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   Vol. 19 No. 2
Friday January 10, 2020

Miki and Julie Collins

Editor’s Note: This story is about two pioneering, smart and tough sisters in a place that despite the passing years remains somewhat remote, while retaining what is left of the American spirit of natural living.
     Air cargo across Alaska is an absolute way of life, in a place where flying freight harkens back to the early, high adventure aviation days.
     Our contributing writers here and, as it turns out, shippers as well, are Miki and Julie Collins who live in Lake Minchumina, Alaska.
     They live a completely remote life without phone or computer.
     In fact, we only hear from Julie when the hard freeze comes and she or the mailman can walk across the streams that separate the sisters from the rest of civilization, or when an itinerant cargo plane flies into their tiny airstrip.
     Miki and Julie are also trappers.
     In fact, as the picture confirms, they are both damn good at what they do as the only female trappers out and about in Alaska right now.
     The twins leave home in mid-November and stay out in the wild, trapping until mid April.
     Miki and Julie Collins are experts with horses and dog teams, and have written two books.
     What you will learn (among other things) right away from their work is that Denali is a place that was a natural wonder of the world, a long time before Cadillac automobiles pasted the word ‘Denali’ in plastic on the side of their SUV.
     So take a ride on the wild side with a closer look that reveals a culture of life in Alaska and a new breed of woman there that meet or exceeds any challenge.

The Denali In Alaska

Exclusive Lake Minchumina, Alaska

     The checkout clerk was curious but polite. "You don't want to buy cereal for awhile?" she tactfully inquired, surveying the 40 boxes in my shopping cart.
     "My freezer broke last week, and you don't have time to hear the rest of the story," I replied gloomily.
     The clerk didn't have time, but you, dear reader, may read on if you wish, or click the page if you don't.
     The freezer failure didn't surprise us; after all, it was almost 40 years old. The problem was with replacing it. Freezers reach this Bush community by air, and you can't fit a 24-cubic-foot freezer in our little mail plane.
     The only charter available was a DC-6A (C119 Liftmaster) that cost $4,254 and carried 28,000 pounds.
     Now the freezer itself only cost $470, and you could fit about 90 of them on a plane that size.
     This is real typical of life in the Bush. Your freezer breaks down and you have to buy 28,000 pounds of stuff to fill up the plane. OK. I flew to town and started buying. The buildings around our place were getting run down so I started with construction materials.
     Roofing, flooring, stovepipe, cement, greenhouse materials, deep cycle batteries, water storage tanks, gutters, tarpaper, plywood, and other lumber. Fuel is hard to transport too, so I ordered seven drums of gas and a jug of propane.
     "Your total so far is 5,401 pounds," Sheryl from Everts Air Cargo told me after my fourth pickup load. I felt sick.
     Usually the whole village joins in to fill up a big charter like this, but so far nobody else had delivered anything. There were other complications, too. Our neighbor Bill Janusz had generously loaned us his empty freezer, but he would need it back after moose hunting. If the charter didn't fly soon, we wouldn't be able to haul the freight home by boat due to low water.      And our own moose hunt couldn't be delayed too long.
     Back to shopping. I bought more stuff that was cumbersome or hazardous to ship by mail.      Cultivator, wheel barrow, 30-gallon trash can and Plexiglas; sheet metal, rebar, angle iron for welding projects; plastic for sled runners, a galvanized fence, dog pen, white ash for dog sleds. Ten gallons of two-cycle oil, five of chain oil and 12 of white gas. Two pickup loads of hay and straw which shed all over the hangar.

Everts Air Cargo

     I was still far short of 28,000 pounds. Everts Air Cargo couldn't tell me just when the plane would fly, either. Sheryl, who efficiently managed every ounce of freight, didn't know the flight schedules, and Robert, who managed the flights, was clueless, swamped with flying for Bush construction projects and flights disrupted by bad weather.
     "How can I tell you where I'm flying next week when I don't know where I'm flying tomorrow?" he asked, but he promised to attempt my flight on the Tuesday after Labor Day.
     That gave me two more shopping days, so I turned my attention toward dead weight. I bought 400 pounds of groceries, fertilizer, oats, sweet feed, horse chow, block salt and chicken food. For the dogs I bought rice, tallow, fat blend, powdered eggs, bone meal and 2,250 pounds of Eukanuba dog food.
     From out of town I ordered a sickle bar mower and a washing machine. Neither arrived in time to get on the flight.
Everts Air Cargo Loading     What a headache for the charter outfit. Freight trickled in for two weeks and they had to store it all. As deliveries came from other people, Sheryl carefully logged the weights of each so I could bill people who joined my charter. The freight boys had to deal some unorthodox freight, but they skillfully shrink-wrapped everything onto pallets.
     "Please don't tell me you've got more hay," one guy begged.
     "I enjoy reading your stories in Heartland," Sheryl told me.
     "You'll be reading about this," I assured her with a gesture of dismay.
     Every day I harassed them with questions. Could they take fuel? Frozen food? Dogs? Could they back-haul old batteries? Had they nailed down a flight date? How much weight had accumulated?
     Fairbanks businesses helped out a lot too. Some made free deliveries. Some went to long lengths to specially cut or package items for me. I got some great discounts. Northland Wood, Cold Spot Feed, OK Lumber, Superior Hardwoods, Alaska Steel, Cameron Equipment and Rod's Saw Shop all went beyond the call of commercial duty. I went to four hardware stores and four boat shops; to Bucher Glass, Alaska Battery Supply and Big Ray's; twice to Alaska Feed and three times to Grubstake.
     I ran out of checks and maxed out my credit card but with 10,000 pounds thrown in by neighbors, the charter grossed 28,576 pounds. (How lucky that my parents were sharing in the home improvement expenses!)
     The DC-6 flew on the promised Tuesday. It rumbled into Minchumina, a World War II antique, and the pilot delicately maneuvered the big craft onto the tiny parking area.
     If it took a town to help me fill up that plane, it took a village to help me unload it. People came whether they were expecting freight or not. Walter Maakestad brought his forklift and did most of the unloading. Jack Hayden brought his crew from Denali West Lodge and they provided most of the brute strength.
     All we brought was cookies.
     There were our two new dogs, the dog pen, water tanks, hardwood floor, the new roofing and five pallets of feed and straw--how would we ever haul it all? And the fuel and lumber, we could move that after freeze up. And there was the freezer. All we really needed was the freezer—28,000 pounds later, I had almost forgotten about it.
     The washing machine and the mower are still in Fairbanks, waiting for another plane. I just hope they get on someone else's charter.
     It took two hours to unload the DC-6 charter at the Lake Minchumina airstrip. Freight was lined up along the parking area to be picked up by the individuals who had ordered it.
Julie Collins

Julie Collins National Geographic video
Blast From The Past.
Someone once said unrequited love is a bore.
Well, we’ve got it pretty bad for these two.
As mentioned at the top, we asked Julie to write this story for FlyingTypers back in 2008, at a time when Everts Air Cargo operated their DC6As, which “despite high maintenance requirements and shortages of AvGas” are still in service today alongside some Curtiss C46s.
In 2017, National Geographic interviewed them in a short video. Click above image to view.

Trapline Twins
Trapline Twins

Available from Amazon
Price: 19.95
Riding The Wild Side Of Denali
Riding The Wild Side
Of Denali

Available from Amazon
Price: $17.95
 Identical twins Miki and Julie Collins trap, hunt, fish, and garden in Alaska's wilderness just north of Denali National Park in Alaska's vast interior.
  Their closest companions are loyal sled dogs and Icelandic horses, which eat fish and can withstand northern extremes.
  Whether taking a 1,900-mile excursion around Alaska by dog sled, defending their huskies from a charging grizzly, or dealing with a panicked horse in an airborne plane, the Collins sisters offer a new perspective on life in the northland.
  Theirs is an unusual lifestyle even by Alaska standards.
The sisters share what has happened in their lives in the past twenty-five years in their two books.

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