Day 12: October 30
Fairbanks, Alaska

by Richard Truesdell

At breakfast, Sue and Mike introduced us to Ed Peoples of Warbelow’s Air Ventures, Inc, (800.478.0812), one of the largest commuter airlines operating out of Fairbanks. Sue was able to arrange with Ed for us to take a mail flight up to Fort Yukon, just north of the Arctic Circle. Our plane will be a Piper Navajo Chieftain, a twin that seats 9 passengers and can reach remote locations not serviced by roads.

Mail plane to Fort Yukon

Ed commented that Alaska has more pilots per capita than any other state in the union. In the bush areas, aircraft, in conjunction with the USPS, acts as a lifeline for even essential items like groceries. This is referred to by Alaskan’s as the by-pass mail system. When Ed flies the mail, they offer a series of flights to for tourists that reach such locations as Galena, Fort Yukon, Bettles and Eskimo villages such as Ambler and Kaltag. These flights offer visitors to Alaska sights that are simply not available through convention tour groups. These add a sense of what makes Alaska such an enchanting place to visit. It is a slice of both culture and history that is lost on most Americans. To visit Alaska and not take advantage of these opportunities is almost to have not visited Alaska in the first place.

Over breakfast, which included possibly the best cinnamon rolls I have ever consumed, I asked Ed where those who live in Fairbanks go out to eat. For breakfast, if you are not fortunate enough to be staying at the Forget Me Not, Ed suggests Sam’s Sourdough Cafe on University Avenue. For dinner, he agrees with Sue and Mike that the Pump House offers a great dining experience and also suggests Valeta in Goldstream Valley on the end of Blaine Road for Italian and Two River’s Lodge located 15 miles east on Cheena Hot Springs Road for Alaskan gourmet cuisine. For the best prime rib in town, Sue and Mike agree that it is the Turtle Club at the 10 mile marker on the Old Steese Highway, north of Fairbanks in Fox.

At breakfast, we got a call from Jeff, who we had lost contact with due to the modem problems. He arrived a day early and is currently in Anchorage. He’s flying up to Fairbanks and will join us for the flight up to Fort Yukon. It was funny when Ed asked me his weight. FAA regulations require an accurate weight for each passenger. Commercial airlines take an average based on the maximum number of seats available on a given aircraft.

President and owner Art Warbelow was kind enough to put us on the mid day mail plane to Ft. Yukon. After growing up in Tok, Art got involved in the family air taxi business after his father’s death. With two other brothers, Art was involved in the operation of 40 Mile Air in Tok. In 1989 he sold his half share of 40 mile air to his brother.

After an accident Art took a number of classes at the UAF, resulting in a MBA degree (1985) before getting a DBA degree from Harvard (1992), all without receiving an undergraduate degree. It should be noted that Art is a Robb Report reader from the earliest days.

In December 1989 Art started WAV. This was the same name his dad used back in the early days in Tok christened the new venture. He started with 4 single engine planes and today has grown to 8 Piper Chieftain twins as well as 5 other single engined aircraft.

In 1996, WAV served more than 30,000 passengers and carry more than 1,000,000 pounds of cargo per, 90% of which is mail. Art commented that the air highway is the road infrastructure for remote villages in Alaska at rates ranging from .50-.60 per pound to 1.50 per pound for cargo going to the most remote locations.

After our mail flight, we returned to the Forget Me Not and decided that with deteriorating conditions, the five hour trip to Talkeetna was ill-advised. This gave Jeff the opportunity to hear many stories from Sue and Mike on how the train got to it’s current resting place. They spun a few yarns that Jeff and I had not yet heard.