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ROGER WILTZ: Taking on a tough situation

When we moved to Wagner in 1976, I knew about the school system where I would be the new principal for grades seven through 12. Superintendent Dale Hall was a friend, and I knew many staff members.

I didn't know about the family physicians Bruce Brookman and R.W. Honke. They worked together as a team, sharing their expertise. I doubt whether their likes will ever be seen again, and I was fortunate to have them as my doctors and as personal friends. We could not have asked for a greater bonus.

In mentioning how these doctors worked as a team, I'd like to give an example. One morning during a high school physical education class, Joe Densberger, a student, dislocated his right leg at the knee joint. It made one queasy to look at it. Joe was a big kid about 200 pounds in weight and 6-foot-3 in height, and getting him to the clinic across the street was quite a task.

Doc Honke was waiting for us when we arrived as the school office had called ahead. Doc took one look and summoned his partner Dr. Brookman. Doc Honke wrapped his arms around Joe's thigh, Doc Brookman wrapped his arms around Joe's lower leg, and on the count of three both men gave a mighty jerk, setting Joe's leg back into proper alignment. Perhaps today our doctors would handle this the same way. I don't know, but I do know Honke and Brookman got 'er done.

R.W., or Old Doc, was the consummate outdoorsman when it came to foraging food. Early mornings found him on Wagner lawns collecting mushrooms. On remote lakes, seagull eggs for breakfast was the norm, not the exception. Doc's hunts were about venison, not antlers. And so it was that on a 1972 moose hunt, his level of excitement over a year's supply of Bullwinkle steaks got a wee bit out of hand.

During our recent Canadian fishing trip, Francis Doom told this story. The setting was Ontario's Opapimiskan Lake. The moose hunters included Doc Honke, Doc's brother-in-law Joe Blaski, Francis Doom and Jim Peterson, a Huron architect. Their pilot and owner of the story's Twin Beechcraft was Joe Leuschaft. Opapimiskan lies about a hundred miles northwest of Pickle Lake.

On the first morning of the hunt, Leuschaft took Doc and Joe up in the plane to look for moose while Francis and Jim hunted from camp. Keep in mind that unlike Alaska, one could fly and hunt on the same day in Ontario. As luck would have it, Doc and the two Joes spotted a fine bull feeding in a shallow bay. Leuschaft thought he might be able to land the float plane and give Doc a reasonable shot from a pontoon. He made a perfect landing.

As the plane came to a drifting halt, Doc chambered a round into the throat of his rifle. While climbing out of the Beechcraft and attempting to step onto the pontoon with rifle in hand, not an easy task with both hands, the rifle accidently discharged.

The shot put a hole through the front of the pontoon. The entry hole was a pencil-like .30 caliber in diameter. The exit hole, completely under water, was the size of your foot.

When Leuschaft saw what had happened, he yelled at Doc, "Get back in the plane before this thing sinks." Leuschaft barely got the plane into the air as it took on water. He headed for camp.

Francis happened to be in camp when the plane, headed directly at the shore, approached. For a moment he thought he was under attack! Leuschaft hit the water less than 200 feet from shore, and stopped the aircraft 10 feet from the bank. They had landed safely within wading distance of camp. I would liked to have heard what Old Doc had to say as he had a way with words.

The five men were faced with the task of repairing the Beechcraft with the tools available at the camp site -- no small task. With ropes and a pair of block and tackles, they winched the aircraft onto shore using logs placed beneath the pontoons as rollers. They now had access to the damaged underside of the pontoon.

With a pair of axes, they used one as a chisel and the other as a hammer to cut an aluminum patch from a camp boat. Ring-shank nails were converted to rivets. A rubber gasket was made from the lining of a military surplus ammunition can, and a 2-by-8 was shaped to fit the inside contours of the pontoon. They made a satisfactory repair in three days.

With their hunting time cut in half and four moose tags to fill, they mutually agreed that one hunter could take more than his own moose if the opportunity presented itself. There's a word for Francis Doom's luck -- Serendipity. He knocked down four bull moose! His partners were delighted as they had their meat. Imagine how hard they had to work to get all that meat back to camp. I believe that Doc and Francis eventually hosted a heck of a game feed back in Wagner.

In looking at the seemingly insurmountable task these hunters faced, I think of the late writer, Louis L'Amour. L'Amour often stated that when faced with impossible odds, there is a way out if one will keep calm and consider the tools and skills one has available to him.

Back in the 80s, when I fell through the ice on Choteau Creek while deer hunting, L'Amour's notion crossed my mind. I was in a tough spot. I could barely keep my eyes and nose above water by standing on my toes and looking at the sky. I had a rifle in my hand. That's all it took. I suspect that many of you have been up the creek without a paddle.

*See you next week.