Neil Rutherford had a commercial pilot's licence, having been trained at the Regina Flying School in 1928 by Jeff Home-Hay, Archie Turnbull and others. He first soloed in July, 1928, and in 1930 was awarded commercial license No. 661.
Neil barnstormed around Saskatchewan with Jack Wight in the early 1930's, picking up odd jobs, even instructing, wherever he could. He was at The Pas, Manitoba flying fish for Lamb Airways in 1935 when he was invited to apply for work at the Churchill River Power Company at Island Falls by superintendent Rees Davis. Neil was subsequently hired, and worked for the CRP Co. as an operator and electronics technician until April, 1957.
Neil must have decided to buy his own airplane early in 1947 because in March of that year he took float training in Piper Cub, CF-DSH under the eye of Bob Ferguson, a pilot for Hudson Bay Air Transport. In May, 1947 he bought CF-BUR at Fort William, Ontario and flew it up north via Lac du Bonnet and the Interlakes region. [See his story below]
Neil put over 200 hours on the plane, flying to places such as Whitesand, Pelican Narrows, Flin Flon, and Sherridon, as well as to many lakes out in the bush. Most were pleasure trips, but there were a few occasions when he made useful flights. Island Falls had only the services of a nurse for medical treatment. As you can imagine, having BUR based there gave the residents a certain peace of mind. On one occasion, the airplane proved its worth when Neil's youngest son, Neil Jr., sliced his neck open on an exposed nail in his crib and had to be rushed to the hospital in Flin Flon for stitches.
Neil's eldest son, David, had the pleasure of flying in BUR as a nine-year-old boy. His dad used to tell the story of how David could make the plane turn a “360” without being able to reach the rudder pedals - using the ailerons only.
|Neil's sons, David and Gerry, in BUR at Purple Sands beach on the Churchill River.|
When they built the community boathouse in the forebay, the men of the Island Falls Community Club created a large clear-span opening in the structure so Neil could keep his airplane under the roof.
Neil sold the plane in early 1950 to Jim Ripley, who ran a trading post at Sandy Bay. Not long afterwards, BUR was flipped on its back by a gust of wind while taxiing near Sandy Bay. The natives, trying to be helpful, dragged the plane upside down onto the beach. Subsequently, the badly damaged aircraft was taken to Calgary, where it was to be rebuilt by students at the SAIT.
One must realize that in the early days at Island Falls, airplanes were part of real life, while automobiles and trains were only seen in the movies. The boys could easily identify them from a distance, often racing down to the plane dock on their bicycles when the sound of an airplane engine was heard. Like other Island Falls children, David had his first ride in an airplane, probably an Arrow Airways Fokker Universal, two weeks after his birth in the Flin Flon hospital in 1939. Years later, he enjoyed having private pilot licence, while two other Island Falls boys, Keith Olson and Lowell Christensen went on to become captains for Air Canada.
I believe one of the greatest personal experiences in my life was the acquisition of my little airplane CF-BUR. In getting it ready to fly back to Island Falls, and then, the actual flight home. I first had to think of some person that I knew well, and who could be my representative. I knew Uncle Will was always in touch with airplane people. He was once a pilot and, as well, a long time member of the Fort William Flying Club. So I wrote him and asked if he could make enquiries about a suitable plane. I left the choice up to him at that point. He went to work on it.
In due course, he wrote me that he had heard of what seemed a good deal, a J3 Cub, 65 HP. with EDO floats, all in excellent condition. The deal was through WIEBEN Air Services of Fort William, Ontario. The price was $2500 (which seems pretty reasonable in 1986.) I made the necessary financial arrangements, and phoned him to firm up the deal, and let me know when I should show up at Fort William. It was early spring at this time, so I had to wait a while for open water on the lakes. When the time was right, I took the train, from Flin Flon to Fort William.
I took delivery of the plane on May 17, 1947. The floats were still at Armstrong, Ont. so I had to wait for them. In the meantime, I had the wheels on, and did quite a bit of pleasure flying around Fort Wm. By the end of the month, I had the floats on and tested.
BUR was afloat on the Kaministikwia river, right in Ft. Wm. I took a ten gallon gas drum and two five-gallon Jerry cans, all full of gas, and, at the crack of dawn on June 1st., took off for Island Falls with Lac Du Bonnet my planned overnight resting place (hopefully, and confidently as well). The weather was OK with some low cloud, and I was following the CPR tracks (The old iron compass). I passed a suitable small lake, landed and gassed up.
On my takeoff, (actually the SECOND I had ever made on floats), I soon realized that we were in trouble. There was a small island right upwind, and the lake was small, so we had to make it OVER the island, but we were NOT climbing. Just then my good fairy whispered in my ear that the carburetor heat control was labelled backwards, so that I had the heat ON. In a flash I corrected that, and away over the hill we sailed. I guess we must have had 100 feet of clearance. What the good fairy reminded me of, was the old rule "PULL ON - PUSH OFF" (and disregard what is embossed on the control panel).
Before long I passed over a little town where there was a work train, and a gang building something on the railroad. The town was English River. Close by was a nice lake with a small wharf, right beside the tracks. I was making quite a bit of ice, so I landed. The plane became clear of ice in about 15 minutes. I tied up and hiked up into the town, thinking I might find a cup of coffee. I went to the cook car and knocked, a cheery voice called "come in" so I did. It was the cook, and she was a stoutish little woman. She had me help her replace the stove pipes, and then made me a real hungry man's breakfast. While I ate, she asked where I was going, I said "Flin Flon". "Oh" she said, "I used to be a bootlegger in Flin Flon". Well we were friends. (Incidentally, I saw her again years later when she was cooking in the staff house at Sherridon).
Soon the sky cleared and away I went, this time without problems, as far as Kenora, where I filled up everything, then went to Lac du Bonnet where I spent the night in the hotel (going good).
Next day I planned on going up Lake Winnipeg, but when I got as far as Sturgeon Bay, the lake as far as I could see was solid ice. So I swung west over Gypsumville and Waterhen to Lake Winnipegosis, landing in a nice sheltered cove close to Camperville. More gas. This was just routine by now. Nothing seemed to go wrong. This was, I think, about my fifth gas stop. So I went north over Cedar lake to the Pas. More gas, then on to Flin Flon and ISLAND FALLS. (Home never looked so good).
So much had happened in so short a time, that it seemed impossible that it could be only the SECOND of June. "You mean to tell me I left Fort William only Yesterday!"