In the lingo of publishing, free-lancer Ron Rau "came over the transom." His first SPORTS ILLUSTRATED article, about stalking an Arctic shrew (Nov. 18, 1974), came to us as one of the thousands of unsolicited manuscripts we receive each year. We read it, liked it and published it. Since then, three other Rau stories have appeared in SI, including Black Water, Red Death, the article about Eskimo whale hunting that begins on page 74 of this issue. Still we do not know what he looks like.
We asked for Rau's most recent stories, but forgot to ask for his picture. Last week we assigned a photographer to shoot him at the Fairbanks, Alaska address where we send his checks, but there was no one at home. We assume that Rau was off working as a laborer on the Alaska pipeline; in the past, he has used pipeline paychecks to "buy a lot of writing time."
This was not our first miss at getting a good look at Rau. Submitting a piece about working as a jackhammer operator building cesspools in Hawaii (no sale on that one), he enclosed a photo of himself. Unfortunately, he was garbed from head to toe in baggy sewer-man's coveralls, and only his ears were visible behind his face mask. The photographs of his whaling trip, from which artist Edward Kasper drew the illustrations for this week's story, were equally inconclusive. There Rau stood, as indistinguishable in Arctic attire as in his sewer suit.
Although the 33-year-old Rau has allowed us only the merest glimpse of himself, he has told us plenty about himself in rambling letters to our editors. He is a native of Flint, Mich., and he played on the same high school baseball team as San Diego's Merv Rettenmund. He attended Flint Junior College, batting .600 one season.
November 1, 1976
Baseball gave way to slow-pitch soft-ball when Rau signed a contract with the Wein Alaska Airlines team in 1971. Wein won the state championship and received a trophy that Rau mounted on the hood of his '66 Chevy pickup truck. Eventually it was replaced by a bowling trophy with an inscription that read: BEAT THE CHAMP. "It almost ended my career as a person," Rau says. The trophy was directly responsible for Rau getting the tar kicked out of him in Butte, Mont, "by a team of wandering cowboys who took the words on the plaque literally."
One of Rau's friends describes him as "a hobo with a stolen shotgun," and the 49th state is an ideal place for such a modern-day roustabout. He travels the outlands seeking silver salmon, cutthroat trout and Canada geese. Last year he abandoned Alaska briefly to fulfill an old desire by joining a group of Midwestern hunters on opening day of the pheasant season, an experience that was to become an SI article. "Here you are," he said as he submitted Flushed with Success (Oct. 20, 1975), "the story of a Kansas pheasant hunt without a mention of Alf Landon."
Although Rau enjoys roughing it, he is not insensitive, and he was upset by the critical mail his shrew story generated. "It seems nobody outside of Alaska realizes that a shrew is a house pest," he says. At his request, a list of offended readers' addresses was forwarded to him so he could write personal responses.
Last September, Senior Editor Bob Brown decided that we should have a story on Eskimo whale hunting, and he asked Rau to do it. The writer remembered the time four years before when he toiled on a Prudhoe Bay construction gang with an Eskimo named Joe Towksejea. Towksejea had invited him to Point Hope, one of the areas where the annual whale hunt is held, "to mess around." Rau interpreted that as an invitation to go whaling. "A guy could get hurt out there," he wrote to us. "Are you trying to tell me I'm expendable?" Not so. Take care, Rau, wherever you are.