DECEMBER 2019

DECEMBER   2019
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Saturday, July 21, 2018

AIR HEADS Part FIve

I had to do some work to locate the starting point for Bob Fowler’s second attempt at a transcontinental flight. For one thing it has been buried under concrete and asphalt for a century. For another, some histories have mis-labeled it as “Wiltshire Field”, but that seems to have been a "spell check mis-correction" of the name "Henry Gaylord Wilshire".  If you are familiar with Los Angeles at all you recognize that name.  In 1895 Gaylord bought 35 acres around what would one day become MacArthur Park.  Gaylord then humbly allowed the city of Los Angeles (above) to build a road right through the center of his property, on the twin conditions that they not lay down any street car tracks, and that they name it after him. Then he promptly packed up and moved back to New York. He left his name no where else in Los Angles.
Wilshire Boulevard’s beginnings were very humble indeed, bisecting mostly beet fields. In 1910 that made the intersection of Wilshire and Fairfax Avenue an ideal location for an airfield, close to the budding metropolis of Los Angeles (above) - 320,000 citizens already - but open enough to allow pilots to crash regularly without killing the neighbors, because there weren’t any, except for a few deceased Dire Wolves stuck in the tar of the nearby La Brea Tar Pits (below), just down the street
And, by the way, "la brea" is Spanish for "tar", so the "La Brea tar pits" translates as 'the tar - tar pits').
There should be a plaque in the sidewalk or something at the corner of Fairfax and Whilshire, because not only did Bob Fowler re-start his transcontinental flight from here on Thursday, 19 October, 1911, but it is also where, in 1921, Amelia Earhart took her first flight lesson, in a Curtiss Jenny. In fact, lots of aviation history happened in and around that corner.
Movie maker C.B. DeMille (below) , in town to direct the first blockbuster “Squaw Man”, operated an airline out of there for a year or so (Mercury Aviation- above), until his airline went bankrupt. 
Then in March 1921 the air field was bought by pilot Emory Roger and his wife, and was renamed “Rogers’ Field”.  Emory then started up “Pacific Marine Airways”, in partnership with Sid Chaplin, brother to Charlie Chaplin.  They flew Hollywood vacationers to and from Catalina Island,  and sold Curtiss airplanes out of a showroom on the field - at least they did until Emory died in a plane crash in November of 1921. Then Emory’s widow ran the field until 1923,  when she sold out to developers, and the airfield disappeared.  That is what happens to everything historic in Los Angeles, sooner or later.
But that was all in the future in 1911. On 19 October, 1911 Wilshire Field was just an open space out at the end of Wilshire Boulevard. .
Late on that October afternoon Bob Fowler, at the controls of his new Wright B Flyer, renamed the "Cole Flyer", lifted off and headed east. He made only 9 miles that first day, landing in Pasadena. But the important thing was that he was back in the race.
Bob’s manager,  Reed Grundy, had always wanted him to start the race from Los Angeles because the mountains east of there were so much lower that the Sierra east of San Francisco, and because the Los Angeles Board of Reality was coughing up a $10,000 bonus if Bob Fowler started from L.A. - okay, Grundy mostly liked L.A. because of the bonus.
In fact, early the next morning, on Friday, 20 October, as Fowler was preparing to take off from Pasadena, he was called to the phone.  It was Grundy. He  had just been offered another paycheck if Bob made an appearance down Fairfax Avenue from Whilsire Field at the L.A. Motordrome with Barney Oldfield and other big name racer car drivers.  But Bob put his foot down and said he’d rather give up flying all together than start this trip a third time.  Grundy got the message and Bob flew on to Riverside, California, probably spitting and cursing all the way about what a jackass his manager was. I’m sure NASCAR drivers feel the same way about their sponsors, once in awhile.
In two days of flying Bob Fowler had covered only 69 miles. And the next day, Saturday,  21 October,  1911, went even slower, because he was approaching the San Gorgonio Pass (above). The pass is only at 2,600 feet altitude, but it runs 22 miles long between the 9,000 foot tall Mt. San Gorgonio and the 11,000 foot tall Mt. San Jacinto, making it one of the deepest passes in the United States. For a cloth and wood airplane flying at between 2 and 400 feet above the ground, passing between the towering mastiffs meant dangerous cross winds. The Cole Flyer struggled to make progress, and Bob gritted his teeth to keep the sand out of his mouth and kept going.
Just as the 14,505 foot above sea level Mount Whitney stands just 76 miles west of Badwater, Death Valley, at 282 feet below sea level, Mount San Jacinto stands less than 100 miles west of the Salton Sink, at 220 feet below sea level (far upper right in the above photo). The line from the Gulf of California, through the Salton Sea, Death Valley (and north to Mono Lake) is the hing along which California is being twisted, torn apart, bent and ripped between the San Andreas Fault and a newly forming rift valley which, eventually, will fill as a new arm of the Pacific Ocean. Someday, in fourteen or fifteen million years, this is going to be the new west coast.
But having finally left this geological drama behind him, Bob Fowler was now flying in cool winter temperatures across the Arizona desert basins and 10,000 foot tall mountain ranges. On Wednesday, 25 October he landed in Yuma, Arizona (above). Finally, after almost sixty days of starting and stopping and starting and crashing, Bob Fowler had escaped California.
Two hundred miles later, following the Southern Pacific Railroad line, Bob landed at Tuscon, Arizona. And there had a brief encounter with a fellow traveler, the only other man on God’s green earth who truly understood what he was going through; Cal Rogers.  They were together barely long enough to shake hands, and nobody had time to produce a camera. And then they separated without so much as a back slap or a pause to compare notes: so much for the brotherhood of the air. After all, there was a race on.
- 30 -

Friday, July 20, 2018

AIR HEADS Part Four

I believe it was with apprehension that Cal Rogers set his “Vin Fiz Flyer" down on the Cicero airfield on the Sunday afternoon of 8 October, 1911. Cal was now officially 21 days out of New York City. He had flown just 1/3 of the distance to California. He had crashed six times, or about once every 166 miles.  At this rate he had to assume he would crash another six times before he reached the foot of the Rockies at Denver, Colorado. And he would either be spending Christmas somewhere in Utah, or dead. The Pony Express was proving faster than the" Vin Fiz Flyer". Upon landing in Chicago,  Cal immediately telegraphed William Randolph Hearst to request an extension of the time limit for the $50,000 prize offered by the mogul's newspapers. But Cal could not have known that W.R., as Mr. Hearst liked to be called, never had any intention of letting anybody actually win the prize money.
Like most self described “self made” millionaires (such as Donald Trump), William Randolph Hearst was the son of a millionaire. When W.R. was kicked out of Harvard, where the boy had struggled to survive on a $500 a month allowance (the equivalent of $11,000 a month, today), it seemed he was destined for failure – well, as much as the  pampered only son of a millionaire could fail - because the only thing bigger than the fortune which W.R. would eventually gain control of,  was his ego.
In 1887 W.R. took over the “San Francisco Examiner”,   which his father George Hearst  had won in a gambling debt.  W.R. then sank part of daddies’ fortune into making it the “Monarch of the Dailies”. He hired the best writers and editors that daddies’ money could buy, (such as Mark Twain and later Harriet Quimby) and built a publishing edifice based on the formula of sex plus comic strips equals sales. The first of the Sunday comics printed in color was Hearst's “The Yellow Kid” (above). Thus the origin of the description of W.R.'s style of newspaper as “yellow journalism”. And what was yellow journalism? A. J. Pegler, a Hearst writer, described it this way:  “A Hearst newspaper is like a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.” Think, Fox News with ink.
When daddy George Hearst, died in 1891, W.R. convinced his mother to sell off the mining properties on which the family fortune had been built. He used the cash influx to finance his acquisition of the “New York Morning Journal”, where W.R. repeated his "Examiner's" recipe of success - which he had learned, by the way, during a summer internship under Joseph Pulitzer. It makes journalism's "Pulitzer Prize" seem like a mea culpa, doesn't it?  And then W.R. began to buy newspapers, eventually 42 of them, with 30 million plus readers. Now he could syndicate his well paid writers and increase his advertising revenues, which he used to promote and publicize his runs for congress, and as governor and mayor of N.Y.C.  He failed to win any of those elections. But everything W.R. did (like Donald Trump) was ultimately to promote and publicize himself, including the Hearst Prize for the coast to coast air race.
W.R.’s interest in flying was typically mercenary. When his editors had approached him with the idea of offering a $50,000 prize for the first transcontinental flight, experts like Glenn Curtiss and Wilbur Wright, warned  that aviation was too young to achieve such a lofty goal.  In 1910 no plane could stay aloft longer than two hours at a time, and none could travel faster than fifty miles an hour. Airplanes were still made out of wood and wire, for crying out loud. But, on the plus side, offering the prize would fill W.R.'s newspapers day after day, with articles about how it could it be done, who could do it, who didn’t think it could be done, and how many would die trying to do it.
W.R. was awarded a medal from the Aeronautical Society of America for just offering the prize. And W.R. loved to get medals. But paying out the prize money would sell W.R.'s newspapers for one day only.   And that was why the Hearst Prize had contained a time limit. It was set to expire on 17 October, 1911, before Hearst figured anybody could make it across the country.   So, when Cal Rogers’ telegram arrived, begging for an extension, W.R. was in no rush to respond.  Cal waited in Chicago for two days for the telegram from Hearst, and he began to suspect he had been had.  So with just a week left before the deadline, he decided to force W.R's hand.  On Tuesday, 10 October, Cal flew across the flat lands to Springfield, Illinois, then on to Marshall, Missouri. As he arrived in Marshall,  far away from any cities fed by Hearst newspapers, Cal found a telegram from Hearst waiting for him. There would be no extension in the time limit.  Cal had now flown 1,398 miles since leaving New York, which gave him the record for the longest flight. But there would be no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, just a bottle of Vin Fiz.  Yuck.
A more mercenary element now drove Cal’s romantic quest. When the city of St. Louis and its popular Hearst newspaper, withdrew its offer of a thousand dollars for landing there, Cal simply bypassed the town. Instead he flew on to Kansas City, landing in Swope Park.  They, at least, offered a few dollars landing award.
Experience was forcing his wife Mable to learn how to handle the money side of the race, as Cal was learning how to handle his plane.  They decided to turn south, to avoid taking the Rocky Mountains head on,  and to also avoid Denver and its Hearst newspaper.  There were far fewer trees to run into on the Great Plains, which reduced certain dramatic elements in Cal’s landings and take offs. Fewer crashes meant fewer late night repairs.  Everybody was getting more sleep. And at about 9 a.m., on Thursday 19 October, 1911 the “Vin Fiz Flyer” crossed the Red River into Texas.
And on that same day the race that was no longer a race, became a again, with the return of Bob Fowler.
- 30 -

Thursday, July 19, 2018

AIR HEADS Part Three

I figure that Cal Rogers (above)  was feeling pretty confident on the morning of Saturday, 23 September, 1911.  True, Cal Rogers gave the air of always being pretty confident. But this morning in particular he had received word that one of his competitors, Jimmy Ward,  had dropped out of the “Hearst Coast-to-Coast Race” after crashing (yet again!) 5 miles outside of Addison, New York.  Cal already knew that his other competitor,  Bob Fowler had failed on his third attempt to get over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, finally cracking up near the summit, and reducing his Cole Flyer to kindling and canvas. That left just himself, Cal Rogers, the six foot four inch deaf adventurer from Pittsburgh in the running for the $50,000.00 first place prize.
Of course, Cal still had to get to California within the time limit.  He was barely a tenth of the way across the continent now, and he had already crashed three times. He was already decorated with bandages from all the scrapes and scratches he had suffered.  The problem was that Cal had been a pilot for all of four months. He had less than 60 hours of flying experience. He knew nothing about navigation by air, and there was no one to teach him. The longest flight so far in the United States had been one from St. Louis to New York City, completed just the month before,  by somebody else.  In short, Cal was at the very edge of human experience in flight, both physically and mechanically. 

The Wright engine (above) on his “Vin Fiz Flyer" had no throttle. The 4 cylinder engine was either on or off, at full power or at zero. The pilot had only one way to alter his speed, and that was to “advance the spark”, meaning to alter the instant in the compression cycle when the spark plug fired. In a modern internal combustion engine of the 1920's this would be controlled mechanically. But in the Wright engine of 1911 it was done by physically unscrewing one or two of the spark plugs a fraction of an inch into or out of the cylinder by hand. The engines' designer and builder, Charlie Taylor,  had taken a leave of absence from the Wright workshop in Ohio to accompany the "Vin Fiz Flyer" across the country, and with all the other pressing redesigns required on the engine,  this was the best one for altering speed that Charlie had come with so far.
It took two days to repair the Vin Fiz after the crash at Middletown, New York on 17 September. So Cal did not return to the race until Thursday, 21 September, 1911.  His first leg that day was to be a hop to Hancock, New York, 40 miles east of Binghamton.  But half way there Cal noticed his radiator had sprung a leak. He kept an eye on the precious fluid dripping out of his engine and then, just as he was over the town - POP! -  A spark plug flew out of engine.  Unscrewing the spark plug to adjust the engine speed evidently also made the plug prone to vibrating itself right out of the engine.  In an instant, the 4 cylinder Wright engine  lost 25% of its power, and the plane had precious little to spare. Cal suddenly found himself plummeting for the ground. Cal managed to steer for an open field,  pulling the "Vin Fiz's" nose up at just the last second to make a cash landing. But it was still a crash. Again, there was nothing to do but wait for the his service train, the "Vin Fiz Special".
The next two weeks would prove to be difficult, as California receded farther and farther away in distance and in time. While making a normal landing at Binghamton, New York,  Cal would later say, “…There was a snap of breaking timber and my right skid had gone". The broken skid was easily replaced over night, from the supplies carried on board the “Vin Fiz Special”,  the three car train that followed and led Cal across the country.  It carried fuel and a rolling repair shop, and a Pullman sleeping car, Cal’s wife Mable, and his mother Maude (nee Rodgers) Sweitzer -  for the time being.
Cal's mother, Maude (nee Rodgers) Sweitzer was on that Pullman, giving solidity to her second husband, Henrey Sweitzer's divorce suit, which he had filed in July. The wealthy businessman had charged Maude with "cruel and barbarous treatment and indignities...and desertion without cause".  Henrey might have named Cal at the co-respondent in the divorce, since it seemed Maude had abandoned her wealthy second husband for her son....her married son.Whose wife was sharing the Pullman with her and Cal, as well as  chief mechanic Charley Tailor. Also sleeping on board was the second mechanic, Charles (Wiggie) Wiggen, three assistant mechanics and assorted newspaper reporters and photographers, most of whom worked for Mr. Hearst..
With such generous support, Cal was airborne again on Friday morning of 22 September, 1911. But that afternoon, as Cal approached a landing at Elmira, New York,  he snagged some telegraph wires. More repairs were required. As Cal traversed the border lands between Pennsylvania and western New York State, he hit a patch of good weather and made up some time, at least until late on Sunday afternoon of 24 September. Just after Cal had taken off from Salamanca, New York, high up on the Allegheny River, .another spark plug vibrated its way out of the Wright engine. But this time Cal coolly reached behind his back, grabbed the hot plug in his glove just before it popped completely out. He twisted it back into the cylinder and held it in place as he made a perfect landing (with one hand) on the Allegheny Indian reservation outside of Red House, N.Y.
Cal now screwed the spark plug firmly back in and,  with help of a couple of native Americans, turned the plane around for take off.  But he couldn’t work up enough speed and had to abort. He tried again, but the second attempt also failed to get airborne.  Each time the two helpful locals had tried to warn Cal that he was aiming at a barbed wire fence. But either because he didn’t understand what they were saying (he was deaf,) or because he was in such a rush, Cal ignored their warnings and the third time proved to be the charm. Cal taxied directly into the barbed wire fence, ripping the fabric covering the right wing to shreds, and wrapping the prickly barbed wire around the frame. It would take two days to free the “Vin Fiz Flyer” to fly yet again.
Cal was back in the air on Wednesday, 27 September , and had safe landings that day and the next. But on Friday, 29 September he was grounded by bad weather. Still, Saturday, 30 September saw him break out of the Alleghenies and enter the rolling farm lands of the old Middle West. The "Vin Fiz" covered 200 miles on 30 September, still 50 miles short of the distance he had intended to average.   He would have gone further but a clogged fuel line forced him down late in the day near Akron, Ohio. Cal spent that night fending off curious cows who seemed determined to crush his fragile airplane under their big fat hooves. Or maybe they were just looking to catch a flight to some place more respectful of vegetarians.
On Sunday, the first day of October, 1911,  Cal stopped at first Mansfield and then Marion, Ohio, before being forced down by another clogged fuel line at Rivare, Indiana, just over the state line. Under threatening skies Cal cleared the fuel line and took off again, only to fly directly into a thunderstorm, the first pilot to ever do so. As lightning snapped around his plane, Cal was the first pilot to experience downdrafts and wind shear, and as quickly as he could, Cal landed the "Vin Fiz" again, in the tiny Hoosier town of Geneva.  As soon as the weather cleared he flew on to Huntington, Indiana, where he was met by an enthusiastic crowd, and was able to spend the night on board the train with his dear Mable. And his dear mother Maria.
The next morning, Monday, 2 October, the winds were still gusting and again Cal had a hard time working up speed on his 35 horsepower Wright engine. Just as he felt his skids leave the ground he realized he was heading for a crowd of people.
Cal yanked the stick to the left, passed under telegraph wires, and bounced his left wing off the ground.  Cal was thrown out of his seat and scrapped his forehead. The left wing of the “Vin Fizz” was crumpled and folded up.  But the “lucky” bottle of soda dangling from the strut was unbroken, yet again. Or so said the Vin Fiz publicity agents.  It would take two days to repair the “Vin Fiz”, essentially its third complete rebuild since takeoff.
On Wednesday 4 October Cal flew to Hammond, Indiana, where he landed just before 6 P.M., on a plowed field on the Jarnecke Farm. He slept that night in the comfort of the Majestic Hotel. But high winds kept him grounded for another two days.
Finally, in desperation, on Saturday, 7 October, 1911, Cal loaded the “Vin Fiz” aboard his train and moved it to the village of Lansing, Illinois, where he found a fallow field with a wind break. This allowed him to finally take off again. As his journey westward by rail had not moved him closer to Chicago, technically, he had not advanced his position in the race.  Or so said the Fin Fiz spin doctors.
Cal Rogers finally reached the air field in Cicero, Illinois, on the west side of Chicago, on the Sunday afternoon of 8 October. This was near where, at the air show in Grant Park on the lake shore just two months before, Cal had made his public debut as a pilot.  By the rules, Cal now had less than two weeks to fly the remaining 3,000 miles across the Mississippi, the Kansas and Nebraska flatlands, the Rocky Mountains, the Great American desert and then the Sierra Nevada mountains. Cal Rogers was the only man still in the race, but he was running out of time.
- 30 -

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

AIR HEADS Part Two

I believe Bob Fowler was confident on Saturday, 23 September, 1911,  when the repairs to his "Cole Flyer" were finally completed, and he finally took off from Colfax, California - altitude  3,306 feet - in the Sierra foothills.  He certainly looks confident in this photo. His confidence was, however, seriously misplaced.  Immediately that he reached six thousand feet up the Sierra Nevada mountains, Bob hit headwinds that his 40 horsepower Cole motor just could not overcome. He was forced to return to Colfax.
That same Saturday - 23 September - back east, the little jockey Jimmy 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.   Jimmy landed safely at Callicoon, New York (above) and refueled,at 10:05 a.m., as planned.  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, the shy James touched down on a farm outside of Owego, N.Y.  Here the jockey hitched a ride into town, where he ate a quick dinner while a local mechanic refueled his plane.  He wanted to make it to Corning, New.York. before dark.  So he hurried his take off.   But as the jockey 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.  Jimmy Ward was unhurt, physically, but it would take almost two days before a crew on loan from the Curtis Airplane factory  could repair the damage.
 Back out in California, bright and early on Sunday, 24 September, Bob Fowler tried again to get over the Sierra Nevada mountains. This time he got as high as as Emigrant Gap, just below the Donner Pass, 7,500 feet above sea level.  But headwinds again forced him to retreat to Colfax.
On the Monday, 25 September,  Bob reached 8,000 feet before running into headwinds again.  This time Bob decided to land at Emigrant Gap,  to get a head start start the next day.  But flying in the thin air at high altitude was a skill not yet mastered by anyone,  including Bob,  and while turning around his wings lost lift and he plowed into the trees.  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 - I mean  his "Cole Flyer" did.   Bob himself was somehow uninjured, but for the time being his continental flight was… waiting for repairs, again.
Back in Owego, New York, the repaired Jimmy Ward’s Curitss airplane managed to limp into Corning and then on to the village of Addison, N.Y. (above) late on Monday,  25 September, 1911.  Jimmy was now 300 miles and 10 long days out of New York City.  But 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 Tuesday, 26 September, James took off from Addison.  And about five miles west of town he crashed again. He had to walk almost the whole way back to Addison, just to tell people he had crashed. This was getting really hard.
Back at the hotel, waiting for her husband,  Jimmy‘s wife, Maude Mae, overheard some gamblers taking five-to-one odds that her husband would be dead before he reached Buffalo, New York.  Now, Maude May knew that Jimmy was not actually planning on heading to Buffalo, but she also knew that town was still 60 miles further to the west. And at the rate Jimmy's flight was progressing, he could have been beaten by a Conestoga wagon, In fact,the way Maude Mae figured things, at the rate Jimmy was crashing, the gamblers were being a bit optimistic at about her husband's lifespan.  So Maude Mae decided to be practical - leave it to a woman to destroy a daredevil sporting event with practical thinking.  Maude Mae spoke to the shaken Jimmy that night. And after his long walk and his two crashes over the previous four days, Jimmy was inclined to listen.
Jimmy's manager announced his decision to the press the next morning, Wednesday, 27 September. He was dropping out of the race. Later, Jimmy Ward would explain his decision in less than 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...To win that $50,000 he's got to complete his journey by Oct. 10th.  He can't do it."  Given his skill at fortune telling,  I am surprised that Jimmy Ward had no inkling that just seven months later Maude Mae would have him arrested in Chattanooga and charged with bigamy.  She had discovered that Jimmy was never legally divorced from his first wife.  Poor Maude Mae.  Poor, Jimmy Ward. And  he may have been the pilot with the most common sense.  But without his common sense, the race went on. 
- 30 -

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

AIR HEADS Part One

I suppose it seemed like a good idea in the beginning. There were three serious contestants, and a $50,000 first place prize.  But in retrospect, it should have been obvious that nobody was going to collect a dime of that money.  It was 1911; flying was still brand new and the world’s first two pilots were still flying - Wilbur and Orville Wright - and still learning to fly.  The world's third pilot was Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, and he had died on 17 September, 1908, in a crash that also badly injured Orville. The second pilot to die was Charles Rolls (of Rolls-Royce fame), in a 1910 crash. Considering there were only about 100 men (and one woman) with flying licenses in America in 1911, two percent was an appalling death  rate, bad enough to make you wonder why anybody would have wanted to even try flying, let alone try it from coast to coast.
The world’s 49th licensed pilot was a shy, cocky, 6’4” thirty-something, cigar smoking, playboy and adrenaline junkie with a hearing loss and a speech impediment named Calbraith Perry Rogers (above -right). He was a romantic who favored action over words, as proven by the way he met his wife, 20 something Mabel Groves (above, left).  He saw her slip off a dock and fall into the water.  So assuming she was drowning,  he jumped in and pulled her to safety. Within a few months he married her, despite the hat.   He approached flying with the same spontaneity, but it was a passion which quickly developed into a mission..
Having seen his first airplane on a visit to Dayton, Ohio, in June of 1911,  Cal took the full Wright Brother’s flight course (above),  all 90 minutes of it.  Mabel explained that flying filled the hole in his life left by his deafness which had excluded a military career.  It was, she said "the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle". 
Then Cal talked his mother, Maria, into loaning him $5,000 so he could buy a Wright Model B Flyer “E-X”. The "X" was for experimental – which was a joke because every “airplane” was experimental in 1911.  But Cal may also have been the origin of the phrase to “take a flyer”,  because just two months later, in August, he entered his new Wright Flyer in an air show in Chicago and took home third prize, worth $11, 285.   Not bad: Cal had been a pilot for 60 days and already he had made six grand profit.  He suspected there might be money in this flying thing.
And this was confirmed in October of 1910 when the Hearst newspaper chain had offered $50,000 to the first pilot to make it across the continent in 30 days or less.  The offer was set to expire on 10 October.  So with his self supplied confidence,  Cal decided to go for it. Orville Wright tried to warn him. "There isn't a machine in existence that can be relied upon for 1,000 miles,  and here you want to go over 4,000.  It will vibrate itself to death before you get to Chicago."   But Cal refused to give up the idea.  He explained, "It's important because everything else I've done was unimportant."  Faced with that level of stubbornness,  Orville tried to look at the bright side. At least the Wright B Flyer was so light, said Orville "six good men could carry it across the country."
 What Cal needed, as any NASCAR driver can tell you, was a sponsor.  He found his ‘sticker sucker’ in  Mr. J. Odgen Armour, owner of Armour Meat Packing Company, and his new soft drink called “VIN FIZ”.   Allegedly it was grape favored soda water, but one critic thought it tasted more like  “a fine blend of river sludge and horse slop”   With a product like that Mr. Amour was going to need a heck of an advertising campaign. Enter Cal and his flying bill board.
With a guarantee of $23,000 from Amour, and a bonus of $5 per mile east of the Mississippi River, and $4 per mile to the west of the "big muddy",  and a corporate three rail car support train complete with a reservoir of spare parts, fuel and mechanics, and sleeping car accommodations for Mable, Cal’s mother Maria,  his cousin, his head mechanic Charlie Taylor, two other mechanics, two general assistants and assorted reporters from the Hearst news service, the flight was starting to look possible..
Armour even threw in an automobile (above) to track down Cal whenever he crash landed . With that much corporate funding behind him, Cal figured he had it all figured out. The first problem was that, before Cal even got airborne, his "Vin Fiz" was already in third place.
First off, from Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, was motorcycle racer Bob Fowler (above). There were 10,000 cheering people there at 1:35 P.M., on Monday, 11 September,  1911 to see Bob takeoff.  Like Cal, Bob was piloting a Wright “B” Flyer, except his sponsor was Joseph J. Cole, founder and owner of the Cole Motor Company, of Indianapolis, Indiana.  Cole supplied Bob with one of their engines and $7,500.  The Cole engine was more powerful than the Wright engine, but it was also 200 lbs heavier. J.J. also gave Bob a support train, with spare parts and his own mother.  But "The Cole Flyer" lacked the publicity support that accompanied the "Vin Fizz  Flyer..
Making an average speed of about 55 miles an hour, Bob reached Sacramento in just under 2 hours, and after schmoozing with California Governor Hiram Johnson, Bob flew on to the foothill town of Auburn, for a total distance on the first day of 126 miles. Impressive. And on a Monday.  On Tuesday, 12 September,  he reached Alta, California, where he crashed into some trees.  Bob was now out of the race until repairs could be made.
Second to start was James J. (Jimmy) Ward (above),  pilot's license #52, and previously a jockey.  He was flying a Curtis Model D,  with floats, so he could land on any lakes and or rivers he happened to cross.  Jimmy took off from Governor’s Island in New York harbor on Wednesday, 13 September, 1911. He immediately got lost over New Jersey, and made only twenty miles before crash landing. Then he too had to wait for repairs. The basic tempo of the race had thus been set right from the start; take off, crash, wait for repairs, take off, crash, wait for repairs, and repeat as necessary for 4,000 miles. It was going to be very hard to finish this race, let alone win it.
Before starting himself, Cal Rogers tied a bottle Vin Fiz to one of his wing struts (white circle on the left), “for luck”.  For reality, he tied a pair of crutches to another strut, in case he needed them later. He would.
Before a paying crowd of 2,000, a chorus girl poured a bottle of grape soda over the landing skids and proclaimed, “I dub thee “Vin Fiz Flyer””. Cal actually called his plane “Betsy” but he recognized the value of naming fees even back then.
Cal took off from the race course at Sheepshead Bay, Long Island at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, 17 September. And if anybody noticed that it was the third anniversary of the crash that had killed Lieutenant Selfridge, they were polite enough to keep it to themselves.
After take off, Cal buzzed Coney Island and dropped coupons for free Vin Fiz soda (above). Then he flew across Manhattan as the breathless reporters breathlessly reported, “…with its death-trap of tall buildings, ragged roofs and narrow streets”.  Cal landed safely in Middleton, New York that night to a cheering crowd reported as 10,000 – not to be bettered by San Francisco. He had made all of 84 miles that first day. His plan was to average 250 miles a day.
That night the reporters wrote that Cal claimed he would be in Chicago in four days. But Cal  rarely talked to reporters because he barely heard their questions, the byproduct of a scarlet fever attack in his childhood.  And he spoke in the clumsy monotone of someone who never heard a human voice, clearly.   So it was easier if the the reporters just made up heroic quotes for Cal. They invented more heroic quotes for him the next morning when, on take off,  the "Vin Fiz" hit a tree and ended up in a chicken coop.  The bottle of Vin Fiz was "miraculously" undamaged, as proved because it would have been impossible to find another bottle of Vin Fizz aboard a train car named "The Vin Fiz Special".   But now it was Cal’s turn to wait for repairs.  The race was on!  It just wasn't going anywhere very quickly.
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