DECEMBER 2019

DECEMBER   2019
Please, Have a Merry. Please. Oh, and get rid of the Orange Jerk!

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Saturday, July 28, 2018

AIR HEADS Part Twelve

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 they contributed 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 (above) 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 out the building (above) in Indianapolis and kept the name, "the Cole Building" into the 1970’s; thus fared the man who sponsored Bob Fowler's flight. 
After he reached El Paso in 1911, it took Bob Fowler(above) 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 12 February 1912 -  not that anybody noticed, what with the Titanic going down just two months later.
Bob would later observe with understatement, “I was the first to start and the last to finish.” It had taken him 116 days and 72 hours of actual flight time to cover the 2,800 miles across America. The very next year Bob Fowler made the first non-stop transcontinental flight – and the shortest. Just 36 miles across 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 (above), the ex-jockey who had the good sense to drop out of the Hearst race, suffered a great tragedy.  His wife Maude Mae died in a hotel fire,  and Jimmy was so devastated he lost his mind and never got it back.  Eventually Glenn Curtiss helped him get admitted to a Florida mental hospital. He died there in 1923, at the age of 37.  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.
Cal Rodgers was testing a new airplane on Wednesday  3 April, 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” the previous 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 Pittsburgh. There Calbraith Perry Rodgers was buried in Allegheny Cemetery under an elaborate tombstone (above), 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 Pittsburgh. 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 privilege 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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Friday, July 27, 2018

AIR HEADS Part Eleven

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.
It happened on November 3rd, the day after Cal’s brief meeting with Bob Ward in Arizona. Cal had just left a refueling stop in the desert at Imperial Junction, California, (meaning he had crossed his last state border!) and was climbing out over the expanse of the Salton Sea. Without warning the Number One cylinder in his Wright engine exploded catastrophically. It blew out the entire left side of the engine block, and Cal’s right shoulder and arm were peppered with shrapnel. Screaming pain tore at his consciousness, and Cal’s right arm was almost useless. Somehow, he executed a banking turn over the salt waters and glided the “Flyer” back to Imperial Junction. He managed to land safely, again, with just one arm: Cal had become quite a pilot. After two hours of surgery a doctor was able to remove most of the metal from Cal’s arm.
The engine was destroyed (above), but the “Vin Fiz Special” carried a spare, which “Weggie” was able to install. It took a little longer because the crew was short handed. An explosion of estrogen in the Pullman Car of the "Special" had driven master mechanic Charlie Taylor to quit and jump ship back in Texas. The man who had built the original engine for the Wright Brothers had set out alone for California.
The next day Bob Fowler, heading the other way, was almost across New Mexico when he ran into his own mechanical problems. A clogged fuel line chocked off his engine near the isolated water station of Mastodon, 16 miles lonely outside of El Paso, Texas. There was no town at Mastadon,  just a water tank where the single rail line and a siding ran between sand dunes, and it was a very lonely place at the time. It still is, especially since the railroad has "moved on". On satellite photographs today it looks like a drawing, all straight lines through a tan background. It was only a little more lonely in 1911. New Mexico wouldn’t even become the 47th state for another 68 days. Once he was safely down, Bob Fowler cleared the clogged fuel line, restarted his motor and tried to get airborne again. But the the Cole Flyer couldn’t break free of the sand. Bob would have to wait for a shift of the wind. Except, it didn’t shift.
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?”
They draped him with an American flag (above), and posed him next to the “Rubenisque” 1912 Rose Queen, Miss Ruth Palmer . And almost nobody who was in that crowd cheering Cal Rodgers had any idea that a deaf man had just flown coast-to-coast. It was quite an achievement. And nobody was prouder of Cal than Mable, unless it was "Weggie", his faithful mechanic, beaming up at him in the photo below.
Cal’s personal victory came a week later, in the Maryland Hotel, when he met with a representative for Mr. W.R. Hearst. W.R.'s pride was burning from the negative publicity over his refusal to extend the $50,000 prizes' time limit. So in an attempt to soften the blow  to his reputation, Heast wanted to present Rogers with a trophy, a loving cup.  Cal turned it down. He still wanted the money. And he wasn’t going to let W.R. off the petard he had hoisted himself upon, without it.
Unnoticed by the press was that Mr. 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. 
And just as the Cole Flyer began to pick up speed, Bob looked ahead to see a column of smoke rising from the tracks. Instantly Bob realized he was on a collision course with a steam locomotive, headed straight for him. For a moment it seemed a variation of the joke about the first two automobiles in Kansas running into each other. The massive engine and the fragile airplane quickly ate up the ground between them, heading for the most unlikely collision in either aviation or railroad  history!
- 30 -

Thursday, July 26, 2018

AIR HEADS Part Ten

I guess you could say that Charlie Taylor (above) was the first member of the “Final Destination Club”. On 17September, 1908,  Charlie was set to take his first flight with Orville Wright when an Army Officer asked if an Army observer could go up next, instead. It was in Charlie’s character to defer to the request and he gave up his seat.
So Lt. Thomas Selfridge was the passenger when the Wright biplane crashed to earth (above). Selfridge was killed on impact. Charlie was the first to reach the crash. He pulled the injured Orville out of the wreckage and then, after the doctors had taken his friend and boss away, it was Charlie who broke down sobbing. But it was also in Charlie’s character that he tore the wreckage apart until he found out exactly what had caused the crash. He was a painfully shy mechanical genius, the man who maintained the “Vin Fiz Flyer” most of the way across the continent. Without Charlie Taylor there would have been no transcontinental flight, and no Wright Brothers either - and they all knew it.
Charlie went to work for the brothers in 1901 at $18 for a sixty hour week in their bicycle shop (above), and he stayed because their personalities fit so well together. Explained Charlie, “The Wrights didn’t drink or smoke, but they never objected too much to my cigar smoking….Both the boys had tempers, but no matter how angry they ever got I never heard them use a profane word…(and) I never let go with anything stronger than heckety-hoo.”
Charlie and the brothers sketched out the world’s first wind tunnel on scrap pieces of paper, and then Charlie built it (above). Without that testing device, powered flight would have had to wait for accidental discovery. What the Wright Brothers and Charlie achieved was not just powered flight, but the scientific approach to powered flight, prediction and experimentation, proving powered flight.   And that made improvements possible and predictable. After letters to automobile manufactures failed to find a suitable engine, Charlie built the first aircraft motor (and only the second gasoline engine he had ever built) from scratch, in just six weeks, using only a drill press, a metal lathe and some hand tools. At every step of the Wright Brothers innovations, Charlie Taylor was vital to the process.
In 1911 Cal Rogers approached Charlie and offered him $70 a week - plus expenses - to travel with the “Vin Fiz Flyer” across country and keep it in the air (above, Charlie and Cal, repairing the Flyer.). “At the time my wages were $25 a week," explained Charley. "I told him I'd go; then I told ‘Orv ‘about it. He asked me not to quit. I told him I had already given my word to Rodgers and couldn't very well back out. He told me to make it a sort of leave of absence, and to be sure and come back.” And that was how Charlie began what he later called “…my adventures”.
Charlie never had any doubt Cal would make it. He sent his wife and three children ahead to California to await his arrival. But Charlie was no diarist. He left behind no impressions of what it was like to be cooped up with Mable Rogers and Maria (Rogers) Swietzer for all those days and nights. But I am not surprised that Charlie quit not long before matters came to a head between Lucy Belevedere and Mable. I imagine the drama and the emotion made Charlie very uncomfortable. He jumped the train in Texas and hurried on to meet his family in Los Angles because his wife had become ill.. He took his wages from the trip and bought several hundred acres along the Salton Sea. But it was almost a year before his wife was feeling well enough to return to his job in Ohio.
But things had changed. While he had been away Wilbur had died of typhoid fever, in May of 1912. Orville made sure Charlie had a job, but, according to Charlie, “I found it wasn’t like old times….the pioneering days seemed over for me.”  Finally, in 1919, Charlie left the Wright Company and returned to California. He opened his own machine shop on his property on the Salton Sea. “I waited for something to happen there,” Charlie said later, “and nothing did.” Except that his wife died and the depression of the 1930's drove him out of business, and he lost his land.
Charlie moved to Los Angeles and found a job working for North American Aviation for 37 cents an hour. He told no one about his past. He was just another production line mechanic. None of his fellow workers knew that he had helped to invent the entire industry. And that was where Henry Ford found him.
Ford was rebuilding the Wright Brothers workshop in Dayton as a memorial, and had hired detectives to track Charlie down. Ford brought Charlie back to reconstruct the wind tunnel and put the original 1903 Flyer back together. In 1941, his work for Ford finished, Charlie quietly went back to California and returned to work in a Defense plant. Then in 1945, Charlie suffered a heart attack. He was never able to work again. When Orville Wright died in 1948 he left Charlie an annuity in his will of $800 a year. By 1955 inflation had reduced that to a pittance, and when a newspaper reporter found Charlie, he was surviving in the charity ward of a Los Angles hospital. Immediately the aviation community raised funds, and Charlie was able to spend his last months in a private hospital, under far better care.
He died at the age of 88 in 1956. He is buried in the Folded Wings Mausoleum, in Valhalla Memorial Park (above), directly under the approach to Burbank Airport runway 15-33.
Charlie Taylor lived for 48 years after he gave up his seat to a young Army Lieutenant. And he never did learn to fly. And that too was typical for Charlie Taylor, the unsung hero of powered flight.
- 30 -

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

AIR HEADS Part Nine

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.
It happened on November 3rd, the day after Cal’s brief meeting with Bob Ward in Arizona. Cal had just left a refueling stop in the desert at Imperial Junction, California, (meaning he had crossed his last state border!) and was climbing out over the expanse of the Salton Sea. Without warning the Number One cylinder in his Wright engine exploded catastrophically. It blew out the entire left side of the engine block, and Cal’s right shoulder and arm were peppered with shrapnel. Screaming pain tore at his consciousness, and Cal’s right arm was almost useless. Somehow, he executed a banking turn over the salt waters and glided the “Flyer” back to Imperial Junction. He managed to land safely, again, with just one arm: Cal had become quite a pilot. After two hours of surgery a doctor was able to remove most of the metal from Cal’s arm.
The engine was destroyed (above), but the “Vin Fiz Special” carried a spare, which “Weggie” was able to install. It took a little longer because the crew was short handed. An explosion of estrogen in the Pullman Car of the "Special" had driven master mechanic Charlie Taylor to quit and jump ship back in Texas. The man who had built the original engine for the Wright Brothers had set out alone for California.
The next day Bob Fowler, heading the other way, was almost across New Mexico when he ran into his own mechanical problems. A clogged fuel line chocked off his engine near the isolated water station of Mastodon, 16 miles lonely outside of El Paso, Texas. There was no town at Mastadon,  just a water tank where the single rail line and a siding ran between sand dunes, and it was a very lonely place at the time. It still is, especially since the railroad has "moved on". On satellite photographs today it looks like a drawing, all straight lines through a tan background. It was only a little more lonely in 1911. New Mexico wouldn’t even become the 47th state for another 68 days. Once he was safely down, Bob Fowler cleared the clogged fuel line, restarted his motor and tried to get airborne again. But the the Cole Flyer couldn’t break free of the sand. Bob would have to wait for a shift of the wind. Except, it didn’t shift.
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?”
They draped him with an American flag (above), and posed him next to the “Rubenisque” 1912 Rose Queen, Miss Ruth Palmer . And almost nobody who was in that crowd cheering Cal Rodgers had any idea that a deaf man had just flown coast-to-coast. It was quite an achievement. And nobody was prouder of Cal than Mable, unless it was "Weggie", his faithful mechanic, beaming up at him in the photo below.
Cal’s personal victory came a week later, in the Maryland Hotel, when he met with a representative for Mr. W.R. Hearst. W.R.'s pride was burning from the negative publicity over his refusal to extend the $50,000 prizes' time limit. So in an attempt to soften the blow  to his reputation, Heast wanted to present Rogers with a trophy, a loving cup.  Cal turned it down. He still wanted the money. And he wasn’t going to let W.R. off the petard he had hoisted himself upon, without it.
Unnoticed by the press was that Mr. 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. 
And just as the Cole Flyer began to pick up speed, Bob looked ahead to see a column of smoke rising from the tracks. Instantly Bob realized he was on a collision course with a steam locomotive, headed straight for him. For a moment it seemed a variation of the joke about the first two automobiles in Kansas running into each other. The massive engine and the fragile airplane quickly ate up the ground between them, heading for the most unlikely collision in either aviation or railroad  history!
- 30 -

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