Cordova Chronicles: Cruising down the river II

Last week, in Part I of “Cruising down the river,” we left the Alaganik Landing in reverse at 5 mph, thanks to a balky outboard but at the urgings of Captain Don Shellhorn.

Much to my surprise, two hours later we pulled up to our cabin at Pete Dahl.  A combination of favorable tide flow, plus the willingness of Dad, Mom, and my fiancé Sue Ekemo to walk across marshy short cuts between meandering sloughs had created the quick cruise.

The entire crew was in high spirits, and after a brief lunch, with sun shining on our backs, we spent time painting the sides of the duck shack.

Meanwhile, Dad contacted the Cordova Outboard Shop on the VHF radio, and Master Mechanic Al Jardnski assured us he would have Park Air fly down parts essential to put us in forward gear for the trip upriver.

After dinner, exhausted, we “hit the kip,” an oft-used Shellhorn strategy.

Back then, weather forecasting was still a rudimentary exercise, but by midnight, the metal frames of our surplus WWII navy bunks were rattling against the back wall of the cabin.

Experience had taught us this was indicative of a southeaster on its way, and we awoke the next morning to winds of 40 mph on the back pond, according to the Mariner’s Beaufort Wind Scale based on wave heights and appearance. 

Plus, the ceiling was very low.

So much for Tom Parker bringing down spare parts.

The day passed with little change in the weather, but by nightfall it seemed to be diminishing. Sure enough, early the next morning, with a break in the clouds, here came Parker in his Super Cub on wheels, bouncing over the cabin at an elevation of 200-feet in 30 mph winds.

Incredibly, we watched as he banked and then landed on the grassy slough bank across from our cabin, clambered out, manhandled something from the plane, shouted words into the wind we could not understand, piled back in, and took off upwind in about 40 feet.

Longtime Cordovans likely remember his famous commercial on Radio Station KLAM that featured the roar of a small plane, and then little kids hollering “There goes Park Air!”


Dad and I rowed across to see what he had left, and discovered a brand new 18 hp Johnson outboard.

Clearly, Al Jardinski understood the mechanical prowess of Shellhorn and Son.

By the next day, the weather was decent, and it was time to head back upriver. After two days of downpour, water in the slough was certainly no problem. 

In fact, after we arrived at the landing, unloaded everything in the little Nash Rambler, and headed back up Alaganik Road, we discovered water in fact was a problem.

The Copper River Highway had washed out at Mile 15, and we were stranded on the wrong side of the road.

Not to worry: The always resourceful Captain Shellhorn had a solution.

Next week: Part 3

A cold night followed by a dramatic rescue.

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Dick Shellhorn is a lifelong Cordovan. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 50 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016 and 2020, and third place in 2017 and 2019. He also received second place for Best Editorial Commentary in 2019. Shellhorn has written two books about Alaska adventures: Time and Tide and Balls and Stripes. Reach him at