ANDERSON, J.F. (1926-2008)

Author Tags: Transportation

Bush pilot Jimmy 'Midnight' Anderson flew all over northern B.C. and survived 17 "uncontrolled landings." He earned his nickname for his propensity for flighting at night. With his son Jamie, a B.C. Hydro lineman in Parksville, he wrote two volumes of autobiography. "If I had known that I was going to live this long," he said, in 1993, "I would have taken care of myself."

Jimmy “Midnight” Anderson regularly flew a Piper Super Cub to Hudson’s Hope from his home base at Mile 147 on the Alaska Highway. His life was the basis for a short story by Shirlee Smith Anderson called The Wolves and the Heathens.


Outlaw Pilot: True Adventures of Jimmy 'Midnight' Anderson. (Parksville BC: Writers Den, 1993. 120 p. illus.)

Outlaw Pilot: More Adventures of Jimmy 'Midnight' Anderson. (Parksville, BC: Writers Den, 1994. 123 p. illus.)

[BCBW 2017] "Transportation" "Aviation"


This appreciation of bush-pilot Jimmy "Midnight" Anderson was written by Nigel Hannaford and published on January 29, 2008 on the website of Calgary Herald:


They held bush-pilot Jimmy "Midnight" Anderson's funeral in North Cariboo's Fort St. John hangar, Saturday. The weather closed in, so a fly-past of four Piper Super Cubs, the kind he used to fly, was scratched. That's now set for summer, when they scatter his ashes near his Pink Mountain cabin at Mile 147 of the Alaska Highway.

Otherwise, with people crowded into the place around the planes, it was a Viking send-off: Some speechifying, a video, a pot-luck overabundance -- that's a North Peace thing -- and an open mike.

Who knows how much of it was true, but after a life like Jimmy's, some had to be. You probably couldn't live this way in the 21st century. It was remarkable enough in the 20th.

They called him Midnight, because he liked to fly at night, which in northeastern B.C., where nav-aids are rare, takes a quite different competence than it does out of Springbank.

I first heard of him in the early '70s. The guys were in the Mile 293 cafe, telling a very green "lorry driver" from England, Alaska Highway lore.

Another word for lore is B/S. These are the tales men tell each other, over and over again. Like kids, they grow and get unruly, but true or merely containing an isolated shred of truth, they become a canon of sorts, myths to which we join ourselves in pursuit of belonging. The Alaska Highway has plenty; American bulldozers left in the bush, Suicide Hill, runaways on the Steamboat grade, the bomber in Watson Lake, bottomless Muncho Lake, beneath whose murky waters are sometimes found trucks that drove off the road in a snowstorm years before and thought stolen, the driver's waxy corpse still gripping the wheel . . . all offered as gospel, on the say-so of somebody, who somebody else knew. And, it had Jimmy.

"Touched down on a hi-boy, he did," says one. "Ripped his wheels off on the headache rack when he took off again." The others smirk. I get it: He was said to have briefly set down the Jackpine Savage on an empty semi to give the driver a fright, then gunned it but hit the steel installed on oilfield trucks behind the cab.

"Sure," I thought. But, years later, I met a man who claimed it was his truck.

Certainly, Jimmy landed where he wanted to. In '75, travel writers, guests of B.C.'s tourism ministry, made an ill-conceived raft trip down the Prophet River. The rafts broke up, people got wet, it was a mercy nobody drowned, and several were stranded.

The short take off/landing abilities of the Super Cub are legendary: It's like a motorbike with wings, and in the hands of a pro like Anderson, it can land on a sandbar, and that's how six soaked travel writers got back to town. One was the late Bill Dyer, then publisher of the Alaska Highway News, who started me in this job, and always stood by this explanation of what happened to the company Leica. With five witnesses.

They also called him Outlaw Pilot, because he didn't care much for MoT rules, and had many a run-in with their inspectors. For instance, there's the occasion a biologist hired him to catch and transport caribou to his northern Alberta ranch. Also a hunting guide, Jimmy caught the beasts on a mountain. Easy. But, flying them out, one got loose in the back of the Cub, jammed his rack into Jimmy's back, and forced an immediate landing on the Highway.

Sequel: The MoT ticketed him for transporting caribou without a commercial licence. So, there's a paper trail for that.

Years later, I met his son Jamie when he was writing of his fabled father. "The old man always leaves you guessing. He never tells you what's true, and what isn't. He likes ambiguity."

He also liked being the outlaw. Until six months before he died, he ran a pilot-car company: Outlaw Pilot, of course.

What is certainly true, is that he was a very fine pilot, logging more than 20,000 hours in extremely hard country. What airstrips there are outside town tend to be short and rough -- if there's a strip. at all It's a measure of skill, not the opposite, that he survived 17 "uncontrolled landings," usually flying out with improvised repairs.

It was after such a self-rescue the MoT padlocked his plane. (Willow is not authorized for aviation repairs.) They tracked him to a Fort Nelson bar, took his keys, left for Fort St. John, and vanished in bad weather,. Hearing their plane was lost, Jimmy drove to where he thought they would have gone down, skied in, and found them right where he expected.

Probably saved two lives that day. That's definitely true.

Much was forgiven after that. In the hangar, they read a note from the tower: "Picking up transmission from Jackpine Savage, calling Pearly Gates."

Jimmy Anderson was born in 1926, joined the army in 1944, went trucking on the Alaska Highway after the war, hunted, flew, drank and smoked too much, and 500 people braved 40-below, to say goodbye to a legend. For once, a legend whose exploits justified his reputation. Of course they came.