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Kenneth C. Eichner.

Nothing about him calls attention to his success. He is quiet-spoken, most comfortable in the informal attire of a worker and modest in explaining his achievements. Kenneth C. Eichner, 71, made his mark in Alaska's business community primarily as president and part owner of Temsco Helicopters Inc. Until the recent sale of the business, he and son Dan owned 75 percent of the firm; other owners were Florence Brindle and Virginia Hawkins.

Eichner accomplished much in his half-century of doing business in Ketchikan. Beyond building an integrated aviation firm that meets the needs of passenger, tourism and freight transportation in several Southeast communities, he has amassed substantial real estate holdings in Ketchikan and mining shares in the region.

But the Ketchikan community knows him best for his selfless contributions to search-and-rescue activities. Eichner also is remembered as a fair employer who built his businesses through hard work. Says Lew Williams II, publisher of Pioneer Printing Co., which publishes the Ketchikan Daily News, He's kept his nose to the grindstone, lived clean and worked hard.'

Temsco today operates 35 helicopters and 21 fixed-wing floatplanes. During the peak of the recent tourism season, it employed 38 helicopter pilots and 32 floatplane pilots, in addition to office workers and ticket agents. Eichner counts himself among the 32 pilots that have flown year-round for the business.

Temsco's operations break down to roughly 20 percent tourism, 20 percent hire for local projects and 60 percent contract work, including fighting forest fires. The division Temsco Airlines hauls freight and mail to southern Southeast Alaska and flies scheduled flights and charters.

In the busy summer season, Temsco operates 10 helicopters from its juneau base, 6 for sightseeing and 4 for charters; 4 from Skagway, primarily for sightseeing; and 1 or 2 from Petersburg, for charters. Eichner says from 2-10 helicopters work from Ketchikan, depending on demand.

When he came to Ketchikan in 1938 with friend Bruce Parton, at 18 years of age, Eichner didn't have a pilot's license. He had left the University of Oregon at Eugene following an injury that sidelined him from basketball, coming north to help his grandfather and uncles with their Etolin Island fishtrap.

After helping with the fishtrap, he and Parton traveled to Ketchikan, where Eichner landed a job driving a cab for the White Cab and Bus Co. owned by Claude Pollock. After two months he was driving the city bus.

Eichner stayed in Ketchikan and in 1939 married one of his bus customers, Peggy Barton, who had been born and raised in the First City. The couple has two children, Daniel, 48, and Susan, 46. Daniel is a Temsco vice president who pilots and manages properties for the firm, and Susan teaches at Whatcom County Community College in Bellingham, Wash.

In 1941, Eichner and another bus driver, Albert Hansberry, bought out Pollock's interest in the bus company and changed the name to Northern Bus. That company provided city transportation for about 20 years and school transportation for 40.

At the time the young men acquired an interest in the bus company, Europe was embroiled in World War 11, and Eichner expected the United States would get involved. He would run the company in their absence if the young men went off to war.

As it turned out, Eichner stayed in Ketchikan as a member of the Territorial Guard, because the bus line was considered a vital service. Fuel wasn't rationed in the area because Alaska was designated as a war zone, so Stan Oaksmith was able to keep his flying service open. Eichner took lessons from Oaksmith and by 1944 had a pilot's license.

Eichner flew as much as he could, building his skills and familiarity with the territory. Without pay, he flew for Simpson Air and Ketchikan Air Service. Eichner also flew prospectors to glaciers and other remote sites in return for a share of the claims they staked. "That never amounted to much, " he notes.

Eichner's reputation as an experienced flyer to remote sites led to his involvement in a helicopter repair mission in th 1950s. Two Bell 47s came to Ketchikan, hired by the U.S. Geological Service's Survey Division. One helicopter was wrecked its first week on the job.

Eichner delivered parts to repair the helicopter. He dropped parts and supplies by parachute on land or in the water, and sometimes landed on water and packed in equipment on foot. Whatever it took, well, I would do it,' he recalls.

Hansberry and Eichner had bought two-fifths of the bus company in 1941, and were partners with Dewey Barber, who owned the other three-fifths. Later Eichner bought out Hansberry, and he and Barber became equal partners.

In 1955, Eichner opened a Standard Oil service station, the first full-service station in Ketchikan. He sold Howard Brand the service station franchise in the early '60s, but kept the property.

In 1959, Eichner bought out Barber's half of the bus company. His son Dan took over the operations of Northern Bus in 1962. That company halted operations when it lost a school contract to a lower bidder in 1982.

Dan Eichner is grateful to have worked beside his father. He's about the fairest person I've ever seen do business, " Dan says. He treats everyone the same, whether for a two-minute flight or a two-year contract. He's not afraid to go after something he thinks will work. He'll go all out. His word is good. If he says he's going to do something, he does it. He always finishes. "

In 1962, the elder Eichner went to work full time for Temsco Helicopters. He had been one of 10 stockholders founding the business in 1958. They named the firm by combining the first letters of the kinds of work it could do: timber, engineering, mining, sightseeing.

It was pilot Joe Saloy who proposed that by raising 40,000 for a Hiller 12-C craft, the helicopter business could become a profitable line of work. He had been offered a job by General Electric Co. to locate sites for placing equipment for the White-Alice system, which would become a military early-warning defense line.

By 1962, when Eichner, then vice president, went to work full time for Temsco, the company owned two helicopters and a large debt. But by 1965, the company had a couple of profitable years under its belt, according to Eichner. After Bob Young sold his shares of the firm to other stockholders in 1966, Eichner became president.

Also in 1966, Earl Walker, a stockholder and vice president, got caught in a whiteout and wrecked one helicopter. Shortly after, he was piloting the other helicopter when its engine quit and that aircraft crashed also. To continue flying, the company acquired a third helicopter. "The biggest problem was getting a helicopter mechanic and keeping the business running, " Eichner says.

Temsco suffered another setback in 1966, when it lost its U.S. Forest Service contract to Merric Helicopters, a company formed by two brothers, Richard and Merrill Wein. Recalls Eichner, "We had all the hard knocks. We tightened our belts, didn't take any wages, and survived." He estimates that contract was about 90 percent of Temsco's income.

In 1967, Temsco got the Forest Service contract back and started to acquire more helicopters. It expanded its mining business statewide, particularly in the Interior. Eichner recalls the period from 1968-1978 was a decade of intense prospecting activity, and Temsco had contracts with various mining companies. The company acquired additional helicopters built by Hughes that wer smaller and more efficient for prospecting work.

When the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) passed in 1980, mining contracts slowed until they were almost non-existent, Eichner says. Despite the setback in mining-related revenues, Temsco continued to grow. The company converted its Hiller helicopters to more powerful and more efficient turbine engines and every year bought a few Hughes 500 helicopters. In the early '80s, Temsco was the largest Hughes operator in the United States, recalls Eichner.

In 1976, Temsco bought a Bell 204, a bigger helicopter than it had used before. Today it has three. Temsco started its helicopter tours in 1984 ana added a French A-Star to its fleet. The firm also acquired Tyee Airlines, which operated charter and scheduled flights in Southeast. Two years later, Temsco bought Westflight, another airline.

Today, both the helicopter and airplane divisions are busy. "We see growth potential in both sectors," Eichner says. But he notes there are aspects of the aviation industry that make it very demanding; new technology, for example. He says airplane specifications don't have real meaning until the equipment has been tested in the field. "The real proof comes under working conditions," explains Eichner.

Temsco's sale to Southeast Stevedoring was effective Dec. 1. But Eichner doesn't plan to quit flying. "I'm keeping one helicopter. I'll prospect for fun,' he says.

Despite his hard-working schedule, Eichner's commitment to flying isn't limited to business and pleasure. He is one of the organizers of the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad that for decades has provided Ketchikan with a much-needed service. Long before there were formal channels for reimbursing search-and-rescue missions, he sent his equipment out in times of need, piloted by himself or a volunteer from his crew.

He's an extremely hard worker," says Dick Axelson, manager of Ketchikans new Key Bank branch. He's always fair in business in dealing with his customers and employees. Yet, as busy as he was, he still took time to be involved in the community. He made a good living in the community, but he put a lot back. You can't say that about everyone doing business. "
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Profile
Author:Jones, Nikki Murray
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Article Type:Biography
Date:Jan 1, 1990
Previous Article:Carl F. Brady.
Next Article:Pamela F. Oldow.

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