Muchwa Bridge on Alcan Highway

Courtesy of Herbert Reese, Sr., Greenbush, Minnesota 56726

Herbert Reese

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Reese & Olson & Peterson Bros. job in spring of 1943 on Muchwa Bridge on Alcan Highway before we have deck planks and railing all put on. The steel was three old railroad bridges taken down when railroad was relocated. Pieces were piece marked and reassembled -- nearly lost this bridge in flood in spring of 1943 as the water rose to 34 feet in ten hours. Piled trees and debris against bridge steel.

North Dakota Highways, with machinery and labor prices going up each year and bidding more competitive. I had a payroll from 200 to 250 thousand per year. In 1946 I got the First Place Safety Award from A. G. C. for employing most men and having the most hours in the nation without any loss of time due to accidents.

I always wanted an airplane, but thought they were too high priced. So, I decided to build one in 1929. 1 used a 1928 Whippet motor for power, but it was too high speed and too heavy -- also not enough power. After breaking a couple of Hamilton Special made wood propellers and breaking the landing gear I had made out of old motorcycle wheels, I gave up and sold it to Arnold Habstritt at Roseau for $25. I kept the Whippet motor and helped him put on a Model A motor. He finally got it to fly, but landed in some woods after a few short flights and wrecked it. I bought a new Taylor Craft, then an Arconic Chief and a Luscome. Later, I got a Stinson 165 Station Wagon 4-place with radio and all. That was a nice plane. After a few years I sold it and bought an all metal Cesna with radio and extras. I did a lot of flying to the scattered jobs in Minnesota and North Dakota. I sold my plane in 1956 to help pay my bills. I would liked to have kept it, as I liked flying. Even though I was a fair weather pilot, will relate some of my experiences during my years of flying.

In flying out to Cannon Ferry Dam to look at a job in Montana, I did not realize the high mountains near Home-stad. I was up over twelve thousand feet in snow squalls at times and could not see the wing tips. Now and then a mountain peak would come into view. I was hoping and praying to make it through the storm. Then all of a sudden there was sunshine and a green valley ahead -- sure was relieved.

Another time I took off from a road job in Red Lake Game Refuge that was all timber. I got up two thousand feet and all of a sudden, the engine broke a valve and busted a piston and cylinder. The engine vibrated so bad 1 was afraid the wings would fall off. 1 shut it off, but it would not quit- wind-milling -- had to almost pull it up into a stall to stop the engine. Then, I let it fall into a glide, looking for an opening in the timber. I happened to see a roof top in the distance. When 1 got near, I saw a cattle lane through the trees. I was down lower than the top of the barn -- limbs touched both wing tips, but got landed and stopped. I was just a few feet from a big ditch full of water. As 1 went past the barn, a couple of small boys were standing there. They ran and told their Dad and before I could get out of the plane, they were out there. The boys were all excited and wanted to know how 1 could fly with the propeller standing still.

Another time, I flew into a heavy rain and thunder storm and got caught in an up-draft, went up several thousand feet. Then all of a sudden, I had no control of the plane. I started falling or being pushed down by a down-draft. When I got down to a couple hundred feet, the air was bouncing back upwards. I thought 1 would fall through the seat. There was a 45 or 50 mile wind on the ground. I was pushed around and landed into the wind and rain behind a grove of trees. I had to dodge rock piles in the plowed field to get up to the trees. I had a hard time to get the plane tied down. Soon as I cut the power, the wind wanted to take the plane. 1 used my belt to tie the controls ahead and left the engine on part throttle, then 1 finally got it tied down. 1 walked around the grove to the house to ask to use their phone. The central office in Viking did not open until eight a.m. and this was about seven. 1 asked the people their name and the woman told me Ranum. I then asked her if she knew Oscar and Maynard Ranum. She said they were her sons. 1 told her they were working for me. She exclaimed, 'You are not Herbert Reese, are you?' I told her I was and that the boys worked for me for two seasons on Cats and Scrapers on North Dakota jobs. She got her husband up to drive me home. It was still raining and blowing. 1 finally got a call through to my wife and she came down to get me.

In 1952 the Game and Fish had Ducks Unlimited Big Bog job up for bids for the second time. The job was to in close 38,000 acres to make three artificial lakes. It required three spillways and 130,000 yards of Dragline excavating. I went into a 50-50 joint venture with Barnard Curtiss. We each put on two large Draglines. 1 flew to Pennsylvania to buy a large three yard machine. I was having it shipped back by rail and the Railroad Car broke down in Ohio. They had to reload the machine, then lost it for two weeks in the Chicago yards. They were to deliver the machine in ten days and it took them forty five days. I sued the Railroad Company as 1 had to pay out $6,000 rent for another machine. We had to walk the machine twenty miles to the job. The bridge was not safe so we had to walk the machine through six feet of water in the Roseau River. We chained matts to the tracks to pull them under the water to get them under the tracks. Some of my sons were in the water helping to move the matts around. When the machine got on the other bank, the operator walked off the matts and got about a hundred feet from the river bank. The machine dropped into the swamp with the boom sticking straight up and the rear counter weights about eight feet in the mud. There was only about two feet of the twenty foot long tracks sticking up. I was on my way around and over the bridge to tell him to stay on the matts, but did not get there in time. I did not sleep a wink that night -- I was just sick! We had been waiting six weeks for the machine and now it seemed hopelessly stuck.

The next morning 1 had timbers and a Cat hauled out. We put down a timber dead man and put a fifty foot cable to boom point hoist cable. Then we put another cable from Cat wench to boom point and chained a matt to front of the tracks sticking out of the ground. We then started the big 200 hp. Murphey Diesel, but it just killed every time we tried to start it. The machine was really sucked down in the muck. Then I had cables pulled as tight as possible and held the governor on the engine. I moved a few inches and started to pull the matts under. Finally, after several more reefs we had it on the matts. 1 was afraid of breaking something, pulling it so hard. It sure was a nice feeling to see the machine moving again. It was a two year job, but we finished the excavations from June 13 to January 3. We ran two shifts day and night, right through. When the ground started freezing we ran three eight hour shifts. Finally we were breaking a foot of frost the last couple of days. It got down to 30 below when we were moving the machines back across the river and the ice was thick enough to carry the machines. The lakes now have fine fishing and lots of ducks and geese. It is a game refuge now where several hundred ducks and geese winter there and raise their young. In 1954 and 1955 1 bid in over a million dollars of State Highway work in Minnesota. 1 had five jobs and was employing over two hundred men. 1 had #59 from Lancaster to the border, High way #2 from Grand Forks to Crookston and Highway #53 at International Falls, south. Another job was Highway #1 at Red Lake and also a job from Roosevelt to the Lake of the Woods. From 1954 to 1956 we got heavy rain. on all these jobs, which washed out many culverts and heavy fills. On the International job we hit granite, which we had bid at 25 cents a yard for dirt, class C. After taking off six feet of dirt, we hit solid granite. The cut was over fifteen feet deep in that hill which was about two hundred feet wide and fifteen hundred feet long. In drilling and blasting the rock, several homes nearby were damaged, costing me several thousands of dollars. The rock cost me five dollars a yard to move. Over the three years I paid out approximately two hundred and fifty thousand more than I took in. I had to mortgage my machinery and borrow money in order to get the jobs completed. With the rising costs in labor and materials, I was unable to meet all my bills and had to turn everything over to a receiver.

In 1958 I had to start over from scratch. I bought some used machinery and a farm on time payments. I got into equipment rentals, did hourly rental work. I bought and sold used machinery for several years. Now I have two new homes, one in Minnesota and one in California.

I am now retired on Social Security after over fifty years in various businesses. We had seven children, five yet living and married. The youngest is thirty years old. We have thirty-two lovely grandchildren and like to reminisce about times past. We enjoy our children and grandchildren. I still like to work. I built myself a self contained Travel Home on a Cadillac Car chassis which we enjoy very much in our travels. I am now restoring some old cars and engines as a hobby. I have a 3 hp. gas engine and a John Deere D Tractor that I sold new in 1935. Have a 1924 Model 10-20 steel wheel McCormick-Deering and also a VA hp. Fairbanks D engine about forty-five years old -- all in good running order. I enjoy going to these old time threshing reunions to see the wonderful models and the fine restored machines.

Emerson Flour City Big 4 - one like Herb bought in 1922 at auction. Used it couple years breaking with 2 24' John Deere Jumbo breakers. This picture was in 1968 with my niece, and nephew.

I also like meeting new people, visiting and exchanging experiences with them. My wife is trying to teach me to play golf. We used to think how silly people were to be chasing after a little white ball. Now, I like to play if I'm not too tired.