1978 Fabian Carey Trapper of the Year
by Pete Buist
Robert Dick, the "Bearpaw Trapper" was the first recipient of ATA's Trapper of the Year award. That was in 1978. Fabian Carey had died in the fall of 1975 and the newly formed Interior Alaska Trappers Association was looking for a suitable way to honor him and his contributions as a founding father of the organization. The Fabian Carey Trapper of the Year Award was thus born.
Robert Dick was born November 4, 1928 in Waterbury, Connecticut, the son of Howard and Gladys Dick. He was raised in Naugatuck and attended the American School for the Deaf. His early experiences hunting and trapping in New England, coupled with stories he read about Alaska, convinced him that he should go north. After graduating high school he struck out for Alaska to live his dream. He first came to the Interior, working at several different jobs, including delivering the mail at Eielson AFB and working as a type setter at the News-Miner.
While Robert lived in the Fairbanks/North Pole area for many years, most of his trapping was done on the Kantishna and Bearpaw Rivers, west of Nenana. Robert was a fascinating character in many ways, but his contributions to trapping and trappers were particularly interesting considering that he could neither hear nor speak. Robert would appear at trappers meetings and fur sales and sit quietly to one side. But when he wanted to get a point across, out came a pencil and lined pad and the words flew! He was especially proud of helping many a young trapper to be introduced to the activity that he loved so much and was so good at.
To see Bob at a trappers meeting, always smiling, you would never know of his handicap until you tried to strike up a "conversation" with this happy man. With hand signs and a few notes on the ever-present pad and pencil, you were soon having a spirited "conversation." And if fur trapping was the subject, you were already a friend!
Despite being "hearing impaired," Bob received special permission form the FAA in Fairbanks to take flight instruction. In 1961 he soloed and received his pilot's license. He relayed to me that he probably did a lot more flying than FAA ever imagined! For many years, into the early 1970's, he did a lot of bush flying. As one might imagine, one would be hard pressed to pass a normal FAA flight physical when you could neither hear nor speak. It tends to limit your effectiveness on the radio to some degree! He seemed to take this in stride, as well as pointing out to me that he saved quite a bit of money by not needing a radio in his airplane!
In the late 60's and early 70's Robert did quite a bit of flying for Herman "The German" Bucholtz, on Beaver Creek, over in the White Mountains near Big Bend. In turn, he picked up quite a bit of marten trapping lore from Herman that would serve him well in the future.
While at Bearpaw over several seasons, Robert did not even use a snowmachine. Instead he hooked up his single, long-suffering dog and snowshoed his lines with the dog pulling a small ahkio-type sled. Robert would stay at Bearpaw until after breakup, capitalizing on spring beaver and muskrat activity.
Robert was also an accomplished cabin builder and wood worker. He built cabins for several people in the Fairbanks area, but preferred jobs that were well out of town.
He was a voracious reader. Very often after finishing books he had purchased, Robert donated them to ATA for raffles and auctions, or gave them directly to young trappers.
Several years ago he had left Fairbanks, worked in the Juneau/Douglas area for a bit, then moved back East to be with family. I visited him a time or two in Connecticut. He proudly showed me his huge vegetable garden and showed me photos of the coons, muskrats, fox and coyotes he was trapping even there in that congested, highly populated state. He approached farmers offering his services to keep the predators in check and several were taking him up on it. He trapped fox and coyotes right up through the 2009-10 season.
We sent a lot of letters and notes back and forth. He liked to send greeting cards. And not just Christmas cards. He always sent me cards at Easter, Thanksgiving, St. Patrick's Day and any other holiday he could use as an excuse. Every time he sent a card or letter, it would be jam packed with clippings and stories of things of interest to trappers.
In the middle of summer would come a card and a note and two $1 bills and instructions to "go buy a banana split and think of me when you eat it!"
One fall he gathered up several bushels of walnuts and sent me 5 lbs in the mail! The instructions were very specific. I was to make cookies with them! Another time he sent me some old bottles of lure, some really old trapping books and a few stretchers that he deemed excess to his needs. He was always an extremely generous man.
In July of 2010 Robert's health was failing and he was diagnosed with a tumor on his spine. He underwent radiation therapy and spent time in rehab for several weeks learning to move with a walker. He went home to Naugatuck in October and died there on November 30, 2010, just after his 82nd birthday.