Roy Dickson 1930s Alaska Bush Pilot
Third Printing
"Roy Dickson was a prominent Alaskan bush pilot between 1934 and 1941. He was highly
regarded by Alaska Natives and old timers in the salmon-rich Bristol Bay region, where he
owned Bering Sea Airways, in partnership with many of his Bay friends. He hauled
trappers, prospectors and freight throughout southwestern Alaska, in addition to hauling
people through Lake Clark Pass to and from Anchorage.
"Dickson took movies of many of his remote destinations in Alaska, and his children have
donated these important historic films to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. With the
publication of this biography by his children, Roy, Jr. and Dorothy, Roy Dickson's
contributions to Alaska history will now be more fully appreciated by a wider audience."
John B. Branson, Park Ranger and Historian, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve,
and author of several books on the history of the Bristol Bay area.
"Having expected this book to read like a documentary, I was pleasantly surprised to
discover such well-developed characters, resulting in the book actually reading more like a
great novel. I immediately became mesmerized by Roy's voice as he so passionately told his
story, vividly describing both the scenery and the unique characters who played such a
major role. I found the entire book fascinating as I read about Roy's flying adventures in
such primitive conditions, and the pictures only added to the realism. Having done a little
flying myself in the Navy,
I can appreciate the hazards encountered by this man, and his bravery as he blazed the trail,
without benefit of instruments of any kind, with no radio or charts of unknown areas, and
with impending weather that could change at a moment's notice, and without benefit of
weather reports.
This is a must read by anyone interested either in Alaska, or in early aviation adventures.
Roy's description of his many years as a test pilot for Lockheed, following his Alaska
experiences, as Lockheed geared up to provide airplanes for the military in World War II
and later, adds even more to the story."
Rayford E. Hammond, Commander, U.S. Navy (ret.)
"Readers will enjoy this account of our prior generations spending some time on the trail
together in Alaska.  When the going got tough, the tough got going."
Stuart G. Ramstad, Third Generation Miner, Yukon Mining Company, Anchorage,
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"Roy Dickson 1930s Alaska Bush Pilot, will appeal to plane buffs as well as anyone
interested in the early days of Alaska flight. But readers don't have to be fascinated with
planes to enjoy this book. The book is populated by many unique characters, and there is
plenty of action to move things along. Those interested in 1930s Alaska will discover tidbits
of history embedded in the story."
"This well-rendered account of one pilot's experiences is worth a read, and the DVDs round
out the story, bringing the reader/viewer to a more complete understanding of what life was
truly like for an Alaska bush pilot in the 1930s."
Louise Freeman, writing for the Senior Voice, Anchorage, Alaska
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by David James / Books in Review, writing for the Fairbanks News Miner 10/10/2010
"Roy Dickson was a pilot who arrived in Alaska in 1934, looking for a career that offered
adventure. He came to the right place. The 1930s were a time when the expansion and
improvement of aviation dovetailed with the realization that Alaska's vast expanses and
treacherous terrain made flying the most logical means of transportation. For the next seven
years he played a pivotal role in turning the nascent airline industry into a permanent fixture
in Alaska's skies.
Dickson traversed nearly every corner of the territory, and was one of the pioneers of the
seat-of-the-pants style of flying that characterized the early days of far north aviation. His
was a story that begged to be told, and fortunately, his wife Ethel Dickson transcribed his
memories during the 1950s. More than a half-century later, their two children, Roy Dickson,
Jr. and Dorothy Dickson McLaren, have published the account as
Roy Dickson, 1930s
Alaska Bush Pilot
, a book that will have broad appeal not only to aviation buffs, but also to
anyone with an interest in Alaskan history.
Dickson initially arrived in the north as an employee of the Alaska Exploration and Mining
Company. Posted in Cantwell, he was tasked with ferrying supplies from the railroad stop
there to operations in Valdez and Peters Creeks. Operating his own plane, he cut delivery
times to the mines from three days by land to 90 minutes by air.
It was good work, but like so many jobs in Alaska, it was over when winter hit. Dickson found
himself that fall in Anchorage, unsure what to do next. His wife and children were still in the
States, and he had no job. But his hard work in Cantwell had caught the eye of others, and he
was very quickly hired to fly mail into the Bristol Bay region. At the time this was an entirely
new idea, but since it promised year-round employment, he started immediately & brought
his family north.
From then until 1941, when he returned south, Dickson flew out of Anchorage for various
outfits, hauling goods and transporting miners, fishermen, trappers and hunters wherever
they needed to go.
Dickson was a close observer of everything around him, and it is this quality that makes his
story so compelling. Pilots, understandably, love their planes, but the result of this in some
aviation memoirs is an overload of details about what crafts they flew and how they
performed. This can be endlessly fascinating to those who share a deep interest in such
details, but can leave other readers a bit flummoxed. Dickson, on the other hand, offers just
enough airplane and flight information to keep aviation buffs going, but expands well beyond
these details with his accounts of what he saw wherever he landed.
The result is a book that not only tells the story of how airplanes came to dominate Alaska's
transportation industry, but also offers an endlessly fascinating, first-hand look at Alaska
during the time when it was coming into its own as a mature territory. For those wishing to
learn more about this period, it's an excellent source.
One of the things Dickson describes well in this book is the fishing industry in Bristol Bay.
He offers brief, but clearly detailed summaries of how the canneries operated, as well as the
work that took place on board the fishing boats themselves. He also provides accounts of
how miners worked in those days, gives an overview of life in different Native villages, and
tells of how the newly established city of Anchorage rapidly developed into a modern
metropolis, albeit one with a distinctly Alaskan flair.
Dickson obviously read up on the history of Alaska, and his stories are solidly set in the
context of how the world he worked in came about. He also paid close attention to the details
of the natural world - a talent he undoubtedly needed since pilots at that time navigated by
landmarks and had to know how to read the ground in case they needed to make emergency
Of course, the bulk of the book is still devoted to his exploits, and Dickson had plenty of
those. Pilots at that time worked for a small base pay, plus commission, so they hustled as
much work as they could get. Dickson would do whatever was needed, be it transporting
reindeer meat, rescuing trappers suffering injuries along their isolated traplines, flying
marriage commissioners around the territory so they could legalize cohabitating couples or
even hauling corpses. Along the way there are plenty of hair-raising stories about tragedy
narrowly averted, and more than once he found himself stuck on the ground in a remote
location with a nosed-over plane, needing to figure a way out.
Dickson, who left Alaska in 1941, is a companionable storyteller. His accounts are brief yet
well detailed, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. He obviously loved his work, and he
speaks warmly of the many people he interacted with. This is a highly enjoyable book, and
also very informative. And thanks to the excellent job his children have done in editing, it will
hold readers from start to finish without ever dragging for even a paragraph.
As well as being a pilot, Dickson was also a cinematographer, and he carried a movie camera
around with him on his travels. A two DVD set is available from the publishers that contains
Dickson's raw footage and ranges from aerial shots to documentary-type scenes of daily life.
These fascinating scenes were taken all over Alaska and form a remarkable collection. It's a
nice companion to his story."
David A. James lives in Fairbanks.