(The following Article appeared in a 1980 Goldbelt Newsletter)
SHAREHOLDER OF THE MONTH
PETER HOWARD – Haida Cab
President Ronald Reagan recently disclosed his favorite reading material as he was growing up in a small mid-western town. Among other fictional characters, Reagan favored “Horatio Alger” in which the hero triumphed over one adversity after another. Ronald Reagan would enjoy meeting Peter Howard, Sr., if for no other reason than he could very well be the role model for a Tlingit Horatio.
Born in Hoonah 58 years ago, Pete Howard has lived in Juneau for “all of my life.” He explained his birthplace by the fact that his father was fishing herring at the time” so naturally mother was over there.” He also noted that his family had its origins in the Chichagof Island community.
As the father of 11 Goldbelt shareholders (not to speak of 12 grandchildren to date), Howard and his wife, Rosalyn, could qualify as Shareholders of the Month on that basis alone. However the honor is bestowed due to their ownership of Haida Cab, now over three years old. The story of how Peter Howard came to be a transportation entrepreneur is worthy indeed of old Horatio Alger as you shall see.
Howard is mainly a self-educated man due to the fact that he suffered “a terrible beating by second grade teacher in the old Village school” and decided that he deserved a better fate. “Whatever I had to learn later, I asked people about and, well, I just learned it.” He noted. Determination such as this is evident throughout his working career since he is a man of multiple talents. Starting out as a fisherman assisting his father in purse-seining and herring fishing. Pete learned early on that one could not live by fishing alone. He drove cab, among other things, and then went to work for the former Alaska Coastal Airlines.
Starting out as part of the dock crew (When Coastal was strictly amphibian and float aircraft) he graduated to mechanic. He stated, “despite my lack of schooling I got my a A & E license, although it took me 18 months to do so.” Howard worked for Coastal for some 14 years and has also picked up other occupational skills along the way. These included being a tour bus driver; driving heavy construction type trucks; and has been a heavy duty mechanic, including three winters on the North Slope.
Having driven cabs in Juneau off and on for some 30 years, Howard determined late in 1977 that the Juneau area needed another cab company. Thus was born Haida cabs which had a payroll in 1980 of $297,000 and employed some 26 persons including drivers, dispatchers, and handy-men. All told, prior to November of last year, Howard had 24 vehicles in his fleet, seven of which in Sitka where he opened a branch.
“I found out I was spending to much time traveling between here and Sitka… I simply couldn’t be in two places at one time, so I sold out the company in Sitka,” he stated. Not before he’d built a small cab office in nine days with his own hands and “a hammer and saw.”
Howard admits he is tired since the cab business is literally, going 24 hours per day every day of the year. And the owner is there anywhere from 14 to 16 hours a day, particularly under the circumstances now existing. These circumstances, at the present moment, consist of rapidly rising fuel costs, and a host of problems that only a former cab driver or owner would truly understand.
With the uncertainties of the business as it is today, Howard is planning a “driver-owned” operation in which his Haida Cab Co. would provide dispatch services, cab stands, and other services. He is also contemplating a radio-telephone system that would allow the drivers to answer calls directly, cutting out the need for a dispatcher except in the busiest of times.
All of this has been brought on by the economics of what Howard terms “a very tricky business.” This would include among other matters, the problems of taxes, withholding and the like, which can drain an otherwise healthy bank account dramatically every three months. Plus the fact that a supposedly high skilled accounting service outside got records fouled up which has resulted in both under and over payments.
Despite these problems, Howard would sell only because “both Rosie and I need the rest.” A former Dept. of Transportation employee, Rosalyn liked her work but the cab business needed her accounting skills. “If we sell, I’ve told her that she can go back to work for the State and I’ll stay home and cook,” Howard noted. (One thing should be stated here and that is Pete Howard is a highly skilled dead-pan humorist.)
In addition to Haida Cab, Howard has not forgotten his first skill – that of fishing. He owns the “Starlighter” which is a combination vessel, being adaptable to gill-netting, trolling, halibut and crabbing. In interviewing Howard it is obvious that the “Starlighter” holds a promise of doing something he truly likes and also an opportunity” to lead the good, the independent life.
There is little doubt that Horatio Alger’s author could have made something out of the Pete Howard story. And the President’s literary tastes, which also include Frank Merriwell (a heroic athlete of fiction), would be further enriched as well.