Blog Archives

Bewitched by the Gooney Bird

My brother and I shared a dream of flying—something that most Americans in 1965 had never experienced. Like everyone, we were awed by the allure of the sparkling new jets that graced magazine covers, which boldly heralded the arrival of “the jet age” and “the jet set.” We had seen jet airplanes before. For a few years, we occasionally saw one pass many thousands of feet above us, etching a long, white contrail in the blue as it leapfrogged over our valley, and our state. They were always so high, we couldn’t tell whether we were looking at an airliner or a military plane. And then, in October of 1964, United Airlines introduced its first tentative jet service to Boise. Thus began a period of wondrous and uneasy transformation for Will and me. Continue reading

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Backcountry Bound

This is a story about a hand-carved redwood sign, Idaho’s backcountry aviation history, and an unusually curious man named Richard Holm Jr.

The sign stood in the huge open flat of Chamberlain Basin, in what was then called the Idaho Primitive Area and is now the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness. Chamberlain Basin’s popular airstrip made it into that counterintuitive Frank Church phenomenon, a trailhead located not at the perimeter, but smack in the middle of huge wilderness. The sign had been commissioned by Chamberlain’s then district ranger, Earl Dodds, whose fire control officer, a guy named Jack Higby, built it in 1961. When Jack was finished, the sign measured ten feet wide and seven high, too big to fit into a small plane. It was flown in pieces into Chamberlain, mounted onto huge posts that had been cut and cured onsite, and roofed with lodgepole shingles. It was built to last a century.

The front of the sign consisted mostly of a hand-carved, hand-painted area map. Local lakes were puddles of blue, streams were blue veins, trails were dashed black lines. The back of the sign, where the Forest Service intended to put public bulletins, was decorated with campy, hand-painted human figures. Largest and in the foreground stood a bare-chested Nez Perce man. Behind and below him, a packer led his pack string, a prospector swung his pick, a mounted soldier rode at full gallop. Above all of their heads arced a biplane. Continue reading

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