Longtime Angle mail carrier hangs up his pouch
WARROAD, Minn. -- The mail used to get to the Northwest Angle by bush plane, boat, snowmobile or airboat. But no matter the vehicle, Don Hanson was often at the controls.
Since 1946, Hanson has made the mail run from Warroad to the Angle, that little chunk of U.S. land on Lake of the Woods surrounded on three sides by Canada.
After 57 years, Hanson's days of delivering mail to one of the most remote spots in the lower 48 states are over. Hanson retired at the end of June.
"I'd been at it long enough so I figured it was time to pull the plug," he said. He's 86.
"He used to bring Santa Claus in to see the Angle kids," said Celeste Colson, who grew up near Warroad and now owns Jake's Northwest Angle Resort. "If people needed anything, from needles to thread, he'd bring it; if they needed medicine, he'd fly it in."
She remembers calling Hanson "Grandpa Don." It's a name he's carried since he was a young man, she said, and his presence on the Angle has touched many generations.
"He's been steady as a clock," Colson said.
Through the years, Hanson also carried pregnant mothers, babies, people in urgent need of medical care and -- so the story goes -- even a puppy or two.
"In those days, there wasn't a pile of money around, so my rates weren't too high," Hanson said. "It was a lot of fun for me in a way. There were no roads. You either went up by boat or you flew up."
Hanson started his Lake of the Woods mail run shortly after he got out of the military. The Warroad native spent 11⁄2; years in a German prison camp after the B-24 Liberator he was flying crashed near Amsterdam after taking anti-aircraft fire in November 1943. Upon his release, he returned to Minnesota and started a flying service on Lake of the Woods.
In those days, the only way to get there was by boat or bush plane. A passenger and freighter boat, the Resolute, delivered the mail three times a week in the summer, and the boat's owner asked Hanson to pick up the route in the winter. Twice a week, Hanson made the 50-mile trek, landing his plane on the frozen lake near Angle Inlet, American Point and Oak Island.
Eventually, the mail route became a year-round part of his flying service.
In recent years, Hanson contracted with Charlie McKeever, who runs a passenger boat service on Flag Island, to haul the mail from Angle Inlet to Oak Island during the open-water season.
McKeever, 76, whose association with Hanson dates back 50 or 60 years, said the longtime pilot and mail carrier has been an important part of life at the Angle.
"Nobody ever got hurt" flying with Hanson, McKeever said. "There ain't many (bush pilots) that can say that."
Besides the postal route, Hanson carried anglers and other tourists to fishing and hunting camps on the Angle and northwest Ontario. Hanson sold his flying service in 1973 but continued as chief pilot until 1986.
Hanson quit flying in the late 1980s and began driving the mail from Warroad to the post office at Angle Inlet. After driving the 50 miles of gravel to Angle Inlet, he'd hand it off to McKeever in later years for the trek to Oak Island during the open water season. In winter, Hanson would make the trip to Oak by truck or snowmobile; during freeze-up and ice-out, he'd use a "puddle jumper" air boat to cross the fragile ice.
"It usually got there," he said with a laugh. "Sometimes, a little bit late."