Tag Archives: Dryden-18

Dryden-18 finally winds down

By the time mid-August of 1974 rolled around, the bulk of the helicopter flying operations on Dryden-18 were winding down. Retrieval operations were in full swing, and those of us remaining were anxious to see the end of the operation and depart. Finally, on the 22nd, my wish came true and I was released.

Over the summer I discovered that I had taken quite a liking to flying on fires. The work was challenging but rewarding. I enjoyed the camaraderie of the full-time fire crews who went out and did the difficult work. They were always professional; they were well-trained; they worked hard; they were easy to get along with; they had a great sense of humour. It didn’t get much better than that.

From Thunder Bay I ferried over to Rouyn for a couple of weeks to demo the Hughes 500C for Quebec forestry. I followed that up with some local work out of Thunder Bay, and then did some Hydro flying on the north shore before taking a break and heading overseas.

In all, it was a successful year, not only for me, but for the company too. Larry had gambled on purchasing the new 500s, and the weather and subsequent fire season had rewarded him with a busy summer of fire flying at prime rates for some of the equipment that hadn’t ended up on contracts.

What could be better than that?

Where’s an oven when you need one?

TV Dinners were a lifesaver.

TV Dinners were a lifesaver.

On Dryden-18 it was unusual for some of us to eat in the base camp kitchen on a regular basis. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were reserved for those who could make the kitchen during scheduled hours. For the rest of us, it was catch as catch can.

Never fear, though, for Swanson TV Dinners weren’t only for watching TV in the living room. We ate them as a substitute for the real meal deals offered up in the base camp kitchen at Pine Beach.

Where’s the oven, you ask?

The oven was right inside the clamshell doors on the Hughes 500, where temperatures were warm enough to heat the eye-catching, silver-plated connoisseur’s delight. After a suitable amount of time had passed and following much anticipation, the meal was removed from the oven, steaming hot and ready to be consumed. The foil was carefully peeled back and a veritable feast presented itself to the hungry, deserving pilot. Added bonus: once the tasty entrée was consumed, there were no dishes to do.

Who knew that the Hughes 500 could be such a kitchen magician?

Occasionally we would compare the benefits of our choice for the day. If someone’s meal looked better, it would result in a mad dash to the grocery store once we got back to town. Personally, I preferred to have my dinner thawed overnight before inserting it into the clamshell oven. It heated much faster and could be consumed earlier in the day. One could keep a stash in a cooler just off the helipad, thus allowing for a delicious selection to choose from throughout the day.

Tasty and ready to eat

If you think the colour in these images is off, you should have seen the colour of the food in those trays once the aluminum foil was peeled back.

For you youngsters out there, the aluminum tray was replaced in 1986 with plastic/polyethylene in order to transition to microwave cooking. And for you purists, dessert was dropped in 2001.

Swanson's finest

Difficult as it may be to believe today, this little beauty was much in demand by some of us on the flight line during Dryden-18 in 1974.

Tower talk

I don’t recall having the privilege of flying into the Dryden airport during the festivities occurring twenty minutes away at Dryden-18 in 1974. The seaplane base was just a short distance from my apartment, so I was usually landing there just before dark, and gone by sunup.

With the influx of land- and water-based airtankers, bird dog aircraft, helicopters and commercial aircraft operating out of the strip, it must have been quite a beehive of aircraft activity. Obviously, the security mess we all have to deal with today was thankfully absent. You can have a look at some of the aircraft here, at the bottom of the page. Thanks to Rick Tyefisher for those images.

The temporary control tower at CYHD in 1974

Gerry Holmstrom doing the honours in the temporary control tower set up at CYHD during the 1974 forest fire season.

Given the amount of air traffic generated by the fires in the region, the Ministry of Natural Resources took it upon itself to install a make-shift ATC tower at the Dryden airport. It was staffed by off-duty ATC employees from Kenora and/or Winnipeg. It wasn’t much of a building, but it did provide some shade and a bit of a cross-breeze to keep the flies away if the wind was blowing in the right direction.

I was told that

“controllers were hired and paid privately by the agency responsible for the particular fire or area. Their instructions/info would not be “strictly legal” but would nonetheless be highly informative and accurate.” —thanks to Phil Gies for this

I’m more than certain that everyone using the airport appreciated the attention to detail that these off-duty ATC employees would have provided. For anyone interested, there’s a huge trove of Winnipeg ATC and other associated history located here.

Ron Berg and Gerry Holmstrom

Ron Berg and Gerry Holmstrom doing duty in the temporary control tower at the Dryden airport, a service that would have been much appreciated by the influx of traffic generated by the forest fires burning in the region.

I can remember in the very early ’70s arriving at YHD on one of Transair’s early DC-3 flights. The plane landed on a gravel strip and I deplaned onto a gravel tarmac during the airport’s startup. I don’t remember the terminal building then, but it probably began with a trailer, given the eagerness with which the community embraced the idea of modern air transport. Over time and with the improvements the community made to their airport, it wasn’t all that long before Transair was running a B737 on its Toronto/Thunder Bay/Dryden/Winnipeg run. Now those were the days—long gone now.

A case of cola oversupply

A lone semi pulled off the brand-new road in a cloud of dust and into the Dryden-18 base camp at Pine Beach on Eagle Lake. People rushed out to open the trailer doors and unload the supplies that would be needed out in the line camps. To their great surprise, the trailer wasn’t filled with groceries and line camp supplies.

Premier Bill Davis tours the fire

District Fire Manager Stan Sprager and Premier Bill Davis land back at the base camp on July 11. Marc Pigeon in GODX did the flying honors.

Nope, no camp supplies here.

It was filled with cases of cola. Once the trailer was completely unloaded, the tally turned out to be ten thousand cases of cola. Considering the number of men on a fire this size, that wouldn’t be a problem. Eventually, the cola would get used. If not, what was left over would end up in warehouses across the Province and be used over the course of the summer

However, there was just one problem, and not an insignificant one: Bill Davis, the Premier of Ontario, and Leo Bernier, the Minister of Natural Resources, were both due to arrive for a tour of the Dryden-18 base camp on the very day that people in the base camp were scratching their heads over what the hell to do with the giant cola shipment.

While both men were hustled out and loaded into a helicopter for an airborne tour of the fire line, base-camp bodies scrambled to erect line camp tents. Once erected, the tents were then filled with cola cases stacked in the shape of the tent. When Davis and Bernier returned to Pine Beach, they received their requested tour of the huge tent camp.

Neither Davis nor Bernier pulled back the flap on any of the tents to look inside.

It turned out that a zero had been mistakenly added to an order, resulting in a mad scramble by the supplier to provide the requested product.

Filling the orders

One of the many problems on a large campaign fire is supply and the associated supply management. Most of the time, the supply chain works as it should. However, when things go wrong in the supply chain, they have a tendancy to go wrong in a big way.

Not a bad place to come home to every night.

On a daily basis, hundreds of fire fighters in the line camps require everything from food to clothes to fire line equipment. How much needs to be ordered? When does it have to arrive? Does it need to be transported by road? By plane? Helicopter? Boat? Para-drop? To get a measure of the magnitude of the supply problem, on Dryden-18 there was

  • 70 miles (113 km) of hose on a fire perimeter of 150 miles (241 km);
  • 430 fire fighters out on the line.

The fire fighters were consuming daily 3 tons (3,048 kg) of food, including

  • 50 gallons (227 liters) of milk;
  • 24 pounds (11 kg) of tea and coffee;
  • 100 loaves of bread.

To keep it all going, orders were completed in the fire line camps and then forwarded to the base camp where

  • more forms were filled out and boxes were checked off;
  • paperwork was signed and dated, and,
  • orders were finally placed with the various local or more distant businesses.

Eventually, vehicles would start to arrive on a daily basis with everything requested to feed, clothe and equip every single person assigned to the fire. For the most part, everything arrived in a timely manner. Sometimes, local stores were overwhelmed by the volume required and were unable to fill some orders, and sometimes, because of errors, orders got overfilled. Such was the problem on one rather special day.