Sharing One Of Dad’s Ski Plane Stories
Guest Editorial written by Tricia Dunham — I am not a pilot and I don’t even play one on TV but I am a lifelong admirer of floatplanes. So, when I was offered to be a guest editor for Seaplanemagazine.com I was more than eager to jump at the chance to share my stories of flying with my dad as a youngster. However, I quickly realized that my plethora of stories was a lot more limited than I thought. I have shared some good memories of flying with Dad but ultimately I needed more fodder for my writing.
That’s when I remembered an untapped resource that was so obvious. My dad, of course! My father, retired Maine Guide, Dale Tibbetts, is now 82 years young and has stories that range from flying planes, to hunting trips, to driving log trucks, to guiding hunters on moose hunts. And his stories almost never disappoint. So I thought, how about letting Dad tell one (or some) of his stories, himself? A kind of “In His Own Words” if you will.
This story involves a friend of Dad’s, the late Dr. Carlton Swett. I’m told he was the doctor who delivered me, but I don’t really remember that. Even though Dad always kept his plane(s) on floats, this particular story occurred in the winter when he had his skis on. All places mentioned in this story are located in the state of Maine. So fellow readers, I give you my dad, Dale Tibbetts, telling of an experience that happened in the late 1970’s…. in his own words.
“It was late March and Dr. Swett and his friend from Skowhegan wanted to go ice fishing. I had the Cessna 170 on skis. We drove to Greenville from Solon to pick up the plane because I had it up there to have some services done on it. I was having a difficult time getting it started because it was 18 below zero that morning, but it looked as if it was clouding in and might warm up a little. I finally got the plane started around 9:00 that morning. When we took off and started climbing, I could not see the Spencer Mountains because of a snow storm coming in. With the storm approaching Dr. Swett said ‘Let’s go up to Cowan Cove on Moosehead Lake and we’ll fish up there for the day.’”
“I flew us to Cowan Cove and we fished for a couple of hours or so but we weren’t having any luck there. Then Dr. Swett says ‘I think I can see the Spencer Mountains now, so by the time we get up to that point, we should be able to see further and we can keep going on up through to, maybe, Eagle Lake or Chamberlain Lake.’ “
“We packed up our gear and left there to fly further north. On the way up, I saw a plane on Telos Lake that I recognized so I decided to land because I wanted to talk with him to see if they were catching any fish. It was, Sonny, a man I know from Canaan. He had a small plane and he was up there with a bunch of other guys fishing and was staying at their camp up there. They told us they had been there a couple of nights but hadn’t caught anything yet. Sonny said ‘I’ve heard they’re getting some trout up to Mud Brook up on Chamberlain.’ I said I didn’t know where that was and he said ‘It’s not hard to find. It’s up the lake about three miles from the head of the lake. It’s on the west shore of Chamberlain.’”
“The weather wasn’t too bad so we flew up there and found Mud Brook. I landed and we set up our traps to start fishing. We caught several very nice brook trout. Suddenly, I noticed Mount Katahdin had disappeared. I told the guys ‘We’ve got a storm coming, let’s pick up and get out of here.’ Before we got our traps all gathered up and got into the plane, it was snowing so hard I couldn’t see across the lake. It was getting late in the afternoon and I told them ‘I’ve got to get you guys under cover. I’m going to take a compass heading, cross the lake, then go down the shore line and I should come out to Nugent’s Camps which is on the East shore of the lake.’ So we went across the lake until I could see the shoreline trees. I had to be pretty close to shore in order to do that. It was snowing very hard. I turned and headed down the lake following along the edge of the woods for 3-4 miles and came down to Nugent’s Camps.”
“When we got there Pat, the owner of the camps, heard the plane and came out. He said ‘You didn’t fly down in this snow storm did you?’ And I said ‘No. I didn’t fly down in this storm. I taxied across the lake and came down.’ He said ‘Where were you?’ I said ‘We were up to Mud Brook.’ Pat said ‘You couldn’t have done that.’ I said ‘Why’s that?’ He said ‘There’s a pressure ridge that goes clear across the lake, from shore to shore. It’s five feet high.’ I said ‘Well, I didn’t see it.’ He said ‘The only place you could have come up through that was right next to shore where the snowmobiles go around the end of it.’ And apparently, exactly where I had gone was my only safe option. Without even knowing there was a pressure ridge, I went around it.”
“So we went into the camp and had a cup of coffee and a doughnut with Pat. After a while, I looked outside and said ‘You know, I think it’s clearing up enough that we can make it to Greenville before dark.’ We took off and flew out, heading for Greenville. It got dark and I came in over Greenville and landed on Moosehead Lake. That’s when I made my first night landing on snow. While we were tying the plane up, two more small planes came in. It was my brother-in-law, Doug, and his friend, Bill. They had two Champs and they’d been up country fishing and they’d worked their way down through and had to land in Greenville because it was way after dark. Doug was never so glad to see me because he knew he now had a ride home! I finished tying my plane up and the five of us drove home in Dr. Swett’s car after a very memorable trip. To this day, I can’t imagine how I was able to avoid that pressure ridge when I was completely unaware that it was even there. All-in-all, it was a good day.”
Tricia Dunham lives in Abbot, Maine together with her husband Jim and their dog Whiskey. She enjoys the outdoors, hunting, fishing and also harbors a passion for horses. The avid hunter had her writing work featured in Northwoods Sporting Journal. Tricia and Jim have attended the International Seaplane Fly In in Greenville, Maine for many years. Submit your guest editorial via Email: [email protected], please pay attention to our editorial guidelines. Reader feedback on all of our articles are always welcome in the comments!
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