RAF Alaska Liaison Al Clayton shared a fascinating written account about the snow plane his father, Al Clayton, Sr. built in the mid 1950s. “It was a great vehicle to travel through snow, especially on frozen rivers in Interior Alaska,” the elder Clayton penned in a short story before his passing. He modeled it after vehicles he’d seen in Montana. It had three skis, and a frame of two-inch metal tubing. He fabricated the body with a combination of wood, aluminum, canvas, plastic and fiberglass. The four-cylinder, 85-hp Continental engine was mounted on the back with a 70-inch propeller.

“It sure was a lot of fun to build,” he wrote. He could detach the three skis and load it on a trailer behind the family station wagon – a 1966 Checker – for more distant adventures. In March of 1968, Al and his wife Martine loaded up and headed for the Chistochina River to hunt caribou. While trying to navigate the frozen Chistochina, they encountered overflow. “There was thin ice on both sides of the overflow and the snow plane broke through,” the senior Clayton wrote. “Immediately I revved the engine hoping to climb out, with no luck. Martine got out and stood on a nearby pile of logs. I stood on the ice layer below in knee-deep water and tried to work the snow plane free, lifting and pushing. I couldn’t rev the engine anymore since the propeller could have been damaged by hitting chunks of ice now floating by.” 

After a futile attempt to extricate the machine from the river, their main concern was to prevent frostbite. For the full and gripping story of their survival, visit this link.

The snow plane was restored in 2010 by Don Burt of Anchor Point and is on display at the Anchorage Aviation Museum until April 5. The senior Clayton passed away in 2008 at age 94. The February 1, 2020 issue of Senior Voice published another of Mr. Clayton’s fascinating adventures that illustrates why it’s been said that “Clayton enjoyed 68 Alaska winters.” See the full story at https://www.seniorvoicealaska.com/story/2020/02/01/columns/ice-fishing-trip-was-an-all-around-success/2222.htm

Submitted on February 20, 2020

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