Cheechako On Wings
by Brian Fortier
Trafford Publishing

"The old maps of Alaska are dotted with the names of villages which once were, but are no more. At one time in its history, merely the existence of a single cabin was enough to generate a name for it, and a spot on the map."

In 1950, Brian Fortier left his home in Vermont to work on the railroad in Alaska. The trip took 48 hours and 50 minutes. Alaska lacked infrastructure, and the small communities which existed (either for mining gold or later drilling for oil) were few and far apart. Out of necessity, Fortier bought a plane and learned to fly for free from a friend. In the book, Fortier mentioned several fascinating tidbits about life in this vast wilderness: How to avoid landing on an unfrozen lake, how to put up a Christmas tree outside without a stand, and how to avoid mosquito bites. He spoke of various characters in the community, including a naïve native who accepted checks and kept them like gold in a box, a man who owned a mine and took out just enough gold each year so that he could live, and a woman who didn't want to travel outside (the term for the lower 48 states) as she feared snakes. Alaska has none.

The subtitle of the story is From Tenderfoot to Pilot, suggesting not only the acquisition of a skill, but something deeper. While the encounters and experiences Fortier had during his three-year residency were interesting, the structure is somewhat of a road journal, complete with photos, typos, a string of recollections about drinking exploits, and a series of near fatal crashes. It would have been helpful to know who all these characters were in relation to the author.

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