Wilbur's Waco Restoration
The Anna was owned and operated by Fred Moller, a pilot and flight mechanic for Pan American. The Anna (a 1926 improved Waco Nine) was first purchased by the Bennet & Rodebaugh Company. It was shipped to Fairbanks, Alaska by rail along with another Waco Nine in the late 1920s. The Anna, as a wreck along with two engines, was purchased in 1929 by Fred Moller. There were 283 Waco Nines produced from 1925 - 1927. At present, there are only nine Waco Nines, one hanging in the Pittsburgh Airport, one in the Waco Museum in Troy, Ohio, one at the Smithsonian Institute, one in Hood River Oregon at the WAAAM museum and one at Mid-America museum in Texas. The others are privately owned and are in various stages of restoration. The Anna was one of four Waco Nines to have the OXX-6 engine installed at the factory. The OXX-6 is a later model of the OX-5 but with dual magnetos and 100 hp instead of 90 hp like the OX-5 which makes it even more rare.
The only story I have found about Fred Moller was written by Jean Potter in a book called the The Flying North which she wrote in 1945 but was first published in 1972. Fred Moller arrived in Nome, AK at the turn of the century to look for gold in remote areas accessible only by air or dogsled. After several years of prospecting by hiking around he decided that he should learn to fly and get his own airplane. He took flying lessons in Spokane, Washington from Nick Mamer, but crashed on a solo flight, spending the next 18 months in bandages the first of dozens of near-death accidents. To make money for more lessons and to buy his own plane, Moller taught himself how to repair old motors. Eventually he became a mechanic for several well-known bush pilots, (which included Ben Eilsen), but he never gave up on learning to fly. He was far from being a "natural pilot" when he finally got his license.
He bought the Anna as a wreck and rebuilt it entirely on his own at the Fairbanks field where he lived in a modest shack. For two years he ran a passenger service to mining camps, sometimes panning for gold as part of his pay. In the winter of 1931, he got lost, ran out of gas and crashed the Anna for the last time and was forced to walked out. In Jean Potter's story, she wrote that Fred was so mad at having crashed the Anna, yet again, that he burned the wreckage before walking out to Big Delta, Alaska using one of the Anna's skis to carry his gear and a sack of mail. Fred Moller was later killed in a plane crash in 1944 near Nome, Alaska while working aboard a Pan American plane as a flight mechanic. The Anna crash site location remained a secret until Floyd Miller, an air taxi pilot in Northway, AK, with the help of the locals discovered it in 1965. At that time only the engine was removed from the wreckage and was brought to Northway by sled dog.
The possibility of finding the Anna was first sparked after a flight I made with Captain Jerry Chisum in 1994. I was flying for MarkAir as a First Officer and had shared my story with Jerry about my brother Bruce's desire to restore the Anna using the engine Floyd Miller had recovered from the crash site. Floyd Miller and Bruce became partners on the engine. The engine had been in storage since it was removed from the crash site. Bruce had started the overhaul of the engine prior to his death in 1988. My Brother Steve reassembled it for display and it is currently at the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum in Anchorage, AK.
Bruce decided to use the blueprints he was able to procure from the Smithsonian Museum because he was told that the wreckage of the Anna was not worth recovering from the crash site. Bruce never knew the exact location of the crash site. After relating the story about the Anna to Jerry he told me that he had flown Floyd Miller to the crash site using his Super Cub on oversized tires. Floyd asked Jerry for help because he didn't currently own a Super Cub. Jerry said that they had donned hip boots and had walked about half a mile through the swamp from the gravel bar where they had landed. He said that it was so marshy that they had gone in over their hip boots several times. They found the wreckage of the Anna lying upside down in the swamp with only one ski sticking out of the water. Floyd hired some local residents to remove the engine and put it up on a platform of trees so it could be brought out after the ground had frozen. Dianne Miller, Floyd Millers widow, told me later that Floyd had a local resident of Northway bring the engine to Northway by sled dog in the winter as it was too far from the river bar and too heavy for them to move.
I have always wanted to finish Bruce's project in our family name and in Bruce's honor. I contacted the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum located in Anchorage, AK in August of 2007 and explained to them my desire to finish the restoration of the Anna. Norm Lagasse, the director of the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum was very excited by the prospect of the Anna being restored. It was decided that I would be the Project Director of the Anna and that the museum would help in the recovery, preservation and restoration. The museum is very unusual in the fact that they keep several of their museum aircraft registered and maintained in airworthy condition and fly them regularly. They currently have four flyable aircraft. Norm offered the use of their L-2 Taylorcraft for my use in locating the Anna.