Motor Oil mixed with Grinding Abrasive, Challis, Cabin Creek Airstrip, a Cessna 172, a Fuel Leak, and a Friend

Motor Oil mixed with Grinding Abrasive, Challis, Cabin Creek Airstrip, a Cessna 172, a Fuel Leak, and a Friend

by James Wiebe

I had developed a habit of flying into Idaho, nearly every summer, to go camping in the Wilderness.

This trip would follow in the annual tradition.  I was flying with Mike Andrews, my pastor friend from Colorado, and we were headed to Cabin Creek airstrip, near Big Creek, home of world class cutthroat trout and world class cabin.  Cabin Creek is a gnarly little airstrip, and curls up the side of the hill like a well used jeep track, hidden in a mountain valley.  It curves, it climbs, and it ends abruptly.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Challis, Idaho is a very important little town to me.  It’s where I learned the ins and outs of mountain flying, way back in 1996, at a mountain flying school.  It’s close to the backcountry, where wilderness, rivers, wildlife, and airstrips intertwine, but no roads:  there are no roads in the wilderness.

Challis has a diner or two, a couple of motels, a great airport, 2 or 3 FBOs, a backcountry air taxi service (or two), an outdoor store and some houses.  Maybe a gas station.

Challis is an excellent spot to spend a last night, before hopping into the wilderness.

The weather was perfect:  blue skies, reasonable winds.
The airplane was packed with all our camping equipment.   Backpacks, flyrods, water bottles, food.
The airplane itself:  my old friend, a ‘Superhawk’ Cessna 172:  180hp in a light airframe:  great performance, great useful load.  A superb backcountry bird.
The friendship:  Mike and I are tight.
The destination:  as good as it gets:  fishing, camping, wilderness, isolation, friendship, a fire under a sky as black as coal; stories between friends.

Mike and I were nearly ready to depart.  I walked into the FBO, and requested a quart of oil before we departed.

I unscrewed the lid of the oil container.  I found it odd that the lid snap ring was already loose.  I was too stupid to make this stop me from what I did next.

I started to pour the quart of oil into the engine.  Oil came out; also a white milky substance in the oil.  I watched the white milky substance run down the funnel and into the engine.  I stopped pouring the oil into the engine.  I walked back to the FBO, and told them what I had just seen entering my engine from the oil bottle they had just sold me.

The FBO Man immediately knew that he had committed a great sin.  He had sold me a bottle of motor oil, except that he had given me a used bottle of grinding oil, filled with grit from an abrasive wheel.  He confessed his sin to me.

HE HAD GIVEN ME A USED BOTTLE OF GRINDING OIL, FILLED WITH GRIT FROM AN ABRASIVE WHEEL.


I HAD POURED IT IN MY ENGINE.

The weather was no longer perfect:  blue skies, reasonable winds and an airplane with an engine filled with grit.
The airplane was packed with all our camping equipment.   Backpacks, flyrods, water bottles, food, and engine oil contamined with grit.
The airplane itself:  my old friend, a ‘Superhawk’ Cessna 172:  180hp in a light airframe:  great performance, great useful load.  A superb backcountry bird, especially when the engine does not have grinding grit in it.
The friendship:  Mike and I are tight.  That is not affected by grit in the engine oil.
The destination:  as good as it gets:  fishing, camping, wilderness, isolation, friendship, a fire under a sky as black as coal; stories between friends, and all of it hopelessly unattainable, due to the damn grit in the engine.
The FBO Man said:  “I will thorougly flush your engine and refill it with oil; I will fly you and your friend into the wilderness, I will make this right.”

FBO Man began his repairs.

Mike getting in the Superhawk; cowling removed and engine flush under way.

Later in the day, he flew us into the backcountry.  We landed at Cabin Creek airstrip later that afternoon.

Looking uphill at Cabin Creek; watching a departing aircraft; the black strips are rubber water diversion drain strips.

FBO Man dropped us off, and Mike and I started the hike from the airstrip down to the river.

We ended up at an ideal camping spot, not more than 20 yards from Big Creek.  Our tent was pitched under some trees.

Over the next few days, Mike and I entered into an easy routine of fishing up or down the river, using a mostly grasshopper imitations and other high floating dry flies.  Fishing was easy; cutthroats kept coming to the fly.

Big Creek is an extraordinary river.  Upstream, it falls over boulders and descends so that pools and bends are hard to find.

Downstream, it gathers itself in a sharp run that might fish well.  Inbetween, it wanders through a series of cuts and bends that kiss the opposite bank.  Tall grasses flop over the edge of the river.  Cutthroats hide under the tall grass edges.

A beautiful hole is in the mid-valley.  Far deeper than most of the river, it’s occupied by some trout that love depths and disappearing.

Cabin Creek (of which the airstrip is named after) flows into Big Creek.  Cabin Creek is a tiny trickle of water, and surprisingly, it holds big trout as well.

Now it’s night time.
The sky is coal black.
Mike and I settle into our sleeping bags.
Mike asks questions about my spiritual condition.  He helps me focus on my faith in Christ.

The weather has been perfect:  blue skies, reasonable winds.
The airplane will once again be packed with all our camping equipment.   Backpacks, flyrods, water bottles, food.  Except we’ve eaten the food; not much is left.
The airplane itself:  my old friend, a ‘Superhawk’ Cessna 172:  180hp in a light airframe:  great performance, great useful load.  A superb backcountry bird.
The friendship:  Mike and I are tight.
The destination was as good as it gets:  fishing, camping, wilderness, isolation, friendship, a fire under a sky as black as coal; stories between friends.
It’s time to go home.

FBO Man has flown my Cessna Skyhawk into the airstrip, and it is waiting for us.  (I will not pen the logistics of how all that happened, or how we communicated with the outside world.  It’s not worth it, and besides, this story is a little more mysterious if you don’t know all the details, such as how I had a satellite phone and used it as necessary.)

I start the engine, and taxi it from the low end of the airstrip up to the high end, so we can turn around and takeoff downhill, into the valley.  It’s impossible to take off uphill, just look at the first picture in this blog.  Uphill takeoffs are impossible!

At the top end of the airstrip, I turn the engine off.  In hindsight, I don’t know why.  I guess I wasn’t ready to take off.  I got out of the airplane, and looked at the engine compartment.  While inspecting the nose wheel, I notice that it has a drip of liquid running down it continuously.  If I had taken off, the gas would have run out the front of the airplane, and the engine would have soon quit.

Gasoline is running down the nose wheel.!! This was the second breakdown of the trip.  This time, I was in the wilderness.

FBO Man flew back into the airstrip, in his Cessna 206.  He brought tools and parts with him.  He proceeded to disassemble the gascolator on the airplane and replace a gasket.  The fuel leak had absolutely nothing to do with the oil flush and replacement he’d done with the airplane earlier in the week.

So he billed me for this wilderness gascolator gasket repair:

Flying into the wilderness:  $280 roundtrip from Challis in his Cessna 206  (a bargain).
His time:  2 hours;  $120 total.
One ‘O’ Ring gasket:  $1.

Total bill:  about $400.

Mike and I headed home.

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