EDITOR'S NOTE: The Legends in Alaska Aviation project celebrates the amazing lives of Alaska's long-time aviators who are still with us today. We've already taken a look at the lives of Al Wright, Rod Judy, Bill Stedman, and John Hajdukovich among others; Today we go along for a ride with Cliff Everts.
GROWING UP IN NEW YORK STATE
Cliff Everts was born to Julia and Julius Everts, emigrants from Solingen, Germany. Everts was the youngest of five children, two girls and three boys.
Although the Everts didn't have much, the boys always had money. Everts and his older brothers found employment as newspaper boys. It was during his stint as a paper boy when Everts discovered planes. Everts recalls:
As a paperboy, I ran into a friend named Roy Emerson, who built model airplanes. He started a model plane club and on Saturday afternoons we would take our planes out to fly them in the fields. One of his friends, Roy Straight, was a salesman for Graphite Metalizing Company and owned a little C-3 Aeronca. One weekend Roy and the model aero plane club went down to Floyd Bennett Field for our first airplane ride. I was about 12 years old and couldn’t get over that first ride! You looked down and everything was so small.
TAKING TO THE AIR
Everts started flying when he was 15 years old, before his first driver's permit and well before his driver's license. Everts said:
In those days you had to be 16 to drive during the day and 18 to drive at night. I’d pedal my bicycle up to Valhalla Airport in Westchester County, New York to fly. I learned to fly in a 1939 Taylorcraft for $85 for eight hours of instruction. It took me over half a year to solo.
Everts would perform his first solo flight before he could legally drive a car. When Everts finally got his driver's license, he immediately put it to good use making money. But then everything changed. Everts said:
I was working at Reynolds Airport when the war began on December 7, 1941. It was a Sunday when we got the news, and my life changed. That’s when I really left home. I signed up for the Civilian Pilot Training program. If you signed up, you weren’t inducted into the army. I had over 150 flight hours and my private pilot’s license, so they put me into the cross-country instructors’ course. The government paid us to go to ground and flight school and train all summer in Turners Fall, Massachusetts.
COMING TO ALASKA
In the summer of 1942, Everts met H.W. Robinson, an aviation representative for L48 Rail Road tycoon R.W. Marshall. Robinson, who lived in Connecticut, was visiting New York looking for talented aviators. He offered Everts a job with Alaska Star Airlines-- which, in 1944, would become Alaska Airlines-- if he would travel to Alaska. At the time, Alaska was considered an overseas assignment, and accepting a job there meant guaranteed military deferment.
Everts' parents thought he was crazy, but after he explained to them that he'd be receiving a handsome salary and deferment from military service, they came around. Evert said:
I had never thought of going to Alaska before. The whole idea was an adventure. When you say the word ‘Alaska’ it has color. It paints an enthusiastic picture. You think of Switzerland, adventure, beautiful mountains, snow. Do you understand? Alaska, the name, the place, the new frontier—its name was, magical.
Everts was 21 when he traveled north. The trip cost him several days; he took a train to British Columbia, then a steamship to Skagway, jumped another train to Whitehorse and finally hitched a ride with Alaska Star Airlines pilot John Lynn up to Fairbanks, where he would stay before traveling south to Anchorage.
FLYING THE LAST FRONTIER
Once in Anchorage, Everts started flying as a co-pilot in a Ford Trimotor for Alaska Star Airlines. It wasn't long before he discovered his deep love for Alaska. Everts made connections and friends fast, he said:
I believe you have more, and closer, friends in Alaska. People care about each other and you get to know people right away. I learned so much more in Alaska than I could have flying in New York. I also learned to build and repair houses, drill wells, fix sewers—all things I’d never have thought of doing back home. I just thought I’d fly airplanes.
ENTREPRENEUR BY HEART
Everts has always had more interests and goals than just piloting aircraft. Not unlike others in his time, Everts is a gifted entrepreneur, innovator, pilot, and adventurer and continues to be active in these areas today. Through the years, Everts has had several various "businesses" in addition to his flying career, everything from ice cream sales to a river boat hotel.
The ice cream business: Archie Ferguson lived in Kotzebue and had an ice cream machine. Cliff took advantage of that business opportunity and, while flying the mail route, would pick up ice cream from Archie and sell it along his way from Point Hope to Point Lay.
The Riviera Boatel: Everts saw another profitable business opportunity when he purchased a river boat in Nenana, the "Yukon Health," and towed it up the Tanana River to the Chena River in Fairbanks and created a restaurant and motel. He called it The Riviera Boatel.
Alaska Rental and Sales: In 1960 Everts partnered with Robert “Bobby” Sholton to purchase surplus and salvage goods under the name Sholton and Everts. Eventually Everts bought out Sholton and renamed the business Alaska Rental and Sales. He continues to buy and sell for the business.
At one time Cliff sold home heating oil, owned a gold mine and even had a company that specialized in environmental core drilling. He has owned and rented homes and office spaces, as well as operated a gas station called Airport Gas and Oil, off of Airport Road.
EVERTS BIG BUSINESS: EVERTS AIR FUEL
After 35 years at Wien Airlines, Cliff retired in 1980. During his tenure, he flew more than 30,000 hours carrying mail, cargo and passengers to villages all over the territory and state.
After "retirement," Everts purchased his first Curtiss C-46, N92853, from Wien when Wien Airlines was upgrading its fleet. At the time, Everts did not have an operating certificate, so he leased the plane to Jack Coghill, owner of Nenana Fuel Company. Everts then purchased a second aircraft, a DC-6, and again leased it to Coghill who used the aircraft to haul fuel and freight.
Soon Everts acquired his own operating certificate, and in the early 1980s, he took over the two aircraft from Coghill and began operating under Everts Air Fuel. By January of 1985 Everts was able to purchase the Wien hangar, putting Everts Air Fuel officially into full swing.
The 1990s proved to be a transitional period for Everts when his son purchased several DC-6 aircraft from him to use in the development of his all cargo business. Separate businesses, Everts Air Fuel, became dedicated to the carriage of bulk fuel and petroleum product transportation, while Everts Air Cargo, his son’s operation, focused on the transportation of cargo only.
By 1995, between Everts' big business, Everts Air Fuel, and his son Robert’s business, Tatonduk Outfitters Limited, the pair owned 21 airplanes. Six of the planes were flying and transporting about five million pounds of freight and millions of gallons of fuel annually to destinations all over Alaska.
Everts is the largest owner of operating piston engine aircraft in this part of the world. With parts already hard to find, because they were no longer being manufactured, the non-flying aircraft in the Everts fleet ranged in status from “In Service” to “Storage” to “Organ Donor” to “Now a House.” Over the course of time, Cliff leased airplanes to outfits in the Lower 48, salvaged aircraft and has stockpiled enough surpluses to open a commercial warehouse. One of his largest purchases was the C-46 Parts, Inc. inventory in 1992. It took 45 vans to move the surplus parts from Florida to Fairbanks. The same year, he also purchased two surplus fire bomber DC-6 aircraft from the French government.
THE EVERTS LEGACY
Cliff Everts and his wife Betty have five daughters and one son. Between Everts Air Fuel and Everts Air Cargo, more than half of the family is involved in Alaska aviation. Everts himself continues to work seven days a week. In his words:
Aviation has been my life, I’m in it every day and there’s no way I can get out of it. I can’t see any joy in doing anything else.
I am proud of my family, just who they are, and everything they do the business organization exists today because they are the ones who have continued to put together the airline and expand services for Alaska. Four of my six kids are actively involved in the day to day operations of Everts companies—the other two are teachers. Even several of the grand kids have or are working for the family business, while others are involved seasonally during school breaks. Trevor “TJ” Crouder, my grandson, is the Ground Operations Manager for Everts Air Fuel.