In spring, Alaskans’ thoughts lightly turn to …tourism? Yes, indeed. May is traditionally the kickoff of the summer tourist season here in Fairbanks which runs from mid-May to mid-September. Here is pioneer businessman Chuck West talking about how he got into the tourism business in 1947:
Let me see now. I go back just a bit. ’47, that same summer, everything happened all at once it seemed like. While I was still on, across on First Avenue, I had two ladies walk in to see me–schoolteachers. And they said they wanted to know if there’s any sightseeing tours. And I said, “Well not that I know of. What do you want to see?” And they said, “Well, whatever there is to see.” And I said, “Well, I’ve got a Plymouth Sedan out here, 1936 Plymouth; I’ll take you around, show you what there is to see.” I, by then had two girls [Celia Hunter and Ginny Wood] working for me. I said, “Girls, mind the office. I’m going to take these ladies for a little ride around the area.” I put ‘em in the back seat of the Plymouth, took them out to the University of Alaska and showed them the Museum out there. Charles Bunnell was still there. And went around Farmer’s Loop, and a guy named Paul Elbert had a farm there, I went up and got a bucket of water from Paul and a salt shaker and went down in his garden with his permission, pulled some radishes out of the ground. They were just beautiful, big, delicious radishes–washed ‘em off, salted ‘em, gave ‘em to the ladies to eat. And they were crisp, juicy radishes like the ladies had never seen anything like it. And I took them up on the hill, let them pick some blueberries, and back into town, showed ‘em the gold dredges around Ester and so forth…had a flat tire, got eaten up by mosquitoes. RON INOUYE: People loved that experience. CHUCK WEST:They loved it. Came back to the Nordale Hotel, stopped on the way to the hotel, and I said, “Well, how did you like it?” They said, “Wonderful, what do we owe you?” I said I don’t know; you’re my first sightseeing passengers. How about $20?” They handed me a $20 bill. I said, “Great.” So rushed back to the office and said, “Girls–we’re in the sightseeing business. Get a sign made- ”SIGHTSEEING – $10.”
To hear and/or read more about Chuck West,the company that eventually became Westours, and the role of aviation in developing tourism in Alaska, click here to go the Pioneer Aviators Jukebox. Depending on your browser, you may need to download additional plug-ins to play the audio.