Ely’s Robert Hodge inducted into Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame
EDITOR’S NOTE: The recognition didn’t come until after he passed, but Ely’s Robert “Bob” Hodge has been inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame. His daughter Becky was kind enough to share his story with us.
by Becky Peterson, daughter of Bob Hodge of Ely
My father’s name is Robert Donald Hodge. I will refer to him as Bob, because that, and Hodge, is what his friends and coworkers called him.
Bob had several loves in his life but only one passion. He loved his country, his state, his community, the outdoors and nature, and his family. His true passion was always and forever, flying.
His passion for flying began at an early age while attending a Boy Scouts of America jamboree in Washington DC. He was able to win several flights while at the jamboree and on the third flight, the pilot let him man the controls. He was hooked from then on and knew this is what he wanted to do. He grew up loving nature and loved hunting, fishing, trapping, gardening and raising many animals including chickens for show at the county fair.
He was busy in high school being on the track team and taking first in pole vault in several competitions. But this never got in the way of his dream to become a pilot.
He earned enough money to take flying lessons in spite of his parent's skepticism. Bob learned to fly in a Stearman trainer. He earned his pilot’s license at 16 years old and by 19 he had received his instructor’s rating. Bob also earned his Commercial Instructor’s rating in which he and one other pilot passed, out of 30 in their class. After completing high school in Chisholm, he attended Hibbing Junior College.
There he became the president of the flying club and flew every chance he had. He enrolled in the Government Civilian Pilot Training Program to train other pilots and he also attended acrobatic training as well as going to Galesburg, IL for cross-country training. He flew Waco UPF-7s and Beech Model 17s. Bob instructed new pilots for the Army and Navy. He instructed glider pilot training at Lewis Airport in Lockport, IL. Bob also flew planes just off the assembly line for their initial test flights usually cross country to a test facility in the south.
In WWII, he served as an officer in the Army Air Corps. He was stationed in the South Pacific theater flying cargo and transport planes. He told us numerous stories of transporting wounded soldiers, ferrying supplies, and USO troops throughout the South Pacific. He spent a lot of time flying from the Philippines to and from New Guinea while being stationed on the small island of Biak.
We heard many recounts of encounters with Japanese fighters and submarines during his many flights. He primarily flew C-47s and DC-3s. His excellent eyesight, great hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, keen sense of direction, and quick thinking supplemented the primitive radio and flight technologies to see him safely back to the States.
Before leaving for overseas, he attended an officers' dance where he met Geraldine Faye McCullough. She wrote to him every day he was away and when he returned they married in 1945. His true love remained by his side supporting all his efforts and encouraging his passion for flight.
Upon Bob’s discharge from the service, he joined two friends, Ray Glumack and Art Tomes, to manage the Virginia airport. He ran an aerial mail route, gave flying lessons and provided fly-in fishing day trips into area lakes. There wasn’t much money in this but it allowed him to continue his love of flying. Records weren’t kept in those days but Bob instructed over 300 students.
In 1949, Bob was recruited to become one of three pilots for the Minnesota Conservation Department. Although his friends went in different directions, Ray became the head of the Minneapolis Airport Association and later the president of the International Airport Association. Art became a pilot for a private company. They all remained close friends for life.
Bob moved his growing family to Ely where his plane was primarily stationed at Fall Lake. His profession was the perfect blend of his love for flying and nature. His passion for flying, hunting, fishing, nature and lifetime learning all made his profession perfect for him. He was always eager to share information with anyone interested in flying, wildlife, influencing politicians, celebrities and scientists. He flew primarily Piper Cubs and Cessna 180s.
He gave countless talks to students and community groups. Everyone enjoyed his presentations and came away as excited and passionate as he was. Bob was written about in National Geographic, the Voyageur magazine, Look magazine, numerous newspaper articles, and even appeared in a Dell comic book as Pilot Hodge, the flying game warden. He was featured on many radio and television shows expressing his love of nature, flying and respect for both. Bob first flew a 1949 Aeronca. Later the state purchased Piper Cub and Cessnas.
Bob worked with many agencies including MN State Parks; Land and Forestry; Water, Soil and Minerals; County Sheriff’s Departments; many federal agencies and several area police departments. Bob had a reputation of being tough but fair and always treated everyone with respect.
Many nights our mother was presented with last-minute dinner requests, whoever Bob was flying that day. It might be the Department of Business Development photographer Hugo Skrastins or other wardens from different areas. The dinner table was always a place of interesting and lively conversations. Many of Bob and Gerri’s friends and neighbors had different views such as Sigurd Olson, Bill Rom, Milt Stenlund, but all were welcome in our home.
We learned about the Mallard raising program on Basswood Lake created by Bob and Frank Hubachek. Mr. Hubachek was an attorney from Chicago who loved nature and Ely as much as Bob. They worked together to raise and release up to 1,500 mallard chicks a year, for many years in an effort to bring back their numbers.
Another program Bob supported was saving the Maximus Canada goose. Bob helped design and implement the radio tracking system for tracking timberwolves with Dr. David Mech.
Bob performed many aerial surveys including fish house counts, waterfowl surveys, beaver surveys, moose and deer counts and fish kills. Bob kept track of the nature around him even when it was not a requested study. He kept meticulous records including such things as eagle counts, number of nests, locations of nests, number of eggs in each nest, number of hatched and number of surviving chicks.
This information was provided to the University of MN when they discovered he had this invaluable record of eagles. This could only be achieved by flight observation. Bob participated in such studies as wild rice projects, Osprey studies, deer aging and duck studies.
As part of his warden/pilot duties, he was often called out to find people who were lost or in need of emergency care. It could be a heart attack medical need, a hypothermic individual, drowning or a lost Boy Scout troop.
He would also check on several folks living in the backwoods. One incident in the winter, he noticed no track in or out of Benny Ambrose’s shack. So he sat down on the lake and proceeded to check on Benny. He found him extremely ill and unresponsive. He dragged him to the plane and called in for an ambulance meet. They got Benny to the hospital and saved his life. When he was ready to be released from the hospital, he was still too weak to return to his remote shack so he stayed at our home until he was strong enough. Then Bob bought him some supplies, flew him back and helped him get settled.
He lived many more years thanks to Bob and the state. Bob had countless stories or rescues all most meaningful to those he helped.
Bob made his mark both in the air and on the ground.
You can witness his tree-planting skills just as one leaves Ely heading north. There is a stand of large pine trees that are now over 70 years old. Dorthy Molter’s museum is nestled in those pine trees that Bob and a fellow warden planted in 1950.
We always had a garden and he loved raising his horses. Growing up we always had orphaned animals, bear cubs, deer fawns, rabbits, ducks, even a loon! We would care for them until they could be brought, usually flown, to a facility that could better raise them or tend to their injuries.
Bob also had his own private aerial spray business, Northland Sprayers. He flew a modified Piper Cub in which the entire back seat area was a chemical tank. He sprayed in the early morning and late evening hours when there was no wind. He sprayed commercially for pests such as spruce budworm and mosquitos.
To this day we all remark if it’s a non-windy morning or evening, “it’s a great spray day.”
Bob had over 35,000 hours on floats. He also had many hours on skis and wheels. He trained countless pilots and performed many flight checks. But he never had an accident with any of his aircraft over the entire course of his flying career.
The expansion and upgrading of the Ely Airport became a significant project that Bob felt strongly about supporting. He assisted in its planning and getting private and public support as well as securing governmental support and funding. As a result of many people’s hard work and dedication, the Ely Airport was improved to allow small commercial airlines and larger aircraft to land. It was recently utilized during a significant fire where large aircraft brought in firefighters, supplies and carried water to help manage the fire.
Bob’s love of flying and nature did not end with his promotion to Assistant Director of the Law Enforcement division of the DNR. Bob and Gerri moved to Minneapolis where Bob worked at the state capital to further support the conservation of Minnesota resources and wildlife. He was instrumental in developing many policies and procedures for the department and was instrumental in getting standards and qualifications and licensing in place for all wardens/officers.
Bob developed the first of its kind, sting operation in cooperation with the DNR of Wisconsin and Michigan. They set up a dummy company called The Mesabi Fur Company. It was a three-year project designed to stop a multi-state fur pouching and smuggling ring.
They were able to make multiple arrests in all three states.
While at the capital, Bob supported many new laws and initiatives including the Employer Support of the National Guard and Reserve program. He was presented with an award for his support of this program.
As assistant Director he served as ambassador to many states and countries, both promoting Minnesota and sharing ideas regarding the use of airplanes and natural resource conservation. He even had some wild game recipes published in a multi-state DNR cookbook.
In 1984, Bob was invited to be an ambassador of Minnesota. He accompanied Ray Glumack, with their spouses, to attend the International Airport Association annual meeting, that year held in Seoul, South Korea. Bob quickly developed a special friendship with Dr. IL-Kyun Yoon, president of Korea International Airport Authority. They exchanged ideas regarding use of aeronautics for oversight of natural resources and ideas about wild rice cultivation. They communicated for many years and continued to exchange ideas as well as personal Christmas cards and gifts.
Bob’s love for community was expressed as being active in several organizations. He was an Elder in the First Presbyterian Church of Ely, a past Grand Master and 50-year member of the Masonic Lodge, a lifetime member of the American Legion, a member of the VFW, and a member of the MN Police and Peace Officers Association.
Bob had a wonderful sense of humor and a great storyteller. He was tough, played by the rules, kind, fair and generous. He was always willing to help or provide assistance or instruction. No one was ever a stranger for long. He was of smaller stature but a giant of a man. He retired after 35 years of service. He continued to mentor other pilots including a young pilot and neighbor in California.
Upon retiring, he took up golf for his wife. On the first round of golf he got a hole-in-one! Everyone was so excited, he retorted, “Well isn’t that what you are supposed to do?”
He was a humble man that always received respect and enjoyed the simple things in life especially when it involved helping others.
Robert Hodge was a remarkable man. He loved his family and provided us an example of love. Love for one's country, nature, science, the environment, community, family and what true passion can be. His love of flying was a passion that prevailed over all else.
Bob Hodge discusses wolves and airplanes during 1967 interview
Bob Hodge was involved in predator control during his years as a pilot. He was very involved in the bounty system on wolves, tallying 998 shot from an airplane during this career.
Hodge was interviewed on October 20, 1967 by George Holey for the Air Museum of Minnesota.
The following are excerpts from that interview.
Holey: What type of work do you do with the airplane in the wintertime?
Hodge: This past year, we have been working on the timber wolf.
It is felt in some circles that this is-the last supply of timberwolves in northeastern Minnesota, and that we should study them to find ways to help them. I worked with a fellow named Dr. Mech and Dr. Franzel for several months last year. We flew about 200 hours or so in connection with this project. Mainly, it was just observation of the timberwolf, their behavior patterns and so forth. We were trying to learn everything we could, but mainly what they were feeding on,
Of course, we know they feed about 99 percent on venison in the winter. But we wanted to know if they took young deer or old deer, or bucks or does, if they had a preference or just what they hunted. During the course of this study, we would pick up the jaws of the deer that had been killed by wolves, Either deer that we had actually seen killed or that we could positively identify as a wolf kill.
We flew this every day, and if you came to a fresh kill and only wolf tracks around, you knew it had to have been killed by wolves, we would land and pick up the jaw, and at the same time, we would test for disease in the animal. We would also examine the carcass as well as possible…anything that was left there and available to us, we would check.
And one thing we found out was that a fairly large percentage of those deer the wolves took had an arthritic condition. There is quite a bit of evidence of this. Now, it wasn’t a very serious condition, but it may have been just enough to make this particular animal just a little slower or weaker so that he was easier to get. Comparing it with deer taken during the deer season, for instance, we got a much bigger sample of this type of deer than they do during an open season.
Another thing. Deer are very easy to age by their teeth. Experienced men can do this quite easily. They established this by studying deer of a known age and examining their teeth, then by comparison, they can get the age of other deer. Deer teeth wear at a very even rate. Also, they get their teeth at a very exact time. They wear at the same rate up until about six or seven years, then the teeth have become so worn that they become distorted, and the jaw itself becomes somewhat distorted, From then on, the wear is no longer even. It is sort of guess work from then on.
Holey: Are the wolves bothered by airplanes?
Hodge: Well, yes and no. When I first was following the wolves, there was a bounty on them, and we followed them for the express purpose of killing them. This was back in 1946. I’ve killed on the average of 40 wolves a year, and we did this for probably 12 years or so. Also, you didn’t watch them very much. When you saw a wolf and got him in a favorable position, you dropped down and shot him.
What we used normally was a shotgun and 00 buckshot. That worked the best. We tried finer shot, but it didn’t kill as well. We killed them with rifles too, of course, but mostly it was done with shotguns. At that time, we didn’t follow them very much. We followed a lot of trails looking for the wolf pack, but the minute we spotted them, we’d drop right down and get as many as we could, of course.
But you learned the behavior pattern. The wolves were never really afraid of the airplane, I don’t think a wolf is afraid of anything. But after he’s seen a few of his buddies shot, he becomes wary.
It got so that when you saw a wolf, about all you saw of him was in the last few feet before he hit the woods. He got so smart and so excited when he heard that airplane, that he was on his way. It became more difficult as time went on to get them, However, it became evident after a while that the wolf population was on the decrease, and the Legislature no longer appropriated funds for bounties. It was felt then that we should do some work in studying them,
So we put to work some of the knowledge we had concerning the wolves, So, as I said, we flew some 200 hours this last year, Now, this seems to be a new breed again. Those that were afraid of the airplane back a few years are probably no longer around, and the new wolves that are here are not bothered by airplanes anymore and, consequently, aren’t wary of them.
After spending a couple hundred hours flying over them and studying them, they pay no more attention to the airplane than they do to an eagle or a large bird. This is to our advantage, Now, they have begun to trust us. They are not the least bit concerned as long as we don’t get too close.
We’ve even gotten to the point where we are able to fly by and drop out pieces of beaver carcass, and have them immediately go to it and feed on it.
This is done with the purpose that in the future we are going to be able to put tranquilizers in this meat, then go in and put radios on them. By the use of radio transmitters, and a loop antenna in an aircraft, we will be able to follow their progress not only in the winter but in summer as well. Which is what is most difficult for us to do.
Holey: In other words, this coming winter, you are going to be doing more of that?
Hodge: Right. What we’re after now is more dens, We have one den, and it is in use. We want to find more. By finding these, we can find out whether they have territories. At this time, it looks like these wolf packs have their own special territory that they run in, and that they sort of recognize one another’s areas. Through the use of scent posts and things like this, they seem to stay in their own backyard, so to speak.
Most people have the idea that a wolf just goes out and kills a deer when he gets hungry, and this is just not true. They have their times of feast and famine just like everything else. There are times when the snow condition is in his favor. This would be when there is a light snow condition or a heavy snow with a crust, This is to the advantage of the timberwolf, But if there is a heavy fall of light snow, this is to the advantage of the deer. The deer can outrun a wolf under these conditions.
On a regular bare surface as in the summer, it is pretty much of a 50-50 proposition A deer can probably outrun a wolf for a very short distance, but if it is over a block, he’s had it. Unless he can get to water and swim across it. Water seems to favor the deer, if he can get to it. This carries over into the wintertime, and if he tries to evade a wolf, then he’ll head for the water just like he did in the summertime, because he can outswim a wolf. But when he gets out on a lake that is frozen over with a little bit of snow on it, he’s bought the farm.