I would say there were four truly amazing things about Cal Rodger(above) s’ transcontinental flight of late 1911. The most amazing thing (to me) is that Cal smoked 19 cigars a day during the 49 days it took him to cross America: that's 931 cigars in total. Where did he get them all? How was he still breathing when it was all over, after inhaling all those exhaust fumes and all that tobacco smoke? The second most amazing thing is that he burned 1,230 gallons of gasoline to cover 3,220 miles, for an average of 38 miles per gallon; not bad! Detroit couldn’t match that a hundred years later. The third most amazing thing about the flight of the “Vin Fiz Flyer” is that during those 49 days Cal had been actually airborne just three days, ten hours and four minutes of total actual flying time, giving him an average air speed of 51.59 miles per hour. That means that he was “grounded” for forty-five days, sometimes because of bad weather, but mostly because of mechanical problems and crashes. And that brings me to the fourth amazing thing about Cal Rogers’ flight. Despite all the bandages he had adorning his body and the leg cast he was wearing after his last crash,. Cal had survived. He even survived when his engine exploded less than 200 miles from the finish line.
Meanwhile, still headed west, Cal didn’t even wait for his wounds to heal. Early on the morning of 5 November, wearing an arm sling to match his leg cast, he made the hop from Imperial Junction through the San Gregorio Pass to Banning, and from there on to Pomona, where he made a last refueling stop. And finally, at 4:08 p.m. on Sunday 5 November, 1911, Cal Rodgers landed at the Tournament of Roses Park, on the current grounds of Cal Tech. He was met by 10 to 20,000 cheering people, most of whom had paid a quarter apiece to be there. The New York Times reported, ''...a maelstrom of fighting, screaming, out-of-their-minds-with-joy men, women and children.'' Cal was loaded into a car and driven around and around the stadium. And among all of the cheering and back slapping, poor deaf Cal kept asking, “I did it, didn’t I? I did it?”
J. Odgen Armour, owner and head of the Armour Meat Packing Company, had spent $180,000 (including Cal’s fee of $23,000) to support the flight. And they had paid all this to sell a really terrible soft drink that quickly disappeared after the publicity of the flight died down. Then, on 10 November, the "Vin Fiz Flyer" was in the air again. The city of Long Beach had offered Cal $5,000 to actually complete his journey right up to the Pacific Ocean, in their town.
This final flight was going fine until half way there, when the engine quit. Cal landed, fiddled with the Wright engine himself, and started again. And again, the engine coughed and died, this time over Compton. And this time Cal plowed into the ground. And this time he did not walk away. He was pulled unconscious from the wreckage, with a concussion, a broken ankle, broken ribs, an injured back and burns. But his lucky bottle of “Vin Fiz” was still undamaged, hanging from the broken wing strut. By now Cal must have really hated that bottle.
Meanwhile, out in the wilds of Mastodon, New Mexico, Bob Fowler was still stuck in the sand and beginning to think he would never get out. Finally, on 10 November, a two man Santa Fe work crew appeared over the horizon, pumping a handcar. And that gave Bob an idea. He talked to the railroad men and they agreed to help him out. Using railroad cross ties they fashioned a platform to sit atop a hand car, and then struggled to secure Bob's “Cole Flyer” atop that platform. On the morning of Monday, 13 November, 1911, the entire contraption was pushed from the siding onto the main line. Bob Fowler clambered into the pilot’s seat. The motor was started. And with railroad workers running alongside to stabilize the wings, the “Flyer” began to move along the track (below). This was much like the system the Wright brothers had used to launch their original flyer, back in 1903.
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