Ray and Carol Arnold supply residents of the Idaho back country with much more than mail | TheFencePost.com
Carolyn White

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Ray and Carol Arnold supply residents of the Idaho back country with much more than mail

Llamas don't ride well in airplanes. Just ask Carol Arnold of Arnold's Aviation in Cascade, Idaho.

Her partner, Ray, won't fly them anymore.

"We put two in his Cessna one day, and they didn't get along. It was a rodeo," Carol said. "Their hooves are pretty sharp and they tore up the interior."

The Arnolds started their aviation business by building a hangar on what was once an open field with a simple dirt strip. During the past 42 years, they have become an important lifeline to the people who live in the isolated Salmon River backcountry.

Ray, along with a second pilot, makes more than 20 stops every Wednesday and Thursday, carrying not only animals but guests, groceries, hay, fuel, tractor tires, seeds, canvas tents, non-electric tools, propane-powered appliances and of course, bags of mail.

"If it fits, and is within maximum weight, we'll fly it in," Carol said.

On the mail route, Arnold's Aviation primarily covers the main Salmon and Middle Fork area of the river in Idaho. It is known as the Salmon River Star Route.

Countless chickens, wiener pigs, lambs, goats and "tons of cats and dogs" have been safely flown into those isolated areas. For the ranches that keep horses, Ray drops off farriers and occasionally, veterinarians. Once, he hauled out a newborn foal.

"The mare had died," Carol said. "A guest caretaker managed to milk enough colostrum to keep the baby alive and we got it to a safe place in town."

Most of the places along the Salmon are so isolated they can only be reached by plane, horseback, jet-boat or foot. Their airstrips aren't exactly smooth and paved. Some strips have dirt or grass foundations and can only be approached through high-walled canyons or over steep peaks. Others go uphill. Ruts, rocks or frozen animal droppings will cause the plane to bounce a bit when the tires touch earth.

A drawback to rough landings is wear and tear on Ray's two airplanes, a 1979 Cessna 185 and a 1977 Cessna 206. Another 206 was purchased this year and it is currently "being taught how to work." Luckily, their son Mike, is the director of Maintenance at the hangar. Ray and Carol also have a grown daughter, Ronda.

Back country residents are very appreciative of all the Arnolds do for them. During harvest season, they send out produce as a thank-you.

"Almost everybody has a garden, but you must have a good deer fence," Carol said. "The Salmon River area has a great growing season. Temperatures reach 100 degrees." Cherries, apples pears, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, yellow onions, and corn are just some of the bounty.

The Arnolds got into flying business after Ray got a notion to take lessons. He did his first solo flight in 1963 and built the hangar in 1972. Although he's now 79, Ray can't bring himself to quit.

"There's a young pilot who is interested in taking over," Carol said. "But we don't know for sure yet." ❖