henry, Davy Hansen, Denny Becker, Dick Barker and Frank Ewing belong to the second wave of rafters. After World War II, people like Pauncho and Boots were eking out a living in Jackson, Boots sold fishing worms and parlayed that into a major store in town, Fort Jackson, while Pauncho simply kept fishing on the river. They were looking for something to eat without spending any money as there wasn't any now that the state was finally closing the illegal gambling casinos in Jackson. You can't raise anything out of the ground as it's giant cobble rock straight down for more than a thousand feet, maybe lots more, possibly the height of the Grand Teton only straight down. Old war surplus was about the only thing anyone could afford and that included rubber boats. They proved tough and provided access to fishing. Pretty soon a few guys were getting paid by tourists to take them fishing too! Even more amazing was that a few people were willing to pay just to go look, and that really appealed to anyone who has ever had an amateur fisher onboard, in fact you can always spot a fishing guide, they walk all hunched up, and jerk around a lot, and their attire, dark glasses, hat, long sleeve shirt, long pants, beard if they can grow one, and a leather jacket and gloves, no matter how hot the weather. Fishing guides also flinch a lot when a bug flies by. Oh yes, they also have many small scars on their face from enthusiastic fishermen.
NEXT YEARS - 1950-1960
Well, when Phil Kent saw another guide going down the river on a hot day with his shirt off and a pair of shorts, with a paying customer, he knew he had found his calling. Phil was one of the types of guides who drives his boat down the river rather than flowing with the current, so he finally got tired of manhandling the 1600 lb. rubber duck and rigged a motor on the back. My older bother Henry worked for him for a couple of years around 1965. Phil would hustle business in the bars and Henry would float them down the river the next day. Later, Dave Volsic (of Harris/Volsic Advertising in Salt Lake) joined the Phil Kent float business. Dave had quite a time, he looked, acted and sounded like he was 25 or 30 and had a special wit. That combination charmed many a female, of course they never realized that mature Dave was actually all of 14. A year or so after that, I was also floating for Phil Kent with Dave, cooking fried chicken at our food stop and generally getting in enormous water fights between boats, which incredibly, both guides would emerge from, without a drop of water on them, the customers rarely got wise to this. Phil has some pretty famous people go do the river in his boats, but for some reason, he suddenly sold the business, just as it was booming. But even then, there was one place on the river nobody went, and certainly not in a big slow rubber boat, the narrows.
NARROWS CONQUERED - 1962
In 1952, my brother Henry Tomingas was running rivers by himself at age 10 or so. He and Jimmy Guest floated the river one December in the dead of winter. Now days, this sort of thing is done because it's known that it's possible, but when they did it, it was an unknown and considered foolhardy, "Gol'darn ice flows 'll rip a rubber boat to shreds". There must have been some of that early explorer in them because they both survived.
In 1962, my brother Henry and his pal Jimmy Guest were trying to prove who had the most experience on the river and who was the most macho. In all of their bragging, the inevitable subject of the harrowing narrows came up, neither wanted to admit they had never been through there, certainly no one else ever had been and lived to tell about it. So they set off each thinking the other had already been down the narrows. They would come around a corner, and say something casual like, "Hmmn, don't remember this one, do you?", "Not really, maybe it's new". Their youthful skills and enthusiasm got them through all of them until from around a corner came a very different roar, deeper, richer, louder, deadly. A dread filled them something like a T-Rex coming up the trail after you, the pitch steepened and the water began to rush toward the white froth, they looked at each other and said something like "Uh oh", "I thought you had been down here?", "Well, I thought you had been down here!", over the enormous roaring my brother yelled "Oh man, this is out to lunch", there were a few more unprintable comments as they swept into the first monster, there were two more equal monsters waiting their turn in succession. The name was refined to "Lunch Counter" as that's the shape of the rock ledge that creates those callosal waves. The idea of taking a small surplus military raft down through the narrows was unique as no one knew if it was possible, let alone if it was "safe".
Two years later, my brother opened Jackson Hole River Trips ready for business, it was a long winter and it rained the entire month of June, steady rain, few customers, big water, plenty of time to practice the narrows especially as he was planning something special, Henry decided to commercially run the narrows, but he needed consistency. The river was big that spring and the little surplus military boat was dwarfed by the immensity and roar of the broad river forced into a narrow passage. I still have the picture that we later put on his business poster that shows this scene. The rivers personality changes enormously depending on the river level, high water can drown out certain waves, low water looses it's speed, but this particular volume had all the elements at full tilt. He made it through that time, but the next two or three attempts turned the boat over even though he hit it straight on. He tried several techniques, but then he decided he needed someone to jump on the nose of the boat as they hit Cohuna (didn't have a name yet and we used to spell it Kohuna) and try to dive submarine style through as the biggest wave as it was simply too steep and the short boat would turn over if you hit it head on.
As he had survived those early trips, he used that as proof to convince his friend Davy Hansen into coming along and becoming the "Mast Head Nose Man". After a lot more tests and dunkings, (Davy learned to hold his breath a long time) it turned out that while the waves were big, the currents were generally forgiving and didn't dash you into the rocks which is the essential knowledge that allows people to dare try this adventure. The shock of going into the cold raging waters is interesting, you would think the panic of "I'll be killed" or "The boats going to leave me", "I didn't get a breath and I really need one bad!" or the pain from cold cramps that would occupy the majority of your attention, not so. The reality of the power of the river is brought home to you by the incredible roar of huge boulders crashing into each other on the bottom of the river as they are hurled down the river bed by the sheer force of all the weight of the river behind it and making a steady deafening roar/hiss in it's passing. The second noticeable item is the disorientation and muddy color everything has, finally a millisecond later you get the full force of the other things crashing in on your senses, like not being able to breath, all at once, in full better than digital, state of the art, spare no amps, non-virtual reality! It can be a little unsettling.
My brother finally found a consistency to get through the narrows and gained that precious knowledge that it can be done. He took a member of Kennedy clan John Lindsay down the narrows and many other people. Then the River Kayaks came out, they started trying out the narrows and actually did rather well, that is if having to wear a crash helmet as you spend most of the time with your head under water whilst bouncing along the rocky bottom, is considered to be doing well. In fact, Ted Kennedy used to be a river rat and floated the narrows in a kayak, sometime in the late sixties.
This was long before the bigger boats with self bailing floors and ballast that absorb much of the rivers punishment. At first, we just stuffed everyone in our 65 Fastback Mustang with a boat trailer on the back, later we got a little more sophisticated. He started naming places like the Lunch Counter in honor of the now legendary Macho trip a few years before. There have been some fanciful renditions of this including it was somebodies lunch stop, don't believe it. Champagne he named because it was full of bubbles, several years later, some rafters, Denny Becker or Charlie Sands I believe, started calling this section Rope due to the braided current. But Henry actually named all the significant areas during this time in 1966.
He took a lot of people down through the narrows for the adventure of their lives, Davy Hansen and I worked for him, but I generally took the easier family cookout trips, I had this thing about survival, although after eating my cooking, I'm not certain which was more dangerous. We added another friend as a guide for the upper river section and he turned out to be a disaster and had to be let go, some people learn how to read water and others don't, so be careful. But we should have guessed about his abilities at the helm, this guy had totaled out 6 sports cars in 6 years.
One group my brother took down the river, was the singing quartet called the Diamonds, they had hit songs such as "Little Darling", "Blue Moon" and others. They had just returned from an engagement in Hawaii where anything big and really bad was called Cohuna. Well they took an all day trip with the highlight being a night with a full moon providing light as they roared through the narrows. They were having maybe too good of time in fact, because as the big wave in Lunch Counter approached, they finally sobered up suddenly and said "Uh oh, here's comes the big Cohuna!", and it did, in fact it dumped them all out of the boat into the moon lit water, somebody started in burbling "Blue Moon" as they floated along, Henry, to universal approval, saved Jack Daniels first, then the girls.
Many movies have been shot in the Jackson Hole area, many locals get jobs as extras, I've been in "Then Came Bronson" and the "Monroes", but my dad and brother beat those jobs hands down. In fact my dad was the original river runner of the family, he was born in Wyoming and lived the vast majority of his life in Jackson. He rigged and ran a big Cat underwater so they could film a movie "The Big Sky" with the boat going upstream supposedly pulled by a bunch of men, but it really was my dad driving the T-14.
My brother has the distinction, thanks to the making of the movie "Mrs. Pollifax - Spy", of being the only person I know of to raft a boat through the narrow backwards with a full size movie camera strapped in the boat. As the rocks approached and the safe line of attack drifted away they would invariably yell, "Five more seconds in this position, don't move". They were doing "plates" to put in back of Darren McGaven and Rosalund Russel to make it seem they were going through the narrows, so it had to be shot facing upstream.
Henry also had the distinction of saving several boaters who made life threatening mistakes. One family was in a canoe (Why do people take canoes on strong rivers!? And why do they take their children on dangerous adventures?) two little boys a father and mother. We had just loaded our rubber boat and he saw them and recognized they were already in trouble, I didn't notice, they looked fine to me, but that's Henry, I think his mind operates a third again faster than mine. He jumped in the car and drove around up on the bridge so he could watch them and make sure they were okay, they weren't. They turned over, one 5 year old headed down one channel and the other toward a log jam, both certain deaths, which one would the parent pick to save if he even could? Henry unlashed the rubber boat and got in the water just as they went by, the river runs about 12 miles per hour that time of year and just try to keep up with it by running along the bank, you will fail. Henry caught the first one just before he went into the log jam.
A moment to explain, if there is an obstacle in the river, the river has all the weight of all the water in back of it pushing on that obstacle, that isn't pounds per square inch, it's tons plural per square inch and the strongest man in the world has no chance against it. So it holds you where ever you become wedged, if you block the waters flow, it will try to go through you, around you, and over you. If it goes over you, you are dead, usually it does. If your ever in fast water, never try to grab onto something, the water won't hurt you if you don't hit anything, wait for a calm place you can swim to. So a little kid about to hit a raging log jam has no chance at all, none. Now that he had one kid in the boat he had to get the boat out of danger as well, the Snake River has turned trucks into balls of tin foil, rubber boats it permanently paints on the rocks and trees if the guide makes an error. If you have ever rowed a rubber boat, you may have some idea of the amount of effort it takes to go upstream with one, it's next to impossible, but he did, and saved the other little kid and the canoe and even the paddles.
One of the drawbacks to being thee expert on the river is that your asked to recover bodies. He and a friend went down and pulled a badly beat up body off of a log jam. Besides the pounding the river gave the face, the body was bloated and green moss was hanging out the mouth. As they were pulling the body into the boat, my brother in a desperate attempt to keep his own lunch down got one of his most devious looks in his grey eyes and shouted, "Quick! Give him mouth to mouth!". The friend, I think it may have been Davy Hansen, lost his lunch and his appetite for some time.
COMPETITION EN ROUTE - 1966
Up on the northern part of the river by Flag Ranch, Denny Becker was advertising a white water run, but it's vastly different than the narrows. Sometime during the year my brother was commercially running the narrows, Denny came down and went through in his own boat. The following year, or maybe it was 1967, Denny came down to the narrows and started running it commercially. In that year, my brother renamed his business, High Country Guide Service and had a custom office on the town square, the year was good and business thrived. Barker-Ewing, as with Charlie Sands started running down the narrows much later after there were many outfitters running the canyon. Dick Barker and Frank Ewing came in with a splash, with specialized boats, protocols and procedures, rescue boats standing by and commercial floating in Jackson changed dramatically. Barker-Ewing had the distinction of naming "4OarDeal" when they were testing these fancy new world class river rafts with a boat load of their best guides. They thought they would go to the other side of the river and try one innocent looking wave that no one ever seem to bother with, four broken oars later and a whole bunch of jumping from one side of the boat to the other, they finally managed to get out of the suck hole that "little" rapid provided, it's now off limits.
Davy Hansen still runs the narrows, he has "U-Paddle" type trips that are very popular, he can rightfully claim the longest history on the river in that section as my bother left Jackson years ago, and Jimmy never ran commercially. Dave's business is simply called Dave Hansen White Water, Denny can claim second. The river trip business boomed and there were dozens of operators trying to cash in on this new source of income. Stoic Pancho still takes fishermen and is as cantankerous as ever, Boots son, Joe still floats, Boots passed on few years ago, no one has heard of Phil for a number of years, Cookie was a funny guy, highly educated and intelligent, he amused himself by pretending to be a bumpkin with tourists on his boat and teasing them with riveting questions, his daughter married some prince somewhere and he died a few years back. Many years later I floated for Barker-Ewing for five summers and well over a thousand river miles in their boats, although they got wise to my cooking and hired professionals that prepare gourmet meals to die for. And, I now have a whole set of stories just from that era as well.
A NEW CHANNEL TO FOLLOW - 1969
All too soon, my brother Henry heard the call of Alaska and there was trouble was brewing in Jackson. He tried to convince the Forest Service that they should issue a limited number of permits to run the narrows to keep it special and safe, this is what the Park Service did on the northern section. The Forest Service thought my brother was after an exclusive hold on the area and instead opened it up to anybody and everybody. After my brother left, they offered commercial licences for the narrows, but left it open to amateurs, now I hear they are rethinking as this year, 1995 has been a pretty big river, similar to 1966 and people have been hurt or killed. Winters, which determine the size of the river, have been in a mild phase for about 20 years around there, maybe it's going back to it's old ways. But right now we have a steady stream of boats bumping into each other all the way down the river, amateurs and professionals all edging for a piece of river action. My brother simply got in his Land Rover and drove up the AlCan Highway and has been there ever since. He traded in his rubber boats for steel ones and now owns several ocean going vessels and does science research and education in Prince William Sound Alaska and the Pacific Rim. He has also collected some amazing adventures on the rivers of Alaska.
COLLEGE & HIGHER EDUCATION:
The following contains excerpts from pending motorcycle magazine articles, you may notice a style change.
My brother went to college a long time, seven years plus. To keep from getting bored, he and his pals threw a lot of parties, now that I think about it, it is entirely possible that it was the other way around, that the parties were the real reason he went to college for such a long time! Bandit, that was Jimmy's nickname, Twink, I never really knew him by any other name, Zero and several other characters really knew how a party is supposed to be run, they lasted days and covered many miles.
They had the Indian motorcycle handy as well as Ol' Blew. Ol' Blew was a 52 Chevy which had been customized during one of the bashes. They had taken axes and literally "chopped" the top off. For a final touch they had painted a stunning pink racing stripe sort of along the middle of the car right through the windshield, dash, floorboard and seats and back over the trunk in a line straightness that all persons taking a sobriety test would follow perfectly after consuming a fifth of Gin. As you can tell, they took this party business rather serious.
The party flavor extended to their garments as well, they all had made gigantic Elk hide boots and generally looked like a bunch of Vikings on a mission. In fact they weren't all unlike the Vikings, there was that episode in some tiny town in Colorado where they managed to empty a bar of all the men, not the women which was true to Viking tradition who always kept the women when waging war. This little antic caused a three state bulletin to all enforcement agencies who swarmed into the town searching for the gang of terrorists. Unfortunately the entire deed was done by two, brother H. and Jimmy which were never found. Long before the bar clearing, the two of them had gotten separated from the main party which moved on to another town stranding them. The next day, not really being bad sorts, they went back to settle up the damages, again, the noisy bar went suddenly silent when they entered, people cleared out of the way, the bar tender gulped and when they asked how much to right the damages, it was a surprisingly small number. Interestingly, it was all done with bluff, not a blow was thrown. Actually, that wasn't the first time that had happened, we'll talk about that in a moment.
As I said, my brother is a "situation creator" because he always stirs things up and finds interesting things to do. He was the one that came up with all of the motorcycles, the K-Model, the Indian, the Stroker 80, the Panhead, he talked me into going in halves on a brand new 65 fastback Mustang V8 (it cost a dollar a pound, $2800.00 for 2,800lbs) then a water ski boat, I was 14 to 16 during all of this. He also has talked me into a lot of crazy things but that's a lot of other stories. Most of our stuff came from getting something someone else broke, it seems we inherited our fathers "fix anything" ability. But with our arsenal of toys and ideal location, we had a lot of fun.
While at college, Henry attended Reserve Officers Training (ROTC) near the end of that, you go to a boot camp for a month and they run you through some field tests. H. didn't quite fit in the grand scheme of the military personality, too independent, too willing to let people do what they do best and not form them into something else. To say he wasn't approved of may be a bit of an underestimate. But when his platoon started doing better than everyone else a general alarm shuddered through the rest of the officers and old guard. The individual tests included sharp shooting and running through unknown territory where cardboard snipers and pop-up attackers were laid out. A judge ran along with you, the person to make it to the goal quickest, shooting all pop-ups and snipers without delaying long enough for the pop-ups to theoretically shoot you, won. The last days of the camp was where everything came together and they ran war games.
First place in sharp shooters out of the 200 or so contestants went to brother Henry, the old guard started turning red around the collars. The problem was they didn't know that H. had always provided our meat and foul in the winter, with limited resources, so every shot counted, and his long distance vision is exceptional. H. seemed to get a lot of all night guard duty about then. When it came time for the timed field trials through the pop-ups, the judge was just mulling around and my brother finally said, "When do I start?" the judge (one of the old guard) casually looked at his watch and said "Oh, the clocks been running awhile already". In full pack, helmet and boots, H. took off at a dead run, shot several of the targets from the hip at full tilt, and set a new camp record over all the thousands that had been before him on that course and his record may still stand today. Things weren't going well for the old guard, so they put him on full time, all night guard duty the last four days before the final test, the war games.
Henry knew his platoon well by now, and they knew what the old guard was doing and they were all mad. But H. is a great logistician and with no sleep at all, laid out his battle plan, he had several guys who could effectively lead the platoon. So the plan was they would stay just below the ridge and he drew out a map of activity and told them how to run it. He then added the topper, he would not be in the group with them, but moving out of sight either above or below them. As they had seen his stealth skills, they knew they wouldn't see him and took this as a strong vote of confidence in their ability. The exercises began and sure enough, they never saw him, although they all had bets on to be the first to spot him, but none of them did. They did however, spot all of the enemy and won the war game with ease. The reason they never saw Henry? Well, knowing his state of alertness was gone and he would likely be liability, after the platoon set out, Henry crawled under a truck and got some well deserved rest, he slept through the whole war game and won it besides.
The motorcycle adventures all started around Christmas 1963 with my brother arriving home from college in his wonderful green and white 56 Studebaker Power Hawk. From the extreme lift of the front bumper to the tail dragging rear bumper it was apparent that he was carrying something very special in the trunk or else he had decided that the lowered rear end look of the 50's was back in style. In the trunk, or rather hanging out of the trunk was a big old black motorcycle. Not just any motorcycle, but a fifty two dollar, 52 K-Model, Harley-honest-to-gawd-Davidson.
Where we grew up, it snowed a bit, at 4 feet on the valley floor and around 20 feet on the mountains, Jackson Hole is known for it's abundance of snow and mountains. It was the dead of winter, and a warm day, about 10 degrees above zero, sun shining on the glistening snow, perfect weather to try out this new adventure.
There were a couple of minor details, for one, the K had the lower bolt broken on the casing that held the clutch adjustment so that it did not adjust, in fact it meant the clutch was engaged, always. A second item, the rear wheel, which started life as a respectable 4 ply was now on it's last ply although I suppose that the exposed cord helped traction a bit. And lastly, every night I ice skated down those roads, they were hard snow packed and slick as -- well, you know, great for ice skates, not so great for motorcycles with massive bundles of torque on tap.
But kids and idiots just laugh in the face of problems of that sort, not enough dings in the head to know any better I guess. We worked out a brilliant strategy for launching the K in spite of winter pressures. We would fire the beast up in neutral, push it as fast as we could run, kick it in gear, and as that slippery rascal spun away, you swung up on it with a whoop, frantically trying to compensate for the erratic slipping, sliding and roaring off in a cloud of blue smoke and glory. Incredibly, neither of us ever crashed doing this, I guess foolish confidence can pay off now and again. We both agreed with huge grins, that this new adventure had great possibilities.
Summer found us at Jackson Lake every spare moment. Jackson, being a resort area, is full of temporary workers young, healthy, athletic, fun loving and often good looking. So it was a pretty effective combination, "Ya wan'na go up to the lake on the cycle and go water skiing?".
Unfortunately, the 90 Day Wonders, ah yes, I mean Park Rangers, took a dim view of our fun and high speed games. We tended to go through the entry station at a margin slightly higher than the posted speed limit let alone the stop sign. I also remember one futily chasing me on foot along some of the designated walking paths around Colter Bay, but the smoke screen from the Harley helped me make my escape and nearly choked my pursuer to death. These and many other insults to their dignity certainly got them in a huff, unfortunately, they could never seem to catch us in the act of doing anything wrong, there was some frustration brimming under those hats.
52 K-Model frames are not what they're cracked up to be, but mine attempted it. My pal Vic was a hungry kid, not for food, but cars, machines anything that would go, but his parents were on the old fashioned side, and took a dim view of his interests. His dad nearly skinned him when he took the hubcaps off their old Buick, "The lug nuts will rust solid!". Vic was also blessed with just a touch more bad luck than most.
We had gone over to see a girl that had just moved in on the outskirts of town. I was attempting be cool and casual while talking to her and bloody Vic-maniac-let-me-have-wheels kept on bugging me to let him try the K Model. I finally gave in, something absolutely unheard of, I never let anyone touch anything precious to me, but there was this girl you see --. So, I told Vic, "FIRST, turn it around, then keep the brake on because it creeps in gear" oil had gotten into the clutch of course. A dollar for gas was precious in those days, so you can imagine how important this $50. HD was to me.
Vic in all his great wisdom, did neither item, (maybe it wasn't bad luck that he was blessed with). I looked back around and was stunned, he got it started but, not only had he not turned it around, but he already had it in gear and was out of reach from my strangling fingers. The creeping clutch already had zeroed in on an innocent victim, me, as that was my bike, Vic got what he deserved.
All I could do was watch as he gave it so much gas that he was jerked back on the seat a ways, then he let off the throttle too much and was thrown forward. This happened oh, maybe three or four times while he was trying to turn around on the dead end street and amazingly he got it all the way around and then really cranked the throttle up, the jerk lifted the front tire off ground ever so slightly as Vic in all his glory toppled off the back of the Harley Davidson onto his empty head, leaving the throttle on full.
It probably wouldn't have amounted to much if the bike would have fallen over, but woe it did not, it stayed upright full throttle (this K-Model and perhaps all of them, did not have an automatic return to idle spring) and took off in a rage down the street. Once it nearly fell over, but bounced off a butane tank which up righted it perfectly. With an awful bang it ended, head on into a parked truck, full throttle. I was so mad, I knew that I had better not go see if Vic was all right or he wouldn't be, instead I picked up my abused K that now had an enormous dent in the gas tank. The K hit the truck so hard that it broke the ignition wire, but other than the smashed tank it seemed OK. When I rode back into town, it seemed to shake, I thought maybe the front rim.
The next morning bright and shiny. Before I woke up, my brother took off for Jackson Lake on the K, his pal Jimmy was on an Indian vertical twin made by Royal Enfield. The last corner before getting on the highway was fortuitous as we went up to the lake at 90mph consistently, 1964 was prior to the snarled snail traffic and gendarmes swarming everywhere. The last corner was fortuitous in that both Jimmy and my brother really got on the throttle, by the way, our standard attire for biking was sweat-shirt, Levi's and tennis shoes, he said that it all turned to slow motion as he saw the front wheel sort of sickly slide out in front, a colossal racket ensued, and he was suddenly holding on to the front forks like a kids tooth that is attached by just a thin strand a skin, as his lower body and the rest of cycle powered on by.... Jimmy said that my brother was a great flyer. After a few aerial flips he came down hard on his elbow (but he bounces real good) which looked like a balloon the next day. The K was in two pieces.
In a small town like Jackson, and with an even smaller bank account, we couldn't find anyone to fix the K, I took care of fixing Vic myself, but we had to get the K running again, it was high summer! So we finally talked our dad into trying to right the damage. He put steel tubes inside the frame tubes at the breaks which were right at the head, and welded it shut. Which, in the end, allowed us to wreak even more damage to this wonderful machine in the name of fun and glory.
The Case of the Exploding K-Model Case.
We started hearing a jingling sound and it was no where near Christmas. It took awhile to track the sound down, it seems that a bolt had come loose in the primary chain case and had been rattling around getting pretty beat up and doing a little damage of it's own. I still have that mangled bolt along with a lot of other similar trashing trophies from the K and other vehicles. You can imagine our surprise when the errant bolt won the battle of the beatings and the primary chain broke. Here's what happens when you've cranked it up a bit and the P. chain lets loose, the front sprocket coils the chain up into the front of the chain case. Which by itself sounds OK, until the explosion of the aluminum chain/clutch cover and a piece or two of the main engine case scatters all over the highway with a gawd awful bang and a spray of oil. H. was the lucky one to be driving when calamity struck.
Well, my brother and I inherited a talent of being able to make anything run, despite it's injuries. Now that may be curse as we can really run something into the ground because we can always get that last gasp or two out of it. So we tossed the pieces into the bed of our 28A Ford pickup which was similarly customized by the brothers Crash Inc. That pickup has a whole set of stories too, like the time the rear fender came off and chased a woman carrying groceries down the street.
The K Model primary chain case cover is only held by three bolts. The front end of the case was now gone including the front bolt and there was a finger size hole into the main engine crank case. While we worked on the case cover with sheet copper, poprivets and plastic aluminum, we found we could get the primary chain back together although it looked like Jimmies front teeth after he hit that tree skiing, a few important links were gone. So, we drove the K without the case cover on for a few months while tinkering with the case cover and trying to locate a new chain. We would squirt some oil on the chain to keep it happy.
Right now, K Model and Sportster owners should guess what happened next, no I don't mean the loss of a few pantlegs! One day we could only find high gear. The reason? Simple once you know it, the oil that is in the primary chain case also feeds the transmission. We thought the transmission and main case used the same oil, not so. The method HD used was a fifty cent coin size hole hidden behind the clutch.
The transmission is mounted on two main shafts, an upper and a lower, the lower one on the right side, destroyed its bearing (or bushing, there wasn't enough left to tell which) which tore a hole in the case and allowed the lower gear set to drop down out of reach of the other gears. As I said, even without money or resources, we can make most anything run. If you take the end of a steel pipe and weld it onto a flat piece of steel, it can work as a bushing. A few sheet metal screws will hold the patch/bushing on to the case. It's a little tight in there as the secondary chain sprocket is right there in the way, but we did it without taking the cases apart nor was the engine ever taken out. In fact we drove it for years that way. The gasket leaked which oiled the secondary chain. Every now and then you had to take a sledge hammer and (I think I'll write this anonymously) pound the bushing back in as the torque would force the lower cluster down after some hot starts and it would loose the other gears. I still have a picture of our dad laying a sledgehammer blow to the makeshift gear case bushing. The picture also notes the visegrips used as a shifter, the fire-extinguisher gas tanks and exhausts that were a total of one foot long ending in huge trumpets, I don't know how we ever survived in that town driving it around, you would have thought somebody would throw a stick of dynamite at us.
SPUDS & SUDS
We had our favorite beach on Catholic bay, it got it's name from a little log church that used to have the interesting name "Our Lady of the Tetons" in honor of the location. It was several years before someone who was versed in French and was brave enough told them how that title translated out. They immediately changed it to "Our Lady of the Mountains" and maintained a wary view of any other French name in the valley and there are several other nearly as funny, Gros Ventre means big belly, Nez Persez is sharp nose by an older translation. And then there is Les Trois Teton or simply Tetons, imagine if you will, lusting husky tough French fur trappers out on the land for months on end with nary a female to be seen, they came over a rise one day and there sticking up in front of them were three gigantic sharp pointed objects thrust out into the sky. Now knowing their frame of mind and their penchant for naming things after body parts, well you get the idea.
There was a steep slope, almost a cliff, that you descended to get to our spot. I remember once Jimmy came out of the night in his boat, no lights of course, well beer filled and misjudged the beach and bonfire, he crashed onto the beach and slid right up by the fire. He casually looked through his bleary eyes at the fire and held out his cup for a refill. Maybe he didn't misjudge it now that I think about it, we were brewing Teton Tea (tea and all the wine you could find). The water skier he was pulling did the same sort of slide up the rocky beach but without as much grace or cool. These parties got a little out of hand, but again, we had a lot of fun.
Over several tankards of brew, my brother and Jimmy got into a loud shouting match about the virtues of a good motorcycle and proceeded to crawl over and onto the cycle and decided to see how well they could sort of reverse jump by going up the cliff and landing in the parking area. With a mighty roar and huge cloud of blue smoke the inebriated pair full throttled up the cliff with the rest of the beach party cheering. Of course you couldn't actually see the landing area, up they went popped up into the air engine screaming, rocks and dirt flying. I've suppose the campers who had put their cooking fire right in the middle of the trail thought some great calamity had befell them upon what must be sacred burial grounds as the earth under them rumbled and roared and lo and yea out of the sky a wheeled chariot with two great menacing thunder gods came crashing down right in the middle of their fire and food spraying hot coals, pork chops and potatoes, I know the menu because barefoot Jimmy had potatoes in his toes. An eerie blue mist settled on the scene which was now stone silent in the wake of the deafening devastation.
Just like magic, another motorcycle appeared out of the back of that Studebaker trunk. The first time it produced a Harley Davidson K-Model which we still own today. This time, it was only a $35. purchase and it brought home the Bull. This motorcycle was famous, a flathead stroker 80 HD that had compression that would launch a rocket, it had devastated more owners in a shorter period of time than perhaps any other.
The first owner that we know of, bought it from someone who died on it, literally, something to do with going through a truck door at a high rate of speed. The second owner rebuilt the engine and added a lot of horse power. It was a sub zero night when he finally got it back together, so he thought he would just start it in the garage just to see if it ran. It fired up nearly knocking the back wall off the garage with all that compression. It had a quirk, the throttle was not stock, it was off of some other bike, probably an Indian, the original donor of that throttle handle may have bit the dirt too hard at some point with some unknown hero. But more than not stock, the throttle was unique, it worked backwards, rotate up and you went faster not slower, but hell, anybody with a sense of cool can handle that mental exercise on the fly, besides the handle was red which was a dead give a way. Anyway, this guy sat on the Bull rumbling and roaring under him and he stepped on the clutch and popped it in gear just to see if that was set up right too. It wasn't. The Bull launched itself at the closed garage door with a ferocity that only a machine with a killer instinct can have, and the Bull won. It made it through the garage door and out into the cold black night, the guy who had been sitting on it would up in the hospital with a brand new broken arm and a brand new regard for red throttles. The Bull had a brand new owner the following day.
This brand new owner assumed the previous owner was a jerk because he was dumb enough to put it in gear in his garage, so he started the Bull out in the clear and aimed the right direction. The throttle was giving him fits as he could not seem to break the habit of rotate up to slow down. Still he got it down to the court house to get it licensed. It was a big fancy new court house with big wide dignified steps leading up to the plate glass doors. He pulled up right in front of the steps but got a little off balance. Now this was the old foot style clutch so he had to put that foot down to catch himself, there was a sudden surge as the clutch re-engaged, he quickly rotated the throttle and he proceeded to do the Bull tango right up those dignified steps and right through those shiny new plate glass doors of the court house. My brother bought the Bull from a man with a lot of scars on his face for $35. It was a great era for buying old motorcycles!
Now my brother knew the stories of those bold and foolish few who survived the Bull rages, so he approached it with caution and not a little apprehension. So we aimed the Beast toward the street and brother H. (he was older than me, you would have thought he would have conned his little brother into taking all the risks, now that I think about it, that may have been when some of my own risks started, hum) swung his leg over this low monster with the suicide clutch and maniac throttle. He turned on the gas and with some effort, pushed it through a cycle without the ignition to prime the pump, he then took a long deep breath, rose up high on the handle bars so he could really give it a really good kick, he drove down on the kick starter with commitment. A rude bang belched out the carburetor and brother H. went straight back up with even more commitment than before and flew over the handle bars with the greatest of ease, upside down. He came down with a heck of a thud, flat on his back. My dad and I broke up laughing which is probably the only reason he got back on the Bull.
There was a buck and pole fence that ran along side our yard at that time, the kind made with logs that form an X and three long poles connecting all the X's. As I said, we had pointed this thing towards the street. H. got back up, dusted the grass off and climbed back on, he was a little pissed now. This time he remembered to check the spark advance and retarded it, fully! The Bull came to life as a monstrous rumbling roar. I noticed that my brother thought about it for a long time then stepped on the clutch, popped it in gear. So far, so good. He tried to ease the clutch out, but if you've never worked one of these before, it's a bit hard, the rear wheel started dancing on the grass, which looked slicker than the winter snow had been when we learned how to ride the K-Model. He of course, got off balance as the rear slipped one way and then the next, there was no chance of ever getting his foot on the clutch again. And now the throttle, the crazy mixed up backasswards throttle reared it's ugly head. BRRAATTTTT, BRRAAAATTTTT, three or four of these were enough to introduce the Bull into the Buck fence. The front tire went under the lowest rung of the fence but the fender went over, as my bother slid gracelessly off the bouncing Bull, the wedged front end kept it from falling over, it mowed along the fence stripping bark and wood. My brother had the misfortune of sliding off the wrong side. The Bull came after him while he was on the ground, slipping struggling to back crawl out of the way of this monstrosity that was raging towards him. Ah those were the days, and at times, it pays to be the little brother watching big brother.
We finally got so we could drive it. None, not one, of our bikes ever had a working generator, so we drove them on battery, and sometime we pushed them back, but we learned to always drive up hill, that way, you could always
coast back. I fixed the suicide clutch by slipping a length of conduit over the hand lever and running the cable straight to the clutch, and hooking the foot mechanism onto the gear change mechanism, nothing tricky and it worked great. I had converted the maniac throttle by then as well.
We sold the Bull a few years later to Kinky. On his test ride, he was gone too long, so I went looking, he was at a gas station trying to fix the clutch cable. His technique was unique, he took a torch aimed it at the solder and dripped it onto the clutch cable. Feeling a little mischievous, I asked him where he learned to solder like that, he said he was taking a college career shop class in Utah, I wondered how much they charged for that college career shop class. Less than a month later he decided that as he was now a mechanic, he would rebuild the Bull, maybe soup it up a bit. Of course, I doubt that the Bull had more than 500 miles on that fresh engine, but I suppose a lot of noble bikes die that way. He later traded the basket of parts for 22 rifle.
At one time, we had three HD's and one Indian with one battery and one license plate between them, we just rotated which one was today's legal (sort of) ride. An amazing day was when we had all four of them running at once, I imagine the neighborhood remembers it well, only one had mufflers and it smoked so bad that oil drooled out of the exhaust tips.
That Pan Head Harley with the killer engine had a thing about doors, I don't know why it disliked doors so much, I guess it was because it was related to the Bull which had demolished a garage door and a large plate glass door within one month while carrying two different helpless owners.
You know those suicide clutches are on the left and that causes a unique phenomenon which I will call, "Left lunge". If you are leaning to the left, you need to put your left foot down to stop from falling over, however, before you can make that emergency check, you have to set the clutch to neutral, kind of a "catch 22" with a fall instead of a catch.
My brother had the good sense, based on experience with the Bull the year before, to take this Pan Head out into the street, far from doors, to start off. Unfortunately as he got up town, there were a lot of cars around, cars with doors. He was cool, he even stopped on a sidewalk to chat up some lovelies.
A Buick Riviera with two very sedate middle class, mature couple was carefully winding their way down the busy little boulevard when all of the sudden the Pan Head saw their door, worse a door on a moving car with it's window rolled down. That's enough to make any motorcycle mad, but on this cycle, the Pan Head was raging!
My brother was on a driveway and had just finished talking to the girls and was about to ride off to glory, when the Pan Head spotted the door within 10 feet, the Pan Head neatly hooked it's frame on curb lunging to the left, my brothers foot instinctively came out to stop the fall, the gas mysteriously went on full, and my brother, not so mysteriously went head first in through the window of the Riviera.
The woman's poodle was yapping wildly and snapping at my brother ears while the woman herself was screaming and beating the willies out of him with her purse as brother H. tried in vain to find some place to put his hands that wasn't the woman's private parts, so he could shove himself back out of the window and onto the raging monster that was still churning away, burning up the pavement trying to shove the door clear through to the other side.
We avoided doors after that but the Pan had many other tricks in it's arsenal.
Winter comes a lot around Jackson Hole, but you learn to have fun with the elements. My brother and a blonde girl named Carol decided to get in the spirit of the season one year and went around town Christmas Caroling. That would have been okay, but all the roads were hard packed snow/ice and they in all their great wisdom, were on the cycle. The proof of their great wisdom was that everyone seemed to think it was pretty neat, and so invited them in for hot toddies, at every house, they stopped at a lot of houses that night. Except for the magneto, the electrics didn't work on the cycle but the clever devils had solved that problem by taping a flashlight to the handlebars. Somewhere near midnight they finally crashed in the town square under the main stoplight, right in front of God and the police who just hung his head and shook it slowly back and forth as they cut loose with a rousing chorus of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" at the top of their inebriated lungs. Try as they may, they couldn't stand the cycle upright again it would topple over the other side, of course they would follow suit and topple over as well. "Motorcycle s'ad too many hot toddies!" was their shrewd determination of the problem.
As I've mentioned, Jackson is host to a lot of movie productions. Spencers Mountain was being filmed and Henry was at a party in Battle Mountain in the middle of the winter with Hank Fonda and all the other movie stars. There was a very pretty girl, Margene, deep dark flashing eyes that had danger written all through them, Hank Fonda was beginning to drown in those eyes. Brother Henry decided there is a challenge worth rising to, besides, he could save Hank Fonda at the same time, sort of a stand in for the dangerous parts. But the problem was, how do you impress the socks off of someone surrounded by movie stars. Typical to his style, H. walked over, picked her up walked out on the balcony, the place had turned stone silent as he threw her off the second floor balcony. She was screaming bloody murder as she hit the big snow drift. Then H. jumped off as well. The people standing in the bar were dumbfounded, they didn't know about the snow drift. Everyone rushed out on the balcony, just as Henry swooped up Margene still assaulting him with murderous threats, sloshed through the deep snow to a cabin, kicked the door open and took her in to bed. The balcony erupted in a thunderous roar of approval that even made Margine giggle.
After college, and after pioneering river trips down the narrows and many technical innovations for running rivers, in 1970 Henry abruptly drove his Land Rover to Alaska just as winter was coming on, it got so cold that he got into his sleeping bag and took the big defroster hose, shoved it inside the bag and continued driving up the AlCan highway which was all gravel or less in those days.
He nearly starved when he got there, no jobs unless you knew someone, he didn't. Finally he got on with the oil pipeline project. They would get a chain saw and a file, and he who covered the most miles won, Henry won. He said that as the trees were not very thick, if you kept your saw sharp, you could just sweep it side to side as you waded through waist deep snow.
Besides timber, he also cleared a few pipeline bars, the drinking kind. When he arrived at the camp and saw the sort of macho he man types there, he knew he had to do something distinctive right away or there would always be trouble. So when he first walked into the noisy bar, he pulled out his axe, which all he men carried on their belt up on the north slope, and heaved it across a packed bar room with all these bruisers watching. The axe stuck squarely in a narrow post on the opposite side of the room. The place got stone quiet, and smoothly emptied out completely except him and the bar tender who gave him first class service. Years later when he had been running his ocean boats, somebody told him the legend about this big bad monster pipeline worker that had cleared the toughest bar on the north slope by throwing an axe across a whole room full of toughs and stuck it squarely in a narrow post.
The Susitna river is world famous as a deadly river to run in any kind of boat. The pipeline had lost several boats and maybe a few people before they asked Henry to survey it. He took a jet boat, a pair of hip boots and guided the boat down the river. His navigation technique was unique, he hung off the back in the water and steering it with his legs. Part of the problem was that you had to stare directly into the sun to go downstream as it was way up north where the sun doesn't go up very high, it just spins around in a little circle. While the method sounds outrageous, he got the job done where no one else could. He also designed a new stove for the pipeline, that won some award for engineering and is used in the most extreme conditions now.
A co-worker and Henry were on a long expedition surveying or cutting a path, and they started talking about the superman of the animal kingdom, the Alaskan Brown Bear. My brother told him how when he was a kid he was fishing and was charged by a mad Moose, he had a 22 pistol, but that's about like using a BB gun, useless against something big, like a bear, you just can't outrun a Moose. So, Henry held his fire until he could see the "reds of it's eyes" and placed a single bullet squarely between them. The Moose dropped right at his feet. They started wondering if you could do the same with a Brown, shortly thereafter they got their chance to find out, they must have walked too close to a game stash of the Brown and here he came at full tilt. Now the co-worker had the magnum that each group was assigned in case of bear attack, my brother had a 22 again, nowhere to run and no time to think. The co-worker despite all his tough talk about dealing with Alaska Brown Bears took off at a "dead" run, with the magnum. My brother dropped the Bear with a 22 but it nearly made it to him unlike the Moose.
My brother, like myself really doesn't want to kill any animals which is odd considering where we grew up, sentiments like that are almost sacrilegious. But there was one time while working the pipeline that he did want to kill a varmint. A squirrel ate a hole in his brand new tent to get at some food. H. though okay, I'll leave food outside for you, but don't chew another hole in my tent, the next night a new hole appeared, that was irritating plus it was raining a lot. So, he blocked things up and left food in a different location, next night, same thing, now he was mad. So he tried to catch the varmint, no luck, just more holes, he tried to trap him, again no luck, now Henry was over the brink and getting wet. He decided to go after him, "wherever he goes, I go" was the blood oath. He spotted him and chased after him, he ran up the only tall tree in the area, so H. went up after him. Finally he had the little bugger corned out on a limb right at the top of the tree and was closing in. The squirrel simply jumped off all the way to the ground and ran away, next night more holes. Henry had the magnum this time and stayed awake all night, nothing, but the next night. The shadowy antagonist appeared right at his feet, H. sighted in and squeezed. The sound and concussion of a magnum going off in a tent would have to be experienced I think to appreciate. There was not a single piece of the varmint left, but H. wondered who had really won that battle.
BOATS, BOATS, BOATS:
Henry tells me to watch out, a fanaticism will hit me at age 45 just like it did with dads photography and Henry his boats. But he was always that way, boats, boats, boats. After making a good income on the pipeline, Henry bought a lot of real estate, then started selling real estate, but he's not one to be consistent and reliable on returning calls or mailing letters, when he was in the mood, he was great at it, but otherwise, think boats.
We were both having our mid life crisis about the same time so he suggested I come up to Alaska and we could throw up a green wood cabin on this piece of land he has, and that would give us a project while we think about what to do with our lives and how to fend off our dragons. Well, the green wood cabin wound up being a two and half story, all glass pagoda on Tomingas harbor in Katchemak bay. Obviously we had a lot to think about, it took us a couple of years.
Henry had bought a fishing boat, the F.V.Robby. It had a big diesel V8 and a deck big enough to hold a ½ ton truck. Unfortunately, he had bought it with a friend and the friend only had the best of intentions and could never deliver on his end of the bargain. The boat deal broke the friendship and therefore became a sore part for Henry. But that all changed, we loaded the boat with several tons of rough cut wood and set out for Bear Cove and a little harbor that now bears the Tomingas name.
Henry had searched for land that was ocean front for some time, you could buy some for outrageous prices, but my brother is always looking for a deal, he found one. He found an ocean front homestead that had been defaulted on (they left and never came back) in 1936. The time for which the government was going to allow such homesteads was about to run out as they had changed the law. Even though it was winter, Henry rented a skiff, and set off down Katchemak bay trying to figure out from the map where it was. He found a likely spot and staked it out, as it turns out, he was exactly right. That night he went over the hill and stayed in an abandoned log cabin that didn't have a door or windows. As the night progressed, he heard a rustling outside, he looked straight into the face of a 700 lb Alaskan Grizzly bear. It started circling the cabin, it kept circling the cabin. He knew what this interest meant.
Henry had worked with Frank and John Craighead on the Yellowstone Grizzly bear study, perhaps you have seen the National Geographic special or the issue where they were tracking the bears. He has told me how you would have a beeper to track them, and often there was an awful snow storm so that you couldn't see but a few feet ahead, and you didn't know if the bear became aware of you and circled around in back or not, very unnerving. Also, when he was on the pipeline there were many bear encounters, in one, he and a girl were walking along a railroad track and from behind them came a grizzly stalking them.
A grizzly has a huge heart and lung capacity that, in proportion to it's size, gives it power close to impossible, it's as close to Superman as you get. Grizzlies used to be plains animals that ran to catch food, one technique is to outrun an Elk and slap it on the back so hard that it breaks the back of the Elk. Power, speed, there is nothing as deadly as grizzly, luckily, they don't usually hunt humans, we smell bad to them, too many varieties of food, but they love the candy bars in our pockets or sweet cooking smoke on our faces! What the grizzly doesn't do well is see, nose and ears are fantastic, but the vision is pretty bad. The bear stopped for a moment to smell, well, where my brother had relieved himself. When the bear looked down, my brother and the girl hid behind the one very scrawny little bush in the whole area, it was the only one within miles and no trees. But that was all it took, it looked around, didn't see them, and probably decided there were tastier tidbits on the other side of this wicked river that paralleled the railway. Even though it was full of huge ice flows, the bear plunged in without a thought, swam to the other side knocking big ice flows out of the way, caught hold of the ice edge, the river pulled hard at the body and it slipped under the ice a bit, then the bear heaved and up out it came. Shook itself off and sauntered off casually as can be. Henry and the girl didn't manage as casual of saunter.
But the bear circling the cabin was not sauntering off, it circled all night. Henry sat all night with his machete in hand. He has this theory that if you can get the first blow in with a machete across the nose of a bear, they won't be able to see or smell you or breath. The problem is in getting in the first blow, animals don't understand a fake which is to our advantage, but they are so fast to react, that it doesn't usually matter. Finally at dawn it left. But the adventure was just getting started. Now, he had to get back, he got in the little skiff, Homer was about two or three hours away if the tide is against you, but the government's time frame was also against him. As the tide was coming in and he was going out, the waves sprayed over the bow and soaked him, this winter time and cold, it's cold on the water even in the summer if a wind and spray is up. After a long time, he finally saw the buildings, but they looked bigger, more like skyscrapers. The water became dead calm, and then he saw why, the ice pack was moving in. The skyscrapers were glacier size hunks of ice in the water. They were crashing into each other and smashing their sides in as they josseled into the bay. Henry jumped up onto the first one and jerked his boat through each passage after the ice rebounded from a blow. Somehow, he got through that, but now thoroughly soaked, the wind was a gale on the other side and he was still a long ways from Homer. At two in the morning he putted the little skiff into the harbor. He was so stiff, he could hardly get out. Walking up to the car seemed near impossible. At that hour, there wasn't a soul anywhere. He finally got to his car and faced the worst problem, his hands were too cold to unlock the door. He tried and tried, then he got mad, after all of that, to die because he is too weak to turn a key in a lock, he bit down on the key with his mouth and snapped the lock open. About five miles out, Henry started to unthaw, he says that was some of the worst pain he has ever had to endure. But that, is how there came to be a Tomingas Harbor in Katchemak Bay Alaska.
Henry has done a very nice water color of the Tomingas Pagoda in Tomingas Harbor. He has always been good with art, I have several excellent water colors that he has done, but the Pagoda remains my favorite.
The next year, Henry found a luxury boat that was very fast, it was in a law suite and he thought that it looked like an interesting challenge. He went to the bank and showed them contracts for work that he could do if he owned the boat. He basically said what do you want to do, have it cost money by leaving it tied up, or make money by giving it to me, they gave it to him for a song and threw in some cash to get him started.
Having pulled that one off, the next year he set his sights a bit higher, and chose the largest (90 feet) charter vessel in Alaska as his target. It has an elegant bow and enclosures for the deck, but it was tied up in a bankruptcy. This boat on this scale had a whole new set of rules and requirements, it needed a crew to run it, provisions, paint, fuel on an astronomical scale and maintenance schedule of ten helicopters, plus safety inspections, regulations, Captains license and other little items of the sort.
But again, Henry walked into the bank and said I have contracts where you can make money on this boat, do you want to let it be a negative flow or positive flow. But the timing was a little off on this one, he wound having obsticles at every turn that seemed like the end of the deal, but somehow clear up to the last moment he kept plugging along, think boats. The last day, he had a crew load food and supplies on the boat and the customers showing up in a few hours and the judge had not come to a decision. A half hour before they were due to set sail (figuratively) the judge cleared the transaction and away he went.
The next year he decided he needed an all steel vessel, so he got a 110 footer that people get lost on it's so big, there's three levels with big sealed doors and engines, has it got engines. Two huge Cat engines the size of a large truck each with superchargers on them. Plus he's got four or five other various engines for generating electricity of all kinds and pumping and such. The smallest is bigger than most truck engines. He lands helicopters and launches submarines from this one.
This year, well he's into so many projects I can't keep them all straight, there's a 200+ foot ship ($1.5 mill) in the Aleutian Islands, there's the South Pacific working on a project near Easter Island, of course the 110 foot Bearing Explorer is in Prince William Sound this summer, the 90 foot Pacific Star is there too I think. He Captains whichever needs him and has a couple of other Captains working for him along with a few crews and.... You know what's funny? With all of this stuff, you would think he would be rolling in money, but he keeps buying another boat instead! Boats, boats, boats, drives me nuts, he's got a bloody fleet out there, but it makes him mucho happy and mucho occupied. The logistics of keeping all of this on straight schedules must be outrageous.
Learning the sea in Alaska is a crash course on how to stay alive, such simple little things and a long list of big things, can get you killed out there, there's lots of ships each year that fail the course and lie at the bottom. The tides are so enormous, that you can be in 20 feet of water 20 miles in, and in a few hours the whole thing goes dry, and it reverses every six hours, and then of course, there's the Alaskan weather. Henry has taken to it, he's very careful now and plenty resourceful. Somebody was introduced to him recently, and they said "Damn, your a legend up here", it was news to him, he's too busy with boats, boats, boats.
You wouldn't think so, but big brother Henry, he is six years older, has always had this 'thing' about being the big brother. When he found out I was in my senior year at college about to get my degree, he ran back to school and took the last unit needed to get his Experimental Psychology degree. It just wouldn't do to have little brother beat him at anything. So when I had a daughter after being with Jane for 20 years, he showed up with a daughter the very next year, his first as well. Maybe I should run a test and sign up for the French Foreign Legion, no boats. As you can tell from my jokes, two brothers couldn't be closer.
Building the Pagoda was good for the soul, we battled our dragons with chain saws and used foot long spikes as swords. We moved 2 ton rocks and 4 tons of wood with a broken back and it changed our lives for the better. Now, we are both sleeping easier, but we also know that dragons only pretend to sleep.