is an article Mom wrote for Collins Family History, 1740 to
1977. It was privately published in 1977 by the Collins
FLORENCE RUCKER COLLINS
Florence Marian Barlow
Born Sept 20, 1846, Fairfield, Vt.
Died Mar 8, 1929, San Diego, Calif,
Wallace Corning Dickey
Born Oct 7, 1841, Mentor, Ohio.
Died July 11, 1927, San Diego, Calif.
Children of above
1. Barlow Corning Dickey, born Aug 20, 1872, Cleveland, Ohio; married Kathryn Galvin. Child: Wallace John. Died Sept, 1951.
2. Edward Soule Dickey, born July 9, 1875, Cleveland, Ohio; unmarried. Died April 1942.
3. Helen Barlow Dickey, born Dec 13, 1876, Cleveland, Ohio; unmarried. Died Mar 5, 1936. Ravenna, Ohio.
4. Florence Harriet Dickey, born Aug 11, 1880; married B. Parks Rucker, Dec 4, 1906 in Chicago; Florence’s father. Died Nov 27, 1967.
5. Ruth Soule Dickey, born Aug 28, 1882, Peoria, II; unmarried. Died Oct 24, 1954, San Diego, Calif.
Sarah (Sally) Frances Parks
Born Sept 8, 1850, Missouri.
Died Feb 4, 1946, Garrett Park, Md.
Benjamin Lindsay Rucker
Born Dec 3, 1846, Amherst Co., Va.
Died Feb 9, 1918, Amherst Co., Va.
Children of above
1. Ruth Elizabeth Rucker, born May 4, 1874; unmarried. Died about 1960.
2. Benjamin Parks Rucker, born Feb 20, 1876; married Florence Harriet Dickey (see above): one child, Florence Parks Rucker. Died June 30, 1959.
3. Henry Cowles Rucker, born Apr 3, 1878; married Lillian Rucker (cousin); children: H. Cowles, Jr., Benjamin Ambrose: Sarah Anne. Died 1960.
4. Elizabeth Palmer Rucker, born Dec 16, 1880; married Karl Stoehr; children: Karl Rucker, Edward Konrad. Died about 1960.
5. Mary Nell Rucker, born Apr 22, 1882; married Winfield Scott Macgill; children; Emma, Eleanor, Winfield Scott Jr.
6. Clara Maude Rucker, born Dec 5, 18…; unmarried. Died July 12, 1973.
7. Sadie Paulin Rucker, born Oct 12, 18…; married Richard H. Akers; no children.
Child of Benjamin Parks Rucker and Florence Dickey Rucker
1. Florence Parks – born May 22, 1921, New haven Conn; married Richard Hubbard Collins April 13, 1957, Christiansburg, Va.
In the spring of 1921 my parents were invited to spend the weekend with friends in New Haven, Connecticut, and I arrived there unexpectedly, that Sunday, May 22, 1921. Though I only lived in the Nutmeg State for a month, I’m glad to be a Connecticut Yankee instead of a New Yorker.
Brooklyn was our home until I was six, but we spent the spring and summer of 1925 in Bradenton, Florida, where I learned to read, and remember sitting in the back yard in a wash tub of cool water, with my primer propped in front of me. Mother and I went by train to San Diego, California, three times in those years, to visit her family, returning east from the last trip, in September 1927. We went to Montclair, New Jersey, where Daddy had rented a house with a back yard that boasted a big catalpa tree. For the next seven years, much of my spare time was spent climbing and reading in that tree. In early fall, its long green-bean like seed pods made fine ammunition for “bean fights”; thrown hard, they would sting, but were too fragile to inflict any damage. We also had a long plank, painted green, that served as a ramp to run up into the tree, as a slide to descend from it, as a see-saw, or, laid on the ground, as a make-believe boat. The house itself had a big glassed-in porch, and an attic with two finished rooms. Lacking brothers and sisters, I spent many rainy afternoons on the porch making cardboard Indians, explorers and cave men which I put in the attic room I’d converted into a museum. My chief hobby, however, then as now, was reading and we were lucky to live only a half a mile from the public library.
In the depression year of 1935 Dad lost his job as an electrical engineer (he built some of the earliest dams and hydroelectric plants in the country). We moved two miles away, and I rode my bike three miles instead of one, to school. The next year we went to Washington, D.C., and on 1937 to Atlanta, Georgia, where I graduated from North Fulton High School in June 1939. That summer Mom and I visited the New York World’s Fair, which we enjoyed immensely—and we heard, from our hotel window, newsboys shouting “Extra, Extra” the day World War II started in Europe.
I spent the following winter at home in Alaska, instead of at the University of Chicago, because I had undulant fever. After reading the texts for courses in Humanities, Biological Sciences, and English Composition, and after making my first long trip alone, to Chicago to take the “comprehensive exams”, I was able to enter the University as a sophomore in the fall of 1940. I was sitting in the lobby of the dorm when music on the radio was interrupted by news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It seemed the best thing I could do was to continue my education as a geology major--petroleum and minerals would be more needed than ever. A full scholarship for my junior year, and a partial one for the last year enabled the budget to stretch over two geology field trips, to Wisconsin in 1941 and to Wyoming in 1942. At Baraboo, Wisconsin in Prof. Bastin teamed the Florences—Florence Robinson and myself—together. Four weeks of hiking around that area and four more weeks of working together on the Wyoming field trip cemented a friendship that resulted in our both taking jobs with Shell Oil Co., in Houston, Texas, as soon as we graduated. After the first few months there (Houston didn’t appeal—too hot, too wet, too flat) we made ourselves a Four-Year plan: work and save our money until 1947, and then quit, buy a car, and spend the next two summers traveling and the winters studying for masters’ degrees.
Early in 1945, an exhibit of fighter planes, supposed to encourage the purchase of war bonds, had a different effect on us—we took flying lessons, instead! I must have looked strange, biking madly home to our garage apartment with a huge grin on my face, after my first solo flight. (We went everywhere on bikes, as we had no driver’s licenses, no gas, and no car). That August, I visited the Shell Oil Co., office in Tulsa on business, and must have met Uncle Wallace there, though I have no recollection of it. All thoughts of geology evaporated suddenly—the end of the war was broadcast, and people ran out into the streets shouting and cheering. Back in Houston that evening, the scene was the same. No more shooting or bombing, and the men overseas could come home. Rationing gradually disappeared, though it took nearly 2 years for many things, such as automobiles, to become plentiful. Meanwhile, we enjoyed the opportunity to fly a Piper J-3 Cub cross-country to see more of Texas. It was disconcerting, though, to see cars on the highway below us going faster than we could, when there was a headwind! A two-place Cessna 140, sleeker and faster, took us on a 2 weeks’ trip to southern Florida in January 1946. Early the next year we learned to drive a car, bought a Jeep Station Wagon, and in May, fulfilling our plan, resigned from Shell and headed north. After a month spent making a topographic map of Round Spring Cave, in Missouri (and an odd-looking map it is, because overhangs cause the contours to cross and re-cross) we began our “volcano summer”—so called because many of the places we visited, such as Yellowstone, Crater Lake and Mt. Lassen National Parks, and Craters of the Moon and Lava Beds National Monuments, were caused by volcanic action. Following a school year back at the University of Chicago, we headed for Alaska, via the Canadian Rockies. This was the first year the Alaska highway was open to tourists, and there was lots of red tape and many warnings (“Have you lots of food? extra gasoline? spare tires? camping gear?”) from Canadian officials officials, who weren’t used to civilians, and especially to a couple of girls in blue jeans. But we found the road in good condition, though unpaved, of course. We traveled slowly, savoring the wilderness, the wild raspberries along the roadside, and the campsites we found, most of which were in recently abandoned gravel pits. Traffic was scarce, and we had the road to ourselves, mostly—a contrast to the dusty, comparatively heavily traveled roads we could reach, we put the station wagon on a boat at Haines, for the ride down the inside passage to Prince Rupert, British Columbia. A little dirt track through the Coast Range took us to Prince George, B.C., (the jumping-off place for Dick and David’s trip a few years earlier). Then we returned to school at Chicago, going the long way around-via Arizona. Through that desert country the multiple points of caribou antlers we were lugging home made a unique towel rack, and drew a good number of perplexed stares.
We’d fallen in love with Alaska’s wide-open spaces, and were both lucky to get jobs with the U.S. Geological Survey in Fairbanks, after receiving masters’ degrees in geology at the U. of Chicago in March 1949. Our second trip up the highway, and our first impression of Fairbanks was described in a Christmas letter that year:
“We left Edmonton, Alberta about 7.30a.m., March 25th, and 14 hours later dragged into Grand Prairie, 300 miles away. The road was muddy—muddy and slick muddy and sloppy, muddy and sticky. After a couple of hundred miles, the car, license plates, lights, windows and all were an even drab. We stopped every few miles to scrub a clear place in the driver’s front window; the passenger just didn’t see out at all. We were happy, though, because we’d successfully negotiated the Smoky River crossing on the ice, our biggest worry in planning the trip. A bridge over the river was opened this fall, but last spring if the ice had broken before we crossed, we’d have been stuck for two weeks. As it was, we just made it. Water was eight to ten inches deep in the track we followed, and a day or so later it was closed to traffic.
“West of Grande Prairie we slugged past some grain fields into British Columbia, and onto a winding, slippery mud road, the worst stretch of all; it took 4 ½ hours to cover that 100 miles from Grande Prairie to Dawson Creek. Then, beginning at the Zero Mile Post in town, a smooth-packed gravel highway let us speed along, over the Peace River bridge and into the foothills of the Rockies, where we got views of snowy hillsides and dark spruce-filled valleys, with mountains west of us shining in the setting sun. Small white wooden posts mark almost every mile to Fairbanks, their black-painted numbers giving the distance from Dawson Creek. Homesteaders’ addresses and places of special interest are remembered by their mile posts: Summit Lake, at Mile 395, is the highest place on the road—4200 feet. Around it, rugged peaks rise some 4000 feet higher. At mile 500 is Liard Hot springs, a dim ever-stirring blue pool in the snowy, silent twilight. At Mile 918 is Whitehorse, the only real town on the highway, and rail-head for the White Pass and Yukon Railroad (Wait Patiently Ahead And You’ll Ride Road)—the one Dick’s father Ray took on his way to the Klondike in 1906, a narrow-gauge link to Skagway and the sea.
“ When we reached Fairbanks, on April Fool’s Day, snow covered the town as it had the country since leaving Edmonton. The roads since Dawson Creek had been icy, snowy, and dusty by turns, but traveling was much easier than it had been on the rough loose gravel of the summer before. We made about 300 miles a day, stopping each night at a roadhouse, the northern equivalent of an inn. These were usually large, one-story buildings, sometimes of logs, and heated by wood stoves. A dining room seating perhaps a dozen people, and a hall lined with small rooms containing one or two cots apiece occupied most of the space. Meals leaned rather heavily toward starches, but were usually good, and helpings were always generous.
“ Fairbanks is a fascinating town. Subtract the autos, and First Street, along the Chena Slough, would make a perfect setting for an old-fashioned Western movie. Cushman St. and Second St. are both paved (the latter only for one block, though) and their intersection had a stop light, but the rest of the town’s streets are gravel—muddy in spring, and terribly dusty in summer. The post office, a large, buff-colored structure, is the largest building in town. Other outstanding items two movie theaters (rather like neighborhood theaters in size and atmosphere), the N.C. (Northern Commercial) Co. store and power plant, with its two high smoke stacks and eight o’ clock whistle; Piggly Wiggly, several other food markets, bars, jewelry, variety and clothing stores, just like any other smallish town. But nowhere else would you see office workers and housewives in high heels, nylons and fashionable clothes rubbing elbows with Eskimo women in mukluks (fur boots with walrus hide soles) and parkas; or crane your neck, as I did yesterday, to watch two jet planes whoosh overhead—and glance down just in time to see a dog team, pulling a sled, trot down the street. And where, outside of Alaska, is the river front a parking place for eight or ten small seaplanes. The Chena is often swift, and is both narrow and winding, so to take off the usual procedure is to go upstream above the bridge, turn, and roar down, past the hospital and Catholic church, under the bridge, past the N.C. store, round the bend on one pontoon, and finally pull out of the water and climb slowly over the trees. Land planes are better off; Weeks Field has a 5000-foot gravel runway, and a control tower, too. It’s used by all commercial and private flyers except Pan American Airways, whose DC4s land at Ladd Air Base, just east of town.
“Housing was scarce and we are lucky to have a place in the housing area beside our office. We live in half a Quonset hut, which makes a really fine three-room apartment, in spite of the curving walls. With furniture, water (brownish and strong-tasting, but safe), electricity and steam heat, it seems downright luxurious when we think of the low rent of $1.00 a day apiece. But it’s the only thing that is cheap up here! Clothes are only a little more than they are Outside (the local idiom for any place except Alaska), but food is outrageous. We pay $1.15 for a dozen oranges, 69 cents for a head of lettuce or cauliflower, 80 cents for four tomatoes, 40 cents quart of local milk or 60 cents for milk flown in from Seattle. Butter is $1.00 per pound, ice cream $1.00 a quart, bread 30 cents a loaf. Airborne eggs (from Outside) are $1.25 a dozen, and local fresh eggs are the same. Canned goods are high, too: 60 cents for Spam, 25 cents for a can of tomato soup, 38 cents to 48 cents for canned fruit. (“It’s the freight,” is the standard explanation, but when a barber uses the same excuse for an exorbitantly priced haircut, one wonders!). There is some compensation, though, for in late summer roadsides and open places are carpeted with luscious raspberries, blueberries, and lingenberries; they are wonderful fresh, or as jelly or jam. Our tiny vegetable garden kept us in leaf lettuce, radishes, parsley and green onions, with a few beets and carrots. A farmer’s field furnished potatoes enough to last several months. They’ve been sitting in paper sacks in the kitchen, but like most things, haven’t spoiled, because of the dryness. Bread dries out in a few days, and food left out may get leathery around the edges, but crackers stay crisp indefinitely, and things almost never mold. It’s probably due to the dryness that we haven’t noticed the cold. Temperatures were a normal 70-80 degrees in August, but by November the thermometer often registered minus 40 degrees. But the dry air doesn’t feel any colder than 20 degrees above does in Chicago. Fingers, cheeks and nose get nipped, but only enough to make them stop-light red. Another obliging thing about this climate is that when it’s clear and cold, the air is still; when it’s overcast, even with thin clouds, the temperature rises, sometimes as much as 20 degrees in an hour or so. The sun nowadays has little effect; it spends its 3 ½ visible hours making a gaudy sunrise-sunset along the southern horizon—quite a contrast to the 21 hours of sunlight last June! But the darkness is far from complete. Snow makes even a little light go a long way, and a brilliant moon (rising in the north at 2 p.m.!) has made a silvery fairyland from the snowy landscape. Trees are like white lace, with frost or snow outlining even the tiniest twig; snug cabins, with a light in the window and smoking chimneys, have snow-draped spruce in front, the white river winds dimly toward the hills. Everywhere you look, a Christmas card scene is just begging to be painted or photographed. Christmas carols really sound appropriate here!
“Winter doesn’t seem to stop Alaskans from doing things: airplanes of all sizes buzz around, and stores and streets are well populated with shoppers. The post office is always crowded with people getting their mail (there’s no house delivery—if you’re not lucky enough to have a box, you have to get your mail at the General Delivery window), or talking to chance-met friends. Dog teams trot up and down the Chena, which is solid enough so that it’s used as a road. The local radio stations are always announcing meetings and parties—Elks, Masonic Lodge, Rotary, Odd Fellows, and so on. The radio is a major means of back-fence gossip here; programs such as “Tundra Topics” and “Mukluk Telegraph” are devoted to such items as “Mr. and Mrs. John Smith are the proud possessors of a baby boy, weighing 7 lbs. 10 oz., born this morning at 10.05 a.m. in St. Joseph’s Hospital,” or “Mrs. Brown, of Tanana, will be glad to hear that her husband is recovering nicely from his recent operation and expects to take the Thursday plane back home to Tanana,” or “Mike and Bob Jackson are in town for a few days, on their way Outside after summer prospecting in the Chandalar district. They are staying at the Pioneer Hotel” or “Tom Peterson wants his brother to meet the plane at Unalakleet Friday morning, to pick up some freight that will be left there for him by one of the Northern Consolidated pilots.” Lost dogs are described; cake sales and bazaars at the local churches are announced; regional and flying weather, as well as the local forecast, are given direct from the Weather Bureau several times a day—pilots like to keep an eye on the weather, and flying is pretty important in this country”.
We liked our work as well as our location; it consisted of describing the cores and cuttings (all the rocks, in other words) from the 84 test holes drilled by the U.S. Navy in Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4, in Northern Alaska. Several U.S. Geological Survey fellows spent many summers mapping the outcrops, while Florence and I examined the subsurface rocks in detail—with a microscope!—and other people in our
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Florence—examining test well cuttings, Spring 1950 U.S. Geological Survey navy Oil Unit Lab, Fairbanks, Alaska.
laboratory examined both surface and subsurface material for fossils, large and microscopic. No one knew anything about the rocks beneath the surface in that area, before the Navy started drilling, and very little was known about those exposed on the surface, so it was exciting to see the bits of information build up slowly, to create a picture of the geological history of the area. The main object, of course, was to locate oil. Two small fields were delineated, where there were oil seeps on the surface (at Umiat and Simpson Seeps) and two gas fields were discovered—one that could furnish the village of Barrow with fuel, and a larger one not far from Umiat. Holes drilled away from these fields were disappointingly dry, though a few had very slight stains of oil in very impermeable, silty sandstone. The deepest hole went through more than 1,000 feet of
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Florence and her parents, just before she and Florence Robinson left Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for Alaska—the Fourth of July, 1950.
shale! The rocks that are now producing so prolifically at Prudhoe Bay, many miles to the east, were not identified in any of the holes in the Reserve. The results of our work were published by the Survey in the “one-foot shelf of books” known collectively as Professional Papers 305.
In 1950 we plunked down about $3,800 of our savings for a new Cessna 140, and went to Wichita, Kansas, to pick it up. A quick swing into Texas preceded a beautiful flight back to Fairbanks. It was exciting to see, from the air, the spectacular scenery we’d driven through. With the Plane, we could—and did—visit most of the roadless Alaska, from the Canadian border to the western tip of the Seward Peninsula, where we could see east Cape, in Siberia. We first got acquainted with Dick and Jeanne Collins when we flew to Lake Minchumina for weekends. Highlights of 1953 and 1954, however, were foloboat trips. The first took us from Whitehorse, Canada, down the Yukon to Circle, Alaska, a 700-mile paddle that traced the route Ray Collins followed, by steamer, in 1906. It was well described by Ginny Wood in a national Geographic Magazine article entitled “Squaws Along the Yukon,” published in August 1956. The 1954 trip took us by plane to Old Crow, Canada, and we floated down the Porcupine River to Fort Yukon—less than half the distance of the Yukon River trip, but just as interesting, and entirely above the Arctic Circle.
By this time, the Navy had finished its work in the Reserve, and report-writing forced us to move to Washington, D.C. We felt like “birds in a gilded cage” there—nice place to live, relative close by, pleasant co-workers, but people everywhere, and little of the freedom and adventure of living in the north. How to get back?? Alaska is plane country, and we could fly. A float plane could get us to sites, for geological work, that were otherwise inaccessible. So we dug into our savings again and bought a Supercub on floats. After commuting to Lake Oneida, N.Y., in the Cessna 140 until we could fly it well enough, we brought the Supercub to Washington, and in June 1956 took off from a cove of the Potomac River for a summer in Alaska.
Crossing the U.S., we gassed up at Cleveland, Chicago, and Milwaukee before spending the night on a small lake in eastern Wisconsin. The next day took us on northwest to Minnesota’s lake country. Letters record that “warm sun sparkled on blue water, pines rustled and scented the cool breeze, and gray rocks trimmed the green forest bordering the water, where we stopped for gas and to check through Canadian customs. Then there was a long blue, sunny flight across a maze of lakes big and small, shining sheets of water linked, in a few places, by dashing white waterfalls, and intimately inter-fingered with the evergreen woodland. Rainy lake, Loon Haunt Lake (an expressive name), Lake of the Woods—then a thin track of highway, or a railroad, looped the lakes and followed winding peninsulas, as we approached Kenora. That’s a tourist town—more American cars than Canadian, and a big dock surrounded by lots of planes, all on floats. After admiring the beautiful reflections in the dark water, we headed for supper and bed. Friday was a little hazy from forest fire smoke to the east, but we went west into clear skies, before turning north, following the railroad to Lac du Bonnet. There, we got lots of good advice (don’t land on lake Winnipeg in an unsheltered spot—it’s too rough; the place to go at Norway House is an island with a fire tower on it), and a little gas (‘Did you put away the eye dropper?’, a man asked, as the gas man put away the hose—they were used to selling 30 or 50 gallons, at least for bigger planes, and we only needed 6). We left for Norway House, 260 miles north, following the east shore of Lake Winnipeg past Pigeon Point, Spider island, Flour Point and Berens River, landmarks on a rocky shore. Now and then there were a few houses, a tiny settlement along the shores of a river, but most of the country was wilderness of spruce forest and muskeg swamp stretching to the eastern horizon. A slight pop attracted our attention to the windshield—a crack was starting, right up the middle. We’d passed the point of no return, and as mile after mile of wave tossed lake passed beneath us, the crack crept up and up, until we could feel a tiny draft through it. The wind was increasing, and we feared the turbulence which would, if we were unlucky, split the windshield apart, and result in a sudden descent to the rock edged lake. Fortune was with us, however, and we landed, a bit bumpily, at the island with the tower. Two rivers here drain Lake Winnipeg, flowing northeast to Hudson Bay, and are connected by Playgreen and Little Playgreen Lakes, island-dotted expanses of water. Our island is at the mouth of the northern river, where it widens into the littler lake. We tied the plane to the dock, where we were met by two girls who said the menfolk, including the mechanic, were away, but would be back later. Three families lived on the island, and the rest of Norway House is scattered for several miles along the two rivers—hospital, missions, two or three schools, Hudson Bay Post, Mounted Police, Canadian Central Airways, and Playgreen Inn, with little houses in small clearings. Dick, the mechanic, brought us to Playgreen Inn, in the later afternoon, after he drilled a tiny hole in the plexiglass at the end of the windshield crack (to prevent its going farther), and lacing it up with wire. No one was in the front room at the inn, so we walked around to the back and came in the kitchen door. We had supper, and afterwards were shown to a spotless room in a freshly-painted upstairs. The whole place is like a big farm house, with a garden, a lawn, and a dock at the river, with the forest for a backdrop. A path connects it with neighbors along the shore, and with the Hudson Bay Post, where a few of the old buildings of hand-hewn planks still stand. Norway House was an important center, in the early 1800s—post managers (chief factors, they were called) met here from all over the continent to decide company matters. Then as now, the neat white buildings were a welcome sight to travelers.
From Norway House, the route lay west, to Flin Flon and Lac La Ronge for gas stops, and Fort MacMurray, 600 miles away, for the night. MacMurray was a muddy little town, but we enjoyed seeing outcrops of the famous Athabaska tar sands, which look just like loose sand with which someone had mixed enough tar so that the whole mass was blackish, and held its shape like a lump of hard mud. A short flight down the Athabaska River led to Lake Athabaska, and Fort Chipewayan. “This country is perfect for float planes—rivers, ponds, and lakes everywhere. All the country was wooded, but at ‘Fort Chip’, as it’s called trees were small and scraggly and rocks showed through almost everywhere. They were pink or gray, and many had bright orange lichens, so they were practically gaudy. This is one of the oldest settlements in the country. The Northwest Company (fur traders) established a post there first, and then the rival Hudson’s Bay Company put one there, and they fought over the fur trade until the bay bought the first one out. The old buildings, of hand-hewn logs and homemade nails, are still standing on the rocky shore, and a monument commemorates the early events. An old fragment of wood, supported now by iron rods, was part of sun dial raised by Sir John Franklin, in 1819 and Alexander MacKenzie left from Ft. Chip on the trip that took him down the MacKenzie River to the Arctic Ocean, in 1789. The town now is strung along the shore, backed by low, rocky hills. It includes a few government places—Indian agent, radio communications, etc.—a warden for the Wood Buffalo Range just to the north, a Hudson Bay store, and a Catholic mission with its school and garden. Most of the folk are Indians, trappers, but some are working at a fishing camp that sends herring-like smoked fish to Winnipeg for sale.
“From Lake Athabaska we flew down the Slave River to Fort Smith, a town at the foot of a long series of rapids. Landing in the fast water was no problem, but when we pulled up to the dock, one of us had to scramble out and tie the plane to a post while the other kept the engine going pretty hard to keep from being swept downstream. You can believe we tied that plane down extra-carefully that evening. The Anglican minister drove down to our plane, and took us all around town, as we went to Signals to close our flight plan and looked for the gas man. He took us out of town about a mile to a marker which said “Alberta” on one side and “Northwest Territories” on the other. (In Fort Chip, the Mounted Policeman talked with us awhile, and showed us around; in MacMurray it was the druggist’—at Embarras, the station manager—every stop has had one, or several, people happy to tell us about the place they live. And as we came north, we could tell folks all about their friends we’d just talked with farther south). A little north of Fort Smith we finally spotted some of the Woodland buffalo, which had spread across the river, east of their Reserve. They are big, shaggy fellows, eating in small meadows, between swamps and patches of woodland. Crossing the huge Great Slave Lake, our next stop was made exciting by dark thunderheads that, pouring iridescent rain on the lake’s pearly surface, obscured the far shore, with its tiny pinpoint of civilization. Running out of gas before we found it would have been embarrassing at the very least. The storms obligingly moved on, and at Yellowknife we luxuriated in a hotel room with bath.
Down the MacKenzie River, overnight stops at Fort Simpson, Norman Wells (site of Canada’s first northern oil field, and beginning of wartime’s Canol Pipeline), and Ft. Good Hope illustrated contrasting ways of life in the north; the first is partly white, partly Indian, with a fine agricultural experiment station; the second, entirely white, inhabited by oil people; the third, entirely Indian, except for one or two government families and a church that was unique in being decorated with fine murals by the resident priest. Situated in the wide, flat delta of the MacKenzie, the little town of Aklavik was hard to find amid the maze of waterways separating spruce-covered flats. Once there, it was a struggle to get the plane tied down and wade ashore across a wide mud flat. A day of poor weather to the west gave us a chance to fly northeast, along the ice-covered Arctic Ocean, to Tuktuyuktuk which, luckily, had a patch of open water big enough for our plane. The Mounted Police stationed there welcomed us cordially (white girls weren’t very common) and we enjoyed a quick look at the tiny Eskimo settlement and its many dogs, before heading back toward Aklavik. The flat coastal plain near Tuktuyuktuk is bordered on the south by bluffs, but its only hills are “Pingos” unique to the Arctic and formed by water that seeps down, freezes, and forces the overlying ground into conical hills. We landed in a pond at the foot of a pinge, to photograph its tundra-covered sides and the pond-filled hollow in the top. The next sightseeing we did was at Enuvik, a new town being built “from scratch” on the east side of the delta. Aklavik is slowly disappearing into swamp, and is flooded nearly every year, so the government decided to move everyone to higher ground. Government housing, painted gay pastel colors, and ducts for steam heat, water, and electricity were outstanding features of the new site. Twenty years later, it seems to be the town of northwestern Canada, and I’ve heard only a few folks stayed on in old Aklavik.
Florence Robinson and Florence Rucker on parch of cabin at Lake Minchumina, Alaska, Summer, 1956.
A few days later, having turned southwest at last, we arrived at Fairbanks, stocked up on groceries, and plunked down at Lake Minchumina, the long journey down. Why Minchumina? Well, it was in the center of the area we wanted to study, and we were part-owners of a cabin there. Living there for the summer, we saw a lot of Dick Collins—and suddenly I realized that I wanted to see him more and more. He, luckily, seemed to feel the same way about me, and we became engaged. Florence and I had to go back to Washington in the fall, but after the longest, dreariest winter I ever spent, April first finally came, and I flew to Tulsa, where Dick had just come from Alaska. I’ll never forget the hug and smiling welcome “Grandma June” gave me when Dick led me in the kitchen door at 1515 E. 27th St. I knew almost nothing about Dick’s family, and she knew little about me, but she took a strange girl from Alaska into her home as though she’d known me all her life, and I’ll always be grateful to her for that first welcome. And then, when we went to Hot Springs, Arkansas, Uncle Wallace’s welcoming smile when he, picked us up at the airport was equally warm. Aunt Marion, David and Monica were all just as friendly, and I could hardly believe my good fortune—not only was I engaged to the nicest man in the world, but except for my own folks, he had the nicest family. Grandma June, David, and Monica as well as several of my aunts and my uncle were able attend our wedding at my parents’ home in Christiansburg, Virginia, on April 13, 1957—a happy family gathering. The good luck that followed us ever since our marriage began even before our honeymoon—we flew in Dick’s Cessna 140 east to Virginia, south to the Florida Keys on our honeymoon, north to Virginia, west to Tulsa again, north to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and then northwest to Alaska, a distance of some 8000miles—with tail winds all the way.
We reached Minchumina early in May, to be met by a letter telling Dick to report to Oklahoma City in 10 days, for three weeks of training. So after a few days in the house that Dick had spent the winter redecorating, we went back to Oklahoma again—a real second honeymoon.
The next ten years were spent most happily living in F.A.A. housing at Minchumina. Dick’s family increased from just himself in early April, 1957, to six people in September 1959, with the rapid acquisition of a wife, a son, Ray, born May 2, 1958, a mother-in-law who came in July 1959, and twin daughters, Florence (Miki) and Julie, born on Septem-
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Miki, Julie, Dick and Ray Collins perched on the branch of a casvarina tree near Harbor Island, Bahama Islands. Christmas 1962.
ber 22, 1959. He seemed to survive the sudden increase in noise and confusion nicely, however. And my mother was a life-saver—she folded huge piles of diapers, and later, read nursery rhymes by the hour. For a few years we were up to our ears in babies, but even then we enjoyed many picnics on the lake shore, boat trips around the lake and up the creeks, a garden at the old cabin across the lake, and a few parties with other F.A.A. people. One or two memorable vacations in the cabin at Shungnak, and a Christmas trip to the Bahama Islands (accompanied by Grandma June and our Tulsa friends Dave and Cia Craft) were high spots of those years, but the everyday enjoyment of a happy and healthy family was best of all. Added satisfaction came from the return of Florence Robinson to Alaska in 1958 and her marriage to Al Weber in August 1959.
Because there were too few people at Lake Minchumina for a school, the children studied correspondence courses organized by the Alaska Department of Education. Well-written teachers’ manuals gave day by day assignments, and monthly tests were graded by teachers in Juneau. Every August each child received two boxes, one with textbooks and the other full of supplies—paper, pencils, crayons and paints, and such things as batteries, magnets, and seeds for science experiments. It was like an extra birthday. The lessons, like any other job, started at 9 a.m. each school day, and were over when the day’s assignment was done, sometimes by noon and rarely as late as 5 p.m., if a subject (or a child) were particularly difficult.
In late 1966, the F.A.A. decided to reduce the staff at Minchumina, thus eliminating Dick’s job. We didn’t want to go to Anchorage and climb the professional ladder, as the F.A.A. proposed, but if we could just hang on until July, 1967, Dick would be eligible for early retirement. The usual governmental delays worked in our favor this time; two weeks after he got his 25-year pin and was able to retire, the job was abolished, and we moved across the lake to the old cabin Florence Weber and I had bought 12 years before. A low, picturesque, 3-room log building, it was fine for summer but too drafty for winter. Some advance daydreaming and a little good luck solved our problem. In 1965, we had notices an ancient school bus, dilapidated but apparently sound, for sale cheap. We bought it, spent May of 1966 transforming it into a
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The bus, “Blue Hound” in front of Uncle Wallace Collins house Tulsa, Oklahoma. December 12, 1967.
motor home, and took a short weekend trip to try it out. It was a real shakedown cruise—everything moveable shook, and a lot, including a heavy water tank, fell down. But by March of 1967 it was a going concern, and for our vacation that year the whole family, including Pandy the dog and my 87 year-old-mother, climbed abroad and we started for Tulsa. School came right along with us, and the wheels didn’t turn, on school days, until the assignments were done. And our rolling home solved the winter housing problem: for the next three winters, until our new cabin was habitable, we spent the coldest months travelling in the “Lower 48”, driving up and down the Alaska Highway each time.
Building the new cabin, located beside the old one, occupied most of our waking hours the other three seasons of those years. We’d dug the basement hole in 1966, but it took the summer and fall of 1967 and half of 1968 to complete its rock walls and floor. Raising the log walls took a strenuous six weeks, but Dick got the plywood roof on the day snow began to fly, in October 1968.
The interior was liveable by July, 1969, and the arrival of Bub and Ruby Collins and their three children helped us celebrate moving in. The winter of 1970-71 saw the temperature down to 50° to 60° below, but our house stayed cozy and warm, with its wood-burning, oil-drum stove in the basement putting heat up through a grill in the floor, and radiating it from the smokestack both downstairs and in the girls’ bedroom. The next winter, however, was the last one for correspondence school study, so we decided we’d better take one last trip in our bus. Just as we were about to pull out of Fairbanks, a phone call from David informed us that airline ticket from Tulsa to Charlotte Amalie, in the Virgin Islands, (via Chicago) were waiting for us in Tulsa, along with reservations for a bungalow on nearby Water Isle. So we had an unexpectedly elegant vacation, spending a week on the island playing with and getting better acquainted with David and his family. His younger girls were the first friends to walk, literally, between our shy, close-knit twins. And Dick and David had time to spend with each other, including one memorable day they took the children to neighboring St. John's Island in an outboard motor boat--a day even the ferry didn't leave port.
Back in Alaska, we faced another building job, this time a place in Fairbanks where we could live while the children attended high school. Six weeks of summer, 1971 saw the basement completed, and strenuous month in 1972 got the log walls and roof up. All five of us worked hard; the sooner each stage was completed, the sooner we could go back to enjoy the summer weather at the lake. A few days before school started in 1972 we came back to town, and again lived in our “town house”, the bus, while the kids struggled with the first weeks of attending a “regular” school and Dick and I tried to get windows, doors, flooring, furnace, and plumbing installed before cold weather caught us. We all just barely made it, but things improved steadily after those first few months, and now our house is complete and comfortable and the children are getting along well in school, although Minchumina will always be home.
The town, though, has changed since I last lived in it. During the early 50’s a big International Airport was built west of town, and as larger, faster planes brought more perishable food from the southern states, prices dropped; only since the surge of inflation of the past two years have they again approached those we paid a quarter-century ago. New big buildings, several supermarkets, drive-in eateries, more schools, a bigger hospital, and other signs of growing town have been added. Roads have been paved, both in town and leading to new suburbs in the surrounding hills, where once-dark slopes are now dotted with lights after sunset.
The coming of the pipeline, now being constructed from Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic coast, to Valdez on the Pacific, has accelerated the changes, particularly the unpleasant ones. Heavy trucks crowd the roads, and construction workers crowd all available housing. Merchants, many of whom were all for the pipeline before construction began, are having second thoughts. Goods are hard to get and shipments are often delayed because pipeline freight is overloading the transport system; help is hard to get and keep, because so many people have quit their regular jobs for the pipeline’s extravagant wages; as consumers, Fairbanks people, merchants or not, find prices out of reach, especially for housing. The tremendous influx of people has brought more traffic jams, air pollution, and crime; we can just hope that when it’s over the get-rich-quick crowd will head south and let the rest of us recuperate from the “invasion”. Our family is lucky: our Fairbanks home is 700 feet above the downtown area, and above the ice fog in winter and the dust and heat of summer. And we can revive our spirits by going to Minchumina. But Fairbanks has lost some things forever—planes no longer take off under the bridge, and in winter warm water from the new power plant keeps the Chena River ice so thin that it can’t be used for walking, much less for cars. House and automobile doors aren’t left unlocked anymore, and a forest cabin within reach of a snow machine is likely to be vandalized. The old-time small town, and its camaraderie, are about gone.