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Saturday, May 22, 2010

AMAZING RACE; PART XI - EPITATH

I wonder how many people worked in the advertising department at the Cole Motor Company in Indianapolis in 1911? Besides supporting Bob Fowler’s “Cole Flyer” transcontinental flight, they also had a big balloon that made appearances at county fairs and a share in the founding of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. As their slogan went, “There’s a Touch of Tomorrow in All Cole Does Today”. Well, the touch was not to last forever. Joe Cole had built a fortune in horse buggies before he borrowed enough cash from Harvey Firestone to start his auto company in 1909. He ordered the parts from other manufacturers and assembled them in the Cole building. “A man’s car any woman can drive.”
Joe offered such innovations as “adjustable door glasses” (i.e., removable windows) a 15 foot long dashboard light and a speedometer that read up to 75 mph; unfortunately the car only went up to 45 mph. Bigwigs at General Motors wanted to buy out Cole, and when Joe wouldn’t sell they just bought up his suppliers and gradually cut him off. With the post war recession of 1920-21 Joe realized the jig was up and began a careful liquidation of his company. In 1924, after he closed up his firm, Joe died suddenly. His family rented the building out and kept the name, the Cole Building, into the 1970’s; thus faired the man who sponsored Bob Fowler's flight. 
.After he reached El Paso in 1911, it took Bob Fowler a month just to escape Texas. He crash landed in a rice field outside of Seixas, Louisiana, on Christmas Eve. He landed in New Orleans at about 3 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. It took him until February of 1912 to reach Florida. He landed on the sand at Jacksonville Beach on February 12, not that anybody noticed, what with the Titanic going down just two nights later. Bob would later observe with understatement, “I was the first to start and the last to finish.” It had taken him 116 days to travel 72 hours of flight time and 2,800 miles across America. The very next year Bob Fowler made the first non-stop transcontinental flight – across the 36 miles of the Isthmus of Panama. Bob Fowler was a pretty crafty fellow.
Bob sold The “Cole Flyer” in 1912, and after being used in the movie business for a few years it was sold again, this time for scrap. The engine is still on display at the Exposition Museum in Los Angles. In 1916 Bob started the “Fowler Airplane Corporation” in his home town of San Francisco. He modified and sold Curtis JN-4’s (“Jennys”) to the U.S. Army as trainers, and after WWI he started Bluebird Airways, a passenger service. He retired to San Jose and died in 1966, at the healthy old age of 82.
Jimmy Ward, the ex-jockey who had the good sense to drop out of the amazing race, died in Florida sometime after 1917, allegedly of stomach cancer. He was buried in an unmarked paupers grave. Some of his fellow aviation pioneers collected money to give him a more respectful funeral, but I can find no record of that ever happening. Perhaps somebody down in Florida can correct my mistake.
Cal Rodgers was testing a new airplane on Wednesday April 3, 1912, just off shore of Long Beach, California when he ran into a flock of sea gulls. The plane banked sharply 45 degrees and slid into the surf, crashing just feet from where Cal had posed grinning in the surf with the “Vin Fiz” in December.
The engine broke loose from its mounts and crushed Cal, breaking his neck. He was still breathing when swimmers pulled him from the water, but he died soon after. Cal Rodgers was the 127th death since the Wright Brothers flight in 1903, and the 22nd American aviator killed. Considering the number of people flying in 1912, those were still terrible odds.
Cal's mother, Maria (Rodgers) Sweitzer, took procession of her son’s body and had it shipped back to Pittsburg. There Calbraith Perry Rodgers was buried in Allegheny Cemetery under an elaborate tombstone, marked with the words “I Endure, I Conquer.”
Cal’s brother John took procession of the “Vin Fiz Flyer” and had it shipped back to Ohio, to the Wright Brother's shops, to be repaired. He offered the Flyer to the Smithsonian but they already had a Wright B, so instead, in 1917, the Flyer was donated to the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburg. In 1934 the Smithsonian changed their minds and bought the “Vin Fiz Flyer”. Refurbished and rebuilt, that is the plane that hangs from the ceiling in the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
And little Maude was determined to endure and conquer as well. After lengthy court battles with her ex-mother-in-law in California, Maude was awarded legal possession of the “Vin Fiz Flyer”. How could this be? Wasn’t the Flyer back in Ohio, being rebuilt? It was. But the contents of the repair car of the “Vin Fiz Special” contained enough spare parts, many of which may have actually flown sections of the transcontinental voyage, to construct a second “Vin Fiz Flyer” and still claim it as an “original.”
Two years after Cal’s death, and after the court battles with Maria had finally been settled, Maude married Charlie “Wiggie” Wiggin, who had shown such faith and devotion to her Cal; two lonely souls who shared an adoration of another man. “Wiggie”, had, by this time, acquired his own pilot’s license. And Maude and Wiggie made a living for a few years barnstorming their “Vin Fiz Flyer” around the country. And then they quietly faded out of history.
It would be ten years later when Jimmy Doolittle would cross the continent in less than a day - 21 hours 19 minutes, with just one stop for fuel. And as you sit in your tiny passenger seat, crammed four to an aisle, held prisoner on the tarmac for endless hours, forced to use a toilet designed for a diminutive Marquise de Sade, charged extra for a micro-waved “snack”, a pillow, a blanket, a soda or a thimble full of peanuts, even the privlige of using the rest room...
...consider the sacrifices of those who suffered before you; landing in chicken coops, landing in tree tops, landing in barbed wire fences, landing in Texas for day after day. And remember the immortal words of Cal Rodgers; “I am not in this business because I like it, but because of what I can make out of it.” It has become the mantra of every airline passenger world wide.
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