Extreme Wilderness HR

Cape Yakataga. Actual picture above. We had a couple of men up there for the first year we operated, and then the next year we had one good man, Bill, stay up there as fishing was slow. The salmon came in their annual rush to other places and we left Bill at Yakataga with supplies and an occasional stop with the DC-6 if necessary.

As we neared the end of the seasonal run, (two months later,) we heard disquieting news from Cape Yakataga through our plant in Yakutat: Bill was not responding to the DC-6 pilot or on the single-sideband radio. The other buying team from our competitors had some strange stories to relay about Bill not allowing their planes to land or them to access the airstrip. There was some mention of possible shots fired.

Now Cape Yakataga is the definition of remote wilderness. Bears rule the country, so all persons there were armed for this eventuality. Still, after the DC-6 stopped a second time, our man Bill refused to come out of what the pilot and the plant in Yakutat kept calling his “bunker.” The CEO decided to send the Personnel Director (me) up to talk with Bill.

Upon arrival at the Cape Yakataga station and jumping down from the plane, I heard a shout from a wall of sand near the end of the strip. I held my hands up and kept walking toward the sandy wall calling out for Bill, whom I had known for some time. Through the summer, Bill, with the Bobcat available to groom the sandy strip and to load and unload the plane, had made a banked fortress 10 feet tall of sand walls with one entrance. The small shack within was reinforced with driftwood and sandbagged. The firearm dealer permit Bill had obtained over the winter also enabled him to stock up on ammunition and weaponry at wholesale prices. He had been ordering all summer and the plane had dropped off new orders with each stop. He was more than well armed. He waved me in for coffee. The pilot waited in the plane. Bill was holding an AK-47.

It turns out Bill was distressed the other operation was infringing on the territory pioneered by his efforts. He admitted to frightening them away from the airstrip. He also thought they may be pilfering product and supplies. We talked for a while and I made him understand we were closing the buying station for the year and were heading back to Juneau that evening. We spent the rest of the afternoon loading ammunition and other items on the plane and that night resounded with our laughter in the saloon of the Alaskan Hotel. Next day he was on his way back home, eventually got married, became a manager of a large manufacturing plant and, as far as I know, is happy to this day.

We found out bears had been stealing the food and fish. Neither processor returned the next year. We sold the DC-6.

Lessons learned:

1. The buddy system is a good idea.
2. Talk to the people in your organization. Find out what they are thinking and doing in their lives and at work.
3. Keep track of your competitors.
4. Keep track of the bears.
5. Keep communicating. It is the only way to find out what is going on. So you can do something about it.

Names, places (and maybe a few facts) have been changed to protect the innocent.

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Mark Danielson

@adrielhampton True story. I’ve heard a few variations in the 22 years since it happened. The basics are above. Thanks Adriel.