JULY 2018

JULY 2018
One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017


Sunday, March 21, 2010


I believe Bob Fowler was confident on September 23rd , when he took off from Colfax, California, (alt. 3,306 feet) in the Sierra foothills. He certainly looks confident in his photo. His confidence was, however, seriously misplaced. At six thousand feet altitude up the Sierra Nevada mountains Bob hit headwinds that his 40 horsepower Cole motor couldn’t overcome, and he was forced to return to Colfax.
That same day (September 23rd) back East, James Ward was following the “iron compass”, as pilots referred to following railroad lines. In this case he was tracking the Erie Railroad westward out of Middletown, N.Y. James refueled as he had planned at Callicoon, N.Y.(above), at 10:05 A.M. He refueled again at Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, and took off again at 2:15 P.M.
Two hours later, after avoiding crowds waiting for him at other landing fields, James touched down on a farm outside of Owego, N.Y. Here James hitched a ride into town, where he ate a quick dinner while a local mechanic refueled his plane. He wanted to make Corning, N.Y. before dark, so he hurried his take off. But as James Ward lifted into the air his engine coughed, his wheels snagged a fence and he was yanked to an abrupt halt. His lower left wing was bent, his wheels destroyed. James Ward was unhurt, physically, but it would take a crew from Curtiss Airplane almost two days to repair the damage.
 Back out in California, bright and early on the September 24th , Bob Fowler tried again to get over the Sierra. This time he got as high as 7,500 feet, as high as Emigrant Gap just below the Donner Pass, before the headwinds again forced him to retreat to Colfax.
On the 25th Bob reached 8,000 feet before running into those darn headwinds again. This time Bob decided to land at Emigrant Gap, in order to get an early start the next day. But flying at high altitude was a skill not yet mastered by anyone, including Bob, and while turning around he plowed into the forest. They had to send out a search party to locate him, and when they did he had two broken wings and and two broken propellers. Bob himself was somehow uninjured, but for the time being his intercontinental flight was… waiting for repairs, again.
Back in Owego, the repaired James Ward’s Curitss airplane managed to limp into Corning and then on to the village of Addison, N.Y. (above) late on September 25th. He was now 300 miles and 10 long days out of New York City. At this rate it could take him the better part of a year to reach California. Anxious to make up for lost time, at 7:18 A.M. on the twenty-sixth, James took off from Addison. And about five miles west of town he crashed again. He had to walk almost the entire way back to town. This was getting really hard.
To make it seem even harder, at a local hotel, Jimmy‘s wife, Maude Mae, overheard gamblers taking five-to-one odds that her husband would be dead before he reached Buffalo, New York. Now, as Buffalo was still 60 miles to the west, and since at the rate James was making progress toward California he could have been outrun by a Conestoga wagon, and even though he was not actually planning on heading to Buffalo, Maude Mae figured it was still a pretty good bet he wasn't going to make it that far,...alive. She decided to be practical - leave it to a woman to destroy a daredevil sporting event with practical thinking. Maude Mae  spoke to James that night. And after his long walk and his two crashes over the previous four days, Jimmy was inclined to listen to advice from his wife.
Jimmy's manager announced his decision to drop out of the race to the press the next day. Later, Jimmy Ward would explain his problems in pragmatic terms. “…it was a plain case of a jinx” he said. And then he went on to prognosticate. “Rodgers is a mighty fine fellow, " said Jimmy, "and I wish him all kinds of luck, but he won't reach the coast within the specified time. To win that $50,000 he's got to complete his journey by Oct. 10. He can't do it. He'll get through all right, but not by that date.” Given this skill at foretelling the future, I am surprised that James Ward seemed to have no inkling that just seven months later Maude Mae would have him arrested in Chatanooga and charged with bigamy. She had discovered that James had never been legally divorced from his first wife, and would later file for an annulment of her own marraige to him. Poor Maude Mae. Poor, Jimmy Ward. And  he may have been the pilot with the most brains. Without his brains, the race went on. 
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