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More or Less Crazy
The Smokejumpers

In More Or Less Crazy I return to the summer of 1973 to tell the story of what many of us call the T-Hangar Days. It's my first summer as an Alaska jumper. It's Alaska smokejumping at its wildest and most freewheeling time. It's the summer of the beginning of the Alaska pipeline. Fairbanks is filling with new bars, gambling parlors, and girls dancing topless. From our comfortable barracks and tent frames on the pleasant green banks of the Chena River, a new District Manager, bent on getting rid of smokejumpers in Alaska permanently, moves us into an abandoned WW II hangar on Fort Wainwright. The T-Hangar has no running water, no electricity, no heat. Some on the crew are fresh home from the War in Vietnam and packing wounds both physical and mental. One is hiding serious rage. Several are ex-Air America bad boys recently back from covert CIA operations in Southeast Asia, and in no mood to take orders from anyone. The rest of the crew is made up of transfers and no-rehires from the jump bases in the Lower 48 where strict, top-down, authoritarian forms of management made it hard--more like impossible--for them to fit in. Getting stuck on Fort Wainwright, in a cold and dreary hangar, surrounded by chain link fences and gravel lots, and under the eye of the Army Military Police is a recipe for disaster. Just when things look beyond hope, our group of rebels and incorrigibles begin to realize that Al Mattlon, the new base foreman, is a different kind of boss. He is a man who senses the value of the individual spirit when allowed to express itself freely and without fear. The crew meetings begin. The trust builds. Strong personalities come forward, then together in an outrageous testimony to the joy of living life fully and playfully in one of America's last great true-life adventures. In an odyssey of movement and beauty we move back and forth across Alaska jumping fires on Kodiak Island, in the shadows of Denali, in the winds of Isabel Pass, and out west on the Seward peninsula. By early August we are down south jumping fires out of the North Cascade Smokejumper Base in North Central Washington, La Grande in Northeastern, Oregon, then on to Montana. To read More Or Less Crazy is to spend a summer with a crew of special characters and witness, not only its ability to perform minor miracles stopping wildfires, but also to laugh and to play in a raucous celebration of the human spirit and its capacity to heal.


Murry A. Taylor has been a smokejumper since 1965. He divides his time between Alaska and northern California. Jumping Fire is his first book. Taylor's e-mail address is: murrytay@sisqtel.netAll photographs by Mike McMillan/Spotfire Images • Site by Visual Contact