For such a vast territory, the Alaskan bush was a small world. Ben Eielson passed along his love for adventure to Joe Crosson, and Crosson influenced Harold Gillam, who had come to Alaska at age 24 to work construction for the Alaska Road Commission. Gillam met Crosson while working near Weeks Field, the first airport in Fairbanks, and, following Crosson’s advice, learned to fly in San Diego—at a flying school just opened by T. Claude Ryan (whose company had built Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis).
Of that first generation, Gillam may be more responsible than any of his contemporaries for the bush pilot’s reputation for fearlessness. He flew in any weather. In 1938, he took over Pan Am’s mail run from Fairbanks to Bethel, and he kept to a schedule of deliveries that Pan Am’s pilots had been unwilling to risk. Thereafter, among Alaska’s pilots, fair weather became known as “Pan Am weather”; foul weather became known as “Gillam weather.”
Gillam ran a successful flying business for almost 10 years. In January 1943, flying five passengers from Seattle to Anchorage, Gillam crash-landed his Lockheed Electra on a mountainside near Ketchikan. He and four of the five passengers survived, but the rescue search, initiated immediately, failed to find the wreckage. After six days, Gillam hiked toward the coast to get help. A month later, the four survivors were located alive. Gillam’s body was found several miles from the crash site; he had frozen to death.